A/N: Fun fact – I listened to Rihanna’s Disturbia on repeat all through writing this. I find the beat to be good background when writing things; I used to listen to this song when I was in school when writing research papers. I had to, because overheard conversations proved too distracting otherwise, but the beat was insistent enough that the lyrics never distracted me.
Happy Endings Are All the Same:
While Seishin gripped his chopsticks too tightly and spoke little throughout the meal, from Toshio’s view dinner was not quite that tense. But he had no knowledge of the conversation that had passed between mother and son the day before, so it was easy for him to settle in and enjoy the meal. Mrs. Muroi was a source of relief, for she inquired along the lines of regular, polite conversation. How was his mother? How was the clinic? She’d heard that Ritsuko had just started working there after finishing school in Kyoto; was she doing well? And, unlike the other villagers, she was hardly rude enough to have meant anything with a wink and a nudge by that.
Little did he know, it had more do with concern for her own son than with manners. Not that she would’ve been rude enough either way to ask.
So Toshio enjoyed the meal thoroughly, appreciating the gap it gave him between the nervous half hour he’d spent sitting in the doorway of Seishin’s room and the uncomfortable conversation he was anticipating. He could sit and eat the food he was served, speaking of light things with a childhood friend’s mother. He found himself much more at ease speaking with her than he did with his own mother. In another world, where she wasn’t Seishin’s mother, he could even see himself discussing the barest outlines of what was going on between himself and the priest. He would’ve trusted her input.
But. She was Seishin’s mother. So he remained silent on that topic.
So they discussed the clinic and the temple and the village and the food. Mrs. Muroi apologized for the meal not being larger, as she had only been expecting to have two at dinner, not three. And when he tried to insist that he was sorry for just showing up unannounced, she had waved away his concerns, insisting that she always welcomed company at the table. After all, it was only she and her son generally, so it was pleasant to have a third diner. The elder priest ate earlier than they did since he tired so quickly.
Seishin, meanwhile, added little to the conversation, the tips of his fingers going numb from the strength with which he held his chopsticks. He chewed his food too thoroughly, and barely tasted it at all. He knew his mother wouldn’t say anything, but he felt on edge by having them interact nevertheless. And he felt entirely self-conscious of his own interaction with Toshio with her there, as if she were taking note of every little word he uttered to the doctor.
And, of course, what she would think once they retired to his own room…
When Mrs. Muroi got up to clear the table, Toshio had leapt up and started helping her, ignoring her admonishment of his being the guest and not subject to such things. Seishin quietly watched them. He could feel his thoughts drifting toward daydreams, sense that he could very easily become used to this. He quickly forgot how tense he’d felt through the meal, seeing only what was before him.
He snapped out of it, though, when his mind was drawn to his mother’s comment about adoption the evening before. His mother had said she was fine with it all, but that didn’t mean anyone else be. Including Toshio.
He made a pot of tea while the other two finished washing the dishes, now discussing the changes that were being made to the high school uniforms. Mrs. Muroi had liked the previous ones, which had not changed since Seishin and Toshio had been in high school. Toshio voiced a dislike for them, saying that they were too hot in the summertime and looked old fashioned. Mrs. Muroi admitted that her own uniform had been a simple sailor-style one. Seishin didn’t bother to mention that he’d felt the uniform’s old-fashioned style as one more factor indicating that Sotoba was a dying, stagnant place, as yet another thing holding him down. Altering them was just putting a fresh coat of paint on a moldering wall.
After they finished in the kitchen, they retired to Seishin’s room, the bottle of plum wine glinting in the early moonlight as they re-entered the room, Toshio carrying the cups for tea and Seishin the teapot. Toshio went to the outside door immediately, and picked up the wine. He thudded himself down by the writing table, and easily poured wine into the cups. Seishin frowned, but set the teapot down by the door, already knowing it was probably destined merely to cool with the night air. He rose up again to go shut the door to the hall, his hands having been previously too occupied to do so. As it slid shut, the air currents in the room died down slightly, the breeze no longer whistling so easily through one door and out the other.
As he turned back to Toshio, his hand lingered against the edge of the doorway. He ceased movement for a moment, looking at Toshio, who had gone from examining the bottle to finally looking up. They looked at each other, but said nothing.
Seishin moved his hand decisively, suddenly, and the light switch was flicked into the off position, the room in instant darkness. He could hear his own breath rattling already, and he forced himself to breathe more steadily as his eyes adjusted. It wasn’t completely dark, after all; even if the moon had only just risen, it illuminated part of the room with its pale glow. He could see Toshio’s outline easily, the bottle, the cups, the teapot, too.
Toshio clicked his fingernails uneasily against the surface of the desk, breathing through his nose. He cleared his throat to break the lengthening silence, then spoke, “If you don’t come sit down to drink this, it’s going to warm up and be nasty.” He grinned, making a show of bravado, although he knew Seishin probably couldn’t see his facial expression. He took a sip from his own cup, then proffered the second. He watched the priest shift closer, beginning to stoop low as he did so to sit. Their fingers touched briefly, but Seishin took the cup quickly, thanking him, and sat pointedly on the other side of the desk.
Toshio drained his cup quickly in the silence, banging it down on the desk, and sloshed more of the plum wine into the cup. It wasn’t necessarily that he did want more; if anything, drinking plum wine quickly made his lips twist at the sweetness… but the noise of his movements kept the room from being completely quiet. He couldn’t stand just sitting there without talking. Lying there together all through that speechless night had been bad enough. So he shifted around unnecessarily, too, trying to drive off any buzzing from his ears.
He scowled, Seishin having lapsed into full inaction, “Aren’t you going to drink any of that? Holding it in your hands isn’t going to help things much either, is it?”
But the priest put the cup down, and shook his head slightly, “I don’t think I really want any…”
Toshio shrugged, drinking his own, “Well. Fine. You don’t have to.”
“But you did bring it over here to share…”
“Yeah, but if you don’t even want any, you should just let me drink it. I want to drink it.”
Seishin pushed his cup over to the other side of the desk now, “Well, then you can have this cup, too.”
Toshio picked up the cup, and made an action to dump the wine out the door. But Seishin uttered a short cry, reaching as if to halt him from throwing it out. “What are you doing?” He asked, sounding bewildered.
“I’m dumping it out so you can use the cup for your tea. That’s obviously what you wanted to drink in the first place, right?” He sounded irritated, his own earlier nervousness bleeding into frustration.
Seishin dropped his hand, drawing his arm back toward himself, “But you shouldn’t just waste it. I can wait until you’re done. I’m not really that thirsty anyway, I just didn’t want to be rude…”
The doctor dropped the cup back onto the desk, annoyed. He had an insistent urge to reach across the surface to throttle the priest, an insistent urge to kick the teapot out the door, to hurl the wine after it. But he reached for the cup again and drained it instead, biting down on the inside of his cheek in an effort to not say something rash. Patience is a virtue. Patience is a virtue.
He could feel the alcohol already working slowly toward his head. Which had been part of the idea. If he could just work his own guard down… well, although he’d been hoping to get Seishin’s down more. He knew the other man didn’t drink very much. And while Toshio could bluster his way through saying difficult things, he only knew his friend to after being pushed just about to the edge. Like had happened that last night Seishin had stayed at the clinic.
He briefly envisioned himself forcing the wine down Seishin’s throat before dismissing the notion as absurd. It would never work.
He pushed the full cup back across the desk again, “Drink it.” He could feel Seishin staring at him in disbelief, but he inched it further forward still, “Drink it, or I’m leaving.”
Seishin continued to stare, but the wine was beginning to loom exceedingly close to the edge. He picked it up, if only to stop it from falling over the edge. He started to bring it to his lips, but then frowned, stopped. He put it back down again, firmly, and looked Toshio in the face, “No. I don’t want to.”
Toshio was surprised, and then annoyed, “Then don’t make like you will.” He rubbed his face tiredly, “What are we even arguing about? This is stupid…”
He eased upwards, standing, and reached a hand out for Seishin, feeling a bit light-headed from the movement, “C’mere…”
Seishin regarded him with a slight look of suspicion, but took his hand and allowed himself to be pulled up. He felt a twist in his stomach as Toshio guided him around the furniture, and then fell clumsily onto the futon he’d neglected to roll up in his rush earlier that day. Toshio was embracing him now, his face buried in his chest, a sigh escaping his lips, “I’m not so young as I once was, am I?”
Seishin smiled slightly at this, trying to loosen Toshio’s grip, “You sound like an old man…”
“I am an old man… running that damn clinic, getting henpecked by own mother, one marriage already behind me…”
“Well, maybe not officially…” He groaned, shutting his eyes tightly.
Seishin stopped trying to push Toshio away, and they were quiet for a few moments. Toshio remained with his face pressed against Seishin, feeling comfortable with his arms wrapped around him. He willed his mind completely blank. It was better to not think about it.
“Toshio… what are you doing?”
He shifted slightly to look up at Seishin, and then dropped his face back to the priest’s chest, his voice slightly muffled, “I don’t know…”
“What are you doing?”
“…I’m not really sure…”
“…why’s your foot twitching?”
Seishin swallowed and Toshio could feel it. He shifted his gaze away from Toshio, embarrassed, “I’m… nervous…”
Seishin started to move away from Toshio again, “I need to close the door…”
“No you don’t.”
“All the bugs will get in.”
“We’ll be fine.”
“…you’re staying, then.”
“…Toshio… what are we doing?”
“I don’t know…”
Toshio let go of Seishin, and scooted up in the futon. He pressed his forehead against the other man’s, and licked his lips nervously, tasting the wine again, “Hey, Seishin… just… let it happen…”
At a bit of a loss with what to say to this for some reason, but, as always, I loved it. The way you convey the personalities of those involved is really wonderful. You do it so deftly! The subtleties are done so well, too; the line about the school uniforms and Seishin, and the two’s dialogue about the plum wine, and both of these as contrasts to Seishin’s otherwise-passivity were particularly great, I felt. Both Seishin and Toshio just come across as quite true. And this piece in general is just… good.
Goodness, you’re far too kind. *blushes* I was worried about this chapter because I was concerned that it wasn’t up to my usual standards… but I was proud of the last bit of it, I’ll say that!
As I said to Caraniel below, with the praise I get from you two for my Shiki fanfiction, it’ll be an absolute miracle if I ever shift into writing my own stuff again… XD
Cliffhanger! Gah evil cliffhanger!
You’re keeping these two in character remarkably well. Toshio indeed is the type to get things going without really giving outcomes much thought – he’ll just go with things once they’re moving, and Seishin overanalyses everything and needs to be told to just stop thinking (I liked that he stopped resisting so much once Toshio mentioned that his marriage was effectively over).
The reminders that Seishin is still rather fragile & unhappy through the uniforms conversation, his tenseness throughout the meal & his refusal to drink, were wonderfully subtle but really kept true to Seishin’s character.
Great work Day!
Hmm, I didn’t mean it as a cliffhanger… its much like all the other ends to my chapter have been, after all, and I don’t think most of them have been cliffhangers!
Its funny, but I didn’t even think of Toshio’s tendency to start moving without much planning when I was brainstorming and writing this… but, hey, now that I see it, I’ll certainly embrace the notion that it worked quite well!
Geez, with all the praise you and raphfail give me, I’ll probably never get around to writing my own stuff… XD