Butterfly barrettes. That would be a good gift for a friend, right? A friend who is a girl who likes butterflies. A girl and a friend but not a girlfriend. Were barrettes more of a girlfriend gift? He didn't want to be overly familiar and make Himawari-chan uncomfortable. They probably were. He'd make some small cakes or cookies then. Something she could easily share with her co-workers. That wouldn't be weird. Everyone likes cake.
Watanuki didn't go to the small coffee shop every morning, maybe twice a week. More when it was cold. It was right there, on a quiet corner conveniently halfway between his apartment and the shop. He could make his own coffee, of course. He was quite good at it. He had some very nice equipment at Yuuko-san's for proper grinding and brewing but he spent so much of his day catering to others that it was nice to have someone do this small thing for him. Besides, it was nice to finish the walk to work with his hands curled around a hot cup. Especially on those cold mornings like today.
Himawari was usually the opening barista, a young woman with smile as bright as her namesake. Watankui could function early in the morning but he wasn't happy about it. He liked talking with Himawari, her cheer was usually infectious. Christmas wasn't really a thing he thought much about but friends often exchanged small gifts and he wanted to do something for her. He'd bake tonight and bring it by tomorrow.
Watanuki settled on his plan just as he approached the cafe, pleased to have a concrete course of action. The small bell above the door tinkled as he stepped gratefully into the cozy warmth. “Good morning,” he called out reflexively as he stripped his gloves off one hand then the other.
“Ah, it's you.”
He looked up to meet the dark eyes of the other regular barista. A ridiculously tall hulking person named Doumeki. Who needed to be that tall, honestly? What good was it having shoulders that broad in Japan? Looking at Doumeki always made Watanuki feel stubby and clumsy even though he knew he usually wasn't.
Doumeki was tall for anyone, but especially tall for Tokyo. He moved with a quiet grace that made Watanuki think of Noh dancers. Or samurai. Himawari mentioned off-hand once that he practiced traditional archery because of course he did. Watanuki could see it instantly. Doumeki had that stoic warrior demeanor too, until he opened his mouth. He didn't talk all that much, especially compared to his very chatty coworker, but when he did it was with a bluntness that banished any thoughts of traditional Japanese nobility.
“Yes, it's me. I hope that's OK. You know, that I'm asking you to Do your Job.” Watanuki knew he sounded snappy but something about Doumeki just got right under his skin. He tried consciously unfurrowing his brow but he was sure he must be making a ridiculous face when Doumeki raised one elegant eyebrow at him.
“It's fine,” Doumeki responded smoothly, utterly imperturbable as usual. “The usual?”
When Himawari was working Watanuki enjoyed trying a variety of drinks, sometimes coffee, sometimes tea. But when Doumeki was behind the bar he only ever ordered one thing. He didn't know exactly what the man did but Doumeki was a wizard with espresso and steamed milk, turning out the richest, smoothest flat whites Watanuki had ever tasted, all smooth caramel roundness and dense, pillowy foam. It didn't need sugar or flavor or anything it was just amazingly, infuriatingly perfect.
Watanuki huffed out his agreement which prompted a low sound from Doumeki that sounded like the ghost of a chuckle and the shadow of something that might be a smile. He shrugged down into the folds of his scarf in response. Not because he was hiding anything. He was still cold.
When Doumeki finally handed over his obnoxiously delightful coffee, he lingered, dark eyes searching Watanuki's face, then flicking briefly up over his head, then back to his face.
Watanuki frowned, tugging his scarf back down so Doumeki could see it. “What?” After a moment of inscrutable silence he plowed forward, exasperated and a little embarrassed to be caught in what was essentially a staring match. Doumeki had a face that was easy to look at. “Is there something on my face?”
“No,” Doumeki murmured, almost as if he was talking to himself. “No, your face is great. It's just...”
He had never known Doumeki to mince his words so when the other man hesitated Watanuki was immediately suspicious.
“I haven't had breakfast yet so it can't be spinach in my teeth. Is it a pimple? It's not a spider is it? Oh god, there's a spider on my face.”
“No.” If he didn't know better he might have said Doumeki was smiling. “No spiders. It might be your coat or the lighting in here but your face looks... a little haunted.”
Watanuki's eyes widened. He dealt with spirits every day, it was an integral part of his job. Many were benign, some malicious but there was almost always one or two hanging around somewhere near him. He knew for a fact that when he left the house this morning a low level spook had followed him to the coffee shop. He wasn't worried, it wasn't causing trouble and it wouldn't be able to cross the barrier at work but it unnerved him to think that Doumeki might be able to see it.
“You think my face is haunted?” He tried to sound incredulous. “You can see ghosts?”
Doumeki looked slightly abashed. “Not exactly. I can't see them precisely, but I can usually sense spirits if they're around, especially if they're active.”
It was Watanuki's turn to raise an eyebrow.
“My family runs a temple and we do exorcisms sometimes,” Doumeki added.
Watanuki was at a bit of a loss. He definitely didn't want to explain his entire life situation – yes, he'd always been able to see spirits, yes, it could be very annoying and sometimes life threateningly dangerous, yes, a large portion of his current job was dealing with said spirits. No, thank you.
Luckily, before he could respond Doumeki held up a finger, “Hang on a sec.”
He ducked down under the counter to get something and about a minute later he held out a cardboard sleeve. Watanuki looked at it, then looked at the basket of identical sleeves on the counter, then back up at Doumeki's impassive stare. “The coffee is hot,” Doumeki added like Watanuki didn't know that.
Finally, he took the proffered sleeve with only a slight eye roll and slid it on his cup.
“See you tomorrow,” Doumeki asked.
Watanuki had already planned to come tomorrow, with sweets for Himawari of course, but he didn't want to just say that. Not to this guy. “Maybe,” he offered noncommittally.
Doumeki nodded, apparently now satisfied with whatever he saw in Watanuki's face.
Watanuki made his getaway and took off towards the shop. Once he was out the door he took a sip of his coffee.
As he fumed his way down the street, Watanuki completely failed to notice that the spirit who had been traipsing along behind him was gone.
He already knew Doumeki would be there the following morning but he still found himself hoping he might avoid him. There was just something, many things, about him that got right under Watanuki's skin.
Himawari called out a cheerful hello when the bell over the door dinged and he couldn't help but smile.
“Himawari-chan! Good morning!”
She beamed back and he held out the beautifully wrapped box in his hands. “This is just a little something for you. For Christmas.”
“Can I open it now?”
Himawari squealed with delight when she lifted the lid and saw the delicate and intricately iced gingerbread cookies. “Doumeki-kun,” she called over her shoulder, “Watanuki-kun made us cookies!”
Dammit. He wrestled the automatic frown off his face so Himawari wouldn't get the wrong idea and think he was upset with her.
Doumeki appeared from some back room as if by magic, reaching into the box to pull out a snowflake shaped cookie covered in lacy white icing. He considered it for a brief moment before consuming half of it in a giant bite.
“Have you no manners?!” Watanuki snapped. “That's no way to enjoy a homemade delicacy that someone might have spent a great deal of time and effort on!”
Doumeki merely shoved the rest of the cookie in his mouth and gave Watanuki a thumbs up while Himawari giggled delightedly.
Watanuki turned pointedly away to chat with Himawari while Doumeki made his drink. Unfortunately after she rung him up she whisked herself off to the back room leaving him in the conversational desert that was Doumeki's company.
Before he could decide if he even wanted to try for awkward conversation or just let the silence stretch between them, Doumeki gave him another long, considering stare over the espresso machine.
“I told you your face is haunted, right?”
“Yes, you giant weirdo! Seriously, what the hell! Who even says that?!”
“I do, I guess. But it's true.” Doumeki handed him a slightly larger cup than usual, as if an extra four ounces of coffee could make up for the ridiculousness he subjected Watanuki to.
Well, coffee as good as Doumeki's certainly gave it a good try.
The second he took the cup, he felt the change. It was like he had been standing in a cloud of smoke and suddenly stepped into fresh, clean air. He looked around to see that all of the low level spirits that had been hanging around had vanished.
He turned the cup, inspecting it closely, but it looked completely normal. He narrowed his eyes a bit at Doumeki who just stared back impassively. Watanuki slid his fingers down the side and when he touched the cardboard sleeve, they tingled just a touch. The sleeve slid right off and a quick inspection revealed a fairly complex purification and protection seal scribed on the inside in black permanent marker. Ah.
“This is pretty good work, actually,” he conceded grumpily.
Doumeki gave him that faint not-smile again. “You knew you were haunted then,” he concluded.
Watanuki just heaved his most weary sigh, “You have no idea.”
“Kunogi, I'll be right back,” Doumeki called over his shoulder before making his way from behind the counter.
Watanuki watched in mild confusion as Doumeki held the door open, looking at him expectantly.
“I'll walk you to work, and you can tell me why you frequently find yourself haunted,” he said.
It didn't seem like it would be easy to shake Doumeki off so Watanuki just sighed again and slouched through the door. “Fine.”
They had only gone two steps when Doumeki caught the hand Watanuki wasn't using to hold his coffee in his. Doumeki's hand was warm, his long elegant fingers lacing easily with Watanuki's. He felt his cheeks flare pink.
Doumeki just gave him a sidelong glance and a tiny shrug, “It's cold and you're not wearing gloves.”
Watanuki failed to point out to him that he wasn't wearing gloves either. Or a scarf. But only because if he looked closely he could see the faintest blush painting the elegant lines of Doumeki's cheekbones.
He took a sip of his admittedly excellent coffee and capitulated. “So, I work at a shop...”
marksykins, I hope you enjoyed this!! Over to you. :D