#1 – Butterflies
The little girl who finds her way to Yuuko’s shop cannot be more than eight, with grass stains on her skirt and knees. Though Watanuki is (slowly) learning not to question, he still hesitates before he ushers her into the shop. Yuuko immediately sends him for tea.
When he returns, the girl is gone. Yuuko herself lies sprawled back, a plastic hairclip in her fingers.
“The thing is, Watanuki,” she says, as he puts the teatray down, “even the young have wishes that must be granted.”
She blows on the clip, and it flutters its wings once before flying away.
#2 – Groceries
His father’s voice, telling him how to tell when a melon is truly ripe and when it just looks pretty, his mother’s hand in his as they walk the aisles, the ghosts that flitted up to his parents and wandered off when they were greeted in turn, the weight of the basket when he insisted on helping, and his mother’s fond laughter.
When he returns from shopping, Yuuko greets him with a mysterious smile, and for a rare once she doesn’t make immediate demands for alcohol.
“However mundane somewhere seems,” she says, “memories of love never just fade.”
#3 – Waves
Doumeki eats and lets the force of Watanuki’s rant roll over him. It’s harmless — the longer Watanuki works for Yuuko, the more careful he becomes with his words. (Not that he’d admit this, and might deliberately do the opposite just for spite if he knew. Then there’d be Consequences and Watanuki would feel horribly guilty, so Doumeki stays silent.)
Kunogi claps her hands and laughs, her elbow brushing Watanuki’s sleeve, and he feels something dark flitter into existence and vanish as soon as it breaks against his presence; and Watanuki spins and carols for her, carried by his own tide.
#4 – Mystery
Sometimes new doors appear and old ones vanish within the shop. The paths to the kitchen, to the sitting room where Yuuko recieves customers, and the storeroom never change, so they’re easy enough to ignore.
Once he hears screaming and comes pelting back in time to see a strange woman — a customer, he guesses — being dragged into a new room, clawing the floor; her eyes meet his, mad with terror, and then she’s gone.
And so is the door.
Watanuki doesn’t ask — he can see cryptic answers in Yuuko’s eyes and her smile, and knows he won’t learn a thing.
#5 – Board Games
Himawari’s father teaches her to play chess when she is twelve. She sits quietly across from him and listens attentively. Care has worn him older than his years, and her mother too, and she regrets the burden she represents — not so much for herself, but how hard her misfortune weighs upon her parents. It’s very rare when they have the time or energy to spend on her like this, when they’re always so busy working just in case her influence will someday affect them.
She listens to his explanations and they play; and when she checkmates him, he just smiles.
#6 – Winter
She kneels, in seiza, on the porch, watching the first snowfall of the year. The landscape around her has never stopped changing, even from one day to the next, but the snow itself always remains familiar. A breeze slides icy fingers against her bare nape. *Ah, dearest,* it doesn’t say, *there you are.*
The corner of her mouth goes up, though not into a smile. “You make a worse ghost than you did man,” she says.
Around her the wind laughs and fades. Her loosened hair slides down one shoulder, onto her knees. “And you made such an irritating man.”
#7 – Sensitive
The scent of regret is bitter and almost milky; the sound of her voice grinds like metal on metal. Watanuki staggers and covers his nose and mouth with a hand, but it does little to help.
“It’s here, then?” Doumeki asks, looking around, and *damn* him for being immune. “The ghost?”
Watanuki tries not to gag, breathing slowly as he can. “In the corner,” he whispers. “She keeps — she’s there, she–”
Unerringly — perhaps guided by their shared eye, perhaps not — Doumeki turns to her. He draws back an arrow, aimed at her nonexistant heart.
“Got her,” he says, and fires.
#8 – Darkness
“Stay tonight,” Yuuko says, as Watanuki reaches for his shoes.
“Eh?” He glances back at her. “Why, all of a sudden? You want breakfast again?”
His tone is light, but Yuuko doesn’t play along; she’s staring at something out in the fading night, and her eyes are hard and almost black. After a moment he looks as well, but sees nothing.
She glances down at him finally and still doesn’t smile. “It’s very dark tonight,” she says.
He stays; the next morning, the school buzzes with stories of an escaped criminal, caught only a few hours after midnight.
#9 – Quiet Time
As soon as the door closes behind Watanuki, the shop sighs, collapsing and expanding again. Yuuko puts her hand to a wall and looks up to the dark rafters, smiling.
“You’re fond of him too,” she says, and strokes her hand down. “I’m glad.”
“Watanuki is clever,” says Maru.
“Watanuki is kind,” says Moro.
“Watanuki will work hard,” they say as one.
“He’ll have to,” Yuuko agrees, with something that’s not regret. On the other side of the thin wall, light flickers and shadows move, then all fades. “He has no other choice but the inevitable.”
“Ah,” the twins say.
#10 – Kittens
A little-known fact is that pipe foxes will purr when happy.
This suprises Watanuki the first time. Mugetsu lies coiled around his throat, dozing, and he absently rubs the top of its head, right between its tiny ears. Like a cat, it arches into that and makes tiny grinding noises that surprise him at first. He stops, and so does the noise; it starts when he pets it again.
“Are you happy?” he ventures, scritching its ears.
Mugetsu squeaks and headbutts gently into his finger before it nuzzles his cheek.
Pleased, Watanuki flushes. “Good,” he says. “Good, I’m glad.”
#11 – Trains
She takes the train, her hands folded in her lap, with a hat and a veil. Though the other cars are very crowded, no one else tries to enter her cabin. She faces the window, watching the landscape streak past in a blur of green and brown under a smeared blue sky. Despite the rumbling underneath her, it feels like the rest of the world is moving as she remains still, unable to see anything in detail.
At six precisely she steps off the train, opens a parasol over her head, and goes to meet her client without looking back.
#12 – Road trip
“Do you even know how to drive?” Watanuki asks.
Yuuko spins the keys on a finger, her Chesire grin toothy. It makes Watanuki immediately suspicious. “Of course I do,” she says. “Aren’t you getting in?”
He keeps a safe distance back. “How come you never mentioned before?” he asks. “Like when we visited that woman with the computer addiciton–”
“Details,” Yuuko says, waving a hand. “I didn’t feel like it. Today, I do. Come along, Watanuki.” She dangles the keys at him. “It’ll be fun.”
Watanuki sincerely doubts this, but follows with a prayer O Gods, Don’t Let Us Die.
# 13 – Gravestone
“Hello, Mother, Father,” says Watanuki. He kneels and lights the incense Yuuko provided him. “I hope you two have been doing all right, wherever you are.”
The day is bright and clear, and he’s glad for it. “There’s a lot that’s happened with me,” he says. “Ah, I’m sure you know already, but … it’s been a very strange year!
“I’m doing all right, though,” he adds quickly. He watches the incense smoke trail upwards. “I’m … I’m happy. So you two don’t need to worry about me.”
There isn’t an answer, but the cleaned gravestones look almost cheerful in the sun.