NB: Hey, look! Fresh edits!

FYI: (1) I do not own Shiki. Also, if you haven't watched it, you should. (2) I am supposed to be working on another Kuroshitsuji fic, I know, but this plot came to me before that one did. I haven't abandoned that project. I promise. (3) This story is dedicated to all Seishin X Toshio fans who can't get any love, but most especially DJ Apocalypse, whose fluid writing style I could never emulate, but who is still the inspiration for this effort. (4) The updates will be slow in coming, but they'll come. Please be patient. Also, reviews make me more likely to write, whether they are congratulatory or critical, so please feel free to let me know how you like this or if you don't particularly like it and why.


It arrived inconspicuously. Amongst the glossy magazines and brightly-colored ads that typically inundated his mailbox, the small brown package had seemed very dull to Dr. Toshio Ozaki at first glance. He dropped it unceremoniously on the coffee table with the other mail upon returning home from work, and he would have left it there indefinitely if the handwriting hadn't looked so familiar. It was elegant and practiced—clearly the hand of an expert calligrapher. Since Toshio knew only one person capable of such precise calligraphy, his reaction was considerably more immediate than it would have been for utility bills or credit card offers.

His fingers swept across the coarse wrapping, recalling memories of the same fingers sweeping across the trunks of momi fir trees. It seemed so long ago that he'd lived amidst those particular trees. If he closed his eyes, he could almost smell the forest. Blood rushed in his ears, resulting in a kind of white noise that muted the sounds of the city outside. He itched for a cigarette….or three. Maybe it's him. Toshio examined the writing more closely, preparing himself for disappointment despite the hope swelling in his chest. Why would Seishin surface after so many years? Why would the priest reach out to a man who had sought his death? No reasonable man would do such a thing. And Seishin was certainly reasonable. Toshio's analysis of the writing confirmed his conclusions. Seishin's characters lean a little to the right. This is not him. His shoulders drooped as if in resignation. He was well aware that he and Seishin Muroi had not parted amicably, but perhaps out of loneliness or longing, he'd hoped against all reason to hear once again from his childhood companion. What he'd say to the priest-turned-werewolf Toshio didn't know, but he'd have given anything for the opportunity to converse at all. He desperately sought someone to stand with him in the shadows—a companion with whom he could drop all pretense. Seishin had been that and so much more, and the doctor had frittered away their friendship for reasons that no longer seemed at all compelling.

His life since Sotoba hadn't been much more than a series of frivolous experiences. The doctor was particularly careful not to cultivate any close relationships, not only because his very stable, decidedly untroubled colleagues seemed vacuous and fake, but also because he was certain that his own fractured psyche would be viewed as a professional liability. Toshio could not easily share the contents of the horrifying dreams that had kept him from sleeping soundly for six years. No, he was sure his colleagues would ridicule him if he went on about vampires and werewolves, and a little village nestled in the Japanese mountains that had been overrun with the undead before burning to the ground. They'd have him sent to the staff psychiatrist and deemed unfit for duty. Werewolves and vampires were the stuff of fiction and nightmares, after all. He mused briefly at the thought of taking up the pen himself – maybe by dedicating himself to fiction he might rid himself of the nightmares. It seemed to work for Seishin, didn't it? Perhaps. But Toshio harbored a suspicion that the priest had never fully committed to living in the realm of reality; Seishin was a dreamer. Toshio only feared his dreams. Yet another reason that I need him.

He was shaken out of this reverie by the urgent trotting of his dog. Kuro was rushing towards him, clearly intent on colliding with his owner in some weird show of canine affection. Toshio dodged the impending attack smoothly and Kuro crashed spectacularly into the wall behind his master. The dog whined. The doctor laughed. He never grew tired of watching the retriever make a complete fool of itself, but even so, he felt guilty about taking pleasure at the mutt's expense. Kuro was his only real friend.

"Sorry. I'm too tired to play," he said, as though explaining his lack of libido to an amorous girlfriend. I'm making conciliatory gestures to a dog – not even a smart one at that. When had he become so pathetic? He continued looking at the package in his hands as Kuro vied for his attention. "Jealous, are you?" Toshio asked the dog playfully as he leaned down to scratch behind its ears. "Don't worry. It's not him." Kuro followed behind his exhausted owner, plopping down on the couch next to the doctor and nuzzling him softly. Toshio leaned back and closed his eyes. He contemplated going to sleep. He felt so very, very tired. Maybe he'd sleep well if he didn't sleep in his bed.

It was when Kuro's affectionate whimpers turned to slightly threatening growls that Toshio realized that he'd better attend to the dog or risk losing a limb. He got up reluctantly and made his way to the state-of-the-art kitchen to find some dog food. Tokyo's many lights gleamed through his floor-to-ceiling windows. Dusk was fading into night, and he admired the sparkling city from his very beautiful, very expensive view. Had he known his insurance settlement would be so substantial, he might have set fire to his father's clinic long ago. Actually, that wasn't true. He'd never have set fire to the clinic, but he certainly would have fantasized about doing so. Twice, at least. Maybe three times. Maybe his mother would have been caught in the blaze too. Okay, okay, just twice. Killing his already-dead mother stretched the word 'redundant' to its lexical limit.

He'd moved away from Sotoba after the inferno. The ruinous state of the village only served as a perpetual reminder of what he considered his many failures. He'd failed as a village elder, allowing his need to hunt down the Shiki take precedence over the protection of the villagers. So what if the Kirishikis wanted Sotoba? Couldn't the remaining human have settled elsewhere? He'd failed as a doctor, forgetting that his first duty was to save lives, not to take them, not even in extreme circumstances. He'd failed as a friend, compelling Seishin into seeking asylum with the Kirishikis by drawing boundaries between the two of them and then getting angry with the other man for not trespassing those boundaries. But mostly, he'd failed because traded his humanity. At the time, he thought that his actions were the right ones. The intervening years had softened that conviction—the world was gray, and Toshio had needed six years to figure that one out. But Seishin had always known. Perhaps that's why he'd been so hesitant to kill the Shiki. Toshio had mistaken the priest's inaction for apathy, but he thought he knew better now. Seishin's tragic flaw was not apathy, but rather an overabundance of sentiment. He'd loved the Shiki more than himself. He'd loved the villagers too, in the way that any servant could love a master. Why else would he agree to don temple robes when he could have easily run away? Yes, the priest had always been the more humane of the two. In fact, Toshio had managed to grow more distant and aloof since Sotoba. He moved through his life with a kind of stoic reserve that would make his former friend proud. He told himself it was because being a city doctor demanded a kind of clinical detachment that would have been frowned upon in a small village. But ultimately, he knew this was a rationalization. He also knew that the emotions he'd become so adept at masking were just simmering away under the surface, threatening to spill over at any moment. Maybe that's why he wanted to reconnect so desperately with Seishin—to find an outlet for all these damnable feelings, to find some semblance of peace at last.

The doctor scrubbed his face wearily and drew a cigarette from the package stashed in his cutlery drawer. He'd been trying to quit. What a stupid, stupid idea. Thoughts of Sotoba always made him want to smoke. Lately, his thoughts never strayed too far afield of the village. Stupid. He lit the cigarette and made his way lazily to the couch, dropping himself into it with all due drama and crossing his feet on top of the coffee table. He picked up the package he'd discarded earlier.

Not him. He opened it nonetheless and found an English novel inside. It was a trade paperback, the pages dog-eared and worn with multiple readings. There was no other correspondence. He looked again at the mailing address on the wrapping:

Dr. Toshio Ozaki

9-7-4 Akasaka N4

Minato-ku

Tokyo 107-0052

Japan

No return address either, only a postmark from a Florence post office.

"Village of the Damned. Really Seishin, that's all you could think up?" The novel's author was certainly his former friend, of that much he was sure, even though the book claimed to be written by a Sesto Moretti. Clearly, the priest's creative faculties did not extend to the generation of pseudonyms or titles. The back jacket described it as a "tour de force in horror writing devoid of sparkly abominations of vampire mythology and brimming with atmosphere and intelligence." Toshio smiled. Seishin had finally written about Sotoba then. Like him, the priest was seeking a catharsis. It would not be the first time Seishin had done so. Toshio recalled vividly the night in college when his friend had slashed his wrist open. He remembered how as a novice medical student he'd clumsily stitched the young priest together again. He even remembered how he'd known the true reason for Seishin's distress yet remained silent on the matter. And honestly, hadn't Toshio been watching Seishin suffer from the sidelines their whole lives? I'm some friend.

But the arrival of the novel seemed to contradict that particular self-assessment. "I'll be damned. Maybe it is him this time." Certainly no one else would gift Toshio Ozaki a book, but then again, the gift might have been from any of the Sotoba survivors who were aware of the fact that two Shiki escaped the purge and that one said Shiki was a writer. But if this was the case, why was there no correspondence? Seishin might choose the cryptic route, but the other villagers typically lacked that sort of subtlety. He flipped the book over, looking for anything that might serve as a clue. A bookmark slipped from the volume and fell into his lap. Toshio turned to the page it had been holding and read the dedication printed there:

To my only friend: Your absence has compelled me to immortalize you in my stories. Words have always fallen more easily from my pen than my lips, and because I have been remiss in the past, let these words now serve as my remuneration: That you are alive is my only consolation. Yours, S.

There was no mistaking it. The dedication was meant for Toshio. Whether or not Seishin had actually sent the book, the priest was clearly thinking about him, and someone wanted him to know that. Perhaps both of them had swept bygones away? Maybe the dedication had been Seishin's method of reaching out to Toshio, of inviting his friend to look him up once again? Or maybe God did exist and this was the work of Providence? No. Best not go there. If God existed, He stopped believing in Toshio Ozaki long ago.

Kuro trotted back to his master's side after having his fill of food. Toshio recommenced petting the dog, smiling broadly now, that old sense of adventure returning to his middle-aged limbs. He snuffed out his barely-smoked cigarette in the ashtray and ran his hand through his unkempt hair. Florence, huh? Sounds lovely.

"You'll hate me for this Kuro, but I'm going away for a while." The dog remained happily oblivious.