XXXHolic: Hitsuzen

Give and Take

{The next morning...}

"Good morning!" Suzume said brightly as she opened the door to her classroom. "Huh?" She blinked when she saw how nervous and excited everyone looked while chatting. Did something happen?

"Ah, Usagi-chan!" Yoshiko-chan called out, waving her over to their little group of friends. "Guess what? All the water in the pool is gone!"

"Eh? All of it?" Suzume asked, surprised.

"I know, isn't it mysterious~!" Mami-chan exclaimed, clearly enjoying the drama.

"It's certainly strange…" Kazuo agreed thoughtfully. "I mean, didn't it just rain yesterday? If anything, there should be more water in the pool."

"!" Suzume gasped. 'No way…!' She though. It couldn't be…

—¡–!–¡–!–¡—

{Lunchtime}

"I heard that too." Doumeki said, spearing a mini roll with his fork. The whole school was talking about it. "The drain was never opened, but the pool was completely drained of water."

"Huh? How can you drain a pool of water without opening the drain!?" Watanuki asked. That didn't even make sense! Their pool was huge!!

"Beats me." Doumeki deadpanned.

"If it 'beats you', then don't act like you know everything!" Watanuki snapped with a vein mark on his forehead.

"But, it really did rain yesterday." Himawari said.

"Yeah…" Watanuki said, looking worried.

"Do you think, maybe… that's why the pool is empty?" Suzume said thoughtfully, furrowing her brow slightly.

"!" Watanuki gasped as their eyes widened. "What do you mean, Suzume-chan?"

"I mean, you can't just get something from nothing, right?" Suzume said, playing with the cuff of her sleeve a little nervously. It was just part of the natural order of things. "Not only is that a basic law of science, but Yuuko-san doesn't grant wishes for free, either, right?"

"I see… so that's why you think maybe the monkey's paw used the water from the pool to make it rain?" Himawari said. That seemed to make sense.

"For some reason, I don't think the story of this monkey's paw will end with 'and she lived happily ever after.'" Doumeki stated.

"How do you know?" Watanuki asked him.

"I don't." Doumeki said, munching on an octopus shaped sausage. "You and Suzume both asked that education student over and over not to use it. So I just figured it wasn't good."

"Doumeki-kun…" Suzume said, smiling. It was really nice to have someone willing to believe in you, despite not being able to see the same things…

"Doumeki-kun knows everything about you, doesn't he, Watanuki-kun?" Himawari asked cheerfully, causing poor Watanuki to flinch.

"No! No! He doesn't!" Watanuki quickly denied it, shaking his and waving his hand vigorously. "He really doesn't!"

"Be sure to put in some umaki tamago eggs." Doumeki told him for tomorrow.

"I told you I don't take orders!" Watanuki snapped shortly with a vein mark throbbing on his forehead.

"Pfft… Haha!" Suzume laughed at their little comedy routine. She really liked being with these guys. It helped take her mind off of her troubles for a little while…

—¡–!–¡–!–¡—

{Later that evening…}

"It rained! It really rained!" The woman said excitedly as she sat at her in her apartment, staring at the monkey's paw. "It wasn't just a coincidence, right? There weren't even rain clouds around! So this is the real thing!" She grinned. "Let's try it one more time! Something that can't normally happen." It was quiet as she thought about it for a moment. "It's got it! That mirror I saw at the antiques shop… It's something really good! I've tried so many times, but the guy won't sell it! I wish it were mine."

SNAP.

KLUNK.

She turned around and saw something lying on the floor behind her.

"The mirror!" She exclaimed, jumping up to examine it. It was exactly as she had pictured it in her mind. It really was the one she wanted from that shop! "This really is a true monkey's paw!" She said brightly as she held it in its tube. "Two fingers are broken. Does that mean that when it grants a wish, it breaks one finger? Then I have three more wishes." She remarked happily. But then she frowned. "Now that I think about it, that lady in the shop said… that she wouldn't recommend it for me." She also recalled Suzume's words when the tube first opened: 'Or worse, it could be real.' She shook her head. No way! "The myths and legends of the monkey's paw… say that the wishes it grants all end badly… but I know that I'll be okay!" She said confidently. "Now… what'll be my third wish?"

—¡–!–¡–!–¡—

{Yuuko's shop}

"I see. The mirror vanished." Yuuko said thoughtfully. "The one at your shop was the 'Yata no Kagami' mirror, wasn't it? That isn't something that just anyone can walk off with…" The owner of that antiques shop was an acquaintance of hers, and they had called her the moment it disappeared. "Why did it vanish? Yes, I have a hunch. But I'd like you to wait a little longer regarding that… because the 'stone' has already started tumbling."

—¡–!–¡–!–¡—

{The following day, at Tsuji Academy…}

"Are you really going to start practicing archery today?" Suzume asked Doumeki as they leaned against the window ledge. She was hanging out with the boys before class this morning.

"Yeah." He said calmly. "You can come watch if you like."

"Not interested!" Watanuki answered bluntly without hesitation, causing her to sweat-drop. "Besides, I have to work at Yuuko-san's shop today."

"I might be able to come." Suzume told Doumeki.

"Suzume-chan, you don't have to go out of your way for that guy." Watanuki said with a wave of his hand. "It's only Doumeki."

"I'll see you there, then." Doumeki told her, as if he hadn't heard him.

"Oi!" Watanuki snapped, cutting the air with his hand.

"Good morning~!" A familiar voice called out, cutting into their conversation. They all looked up to see the monkey paw woman approaching them. "The weather's really beautiful again today!" She said cheerfully.

"You sound like you're having fun." Watanuki observed.

"You can tell?" The woman asked with a smile. "I was finally able to get a mirror that I've wanted for the longest time!! I asked the owner over and over, but he wouldn't part with it!" Suzume frowned slightly. She had a bad feeling about this…

"Don't tell me, you… made another wish on that thing?" She asked warily.

"That's right!" The woman said brightly.

"Eh!?" Watanuki said furrowing his brow, also alarmed by the idea.

"Right after I made my wish, the mirror just suddenly appeared!" The woman explained. "It really surprised me! It is the real thing!"

"!" Suzume and Watanuki gasped with she opened the tube, and more of that black smoke came pouring out.

"Urk!" Watanuki took a step back as he covered his nose and mouth, looking like he was going to be sick. It had gotten so much worse than the last time they had seen it, that it had become like a miasma…! The woman didn't seem to notice, but Suzume and Doumeki did.

"Are you all right, Watanuki?" Suzume asked, concerned.

"Huh? You don't feel that, Suzume-chan?" He whispered. She shook her head.

"It looks worse than last time, but whatever it is doesn't seem to be affecting me as much as you…" Suzume replied quietly, wondering if it was because those latent purification abilities that Yuuko had said she had were protecting her.

"Look!" The woman said, so enamored with the monkey's paw that she hadn't heard a word of their little conversation. "When I get a wish granted, a finger breaks. It has five fingers, and two are broken, so it means I have three wishes left."

"But that…" Watanuki said weakly.

"I know you don't want to hear this, but I really think you should stop." Suzume said, furrowing her brow. "After you wished for it to rain, the school pool mysteriously lost all of its water. It might seem minor now, but these wishes clearly have consequences. I'm sure that mirror wasn't just created out of thin air, either. The monkey's paw probably took from that shop. Regardless of how it was obtained, if you take something from its rightful owner without properly compensating them, then isn't that the same as stealing?"

The woman furrowed her brow and frowned slightly at that. She clearly didn't appreciate having that pointed out to her.

"In all of the monkey's paw stories, the wisher always meets a pretty terrible fate." Doumeki added.

"That may happen to other people, but I'll be just fine!" The woman said stubbornly as she turned away to leave.

"We could say anything, and it wouldn't make a difference." Doumeki stated as they watched her walk away. It seemed that woman wasn't the type to listen to others. Watanuki frowned.

There must be something they could do…

—¡–!–¡–!–¡—

"Are you sure you don't want to go to the shop with Watanuki?" Doumeki asked Suzume as they walked over to the archery range together after school.

"Mn." She said, looking a little down as she nodded. "My grandma used to say 'you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink'. We've said about all we can to discourage her, but she still won't listen. It's too dangerous to try to take the monkey's paw back now. She might make a wish to stop us… there's no telling what could happen, then." Doumeki glanced at her.

"… But that's not the only thing that's worrying you, is it?" He asked after a moment. She had been down for a while. Her smiles hadn't been the same.

"Ah, you're really sharp, Doumeki-kun…" She said with a wry smile. "Actually… just before this all started, the family lawyer called to tell me that my uncle… my uncle had a really bad breakdown and had to be committed to a mental hospital about a day after we returned the curse." She finally admitted a bit hesitantly. "They said he was suffering from hallucinations and prone to self harm. I thought maybe it was because he was still seeing things after I forced him to see those spirits, but when I tried to use my kotodama on him to stop it… He was so hysterical that it was like he couldn't hear a word I was saying. And even if it did take, he seems to have already suffered some permanent psychological damage… I never meant for it to go that far…" She said regretfully, biting her lip. She was surprised when Doumeki placed a hand on her head to comfort her.

"I know." He said calmly as he looked her in the eye. Suzume wasn't a bad person. She was a good girl.

"Thank you, Doumeki-kun…" She said, bowing her head slightly, as she wiped away the tears that had started to form in her eyes as she confessed. She could read the expression in his eyes. Sometimes, you just needed to hear someone else tell you that you weren't really as bad as you thought you were.

—¡–!–¡–!–¡—

{Meanwhile, at Yuuko's Shop…}

"Something cannot be born from nothing." Yuuko said after hearing what happened from Watanuki as she trimmed the stem of a flower before adding it to the ikebana arrangement she was making.

"Ah, Suzume-chan said the same thing!" Watanuki said, a bit surprised.

"Suzume-chan is a smart girl." Yuuko remarked with a slight smirk. "To fulfill a wish, the materials must come from somewhere. Or a price must be paid."

"Then, her theory about the pool water being used for the rain was correct!?" Watanuki asked, impressed. "What about the mirror?" It wasn't really stolen, was it…?

"I just got a phone call from an antiques dealer I know. A very precious mirror vanished from his shop." Yuuko said, confirming their fears.

"Do you think that woman will be okay?" Watanuki asked after a moment, concerned.

"Nothing you told her changed her mind, right?" Yuuko asked. "It's just as Doumeki said." She glanced up at him. "And now, Watanuki… Haven't I been waiting long enough for that roll cake?"

"Oh no!" Watanuki yelled, jumping to his feet. "I hope the sponge cake is okay!" He cried in alarm as he ran to rescue them from the oven before they burned.

"Roll cake~! Roll cake~!" Maru and Moro sang as they skipped after him, leaving only Mokona and Yuuko in the room.

"Once a stone starts rolling, it can't stop itself." Yuuko said aloud. "It just keeps rolling…" She smelled the camellia flower in her hand. "… Until it reaches the very bottom of the slope."

—¡–!–¡–!–¡—

"This is no good." The woman complained, letting her pen fall on the desk she was working at in her university's library. She had come there to work on a research paper, but… "This concept has been done too many times. The seminar I teach will be judged on its ideas. I really want to continue on in folklore!" She said anxiously. "I need a subject with more of an impact! Something that will surprise them! Something they've never seen before! But what? What?" Her eyes landed on the tube containing the monkey's paw that was sitting on top of the books in her bag. She picked it up, and smiled.

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