Those Who Love Monsters

Chapter Five: Epilogue

Author's notes: Well, here it is. Truthfully, as is my habit, I ended up finishing this chapter only a few hours after I had finished chapter 4. I just held off on publishing it a few days in order to give readers a chance to find 4, and so that I could post it on Samhain.

Let's see. A lot of positive review for 4. I'm actually glad for that. I think this might be my most ambitious story yet, not for length, but because it straddled a thin line between being an actual honest story that presented themes and ideas, and being just another of the trashy character bash stories that are so common. I was dealing with a tricky character in tricky a tricky situation, and I'm glad I managed to make something that people felt was worth reading rather than just being self indulgent trash. I have to wait to see how 5 is received to be certain that I managed not to screw this up, but I have tentative feelings of pride so far in what I've written.

That being said, on to the chapter itself. I promised that Medaka would get better press in this chapter, and I like to think I've done her proud. A problem with writing this close to the actual edge of Medaka Box is that the author's original intent hasn't been made. Thus, any fan work is being done on the case of assumption on what is going to happen. So far in TWLM Medaka has played the major role as villain, but that doesn't mean I don't like her, or think she's a bad character. I actually really like Medaka. I think she's a stunning example of the 'helping others be their best self' type hero taking to unnatural lengths in order to reveal the flaws inherent in BEING that kind of hero. She's both an archtype and a deconstruction at the same time. Still, she needs a logical reason for acting like she did, both in TWLM and in the original Medaka Box, and I think I have an idea why.

See story below for details.

Anyway. Closing comments in general. I thought about putting the whole author's notes on the bottom of the page, but I think the most important part of a story is the ending, and I didn't want there to be anything else after the last line, so I have to be a bit vague up here.

More of my thoughts on horror make themselves known in this chapter. It's a bit of a distant ending, but I'm fond of those so it should be no surprise to any of my previous readers. People will claim Zenkichi is out of character, but to be fair when a character starts off acting close to their original canon selves and then steadily changes it's not technically being out of character. It's called character development. So quit whining so damn much about it. He stopped technically being Zenkichi the moment I fed him to a vampire years before the story started. Of course he's freaking different now!

As for the title, my thoughts on it are that Zenkichi technically loved three different monsters in the course of his life. Medaka, who was so perfect she became inhuman. Shinobu, who wasn't human to begin with but still manages to act like one. And finally, the third monster is of course Shiranui: who is probably the scariest monster in the story. Conversely, Zenkichi too was a monster that all three of them loved. Or maybe he became a monster BECAUSE of all three of them loving him.

And so enjoy this story where Medaka and Zenkichi finally talk it out, where things once more go horribly wrong for everyone involved, and you get to chose which of the three possibilities is the true happy ending.

If any of them could be considered happy at all.

*Story Start*

I didn't know what to expect when I revisited the address of the old cram school. Once, a long time ago, I had tried to help a haunting ghost find her way home only to discover just how quickly an urban environment can change. Thus, I hadn't really been certain what I would discover when I went to my old haunt.

The neighborhood looked very different than it used to, that was for certain. What had once been small residential homes, the kind that housed a family of six at most had been replaced with dirty, wide apartments. They were generally low swept, only two or three stories at most, but wide in the way only low income housing complexes could be. I had thought that the cram school would most likely be just another such complex.

So it was with a great deal of surprise that when I arrived it was to discover that the old wreck of a building was still there. It looked identical to what it did the last time I saw it. It was such a hauntingly nostalgic site that I couldn't resist it. I had only meant to swing by and take a look for old time's sake, but when faced with its inviting desolateness I couldn't keep myself from slipping inside.

In retrospect, I probably should have known better. It was hard to keep up sometimes with just how quickly technology seemed to be advancing these days, so I had no idea if it was some sort of undetected sensor which caught me, or if she had only shown up because she too had made it a habit to spend her evening hours here.

Whatever the case was, it was while I was eying the wrecked room that had once been the fourth classroom on the fourth floor that I heard her footsteps approaching me from behind.

"It's been a long time," she noted, and I took a deep breath, not turning around as I did so. Yes, that was her scent alright. It was the same robust odor of sweat and hormones, that briefest of hints of that lavender soap she tended to favor, combined with a coppery tang which was far more familiar to me.

"So it has," I admitted, before heaving a sigh. "It's been over a hundred and sixty years now. Tell me: just how is it that you're still menstruating, Medaka? Shouldn't you have been through menopause by now?"

"Over a century and a half and that's the first thing you can comment on?" Medaka huffed, sounding put out by my blunt question. "I'd think you'd spent a little too much time around Shiranui when we were younger, if I wasn't already completely certain of that fact."

"You two never did get along, did you?" I remembered, a wistful smile spreading across my face as I turned. "You look surprisingly good, for an old lady," I noted, before giving a little sigh. "Though it seems like you still haven't developed any shame yet."

"You need to ask?" Medaka noted, giving a small huff as she did so. Pulling a fan out of her exposed cleavage, she struck a pose, just like she used to whenever she felt the need to strip to her underwear and look at herself in the full body mirror she had kept in the Student Council room. "I, Medaka Kurokami, have never once in all my years been ashamed of my body!"

The truth was that even after a century and a half, Medaka looked closer to forty then she did to a hundred and eighty. There was a bit of grey in her hair, yes, but her body was still as toned and fit as it ever was and her features seemed to hold that certain ageless characteristic that some women found themselves lucky enough to grow into on their own. It was the kind of face which looked the same from the age of twenty to fifty, a classic kind of beauty. Her bust seemed to have held up well over the years too, I noted. It was exceedingly easy to tell, after all, considering just how much of it she was displaying.

All said and done, the woman standing before me in just a marginally too short black pencil skirt and black stockings topped by a black blouse that was unbuttoned to nearly the top of her stomach was still so good looking that no one looking at her on the street would ever suspect just how old she truly was.

"I see you changed your wardrobe," I noted, cocking my head to the side. "Though you at least kept the color the same."

"It's been decades since I wore a school girl uniform," Medaka dismissed, snapping her fan shut and giving me a pointed look. She seemed to think of something and began to tap her fan thoughtfully against her chin. "Though I could probably still pull it off if I tried. I wonder where I put that old thing…" Trailing off, she shook her head quickly, dismissing the errant thought. "You, on the other hand," she began, giving me a once over of her own, a bit of wonder in her tone. "You haven't changed a bit. Literally."

"What can I say," I shrugged, dismissing her observation. "I like this outfit." I suppose it was a bad habit of vampires everywhere, but we tended to be pretty limited in our choice of wardrobes. The only time I had ever seen Kiss Shot not wearing that chic dress of hers had been when she was still Shinobu, or when she was simply naked. I had found within myself a deep fondness for pale and faded jeans combined with white hoodies, though I never did get back into the habit of wearing socks and shoes.

"I wasn't talking about the outfit," Medaka pointed out, snapping open her fan again, though this time it seemed to be less for the fashion of it and more to use it as a cooling implement. "Though your clothes do look a little out of place in this season."

It was hot out, the kind of blistering summer night combined with humidity well over the ninetieth percentile that was guaranteed to cause sweat to stick the clothes to the body. I could already make out dampness forming on Medaka's body in various places, though it seemed like the generous ventilation her cleavage was getting was probably helping.

On the other hand, despite my long sleeves and fully concealed body, there was no sign of perspiration on me.

"What can I say?" I repeated, shrugging again. "Vampire."

"So I've heard," Medaka told me, her tone vaguely ironic. She opened her mouth as though to say something, but then she paused, closing it with an audible clack. The silence began to stretch on as I watched her expression change from conflicted, to angry, and back to conflicted.

"I thought you would be in New Lebanon right now," I finally added to break the growing silence. "Seeing as you just negotiated peace in the Middle East, shouldn't you be over there getting ready for your eighth Nobel Prize?"

Medaka shrugged, apparently dismissing her achievement of a feat that many people never thought would be possible ever since World War Three turned into the Second Cold War. "Anyone could have done it," she said bluntly. "I just happened to be the one that got around to it first."

I actually shook my head, almost having expected something like this, but her continued casual dismissal of her outrageous achievements seemed to have become a lifetime habit. "You mean anyone could have ousted eight corrupt theocratic dictatorships based around the concept of 'Eternal Jihad', negotiated a disarmament treaty between three of the countries with the largest stock pile of nuclear and biological weapons, and then convinced all of them to engage in a free trade and open border agreement similar to the European Alliance and the New Empire of North America?"

"Exactly," Medaka nodded, my sarcasm going right over your head. Instead, a small smile began to crook at her lips. "It seems that you've been following my achievements rather closely, Zenkichi."

"It's hard not to hear about the accomplishments of 'The Immortal School Teacher'," I reminded her, finding the name the press had dubbed the well-aged abnormal in front of me oddly appropriate. It looked like I wasn't the only one who found her apparent youth to be disturbing.

"You on the other hand," Medaka continued, her smile slipping, "well, you are a very hard man to find."

"It's almost like I live in different world entirely now," I quipped, my small smile just a stretch of my lips. I rarely smiled larger than that these days. It tended to expose my fangs, and nobody likes that kind of blatant display.

"I've spent over a century trying to find you," Medaka continued, folding her arms under her breasts and tapping her elbow with her fan as she continued. "And I've invested billions, even trillions of yen into the investigation. And then you go and show up here, as though nothing ever happened."

"Well, I had heard you were in the Middle-East," I shrugged, turning away so that I could take in the decaying wreckage of the cram school. "I didn't think you'd be around. I was surprised to find this place," I admitted, reaching one hand out to run it over the rough edge of the door frame. "I would have thought that this place collapsed by now. Hasn't the owner found a better use of the land yet?"

"I'm the owner," Medaka admitted casually. "After our last meeting I bought it. When the town council tried to pressure me into condemning it, I bought them. And when this place finally collapsed, I hired the best construction crew in the nation to rebuild it to specifications."

"You did all that?" I asked, surprised. I turned slightly so I could take in Medaka's expression. I couldn't quite suppress a small smile again, one which she answered seemingly despite herself. "That's… Well, that actually relieves me a little. This place had a lot of memories for me, after all."

"For me too," Medaka nodded. Her expression fell immediately afterwards. "So the only reason you came was because you thought I was out of the country?"

"Did you think there was any other?" I prompted her, my tone bland. I heard her sigh, before I continued. "Well, there was one other reason," I admitted.

"That being?" Medaka asked, her tone cautious.

"I was thinking about visiting Shiranui's grave," I admitted.

"Oh," Medaka said, her voice softer. "So you knew she died then?"

"We're both pushing one hundred and eighty," I reminded her. "It's natural that not everyone managed to make it as long as we had." My tone turned nostalgic again. "I was at her funeral, actually."

"You were?" Medaka broke in, sounding surprised. "I didn't see you there."

"I didn't want to be seen," I reminded her. "She was a hell of a girl, that Shiranui," I reminisced. "You know, she was the godmother of my daughter." I snorted, shaking my head at the thought. A human being asked to be a vampire's godmother. I was almost positive they had been able to make snowmen in hell that day.

"Godmother?" Medaka repeated, her tone tight. "So you had a daughter? No, more importantly, so you there was someone you stayed in contact with? And it was that girl of all people?"

"It wasn't so much that I stayed in contact," I admitted with a shrug. "It was more like every couple of months Shiranui would just show up on her own, bucket of chicken in hand." I grimaced, unable to wrap my head over just how easily the human garbage disposal that had been my best friend had always been able to locate me. "Though she did usually time it whenever Kiss Shot and I were separated for a few days. Those two never did get along."

"I nearly drove my family to bankruptcy," Medaka began, her tone outraged. "I had entire governments searching for you. I scoured the earth so relentlessly that there were times when I probably knew more about what was going on than entire intelligence agencies. Not once did I ever find even a trace of you. And you're telling me that girl would just show up whenever she pleased?"

"It was Shiranui," I reminded her.

Medaka sighed. "Good point," she conceded. "I think I hated that girl."

"Hold the presses," I joked. "Medaka Kurokami, hating someone. I think that might be a sign of the apocalypse."

"Ha," Medaka told me, though she only said it rather than actually laughed. "You know, there were times when I was ready to give up on finding you," she admitted, her tone distant with remembered anguish. "But every time I was about to move on, that bitch would show up and remind me. She never once let me get over you."

"When Shiranui decides to get revenge, she was always remarkably thorough," I noted. I missed her. It had been nearly eighty years since she passed on, and I still sometimes found myself expecting her to show up, tiny as in my memories like she was in high school, malicious grin and diabolical schemes in hand.

"I always thought that you two shouldn't get along," Medaka muttered, though even her grumbling was touched with a fond reminiscence. Time could heal just about everything, if enough of it passed. Outliving so many people for so long, more and more you tended to find yourself dismissing the bad and recalling the good.

"So you had a child?" Medaka finally spoke up. "And a wife as well?"

"We never actually married, but I suppose that's the best term for it," I admitted. It was a mostly human convention anyway, marriage. We had been lovers, and mates, master and subordinate. That had been enough for us.

"Both vampires," Medaka noted, her tone growing serious. "And will I get to meet the two?"

"They've both gone on ahead," I told her. "I was planning on catching up to them after I stopped by here."

"I see," Medaka said, her voice edged with iron. "Zenkichi," she continued. "What were you planning, coming here?"

"What do you mean?" I asked her, a smile beginning to form. It didn't take a genius to see where this was going to go, but I could allow it to play out.

"Were you planning on killing here?" Medaka said bluntly.

"And if I was?" I asked her playfully.

"Even if I'm often absent, I'm still the headmistress of Hakoniwa Academy. I'm also the mayor of this town. I won't allow anyone under my protection to be harmed," she told me.

"Oh?" I teased her. "Is that all?"

"No," Medaka admitted. "Last time we met, you had a chance to say a great number of things. It's been a hundred and sixty years since then. In that time, there were a lot of things that I wanted to say to you too."

"Still nobly trying to make everyone around you happy?" I asked, egging her on.

"No," Medaka said bluntly. "This is only my selfish desire."

"Hmph," I grunted. "It looks like you've changed a bit then."

"I've learned a lot over the years," Medaka admitted. I got no other warning than that before I felt her foot impact into my ribs, the force like a cannon ball. "One of them was how to take the initiative."

Just like old times, I found myself flying down the dark corridors of a desolate cram school. Medaka didn't let up after her first strike. Even as I was tumbling she had sped up, keeping pace with me as I flew. Despite the fact that I was tumbling head over heels, she continued to rain blows down on me, her arms flashing pale white in what little moonlight managed to penetrate the dark hall.

That was fine though. I had spent a century and a half besides Kiss Shot, and she hadn't been lying when she had warned me that there would be many who would be seeking our lives. There hadn't been a period longer than a month where the two of us hadn't had a battle to the death. That kind of experience added up over the decades.

"I don't know when it started," Medaka continued, not sounding the least bit winded as we fought. Even as she spoke she managed to snake a kick out, and I realized that she hadn't bothered to remove her high heels as a three inch spike drove into my chest. It was impressive, fighting on stilettos like that in the dark without missing a beat. "I can only think it began with the Flask Plan."

"What did?" I asked, sounding casual as my flesh knit up. I disentangled, a move which involved me bending myself in half backwards, my spine snapping temporarily as I forced the unnatural contortion. It let me get my feet under me, and a second later I was up, not even a rain of plaster to mark where I had punched into the roof once more. It was an entry as smooth as a professional diver slipping into a pool.

"The fighting," Medaka admitted, before she too joined me in the cramped confines between ceiling and roof. Spider like, I moved, and though Medaka couldn't bend her limbs into the same angles as I did, she had the grace of a cat as she pounced on me. "You and Kikaijima were right, you know. I never could understand others. For the longest time, before high school, I tried my best, always imitating, always trying. But no matter how hard I worked, there was always a barrier between me and others that I just couldn't break through."

"So?" I prompted her, and this time I managed to come out ahead in the exchange of blows, knocking her downwards and back into a classroom. A second later I was dodging as Medaka began to use the broken desks as projectile weapons. I scrabbled for space.

"Then came the Flask Plan," Medaka continued, and I heard a wall shatter beneath me as she managed to track me even out of sight. "For the first time ever, I met other Abnormals. You know how we all were: distant, lonely. It wasn't just me that had a wall between myself and the rest of humanity. We were all so different, that none of us could ever really be a part of the rest of the world."

I slipped through a hole in the ceiling, and dropped right down into the space between the third and the fourth floor, buying myself time. Medaka continued, though I doubted she hadn't caught my attempted ruse.

"It was amazing!" she admitted, her voice fond with reminiscent. "I was finally able to understand someone! First Takachiho-sempai, then Miyakonojou! They were people every bit as different as I was, who I could actually understand. After them, the Class Minus Thirteen. All the while fighting, all the while in conflict. I was even able to understand Kumagawa then. I wasn't able to do that before, back in middle school. The only thing I could do then was hit him until he promised to leave. But when we fought again, I was able to understand his feelings, and I was able to make him understand my own as well!"

I had intended to stay silent, mostly so I could sneak the next attack in, when a hand shattered through the floor, wrapping around my throat and wrenching me out of my hiding place. No longer needing to keep quiet, I choked out, "Good for you."

"No," Medaka shook her head, "it really wasn't." Then she gave me an uppercut that sent me through the roof in a spray of plaster and steel.

I came to the end of my roll, shaking my head as I recovered my bearings. My body ached, and it took all my efforts to fix my clothing. My regeneration was working, but it was sluggish, barely greater than that of a human's healing ability at this point. Still, I forced myself upright, showing none of the pain that was coursing through me.

Medaka appeared through the hole I had left, leaping as easily as if she was walking up a stair. Her hair was ruffled, and there were gaping holes torn into her outfit. The side of her short skirt was torn, her stockings were running in places, and the already minimal covering of her blouse had crossed the line into indecent displaying that at some point Medaka had started disdaining bras entirely. She still wore panties at least, though they seemed to have gone even skimpier than the ones she had worn in her youth.

Come to think of it, it did tend to stay with the fashion of the times. Maybe I was just old fashioned for missing the days when under clothing was held in higher regards then it was now.

"Then came that day," Medaka continued, her expression stern as she spoke. Despite her words, she was still in all business mode, her combat senses ready and sharp. "The day when I looked down on you and realized I couldn't understand you. I had thought that cryptogram, the riddle, was so simple. The others didn't seem to have any trouble with it after all, though you were right in that only the two ever did figure it out. I tried to brush it off and tell you not to worry about it, and you got upset, saying how it shouldn't count."

She paused, and maybe expecting me show some kind of response to her memory, offer some kind of rebuttal. I had none. Honestly, I could barely keep myself standing at this point. When I had nothing to say, she continued.

"I remember thinking that if you were so upset then you should have just completed the riddle instead of wasting time," she shook her head, confessing just what the thought process was that had begun our entire riff. "I was confused, wondering how someone who had stood by me for so long, who had been so competent so often, could be stopped by such a simple thing. And so I came to the conclusion that you must not have been that competent at all, that there must have been something I missed, something I hadn't understood which would explain why you weren't able to do something so simple." She met my eyes directly. "So I decided that if you couldn't keep up, it would be better to dismiss you rather than have a time come when you would fail later."

"Are you going somewhere with this?" I asked, trying to goad her. If she kept talking, she might realize just what state I really was in.

"Yes," Medaka nodded, though she began to walk towards me, preparing to engage in battle again. "Right afterwards, before I had even had a chance to get changed, you appeared and challenged me." She crouched, preparing herself. "Zenkichi, that was the happiest moment of my life."

She launched herself, and I managed to dodge the first blow before the second one caught me in the diaphragm.

"I had finally begun to understand people," she continued, her voice rising. "But it only happened when I fought them! And here was you, Zenkichi, the one who had been with me the longest but whom I still couldn't understand, finally preparing to fight me! I was so happy! If I couldn't understand you without fighting, then I wanted you to be an enemy! I wanted us to battle, to face off against each other wholeheartedly! It would be the moment where I finally connected to you, where the two of us could finally stand at the same level!"

A kick I never even noticed caught me, sending me flying backwards against the roof. I slammed back first into the tree, the only piece of the cram school that had changed. It had been unusually large before, but after a hundred and sixty years it had branched into something gigantic. Still, it didn't look healthy. It might have lasted this long, but it was still growing through a school. Its roots couldn't find proper nutrients without soil, and it was most likely old for its species. Some of the wood behind me was rotting already, and it exploded in splinters of moist wood.

"But I had forgotten," Medaka continued, taking several quick steps before breaking into a run. "You weren't an Abnormal. You didn't think like one. You had never been lonely like I had been, you had never had problems connecting like I had. You didn't need battle to understand someone. You proved well enough just how well you knew me, after all. I was so caught up in the chance to finally meet you, so overjoyed to be able to fight you, that I didn't realize that for you what was happening was completely different."

"Before the Flask Plan, I was always scared," she admitted, closing quick. "I never considered myself right. I would always ask myself, 'Was there a better way?', 'Did I really do anything to help them?', 'Did I really think of every possibility?', 'Did I belittle someone's suffering?', 'Did I simply step over something I didn't notice?', or 'Has helping people become a simple routine?'"

She launched herself once she closed half the distance between us, flipping through the air. She landed crouched against the wood of the tree, pinning me between her legs. At some point during the jump she had removed her shoes, and with a quick move she wrenched on of my hand to the side, and then used the spike to impale me through the wrist, pinning the limb down. The repeat on the other side was just as quick.

The similarities of the fight now and so long ago were not lost on me. First we had thrown each other through the roof and then we had left the other crucified to this very same tree. I wondered if I looked hard enough if I would find the same spot where I had left Medaka here all those years ago.

"I don't know when it happened," Medaka admitted, stepping back to observe her handiwork. "But at some point, during all those battles, I had stopped asking myself those questions. There had been a better way. I really hadn't done anything to help you. I hadn't even considered the other possibilities. I had spat on your suffering. And I hadn't just stepped over your pain; I had trampled it without even realizing it. Helping people wasn't even a routine anymore. It was just something to do between the fighting."

Satisfied that I was immobile, Medaka launched one of her ultimate techniques at me. It had been years since I had born witness to the 'Medaka Kurokami Second Trump Card'.

The 'Strict Girl/Cute Girl Switch'.

"Zenkichi," she cried, all her sternness disappearing, her expression changing to something fragile, to something gentle, tears in her eyes as she launched herself at me to cling tightly in a desperate embrace, "I'm so, SO, sorry!"

She followed it almost immediately with her third special skill.

'Overflowing Love'.

"I love you, Zenkichi," she told me before she kissed me, desperately clinging to me as she put more emotion into the act then I had ever seen her give the same skill. The last time I think she had used the ability was when she had convinced Kikaijima to treasure her life more than money.

Huh. I really hadn't seen this coming at all, actually.

The embrace stretched on, as did the kiss. Medaka's tears, salty and clear unlike the ones I shed these days, wetted my cheeks and dripped down onto the collar of my white hoody, staining them dark with dampness. I couldn't tell how long it lasted, but I found myself succumbing to it, even briefly. I relaxed, let my eyes close, and felt the warmth of the woman I still loved even after all these years.

And when the kiss finally ended, when Medaka pulled away slightly, pulling back to put some space between us, I opened my eyes.

With Medaka's hopeful gaze on me, I gave her my response.

"You love humanity, Medaka," I reminded her, though I did it gently. "And I'm not human."

"I know that," she told me, without flinching. "It's been a long time since we were kids together, Zenkichi. I think I can love all of humanity plus one, if that's what it takes."

"But it's because I'm not human that I don't want your love, Medaka." Again, despite my blunt words, Medaka remained firm. "I'm of the Kai now, a vampire. The Kai don't want humanities understanding, and to vampires humans are just food. What we want is humanity's belief, to be dreaded, to be feared, to be shunned, to be revered, to be respected, to be hated, to be loathed, and to be worshipped."

It was the truth of the Kai, one I had learned years ago through violent confrontation after violent confrontation. It was a truth I had embraced over the years, welcomed into me. It was why I had never considered Medaka a monster, not truly, even when she had been so different. She had always tried to be a member of humanity even when she couldn't understand it.

The Kai weren't human. And neither was I.

"I knew that," Medaka admitted, pulling a handkerchief free from her torn outfit and drying her eyes calmly. "It was something you've made abundantly clear over the years." A small smile graced her lips. "I think you single handedly destroyed an entire genre. Nobody dares write about your species anymore, not with fear of the 'Curse of the Vampire' coming to find them."

"The proudest achievement of my life," I admitted, letting myself smile slightly at the accumulation of my life's work. Kiss Shot had never understood my obsession with finding writers like that, but she had always indulged me with a shake of her head and a whimsical smile.

"After you left, the Student Council began to have more encounters with the Kai. We even met a strange man once, who said he knew you," Medaka continued, shaking her head slightly. "He certainly did a lot to help us understand."

"You look excited," I said, a small smile forming. "Did something good happen?"

Medaka smiled slightly as well when I quoted Oshino's catch phrase. "He wasn't too surprised to learn what had happened to you. He told us a great deal of what you had gone through, though. Knowing what you endured helped explain a great deal to us, back then."

"If you knew all this, then why did you go through with this confession?" I asked her, referring to her earlier use of the two trump cards.

"Even if you don't want my love," Medaka admitted, backing away slowly, "I wanted you to know that I still loved you. It took a long time, but eventually I learned what it really meant to love another. It's why I can say it truthfully, why I wanted you to hear it at least once from me and know I'm being sincere: I love all of humanity. And I love you too, Zenkichi."

"All these years, and you're still doing unnecessary things, aren't you Medaka?" I asked. It seems that some people never changed, not when it came right down to it.

"Of course!" Medaka declared, puffing her chest as she did so. She didn't even seem to care about the indecent state of her clothes, but then Medaka had never had much in the way of body shame. "Which is why I thank you for allowing me to say my piece, Zenkichi. Now, pull yourself free, and let us continue. I wasn't able to understand your feelings before, but now I can. Please, allow me to share the burdens I couldn't before. Unburden all your worries on me. I swear to you that this time I will make you happy."

Ah, Medaka. Even after all this time, you still won't give up, will you? Still trying to bear the weight of the world alone, even going so far as to try and shoulder the worries of a vampire?

Still trying to fight me too, it seemed.

I considered it, for a moment. The decision I made so long ago. Even after all these years, I had never forgotten it. There was still a knife in my heart, where the knowledge that Medaka had never been able to understand my feelings dwelt. And it looked like that same unhappiness dwelt in Medaka as well, where the knowledge that Medaka had never been able to make me happy lingered.

But no. It seemed that despite Medaka's optimism, those two wounds wouldn't be able to be closed so easily.

"I can't," I told her, glancing out from beneath where my hood covered my eyes, a wry smile forming.

"Still holding that grudge, even after all these years, Zenkichi?" Medaka asked, a bitter smile of her own forming.

"No, it's not that I won't," I admitted, a small huff of laughter coming out. "It's that I CAN'T. It seems I've finally come to the end of my regeneration. It looks like this is the last life I have left."

Medaka went still, her eyes narrowing as she looked at me closer. Her eyes narrowed as she realized that I wasn't being contrary, that beneath my pristine clothes the wounds of the fight were lingering.

"What's going on?" she asked, concern beginning to show in her voice.

I laughed softly. "Did you know, Medaka, that the average life of a vampire is only around two hundred years? It's not that their bodies die, or that they come to a natural end. It's just that they grow tired of life. In the end, boredom is the greatest killer of vampires, no matter how hard human's try." I slumped down, my smile diminishing. "Though the exorcists do their best anyway."

"No," Medaka denied, already understanding what I was saying. "No. You have a wife, and a daughter. You wouldn't think of leaving them behind."

"My daughter died five years ago," I told her softly. "We had always been hunted. How couldn't we? Kiss Shot and I were the two strongest of vampires, and our daughter was every bit as fearsome. But even the strongest can fall with enough preparation. She was so young, only a hundred and twenty, but in the end she was killed."

"Only a hundred and twenty," Medaka repeated, though it sounded like she was merely parroting the words rather than noting how odd it was to consider over a century to still be young.

"As for Kiss Shot," I shrugged. "She had been five hundred when we met. She had been looking for a place to die herself when I found her. She managed to cling onto life for over a century and a half more when I joined her, but she was nearly seven hundred; three and a half times longer than most vampires ever dream of living. In the end, even though I was with her the loss of our daughter was just too much, and she finally decided to end it."

I hadn't even noticed. There was always a bond between master and servant vampires. It allowed the master to control their servants to a certain degree. Kiss Shot had never used that bond on me before, so I never even suspected that she was using it on me then. For over a year, she had kept me from noticing that she had stopped feeding. Then, once her regeneration had been diminished enough, she had waited until I was sleeping, left me a note, and stepped into the noon sun.

"No," Medaka said again, shaking her head. "You said they had just gone ahead. You said you were going to be catching up…"

"I'm only a hundred and eighty," I admitted, my tone slightly wry. "But there's probably a two hundred and twenty year old vampire getting ready to end themselves, so I'm sure the average will stay the same."

"No," Medaka repeated, realizing just how serious I was. "No. No. No." Her legs collapsed beneath her and she sprawled onto the ground, tears again coursing down her cheek.

"I stopped feeding the same day Kiss Shot died," I admitted, struggling feebly against the heels in my wrists. "It looks like I finally reached the point where my body won't recover anymore." I gave Medaka another small smile. "Though I hadn't planned on meeting you here. Then again," I sighed, "I suppose it is fitting that we meet again like this."

After all, horror was being faced with the inevitable. It was despair which couldn't be fought against. It was the surrender to the forces which would never relent, which would never stop, and wouldn't even notice the pain they caused.

And horror had always been my genre.

"No," Medaka repeated, shaking her head, tears flying to splatter on the roof around her. "Not now. Not like this! I finally got to meet you again! I finally got to understand you! It can't end like this! There must be something more you want to do, there must be something else! What do you want, Zenkichi! I'll get it for you, anything, just don't do this, not now!"

"What I want," I said softly, "is to watch a sunrise, right here, on this roof."

"I hate this place," Medaka whispered, glaring down at the building she herself had preserved on the off chance hope that someday I might return. And it had worked too. It was thanks to this place that we had met again, even though it would have probably been better if we didn't. "You were right about it. This place is cursed. It just ruins things. There are no happy endings here, it just makes everyone unhappy."

It was childish, trying to blame the cram school for everything, but Medaka didn't seem to have anything else to put her anger on. She struck at the roof, causing spider web fractures to spread out beneath her with every blow.

"If you keep that up you're going to be visiting the fourth floor pretty quickly," I noted from where I was still crucified to the tree.

"How can you just hang there and say things like that!" Medaka snapped at me, glaring in anger. "How can you just give up! That's not the Zenkichi I know! That's not the only person who ever defeated me!"

"I'm tired, Medaka," I told her softly. "I outlived my best friend, my daughter, and my wife. There wasn't even enough of her left for me to bury. Don't you remember? I'm just a normal," I snorted, knowing that I had long since left that title behind. "I get discouraged, I get angry. I give up at times."

"There must be something," Medaka protested, desperately trying to find some way to sway me from my decision. I shook my head.

"Even if there was, I'm too damaged now to recover normally," I pointed out. "I would have to feed in order to survive. Probably about one person's worth. Tell me, Medaka, would you be willing to provide a victim for me? Would you throw away one of the humans you love in order to save a monster who will only kill again later? I'm a vampire. I have killed thousands over the years. Sometimes to feed, sometimes in self-defense, but it doesn't change the fact that I am an enemy of humanity."

I closed my eyes, shaking my head. No, it was fine that I die now. I had lived twice as long as I could have expected as human. It had been a hard life, full of violence and death, but I had Kiss Shot and my daughter for a time. I had been happy.

Besides, I still had my promise to keep to Kiss Shot, no, to Shinobu. Long ago, when I had first forced her into that twisted shadow of an existence I had told her…

"If today you die then my life lasts no longer then today. If tomorrow you live, then I too will live on."

My eyes snapped open as I heard those words, so similar to the oath I had given. Warm arms wrapped around me, and I looked down in shock as Medaka once more hugged herself to me.

"What are you doing, Medaka?" I asked, my tone sharper than it had been all night. Her head was tucked into my shoulder as she pressed herself against me, pushing as much of her body to mine as she could.

"You're not the only one who has lived long enough," she told me, her voice muffled. "I've spent a long time doing everything I could. I helped so many people. But no matter how hard I tried, you were right. I always knew that I couldn't help the one person that I should have. You made yourself special, no," she stopped correcting herself and shaking her head violently against my shoulder. "You already were special! You just helped me realize that."

Still keeping her face buried in my shoulder, she tightened her grip on me. "So now it's my turn. You gave me a reason to live, long ago. You gave me the purpose of my life. So now it's time for me to return the favor. If you need a life to live, then you can take mine! It might make me a monster, but you found a way to return to being human again, long ago. I'll just have to find the same way, and then I'll bring both of us back to being human! And if I can't, well, at least I can properly apologize to my oldest friend for failing him."

Oh, Medaka. Oh, you had no idea what you were saying. If you thought me dying was hard, then you had no idea how horrible going back to being human will be. And if you couldn't, then you would be forced to face the same truth I did, that being a vampire meant feeding on the humanity you so loved.

"Let go of me," I told her harshly, trying to shake her loose. Unfortunately, it seems we had both done our jobs too well. I was too weak with hunger to heal, and she had damaged me too much for me to properly fight anymore. "You really will die if you hold on like that! I've seen the scorch marks a vampire makes when they burn under the sun!"

"If you thought of here as the place to die, then so can I," Medaka insisted, tightening her grip even further. Stupid, stupid, stubborn, intractable Medaka! For the first time in a long time I felt like smacking my hand against my head at the foolishness of my oldest friend. She always did try her best in the worst of ways.

I closed my eyes, and grit my teeth. It was still three or four hours until dawn. Medaka had positioned herself so that her neck was right in front of me and I could smell her, the scent of musk and sweat and lavender, and the tang of her blood, so thick after our battle that it was almost like a physical force caressing my nose.

A flash of memory crossed my mind, of a young man and a maimed vampire, alone in a dark park.

A memory of a human offering their neck to a beautiful monster.

Oh, Shinobu. If you were still here you'd laugh at the irony.

It was still three hours until dawn. I would have to hold out, ignore just how hungry I was, and just how warm Medaka felt. I would have to find some way to convince her, to force her off of me, to get away from her.

If I didn't, I might just end up killing the woman I loved as I died.

If I didn't, I might just end up turning the woman I loved into a monster.

Or, worst of all, if I didn't, I might just find myself living again in Medaka's Shadow.