Somehow, Shizuka's strength doesn't leave him until he's carried Watanuki to the shop and inside the room Yuuko leads him to. He settles the unconscious body on the bed as easily as if he hadn't just been deprived of about half his blood. Then he gives the pale face one last look, the still hand one last squeeze, and gets out to let the witch work her magic.
He crumbles the moment he's out the door, exhaustion and blood loss taking over in an instant, rendering him incapable of movement as two figures carefully approach him.
"The guest room has been prepared," they say in unison, each of them grabbing an arm.
"No," he protests weakly, attempting to shake them off. He's not moving from here until she comes out.
"--needs to rest."
"Not now." He's the type of people who double-checks his bills and so he'll stay here and awake until he has confirmation that his wish has truly been granted.
The two girls move to stand in front of him, holding hands loosely.
"The mistress will take care of Watanuki," they tell him mournfully before walking away.
He finds the strength to sit up and lean against the wall, standing guard; forcing himself to stay awake. If he sleeps he'll dream, and in his dreams Watanuki dies.
Shizuka was born and raised in a temple, has been participating in death rituals since he was seven. He's seen more than any teenager's share of the dead and the dying. But none of this prepared him for the sheer number of ways Watanuki could die, each of them his fault.
Like clockwork, every single time he saves Watanuki's life, he dreams himself failing to.
Blood has made his hand slippery, unable to hold on.
He's dug the mud for hours until a concerned citizen called the kind of assistance that dragged him away, leaving a muddy ribbon to lay useless under blood-red flowers.
He's stayed late at practice and come back exhausted and weary. Hasn't noticed the blinking light of the answering machine until the next day; when cursing himself as Yuuko's distorted voice told him Watanuki was fading away did nothing to help him reach the boy in time.
And the next time he falls asleep he will somehow fail again, be unable to pay the price and stand there helpless as Watanuki's blood spreads among glass shards. So before that happens he'll make sure the boy is, if not sound, at least safe for the time being. From experience he knows it won't make the dream any better; but when he snaps awake it will take a little less time to get his heartbeat back to normal.
He nods at Kunogi when she arrives, looking down but resolute. She's paid her own price for this, so when Yuuko opens the door for her he doesn't protest that this is all her fault in the first place, that she's the foremost danger to the one he's trying to protect.
He hears fragments of their conversation, just enough to know what is Watanuki's choice, what decision Shizuka will abide by regarding her.
Yuuko comes back as soon as Kunogi leaves, her face serious and composed.
"He will be fine," she assures him, as distant as if Watanuki was just another client, no one worthy of interest or care.
Shizuka understands, to an extent, that she has responsibilities and duties he can't begin to comprehend, but in that moment he thinks he could really grow to hate that woman.
It's nowhere near the first time.
Something flashes across her face, and he doesn't doubt that she knows, like she always seems to know everything. He doesn't care.
"You could rest now," she says almost gently.
"Not yet." Not until he can't help but fall asleep.
There's a moment of silence.
"Is there something you want to ask, Doumeki-kun?"
"These dreams..." he starts, unsure of how to end the sentence, how to formulate the question. She is a dangerous woman to get information from, and nothing he has to spare will be wasted on a selfish wish.
"All represent missed chances." She doesn't say more, but even to his exhausted brain it's a confirmation of something he's suspected for a long time.
"Are they a payment?"
She smiles that smile he neither understand nor cares for. "What a smart boy."
More silence as he sorts it out in his head. The knowledge of missed opportunities is payment for a wish he can't remember making. Could it be someone else's? Is she allowed, by whatever rules bind her, to extract a payment from someone else than the original client?
"This payment," she adds after a few moments, "can be stopped at any time."
He knows, then. She never lets a client go back on a deal, never reverses a wish. So each nightmare is a payment for something, and it's not hard to figure what.
The dreams can stop. All he has to do is let one of them come true.
"Doumeki-kun drives a hard bargain." She sounds like he's passed a test of some sort, which usually would make him scowl. Right now though, he can't spare the energy.
She crouches in front of him, still perfectly elegant despite the pose, and her expression is softer than he's ever seen. "Then let me repay you for taking my employee back in time for his shift." She makes a pass in front of his face, so fast he can't follow her hands, and his eyes fall close on their own accord as her voice fades away. "By granting you a few hours of dreamless sleep."