NB: Sorry for the unforgivably long wait, everyone. I was taking my PhD exams. Believe me, my fingers longed for the scratch of pen across paper. Anyway, I haven't written fiction in months, so I hope I'm not too rusty.
I passed exams, BTW. :)
Content warnings: All previous warnings apply. Herein you'll find inordinately bulky paragraphs, fail editing, a modest amount of cutesy fan service (by way of apology for the wait time), and an exceedingly long final chapter. Plus there's grown-up!Toshio and not-so-stoic!Seishin. So, if you're not into Dr. Ozaki being all responsible and Seishin being all human (well, as human as possible), you might not want to read this chapter.
FYI: I consider the last two sections as an epilogue of sorts.
Also, please know that this chapter is sad. Not all of it, but some of it certainly. And some of it is inappropriately humorous—life's a bit like that too, I guess. Or maybe I'm projecting? If you're familiar with my fiction, you'll no doubt surmise that I called the story 'Requiem' for a reason.
As always, I am deeply thankful to any and all who stop by. You make me very happy, even if I don't know you're there. And I would like very much to know what you thought of this story, so please leave a review or PM if you're so inclined. Responsive readers make better writers. Hey, Flower of the Flame, there's an homage to you in this chapter. Let me know if you can't find it.
He will need you now, Ozaki. Don't disappoint him.
"I have to go," Seishin said flatly, all trace of emotion having been banished from his voice. He stared at the ink on the paper as if it might curl upon itself and save him the heartache of whatever she'd done. That she'd done something, he was sure. Sunako had been unhappy of late. Inwardly he cursed himself for not catching on sooner. Wasn't she a bit too forceful about his coming to visit Toshio? Hadn't she been overly forthcoming about her dissatisfaction with immortality? Didn't she seem to be looking for ways to exacerbate the growing rift between them? And unthinkingly—willfully, even—he'd dashed off to Signa with scarcely a backwards glance. In that moment, he loathed himself for wanting Toshio, for coming to Italy without Sunako, for secretly craving a future with the other man….because he was sure that there was a brief instance this morning when he imagined an endless series of sunrises shared with a disheveled doctor and a cup of coffee….and he was equally certain, at least for a fleeting moment, that he'd never want for anything else if he could have that sort of life with Toshio. I betrayed her. I betrayed her and she knew that I would.
The werewolf's mind flickered to the figure of a small, bedraggled girl huddled against a church altar while flames pressed in on the both of them. The fire should have scorched, but Seishin's new jinrou skin had been impervious to pain. The same could not be said about his all-too-human heart.
"I finally gathered up the necessary resolve. I can at last throw my existence away."
Seishin had convinced her otherwise back then; he had sworn that they could find meaning in the despair together. After all, both had been exiled from the human world. Both of them had nothing left to lose but each other. To his credit, the jinrou managed to cobble together a home. But he was too blind to see how incurably lonely the vampire had been. How could I believe that she'd be content with just my company for all eternity? He knew better now. Being immortal meant being alone—that's what she tried to tell him in the burning church all those years ago. And just like then, he knew he had to save her if he could, even if that meant disregarding what she wanted for herself. Please be okay. I can't live without you. He ignored the sinking feeling that things were a far cry from "okay" or any variant thereof.
"Toshio. I have to go," he repeated tersely, imbuing the words with more force now. His attention snapped back to the man who'd been watching him silently while he put his whirling mind into some semblance of order.
"I know," Toshio replied evenly, still eyeing Seishin as though examining a patient. "I'm coming with you." He will need me now.
Seishin barked a sarcastic laugh and pressed his long fingers to his temple. The last several days had passed in a dreamlike daze, but a few days' easy companionship was insufficient evidence against years of Toshio's propensity to discard him upon whim. He should have known everything would come crashing down around him sooner rather than later, and he didn't want Toshio to accompany him out of misplaced obligation. Or worse—pity. "Don't trouble yourself. I'll be fine."
"I know. You're always fine." But even you have your limits. "I'm coming anyway." There was no room for argument. If Seishin had been paying closer attention, he'd have realized that Toshio's tone was not unlike the one he'd taken up when he resolved to eradicate Shiki from Sotoba. He might have been taken aback if he weren't in such hurry to embark. Time was short. He could ill afford to waste it bickering. Desperate measures, then. Fine.
The next thing the doctor felt was the crush of vice-like fingers around his neck. Seishin's eyes had gone from jade to scarlet, impatience underscoring his words as he tightened his grip and growled venomously at his captive. He leaned in, bitterness dripping from every syllable. "You never learn, do you? I am not a toy that you can take up when you're bored and throw away when you've grown weary of idle entertainment. This is not a game. Sunako is gone! And you'd have me condescend to your petty whims?" Haven't you taken enough from me? To be fair, he felt a particularly acute guilt for that unvoiced thought and the savageness with which he passed the blame, but the maelstrom of emotions that he was barely containing precluded any possibility of apology.
Toshio didn't resist in the slightest. Instead of struggling, he calmly slid his hands around the wrist that bound him, thumbs brushing gently back and forth across the jinrou's skin. The intimacy of the gesture caused Seishin to release him, ire morphing into something akin to shame at the newly formed bruises on the doctor's throat. There was much, much more than anger reflected in those vermillion irises. Remorse was waging a losing battle with sorrow. Toshio would know. He'd developed a keen understanding of every minute aspect of Seishin's comportment—he'd been watching the priest very closely over the last several days, after all. This ferocity was but a façade. He reached forth to tuck a stray strand of hair behind his aggressor's ear, not knowing if it would prove a conciliatory or careless. Twin rubies widened slightly. "I'm not playing. Not anymore." Having always been the audacious sort, the brunette did the only thing he could.
Seishin had just enough opportunity to inhale sharply before he felt the softness of Toshio's lips against his. But for all the times that they'd kissed, this was different. The doctor's mouth was slanted against his own, true, but there was no vehemence, no pressure, no insistence. Undemanding and unyielding all at once, it was a take it or leave it kiss. And Seishin knew what taking it would mean. But whatever defenses he'd managed to erect in the last several moments now lay in ruin at the other's feet. So he took it, desperately throwing his hands around Toshio's back, one clenched in his t-shirt, the other threaded through still damp hair. His feelings had become a nebulous mass of fury, self-disgust, despair and helplessness, and as he wordlessly fell apart, it was the rhythmic sweep of Toshio's hands and the taste of his lips that held the world together.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd cried in earnest. Even as he prayed over the mangled remains of his mother, he'd maintained a stoic detachment. But now it seemed that decades of repressed emotions had broken forth as he trembled uncontrollably under the force of the sobs wracking his frame. Still he clung tightly to the other. Perhaps too tightly—as though even whilst crushed against him, he was yet too far. Toshio could do nothing to soothe him so he simply held on. Even when their kisses became shaky and Seishin could no longer stand, the doctor followed suit, both men falling into each other as they slumped to the floor. Tanned fingers wove through platinum hair as the physician laced his hands around the nape of the other's neck, realizing with startling clarity that whether golden-green or fiery crimson, Seishin's eyes were unbearable to look at when in this much pain.
He spoke softly in what he hoped was an assuaging manner. "We need to move quickly. Why don't you pack? I need to make a few calls at the clinic and book some plane tickets." Dr. Ozaki was a fighter, after all. The intervening years had hardly altered that. He had no clue what had transpired or how to ameliorate it, but he was determined to do so. How like a small child Seishin seemed then, slowly gathering himself and standing on trembling legs. The apprehension with which the blonde scanned Toshio's face for reassurance broke the doctor's heart just as surely as the conflagration of Sotoba had done so many years ago. I swear, Kirishiki, if you've done something that I can't fix, I will hunt you down and I will kill you. And this time, I won't fail. He squeezed the jinrou's hand and nodded towards the stairs. "Go. We'll leave within the hour."
Toshio watched the ex-priest mount the stairs with a bowed head and heavy tread, and he inwardly thanked a nonexistent God that the other man was too preoccupied to inquire precisely how he could be ready to leave for an indeterminate length of time at a moment's notice. The truth was that the doctor hoped that Seishin's stay would end in an invitation to Japan and a happily ever after, or at least a happier ever after filled with good wine and great sex. The current circumstances were less than ideal, no doubt, but he'd made entirely too much progress to give up now. And hadn't Sunako said that Seishin would need Toshio? She's too methodical to say such things without warrant.
Several hours later, the two were partway through a first class flight to Narita (Toshio had no desire to see an emotionally-frayed werewolf confronted by a coach cabin full of fussy infants). Those hours had passed in a blur of activity as he'd systematically made arrangements for his extended absence at the clinic, stuffed an anesthetized Kuro into a travel crate, coaxed Seishin out of a disaffected stupor long enough to pack, drove the rental car back to the airport, and secured their transportation to the jinrou's remote home which was hours outside Tokyo. He was exhausted. But even so, he dared not sleep. His companion had spoken barely a word since leaving Signa, moving under the doctor's directive without an ounce of protest. Seishin had always been accommodating, yes, but seeing him so listless was absolutely terrifying. He seemed little more than a specter, destined to disappear if Toshio should avert his attention. Maybe that's why Toshio had taken hold of Seishin's hand the instant the two were seated. The jinrou was here—only in part, to be sure, but still present, still with him. Not surprisingly, the blonde complied, although his ramrod posture might suggest that he was uncomfortable with such a public display of affection. The physician traced circles on the back of a pale hand with a thumb. An unhurried swirl of skin against skin seemed to mollify the other in much the same manner as before. If he were in a more jovial mood, he might have laughed at the irony of being able to tame a werewolf when he'd been completely incapable of inculcating any obedience in his dog. Seishin had at last fallen asleep against Toshio's shoulder, his silvery hair spilling across the doctor's jacket and glowing in the sparsely lit cabin like a dimmed halo. The beginnings of dark under-eye circles were just forming on porcelain skin. It was all the brunette could do not to kiss them away. Instead, he tried to piece together the available evidence in hopes of figuring out what would await them in Japan.
Seishin's behavior raised the first alarm. While the priest had always been the more sentimental of the two men, Toshio had never known him to be so thoroughly disconsolate. Whatever Sunako had done, it was drastic. Anything less than life-changing would be met with polite officiousness on the jinrou's end. As such, the physician was certain that the situation was dire.
Of course you've never seen him like this, you idiot. He's never been like this. Not really. Self-sacrifice takes a great deal of strength.
As if on cue, his conscience (and he was still unsure if that's indeed what it was) supplied the other half of the conversation.
You thought he was weak because he always let you have your way.
Well, that was certainly true. He'd have huffed dramatically and pinched the bridge of his nose if he weren't fearful of waking the other man. Maybe he'd been as foolish as the other villagers, seeing in his companion only what he wanted to see: a beautiful and deferential servant whose generosity had been inaccurately perceived as fragility.
Maybe what you really wanted was to make him dependent on you.
Maybe. Not like this. Never like this. He'd wanted to possess Seishin. Anyone would want to possess Seishin, he reckoned. But he'd never wanted to break him. Well, not emotionally anyway…
Can we get back to the matter at hand?
He corralled stray thoughts that ranged from inappropriate to downright shameless. Yes. Right. Sunako. Given the jinrou's uncharacteristically frantic frame of mind, Toshio surmised that he knew more than he let on. And he thought that Sunako was gone, the balance of probability was that he was right. And then, there was the matter of that cryptic note. Clearly, the vampire minx had run off somewhere.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, is it? Now he's all yours.
Toshio considered that for a moment. Certainly it would make his life much easier if Sunako never returned. Indeed, he'd fantasized often about this very eventuality. But in his fantasies, Seishin looked happier. Content. Alive. The man beside him was but a shade of the one in his dreams. This could never do. So the physician would have his tragically misunderstood writer back, even if he was forced to share. And then, he'd contrive untold tortures for that little witch for putting them through this Hell. A smug smirk worked its way across his lips and he leaned back, assured by his own tenacity and cleverness.
You're right of course. We have to find her and bring her back. For his sake. After that, everything will be fine.
He'd begun to wonder if it was troublesome that he thought of himself as "we" when the stewardess tapped him lightly on his arm just as he was beginning to drift off. How do airline hostesses always know when to do that? He creaked open a bloodshot eye and tried to offer his most winning smile.
The stewardess—Nicole—flashed a practiced simper around painted lips and nodded conspiratorially towards the sleeping man.
"Is that your boyfriend? He's cute."
Toshio chuckled softly. "More like my prisoner." If you only knew, Nicole. That cutie could snap your neck. I have the bruises to prove it. He absentmindedly fingered the shirt collar and tie that hid said bruises.
"He doesn't seem to mind," she countered. The doctor glanced again at his friend. The blonde would have been the very picture of peacefulness if not for the tiny crease between his brows. It was a tell only Toshio would notice, so he couldn't blame the stewardess for getting the wrong idea. And admittedly, Seishin really was quite adorable when he wasn't conscious (and fuming mad). Alabaster skin and unnaturally long eyelashes gave him an almost ethereal, innocent appearance. Toshio almost felt a pang of shame for wanting to defile him. Almost.
"He will when he wakes up."
"Well, can I get you anything for the ensuing struggle, then?" she asked with a wink.
A large scotch. Neat. And three packs of cigarettes. "Yes, please. Coffee. Black." He had no doubt it would be an inordinately long night.
It would indeed prove to be an inordinately long night, but Toshio had never wanted so desperately to be wrong. For all his bravado about bringing Sunako back and confronting her about abandoning Seishin, he never once stopped to consider what to do if he couldn't deliver. He ought to have guessed, given how disquieting his friend's behavior had been. But because of obdurate ignorance or intentional avoidance, he failed to form a contingency plan for such an event. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I even told myself that he was unusually distraught.
Yes, he realized, he should not have been so sanguine about his ability to set things right, particularly when his track record with Seishin tended in the opposite direction. What awaited them in Japan was no less than the worst case scenario. Sunako had done the unthinkable, or so to the evidence would suggest.
They'd come back to an empty home. All the lights burned brightly, giving the place a sort of eerie abandoned feel that made the hairs on Toshio's neck stand on end. The sleek, modern décor only added to the desertedness. Everything was in its proper place, he guessed. It was spotless. Even the potted orchids on the coffee table bloomed richly, as though they'd only recently been watered. Seishin had fingered a pale white petal thoughtfully before sinking into the sofa, his head cradled in his hands. Finally, he turned his head to stare out the floor-to-ceiling windows that looked to the forest beyond. Night had fallen, but he seemed not to notice. A still-drowsy Kuro curled up on the couch next to the jinrou in a futile attempt to offer comfort.
"She's not here," the writer said after what seemed like an eternity. "I would hear her if she were."
"Maybe she's out hunting," Toshio offered, knowing full well that it was an ineffectual platitude. Sunako was not out hunting. Even he could tell as much from the stillness of the air in the house.
"The windows are locked," the jinrou nodded towards them. "She always left them unlocked when she hunted." His voice broke at that. Past tense, Toshio thought. He's speaking about her in the past tense. The doctor dropped his bags next to the sofa and made for the hallway that doubtless led to the bedrooms. "Where are you going?"
"To look for anything that might help us find her." He turned away from Seishin before he could see the sad, wry smile that passed across the werewolf's lips. Toshio had no desire to see Seishin concede. He had no desire to see Seishin undone. And if he had to play this farce out to its end, he would. So he ignored the tiny, tiny voice in the recesses of his mind that told him what his companion had already confirmed: She's dead.
His pantomime was short-lived. The last bedroom on the far right was quite obviously Sunako's. Instead of the starkness of black and white, sharp angles, and polished surfaces that marked the rest of the home, the walls were deep blue in color, paper stars suspended from silver threads attached to the ceiling. Delicate gauze covered the windows and a lacy coverlet adorned the overstuffed bed. Toshio half expected to find stuffed animals, but there were none. There was no coffin either, at least not within eyesight. I guess even vampires need privacy from time to time. It was, decidedly, the room of a young girl. He was pondering how a woman who'd lived over a hundred years could tolerate such accommodations when he heard Seishin's approach.
"She hated this room," the jinrou said by way of explanation.
"But she stayed in it."
"Yes. I made those stars for her soon after we left Sotoba. In fact, I designed this whole room myself."
Toshio pulled a sour face that Seishin couldn't see. "It's awful."
Incredibly, the werewolf laughed at that. It was the faintest huff, and Toshio would have missed it were it not that he was paying careful attention to the other man. But it was certainly a laugh, and for that, he was grateful. "Well, that was before I realized how old she really was. I think she kept it like this because she didn't want to hurt my feelings."
He shuffled past Toshio and sank down on the bed, once again covering his face with long fingers as though he could undo what she'd done if he didn't have to take in the empty room and the unrumpled bed. Apparently Seishin's capacity for conversation had been exhausted and he had now reverted to the insensate, harrowed man that he'd been for the better part of the day.
The doctor merely regarded the stars. They were rather beautiful, he noted dispassionately. He had no doubt that Seishin truly thought of the vampire as a daughter of sorts. The priest was trained in the art of nurturing lost souls, after all. It must have been quite a shock when Sunako revealed to him her true age. He'd have liked to be part of that conversation.
Toshio alighted upon a paper star that was quite differently from the others—having four corners instead of five points. It hung low in the center of the room. He strode forward and plucked it from the string, realizing at once what it was before he turned it over to see Seishin's name printed neatly on the folded-over cardstock.
"It's a note." Minutes passed before he received a reply.
"You can read it if you want. I can imagine what it says."
In retrospect, Toshio should have known the contents too. He will need you know, Ozaki. What had that been if not a passing of the torch, a goodbye? He opened it anyway, brown eyes scanning the calligraphic script that seemed all too familiar by now.
My Seishin, my Love, my Everything:
Surely you can guess this letter's occasion. I suspect my actions have hurt you very deeply. For that I am truly sorry.
Even you cannot save me now. And you could not have saved me had you been here. Did I not say that regrets are particularly cruel when you have a lifetime to contemplate them? I no longer wish to live with mine. I am aware that I may have contributed to yours, but I haven't your selflessness…or your strength. I hope you'll forgive me one day.
It's fitting that a creature belonging to the night must seek out the day to secure freedom. It is fitting too that this freedom comes at the price of life. It is a price I hope you'll never pay, but one you'll understand in due course.
Do not mourn me. Only live so that I might live in your memory.
Toshio supposed that the proper reaction to such a letter would be anguish, or profound bitterness. He should have wondered what Sunako's regrets had been if they'd been weighty enough to occasion her suicide. Perhaps it would have been appropriate to take a moment and admire the fact that she'd brought the two of them together before executing her plans. Hell, even celebration at not having to share Seishin would have been understandable given the circumstances. But when he looked at the crumpled, wounded form of his best friend, he felt only incendiary rage. Instead of screaming violently at a non-existent Sunako, he spoke to Seishin in the most allaying manner possible.
"You knew that she'd kill herself?" he asked slowly, deliberately, wary of sending Seishin careening off the cliff of stability.
"I suspected as much when we got her letter in Signa." He looked up at the doctor with bloodshot eyes, sallow skin giving him a sickly air that sent a small trill of worry through Toshio. "Why else would she send me to you?"
And then the pieces finally fit together: an atypically distressed ex-priest, a rushed trip to Tokyo, no plan of how they would go about looking for her, and much, much more than anger reflected in those jewel-toned eyes. Seishin had been in mourning. Toshio was the one who'd taken nearly twelve hours to work it out. And you thought you could fix this.
Perhaps he couldn't rectify the situation. Nothing but a time reversal would do the trick, and such a thing was beyond his considerable skills. But he could do what he ought to have done over twenty years ago—he could be a friend, a caretaker, a crutch. He could be all the things that Seishin had been for him. Intentionally or unintentionally, Sunako had gifted him an opportunity for redemption, and while he was still furious with her for leaving in such a way, he would fulfill her final wishes for the two of them. The brunette sank down on the floor before Seishin, one hand still clamped around the paper and the other perched tentatively on the werewolf's knee. "Tell me what to do."
"Leave." The word was spoken harshly, but even the blonde couldn't deny how irresolute he sounded. Those pleading irises told the doctor all he needed to know.
"No," he replied sternly. "Anything but that."
"Fuck me senseless then. I want to feel anything but this."
The jinrou's former skill at masking his emotions must have been contagious, because if Toshio was at all surprised by Seishin's request, he didn't show it. He only nodded and unclenched the destroyed missive, gently pushing apart the other's legs and leaning up to capture his lips. He slid his hands up the werewolf's sides with more care than he'd shown anything, as though the immortal were something fragile and breakable. Toshio stood, palms still shifting over the blonde's prone body with practiced cautiousness. Kisses were hesitating at first, since he was certain that Seishin would not want to see this through, despite what he'd said. But when a tongue slipped insistently into his mouth, he realized that he'd miscalculated. Preternaturally strong arms banded around him, pulling him achingly closer. Things escalated quickly beyond his control. Seishin's embrace had gone from fervent to desperate, sending a fever zipping down his spine and clouding his mind with memories of how it felt when they'd done this before. Pull yourself together. This is not like before. This is not just sex. Perhaps he was yet again mistaken, but he was sure that they were play-acting, although he was less sure about the beneficiary of this particular show. He searched frantically for a way to salvage the situation, knowing that consummating this romp would end badly and that stopping now would be interpreted as disinterest. But it was difficult to think clearly when a lean, muscular thigh hooked over his hip while pale hands pushed his jacket off his shoulders and made short work of his tie. It was only when delicate fingers brushed aside the doctor's collar that the blonde stopped his ministrations and gasped in horror. Apparently, his bruises looked much worse to preternaturally sensitive sight.
"Are they that bad?" Toshio asked casually, taking the probing hand in his own and kissing the tips of Seishin's fingers.
"I'm so sorry." The jinrou looked on the verge of tears. "I don't know what I was thinking."
He slipped his free hand under Seishin's chin to reclaim his attention. "I do." A swift, chaste kiss. "You were thinking you didn't have time to argue."
"That's not an excuse. I behaved abominably. I shouldn't have—" He was cut off when Toshio tangled their tongues.
"Well, you can make it up to me." He smiled assuredly after pulling away. "But not tonight," he added when he felt cool fingers reach for his belt buckle. He leaned his forehead against Seishin's, silencing any forthcoming protests. "I know this hurts. I know you hurt. I've spent a lifetime running from my feelings, so I know all too well that you'd give anything not to have to feel this way." He brushed silvery hair aside before taking the other man's earlobe in his teeth and nipping at it. A sharp intake of breath elicited a contented smirk. I'm glad you can still feel something. "And believe me when I say that I have every intention of fucking you senseless every chance I get, but doing this now won't solve anything." He released Seishin's ear and nudged a tear-stained cheek, the taste of salt blooming on his tongue. "You look tired. Get some rest." And with that, he slid off the bed, fighting the excruciating urge to ravish the now-disheveled man lying atop it. God help you when you're feeling better, Seishin. I'm going to debauch you thoroughly.
The jinrou only narrowed his eyes. "If you weren't going to finish what you started, then—"
"Then why did I bother starting it in the first place?" he asked knowingly.
"Yes," Seishin nodded, lifting himself up on his elbows.
"Because you need to know that I want to." And with that he left, closing the door and keeping a vigil alongside Kuro on the couch. Toshio was no fool. He knew that when Seishin came down from his lust-addled high, he'd be a complete wreck. The other man had been all over the map today, and while the doctor would have liked to vent his frustration at having to decipher a million mixed signals, he'd seen the ravages of grief too often to blame him. Family members were the same way when he told them that he couldn't save their child or heal their spouse. It's impossible to maintain such deep bereavement for any length of time without occasional interruption. Werewolf he may be, but Seishin was no different on that score.
How do you rebuild a life after it's been shattered into pieces too small to count? Seishin's novels had each been a treatise on this very question, but when it came to incorporating his philosophical convictions into his own life, he was powerless. Every inch of his home was a reminder of the woman that had shared it. If he did not have constant distraction, he could hear her tinkling laughter or her fervent pleas for just one more story. Sometimes her memory would make him smile, and other times he felt like all the air had suddenly been squeezed from his lungs, leaving a cutting sting in his chest even though he shouldn't be able to feel hurt—at least not physically. The first several weeks passed in a murky delirium, which was occasionally punctuated by conversation with the doctor who had unobtrusively taken up residence in the guest room. How Toshio managed his clinic from half a world away, he didn't know and didn't particularly want to ask.
It was during one of his many mute circumambulations of the living room that Seishin suddenly halted and dashed a potted orchid to the floor, sending clumps of dirt scattering and a startled Kuro rushing off in fear. Toshio merely looked up from the book he was reading and waited patiently for an explanation. He even strangled the tired sigh that was struggling to escape his throat.
"I'm angry." The jinrou spoke in a cold, matter-of-fact manner, but the brunette did not doubt the assertion. Over the last several days, the blonde had reclaimed much of his former impassive demeanor, becoming less and less given to the ebb and flow of feeling that overwhelmed him in the first few days after returning to Japan. He might not have noticed it himself, but Toshio could see that he was healing in subtle but significant ways. Now, if only I could get him to eat.
"I see that." Toshio removed his glasses and peered intently at the other's back, looking for the tell-tale quivering that accompanied Seishin's particularly depressive moods. "Anger is a normal reaction to suicide."
"No, I'm not angry at her for leaving." Somehow the physician doubted this, but he remained silent. "I'm angry because she lied to me."
"She said I could have you both. That I didn't have to choose. But she's not here. She lied." The older man ignored the sting that resulted from this declaration. He knew that Seishin did not mean to suggest that the doctor was an insufficient substitute for the vampire, but he felt slighted anyway. Will I never be enough?
"It wasn't a lie, Seishin. You did have us both. She never said when, that's all."
Seishin whirled around and fell into the couch, assuming his familiar posture of arched spine, elbows resting on knees, head in hands. Toshio shifted closer, examining with a physician's keenness and making the necessary deductions. "You need to eat something. You may be immortal, but you're still going to be anemic without some kind of sustenance."
"I'm not hungry." He may not have been hungry, but he wasn't as damaged either, Toshio observed. A week ago, Seishin's anger was invariably followed by tears. Today he just seemed worn-thin.
"I don't care." The doctor brought forth the pen knife he'd pocketed for this very occasion. It glinted ominously under the track lighting as he flicked it open. He had just placed the tip to his skin when he felt Seishin's hand wrap around his wrist. That action betrayed the jinrou; he wasn't nearly as powerful as he'd been weeks ago. He's going to waste away if I don't do something. Since the werewolf held fast to the hand that held the knife, Toshio dragged the other wrist across the blade's stationary point in one fluid movement, leaving behind a moderately deep cut that dripped onto the floor in a soft percussion. He'd expected Seishin's more animal instincts to take over and avail themselves of the food on offer, but all he felt was a feeble grip closing over the wound.
"What the hell do you think you're doing? Have you lost your mind?" There was the malicious growl that typically kicked Toshio's heart rate into overdrive. He almost smiled in victory.
"You will drink, or next time I will cut lengthwise and deep enough to do irreparable damage." Yes, he spoke even those words with his customary brashness, headless of how his friend would react to the possibility of losing the only two people he'd loved to self-inflicted harm, but Toshio couldn't be bothered to care at the moment. Anyway, he knew precisely how to manage Seishin. "Then you'll have to make the choice between turning me or watching me die. And don't try to spar with me in your current condition. We both know it's pointless." Dr. Toshio Ozaki could be a cruel, manipulative bastard, but he rarely lost a fight. This would be no different.
"Toshio—" Seishin was fixated on the bright red droplets that shone against the hardwood.
"Be quick about it. I only have five liters of this stuff." He waved the knife around in an exaggerated flourish. Seishin plucked it from his fingers and threw it across the room with a snarl. Even so, he obeyed, knowing how very serious Toshio could be when he was determined to have his way.
But the writer was not without tricks of his own. A slow lick across Toshio's wrist made the brunette's breath catch. Seishin smiled against warm flesh, his predatory predispositions overrunning any hesitancy. The jinrou traced the edge of the cut with the tip of his tongue, knowing that the other preferred an edge of pain with his pleasure, and he was duly rewarded by his companion's uncomfortable shifting. The physician's hand dug into the leather sofa so hard that it creaked. And then he drank, savoring the viscous, heady tang of the liquid as it pooled in his mouth and slipped down his throat. Toshio tasted like nothing he'd ever had and everything he didn't know he wanted. And before he could stop himself, he had the doctor sprawled out underneath him as he slipped his hands under the other's shirt, his mouth exploring a stubbled jaw and intending to sample as much skin as possible. I wonder if every bit of you tastes like this.
"Seishin, wait." Resisting hands pressed against his chest.
And that's when he caught hold of his senses, urgently shifting off the other man and preparing to apologize profusely for what he'd just done. "Um...I'm sorry. I don't usually do all that."
"Well, I certainly hope not." The doctor's was cradling his wrist in his lap and applying pressure. Seishin's guilt doubled.
"It's dangerous for you to offer your blood. Because I desire you anyway, I got carried away. I'm sorry." He moved to stand but Toshio held him in place and forced their eyes to meet.
"Sorry? You can be a prize idiot, you know that? Do I look like I'm upset?" The doctor was flushed and breathy, blown pupils suggesting that he was miles away from being offended. If Toshio had forgotten the effect that the jinrou's predacious gaze had upon him, he was being forcibly reminded at present. Dr. Ozaki was a fighter most of the time, true, but right now becoming prey to the unearthly creature at his side seemed like a fantastic idea. "By all means, get carried away. I want you to. I just want to patch this up before we make a mess of your upholstery." He gestured to his still-bleeding wrist. "A few butterfly stitches ought to do it. Good thing you have a weak appetite."
Seishin took the injured hand again, seductively licking the blood dripping along its side, but when he spoke it was in a dangerous hush that carried a current of threat. "I know why you felt compelled to do this. But I won't always have a weak appetite, and you will always be the kind of temptation that shreds my restraint. So if you try this again, I'm leaving you. Understood?"
Toshio couldn't figure out when they'd gone from occasionally physically-involved friends to having the sort of relationship where "leaving you" sent his pulse racing and his heart crashing down to his feet, but he knew with every ounce of certitude he could gather that losing Seishin a fourth time was not an option. Still it was imperative that he stood his ground. "In exchange you have to feed."
"I will." The doctor remained unconvinced, so Seishin continued, "I promise." Brown eyes scrutinized scarlet for any trace of betrayal, and finding none, he finally nodded his assent.
"And no playing with your food the way you play with me, got it?" Only Toshio Ozaki would demand sexual exclusivity in such a manner.
"Are you asking me to be your boyfriend?" The jinrou arched a playful brow.
"What are we? Teenagers? I'm telling you that if you dare to do that tongue thing to anyone else, I'm going to find novel ways to test the limits of your immortality."
"How could I refuse so romantic a confession?" But he was smiling in a way Toshio had rarely seen.
"Good. Now don't you dare try and escape. When I come back, I'm going to exact a particularly exquisite price for dinner."
Seishin laughed. That laugh was exactly as it used to be, Toshio thought gratefully as he went in search of supplies.
The two discovered that picking up a shattered life required a great deal of patience, a willingness to forgive each other as well as themselves, and a hearty sense of humor. Even so, life does not yield itself so readily. Toshio learned that on a frigid winter morning years later as he stared blankly at the blood he'd just coughed into the sink. He turned on the tap, washing away the evidence before Seishin could smell it and inquire about its appearance. Given his propensity for chain-smoking, he wasn't surprised that he'd developed lung cancer. He was, however, understandably concerned about how his partner would react. The writer would demand a second opinion, and likely a third. He'd solicit enough opinions to fill a chasm if that meant there was a way to escape this particular twist of fate. So Toshio made an appointment with an oncologist. He'd learned long ago that it was futile to argue with a werewolf. He scanned his resultant medical reports with expertise, knowing that the combination of statistics and numbers under his gaze amounted to five years' worth of life. If he walked home from the hospital with a more lumbering step than was his wont, it had less to do with his own prognosis and more to do with the heartbreak he was about to impart upon his lover. Fifty-five years of life was exceedingly generous, he reasoned, particularly when he'd spent so much of that time destroying the lives of others. If this was requital for his past actions, then he'd been given a lenient sentence indeed. But he doubted that his companion would see it in the same light.
Seishin was settled in the library, tapping away on his keyboard as per habit. The jinrou still wrote, and he preferred to write while the physician was at work. They'd kept their relationship as secret as was possible, not out of any shame, but rather convenience. It wouldn't do for an aging physician to be seen with a perpetually young lover. And he'd certainly aged, although even he was aware that he'd done so gracefully. Toshio's hair had grayed, but it was still thick and unruly, and his tanned face retained a youthfulness that sent a number of the nurses into breathy whispers when he stopped to speak. Brown eyes sparkled with wit and mischief from behind his glasses, and that trademark charm had lost none of its luster. He'd be lying if he said that he didn't feel insecure about the changes time had wrought physically, but the jinrou's attraction had not diminished one whit, so the doctor kept himself from dwelling on these things for too long. Seishin could have whomever he wanted. As he stared at his fairy-eyed, porcelain-skinned lover from across the room he was as certain of that fact as he'd been of anything in his life. But Seishin chose Toshio. And that was the only thing that mattered.
Sparkling jade alighted upon him and brightened even more. "You're home early. What's the occasion?"
"You won't like it," he said truthfully as he sank into the couch, adopting a posture that Seishin perfected when he'd learned of Sunako's death. The younger man stood and walked over, dropping to his knees in front of Toshio. He took a bronzed palm in his and threaded their fingers together, leaning his head against the other's thigh. There was a solemnity to this small gesture that seemed out of place.
The werewolf's eyes were focused on the floor, but his voice was steady. "You're dying." It wasn't a question.
"I would ask how you know that, but I suspect you'll tell me something about your very keen senses." He found that he was rather relieved that he'd been found out. It saved him the torture of having deal with the other's penchant for denial.
"You feel weaker lately. And sometimes I can smell your blood. I haven't known long, though. I was going to ask you to see a doctor, but…"
"But you didn't know how to tell me?" Toshio laughed. Leave it to Seishin to be so hesitant, even after years of waking up together. Some things never change.
"That, and I hoped I was wrong." Unmistakable heartache underscored his tone, but otherwise he seemed serenely accepting. Perhaps the intervening years had wrought changes upon the immortal as well?
"I'm afraid not." The doctor looked down at him and found that the explanation came forth with surprising ease. "Non small cell lung cancer has a five year survival rate of fifteen percent." He cupped his companion's cheek meaningfully. "You should prepare yourself, Seishin. We don't have much time."
The jinrou lifted his gaze to meet the expressive mocha eyes that were so familiar now that he could pick out the pattern of light and dark in their irises. For all the times that Toshio had held him together while everything spiraled out of control, he was determined to face this with the resolve that his lover so often demonstrated. It mattered very little that he could feel his patchwork heart splitting apart at the seams. Toshio deserved better. So he squeezed the doctor's hand bracingly and nodded. "Just tell me what to do."
"Fuck me senseless. Tonight, and every night hereafter for the next five years."
And once more, Toshio discovered that Seishin's laugh was the perfect panacea for all his woes. "Gladly, Dr. Ozaki."
That evening found Seishin tracing idle patterns in the doctor's skin as the two lay pressed against each other. He couldn't hide the fact that he was as thoroughly broken as he'd been when Sunako died, but the gratitude he felt was so overwhelming that it monopolized any other emotion. The last several years with Toshio had been a breathtakingly beautiful and completely undeserved gift, as were the years with Sunako before that. He was cognizant of the fact that he ought to have died in Sotoba decades ago. He'd done everything in his power to end his existence back then. As such, any happiness that he gleaned from the world was worth celebrating. He'd have plenty of time to mourn Toshio in future; he'd have nothing but time. For now, he simply wanted to savor his lover's touch, his taste, his awful sense of humor and even more awful culinary aptitude. He smiled into Toshio's hair and pulled him closer, inhaling the same scent of cigarettes and cologne that had driven him mad since he was old enough to realize that the heat building under his skin at his friend's proximity was desire.
"I'm surprised at you," the doctor said sleepily when he felt Seishin's fingers still in contemplation.
"What do you mean?"
"I expected you to try to turn me." It was a simple pronouncement with staggering consequences. Honestly, he wanted nothing more than to share an eternity with Toshio. Eternities were lonely things. Sunako had taught him as much. But to love Toshio was to love him as he was, not as the jinrou would have him be. A man who'd been so adamant about pursuing and destroying Shiki could hardly be expected to become one just to satisfy the whims of a lover, even an immortal lover. Such a request would undermine the things that characterized the doctor—his foolhardiness, his stubbornness, his determination to save everyone around him despite the cost. No, Toshio would forever be Toshio, and Seishin had finally learned to be content with that.
"I'd love nothing more than to wake up to you forever. But we have no guarantee that you'd rise up, and I prefer you as you are."
"Thank you." There was nothing to say beyond that.
A young priest walked through the woods, inky black robes striking against platinum hair and pale, pale skin. He'd dressed for the occasion. Seishin came to rest before the solitary grave and settled comfortably on the grass growing on his lover's resting place. Toshio had been buried, of course. Sotoba buried its dead, after all. The jinrou rarely visited the single plot that they'd picked together. It wasn't that he actively avoided paying his respects, only that he preferred his many memories of the doctor to the inanimate wooden marker that he looked at now. Such a memento could never encompass all of the things that Toshio had been. It was a place-holder, and an insufficient one at that. But he came by time to time anyway. Old habits are difficult to abandon completely.
"Hello, my love," he said conversationally as he waited for his interlocutor to materialize. He never discerned precisely when he'd picked up Toshio's habit of talking to himself, but he found comfort in the act, particularly since his conscience always spoke to him in the late doctor's voice.
He shook his head and rolled his eyes, but a smile played at the corner of his lips. "You never learn."
If you didn't look so good in religious garb, I'd have no reason to want to thoroughly debauch you.
"I'm here to offer incense, not to be fucked senseless." The smile split into a toothy grin before he laughed outright.
Some priest you are, talking of such things at a gravesite. You should be ashamed.
"I'll not have a lecherous old goat like you impugn me propriety, Toshio." Ah, and that's when his heart slowed to a dull thud. Such conversations typically proceeded in a light, almost carefree fashion until Seishin spoke the other's name only to be met with silence. And while he'd entertained a few lovers since the physician, it was to this man that he was ever bound, and even death had done nothing to mitigate that. "I miss you."
"Sometimes I want to crawl under the earth stay there with you."
"Don't be. It means that I loved you fiercely, that I'll love you always, and that you're alive, at least in my dreams." Seishin knew that he could never make good on his occasional desire to die precisely because he was determined to maintain the other's memory.
You really need to get laid.
The jinrou snorted through tears. "You're incorrigible, do you know that?"
And you love me. What does that make you?
"Human. It makes me human." He couldn't say how long he'd stared at the fir spike before he felt small, delicate arms wrap around his neck and a familiar fall of chestnut hair spill over his shoulders. That he did not stiffen in alarm was a testament to how inured he'd become to life's vicissitudes. It was as though nothing could surprise him anymore.
"I told you that you were human," Sunako whispered, coiling her arms even tighter around him. He leaned back into the embrace, not quite sure that she was really there. He'd just been conversing with an imaginary Toshio, after all.
And he would have continued to believe himself dreaming were it not for the fact that her breath blew softly across his neck. He closed his eyes, tears falling unchecked as he prayed to whatever gods might be listening for this to be real. "I so wanted you to be alive. I often dreamed that you would come back."
"I'm sorry for leaving you like that." Her mellifluous voice sounded slightly different, he noted. He wondered where she'd been. They'd have a lifetime of catching up to do. Perhaps she'd linger long enough to do it.
"There's no need. You gave me something that I didn't realize I needed."
"Memories worth making. Love worth sacrificing for. Life worth living."
They remained like that for a long while, still and silent as the night deepened from blue to black. "Seishin, will you tell me a story?"
He took a tiny hand in his and brought her palm to his lips. It was as fragile and icy as he remembered, but the jinrou found comfort in it for precisely these reasons. Sunako may have resented immortality, but Seishin was deeply grateful that some things never changed. "What sort of story?"
"One with a happy ending." Seishin smiled. It was a genuine smile, not the beaming sort that he'd once reserved for Toshio's particularly absurd antics, but a smile that conveyed both the delight of love's memory and the pain of its loss.
"Yes. I write happy endings now."
And with that they stood and made for home, hand in hand, quiet conversation and laughter trailing in their wake.
Perhaps somewhere amongst the trees, a lone ghost gazed upon them, a mischievous smile momentarily crossing his lips before he disappeared into the night, leaving behind nothing but the faint scent of cigarette smoke.
AN: I hope you guys liked this ending. Initially, I'd wanted to write a "happily ever after" for this pair, but it seemed that Toshio, at the very least, would be out of character if I'd done that. He doesn't seem like the type that would assent so easily to becoming a vampire. So I left them as I thought they should be – somewhere between "happier ever after" and "happily ever after". Do let me know what you think.