My appologies for taking so long to get this out. I talk to much, as you may have noticed. :-)
Wait: Part the Second
It was the sound of a low beeping that roused Watanuki from dreams of dark flesh and sharp teeth. The noise was steady, insistent, and annoying.
Watanuki was incredibly grateful to it.
As the fragments of unwanted memories temporarily slipped away, Watanuki attempted to open his eyes. They managed to crack slightly, but refused to open any more than that. With a sigh, he raised one hand to rub away at the accumulated grit and felt something tug at his skin. The teen opened his eyes fully to find several tubes inserted into the veins on the top of his hand and a small clamp on his index finger. Examining himself further, he noticed quite a few bandages on his arms and chest.
He blinked groggily at them, but still wasn't quite awake enough to try and figure out these new skin growths, so instead sat up and looked at his surroundings.
The first thing his eyes were drawn to was a raised television across the room, hanging from the ceiling. Some random news program was on, muted and flashing captions continuously across the bottom of the screen. Watanuki couldn't read them without his glasses, but from what he could see it probably wasn't very interesting anyway.
The second thing he saw was Doumeki.
Watanuki froze, afraid for a moment of confronting the boy, until he realize the archer was asleep. The tall boy lay slumped against the back of the armchair he was in, long legs tucked beneath him. With his head tilted back at an odd angle and one hand loosely wrapped around the TV remote, it looked as though sleep had snuck up on the teen and taken him by surprise.
Glancing out the window, Watanuki saw it was still dark out. He surmised he must have only been asleep for a few hours and was just beginning to look around for a clock and wonder what hospital he was in (it had taken him a minute to realize that was where he was) when the door to his right opened, diverting his attention.
A short woman with dark hair tied in a tight ponytail and wearing lavender scrubs walked in carrying several items in her arms. Brief surprise flitted across her face when she saw him, but professionalism quickly took over and the nurse flashed him a bright smile.
"Ah, Watanuki-san, it's good to see you awake. How are you feeling?" The nurse walked over to the IV stand and checked the bags hanging as she spoke.
"Um." How did he feel? Taking a hasty survey of his body, Watanuki couldn't come up with much to complain about. His face was a little stiff and his shoulder felt sore, not to mention the itchiness of his chest, legs, and back, plus a slight pain in his left side. But it didn't really seem as bad as it should have been. "Not too bad, thank you." His throat felt scratchy and dry, causing his words to come out in a low, rasping voice he barely recognized.
The nurse looked up from writing on a clipboard and gave him another smile. "That's good to hear." She finished whatever she was writing and walked over to the other side of his bed to a side table where a pitcher of water sat. She poured some for him and nodded her head to the dozing boy next to her as she handed him the cup.
"This one. He's been here the whole time you know. Here everyday during visiting hours and out there in the waiting room afterwards. Only left for a bit after he knew you were alright, to get that." She motioned to a small bag lying to the side of the chair on the floor that he hadn't even seen. For the first time, Watanuki noticed Doumeki's clothes were different and in a rather rumpled state.
"You have a good friend, Watanuki-san."
He didn't bother to correct her and simply drank his water slowly as he stared at the sheets covering his legs. Something she had said before made him look back to her though.
"How long have I been here, ma'am?"
The nurse took his now empty cup and threw it into the wastebin under the table before walking back over to his IV stand. She answered his question as she worked at changing several bags with fresh ones. "Well, I believe this makes the tenth night you've been with us."
Watanuki's eyes widened in shock, but the nurse was too occupied with reconnecting a tube to notice, so continued on.
"Honestly, we weren't sure you would make it that first night, but you pulled though. Quite hearty, you are. Two broken ribs, fifty-two stitches total, inside and out, the rest will be coming out in a day or two, a couple nasty burns, those should be mostly healed by now, I bet they itch. The right shoulder will probably be stiff for some time; there was a lot of muscle damage there. Your doctor will, of course, be able to tell you anything you want in more detail."
Watanuki wasn't sure he wanted any more detail. Ten days...
The nurse finished with the bags and leaned over him to wrap one of those blood pressure cuffs around his upper arm, still speaking all the while.
"You'll be able to see him in the morning, and of course you are welcome to speak with one of the doctors on duty tonight, if you have any questions I can't answer."
He didn't really feel like asking questions either. Ten days...
The nurse straightened, removing the cuff, and scribbled something else on her clipboard. "Is there anything else you need, Watanuki-san?"
"Er, no thank you."
"Well then, if you do need anything else, just press that call button there," she showed him a little yellow button on the side of the head board, "and I'll come. My name is Takikio, and feel free to call me for anything at all."
"Thank you, Takikio-san." He attempted a small smile for her.
Her smile softened as she looked at him, her eyes kind. "You really are a sweet boy. Just as polite as he said. Goodnight-Watanuki-san, try to get some rest and your doctor will be here in the morning."
Before his brain could catch up and he could ask her what she meant by that first comment, Takikio was out in the hallway, quietly closing the door behind her.
The injured teen had difficulty wrapping his mind around the fact that he had missed out on nearly a week and a half of his own life. Though it could have been worse, he mused. He could have missed out on the rest of it altogether if not for...
And how had he thanked him?
Hands clenched involuntarily in his lap as he remembered the look on the archer's face at that time. A lump began to form at the base of his throat, and in an effort to sidetrack the oncoming tears he looked around for his glasses. He only just remembered that they probably wouldn't be in the room, since he had lost them in the alley, when he spotted them on another side table near his right elbow.
He picked them up gratefully and held in front of the dim light coming from a small fixture next to his bed. The glass was scratched a bit and the earpieces were a little twisted, and he couldn't be sure, but it looked like one of the lenses might have fallen out and been put back in, since the frame was slightly bent out of shape around it.
Putting them on experimentally, Watanuki tried to adjust them as he looked at the television. He could still see out of them well enough, and he had been right. The program really wasn't very interesting.
A small gasp escaped and his hands jerked violently, allowing the frames to fall from his fingers and land, unnoticed, with a tiny thump in his lap. Watanuki whipped his head around and saw Doumeki watching him from the armchair.
"Here." The archer slipped his feet to the floor and stood up, taking the step and a half over to Watanuki's bed to pick up the glasses. He settled them carefully onto the shorter boy's face, leaning back to make sure they were straight before letting his hands fall to his sides.
Watanuki could only sit where he was and grip the sheets tightly in his fists, resolutely staring anywhere but at the boy in front of him and listening with slight embarrassment as the monitor beside him beeped away with increasing regularity. Not until Doumeki finally stepped back did he look up at the other boy. He couldn't help but ask the only question he had thought of since seeing the taller boy asleep in the chair next to him.
"Why are you here?" There was no accusation or heat behind the words, only the question.
"Why wouldn't I be?" And it was said so simply, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for him to be there, that Watanuki had to look away.
For the next several minutes he stared blankly at the TV, willing the rapid beating of his heart to slow down and the angry words in his head to go away. As much as he hated to admit it, having Doumeki in the room made him feel safe, as if the things that had been done to him were just a bad dream. He didn't want to risk chasing the archer away with his temper.
He heard the shift of cloth against cloth and glances furtively from the corner of his eye to see Doumeki settling into the armchair once more. Watanuki noticed for the first time how tired the other boy looked. Dark circles ringed his eyes and his normally messy hair was even more untidy than normal. It was hard to tell with his sitting down, but Watanuki thought the archer looked a little thinner too.
So it was true.
The idiot really would starve without Watanuki around to cook for him.
More time passed and eventually the news program turned into some comedy show he hadn't seen before. And though he just woken up from an incredibly long nap, Watanuki couldn't keep from sagging back onto his pillow in exhaustion. He briefly wondered if there was something in one of the bags the nurse changed that was making him so sleepy. He could no longer feel any of the small hurts on his body and his eyes were beginning to droop against his will. A terrifying thought gave him enough energy to snap his eyes open again though.
"Doumeki..." His eyes connected to a pair of calm golden ones. He had no right to ask, or to even to think it, but...
"Don't worry. I'll be here."
The wash of relief he felt might have worried him any other time, but for now Watanuki only let himself be comforted by the words and sunk back down to the pillow. He felt himself drifting off almost immediately and couldn't tell if he actually said the soft, "thank you," out loud, or if he only dreamed it.
He certainly wasn't awake when the quiet, "Please don't thank me," was replied or the glasses gently removed from his face.
This time it was the hushed murmur of voices that broke the dreams surrounding him. Blue eyes stared at the white ceiling above, as the last remnants of nightmare fell away. Shifting his head to the left, he saw Doumeki and Himawari speaking to one another next to the window. His vision was limited and blurry, but it looked as though Himawari was holding some books in one arm and explaining something about the paper Doumeki was looking at in his hands. Watanuki smiled, and was about to call out to her when a memory suddenly crashed through his mind, stealing his breath and greeting. Shame flooded through him instantly as he remembered the last time he had thought about her, contemplating her life in exchange for his own. He clamped his eyes shut and lay still, hoping they would still think him asleep.
A small, tortured eternity passed, though it couldn't have been more than fifteen to twenty minutes, before he heard light footsteps walk towards him and then stop next to his bed. A cool hand brushed the hair away from his forehead He struggled to keep himself still and his face relaxed.
"I have to go now Watanuki-kun. Please, rest well and get better. I'll see you again soon."
It wasn't until he heard her footsteps behind him and the open and shut of the door that he finally let the tears slip in warm trails down his cheeks to collect unchecked on his pillow.
Another five minutes or so passed. Watanuki remained as still as ever, giving no outward signs of being anything other than in a deep sleep.
"You can open your eyes now. She's gone." The deep voice lacked any kind of reproach and sounded slightly distracted.
Watanuki didn't even pretend to fake sleep any more and immediately opened his eyes. What was the point if Doumeki already knew he was awake? It would have been both pointless and embarrassing.
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"You obviously didn't want to talk to her." Doumeki was back in the armchair, flipping through a textbook. He looked up at after answering and regarded the shorter boy with placid eyes.
Watanuki swallowed thickly. "Did she..."
"She didn't notice."
He offered a silent thank you to all the gods he could think of for that small mercy. The last thing he wanted was for her to worry if he was trying to avoid her. He was. But he didn't want her to know it.
"Thank you." For once, genuinely expressing his gratitude to the boy beside him didn't come as an effort. It was spoken softly, and maybe he still couldn't quite look the archer in the eye when he said it, but he still meant it.
"Why don't you want to talk to her?" Watanuki met a pair of genuinely curious eyes and found he didn't want to lie. But the truth was too mortifying and in the end all he could do was stare at his clasped hands and frown.
The mattress beside him creaked and dipped as an extra weight settled onto it. He only then realized his hands were shaking when a large palm laid itself over top of them, effectively stilling the small tremors.
"She's not the type of person to judge. And no one's told her... what happened."
The words were meant to be reassuring, he knew, but only made him feel even more miserable. And Doumeki... trying his hardest to be kind to a person who claimed to hate him every chance he got. Pity, most likely. Something the injured boy really hated people feeling for him.
Watanuki yanked his hands from under the warm one of the taller boy and hurriedly covered his face. He tried to get out a few words before the real torrent began.
"Get out. Leave me alone." They were muffled by his palms and half strangled with tears, but he knew the other boy heard him.
And ignored them, as usual.
The bed shifted a second before he felt strong arms wrap carefully around his back and pull him into a comforting warmth he didn't want. He pushed back weakly with both hands planted against Doumeki's chest but it was useless and they both knew it.
"Just... leave. Please." He stared stubbornly at his hands where they remained on the taller boy, still unable to meet Doumeki's gaze.
"No. I won't leave you on your own again."
Without understanding exactly what the archer meant, Watanuki recognized the resolute tone in his voice. The tone that said, 'I can be just as much of a willful bastard as you, and I'm stronger than you too, so I'd like to see you do something about it.' Or at least, that was Watanuki's interpretation of it.
"You can talk to me, if you want. You might feel better if you do." Doumeki's low voice reverberated through his chest, causing Watanuki's hands to tingle with the vibrations. He tried to focus on that, rather than the overwhelming need to throw his arms around the taller boy and simply feel safe again. It was such a ridiculous thought that it cleared his head enough to form a response.
"You'll hate me." Wait, that wasn't right. What happened? He had fully intended to tell Doumeki to go to hell. Where had that plan gone?
"Then we'll be even." Watanuki was poised to ask the other boy what he meant by that when the archer continued. "But I don't think I could ever hate you." He paused for a moment and this time Watanuki waited for Doumeki to go on. When he did, his voice held more uncertainty and hesitation than Watanuki had ever associated with the taller boy before. It made him look up where nothing else would have.
"I... I'll understand. If you do, though. If you hate me."
Now Doumeki was the one who wouldn't meet Watanuki's eyes. The arms that had been wrapped around the smaller boy's shoulders dropped to hang limply from the archer's sides. Watanuki could only shake his head in confusion, his worries temporarily sidetracked by a new, perplexing development.
"What... Why... Doumeki I... you know that I don't, uh, that I don't really hate you. Right?" Doumeki had to have known that. Surely he wouldn't have stayed around so long if he truly believed Watanuki hated him.
Unexplainable panic bubbled up in his chest. "Doumeki?!" Watanuki had no idea why it was suddenly so important for Doumeki to know he didn't hate him, but he could think of nothing else in that moment than making sure the archer knew the truth. "I don't-"
"You don't now. But..." The sadness carried in that one sentence tugged at Watanuki's heart with an almost painful force.
Doumeki sighed and finally turned until haunted golden eyes settled on a pair of sapphire blue ones. "But I have to tell you."
Uncomprehending, Watanuki shook his head again. "Tell me what?"
And he began.
"Yuuko-san." Doumeki paused for half a beat. "What happened?"
Her simple statement didn't fool the archer. The mere fact that Watanuki's boss was calling him at such a late hour and had yet to mention the words 'liquor' or 'small favor' could only mean something was about to happen that was most likely going to be trouble. So he asked the only question that would be logical at a time like this.
"Where is he?"
"On his way home."
"I'll need my bow." It wasn't a question.
"I'll wait for you at the end of the street. Bring an arrow." It wasn't a request.
When he reached the corner of his street, he didn't wonder how the woman had managed to walk over two miles in less than a minute and a half, or why she was out there to begin with. He only stopped in front of her, waiting expectantly for what she would tell him. Yuuko stared off into the distance, probably seeing things he couldn't even begin to imagine.
Without moving, and with an expression Doumeki knew meant he was about to hear something bad, Yuuko began to speak.
"There is something stalking Watanuki. I believe it will find him tonight. He has chosen his own path, and I can no longer offer direct interference." She turned serious burgundy eyes on Doumeki. "But you can still help him, if you choose to."
"Tell me what to do."
Yuuko reached one hand into a fold of her kimono and pulled out a short roll of paper and a small calligraphy brush. "Write what I tell you."
Doumeki accepted the offered items and knelt on the ground, unrolling the paper until it stretched out a good ten feet. He set the brush to the paper and was not entirely surprised to see it write in perfectly black strokes without any ink visible on its tip. The words she recited to him were vaguely familiar at first, but eventually only strung together in a jumbled mess, making no sense at all to him. Still, he dutifully copied down each, just as she said them.
When he finished the last brush stroke a minute later, the words began to waver and ripple. Doumeki jerked his hand back in surprise as the individual kana started to rearrange themselves on the paper, zipping around and bumping into one another. A few of the kanji written broke apart when they collided, but continued to race around the paper, while some of the kana connected randomly with others, until everything finally settled. When he was sure they were done, Doumeki leaned back over the parchment to read the words.
It was a banishment hex and an invocation of some benevolent deity or other. He remembered where he had seen those first words now. During his search to get Watanuki's eyes back he had come across similar passages when looking through a small mountain of his grandfather's books. The wording here was in the same archaic style and pattern
"Wrap it around the arrow."
Doumeki placed the brush back into Yuuko's waiting hand and picked up the arrow from where he had set it next to him. He balanced the fletching end on the sidewalk and wrapped the paper tightly against the wood, from tip to feathers, until he ran out of room. It stayed where it was, as securely in place as if he had glued it there. A small piece of paper about four inches long remained free. It was the only blank area on the surface.
"That is where you will write the name of the spirit."
He looked up to her expectantly, but Yuuko only shook her head. Reaching into her kimono once more, she pulled out... a pin? The older woman handed the perfectly normal sewing pin to Doumeki. He only stared at it in confusion.
"How am I supposed to write its name with this?"
"That, you will have to figure out yourself."
"Alright, then what's its name?"
"I cannot tell you that either."
Doumeki stared at the woman in front of him for a moment. He knew she could be deliberately infuriating at times, but he didn't think she was playing around. "If it's about the price-"
"Then, you can have whatever-"
"No. This is not something you can pay for, Doumeki-kun. It is too far out of your range." She at least seemed apologetic when she said it, but otherwise gave him nothing more. He felt frustration building up within him. They really didn't have time for this; he could feel it.
"Then what can I afford?" The irritation seeped its way into his voice and he didn't care.
Yuuko smiled slightly, as if he had finally said what she wanted to hear. "I can tell you how to get his name, but that too has a high price. You are willing to pay it, I assume?"
"Then I will tell you. There are only two ways for Watanuki to break free from this being. The first is of his choosing, but I do not think he will allow the spirit to leave him." That part sounded a bit dubious to the archer, as he knew Watanuki took every opportunity he could find to escape the spirits that plagued him, but he remained silent and listened carefully to the older woman. "The second way be rid of him is in your hands. By adding your own powers of purification, it will be enough to send him to his original plane of existence."
"In other words, I'll be sending it back to hell."
The smile tugged briefly at her lips again. "Indeed."
"Its name, then."
"The spirit will give you that himself." She was watching him carefully now. "And this is where your payment will come from. Before the spirit reveals his name, you are not allowed to do anything. You will not intervene, you will not speak, and you will not provide any kind of assistance to Watanuki." She looked off into the distance again, slightly farther to the right than before. "You must wait, watch and listen. And if you do not, Doumeki, you will both die. It will not work without the name." Intense eyes turned back and locked with his. "Remember that."
Doumeki swallowed the nervousness rising in his throat as he went over her instructions. On the surface, it seemed to be a rather weak price to pay, but he knew that for such information the actual cost would not be so cheap. She had already said it would be high, even if it didn't seem like it. If she told him his price was to wait, then there was a catch. A big one. He wasn't looking forward to finding out what it was.
"It's time for you to go."
He didn't need to be told twice.
Doumeki knew the way to Watanuki's house without even having to think about it, but Yuuko hadn't given him a specific location, so all he had to go on was the route Watanuki would take from the wish shop to his own apartment.
When the shop finally came into sight, he immediately veered to the right, starting himself towards the same path Watanuki had gone down. He ran steadily, eyes and ears tuned for any indication of a struggle or any signs at all of his friend.
Suddenly, the right side of his vision changed, revealing a giant, black, winged... thing. The abrupt appearance caused Doumeki to stumble, thinking it was in front of him. It only took him a second to realize this was the spirit that Watanuki was facing before he was off again at twice the speed. He knew where the smaller boy was; now all he had to do was get there.
It was disconcerting (it always was, but he was slowly starting to get used to it) the way his vision was split in two. He tried to pay attention to where he was going, but found himself incredibly distracted by the shift in his point of view as Watanuki, in turn, started to run down a side street and then turn down a narrow alley. Doumeki had to stop himself from running headlong into a wall once when he tried to turn down the nonexistent street also.
Eventually, he learned how to block out the right view enough to concentrate on his own path. Though the sight of the winged beast looming over what was apparently a knocked down Watanuki was extremely difficult to ignore.
He was very close to where Watanuki was and could see the street the shorter boy had turned down just ahead of him. Rounding the corner, he heard an agonized scream float towards him from the distance. Doumeki focused on his right vision again but could only make out a hazy outline of blackness, in what he assumed was the other boy losing consciousness. He slowed as he came to the entrance to the alley where Watanuki was, finally coming to a stop at the corner.
Crouching down and making sure the bow hanging from his back made no noise as it touched the ground, Doumeki peered around the wall. The right side faded as it always did when he came in sight of whatever Watanuki was seeing, allowing him to watch through his own, non-split vision. He knew the black thing was facing in the opposite direction and both of them were too distracted to notice him, so he leaned as far out as he dared and listened for his chance to take down the spirit.
His first view of Watanuki almost blew any thoughts of staying where he was right out the window. Doumeki was on his feet before he even realized what he was doing and had to physically hold himself against the wall to keep from going to the smaller boy's side, hands grasping at the bricks hard enough to tear the skin of his fingers.
The creature was leaning over the prostrated body of Watanuki, ripping through the cloth of the boy's pants. Anger and mounting horror welled up through Doumeki's chest as he watched the beast slice the material in two pieces and ice-cold fear stabbed through the archer when he realized the only reason why the spirit would feel the urge to do that. Words drifted over to him with mocking clarity.
"I'll give you one minute, then do you know what I'll be doing to you?"
Doumeki knew, and from the stillness that fell over the shorter boy, he could tell Watanuki knew too.
He wished the spirit would hurry up and give its name. The urge to kill it was an almost physical thing, as if he could reach out and touch the hate he felt for the beast in the air around him. He struggled to keep his breathing calm, trying to remember every meditation technique he had been taught in an effort to slow the rapid beating of his heart.
"N-No..." A denial. Not a convincing one.
"A name then. A good one."
The request threw Doumeki for a second, not understanding what the monster was talking about. His shared vision didn't come with surround sound after all, so he had missed whatever had been previously said. Then he remembered Yuuko telling him about a choice Watanuki had to make and with insight that even surprised him, Doumeki realized what the creature was asking for.
It wanted Watanuki to give up someone else in his place.
'Do it. Give him a name, Watanuki. Any name. Give him mine, or Yuuko's. Someone who can fight him. Anyone!' Even as his mind screamed the words his mouth couldn't let through, he knew it was useless to think them. Watanuki wasn't the kind of person to put his own safety before someone else's. It could be both endearing and infuriating at times. But right now, it was only deadly.
Please, Watanuki. Just this once, save yourself. Please...
The single word hung resolutely in the air with undaunted clarity.
The dammed fool.
"I was hoping you would say that. Would you like to know the name of your betrayer, before we have our fun?"
'No, you piece of shit. I want your name.' But Doumeki mentally filed away the 'betrayer's' name it gave, for future reference. Obviously someone had had fewer qualms about giving away Watanuki to this thing and as soon as he was able to, he intended to find this person. He wasn't quite as forgiving as he knew Watanuki to be.
The thing leaned over Watanuki's face, and Doumeki couldn't tell if he was touching him or not, but the revolted look on the smaller boy's face was enough. A small growl escaped the archer's lips before he could catch it.
'Get off of him!'
An answering growl sounded from the spirit as it sat back up, and for a panicked second, Doumeki thought it had heard him. But it seemed to only be focused on the person beneath it.
Without warning, the beast jerked back a good two feet, rocking on its heels as Watanuki's feet collided with its chest. The skinny teen used the small opportunity he had made and rolled onto his knees, getting tangles slightly in the torn pieces of his pants and losing his glasses in the process.
Doumeki fell to his knees as Watanuki clambered to his feet and began to run in the direction the taller boy was hiding. It was obvious that the smaller teen was no longer capable of outrunning the spirit behind him, tripping and weaving about the alley, half blind. Doumeki glanced behind Watanuki and couldn't help but be glad the smaller teen couldn't see the predatory and lustful look on the creature's face as it shoved the injured boy into a wall less than twenty feet from where the archer was crouched.
"So you like it rough do you? Well I'm more than happy to oblige." The tattered boxers and remains of Watanuki's shirt were torn free from his body, leaving the teen naked and exposed to the night.
No, please, not that. Please God, please not that. Please, please, please... But as before, his urgent prayers were ignored. Doumeki lowered his head and squeezed his eyes shut after the first intrusion of Watanuki's body, the shorter boy's screams echoing off the walls and piercing his heart like a knife. But he remembered his price and forced his head and eyes up, making sure that at the very least he could not mess up Watanuki's only chance to live by being too queasy.
For longer than he cared to think about, Doumeki knelt on the ground and prayed for Watanuki's pain to end. He mouthed every sutra he could remember for easing suffering and invoked the name of every god and goddess of healing he could think of as he traced their names on the ground in front of him. And when he came to the end, he started over from the beginning, never taking his eyes off the boy in front of him, never letting go of the arrow in his hands or ceasing the motion of his fingers, even to wipe away the wetness dripping from his chin. All the while remembering Yuuko's words. To wait, watch and listen, or end up killing the both of them.
If he'd had enough of his mind left unoccupied to think about it, he probably would have hated her then.
"When I come, I will kill you."
The relief he saw wash over Watanuki's face cracked something small and important inside the archer, but finally, he heard the words he had been wishing for.
"I will tell you my name, little snack, so that you may take it to your grave and know who sent you there. And I, I will rip you open and drink of your life as I watch the light dim from you eyes."
'Like hell you will.'
He quickly removed the pin Yuuko had given him from his pocket and listened carefully, not even daring to breathe lest he miss even a syllable of the spirit's name.
"My name, little snack. Would you like to know?"
Doumeki immediately scratched the pin against the paper, but was baffled when it didn't begin to write as the brush had. Terror flooded through him as he looked up again at the beast and saw it was showing signs of finishing. He looked back at the pin and sudden inspiration came. Jabbing the pin deep into his finger, the archer used the welling blood to smear the kanji onto the paper.
It was uneven, blotched and barely legible, but apparently it was good enough.
The parchment flared with a bright blue flame, burning away the paper until just the words were left floating barely above the surface of the wood, then they too burned away, ashes settling onto the shaft of the arrow and melding together with it.
It only took a few second for the whole process. It took even less for Doumeki to spring to his feet, turn the corner and fit the arrow to the bow.
As he lined up the tip with the back of the creature, directly between its wings and where he thought its heart might be, Doumeki let the air release from his lungs, stilling his body and mind. He aimed, fired, and dropped the bow before the spirit had completely finished burning.
Doumeki sprinted to Watanuki's side and slid heavily to his knees. The smaller teen had fallen half on his back and half on his side, with on arm stretched underneath him and the other lying limply over his stomach.
It offered the archer a perfect view of all the injuries Watanuki had accumulated. Plus the still smoking burns Doumeki had just added.
Doumeki reached a trembling hand out to the boy next to him, the urge to touch him and make sure he was still alive too overwhelming to even try to resist. The only spot he could find that wasn't covered in blood, bruises, or torn flesh was a small area directly over the boy's heart. How that particular spot had escaped notice, he didn't know.
Deep blue eyes fluttered open at the archer's touch. Recognition registered in their depths and Doumeki could swear he saw a tiny bit of annoyance flash through them too. It should have made him smile, but...
"Doumeki..." The cracked lips barely moved and it was such a low whisper he could have almost put it off to his imagination. But Doumeki knew it was real.
"Watanuki." And he tried to be brave for the other boy. Tried his damnedest not to be weak in front of him or show him how terribly afraid he had been, but when the archer heard his name whispered from those abused lips everything suddenly became too much too handle and the tears he was sure should have run dry by now marked new paths down his face.
"Don't... Doumeki... don't cry... please don't..." If he'd had the luxury of a quiet room and about three hours, that broken sentence would have caused the archer to cry even harder. Even half dead and bleeding into the ground, Watanuki could only think of someone else's pain.
"I'm so sorry, Watanuki. I'm so sorry." He reached up to brush Watanuki's face, but stopped just above the skin, knowing if he touched the other boy again, he wouldn't be able to hold back the swell of despair threatening to engulf him. He let his hand drop.
"What..." A gasp of a scarcely formed word.
Doumeki steeled his nerves and pushed his own heart's aching into the back part of his mind. The worst was over, but Watanuki could still die if the taller boy left him out there much longer. He needed a hospital and medical attention.
Standing, Doumeki removed the kimono robe he was wearing and prepared to settle it over the smaller boy when a pained whimper and a shuffling stilled his movements. What was Watanuki saying?
The small important thing inside him cracked again and split in two.
Doumeki swallowed down the growing burn in his throat and crouched over his friend again, ignoring the pleading moans and feeble attempts at escape. He laid the material as gently as he could over the boy's nakedness before leaving him to retrieve his dropped bow, hands shaking so badly he nearly dropped it twice. A quick scan for the pin turned up nothing, but he figured it had served its purpose and left it wherever it was. He took a quick second as he looped the bow around his back to compose the raging flood crashing insistently against the edges of his mind.
Time enough to have a mental breakdown once Watanuki was safe in a hospital bed.
He walked over the prone figure and knelt beside him once more.
"Watanuki." The other boy had his face hidden in the crook of his elbow, shoulders shaking with uncontrollable sobs.
"Watanuki." He called a little louder, in case Watanuki hadn't heard him the first time. But the skinny teen still wouldn't give any indication of acknowledging him, though Doumeki knew he had to have heard him.
Sighing, the archer continued on as if Watanuki was listening. "Watanuki, this is going to hurt." An understatement if ever there was one. He would be surprised if the smaller didn't pass out instantly. "Please, just... try to bear with it, okay?"
Without further warning, Doumeki slipped his arms beneath the cold and trembling body of his friend and lifted him as carefully as he could. The second it took for Watanuki to cry out in pain before going limp in his arms was still an impressive amount of time to stay awake, considering.
Doumeki wasn't stupid. He knew that walking the boy in his arms to the hospital was not only impractical, but most like Watanuki would die by the time he got there. So he instead found the first house with a light on, banged on the door, and proceeded to scare the living daylights out of the inhabitants before convincing them to call an ambulance.
For the next two days while Watanuki was in ICU, Doumeki was confined to pacing the waiting room, unable to visit the smaller boy or even look in on him. The only information he received was through either the doctor in charge of Watanuki or, more often, the nurses attending him.
He had called his parents (they were suitably distressed to find out where he was, until he told them it wasn't him who was injured), and called Himawari because he knew she would be worried if they were both missing (she was suitable distressed after he told her it wasn't him who was injured, proving his suspicions that for all her fair treatment over the two of them, she really did have a bigger soft spot for Watanuki). He contemplated calling Yuuko, but figured she would somehow know where to find them if he called or not. Besides, he could remember her number and really didn't want to see her anyway.
Sleep came in the form of broken naps and scream-filled dreams. The last time he awoke in a cold sweat with the sound of Watanuki broken sobs still echoing in his head, he resolved he wouldn't sleep again until he saw the smaller teen.
That was also the time he woke up to Yuuko sitting next to him.
He didn't see her until he sat up completely, and could safely say she made him jump at least a foot in the air. In his defense, it had been a long couple of days; he thought he was entitled to a little jumpiness when people snuck up on him.
"Bad dream, Doumeki-kun?" The question help no signs of mocking or any infliction at all really, but Doumeki still wondered if it would be too detrimental to his heath if he called her a bitch.
He settled for a cold look instead. "Yeah."
Yuuko raised an elegant eyebrow at him. "You're mad at me."
Doumeki considered denying it, but didn't see what it would accomplish. "Yeah."
"May I ask why?" The shop owner was watching him with calm eyes, hands folded in her lap on top of her long skirt, for all the world acting as if she didn't know what Watanuki had gone through.
She really would deserve to be called it, but Doumeki bit his tongue once again. "You knew what would happen."
"I knew of several possible outcomes that may have occurred, yes."
"And you still let him go." Anger was beginning to seep into his words, despite his best efforts to keep it in check.
"I am unable to decide Watanuki's future for him. I can only influence him to the best of my abilities and let him choose his own path."
"But you didn't tell him what would happen. If you had told him-" The words choked off, and he had to look down.
"Things aren't quite as simple as that Doumeki-kun." And the grieved look that quickly flashed behind her eyes made him momentarily wonder just how complicated it really was for her. But more important things were at the front of his mind.
"He'll never be able to forget." The barest of whispers was all he could succeed in getting out.
"No, he won't."
Doumeki ran a hand through his hair, feeling it stick up in an untidy mess. He really needed a shower.
"I just wish..."
"Be careful what you wish for Doumeki-kun. I shouldn't have to tell you this." There was a warning in her voice. He listened to it.
"His dreams, then. At the very least, can you keep his dreams free from that thing?"
Her maroon gaze regarded him with more warmth. "That... is somewhat more reasonable. But once you pay your price, Watanuki will still have to pay his."
"And that would be?" He didn't like that Watanuki would have to pay something also; it wasn't his wish after all.
Yuuko pulled something from one pocket of the jacket she was wearing. When she uncurled her fingers and handed the object to him he saw it was a bracelet. Tiny glass beads of light and dark blue blended together with no discernable pattern, but still managed to look pretty. It looked like something a girl might make for herself or a friend. He held it up to the light, but saw nothing particularly special about it other than the color. The darker beads were the exact same shade as Watanuki's eyes.
He glanced back over to Yuuko, still holding the bracelet in the air. "What's his price?"
Yuuko smiled that infuriating smile of hers that always managed to make Watanuki blister with irritation. "Don't you want to know your own price?"
"Watanuki's first." He already knew he would pay his part; he wanted to know what Watanuki would be giving up.
The older woman nodded to the bracelet. "As long as he wears that, his dreams will be free from nightmares of any kind. But it will be a constant reminder to him of why he is wearing it. And if he were to ever take it off, its effectiveness will be null. Even if he were to immediately put it back on, it would no longer work."
Doumeki lowered his hand and studied the tiny string of beads in his hand. A constant reminder...
"He can of course choose to not wear it at all. You will still have to pay your price first though."
The small blue glass glittered cheerfully up at him. "Fine."
"So sure, Doumeki-kun." Yuuko aimed a soft smile at him. "I do like that about you."
There was no question, so Doumeki said nothing. He slipped the bracelet into the pocket of the robe the staff had provided him with and waited for Yuuko to speak again.
He had a sinking feeling at those two small words. "Tell him?"
"From the beginning to the end. I have faith in your storytelling abilities, Doumeki-kun." With that last backward compliment, Yuuko stood.
"Oh, and one more thing. Please pass this message on to Watanuki for me." Leaning down she whispered a few sentences in his ear. When she leaned back Doumeki stared at her with a mixture of mild surprise and amusement.
"He won't like that."
Her usual mischievous grin fell in place on her mouth. ""He usually doesn't"
"Can I at least wait until he's completely recovered to tell him?"
Yuuko seemed to think about that for a moment, though he knew she probably already had an answer. "Well, it wouldn't be good if all that flailing about he's so fond of reopened his wounds, so perhaps that would be best. I'll leave it to you then. Have a good day, Doumeki-kun."
Doumeki watched her leave with a bit more hope than he had previously had. Though the thought of confronting Watanuki with such a thing still weighed on his mind.
Doumeki sighed and slumped back into the couch he was sitting on, absently patting the robe pocket to feel the small bump that was the bracelet.
Why couldn't she ever ask for money like a normal person?
Three really bad soap operas later, a doctor finally came out to let him know Watanuki was finally stabilized enough to be moved into a regular room and Doumeki could visit him in a little while.
If he had been standing, Doumeki was sure his knees would have dropped him straight to the floor. The absolute relief he felt made him wonder what he would have done if the doctors hadn't been able to save the smaller boy.
Without even thinking, the archer's hand reached out and grabbed the doctor's wrist just as the older man was turning away. The doctor gave his full attention back to Doumeki and waited patiently for the younger man to speak.
Dropping the man's wrist, he glanced at the nametag clipped to the white coat when he couldn't remember the name. "Dr. Kayanuto. I..." Doumeki took a breath and just said what he was feeling. "Thank you. Very much." He put every ounce of gratitude he could manage into those four words, letting his eyes tell the doctor how very important the person that had just been saved was to him.
Dr. Kayanuto smiled down at him, understanding and kindness reflecting back through his own eyes. "I only do what I can, Doumeki-san. I'll have one of the nurses come back to get you when he is settled."
Having nothing more to say, Doumeki let the doctor leave.
The time between learning he could finally see Watanuki and actually getting to see the boy seemed like a blink of the eye compared to the rest of the anxious waiting he had been subjected to lately. And so when the nurse finally opened the door to Watanuki's room and he saw the skinny teen lying in bed, almost as white as the sheets he was lying on and covered with so many bandages and tubes Doumeki could barely see his face, it had an almost unreal quality to it.
He made a beeline for the bed, nearly missing Dr. Kayanuto stooped over a machine in one corner, reading printouts.
The doctor looked up when Doumeki entered and motioned to the papers with one hands. "He's doing well. I think he may still be out for a while yet, but sleep is best for him right now, so don't worry about it too much."
The smooth plastic of the guardrail felt cool against his hands. Holding it tightly, he leaned over the edge bed and did a meticulous examination of every part visible on the skinny teen's body.
Obviously his idea of 'doing well' differed from Dr. Kayanuto's. Although, Doumeki had to admit, despite the array of colorful bruises and abrasions that dotted Watanuki's face, neck and arms (plus anywhere else he could see), the smaller boy's breathing seemed deep and steady enough. And the fact that he was alive was always a big plus in Doumeki's book.
"When will he wake up?" He directed the question at the doctor, but kept his eyes on the boy below him.
"Well, at this point, I can't really say. It could be hours from now, or even weeks. He's not in a coma, but the strain on his body was great, not to mention the strain on his mind. Right now his body is in survival mode, shutting down all the unnecessary parts in order to heal the rest of him. Until he comes out of that, all we can do is wait."
"I can do that." This time the whisper was meant for the one he watched.
The doctor had him signs a few more papers for the room transfer (with the small forest of paper he had filled out before, these were nothing) and then left him alone to make his rounds, promising he would check back in again later.
The archer stared down at the motionless figure on the bed for a minute more, then walked to the opposite side of the bed and lowered the guardrail there. Kneeling down beside the mattress, Doumeki took the hand that didn't have all sorts of IVs or monitors attached to it and rested his head beside the still fingers so he was looking up at the sleeping face of his friend.
That was how the nurse found him asleep several hour later.
Sheer necessity made him leave the hospital for his own home. There was no conceivable way he could stay in the same robe for however long it took Watanuki to wake up.
Plus, he was starting to smell.
It took only a little prodding to convince his parents to let him stay at the hospital, which was for the best, since he hadn't planned on letting them say no. After a shower and a vigorous teeth scrubbing, he packed some clothes and toiletries, called Himawari again to update her and ask if she could collect his and Watanuki's assignments, then kissed his mother goodbye.
He was out the door twenty minutes after he got there.
It wasn't really on the way, but it wasn't really out of the way either, though he still couldn't say what made him go back to that alley in the first place. Perhaps sheer morbid curiosity or a sense of masochism or perhaps...
Doumeki knelt down and piled together an assortment of scattered papers, books and pencils and placed them into an abandoned school bag, then wandered a little farther to pick a few small pieces off of the ground and stick them in his pocket.
It would give him something to do while he waited.
"Your bag is in the closet if you want it, I put your assignment lists in there. That's about it. Oh, and I'm caught up on my soaps too."
Watanuki blinked slowly. "Don't joke." He paused. "And… don't hate her. Yuuko-san… she does what she can… she always does."
Doumeki glanced up and merely shrugged, but whether in apology or dismissal, Watanuki couldn't tell. Lacking the energy to deal with being ignored, he called it an apology and left it alone.
And the rest...
How was he supposed to deal with what Doumeki had told him? Emotions rose and fell within Watanuki, swelling and crashing before receding again, only to be replaced by new, more confusing ones, like an ocean being pulled ceaselessly by an indecisive moon. The feeling left him a little nauseous.
"I can leave. If you want me to." It sounded indifferent, but Watanuki knew enough now to see through the precisely controlled exterior.
"I... don't." Watanuki swallowed and looked up into a set of golden eyes less than five feet away from him. "Stay, Doumeki." He closed his own eyes, unable to see such an honest soul staring back at him.
He was so selfish.
"You're sure?" Watanuki had to strain to hear it.
"Jerk. Don't make me repeat myself." That earned him a slight smirk.
"Then here." Doumeki reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a tiny string of blue beads. The bracelet. The archer held it out to the smaller boy, but Watanuki could only stare at it with mixed emotions. Noticing his hesitation, Doumeki reached over and placed it on the side table instead.
"You don't have to decide right away."
Watanuki glanced at the tiny blue circle out of the corner of his eye. "I know." He looked back to the boy sitting next to him, a jumble of questions half forming in his mind. But the first to pop out was the only one he had already asked.
"Why are you here, Doumeki? You could have left a long time ago. Yuuko didn't say you had to give that to me as soon as I woke up." Watanuki stared directly into the other boy's eyes, willing a satisfactory answer from him.
"Because we're friends, Watanuki. Despite what you think."
The smaller boy shook his head, lips pursed in denial. "No. No friend would have done what you did. No friend would go out of their way like you do for me, Doumeki. I want to know why."
The golden gaze dropped from his and a look of resignation seemed to settle over the archer. "Are you sure you really want to know?"
Something about the way the taller teen asked his question made Watanuki want to take back his demand, to say 'never mind' and talk about something else. But he also wanted to know. For as long as he could remember being with Doumeki, he had wanted to know.
Watanuki leaned forward slightly to catch the low voice.
"Because, if anything were to happen to you..."
Sitting back in disgust and wondering why he even bothered at all, Watanuki waved a hand in the air and cut him off. "Yeah, I know, I know. No one to amuse you or cook for you, I mean look how skinny you've gotten already, I bet-"
Watanuki flinched with the force of the word, breaking him off mid-stream.
The look he was getting from the archer was too serious for his liking.
"I know now, for sure. Watanuki, if anything happened to you I would never forgive myself for not trying to do something. If anything happened to you, I'd never be the same again. Without you here, my life would be missing something important." Doumeki's eyes bore relentlessly into Watanuki's own, showing with sheer force alone how sincere the archer was.
"Don't... don't say stupid things like that." But his heart wasn't in it and it came out a little breathy.
"You're important to me, Watanuki. Whether you want to be or not. And I don't plan on leaving you anytime soon."
He wasn't sure how it happened, but the next thing Watanuki knew his hands were curled in the material at the front of the archer's shirt, clinging to the taller boy as if he were the last sane thing in the world, sobbing for what he hoped was the last time for a good long while. It was both annoying and embarrassing how Doumeki was getting to see him like this because the archer had enough ammo on him as it was.
Somewhere in the midst of his heart trying to leak its pain out through his eyes, he managed to impart his earlier fear to Doumeki. The words were regularly punctuated with sniffs and hiccups, and he couldn't quite feel brave enough to lift his head from the taller boy's shoulder to look him in the eye, but Watanuki told it anyway. The admission of being tempted by the spirit's deal spilled from him like the letting of a wound, guilt seeping through to tinge it with venom and self-loathing, and when the words ran out, Watanuki could only grasp desperately at Doumeki's shirt and apologize over and over, to each person he had wronged.
Through it all, Doumeki held him with one arm, while rubbing light, soothing circles over and over on his back, taking care to skip over the worst of his wounds, though Watanuki could not feel their pain anyway.
"You idiot." The words themselves were harsh, but the tone was gentle.
The circles had a calming effect Watanuki would have never believed, and he felt himself leaning even further into Doumeki's chest, eyes growing heavy.
"...not an idiot. Was really scared you'd all hate me." The sleepy murmur came from pressed against the collar of Doumeki's shirt.
"Then, no one but you and I will know."
"Yuuko-san... always knows... things."
"I noticed. But she won't care, same as me." Watanuki felt the hand shift to his hair, fingers smoothing lines from his scalp down his neck and back. It was too relaxing and he was already too out of it to properly object, so he just sighed, but even that sounded content.
"Is it over now, Doumeki?" He was losing track of seconds, on the brink of falling asleep.
"Yes, now be quiet and go to sleep."
For once, Watanuki did as he was told without complaint. Well, without much.
"Don't tell me...what to do..."
Three days later, Doumeki was signing Watanuki's release papers while the smaller boy sat in a wheelchair (Hospital protocol, no matter how much the skinny teen protested he didn't need it and why did Doumeki have to be the one to push it?) chatting with Himawari, who was currently holding both their bags, having come to see him out after Doumeki called to let her know Watanuki was being discharged.
The smaller boy still had a hard time looking her directly in the eyes, but at least he was speaking to her again. Plus, Doumeki thought, Watanuki always smiled more when she was around, no matter what mood he seemed to be in.
Paperwork done, the archer joined his friends, taking the handles and pushing an embarrassed Watanuki towards the exit.
"Come on, can't you walk a little faster? People are looking."
"No one's looking, and I don't want to bump you." He walked a little slower.
"Arg! You're doing that on purpose, you ass. Now hurry up before I just get up and start walking out the door." Watanuki crossed his arms over his chest, strongly reminding Doumeki of a pouting child.
"If you get up, I'll have to start all over again."
"What?! No you won't."
"Yes I will. Hospital rules."
"There's no such rule!"
A giggle from Himawari made Doumeki look towards her. She smiled cheerfully at him. "Doumeki-kun always knows just how to cheer Watanuki-kun up."
"Ah, Himawari-chan, that's not it at all. He's just trying to irritate me like he always is."
Doumeki couldn't exactly deny that. "It does cheer me up though."
"Why would I want to cheer you up?!"
"Haha! You two..."
Watanuki practically leapt from the wheelchair when they reached the exit, stretching out like a marathon runner as Doumeki handed the wheelchair back to one of the interns and reclaimed the bags from Himawari.
"This is so much better!" Doumeki inwardly smiled at the jubilant expression on the skinny teen's face. "Sunshine!"
"Oh, what a pretty bracelet, Watanuki-kun. Is it new?" Himawari tilted her head to the side as she tried to get a better view of the blue circle on Watanuki's wrist as they walked. Doumeki noticed that for all his protests, the skinny boy still walked stiffly and a lot slower than usual.
"Oh, yeah." A little bit of the joy seemed to deflated from him as he held his arm out for her to look at.
"It's pretty, and it matches your eyes too!"
"How sweet of you to notice!"
"Was it a present?"
The bespectacled teen fidgeted a bit. "Er, kind of..."
Another innocent smile. "From who?"
A smile pulled at the taller boy's mouth. "I thought it would look nice on him."
"It really does!"
"No! Don't say stupid things like that! Yuuko-"
"Oh, yeah." Doumeki continued on despite the annoyed cries protesting the interruption. "Yuuko said to tell you that your hospital bills are paid for."
That abruptly silenced the smaller boy. He glanced sideways and saw a look of utter horror, rather than the normal reaction of gratitude.
"And she also said to tell you she would generously garnish the payment from your wages. For the next few years."
"Years!" The utter disbelief he saw on the smaller boy's face held more than a trace of annoyance.
"And lastly, not to worry about missing so much work since you could always make it up to her later."
"I just got out and already… that woman… has she no pity?!" Words seem to fail Watanuki for a moment as the full impact sunk in.
"Aaah!! I'm doomed into a life of servitude!"
The energy level might not be up to what it used to be yet, but Doumeki was certain, as he watched Watanuki flail about (as predicted) causing Himawari to giggle and generally making a spectacle of himself, that a full recovery was not an impossibility. Especially when he intended to help Watanuki every step of the way.
Biggest of thanks to my beta Toriolees She made it sparkle and shine. Not to mention poked me a couple times when I started to slack off. :-D
Thanks for reading.