A/N: Happy endings are all the same? Happy endings are so hard! Especially when dealing with characters from Shiki, particularly characters named Seishin Muroi.
Happy Endings Are All the Same:
They settled into a routine too easily, this hand-holding thing. For a few days Seishin had remained with Toshio in the clinic, word having been sent up to the temple and its workers that the young priest was suffering from a mild ailment and would return after a rest at the clinic. Toshio didn’t tell Seishin, and Seishin didn’t ask, but it was hardly a secret that he intended to keep him until his parents returned to their home. He couldn’t see him trying anything funny with both his mother and father in the house, after all; he’d waited until they weren’t, hadn’t he? He was miserable, but not heartless.
So Seishin spent four days mainly confined to Toshio’s room, too unsteady the first couple of days to truly wander, too afraid of Mrs. Ozaki for the remainder to truly wander. And, it was just as well – Mrs. Ozaki knew he was there and had sneered about the set-up when her son had mentioned it to her. Toshio hardly said the precise reason why, but even the excuse of dehydration and acute anemia were evidence of weakness to her. So Toshio carried up meals every day, and Seishin generally gazed emptily out the window, watching the full arc of the sun as the hours passed. Despite the heat, he kept a sheet draped over himself at all times, his arms completely hidden in the folds.
And every night Toshio did the same thing – reached out for Seishin’s hand and gripped it as he fell asleep. It made his arm ache by the morning, the angle making the limb stiff and deprived of blood, but he did it nonetheless. He couldn’t run away if his hand was held. He wouldn’t.
On the fourth day, Seishin returned to the temple, his strength enough to accommodate his usual activities, even if at a slightly slowed pace. He was still too pale and didn’t look entirely well, but he looked much better than he had when sprawled in his room, the sunlight glimmering against his hair and his blood. He no longer looked as if he were dead.
Toshio wasn’t happy to see him go, even if he felt more at ease with the elder priest and his wife at home once again. He felt leery about it, and to think on the lies Seishin would smoothly tell them made him feel downright upset. He should’ve tried to talk to him more when the priest had lain next to his bed for the previous nights. He should’ve made him promise to get help.
But it had been so hard to even speak to him about the most basic of things. He didn’t know what to say, quite simply. Had it been another villager, he was sure he could’ve done his proper duties as a doctor – bandaged them up, made a referral, done a few house-calls. Easy. A bit uncomfortable? Probably. But it wouldn’t have been difficult.
So he felt inadequate as he watched Seishin leave, and was plagued with doubts throughout that day. The medical report, the accurate one, was still crumpled in the pocket of his doctor’s coat. He could still photocopy it, shanghai the other man, and drive him up to the district hospital. It was still a possibility. And, yet, even this did not seem quite proper to do for a friend.
A friend. They were friends, right? They had been when they were younger. Were they still? He thought of the other man as a friend, but had he really been one to him recently? It was pure chance that he’d found him when he had, had been able to resuscitate him and care for him. And he’d only gone as a lark by there – had been passing by and thought he’d drop in. Figured they’d chat.
Chat, a light chat. Nothing serious. Which was, perhaps, indicative of a larger issue – this is all they’d seemed to do lately, have these fairly light chats. In the month leading up to Kyouko’s departure, he’d spent a lot of time with Seishin, and he’d done most of the talking. It had been angry talk, despairing talk. And in the month following it, he’d also done a lot of talking at Seishin. And Seishin had listened to him patiently, let him keep him awake to ungodly hours with all his problems. Let him drink himself silly sometimes, and pass out on the floor, although he always tried to get him into the guest futon. Sometimes let him even fall into slumber in Seishin’s own bed. Twice they had shared that bed, but after that if he ever slept there he would find Seishin stretched out in the guest futon himself, and he would feel a mild sense of guilt for having displaced him in his own room.
Had Seishin been feeling so unhappy even then? He didn’t know, couldn’t know. He hadn’t been paying him much heed at all. He was too upset himself.
When had Seishin become so sad? Had it been since then? Before then? It couldn’t have been… well, he knew he could only say that it couldn’t have been before college ended. Seishin had never been the loudest of men or the most bold, but this passive pleasantness which seemed to have become his character was of more recent vintage than his youth. Was where this started where it all started?
He felt empty and distracted, disappointed in himself. This hadn’t happened overnight, clearly. There had been some build-up to it. And he’d been too wrapped up in his own life to take notice of it. It had always been something since college ended – medical school, dating Kyouko, working at the university hospital, moving back to Sotoba after his father had died, marrying Kyouko, his marriage falling apart… Always something.
Somethings which had never managed to be Seishin somehow.
At the end of the day, he felt worn out. He hadn’t seen too many patients, and those he had seen had had fairly minor complaints. It had left him with a lot of time to ruminate about things, and it was this which had made him so weary. He put his head down on his desk and sighed, wondering about what he could have for dinner. His mother had gotten angry and dismissed their sole servant in a fit of passive-aggressiveness toward Kyouko, and they had continued to go without one even with Kyouko gone for so long already. Mrs. Ozaki had discovered how difficult it was to get servants in the modern world and in the countryside very quickly.
He settled for a microwave meal, however inadequate they always felt. He’d gone upstairs and changed into bedclothes already, ready to make an early night of it. He’d also retrieved the book he’d just started when he’d made Seishin lie down and sleep in his room despite the early hour. It was actually one of Seishin’s own; he’d bought them, but had neglected to read all but one of them, and a weird sense of guilt had lead him to picking one of them to pass the afternoon hours as he watched over Seishin.
He realized he was an impatient man when he flipped to the end half-way through to see what happened. When he saw that it had an unhappy conclusion, and thought back to the fact that the other one he’d read had been the same, he found himself pulling all of them from the shelf and flipping through to see what the contents were, checking the back cover’s summary for an idea of the entire things. None of them were at all cheerful or pleasant in any sense. Maybe if he’d read them before he would’ve figured it all out much sooner.
He continued to read the book over his food in a state of unrest, a state that carried over after he had set it aside and gone to wash up his dishes. He was regarding the bottle of sake in the cupboard with great thought when he heard the doorbell ring, and shut the door reluctantly, going to answer the chime.
It was Seishin who stood outside, looking at the ground even when Toshio spoke to him and invited him in. Inside the light in the hall seemed to glare, casting a harsh illumination over Seishin. Toshio frowned, “Have you eaten yet?”
“Are you sure?”
Seishin looked at him with some surprise, although it was muted and only apparent by his overall lack of affect, “Yes, I am sure.”
They went upstairs, the sake firmly forgotten. In the room of his youth, Toshio was unsure of what to do, Seishin having said no more as they’d walked through the house. He’d cast a worried glance at Mrs. Ozaki’s door as they’d gone past, but this was the extent of any indication of anything.
But now Seishin turned to Toshio, still refusing to meet his eyes, “Could I… borrow those pajamas again?”
Toshio felt as though the wind had been knocked out of him. He’d hardly been expecting this. In fact, that Seishin had appeared at his door at all had been unexpected. He had anticipated spending a few days puzzling over the matter culminating in action on his own part toward Seishin. That Seishin had been the one to act first, whatever it was he was acting for or upon, had not entered his mind as a possibility.
He wordlessly fetched another yukata out of the drawer of his bureau, although it was another one of his older ones. He looked at for a moment, shook his head, and then re-opened the drawers, drawing a more Western set out instead, one of his own current pairs. He’d given that old yukata to him while angered, and felt unkind now to repeat the action. He handed it over to Seishin, and then turned away, going to the closet for the futon.
With the futon laid out and Seishin finished dressing, Toshio looked at the room uneasily, and then spoke, “Would you like to go to sleep?” It was still fairly early, but he was tired and didn’t know what else to suggest instead. Maybe they could read? The tension had returned and he couldn’t figure out how to speak to his friend beyond the barest necessities.
Seishin nodded, and he felt a certain sense of relief. They both climbed into their respective sleeping places, and Toshio turned off the light, then reached for Seishin’s hand. He didn’t even bother to ask this time, and the hand slipping into his own told him he didn’t have to. They’d reached some kind of wordless agreement.
Seishin buried his face in his own pillow, not wanting to even look in Toshio’s direction. He knew that the darkness hid his face already, but he felt that if he looked, even in the dark, Toshio would somehow manage to work it out properly. Whatever it exactly was. Which he wasn’t willing to admit, even to himself.
He thought they would simply slumber like that, but Toshio’s voice sounded suddenly, “Hey, Seishin… why do none of your books have happy endings?”
“You’ve read them?” He looked up from the pillow now, the question catching him off guard.
“I’m reading one of them. And I’d read one before. I looked at the rest. Why are they so sad?”
He looked away again, turning his face toward the other wall, his voice quiet, “Because… happy endings are all the same…”
Toshio shifted, frowning, “That isn’t true.”
“I don’t know how to write them anyway…”
He could hear Toshio shifting, felt him doing so through their clasped hands, as the other man rolled completely onto his side to look at him even though it was all dark. He could hear the frown in his voice, too, when he spoke, “Seishin, why did you… do that? Why are you so unhappy?”
“Because the world is empty.”
It was painful to say, but if he was unhappy, he was unhappy, no sense in trying to pretend otherwise now. He started to bury his face again, determined to ignore anything else the doctor said, exhausted by what little had passed between them already.
But he felt a tug at his arm, and found himself being pulled upwards. Without thinking, he moved with it, allowing himself to be drawn in. He found himself in Toshio’s bed, Toshio gripping his hand so tightly it hurt. They were so close now, and he felt a nervous fluttering in his chest, the bed truly too small to accommodate two people.
“It doesn’t have to be.” Toshio said, gruffly, “The world doesn’t have to be empty.”
Seishin said nothing, but he let himself go. He let his hand be crushed, let Toshio keep him so close, his own futon empty on the floor. Toshio didn’t say anything more, either. And, somehow, he slept. Somehow, he slept.