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All feedback is welcomed. 

Author: Amy the Evitable a.k.a. LunarGeography
Fandom: xxxHolic
Warnings: Angst, angst, angst. Mental illness, kind of. Much Watanuki suffering.
Summary: Ripped apart by unknown enemies, Doumeki searches while Watanuki struggles to survive the best intentions of the mundane world.

More Full of Weeping

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

-- W.B. Yeats, "The Stolen Child"

She'd been making a point of arriving at the hospital early, to drop by and visit with Taro-kun before she went on-shift. Not that she didn't see him while on-shift, but with so many patients and the staff cuts a few months ago, it just wasn't possible to spend time with the ones like Taro-kun, who were so sweet and reasonable that she wasn't sure he belonged here at all. Well, she thought that on his good days, when he wasn't huddled in a corner, shaking and moaning, trying to push imaginary monsters off of his skin. Or screaming and clawing at them...

But even then, he wasn't disruptive. Not really. A bit loud, perhaps, which could set some of the other patients off, but not one to run around breaking things and hurting other people. Taro-kun wouldn't hurt a fly, so she really couldn't justify spending much time on-shift with him at all.

"Taro-kun?"

He was having a good day; it took him just a few moments to hear her and turn, and his beautiful blue eyes were fogged, but that was just the medication. The anti-psychotics left him slow, sedated, but she'd suggested lowering the dose a little while back. The attending psychiatrist had considered it and agreed to a trial with the lower doses and he did seem more lively over the last week.

He peered at her a moment, and squinted – wherever had his glasses gotten to? -- but after a few moments he broke out into that shy child-like smile that always melted her heart.

"Makiko-scan! I'm very pleased to see you. How are you today?"

She'd never seen anyone who talked with his hands as much as Taro did. A particularly expansive wave of his arms had him toppling over on his side. She couldn't help but giggle, which wasn't nice. She knew the medications interfered with his balance.

"I'm well, thank you! Where on earth are your glasses?"

He dropped his head and brought his hand up to rub at the back of his hair. He smiled at the floor, but  the smile looked as fake and brittle as a porcelain doll's. "Ah, I think I misplaced them last night. The orderlies were escorting me to, ah, the rec room, and I think I must have dropped them."

Oh, dear. There were fewer nurses, especially on the night shift, and some of the orderlies just weren't very careful... "They didn't hurt you, did they?"

"Oh, no, no, nothing like that. I'm just kind of clumsy." His voice was very soft. Then he lifted his head, and waved his hands in front of his face, as though shooing the topic away. "Ah! Before I forget! I finished mending your dress."

He pulled the neatly folded dress of off his shelf. She took the dress, letting the blue silk unfold to dangle in her hands. The stitches were so tiny and even that it took her a few moments to find the mending.

She'd discovered his talent when she'd torn her scrubs one afternoon. Taro-kun had noticed the hole, and offered to fix it during craft therapy. She'd had her doubts, but had borrowed another nurse's top to give him a chance. She'd been amazed at the results. Since then, she'd brought him all her mending – it seemed to make him happy to do it.

"That's wonderful! I can barely see where it was ripped!" She began to fold the dress back up, but he took it from her hands, and did it himself, giving it a few last fussy tugs and smoothing it back into a tidy package. "Thank you!"

He began to cough, but managed to get out his reply. "It was no problem, Makiko-san!"

Still coughing, his gaze shifted to something over her shoulder, and his eyes widened in fear. She turned to see what had scared him, but saw nothing in the doorway behind her. When she turned back, he was clutching the shrine charm Yamano-san had given him a week or two ago. He treasured the cheap little thing, always sleeping with it clutched to his chest.

Oh, dear. Looking at things that weren't there wasn't a good sign, and she'd have to note it on his chart: possible return of hallucinations. She hoped the doctors wouldn't increase his dosage immediately – it made her so sad to see his bright eyes and expressive hands lost in a dull haze.

"I have to go get ready and start my shift, sweetie. You be good, now."

He smiled at her, but his eyes were darting from side to side, scanning empty air. His hands were shaking. Perhaps today wasn't going to be a good day after all.

As she left, she wondered again – as she had so often since he'd been transferred here six weeks ago – why no one ever visited this sweet young man. Didn't he have any family or friends who wondered how he was doing? Who were worried about him?

~**~

He stared at the can of hot milk coffee wrapped in his hands as though it might hold all the answers. If it did, it hadn't chosen to yield any of them to him so far, but at least it was returning feeling to fingers that had started to go numb.

There was a soft rustle of cloth, and Doumeki looked up to see the Ame-Warashi before him, decked out in loligoth style more worthy of Harajuku than a bus stop in the middle of nowhere. She sat on the bench next to him, posture perfect.

She didn't bother with pleasantries. "He is nowhere where the rain has fallen."

"Is that so?" His intonation took the question out of the phrase. Watanuki had always yelled at him about how flat and inexpressive his voice was. He suspected it had gotten worse since Watanuki had disappeared. But insulting the rain spirit wouldn't help, so he added, "Thank you."

She frowned. "I'll continue looking. She wants to help, but the karasu tengu and I have persuaded her to stay on her mountain. She can't bear the aura here for long enough. She's playing for him though. If he's near anything pure enough to resonate, he might hear it." Her tone indicated how likely she thought that was.

He nodded, and returned to staring at the can. If Watanuki had been hidden so well even Yuuko couldn't find him, he didn't think either the Ame-Warashi or the Zashiki-Warashi had a chance at finding him. It didn't surprise him that they knew he was missing – he had the impression that Watanuki's doings were of great interest to the spirit world. Yuuko might even have told them herself.

Since she'd admitted she needed help.

The silence became awkward.

"Honestly, I don't know what either of you see in him to go to such lengths."

He was tired and worried, utterly out of patience, and had been that way for a long time, which was why he answered the way he did. "Really?"

She was silent again for a time, staring at the ground. Then, without a trace of rancor: "That was rude."

He rolled his head backwards, and stared up at the grey, grey sky through half-lidded eyes. "Yes, it was."

~***~

The thing was staring at him from the doorway with a pair of hideously bloodshot green eyes.  Something undulated out of the main body – he would say it was an arm, but arms were supposed to have bones, and most arms had a palm of some sort, not just a giant nest of mismatched fingers that ended in bright purple needle-sharp points. The arm-thing reached towards him, then slowed a few feet away. The undulations grew frantic, until a little girl could have almost jump-roped over the arm-thing --if she wasn't running away screaming like any sensible person would -- but the fingers didn't advance any further.

He pressed the shrine talisman against his chest. It had been the right choice, oh gods yes, to let his glasses fall in order to keep hold of this, and to keep hold of the packets of salt he'd hidden in his pocket, when they'd shoved him in the tiny, tiny room, with that... that...

Another eye opened up between a pair of breasts. This one was brown, and not quite so bloodshot, but it was huge, bigger than the fist he was was now pressing against his mouth to keep the noises in.

The fingers waggled at him.

Oh, yes, squinting and walking into walls was fine, no problem at all, if it kept that thing away. Because in the center of the nest of fingers was a round mouth with teeth... sharp teeth... gleaming metal teeth, teeth that now that he thought about it, looked very much like scalpels and needles and icepicks, and wicked sharp hooks.

A high pitched keen was slipping from his mouth, squeezing around his fist. He had to stop it before someone heard it, because if they heard it, there would be injections. Injections made the world lurch and tumble, and snipped away chunks of time. After injections he'd be on his bed and then he'd be in the cafeteria, and he had no idea that any time had passed or what he'd done during the time that must have passed... but after he'd lost time there were always more things hanging from him, weighing him down like huge lead-filled leeches.

Once, he thought, once upon a time, there had been something that kept them away. Something that could help. Something? Someone? White cloth and gray, the scent of incense, oiled wood, and sweat-stained leather... a feeling of utter stillness... someone who would help. If only he would be allowed to remember...

Viciously, he bit his fist, tasting blood. The keening stopped, but the thing, the little scaly-monkey thing that was always perched on his shoulder -- that no amount of salt could chase away, that brushed aside the shrine talisman as though it was confetti -- started to laugh.

At that laugh, even the thing in the doorway with too many eyes and too many fingers shuddered and shrunk away.

~***~

Fujitaka-sensei flipped through the file on Ishida Taro. One of the nurses had reported a behavioral change in the patient. He'd been meaning to do an assessment himself in any case. The boy had been transferred in weeks ago, had been under the care of one of the first-year residents and it was well past time to check his status personally. It would also help in evaluating the resident, and the due date on evaluations was creeping up. Too few hours in the day, that's what it was.

Ishida Taro. Patient was a 17 year old male, no living family. Admission of medical protection 2 years ago to the small hospital in his hometown. Admission initiated by city government in lieu of parents or legal guardians.  Initial diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia; case managed by a Doctor Sakurazukamori, who requested transfer to this facility for more specialized care than the local hospital was able to provide.

Fujitaka whistled. He'd never seen a transfer go so fast in his life without major money behind it, and this kid was a charity case. Ishida Taro had been on their doorstep practically before they'd agreed to take him.

Odd but irrelevant. Intake exam noted patient was under ideal weight for height and build, and suffered from mild anemia. Multiple scars were noted, consistent with history of self-injury, but physical exam was otherwise unremarkable. Behavioral and emotional evaluation significantly hindered by lethargy and inability to concentrate consistent with the sedating effects of the heavy antipsychotic medication regimen he'd been on.

When the medication wore off... Fujitaka whistled to himself. They'd cut off the medications entirely in attempt to get a baseline evaluation – a questionable decision given the severity of the patient's history, but it was possible, probable even, that Ishida Taro had arrived before his records. Patient became highly agitated, claiming persecution by invisible monsters. Patient attempted unauthorized departure from his wing, and when located exhibited a range of symptoms, including loud and animated description of and imprecations to the entities 'attacking' him, psychosomatic breathing difficulties, and self-injury in an attempt to 'remove' the monsters from his skin. When vomiting and convulsions began, tranquilizers were administered.

Patient continued to exhibit significant distress even after tranquilizers were administered, including the respiratory problems. Orderlies noted that patient suffered from muscle spasms and mini-seizures that made it extremely difficult to move him. By this time Ishida's records had materialized, and they indicated that mild electroshock had proved effective at ending these episodes in the past. It was an unorthodox treatment for paranoid schizophrenia, but as the alternative required sedating the patient into a nearly comatose state, the electroshock treatment was attempted.

A nasty situation, to be sure. But the electroshock did indeed seem therapeutic. Hmmm... Patient had demonstrated marked improvement in the past several weeks, resulting in a tapering down in his dosage, and more than one of the nurses had commented upon his polite and agreeable behavior once the medication side-effects had ebbed. But the notation this morning, from Kanzaki Makiko about the possible return of hallucinations was alarming.

He would need to schedule a session to evaluate the patient himself; he should be able to make the time late this afternoon. And in the meantime, there was an unpleasant quantity of session notes from Sakurazukamori-sensei to be waded through.

~***~

The rumble of the bus engine dragged him down into a doze. Doumeki hadn't slept well since  the morning that person hadn't arrived at school. Meditation was more restful for him; one didn't dream while meditating. But sleep would always come, an uninvited and unwelcome guest on the orderly grounds of the psyche.

So he wasn't entirely certain if the image that came to him was a fragment of nightmare or a link to Watanuki. A sinuous arm that moved like a snake was attached to a Freudian assemblage of eyes and breasts, and there were ominous glints of silver lurking within the shadowy contours. It was reaching for him, the writhing motion trackable somehow only with his peripheral vision, so that he didn't know exactly where it was, but only where it would be, and it was coming for him...

He threw himself forward, forehead colliding violently with the seat in front of him, hands reaching for his bow. For a horrible moment, he was certain the thing had simply slipped from his vision entirely and was about to slice into his body from some utterly unexpected angle. Then he realized that whatever he'd seen wasn't here; here had sunlight, filtered by scudding clouds and dirty glass windows, not flickering greenish florescent lighting. Here had blue cloth covering the back of the seat in front of his, not a white door frame surrounded by white walls with cheap green linoleum floors.

He picked up the package of rice crackers he'd knocked off the seat beside him groping for his bow – which was boxed in the luggage compartment of the bus – and tried to bring his heart rate back down.

 "Bad dream?" inquired the older lady across the aisle from him. "Seemed to give you quite a start!"

"I hope so."  He offered her the rest of the rice crackers – he wasn't going to be hungry again for a while.

He hoped so. Mostly. He hadn't the slightest flicker from Watanuki's vision since the seer disappeared all those weeks ago. He didn't know if there was some sort of barrier blocking their shared eye. It seemed possible, as Yuuko had admitted that something  kept Watanuki shrouded from her perceptions.

It was also possible that Watanuki hadn't felt any emotion intensely enough for the connection to work, but that seemed unlikely. Watanuki had too short a fuse and too much fierce independence to take abduction calmly, even if he was being treated well – and if he'd gone away willingly, it still seemed next to impossible that nothing had set off any of his firecracker emotional responses in over five weeks.

It was also possible that Watanuki was dead. That woman said no, said that she was absolutely certain that Watanuki still lived. But that was her certainty, not his. He was inclined to believe her about this, but there was only one other person alive in the world whose certainties Doumeki accepted as truth, and it wasn't the woman who called herself Ichihara Yuuko.

If that had been Watanuki's sight, then he could be certain the seer was alive for the moment. If he had caught one glimpse, he might catch more – might be able to learn something about Watanuki's location.

On the other hand, if Watanuki was facing that spirit alone... His fists were clenching so tightly that he could feel his nails, clipped very short for archery, cutting into his palm. How many monsters like that had he faced? Or more likely, run from. Wherever Watanuki was now, could he run? Was he hurt? How many things like that were there?

How many things had he failed to keep Watanuki protected from?

His fist slammed against his thigh. North. That was the only information he had. So he would continue to go north, and one way or another, he would find Watanuki Kimihiro – no matter what tried to get in his way.

~***~

The doctor was sitting at a large mahogany desk, talking on the phone, when he walked in.

"This will only take a moment, Taro-san. Please have a seat."

He smiled and nodded, sat down in the chair that faced the desk,and did his best not to listen to the phone conversation. The room – the doctor's office, probably – was one of the safest he'd seen in the hospital. It was empty of dead people and spirits, and had only the barest wisps of the thick black smog; a bit drifting up from a closed file on the desk, some wafting away from a source on the far bookcase. It was even tidy; the few files and stacks of papers that were set out had been neatly squared off, and lay perfectly aligned with the edges of the table.

Simply sitting there was like having a huge weight taken from his shoulders; he took a deep breath of the clean air, and felt safe enough to take his hand out of his pocket, leaving the little shrine talisman – made mostly of knotted red cord -- behind.

Not one single ominous presence advanced on him, and freed of the need for constant vigilance, his mind started to drift. Without his glasses, the titles of the books were blurs, so he stared at what was in front of him. The mahogany desk looked like an antique; the legs were ornately carved, and the side that hid the doctor's legs from his view was carved into panels, which had little divots at each corner. There was a name for those... The desk seemed almost familiar. He didn't think he'd seen it before, but it looked of a style with someplace he knew – a dim room, with carvings of crescent moons and butterflies in unexpected places... a lounging couch... brightly painted screens... fragrant smoke...

The scaly monkey-thing on his shoulder chittered, and reached a translucent paw through the side of his head. It didn't hurt, exactly, but gave him gooseflesh and made his stomach churn, and it made him want to wrap his arms around his head, or slam his head against something hard, anything to make it stop, to get that horrible little paw out of his skull.

Not that any of those things ever worked, but just sitting there, still and silent, while it rummaged through his brain, was the hardest thing he'd ever done.

"Taro-san?"

He steadfastly resisted the urges, and tried not to move, but for all his efforts, he couldn't stop trembling. After a moment, the monkey's paw emerged from his head. It was holding a little purple curlicue which the scaly creature promptly ate with great relish.

"Taro-san!"

The loud voice nearly made him jump out of his seat. The doctor sounded quite irritated. How long had he been calling?

"I'm very sorry! I was... daydreaming. I didn't mean to be rude!"

"It's all right, Taro-san. Do you mind if I call you Taro-kun?" The doctor waited for him to nod, and continued. "My name is Fujitaka, and I'm one of the attending psychiatrists here. I'd like to talk to you today about how you're doing and how the sessions with your usual doctor are going. Is that acceptable?"

"That's fine."

Fujitaka-sensei frowned at him. "Are you cold? You seem to be shivering. Let me turn up the heat."

The room was perfectly comfortable, but he didn't say anything as the doctor  stood to fiddle with the thermostat. He couldn't really explain that the shivering and gooseflesh was caused by the malignant spirit on his shoulder stealing memories out of his head. That wouldn't go over well at all.

The doctor stared at him for a long moment before sitting back down behind the desk -- an intent, assessing gaze.. "I'm certain your file said you wore glasses."

He looked at his lap, and twined his hands together there to have something to look at. "I lost them."

"I see." There was a scratching sound as the doctor made a note. It sounded like he was using a fountain pen. "I'll have the staff keep an eye out for them. Have you lost any other personal possessions, Taro-kun?"

"No, sir."

"It doesn't look like you brought very much with you from your old hospital. Did you leave most of your possessions behind there?"

He didn't remember his old hospital at all. He didn't remember very much, really, from before he was at this hospital, and every time he thought he remembered something, the scaly little monkey reached a paw into his head and took it away. Then the grotesque little creature ate it. Like it had with the memory of... of... whatever the desk had made him think of. His home, maybe? Or maybe he'd known something about antiques, maybe they'd been his hobby. Whatever the desk had made him think about was gone.

Saying anything about that whole problem would be a Very Bad Idea. He didn't want injections, or for them to increase his medications. He was only now coming out of such a deep fog, and while it was scary being here and awake, he didn't want to be lost again. He would rather be terrified of the things he saw then drugged into artificial apathy, his fear present, but somehow distanced; miserable, but unable to care about his misery

"I don't need very much." His fingernails were really ragged, he noticed, as he continued to stare at his hands. The untidiness bothered him.

"Do you often evade questions, Taro-kun?"

"Sir?"

The doctor's hands were loosely clasped, resting on the desk in front of him. They were much safer for him to stare at than the doctor's face. He didn't want to meet those searching eyes.

"We've only been talking for a few moments, and already you've evaded a few of my questions. You're very skilled at it, Taro-kun, but it's not a good idea. You don't have to try to give answers that will please me. I'm here to help you, and I can't do that unless you're honest with me."

"H—hai."Guilt heated his cheeks and the back of his neck in a miserable flush. He didn't want to be evasive, and he didn't want to be ungrateful – but he knew what the doctor would think if he told the whole truth, and he really, really didn't want the drugs.

"I'm not angry with you. I understand that evading questions has helped you to get by. It can't have been easy, living on your own, being ill. But you can't go on like this; that's why you were hospitalized in the first place. I want to help you get better, but I can't help you unless you tell me exactly what you're feeling. I won't be angry and I won't be shocked."

Given some of the things he'd heard other patients screaming, Fujitaka-sensei probably wouldn't be shocked by stories of the intangible monsters that stalked him. But Sensei would still think he was crazy, and give him drugs that left him helpless.

He wasn't entirely sure he was crazy, and he definitely didn't want to be helpless and defenseless.

He ducked his head and replied, "I understand."

"I suppose it's not fair of me to ask you to trust me when we've just met."

"Oh, no, no – that's not – I mean --" Dismayed and feeling vaguely guilty, his hands tried frantically to wave off any suggestion that Fujitaka-sensei had acted inappropriately, and his arms and even his torso were getting into the act. He hoped he didn't look terribly strange.

"You're willing to give me a chance? That makes me very happy, Taro-kun." The doctor really did have a kind smile, even if the sight of it gave him a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Do you think we could start by talking about some of the differences between your old hospital and here?"

"Ah.." He rubbed at the back of his head. "Well, some of the patients here are very loud."

"They can be kind of alarming, can't they? Do you ever feel scared of them? Worried they might hurt you?"

"Maybe a bit." Men shouldn't be scared – or admit to being scared – but perhaps Fujitaka-sensei's feelings of rejection would be assuaged by such a demeaning confession. "Once or twice. When someone's angry, and I know the doors don't lock – but the nurses are very good about handling things!" Oh, god, he didn't want to get any of the nurses or orderlies in trouble by implying they let the patients run wild.

"I'm glad to know our staff is responsive." He leaned forward a bit. "Do you find the patients here are more alarming in their behaviors than the ones at your former hospital?"

It would be easy to say yes, but what if Sensei wanted to know details? "It's hard to say..."

Fujitaka-sensei stood, and walked around to the front of his desk. Perched casually on the corner, the doctor was barely a foot away from him. "Many of the nurses have said very positive things about you. They say you're very kind and well-mannered. It looks like you've befriended several of them."

"It's very kind of them to say that."

"I'm sure you were popular among the staff at your former hospital, too. Are there particular people you were sad to leave behind?"

"Ahhh..." He squirmed.

"You were Sakurazukamori-sensei's patient for 2 years. It must have been quite a shock, adapting to a new doctor. Do you miss him?"

His cheeks were hot, his ears were hot – he had to be absolutely scarlet with shame and discomfort.

Leaning forward, Fujitaka-sensei's faces was only inches from his own. "Taro-kun, I feel as though you're evading my questions again. Have I done something to break your trust? Or is there some other reason you're not answering?"

"No, you haven't done anything wrong!"

The doctor heaved a sigh – a relieved sigh? -- and placed a hand on his shoulder, keeping their faces close together. "Then why won't you answer my questions?"

He was going to spontaneously combust, right there in the chair. The hand on his shoulder didn't show any sign of moving – was the doctor going to hold that position until he came up with an answer?

It was unbearable, the way the silence stretched out. He really was going to explode – to leap up off the chair, and run to the furthest corner of the office – he was sure of it – but it was his mouth that opened, and words that burst out.

"I'm sorry, I don't really remember very well! I don't remember my old hospital, and I don't think I remember Sakurazukamori-sensei, and I don't remember if I ever had any stuff, I'm sorry!"

Fujitaka-sensei patted his shoulder, and leaned back, out of his space at last. He breathed in huge gulps and gasps; it was like all the air in him had been sucked out by his admission.

"That's good, very good Taro-kun. I'm very glad you told me that. It was the right thing to do." The words of praise in the soft, comforting tone settled around him like a blanket as he got his breath back. As the shaking and panting eased, he risked a glance up at Sensei's face. Fujitaka was watching him, and met his gaze, and once the doctor's eyes held his, it was like he was pinned, like he couldn't look away. "Now, Taro-kun, I see from the notes in your file that you've said that you don't just forget things – that you believe something is stealing the thoughts from out of your head. A creature of some kind – a lizard, right?"

"A monkey." Damn! It had just popped right out of his mouth, without his permission. He was going to have to give his mouth a talking-to when he got back to his room, spouting out all these things he didn't want it to say! "But it has scales like a lizard."

"All right, a monkey. With scales like a lizard. Do you see it now?"

He nodded. Wasn't going to let that mouth get him into any more trouble, nope.

"Can you show me where it is?"

Damn, oh damn, oh damn. There it was. The 'you're crazy' tone of voice.

"Taro-kun." Fujitaka-sensei sounded stern. "I need to know what you're thinking, what you're seeing, so that I can help you. Please don't lie to me."

He waved halfheartedly at his right shoulder.

"Thank you, Taro-kun." The doctor waved his hand through the monkey creature, and it started that mocking laughter again. "Is it right here?"

"Yes." He stared at his knees.

"You already know that I don't see it, don't you, Taro-kun?" Knees, knees, staring at the worn spot on the fabric of his trousers. "You know Makiko-san doesn't see it, either. None of the nurses see it. Neither do the other patients."

"I know, sir."

"I'm not upset or angry that you see it. But there's two possible explanations here – the first is that it is real and only you can see it; everyone else is blind. The second is that you're ill, and seeing it and the other creatures that frightened you so badly when you first arrived here is just a manifestation of your illness. Will you tell me honestly which explanation you believe?"

He swallowed, hard. "I... believe it's real. Sir. It's real, and it's been taking away my memories."

"I'm very glad you answered me, Taro-kun." The hand settled on his shoulder again, and he had to clench his fist and sit perfectly still again to keep from shaking it off. "Now, what if I told you I had another explanation for why you're having problems remembering things? Shortly after you arrived here, you had an electroshock treatment. I don't know if you remember that."

He remembered – remembered terror, feeling utterly lost, seeing more malevolent spirits than he'd ever seen in one place before, remembered screaming as he was knocked down and buried underneath grey, smoggy, fanged and clawed things. Remembered being tied down to a bed, and everything going completely white --

"I don't know."

"You probably don't remember it, Taro-kun. That's because electroshock treatments do have a side effect of damaging memory. They can disrupt the transfer of short-term memory to long-term memory. At higher voltages, they can have a damaging effect on long-term memory. You didn't have a high dosage here, Taro-kun – but you had frequent treatments at your old hospital. Quite frequent, and it wasn't a facility where they were used to dealing with patients like you."

Extremely crazy patients, Fujitaka-sensei meant. Ones that hallucinated.

"I'd like you to think about whether the treatments might be a more likely explanation for your missing memories than your monkey-lizard. I'd like you to think about how likely it is that the world is full of monsters that only you can see and that only hurt you. I'd like you to think about that. And to realize that if they are a hallucination, everything you do to avoid them, or to drive them off, or to even react to them makes them more real in your own mind. Only makes you more ill."

It was hard to hear Fujitaka-sensei over the cackling from the monkey creature, who was finding the whole lecture hysterical.

"I'm going to have the nurse give you an injection that will help decrease the chances of you having hallucinations, and we'll talk tomorrow morning. You can tell me if having had the injection changes what you see, and you can tell me what answers you've found to my questions."

He got up to leave.

"Taro-kun – do you have something in your pocket?"

He looked down. A bit of red cord from his shrine talisman was dangling out. He pulled it out, clasped it in his hand. "It's – ahh --"

"It looks like one of those trinkets you can get at a shrine."

The doctor was going to take it away. Was going to ask for it, was going to say that carrying such a thing reinforced the hallucinations...

"No, no. Put it back in your pocket. If I asked you to get rid of it today, you might think I was punishing you for being honest, and that's the last thing I want to do. Keep it, Taro-kun, but I want you to think very hard about whether it's really helping you to get better."

The walk back to his room was cold and silent. Fujitaka-sensei's questions filled his head. How likely was it that he was some special person who could see things invisible to most humans? That did sound utterly – well – delusional. He'd been put in a mental hospital – that probably mean he really was sick, right? And his old hospital had thought he was so sick they couldn't make him better, and had sent him here – where other patients carved runes into their own skin, or slammed their head against the floor over and over and over, or shouted one-sided arguments into the air all night long.

How likely was it that they were all wrong and he was right? When he couldn't remember things, and even the times he could remember had huge blank patches?

A nurse – not Makiko-san – walked in, and without speaking began to scrub his upper arm with iodine.

If the monsters were real, and if they really were dangerous, how likely was it that they would only hurt him? He thought he saw them attached to other people sometimes, but those people didn't act like they were being attacked, or were even aware they had huge leech-creatures wrapped around their torsos.

There was a prick, and an extended burn as the medicine was injected into his arm.

Then a memory – dangling against a brick wall, hanging onto a hand for dear life, as a writhing river of darkness swirled around them, malevolent. Attacking. Blood trailing down the arm, coating the hand that was his salvation.

The spirit that had attacked him had made that person bleed, too. Whatever it was, and whoever that person who was saving him was – it had made them bleed, too.

He was starting to feel grey, empty... tired.

Drugged.

The monkey's paw reached in – and was yanked out, as the creature let out a fierce screech. The paw – was it smoking? Or was it just more of the grey that was eating up his consciousness?

But he was sure it had made that person bleed, too.

~***~

Doumeki shrugged, settling his yukata into the proper draping around his body. His skin was still flushed and warm from his soak in the hot springs, and the chill of the air in this blessedly private room was a pleasant contrast. The bath had been an indulgence, a concession to frayed nerves. He would need all the calm he could muster tonight, for Watanuki's sake, but guilt still gnawed at him. Soaking in a hot springs when Watanuki was missing...

But he'd needed a room for the night that offered privacy, in a space that offered tranquility. He'd been staying in youth hostels, and in cheap communal rooms at inns in the smaller towns, but tonight's work required something different, and this traditional ryokai near Lake Tazawa best fit his needs. To deny himself the use of the bathing facilities and what relaxation they might provide would not help Watanuki in any way. He assuaged the guilt by promising himself that he would take Watanuki to a similar resort after he'd found the seer.  Doumeki would bet that if Watanuki had ever been to someplace similar, it had been a long time ago. He would remedy that, even if it meant kidnapping his classmate for a weekend.

Doumeki cleared the center of the room, then set down the items he would need. A pair of hand-knit gloves; a cluster of dried hydrangea flowers, much the worse for packing and travel; pages of notes in an impeccably neat hand, taken for him when his arm had been bound in a sling; a photograph; and a white gi, large swathes of the surface marred by old bloodstains. Last but not least he added a compass, and an impossibly fine strand of red silk.

He set the candles at the cardinal points of the room, and lit them and the stick of incense, and knelt in formal seiza, surrounded by those reminders of Watanuki, with the red silk and compass in front of him. He let each worry, each aggravation, each hope coalesce into his mind, acknowledging each, then  letting each dissolve into dust and fall out of awareness, settling around him like ash. Despite the relaxing soak, it was a long time before he felt his spirit settle into the perfect profound stillness he required.

Once he was certain that the tempests of his spirit had ebbed, he lifted the strand of silk and tied it around the smallest finger on his left hand. The thread was so fine, so slick, that he fumbled his first attempt, and had to spend more time regaining his state of deep meditation. The second time, he tied it smoothly, and he lifted his hand, letting the red thread dangle down above the compass.

Then he turned his attention to Watanuki. Watanuki Kimihiro. Not his fears for Watanuki; not his desires for Watanuki; just the contemplation of Watanuki as he was, as close as any fallible mortal could understand another.

That woman had been very solemn when she'd gifted him with the strands of silk. "As purely sympathetic magic, this would not work," she had said. "No matter how profound the ties between two souls, they are spiritual ties, and they exist in a geography utterly unlike the physical world. Two tied souls could pressed against each other on the subway, but still be vastly far apart spiritually. It is a lucky person indeed who can be close in both body and spirit to the one destined for him.

"But you and Watanuki are a special case. He has cradled your soul in his cupped hands. He has taken upon himself a curse meant for you. You have given him half of your eye, and he lives because your blood runs in his veins. Your spiritual connection merges with your physicality." There was a faint glimmer of mischief in her eyes, at the corners of her lips. "It would be merged even more if you'd been intimate with him already, Doumeki-kun. It would make this easier."

He'd felt a stab of sympathy for Watanuki's frequent desire to throttle his employer, then. He was absolutely not in the mood for either levity or criticisms of his sex life. But letting her get a rise out of him would waste precious time, and too much of that had already been wasted.

The hint of teasing was gone in the next moment. "You must be absolutely centered, Doumeki-kun. The current you are seeking is deep and subtle; the slightest ripples on the surface of your soul will be enough to obfuscate it. But because it is such a deep connection, I do not think it can be blocked."

"As your searching has been blocked."

She had taken a moment to inhale from her pipe before answering. "As my searching has been blocked. And I cannot spare much energy to the search right now. There is a crisis that I must attend to." She put up a hand before he could speak. "I have obligations, Doumeki-san. I would not put anything trivial before seeking out my missing apprentice. Do not insult me by suggesting otherwise." Another deep drag of fragrant smoke. "And I do not think the timing of this crisis is coincidental. Someone wishes my attention away from this place. Away from Watanuki."

There was a dangerous slant to her mouth, of which Doumeki approved. Someone would be made to pay.

He'd taken the red threads to Watanuki's apartment. He'd gone so far as to lay out Watanuki's futon, the only thing in the meticulously scrubbed rooms that bore the seer's scent, until his instinct had given him another suggestion. He'd knelt in the center of Watanuki's kitchen instead, and let Yuuko's magic give form to their connection.

It was fragile. It was the most difficult thing he'd done, wresting his soul to calm in the midst of his fears. It wasn't specific. North. All he had to go on was north.

It was more than he had hoped for, when he'd come to stand in front of the deserted lot, to tell the Witch that he would wait no longer.

He'd traveled North, searching. Twice more he'd repeated this ritual, and received the same answer. Now it was time to try again.

The red thread hung down from his finger.

Watanuki.

Doumeki struggled not to be aware of the passage of time, not to count his heartbeats.

Watanuki.

The muscles in his thighs burned, then eased. His elbow ached, from being held in position. He struggled to banish the pain, then struggled not to struggle.

Watanuki.

Pale and angular and fine-boned wrists. Ceaseless movement, sound and fury fueled by nervous energy. Meticulosly attentive to tiny details, and blind to the forest in front of him. Home cooked meals and hand-knit gloves. Habitual scowl and the rare smile, open and melting. Old-fashioned perfect manners and hyperexaggerated rants that made Doumeki struggle not to smile. Endlessly fascinating, caught between two worlds.

Watanuki.

The thread billowed to the side. Caught in a draft, in a current, tugged by an almost imperceptible force.

Watanuki.

Doumeki looked down, at the thread that was pulled nearly parallel to the floor beneath him, and the compass below it. Not north this time. East. East and the slightest bit south. And the far end of the crimson thread turning grey.

Grey?

The archer's concentration collapsed like a house of cards, and the thread disappeared entirely. He moved quickly, while the heading was still burned into memory, pulling out his map and straight edge. His location, the direction the thread had pulled -- bracketed by several degrees on each side to account for the imprecision – and there is was, the area of overlap between this wedge and the older markings.

Iwate. Watanuki was in Iwate.

It was while Doumeki was working with bus and train schedules – he'd only gone a bit too far north, but it seemed he would have to waste almost half a day backtracking in order to reach Iwate – that the cell phone that woman had given him began to ring.

"This is Doumeki."

The reception was horrible, overlaid with both white noise and the distant muffled sounds of dozens of voices, jumbling together, but Yuuko's voice cut through.

"Doumeki-san, you've found something?"

"Yes. He's in Iwate." A crackle of static drowned out any reply she might have made. "I think I saw something, from our eye. It might have been a dream, though. It looked like a spirit, with long bending arms and too many eyes and breasts. It had a lot of gleaming metal."

"That could describe a number of things. This connection isn't going to last very long, Doumeki. I'm going to ask you a question. Don't think about the answer – just say whatever words first come to you."

"Alright."

"Don't think about the spirit. What was around it? What kind of setting was it?"

Doumeki expected to say "cheap." Or "ugly." His attention had been fixed on the threatening creature,and while he knew he should have been paying more attention, he hadn't registered much beyond that. There'd been flourescent lights, making everything look sickly, including the bare walls that badly needed a new coat of paint, and highlighting the chipped white pain of the door frame, and reflecting off of the window that for some reason was placed in the door. The wire-laced window...

What came out of his mouth was, "Institutional." The window in the door tugged on a old memory, visiting one of Granfather's friends who was ill... "Hospital."

"Good, Doumeki. Check the hospitals first. It would not surprise me if our Watanuki wasn't... well."

The knot of worry he'd been carrying in his gut for weeks chilled unpleasantly. "Why?"

"I put protections on that boy. It is not an easy thing to hide him from me, and if he had said my name, even once, I would know."

"He doesn't know your name."

She made an amused noise. "Even borrowed names have power, Doumeki-kun. Just not so much power over the named person. Even my alias would ring like a church bell, if it came from our Watanuki."

He felt a warm sort of pride at that, and heard the same feeling in Yuuko's voice. "The Ame-Warashi says he is nowhere rain has fallen."

There was another loud crackle of static, and the murmuring voices suddenly became louder, if no more distinct – like standing in the center of a rush-hour subway station, catching snipped of hundereds of eddying converstaions.

"I can't hear you."

There was more white noise, and then, "...said it would be expected."

He had one more question, before he lost the line altogether. "The end of the thread started to turn grey this time. What does that mean?"

"Did you say grey?"Her voice was sharp and anxious.

"Yes. What does it mean?"

"Nothing good. Listen, Doumeki-kun – don't use any more of the threads. There is a price to their use, beyond the price you paid me to receive them. They draw..." The subway-station babble of voices drowned Yuuko out a moment "... from both. Usually, it would not be enough to do someone harm." Another burst of static. He was clenching the phone in a white-knuckled grip, as though squeezing it might eke out a few more moments of open lines to the Dimension Witch. "...starting to lose himself. Can you hear me, Doumeki-kun? Don't do the ritual again."

And she was gone.

Doumeki let his head drop forward, and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to ease the headache. "Idiot. What are you doing?" The headache wasn't yielding. "Just wait a little longer."

Iwate. He'd need to find a list of hospitals in Iwate.

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