A/N: So, I'm back. This is a Toshio/Seishin, and it will be rated up in the future.
Editing credit goes to Sandrine Georges. She's a goddess, no seriously.
Mmmm... This will probably switch third-person perspectives like Shiki...
And, I did take some liberties with the story, or rather, the pre-story. But, that will come later.
As always Shiki belongs to higher powers. And, reviews are love.
Written to songs about how 'yesterday was better'
The sky was blue. An entire universe to explore. But he only had one lifetime to look for it. In retrospect, he hadn't lost sight of the reason for wanting it. He tucked that away in the back of his mind, now. And, even the desire seemed empty.
A dog-eared letter. It had just two words printed on it: Happy Birthday. The first had been done with a kanji character, the second in simple hiragana. No return address. It had arrived in time. Of course it had. On the eve of his thirty-sixth birthday. It had come with a gift that could have been personal, if he tried to imagine it. A small maple-leaf bookmark. No doubt, hand-made. It was in the pocket with his cigarettes.
He took out a cigarette, savoring the fact that it had come from the front of a tuxedo. He had lain off in the recent years, beginning to feel discomfort from his habit. He reclined. It wasn't a comfortable place; a simple park bench, in a mid-way town called Duluth. The doctor himself had speculated that it was a way-point between two bigger places. A town filled with people with no real destination.
It wasn't here that he had expected to find the other man. But, the more he thought on it, the more appropriate it seemed. He examined the letter once again. The letter was made out to a certain Toshio Ozaki.
He was not the man he had been four years ago. He seemed hollow inside. Fake smiles, blinding lights, intoxicating drinks. He was still human. He was only human. A human flitting from job to job, at that.
He blew a plume of smoke upward. Two hours until the train. A 'plane had brought him to New York, then a train from New York to Duluth. His destination was some supposedly humanitarian hospital. At least, that was what he told himself.
Medicine had become slightly more than an empty frivolity. A hospital called 'Mayoclinic,' just as empty as the rest. It didn't matter… No. It really doesn't. The wrinkled tuxedo made him seem even more out of place.
In the years that passed, not much had changed. Most survivors had been trying to cope with daily life. Some lived in the mammoth carcass that Sotoba left behind, amidst charred wreckage and piles of ash. The doctor himself let the village slip away from his mind. It was better off dead. But the memories persisted, and so he was looking for a man who he knew to be alive.
And that fleeting hope had brought him across an ocean. He ignored the minor details as he contemplated his quandary—Seishin wouldn't mind being reunited; he was simply convinced otherwise. He had discovered a nest of Shiki in Seoul two years prior. Of course it wasn't as large as the attempted takeover of the city of Sotoba, but he found it curious. The humans knew. They didn't care.
He would have missed it, being as engrossed in his thoughts as he was. He peered out over the harbor intermittently, watching the sun hover over its double in the lake, unperturbed. Occasionally, a stray ripple skimmed the surface of the water and scattered the slivers of light. They danced around the surface, straying from the original alignment, but only momentarily.
"Interesting…" He reflected emptily. He raised his wrist to eye-level. In examination, an old, charred watch took precedence over his hand. It wasn't his watch. It was the only remaining thing from Sotoba. He was surprised to have found it. It was nestled beneath the remnants of a couch, barely touched by the fire.
It was a half-past twelve. He impatiently tapped the face of the watch, trying to hurry time along. He stood up, stretched, and then reseated himself on the bench, this time facing westward towards the jogging trail instead of north. He saw a glimpse of it, platinum-blonde hair that extended midway to the ear, pentagonal spectacles, and porcelain skin. He rubbed his eyes. It was a phantasm. A ghost walking a dog. He has a dog now. He was still thirty-two.
After a brief hesitation, Toshio began to trail him. Keeping a distance, occasionally checking the surroundings, maintaining a steady pace. He hadn't realized that the other man had noticed until he found himself cornered, facing a wall of graffiti. He was underneath a busy intersection—he didn't notice until it was too late.
He felt a clammy hand clamped over his mouth and faintly registered the din of barking in the distance. He tried to struggle away, but the grip was firm. He cast a glance skyward. There would still be enough light. It wasn't quite dark enough.
"Good Afternoon." An eerily distinct line of unbroken English.
"Oh. Sorry. I…" The smaller man let go.
"…Your English seems to have improved." Toshio dusted himself off, smoothing wrinkles from his suit.
"Is that just it?"
"…I didn't think you… Toshio… Let it go."
"Let what go?"
"This entire thing."
"Honestly?" The doctor pulled out a second cigarette, only to have it snatched away by his companion. "Seishin, you haven't changed… Still sending the same things, talking the same way… No… You've been this way for a long time…"
"Toshio… Just… Go home… Please."
"I spend four years hunting for you… And, you tell me to walk away?"
Seishin gave him a curt nod. "It's better to let it all fade away. Eventually, it'll be like that…"
"Hardly likely. You can't let go of the past yourself. The things I get on my birthday are proof enough. Most of the other survivors can't go backward." He gave Seishin a quick scan. Temple robes had been long-since replaced by dark-colored jeans and a casual t-shirt. His wiry frame remained the same, but the hollowness in his eyes had gone. He was looking at a bolder Seishin. The grip had been indicative of this much.
He turned his focus to the highway. The cars passed by, the occasional driver tossing something out of the vehicle. "Great spot…" He muttered. He had forgotten how perceptive the former monk was.
"Sorry. I had to choose something like this… I expected a stake…"
"You think I would have…?"
"You did to Kyouko."
"Nnnn… Yeah… But, she was… You know…" The doctor shrugged sheepishly. He couldn't feel any remorse in it.
"Have you had lunch yet?"
"One day. I'll be gone in the morning."
"I've been looking."
"I was hoping that you could tell me." He bit down on his own cigarette, snuffing out the embers before discarding it on a swath of dirt. He waited for Seishin's approval. He didn't intend to let Seishin get away. Not after four years.
After a moment of thoughtful silence, Seishin nodded. He did not motion to follow. It was assumed. Even the dog knew it. Toshio rebuked himself for not being perceptive enough—the dog was not wearing a leash. He followed, keeping an even pace, examining the ends of his shoes for grass stains, or otherwise. He still did have a job interview to go through with.
"I have to return an item first."
The doctor was slightly disappointed. He had anticipated the meeting to turn out differently. More like the excursions of their youth. Seishin seemed to have returned to that state, his hair had even adopted an almost-unnoticeable curl at the base. He remembered the times they sat in the church, legs meeting at the feet, talking about the future they planned to have. Seishin always managed to dodge the marriage question. He'd look elsewhere, and answer indirectly. Usually an 'I don't know…' or sometimes 'I'll figure it out later'. It never quite made sense.
He couldn't entirely place his displeasure. Seishin was still thirty-two. It was disconcerting but not the main reason for the slight repulsion he felt. There were always closed doors in Sotoba. He knew that now. Demons in distant daydreams, places where the sunlight didn't stay for long. Just enough, a flutter of a heart, the deep beating of wings in the sunset, and the steady pounding of the waves on the beach. He knew that now. He knew that now.
They walked for a bit. Toshio had to prompt Seishin, occasionally questioning the vicinity, certain foliage, and his own life. Seishin gave him insubstantial answers. He hadn't expected more… He had just wanted it. Something that the other man would no longer give him.
"How long have you been living here?"
"And before that?"
"Mizobe for three months, two in Poland, and the rest in England"
"Aah." Toshio nodded thoughtfully, seeming to savor the answers. They didn't provide any more insights than he had before.
"How long do you intend to stay?"
Toshio's lame-duck answer hung in the air, repressed by the thick atmosphere. He envisioned himself on the bench of the gazebo, looking out at the field, realizing that the Ozaki house was held up by paper, the village by sand.
The sand was firm, the paper weak. So the house folded.
Seishin had finally led him up a street, dog nipping at his heels. He didn't seem to mind. Seishin motioned for Toshio to wait. He carefully surveyed the house, same as all the rest—blue trim on cream paint. Not entirely unattractive. Very cookie-cutter. He could see now, why Seishin picked such a place. If he wished, he could disappear.
Toshio observed as the dog trotted from Seishin to the door. Some woman answered. She greeted him in a familiar way, a routine that was almost too painful to watch. He picked out bits of the conversation.
"How are you doing?"
"Ah. Fairly well. And you?"
"Good, thanks for this favor."
"Mmm… Who is that? A friend of yours?"
"Yeah. Visiting from Japan."
"Why is he dressed so nicely?"
Toshio shuddered at the last answer. How had Seishin known? He checked his watch again. He had missed the train. He shrugged. He'd catch the bus, then. Or get a taxi. He spent a few moments to appraise the neighborhood. He couldn't find anything different about it then gave up the notion.
"Sorry it took so long."
"Oh. With Ms. Wu."
"That's her name. She's an acquaintance"
"How did you know I was here for an interview?" Toshio changed the subject abruptly. He didn't care for Ms. Wu.
"No idea." Seishin shrugged "I just thought… The outfit…"
"Yeah. You were right."
"Not curious enough?"
"It's just… I… Never mind."
"No. What was it?"
"Nothing. Just… Let's go have lunch."
"You wouldn't have brought it up if it was nothing," Toshio mumbled to himself. Seishin pretended not to hear. He didn't see any necessity to press onward though. Even if Seishin was bolder, he wasn't a lion. He still had a timidity clinging to him. Toshio suspected that he hadn't killed yet. No. He couldn't have.
"Is this fine?"
"This café. Is it okay?"
"Yeah. It should be."
"I apologize… I don't think you'll be allowed inside my house…"
"I already said it was okay, Seishin."
It was a small Japanese-style crêpe café. Toshio immediately noticed that most people knew Seishin. Casual questions about his day came from all sides. He remained silent, wearing the same calculated smile. He should be happier. He seated himself at the window table. There were faint droplets of rain. Liquid silver running down the windowpanes. A cold memory resurfaced.
"Toshio… Is something wrong?"
"No. Just… No."
"Where are you looking for work?"
"Invited. Not looking. I don't suppose they'd have it in the papers…"
"Sunako reads them more than I do."
"Hm." He picked the fork up, and twirled it thoughtfully. "It was in the news in Yokohama."
"Is that where you've been?"
"Mostly." The doctor made a rough gesture with his hand. "A year in Tokyo, and half in Shinjuku. I hated that style of life."
"Aah. And Yokohama was better?"
"Not by much…"
"Yeah. When you've faced things…"
"And the rest?"
"… Kaori is… about. Somewhere between schools, I hear. As for the rest of the villagers… Most of them have taken residence in Sotoba."
"It was rebuilt?"
"No. It never was."
A slow nod. Seishin pushed the image out of his mind. It was a loneliness that could be held. Arms out, wavering between the void. And the village. He remembered writing something like that, calling Sunako over to check it. "And, they move about. Starry-eyed Sailors look at them, wriggling out of hole with paper-thin walls to see the light of another day. But none of them can feel its warmth." She had given approval, and he had written it down.
"Don't worry about it." An empty statement. He didn't want their meeting to end there. "Are you still writing?"
"Yes. In English, now. My latest work was different. It was a picture-book."
"I didn't think you would write a picture book."
"It's not a traditional, 'happy ending' picture book."
Seishin excused himself, leaving Toshio to his own worries. It isn't being without him… There's a void when I'm with him. How did I think that this was going to be easy? It is…
"I ordered two coffees and a large crêpe sampler. We can share it."
"Where do you live?"
"I've decided to let you live." Of course he had. He had no intention of killing Seishin. Seishin was… His friend… And then, it was time to forget… Because, after the dead come back, they are no longer who they were before.
"Toshio… I can't…"
"And why not?"
"Just… Go home, Toshio."
"Can't. Didn't book a plane back."
"… Please… Leave me alone…"
"… It's just… I…"
"Keep going." Toshio grinned, arrogantly satisfied. There was a little bit of the old, hesitant Seishin left. "Seishin, I'm not going to leave you alone."
Seishin withdrew his gaze, and went back to looking at the melting world. The raindrops made it look like that. Toshio tried to begin another conversation again. Seishin didn't respond. He let the fuzz of the electric lights preside over their reunion. Little lamps and the occasional flickering of light.
They ate in silence. Toshio, occasionally dropping comments about the food or Seishin's eating habits,. Seishin didn't respond to the latter, though cocking head in agreement of the former. It was melancholy again. A steady downbeat filled the room. It was music from Toshio's head, strung together by sighs and awkward pauses. Notes were interspersed with laughter. But there existed no such song now. Not like this.
"I already paid, Toshio."
"Then, I owe you."
"… No… You don't…"
"Mmm… Let's come here again next Tuesday."
"… Your job?"
"I said I was invited… I just need to interview for a proper position."
"Where is it?"
"Yeah. I'll buy this time."
Seishin reluctantly agreed. Stringing a second trivial encounter onto the first didn't change their nature. And, even if he had refused, Toshio would have found a way… He told himself that. Toshio refrained from pressing for much more.
To ask for anything else threatened to break the fragile acquaintance they had.
To ask for anything else meant to make futile promises.
They left together, just as they had come until they separated at the bus stop. Superficial words passed between them. Nods of acknowledgement. It couldn't be the same. Calculated smiles were gone. And the rain let up. Fallen leaves encrusted empty parking lots. The fall regalia showed its colors once again. Toshio gazed back at the empty city. He took the atmosphere in. No sanctity. No solace.
The last bus seat, the changing city. Gazing out of the window, regarding things quietly. No remorse for the aching bones, no reprieve for the greying hair. He'd always been teetering between generosity and selflessness. That hadn't changed. Not for Seishin. The doctor's own theory was refuted. And then, it was time for quiet inflection. Kyouko died because… She was Shiki. Shiki live to kill. Seishin is a Shiki (a jinrou Shiki) Seishin lives to… Write(?) Protect(?) No. That doesn't… The vehicle came to a jarring halt. He'd have to walk the rest of the way.
Lost in his own thoughts, and led astray by a changing world, Toshio Ozaki wandered. His eyes were unfocused, and his heartbeat inaudible. A word fluttered in the recesses of his mind. Tuesday. As long as there was that much between them. Tuesday.