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Blood Child

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          Sakurai Atsushi was not happy with what he had just read, the latest correspondence from Clan Aichi detailing the attack by the rogue vampires, was alarming. He had not yet told the others what was contained in the letter, as the last thing he needed was for the young ones to be frightened, but he knew he’d have to discuss this new information with Kai.

          Leaving the letter in his study, he went to see Kai in the kitchen, hoping that the young ones were out in the barn playing with the newest group of baby goats. Leaning in the doorway of the kitchen, Sakurai looked at Kai, “What?” the young man smiled, “Do I have rice on my face?”

          “We need to talk, but away from the others.” Sakurai said somberly, “they don’t need to hear what I have to tell.” Now Kai was worried, “Is it that bad?” Sakurai nodded. Kai cleaned his hands and placed a lid on the food, “Let’s talk now before they come back from the barn.”

          “The letter I received from Reo, has disturbing information. It seems that there are now rogue vampires coming into Kyoto, two of which attacked Ayato.” Kai gasped, “Is he …?” Sakurai held up his hand, “No, he’s fine…though it seems that he is no longer with Issay.” Sakurai explained the incident, “once again he has shown what a true coward he is. I don’t think the man is redeemable.”

          Kai smirked, “But Kyo-san? That’s an odd pairing, don’t you think?” Sakurai frowned, “It says a lot about Issay’s morals, to leave your young lover to die at the hands of another and run, no…there is no excusing that. Ayato is better off with Kyo-san. The greater risk are these rogue vampires, it seems that they are products of Yoshiki, but as Reo put it, they lacked any humanity.”

          “Do you believe Yoshiki is creating these immortals specifically for that trait? Is he creating an army that only have a killing instinct?” Kai was horrified at the idea that Yoshiki could be doing just that; creating an army of immortals who possessed no humanity and had no reservations on killing.

          “I can’t even begin to imagine what that man has in his mind, but we should be preparing for that possibility,” Sakurai paused, “What about the others? How do we tell them without creating panic in their minds?”

          Kai said nothing for a few moments, “Perhaps discussing the change in Ayato’s situation… and then lead into the attacks after? You know there is no love lost between Issay and myself, I don’t care what his situation is to be honest, though I don’t think we should express our true feelings about Issay, that does no one any good.”

         

          Sakurai had sent the young one’s out to hunt, while he re-read Reo’s letter, forming in his mind how he was going to discuss the recent changes in Kyoto. With the news of Issay’s situation changing, it brought back memories of Imai and their time spent together. “Where are you now, Imai?” he whispered. “Probably holed up somewhere, hiding from the world.” Kai poked his head in Sakurai’s bedroom, “Acchan, they’re waiting for you.” Sakurai smiled, “Thank you, Kai-kun, I’ll join you in a moment.” Sakurai slowly rose from his desk; he was not looking forward to giving his family the disturbing news.

           “I want you to listen closely, I’ve received some new information from Reo-san that is important to all of us as immortals.” Uta reached over and picked up Naoto’s hand, Toshiya doing the same with Kai. “There was an attack on Ayato by a pair of rogue vampires a few months ago.” Uta gasped, “He’s not…” Sakurai shook his head, “no the boy is fine, though he is no longer with Issay as a result of the attack.” Sakurai went through the incident, and Ayato’s abandonment by his lover. “Ayato is now with Kyo-san and while I don’t expect any retaliation against Reo by Issay…I don’t entirely trust the man.”

          “The rogue vampires, does Reo-san know who their maker is and why are they being called rogue?” Naoto asked in a tiny voice. “Before the female was killed by Asanao, Reo was able to get her to tell him that Yoshiki was her maker. By Arimatsu’s report, the male was even worse as far as communication. They’re considered rogue as they had no humanity left, they are just killing machines.”

          Toshiya shifted nervously, “What does this mean for us? This happened in Kyoto, do you believe that there will be attacks here?” Sakurai smiled, “I don’t know Totchi, the two that were in Kyoto were killed, Reo was unable to question them further and the way he describes the woman, she probably wouldn’t have answered.”

          “I think we need to be more aware of our surroundings,” Kai interrupted, “We never go out alone, period, and we always hunt in a group. I don’t think we should be making any trips into Sendai for the time being, ne Acchan?”

          Sakurai now had to bring a topic up that he had not discussed with Kai, “There is one other thing, that Reo has mentioned; there have been more voices heard, and we both fear that there has been an increase of immortals not just here at home, but world wide.”

          “Acchan, why didn’t you tell me!” Kai snapped. Sakurai held his hand up, “Reo has reported that all his clan members have heard voices speaking, a few of them have reported hearing Yoshiki and Ryuichi’s names, but also my name and Imai’s.” Uta started to whimper, “Imai? Acchan no…please.” Sakurai opened his arms, Uta crawling over to sit in the man’s lap, “Please don’t let him find us,” Uta buried his face in his lover’s neck, “Uta, I won’t let him harm you, I won’t let him harm any of us. He will not come against me, and if he did, I would not hesitate to destroy him before I’d let him touch any of you.”  

 

          “Why do you need to find him? I thought you hated Sakurai, that’s all you’ve ever told me, so now suddenly you feel the need to see him? Why?” Tangier watched as Imai stormed through the house, muttering angry words under his breath. “Stay here if you’re too scared to go, I don’t care.”

          During the last twenty-five years of living in Hokkaido, Imai had grown increasingly frustrated with their situation. After the incident in Paris in 1498, with Yoshiki acting as a messenger, Sakurai’s refusal to speak to Imai had burned a hole in his heart; his maker made it known that he did not want to speak to his child. Eight hundred years had passed since he had laid eyes on Sakurai Atsushi, eight hundred years of regrets.

          Imai had assumed (wrongly) that by his presence in Hokkaido, living at the estate of his maker, would some how trigger a response by Sakurai. He spent hours sending out thoughts to his maker in hopes of a response, but night after night, Imai was disappointed.  “Imai?” Tangier tried to slip his arms around his lover’s waist, “Do you really have to go?” he whimpered.

          “Yes, I do, and I’m leaving tomorrow night. Stay here if you don’t feel safe traveling with me, but there is nothing you can say that will keep me from leaving.” Imai smiled sadly, “I love you but this is something I must do, there is no argument.” Tangier leaned into Imai’s chest, “I won’t be separated from you,” looking up at his lover, Tangier smiled, “If this is what you need to do, then I suppose we’ll be leaving as soon as the moon rises.”

 

          Kyo and Hazuki had been on patrol all evening, the threat of encountering more rogue vampires weighing on their minds, both men hearing the voices which were becoming clearer each night. “Damn them, what the hell do they want from us?” Kyo growled as they walked the perimeter of the city. “Why the hell do I keep hearing Sakurai-san’s name? Who the hell is looking for him?” Kyo had asked Reo one morning just before dawn. “I suspect it is Imai, he was the first brought into the blood by Sakurai, and they had a falling out centuries ago, but why Imai is calling for him, I don’t know.”

          Kyo grunted, “He needs to stop begging for Sakurai to contact him, he sounds like a whining child.” Reo smirked, “You’re very susceptible to whiny children, Kyo.” It was true, Ayato could whine and Kyo would do whatever the boy asked of him, within reason. Ayato had jumped into the relationship with Kyo quickly, surprising the samurai.

          “Kyo… please?” Ayato was sitting on the man’s lap, wiggling his ass and offering his neck to his new lover. Kyo however hesitated to perform such an intimate act with the boy, “Ayato, we…I um…damn it boy,” Kyo couldn’t help but nuzzle the pale thin neck. “Why must you test me?”  Ayato looked at Kyo for a moment, “I don’t mean to…it’s just, um…I think you’re probably more of a man than Issay is.”  Kyo snorted, “Of course I am.”  Another wiggle, “Show me.” Ayato purred, he knew that the samurai would take the challenge, and he wasn’t disappointed.

          The members of Clan Aichi were told to report any new names that had been heard over the course of each night’s patrols. He knew of course that Sakurai and Imai’s names had been heard, and they were also aware of Yoshiki and Ryuichi’s names, but there were several that had started to float in, but not on a nightly basis. Mana was the first to hear the new names, and went straight to Reo to inform him.

          “I was out in the back of the house when I distinctly heard the name Hide and the title onmyoji whispered in the same breath.” Mana claimed the names were not whispered in a threatening tone, “Almost as if it was the herald of a dignitary arriving in a town.” Reo frowned, “Onmyoji? Well that’s a new development, what would an onmyoji be doing with an immortal? There is something out of place, I want only Arimatsu, Hazuki and Kyo to know of this information, no others.” 

         

          Imai and Tangier had traveled at night, with spurts of immortal speed and in a few instances, using the cloud gift when they wanted to avoid a city. Tangier never liked when Imai would carry him through the night, it wasn’t natural as he told his lover, who just laughed, “You’re complaining that it isn’t natural? Do you even hear yourself, you silly boy? We’re immortals, we prey on humans for our sustenance to remain immortal and you’re complaining about using the cloud gift?” Tangier pouted for the remainder of that night, giving Imai the cold shoulder and not speaking as they moved across the night sky.

          The immortal couple crossed the nine hundred miles in less than a week, setting down just outside of the small village of Oshu. “Why are we stopping here? Can you sense he is close?” Tangier had been almost asleep when Imai lightly set them on the ground. “I sense something though I’m not sure what or who it is,” Imai looked around for somewhere to spend the day sleeping, finally settling on a small low hut with a sunken floor. Covering themselves with large tree branches that Imai brought in, the couple settled in for the day, Tangier clinging to his lover and Imai pushing his thoughts out to Sakurai Atsushi, his gut telling him that he was closing in on his maker. “We will go into Sendai tomorrow night; we both need to eat and there is always some gossip to be found at any izakaya.” Tangier’s stomach churned at the thought of seeing Sakurai face to face, fear causing him to shiver. “He won’t hurt us, will he?” Imai didn’t answer. The year was 1824.

Chapter Text

 

           Kyo rolled on to his back, running his hand over his scalp, “You’re going to kill me, you know that don’t you?”  he grunted, as if it was possible. Ayato curled up against Kyo, throwing a leg over the man’s hip. “Then you will die happy, ne?” the young man giggled, teasing his lover. “Yes, I will happily die if it means that you’ve have taken my life while I defile your lewd body.”

          Kyo had fallen hard for Ayato, starting with their first kiss, which left him eager to explore his new relationship and nobody was as surprised as Kyo. The first month consisted of Kyo asking time and time again, “Are you sure you want to be with me?” Ayato had grown so tired of the question, that every time Kyo started to speak, the younger man just shoved his tongue down his lover’s throat. “Yes.”

          It had been two years since Ayato had been attacked by the rogue immortals, two years since Issay ran like a coward leaving his lover to die, and two years of bliss for Kyo.  For Issay’s part, there had been no outward animosity between the three men, that’s not to say that the dumped lover did not have any hurt feelings, quite the opposite, Issay dreamed of the day he could take Ayato away from Kyo, he would bide his time and be patient, waiting for the perfect opportunity.

 

          There had been a new addition in the Aichi Clan; Akinori had been found wandering the streets of Kyoto in 1817, dazed and confused. Asanao had seen the young man staggering towards the city gates, falling to the ground and no longer moving. He approached the young man, sensing that the boy was an immortal, but there was a confusion in his scent. Picking Akinori up, Asanao walked back to the house and took the boy to see Reo.

          “What’s this?” Jyou greeted Asanao at the door, “I’m not sure but I’m taking him to Reo,” Jyou nodded and held the door for Asanao. “You’re bringing me gifts now, Asanao?” Jyou was spreading a futon down on the floor, “I’m not sure what I’m bringing you,” Reo walked over and knelt down next to the futon, “He is fresh, this boy hasn’t been in the blood for more than a week.”

          Jyou petted the boy’s long black hair, “His scent is strange, I don’t know what it is…but it’s not normal.” The young man moaned and tried to sit up, “Steady boy, you’re not well enough to sit up,” Reo murmured, “Boy, what is your name?” The young man opened his eyes and gazed up at Reo, “Akinori…where am I? Please, tell me what’s wrong with me, please.”

          “Akinori, my name is Reo and you are in my home,” Reo looked at Asanao, “who is your maker?” A puzzled look came over the boys face, “My… my what? I don’t understand…what is a maker?”

          This was alarming, “The immortal that brought you into the blood, what was his name?” At the mention of the word blood, the boy’s eyes grew wild, “What does that mean? What blood? Please…who are you? I want to go home, please just let me go home!”

          “Jyou, go get Ayato please, Mana as well.” Reo ordered. “Akinori, I’m going to help you, but you’re not well enough to go home just yet, I’m going to give you a room to rest in. There will be a young man and a woman that will help you get comfortable, once you are well, we will speak again.”

          A knock at the door and Ayato and Mana came into the room. “Mana, could you please find a room for Akinori? He is unwell and he needs to rest. Ayato, please stay close to him, I don’t want him to be left alone, is that clear?” Ayato nodded, “Yes Reo-san.” Reo motioned for Asanao to pick Akinori up. “We will speak tomorrow night,…tonight please just rest.”

          Reo and Jyou watched as Asanao and the others took Akinori out of the room. “What’s wrong with the boy? His scent is … muted or diluted.” Reo returned to his desk, “I’m not sure, but the fact that he has no idea he is an immortal is alarming, who would do such a thing?” Jyou raised an eyebrow, “Yoshiki.” She said simply. Reo’s brow furrowed. “Yes, it could be, Ryuichi as well. Why would they do such a thing? Have they fallen so far as to not even…?” Reo sighed.

          Asanao returned to the room, “He’s resting, Mana also gave him something to eat, but I believe what the boy needs is blood, not food.” Reo agreed, “But from whom? If he does not realize he is an immortal, how do we tell him?” Jyou smirked, “Ayato,” Reo narrowed his eyes, “What about Ayato?”

          “Ayato should explain to Akinori that he is an immortal, anyone else the boy could panic and run.” Jyou thought this to be a no brainer, obviously she over estimated her clan leader’s awareness. Jyou had to mansplain, “Ayato and Akinori are close in age, Mana is of no threat, and honestly neither is Ayato, but if you or Asanao or Arimatsu, were to barge in, or indelicately explain the boy’s change, he could run.”         

          Reo had the decency to look a little sheepish, Asanao just frowned, “Why do you always have to be so damned right all the time?” Jyou just laughed, “Because you’re a big brawny man who doesn’t think with his heart. I love you Nii-chan, but sometimes you’re just such a man.”

         

          Ayato watched as Akinori turned over, moaning in his sleep, it had been a long day for both young men. Akinori sleeping restlessly, Ayato waking up whenever the other cried out. Kyo had come to check on his young lover before retiring for the day, “How is he?” Kyo snuck a kiss and a quick grab of Ayato’s ass, “He’s scared…I don’t think he knows he’s an immortal, he was hungry but you could see it in his eyes, he needs blood.”

          Just as Kyo was going to give Ayato another kiss, Akinori groaned then sat up. “Um, where am I and who are you?” Kyo nodded then quietly left the room, Ayato went over to sit down, “My name is Ayato, that was my lover Kyo. You’re in the house of Clan Aichi, in Kyoto, where are you from?”  Before Akinori could answer, Reo knocked on the door and slid it open.  “Hello Akinori-kun, did you sleep well?”

          “Yes, thank you,” he looked at Ayato, “Could you please tell me what’s going on, why do I feel different? Have I been sick?” Reo looked at Ayato, “I’m going to let Ayato explain things to you, then if you have more questions you can come and see me.”

          Ayato waited until Reo closed the door, “He just looks scary, he’s a very nice leader,” smiling at Akinori, Ayato started to probe, “What’s the last thing you remember?” Akinori shrugged, “I um, was at home with my parents and grandparents, in Takashima, I was coming in from the barn…then I woke up but I didn’t know where I was. I thought I was sick because I was in so much pain.” Tears formed in the corner of his eyes, “I got up and started walking, I was so hungry but something was wrong and I was too scared to eat.”

          Mana knocked on the door and brought in tea and some rice, “Let me know if you need anything else.” She bowed and left the room. Akinori stared at Mana as she used her sign language with Ayato. “Is there something wrong with her?”

          “It’s a long story, I’ll tell it to you later,” he handed the young man a bowl of rice, “Where were you sleeping at night?” He knew this was a critical question. “I slept during the day, whatever is wrong with me, the sun just burns me so badly…so I found an abandoned house and crawled under the floor.”

          “What do you think is making you sick?” Ayato started to probe. “I have no idea, really. I don’t remember feeling ill before I woke up, do you know what’s wrong with me?” Ayato nodded, “I think I do, but I want to try something first,” Ayato got up on his knees next to Akinori, “I want you to close your eyes for me,”

          Ayato sliced his wrist with a finger nail and held it under Akinori’s nose. “Take a deep breath,” The man did as he was told, “I…um….” He started to shake and reached up for Ayato’s hand, “Please… I want this… what is it?” Ayato took his hand away, and licked the wound closed. “Do you trust me? I know we just met last night, but do you trust me enough to believe what I’m going to tell you?”  Akinori nodded, “Not like I have much of a choice if I want to know.” Ayato searched for the words, “Do you know what an immortal is?” Akinori shrugged, “I know what the word means, yes. Why?”

          “Come with me, I think we need to speak to Reo-san.” Ayato got up and held out his hand for Akinori, “Oh!” Akinori quickly dropped Ayato’s hand, “You’re so cold!” Ayato laughed, “Yep… I am… come on, let’s go find Reo-san, I promise everything’s going to be fine.” They met Jyou in the hallway, “Can we see Reo-san please?” Leading them into the office, she knocked once on the door and opened it.

          Reo looked up from his desk, “Ayato-kun, what can I do for you today?” Akinori looked around the room, there were no windows which he thought was rather unusual. “I think we need to help Akinori understand our special situation. I thought you could help, or at least maybe Kyo and I could?”

          “If you’d like to do that, I will agree to it. Akinori please, have a seat.” Ayato exited the room. “Do you have questions for us, my boy?” The young man nodded, “Ayato said something about being an immortal, I don’t understand why he asked me that.”

          Reo leaned forward on his elbows, his chin resting on the tips of his fingers, “I think once you witness what Ayato has in mind, you may understand better. I will say, I would never keep you here by force, you are free to leave at any time, but you should know more about your new life before you leave on your own.”

          Kyo and Ayato re-entered the room. “What’s this all about Reo?” Kyo snapped, “Sshh, don’t’ be that way!” Ayato muttered, then he looked at Akinori. “I think this may explain what I was talking about,” he looked to Reo first, who nodded. Ayato pushed Kyo down to sit in a chair, and then sat in his lap, “What are you on about?” Kyo grunted. Ayato whispered in his lover’s ear, “Wouldn’t you love to just fuck me right now, here in front of everyone, or maybe I should suck you off…hmm?” Ayato wiggled his ass in Kyo’s lap.

     “If you promise to do those things later, I’ll do what ever you want right now.” Kyo nuzzled the young man’s neck, “Just bite me…a tiny drink to show Akinori.” Kyo bit Ayato’s collar bone, licking up his neck he bared his fangs and carefully sunk them into Ayato’s neck, causing him to moan.

     Akinori’s jaw dropped, “Is he…?” turning to Reo, “Yes, he is.” He couldn’t tear his eyes away, Ayato had thrown his head back, clutching at Kyo’s shirt, “Kyo…that’s enough.” Reo said sternly. Kyo stopped the bite, licking the two tiny holes closed. “You know I’m not going to be worth a shit for the rest of the evening if I can’t…” Kyo’s arousal was visible under his yukata. Reo waved them off, “Go finish your fun, thank you Ayato.” The boy waved weakly as Kyo stood up with his young lover still in his arms, and strolled out of the room.

     Reo’s focus was back on Akinori, “Well…do you have questions?” The young man stared down at his hands, “Is that what I am now?” Akinori asked without looking up at Reo. “Yes, but your situation is a bit different than some of ours. Would you like me to explain?” He waited for a response, “Yes, please.”

    “When Asanao found you in the street, he could tell by your scent that there was something different. After you were brought here, I asked who your maker was and you didn’t understand the question. I’m guessing you have no memory of your attacker?”

   “No Sir, I was in the barn doing my chores, then I woke up somewhere outside, not near my home, all I remember is being in a lot of pain, then waking up not knowing where I was.”  Reo got up from his seat and moved to sit next to the young vampire. “My boy, there are some of us that were taken by force, that we had no choice in the matter it was change or die. Others were brought into the blood because they were loved one’s and they were already dying and needed to be saved.”

    “But I was neither, and who did this? Do you know who changed you? Or Ayato? What about Kyo or the pretty lady that doesn’t speak? Did they have a choice?” Jyou walked over and kneeled before Akinori, “Reo-san took pity on me, I was in a very dangerous situation and I would have died, he found me and brought me into the blood out of love, I agreed to it. Kyo-san was dying, as was Mana, we wanted to save them, they were outcasts and they would have not survived on their own. Reo-san is my maker, he is my father and I am his child, we are bound by blood and by loyalty.”

“Akinori look at me please,” Reo reached out and tipped the man’s chin up, “I can not say who did this for certain, but I have a good idea, and to be honest…you are in much better hands staying with me and Clan Aichi, then you are out on your own.”

    “Who did this to me?” Akinori whispered. “It could be a man named Ryuichi, or a man named Yoshiki, both of whom are dangerous and reckless, they have no soul and no moral compass. It’s obvious that they left you before your mortal body had started to die, leaving you helpless and vulnerable. I am going to guess that you have yet to feed on a human, that is why you’re feeling so ill, as it is critical for an immortal to feed shortly after the change.”

    Akinori’s tears fell into his lap, his shoulders slumped in helplessness, “What do I do now? I have no where to go, I can not go back to my home, I can not live with my family…I have no one to care for me.”

   “If you so choose, you can remain here as part of Clan Aichi. You will be taught how to live as an immortal, you will be protected by the other members of my clan. If you choose to leave, it would be with a heavy heart that I would allow it, but you are not held here by anything nor anyone.” Akinori looked at Reo, “Why would you do this for me? I am no blood kin, I have no ties to Kyoto, why?” The pain Reo felt in his heart at that moment was almost more than he could stand. “Like other immortals, you had no choice in being brought into the blood. If I can offer you a safe place to live, companions and a chance at an almost normal life, it would be wrong of me to turn you away.” Akinori smiled and wiped his tears away with his sleeve, “Yes please, may I stay here with you?”

   Unbeknownst to Reo and Akinori, there were four eavesdroppers standing outside Reo’s door, listening in on the conversation. The moment Akinori asked to stay, there was a silent cheer, or what they thought was silent. “You may as well all come in, you know that I can hear you, don’t you?” Reo called out.

  “Oops.!” Ayato giggled as he opened the door. “We were just waiting for you to be done, my father.” Ayato batted his long lashes at Reo, “You’re a naughty boy, Kyo…make sure to take care of this one.” Reo turned to Jyou and Asanao, “You two know better,” he grinned.

   “We just wanted to make sure you were going to ask him to stay, Reo-san,” Jyou claimed. “Personally, I was ready to barge in and take control if you couldn’t give a convincing argument.” Asanao was the smartest one, he said nothing and just smiled.

    “Is this a celebration that we were not invited to?” Hazuki and Arimatsu had knocked but over the voices, no one had answered. “Ah, perfect timing.” Reo introduced Akinori to the other two men, “We are only missing Issay and Mana, I guess they’ll meet you soon enough.” With everyone in the room, Reo went over Akinori’s coming into the clan and the reasons, shocking everyone with the story of his coming into the blood.

   “Has to be one of those two assholes,” Hazuki growled, “Neither one of them have a soul.” With everyone speaking at once, Akinori was a bit overwhelmed, something that Ayato picked up on, “Reo, can Kyo and I take Aki out and show him how to hunt? I really think he needs to feed.” Akinori gasped at Ayato using his nick name, “What? I can call you Aki, can’t I?” Ayato grinned. “Yes…but only you!”

   With Kyo and Ayato at his side, Akinori went out into the night to hunt for the first time. Reo watched the boy fondly as he had his arm around is new found friend Ayato, “He’s going to be okay.” He murmured. Jyou linked arms with Reo, “Do you believe there are more immortals that have been brought into the blood as he was? Are Yoshiki and Ryuichi doing this on purpose?”

    “Yes, to both questions, I do believe they’re creating fledglings in hopes of creating rogues with no humanity, and it is my hope that if there are more like Akinori, that we find them and save them. I believe I must send another letter to both Sakurai and Inoran, they need to know about this.” The year was 1817.

Chapter Text

          Heath led Inoran and Yusuke through the dense woods near their home in Gifu, “Are you sure?” Inoran asked Heath again. “He’s hiding in a shallow cave on the edge of a small clearing, I could sense he is an immortal, and I’m confident he is not a rogue.” They quietly made their way towards the cave, stopping behind a copse of trees. “Were you able to speak to him?”

          “No, not directly, but I assured him that I meant him no harm and that I would return with my master.” Heath sensed no anger or violence when he had stumbled upon the cave while out hunting.

          “Stay here, I don’t want to frighten him.” Inoran stepped onto the path and slowly approached the cave. “I mean you no harm, I would like to speak to you, my name is Inoran,” he stopped about ten feet from the front of the cave. “I promise, you will not be harmed.” Sensing movement from the cave, Inoran backed up another five feet.

          Peering out the mouth of the cave was a man dressed in a military uniform, but with large slash marks across the chest, his eyes marked with fear. “Do not come any closer.” The man stammered as he walked towards Inoran. “Who are you? Did he send you to kill me?”

          Inoran knew at that moment, that the man was a victim of either Ryuichi or Yoshiki, “I was sent by no one, I was informed by a member of my clan that you were here, I just want to speak to you.” The man relaxed his stance slightly. “My name is Miya, I am from Ibaraki, I was in the military…until that man…” A panic look crossed the man’s face, “What has happened to me? I feel strange, this is not my body, I am no longer a man.”

          Inoran paused a moment, “Would you like to come with me to my home? Again, I promise you that you will not be harmed. I can explain to you what has happened and most likely, who did this to you.” Inoran turned and signaled for Yusuke and Heath to approach slowly, “These are the members of my clan,” Inoran turned and motioned for Yusuke and Heath to stand next to him, “you can trust them.”

          Yusuke and Heath both bowed to Miya, “My master speaks the truth.” Heath smiled. Miya hesitated, what else could he do? There was no one to explain to him what had happened, what he was now…not a man but not… what? “Thank you,” Miya bowed, “I will come with you.”

          Inoran bowed, then turned to walk back to the house, “How long have you been living in the cave?” He asked carefully, “Roughly two weeks, for some reason I can not go out during the day, I feel as if I will burst into flames if sunlight touched me.” Inoran nodded, “What have you been eating?” This would be crucial information, whether his maker had taught him to hunt.  “It is too horrific to speak of,” Miya shook his head and avoided eye contact with the three men.

         

          Sitting in Inoran’s living space, Miya told a familiar tale of how he came into the blood; another hit and run attack, and by his description of the man, Inoran knew it had been Yoshiki, “I didn’t even know what was going on until it was too late.” Inoran now had to tread lightly, Miya was ex-military, “Was Yoshiki seducing you, or was this an attack?” Miya took a sharp breath, “I met him at an izakaya outside of town, he just sat with me and started drinking. Next thing I know, I’m lying on a dirt floor in some disgusting hut, in extreme pain, he was standing over me laughing.”

          Yusuke reached out and patted Miya on the hand, “How long did he stay with you?” he asked softly. “Less than an hour, long enough to explain what he had done…but not why.” Inoran made a rude noise, “He has no reasons, Miya. You are not the first and sadly you will not be the last.”

          Inoran spent the next two hours telling their stories, mentioning all the known vampires, “We don’t know how many are rogue, like the one’s that attacked Ayato,” also telling Miya that many of their kind were brought into the blood with no choice, “Yusuke is an exception in my clan, and I know that there are similar instances in both Reo-san and Sakurai-san’s clans.”

          “Why are these immortals doing this? What is the point of our existences?”

          “I don’t have an answer. Reo and Sakurai have speculated that Ryuichi and Yoshiki are creating an army of immortals, but to what end, we don’t know. The fact that there is an increasing number of fledglings such as yourself, that gives the theory of a possible war, more credence.” Inoran said.

           The topic of hunting came up, something that Miya had tried to stay away from, “Animals mostly, a man that looked like a criminal and an elderly woman, the only one I killed was the man, the woman was alive when I left her.” This was the degenerate act that the man so abhorred. “Will I survive if I only drink the blood of animals?”

          Yusuke sighed, “Yes…but you will not remain healthy. As inhumane the act is, you must have human blood in order to survive and we can teach you a method of hunting that does little damage to the victim. We typically only feed on animals if there is nothing else available.”

          The man turned to Inoran, “Do you enjoy this existence? You have lived for centuries; you have had a companion for most of those years…is immortality worth the pain and suffering of our victims?”

          The moral question that Inoran had initially struggled with, “I can only speak for myself, yes…I do enjoy this life, it has brought me a stillness that is my sanctuary, and yet I marvel at the modern world every day. I have this beautiful man,” he reached over and picked up Yusuke’s hand, giving a whisper of a kiss, “if I were not an immortal, I would not have found him. I feel that I have provided a safe and comfortable life for Heath as well. There are advantages to an immortal life, if one is curious enough about the human struggle to continue to live, I believe it is priceless.” With dawn approaching, Yusuke led Miya to a bedroom and gave him a clean yukata, “You’re safe here, no light will enter this room. I will wake you at dusk. Oyasumi.” Miya bowed and thanked the man.

          Yusuke and Inoran snuggled together, Yusuke feeling the tension in his lover’s body. “You do not fear him, do you?” He put his hand over Inoran’s heart, “No, I do not, but I do fear for him…and the others that are just being brought into the blood with no thought of consequences.” Inoran turned his head and kissed Yusuke, “What would you say if I invited Miya to stay with us? To become a member of our small clan.” Yusuke smiled, “I would say that it sounds like you…you did this for Heath, you should do it for Miya, at least offer. He looks rather lost right now, and I’m sure all the information you gave him tonight was overwhelming.” Inoran kissed Yusuke again, then sighed and closed his eyes.

“How many others are there? Are Yoshiki and Ryuichi the only two who are creating fledglings only to throw them into this dark world and walking away? This is what I fear the most.” Yusuke didn’t have an answer for his lover, he could only hold the man closer.

          Miya slowly slipped into a deep sleep, and for the first time since his change, was not completely on guard, he wasn’t worried about anyone coming to attack him, though he was worried about the life he had been forced into; could he learn to feed on humans without much thought? What Inoran had said about the advantages of an immortal life, weighed on him. Was he that interested in the human struggle? He had been human, now he was a vampire…how important was the world to him now? With those final thoughts floating through his mind, Miya fell into a restful slumber.

          The next evening, Inoran made his offer, “I would like to offer you the choice of joining my clan, at least for the time being…for your safety. I will not bind you to any contract, you are free to leave when you choose. You were left with very little in the way of instructions on how to live as an immortal, I would like to offer you what you are missing.”

          “Why are you offering this at all? You do not know me, nor my temperament as a man or an immortal, what benefit is this to you?” Miya didn’t want to seem ungrateful for the offer, but he needed to be cautious, something which Inoran respected. “Simply because I know what it is to be brought into the blood and be abandoned soon after, I am offering you a secure place to live, I expect nothing in return except for loyalty.”

          With a heavy sigh, Miya knew this was the best option for him at that moment, “I accept your offer, thank you. If I may ask, what meaning is connected to being in the clan of an immortal?”

          Inoran cocked his head, “Identification I suppose. I correspond with the other clan leaders; we keep each other apprised of the activities in our cities. Sakurai-san lives in Sendai, Reo-san holds control in Kyoto. As such, I will be sending a letter to both leaders, informing them of your existence, warning them that Yoshiki has struck again. It also serves purpose if you are out alone, and come across another immortal, to be able to claim a clan, we do not attack others if they are affiliated.”

          The evening was filled with both the social construct of the lives of immortals; what was generally forbidden, or discouraged, and basic instructions on how to live. Miya was both fascinated and horrified at what he was being told. “Tearing the throat… for what purpose?” Yusuke snorted, “The thrill of the kill…I’m sure the way the blood tastes when the victim knows they will die, is a factor.”

          Inoran thought this may be of importance to Miya, “One of Reo-san’s clan members found a Ronin that was dying from a fatal wound he received during the clan wars. He offered Kyo-san the chance at immortality, and the man agreed only if he could exact vengeance against the men that murdered his master, which was agreed to by Reo-san.”

          “Sakurai-san’s young blood spouse Uta, was brought into the blood as he was dying due to eating poisonous mushrooms, his blood was so tainted that there was no way of knowing how it would affect Sakurai. After Uta’s change was complete, Kai forced his master to feed on him, thus giving him pure untainted blood. This was successful, but it is unknown if it would be so with any others.”

          The complicated lives of immortals intrigued Miya, “What is a blood spouse, I understand the term spouse…?” Yusuke smiled at Inoran, “How best do we describe this?” Inoran laughed, “If you were to find someone, and that person were still mortal but agreed to be brought into the blood as your spouse, you and only you can complete the act. It is a deeper bond than just a lover or even a maker.”

          This piqued Miya’s curiosity, “Have you come across many female immortals?” Inoran sadly shook his head, “Sakurai-san has an adopted daughter, Naoto…she’s very young I believe, maybe 18? Reo-san has two women, Jyou and Mana that are both in relationships, but are not blood spouses.”

          “What do you do if you are attacked, or is that not a concern?” As a military man, Miya could see the weaknesses of Inoran’s property, the hidden spots that could be used as cover for anyone wanting to exact an attack.

          “We have never been attacked; I don’t really have many concerns, as an Ancient I have more power than most, there is only one that has more power than I and that would be Sakurai. Why do you ask?” Inoran thought this was an odd question.

          Miya chose his words carefully, “There are only the three of you, now four including myself, and I can see that there are some areas of concern. You have no wall nor gate as an initial barrier against intruders, you have an open wooded area behind your home that would be perfect for someone to hide in at night, only to attack you during the day as you slept. I am not trying to be critical, I have a military background and as such it is only natural for me to notice such things.”

          It was true, unlike Reo who had agents all throughout Kyoto, or Sakurai who lived in a walled and gated estate, Inoran lived in a large but simple house, with nothing more than a small fence surrounding a garden. Miya thought this to be inadequate, “Are you interested in gaining more members to your clan, are you actively searching out other immortals?”

          “I had no plans on it, why?” Inoran challenged. “It’s simple, there is safety in numbers. You say that both Reo-san and Sakurai-san’s clans have multiple members, you now have four. It would behoove you to increase your clan by at least three or four members. You yourself say that both Yoshiki and Ryuichi are unpredictable and dangerous, with so little numbers to protect your home and your loved ones, if you were attacked tomorrow, you may not survive.”  

 

          The men were curled up in a corner of their prison cell, ragged, dirty and cold, two petty criminals that had been caught after a rash of burglaries in the city of Gunma, trying to sell stolen goods. They had pleaded with the court not to judge them so harshly, “We harmed no one, we only stole what we could sell in order to eat.” Aoi told the magistrate, but his excuses fell on deaf ears. Aoi and his partner were each sentenced to one year in prison. The situation in the prison was less harsh than living on the streets; they were fed each day, they had shelter from the rain and snow, and they had each other’s companionship. “Better than starving to death I guess.” Satochi reminded Aoi, as they consumed their daily ration of rice and tea.

          The men did not hear the muffled cry of the prison guard as he was snatched off his chair that night, making no sound as his throat was torn out. “That was almost too easy,” he chuckled as he prowled through the prison, looking for his next victim. “Don’t kill them all,” his companion hissed, “we are not here for that.”

          “Oh, what do we have here?” Ryuichi murmured, “You don’t look too healthy, but you will do,” the vampire stopped in front of Aoi and Satochi’s cell. “I believe we have found our new soldiers, Yo-chan, ne?” Yoshiki threw the drained body of a man into a corner as he walked towards Ryuichi. “Hmm, they do not appear to be sickly, which one do you want?”

          Aoi and Satochi were huddling in a corner, “Who are you? Leave us!” Satochi growled. “Oh, I’ll have him, he looks like he may put up a bit of a fight, you can have the raven…he’s pretty enough under all that dirt.” Ryuichi grabbed the bars of the cell door and without much effort tore it from the hinges, both vampires rushing at their victims. The struggled that ensued was brief, both Aoi and Satochi weakened by malnourishment and hunger, within moments both men were near death.

          “Are these our new soldiers? Shall we invite them into our little family?” Ryuichi chuckled, the sound of the vampire’s voice, slowly fading from Satochi’s consciousness as his heartbeat slowed. Yoshiki already had his wrist to Aoi’s mouth, whispering in his ear, “That’s it my raven, drink and you shall live…” With a huff, Ryuichi sliced his wrist open, placing it against Satochi’s lips, “If you drink this, you too will live…do it now boy!” he growled.

          Dumping Satochi to the ground, Ryuichi licked the wound closed on his wrist and stood up, “Boy, you’re going to be a little uncomfortable for awhile, but it will pass.” He leaned against the wall, watching as Yoshiki laid Aoi on the ground, “You will feel the pain as well.” Satochi got up on his hands and knees and crawled next to his friend, “Aoi…hey… are you…” before he could finish, the first stab of pain hit him in the gut, he screamed and grabbed his stomach, and before Aoi could react, his body twitched and he doubled over.

          Yoshiki and Ryuichi casually leaned against a wall, watching as the two men writhed on the ground, crying out in pain, “This is the most enjoyable part gentlemen, for us as your makers, your mortal body is dying…the pain will pass and you will soon experience a new world as an immortal.”

          “Wha…what have you done to us?” Satochi gasped as he reached out again for Aoi. “We gave you the gift of immortality my lovely child. You are now of the elite few in this world, who will live forever off the blood of the vile disgusting human population. They will effectively be your livestock; you will choose who you deem worthy…or unworthy and you will drain them of blood and destroy them.” Ryuichi sneered.

          Yoshiki kneeled next to Aoi, picking him up by the front of his yukata, “You… my beautiful raven, for you I offer this; live by my side as my constant companion, my lover and I will show you a life that is beyond anything you could have ever imagined. We will travel to Europe, feast on the fine blood of royalty, we will live the life of the privileged, all you need to do is say ‘yes’”

          Aoi had enough strength to slap Yoshiki’s hand away and spit in his face, “I would rather die, than to spend one more minute looking at your despicable face.” Yoshiki raised his hand, “No! Leave him.” Ryuichi snapped. “here me now boy, without instructions on how to live as an immortal, you’ve chosen a worse pain than any mortal death. The thirst for blood will drive you insane, had you only agreed to live with him, you would have lived forever.” Without another look at either of the men lying on the floor, Ryuichi walked out of the cell and out of the prison, with Yoshiki following his master.

          Satochi reached out for his friend, “you should have gone with him, you would at least had lived…now you will die with me here on this floor.” Aoi rose to his knees, “No Sato, there was no way in all of hell that I would have followed that creature, and no…we will not die. Listen’ to me now, we will learn to live as the creatures we are now for one reason; to find those two men and exact revenge and kill them both.” The year was 1820.

 

It was easy to find "Military Mia, but not so much 'criminal Sato and Aoi. Oh well. 

Image result for mucc miya Miya       

 

 

Image result for MUCC Satochi

 

Image result for The Gazette Aoi Aoi

 

Image result for akinori lynch Akinori

Chapter Text

           

          His body quivered in anticipation and not a little fear as they walked through a wooded area in Sendai. “Acchan,” Imai whispered softly, he could feel the presence of his maker. “Imai?” Tangier rubbed his eyes, just waking from their day long slumber. “what’s wrong?” The older vampire glanced at Tangier, “He’s close…”

          Rising from their hidden spot in a barn floor, Imai and Tangier moved through the woods, stopping only to grab a careless deer to feed, “I don’t want to risk going into the city, not yet.” Imai warned his young lover, “stay close to me.” They walked through the night, the ever-present pull of Imai’s maker, throbbing in his mind.

          As dawn approached, Imai searched for a suitable place to rest, finding a small hunting shack nestled in a thicket. “This will have to do,” he told Tangier. Together they dug a shallow hole in the dirt floor of the hut, using a discarded tarp to pull over them. “I promise, tomorrow we will sleep inside, I’m sure Acchan will at least do that for us.” He kissed Tangier, then pushed out his thoughts once more to his maker; Please, Acchan.

         

          Sakurai Atsushi had his hands full; his petulant spouse was throwing a tantrum and everyone but Sakurai thought it amusing. “He’s cute when he gets mad, isn’t he?” Toshiya murmured to Kai. Before the man could answer, Uta turned on his friend, “I heard that Totchi, shut up!”

          “Uta honestly, is that anyway to behave? Toshiya is doing nothing but commenting on your raging cuteness, he is right you know.” Kai scolded the boy. “This is none of your business either Kai, stay out of it!” Uta turned his attention back to Sakurai. “It is a reasonable request, why must you be, be…so old?” This comment was not well received, “My age has nothing to do with this Uta, what you’re asking for is unreasonable, so no…I will not allow you and Naoto to ride to Sendai unsupervised and you know the reason. So, stop badgering me.” Sakurai had told no one of his growing concern, an unknown fear had been nagging at him for weeks.

          Sakurai rose from the table and left the room, “I told you not to ask him, Uta,” Naoto whined at her friend. “you should have just asked him to let us ride, he can come with us, it’s not safe for us to go out alone.” Uta glared at his friend, “I want to go into Sendai! I’m tired of being stuck out here with nothing to do, I’m bored!” Getting up, Uta stomped out of the room, “I’m going out to see Rai.”

          Naoto fell back onto the tatami, “Why is he such a brat? Doesn’t he realize that it’s dangerous to go out alone, just the two of us? It’s not like either one of us could put up much of a fight if someone wanted to hurt us.”

          “He’s bored, Acchan has us all reined in and Uta’s rebelling a little,” Kai sighed, “the fear of rogue vampires is clearly Acchan’s motivation, it’s not done out of anger.” Toshiya leaned his head on Kai’s shoulder, “Is it truly that dangerous right now?” Kai kissed his lover, “Yes, it is, we don’t know what’s going on in Sendai, Reo’s letter about the incident in Kyoto with Ayato is worrisome and I know Acchan well enough to tell you, if he’s worried about something, we must do as he says.”

          He knew that Uta would be with his beloved horse, anytime there was any upsetting news, Uta retreated to the barn to sit with Rai. “Baby, come here please.” Sakurai closed the door softly. “No, I don’t want to talk to you right now, you’re being unreasonable.” Peering over the door to the stall, Sakurai finds Uta sitting in the corner, his arms crossed over his chest.

          “No, I’m being cautious and protective of those I love the most in the world. I’m sorry if you don’t understand this, but there is no argument to have.” Sakurai opened the door and gently pushed Rai out of the way so he could squat in front of his young lover. “What happened to Ayato is terrifying and I couldn’t imagine anything like that happening to you, Naoto or Totchi, Kai can handle himself well enough, but my young one’s are not that strong.”

          “I’m bored Acchan, we’ve been cooped up here for months, I need to be away from the estate if only for a few hours, can you at least go riding with Naoto and I since you won’t let us out alone? Rai is bored, and so is Naki, they need exercise as well.” Sakurai closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. Against his better judgement, Sakurai caved into Uta’s pleas, “Fine, but not tonight, it’s getting late. Let us go back to the house and tell Naoto that we will ride tomorrow night.” Standing up, Sakurai held out his hand to Uta, pulling the boy into his arms, “You have my heart wrapped around your little finger, you naughty boy.” Uta looked up at Sakurai and licked his lips seductively, “Punish me.”

 

          They waited by the side of the road, Imai pacing in a circle as he chewed on a fingernail and muttered to himself. Watching the estate from the early twilight hours, waiting for a sign from within that Sakurai Atsushi sensed his presence; but they saw nothing. Moving back into the woods, Imai had taken Tangier by the hand and led him back onto a small road, “Sit,” he told the boy, “Why, what are we doing?” The older man started to pace, “We’re staying here until he comes out, he has to feed at some point and this road passes right in front of the estate.” The younger man said nothing, he knew better than to argue any point with his lover when discussing Sakurai Atsushi, but there was fear building in his gut.

 

          Sakurai mounted his horse and turned to Kai, “We shouldn’t be too long, a few hours at the most.” Naoto and Uta’s horses were restlessly dancing in the courtyard, “Hurry up Acchan!” Uta yelled. “Fine, let’s go then!” With a sharp kick of their rider’s heels, all three horses charged through the front gate.

          “Try to keep up old man!” Uta yelled over his shoulder as Rai passed Sakurai’s larger horse, who was keeping pace with Naoto’s horse Naki, “Uta, don’t get too far ahead!” Sakurai yelled at him, “that brat!” He was torn between catching up to Uta but leaving Naoto behind, “Let’s see if we can catch him,” Naoto nodded and put her heels to her horse. Galloping around a sharp turn, Sakurai see’s Uta and Rai stopped in the middle of the road, the young man trying desperately to turn his horse around.  

          Riding up next to Rai, Sakurai’s anger instantly flares, “What do you want Imai?” he growls. Imai and another young man are standing in the road, just yards away from Uta and his horse. “Imai?” Uta turns sharply to look at Sakurai, “Acchan… no!”

          “Why so hostile, Acchan? I just wish to speak to you.” Tangier was hiding behind Imai’s back, “Imai let’s leave, please…” he whimpers. “Come Acchan, let’s return to your estate and talk.”

          Sakurai backed his horse up, “Stay here, but if I tell you to, turn those horses back and flog them if you have to, go back to the estate.” This was an order that neither Uta nor Naoto would question. He turned back to look at his first born, “I will ask you one more time, what do you want Imai? I didn’t want to see you then; three hundred years has not changed my mind.” Sakurai dismounts, handing the reins of his horse to Uta, “Acchan no, please don’t get near him!” Uta cried.

          Approaching Imai, Sakurai looked at the man. “I have nothing to say to you, leave Sendai now.” Imai looked over Sakurai’s shoulder, “So you’ve taken a blood spouse,” he paused, then looked at his maker, “that should have been me…why? The girl, who is she? Who are Kai and Issay? You create more children but you forget your first born?”

          “You know why I sent you away, now take your lover and leave Imai.”

          “Why wouldn’t you see me in Paris, I just wanted to talk to you?” Imai’s anger and frustration were rising.

     Sakurai chuckled, “You used that demon Yoshiki as your messenger and you ask me for an explanation? Why would you align yourself with that monster?”

    “Because at least he listened to me! That’s more than I can say about you! You’ve been ignoring me for years, I’ve been reaching out to you, I was living at the estate in Hokkaido.” Imai snarled. Sakurai took a step closer to Imai, “I’m only going to say this one more time, take your boy and leave Sendai.” Turning his back on Imai, he walked back towards his horse.

     A growl and a sudden rush of air whipped past Sakurai, Uta’s scream and Rai bolting away as the young man his hurled from his saddle. Naki frantically backs away, dumping Naoto to the ground and tearing off to follow Rai and Sakurai’s horse. “UTA!” Tangier is on top of Uta, fangs bared as he attacks the young man. A confusion of voices as Imai screams for his lover, Naoto is left crying behind a tree and Uta’s screams for help.

     Within a half a second, Sakurai Atsushi grabs Tangier and throws him across the road, the boy landing against a tree, and with a sharp look from the Ancient, the boy bursts into flames, as Imai screams his name and reaches out for his lover.

    “You will leave now while you can or I swear, I will do the same to you Imai.”

    “WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? HE WAS JUST A BOY!” Imai screamed at Sakurai.

    “I will kill anyone who attacks my family.” Sakurai said in a dangerously low voice. Imai takes a few steps towards Sakurai, who then raises his hand, “I will kill you as quickly as I killed that boy.” The Ancient turned his back on his first born, gathering Uta in his arms and Naoto at his side as they walked back towards the estate.

    “Sakurai! I’m not finished with you! You will come to me! I swear I will revenge the death of that boy, you’d better watch your back at all times Acchan!”  Without a sound, Imai rises into the air quickly and disappears.

    Kai hears panicked horses in the courtyard, “How was your… Acchan?” Kai’s heart drops, the horses are alone. “Shit!” He jumped off the porch and grabs the horse’s reins, placing them in their stalls. “Kai? What’s wrong?” Toshiya is on the porch, he see’s Kai frantically pacing in front of the gate. “The horses came back alone, I don’t know where Acchan is! Stay in the house Totchi.” Kai turned and ran out through the gate, down the road he knew that the others had taken. “Acchan…where are you?”

    Sakurai was furious, angrier than he could ever remember. “Baby are you okay, did he hurt you?” Uta was shaking, his face buried in his lover’s chest but he wasn’t speaking. “Naoto, are you hurt?” Sakurai glanced at his daughter, “No, not really…Naki just reared and I fell off.” The young woman was clutching Sakurai’s arm as if it were the only tangible thing in the world.

    Kai saw the group coming around the bend in the road, and ran towards them, “Acchan,” he groaned, “what happened? What’s wrong with Uta?” Naoto let go of Sakurai’s arm and ran into the arms of Kai, “that boy attacked Uta,” Kai  looked up, “What boy?”

“Imai’s lover Tangier, he attacked Uta.” Sakurai said grimly. “Imai?” Kai was shocked, “I need to get Uta in bed, I’ll speak to you after. Would you please make some of your tea?” Kai nodded, “Of course.”

 

    Kai’s mouth hung open. “You…you did that to him? You killed that boy?” Toshiya had his head in Kai’s lap and Naoto was leaning hard into Sakurai. “He attacked Uta, he meant to kill him. I had no choice, Kai-kun.” Sakurai was equally upset with himself, but the instantaneous action could not be reversed. “What did Imai want, what was his purpose in confronting you?”

    “Reconciliation I’m assuming, but he could not defend his position in using Yoshiki as a messenger, other than telling me that Yoshiki had listened to his problem. He obviously does not understand the danger in being close to that monster.” Sakurai explained the change in Imai when it was revealed that Uta was his blood spouse.

    Uta had not spoken since the attack. Kai had given him some of the sleep-inducing tea, Sakurai holding him close until he slipped into a deep sleep, kissing his love softly then laying him down. Now the fear was that Imai would come back and follow through with his threats of revenge.

   “I’m thinking we should move, but I’m not sure where. Imai knows where we live, he knows that there are no other immortals in the area, he swears on revenge.” Surprisingly, Kai agreed, “I am not as attached to this house as I was to our home in Hokkaido, but where shall we go?”

    Sakurai said nothing for some time, then looking at Kai, Toshiya and Naoto, “I’d like to speak with Reo, before making any decisions. Kyoto would be my first choice, as we have allies there, but Edo would be my second. I believe Imai would not be so hasty as to cause problems in a heavily populated city, but I am unsure of the population of immortals who live there, if any. I do know, without a doubt, Imai is my family’s greatest threat and I will do anything to protect you all.”

Chapter Text

 

          They stood and stared at each other, neither one wanting to make the first move and both taking a defensive stance. “Who are you?” the immortal asked the two men. “We’d like to know the same, are you one of them?” the smaller man asked. “Perhaps, explain yourself.” Sato felt no malice or aggression from the other man, “We are trying to find some where to live, to exist without fear.”

          Miya understood the sentiments exactly, “Who is your maker?” Aoi nudged Sato in the shoulder, “Should we tell him and can we trust him?” he asked softly. “We don’t know their names, but there were two of them,” Sato replied. “the younger one was handsome, honey brown hair and very delicate features, the other was older with dark hair.”

          Aoi finally spoke up, “Do you know these men and what is your relationship with them?” Miya snorted, “I have no relationship with either of those bastards, the younger man’s name is Yoshiki and he is my maker.” Thinking back to his first experience with Heath and then Inoran, Miya made his move, “Would you like to come with me and speak to my master? I can promise you that no harm will come to you.”

          Sato turned to Aoi, “Do you think we can trust him? I would like to get some answers and if his master can help us…we should go.” Aoi sighed, he was tired and hungry, “I don’t care… we can go with him.” Sato grinned, “If he had wanted to kill us, he would have done it.”

 

          The unannounced trip to Kyoto was not something Sakurai took lightly. His first concern was that Imai was still in the area waiting to attack his family, “We are all going to Kyoto, there is no argument on this.” The youngest members of his family were frightened, it had taken two nights for Uta to finally speak, and from that moment on, he would not let Sakurai out of his sight, pleading with the man to remain by his side.

          They had held a family meeting to discuss the possible move to Edo, “Why Edo?” Toshiya had asked, “I will not burden Reo with another clan in his territory, that is unfair of me, though I am not sure what we will find in Edo.”

          Sakurai had risen as soon as the sun had slid behind the mountains, gathering whatever they would need on the journey. Uta and Naoto were in the barn saddling the horses, leaving Kai and Toshiya in the kitchen preparing small meals that would keep them sustained as to limit their need to hunt. Meeting in the barn, Sakurai gave the final instructions to his family, “Please my loves, be aware of what’s going on around you, we don’t know where Imai is, there is the possibility that he is still in the area. We will travel to the same stopping places, and rest in the same ryokans as we have in the past.”

 

          Riding into Kyoto, Sakurai knew he only had to wait on the outskirts of town for one of Reo’s men to approach the group. “What happens if Reo-san sends someone we don’t know?” Uta’s entire being had changed since the attack by Tangier and his subsequent death, the young man in an almost constant state of panic. “That will not happen, my love. We just need to wait.”  Sakurai reached over and cupped Uta’s chin.

          It was less than an hour before Kyo appeared, “Sakurai-san…this is a surprise.” The samurai said, “Yes Kyo-san and this is not a social call, can you please take me to Reo?” The group dismounted and followed Kyo to the same stables as they had used so many decades before. “Don’t worry, I’m sure the boys will take care of your little mare, what is her name?” Kyo saw Naoto and saw that she looked frightened, “I call her Naki, I name all my horses Naki, just like all Uta’s horses are named Rai…it just seems to be the right thing to do.” Naoto said shyly.

          Knocking on the door once, Kyo lead the group into Reo’s private office. “Sakurai-san? Well this is a pleasant surprise,” he stopped when he looked closer at the other vampire. “maybe it’s not so pleasant, what can I do for you?” He noticed how Uta and Naoto clung to their master, “Please sit down, is there anything I can get for you?”

          Sakurai waved off Reo’s offer, “I’d like to speak to you now, we will need to hunt later this evening, but this can’t wait.” Reo nodded to Kyo, “Give me one moment to have my leaders join us.”

          With Arimatsu and Asanao trailing behind, Jyou joined them in Reo’s office. “Now, what has happened to bring you here unannounced?” Reo could feel the fear emanating from the younger members of the group.

          “Imai. There was an incident a week ago, where he showed up just outside my estate,” Sakurai ran a hand through his hair, “There was a confrontation and an attack.” Uta whined and leaned into Sakurai, hiding his face in his lover’s shoulder. “Go on,” Reo said.  Sakurai explained the incident, “Tangier rushed Uta and attacked him, knocking him from his horse.” Now Uta had climbed into Sakurai’s lap, his arms around his neck, crying quietly. “Reo, I killed the boy, I set him ablaze and killed him.”

          This brought no joy to Sakurai, he had fought with his feelings since that night, never coming to terms with what he had done. Reo sighed, “Would the boy have killed Uta?” Sakurai nodded, “most likely, yes.”

          “Then you did what you had to do to protect your spouse and your daughter. We as immortals never want to use that particular gift but if it was warranted, I find no fault in you for doing so.” Reo assured his friend. “What are your concerns now?”

          Uta had stopped crying but had not moved from Sakurai’s lap, “That my family is in danger, considering we know of no other immortals in the area, and we live outside the city walls. Imai will seek revenge for Tangiers death, he stated as much as he disappeared.”

          “What can I do to help?”

          “What do you know about the situation in Edo? I want to purchase a new home for my family that is near a large city, but I do not want to intrude on your territory here in Kyoto.” Sakurai said bluntly.

          “I don’t really know what or who lives in Edo, I have had no reports of any type of disturbances,” Reo looked at his two leaders, “is there anything or anyone we should be worried about?”

          Asanao stepped forward, “Not to my knowledge, we have some agents in the area that have reported that there are immortals in the city, but there have been no problems.” Arimatsu nodded in agreement, “My human agents tell me that the immortals are secretive and leave no obvious victims when they hunt.”

          This was comforting for Sakurai, “I would like to ask you if I could have one of your men to travel with me to Edo, and if I could please leave the young one’s here in your care, they do not need to travel unnecessarily.”

          Reo looked at Naoto and Toshiya, both who looked a little wane and tired. “Yes of course, please leave them here with me, I’m sure Ayato would love to spend some time with friends his age instead of being surrounded by old people. As for my men, I would send Kyo and Arimatsu with you. When would you like to leave?”

 

          Jyou showed Sakurai and his family to their rooms, then encouraged them to go out to hunt, “Be aware that there will be one of Arimatsu’s men following you and he is human, it is just from a safety concern.” Sakurai thanked her and the family went out into the city.

          “What are you thinking?” Jyou returned to Reo’s office, “is it Imai?” Reo leaned back in his chair, “Yes, and the fact that Tangier was immolated, but I do understand the reasoning behind it and I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same thing. But what is this man thinking? Why is he so persistent in his attempt to reconcile with Sakurai?”

          “That question can only be answered by Imai, but I suspect it’s jealousy. Remember the picture Issay painted of Sakurai when he first arrived? You would have thought the man to be some sort of elite royalty with the attitude that follows. Instead I found a man that was passionate about his family, and unwilling to let anyone threaten him. I believe that is what Imai sees, he’s obviously jealous of Uta and see’s the boy as the usurper to his supposed rightful position as blood spouse.”

          Jyou snorted, “Men can be such petty children.”

         

 

          The questioning went on for some time, Aoi and Sato wavering between gratefulness and fear. “Why is it so important on who changed us into … this?” Sato waved is hand in front of his body. Inoran’s brow furrowed, “These two men are running through the country, wreaking havoc and creating fledglings at an alarming rate, some which are rogues. The fact that they were together when they changed you is important, not only to myself but others of our community.”

           “Community? You must be joking…how are we part of a community?” Aoi grunted. Heath chuckled, “How many other immortals do you believe there are? Just us?” Sato’s brow furrowed, “I’m hesitant to guess, by the looks on your faces, there are more than just a few.”

          Inoran patted Heath’s arm, “Play nice,” he turned back to the two confused men sitting in front of him, “There are at least two dozen that are known to us…but there could possibly be more and I do not count the rogue immortals as they have no humanity left.”

          “Two dozen! You’re joking!” Aoi was almost dumbstruck, “where are they, I mean where do they live and who are their makers?”

          “We are all related as brothers and sisters. Some are the children of Yoshiki and Ryuichi, some are the children of their clan leaders including the blood spouses.” Yusuke explained, then he took Inoran’s hand in his, “Inoran is my maker, though I am his blood spouse as well, and I came into the blood willingly by his hand.”

          “Not considering Yoshiki or Ryuichi’s age, there is only one that is older than I, and that would be Sakurai-san. He has a blood spouse that was changed for a rather unique reason.” Inoran went on to explain Uta’s change, and the status of some of the others, “Not all immortals are forced into the blood, some are brought in by love and salvation. If Sakurai had not changed Uta, the boy would have died.”

          The evening went on much like this until just before dawn, when Inoran invited the two men to stay with them until the following night, “I will offer you the choice of staying and becoming part of my clan, or leaving and going out on your own, I’ve explained the benefits of belonging to a clan, and what is to be expected but it is your choice.”

          Providing Aoi and Sato with a room that could be completely darkened, the two men spent a few moments discussing their options before sleep would claim them. “I think we should stay with him, join his clan, you?” Aoi was the first to agree to the terms. “Guess we don’t have too many options, either join his clan or try to survive alone.”

          The next evening, Aoi and Sato agreed to join Inoran’s clan, which pleased Miya the most, “You’ve just strengthened your clan by two, this will give you an advantage if we are attacked.” Inoran smiled sadly, “Then I hope that day never comes, but we will be prepared if it does.”

 

          “Why does Mana not speak?” Toshiya quietly asked Ayato as they were all sitting together in the young man’s private room. “She’s so pretty, I bet her voice is just as sweet.” Ayato laughed, “are you interested in Mana, Totchi? You’d have to get through Arimatsu to court her.” Toshiya huffed, “No silly boy, I’m not interested in her, I have Kai and that’s the only man I want. I just wondered about her, that’s all.”

          Naoto, Uta and Toshiya had become fast friends with Ayato and Mana, being left in Reo’s care while Sakurai and Kai went to Edo with Kyo and Arimatsu. “She was horribly abused… she um, she had her tongue cut out by a customer.”  Naoto gasped as her hand flew up to cover her mouth, “No!” she cried out. Ayato nodded, “From what I’ve been told, she was a prostitute but the mama-san gave her to a very rough man who found out she was actually a boy…he almost beat her to death and cut out her tongue, the other girls in the house dumped her outside the city walls.”

          The door to the room slid open and Mana came in with a tray of tea. Before she could set the tray down, Toshiya and Naoto stood up and hugged the woman from both sides. Mana looked at Ayato, “They know, don’t they?” she signed. Ayato nodded, “They’re our friends now and I want them to know the truth, I’m sorry if that upsets you.” The young man hung his head, “Aya, I love you and I know you meant no harm, please tell them thank you.” The next hour was spent with Ayato translating for Mana as the group of young people shared tea and stories.

          “Mana thinks Sakurai-san is the most handsome man she’s ever seen,” Ayato said with a cheeky grin, Mana reaching over to smack him on the arm, “Ayato!” For the first time, Uta giggled, “You’re right, he is handsome, but so is Arimatsu, but in a different way… he makes you happy, doesn’t he?” Mana smiled shyly then nodded her head.

          “What about Kyo-san? He’s kind of scary looking, is he nice?” Naoto whispered to Ayato, who instantly burst out laughing and fell backwards onto the tatami, “Oh my… he’s so not scary! That’s all an act…” Mana signed a reprimand to Ayato, “You know that’s not true!” Ayato translated, “Okay, you’re right,” He sat back up, “Kyo is a man… all man. He’s not soft and cuddly, he’s hard with sharp edges.”

          Uta giggled, “Yah, I’m sure you like those sharp edges.” This started another round of giggles from the friends. “Um, what about Issay? Has he been a problem since you know… well since you left him?” Uta asked seriously. “No, at least not for me, if he was a problem with Kyo, I probably wouldn’t know, and neither Reo or Jyou have ever said anything to me.”

          “He’s afraid of Kyo, Issay wouldn’t dare do try anything with Ayato as long as Kyo is here.”

Chapter Text

 

 

          The population of Edo had grown significantly since Sakurai and Kai had last visited; the city now had a human population of over twenty-seven million people and another one million in the rural communities surrounding the capital city. Due to the large number of human citizens, none of the men could pinpoint or sense any immortals. “That doesn’t mean that there are none in the city, that would be reckless at best to assume.” Arimatsu pointed out. Riding through the city that first night, Kai was eagerly eyeing the various shops and stalls that lined the city streets. “I can’t wait to explore” he mumbled.

          With Arimatsu leading, the four men made their way out to the rural villages that dotted the country side, looking for a suitable estate for the growing Sakurai clan. “If you find something that you like, I can have my agents make the inquiries to the availability,” Arimatsu offered, Sakurai had found three estates that he was interested in, “The property with the large barn is my ideal first choice as it is uninhabited and has a complete wall around the house and courtyard, and the barn is large enough for the horses and the goats.”

          Kyo was the first to sense the presence of immortals, but could only say that they were not pleased, “Not openly hostile, but not what I could call friendly either.” They left the horses at a stable, and walked through the city streets until they found an izakaya, “They are unlikely to act in a public place, if they decide to confront us.” Kyo knew Edo well enough to lead them to a small pub on a well traveled street.

          Having eaten a small meal and now sharing sake, the topic turned to Issay and Ayato, “He won’t try anything, he lives in fear of both Kyo and Reo,” Arimatsu chuckled. “Why did he leave you, I’d like the truth?” Kyo stared at Sakurai. “I told him to leave, he had become petulant and waspish. He demanded that I spend more time with him, than with Kai, specifically in my bed. He then called Kai a peasant and unworthy of my attention.”

        Kai snorted, “He insulted Acchan, then he attacked me. We had a bit of a tussle and I threw him out of the house, told him to leave and to never return. He ran off like a whipped dog, and until we met Reo we had no idea where he had gone.”

      Kyo nodded, “It makes sense then why he abandoned Ayato to those rogues and ran off and hid,” Kyo’s face was serious, “he will never get to Ayato again, that boy is mine to protect and love.”

     They chatted about how much Edo had grown, and about the constant threat of fires within the city walls, “They say that ‘Fires and quarrels are the flowers of Edo.’ I would not advise living in the city.” Arimatsu warned. “It could be seen as population control in a way, too many rats poison the well.”

       With another round of sake, the group had just started to talk more about the clans, when two immortals walked into the izakaya. The stares exchanged between them, the hostility and wariness came to an end when Kai got up and walked over, “Hello, my name is Kai, would you care to join us?” flashing his brightest smile, the two immortals instantly felt more at ease, “Yes, thank you,” the taller of the two bowed, then followed Kai to their table.

     Introductions were made, “My name is Morrie and this is my blood spouse Tatsurou. We felt your presence earlier this evening but did not want to approach you out in the open, as we did not know of your intentions.”

      Kai chuckled, “We thought the same and that’s why we decided on coming here, believing that if you did want to harm us, you would not do so in public.” Arimatsu ordered more sake, “I’m sure you will have questions of us, as we do of you, but let us wait until we’ve had a cup or two.”

      “Why are you in Edo?” Morrie asked the first question, one of the most important he believed.

      Sakurai cleared his throat, “I am looking for a new place to live, we now live in Sendai, but due to a recent incident, I’d like to move my family to a larger city, though not within the city walls.”

     “Family? How many of you are there?” Tatsurou was surprised at the claim. “There are five in my family…or clan as it seems that we’ve taken that title. My blood spouse Uta, Kai and his spouse, Toshiya, and my adopted daughter Naoto.”

    Tatsu leaned over and whispered something to Morrie, who nodded. “How many other immortals, are you aware of and what is their status?”

    Sakurai went through the list of immortals that he personally met and the clan members, “Though there have been some other problems recently.” Before telling the remainder of the story, the questions of being brought into the blood were asked.

     “Who is your maker?” Sakurai started with Morrie first. “A man named Yoshiki, in 1493, it’s obvious that you must know of him by the look on your face.” Sakurai nodded, then looked at Tatsurou, “What year did Morrie bring you into the blood?” Morrie slipped his hand into Tatsu’s, “1596,” he stated calmly. Sakurai and the others went through their own history quickly, “You did not die after you bit Uta? That’s very surprising, how did you manage to escape death a second time?”

     “If it wouldn’t have been for me, he might not have,” Kai grunted, “I forced him to drink from me, to have pure untainted blood and it has obviously worked.” Sakurai rolled his eyes, “Kai-kun can be a bit of a bear when he is challenged.”

     Going back to Sakurai’s mention of recent problems, he explained what had happened with Tangier and Imai. “Truly? Is this something that any of us can do?” Morrie asked, “I don’t know and personally I hope never to have to use it again, but I will if I feel someone is threatening my family.”

    “Do you believe Imai will act on his revenge? The one instance where we came across each other, I sensed a lot of fear from Imai before he and his lover ran away, but have you angered him so that he would attack?”

    Sakurai nodded, “Yes, and that is the reason I want to move my family to Edo. I do not want to intrude on Reo-san’s territory, we are on good terms and I’d like it to stay that way. How many immortals are in Edo?”

   Morrie shrugged, “None worth speaking to, they are rogues and we kill them when we can,” he looked at Kyo, “I’m sure that some of them were the creatures that attacked your lover Ayato.”

   “You sense no other immortals in the city? Does that not strike you as odd?” Kyo wasn’t buying Morrie’s answer.

   “There are some, but they have not made an effort to contact me and frankly I’m fine with that,” Morrie admitted, “I am not looking to start a family or have my own clan, Tatsu and I are happy with just ourselves.”

   Arimatsu shook his head, “You may have to do just that. We believe that both Yoshiki and Ryuichi are creating fledglings for some sort of collective attack, an army perhaps, the methods they are using are a hit and run tactic.”

   “We have a young man that was brought into the blood but was left while his body died, he had no idea what had happened, he didn’t see his attacker and did not understand when we asked who his maker was, though we suspect it is Yoshiki.”

   Tatsu and Morrie exchanged glances, “Are you suggesting that I bring random people into the blood just to create a clan? That’s not going to happen gentlemen, you’ll have to exclude me in those possible wars.”

   Sakurai waved off Morrie’s concern, “No, that’s not what we’re saying at all, but we want you to be aware of what’s going on and asking you to correspond with the other clan leaders if you hear or experience anything out of the ordinary.”

   “Do you have any objections about us moving to Edo or will you feel threatened?” Kai tried to move the conversation back to the main topic. “I would hope that we could live peacefully together in such a large city, it would be nice to have others of our kind if nothing else to serve as an early warning system of sorts.”

   The night was getting late and dawn would be on the horizon within a few hours, the group exchanged contact information, then Morrie and Tatsu said their good nights and left the izakaya. Going back to the ryokan, Sakurai and Kai felt good about the possibilities of moving to Edo, “As long as we stay out of the city, and away from any fires, I think it would be good for all of us to live here, the hunting would be much easier.” Kai pointed out.

   For his part, Sakurai believed that there was safety in numbers and the possibility of having allies, bolstered his resolve to move his family to the city. “As long as I can protect you all, I will be happy where ever we live, but I do agree…this move would be good for the young ones.”

 

    The solitary immortal watched from the shadows as Morrie and Tatsu left the izakaya, “What were you talking about?” he whispered, the onmyoji had masked his presence from the others, but not enough to eavesdrop on the conversation. He had been aware of Morrie and Tatsu since they moved to Edo, but had never met the two men, the surprise was the four immortals that rode into town the night before, “Well this is interesting, and who might you be?”

    Isshi had followed at some distance, when the four men when they had left the city, watching them as they rode from village to village, obviously searching for something. He had almost blundered and given away his hiding spot, when he saw that the small man with the tattoos had turned in his saddle, quickly looking behind him, Isshi gathering his will and shielding himself from the prying senses of the vampire.

    The itch to know what was being discussed that night, burned in Isshi’s mind, “Why are you in my city?” Threading his way through the crowds, Isshi made his way to the Inari Okami shrine where he had lived for more centuries than he could remember. The people of Edo looked the other way, if Isshi’s age was mentioned, “he is a priest, an onmyoji, it is not our place to question him” was the standard answer to any foreign visitors, the people of Edo trusted Isshi to keep them safe, protecting them against any evil that may enter the city.

   Isshi caressed the kitsune statue as he entered through the torii gate, “konbanwa,” he whispered as he made his way to the inner temple, needing to pray on the problem at hand; the sighting of the new immortals had created unrest in his heart. Conflicting emotions swirled through his mind; wanting to protect the city against any more immortals, and wanting to know more about them. Retreating to his room which was deep under the floor of the main temple, Isshi readied himself for sleep, he was resigned to having to choose, “You can’t have it both ways, Isshi.”

 

Image result for early pictures of Isshi of kagrra Isshi the Onmyoji

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

 

 

Chapter Text

          She had been watching Issay carefully every night. With Sakurai and Kyo out of the house, Jyou worried about the man preying upon Ayato, and Uta as well. “There are two you desire, one for love the other for death.” She murmured one night as Issay was working in his office. “Is there something I can do for you Jyou-san?” Issay looked up, he knew he was being watched.

          “No, not really, just making my rounds.” The woman left the room. “Making your rounds, pfft. You’re spying on me, bitch.” Issay spat, he knew she would report back to Reo. The fact that others in his clan did not trust him, angered Issay, he had kept his word that he would not approach either Ayato or Kyo, “They still don’t trust me.”

          Speaking with the other agents and human members of the clan, Jyou was relieved to find that Issay was not deviating from his normal routine. Reporting back to Reo, the clan chief was pleased, “Perhaps we’ve misjudged our Issay,” Jyou raised an eyebrow, “what? Do you believe me to be wrong?” Reo never underestimated Jyou’s perception of what the clan members may be thinking or doing.

          “I believe he’s biding his time, now that everyone is aware of the situation between Sakurai and Issay, he won’t act in haste. When he attacks it will be when it’s least expected, that’s what worries me. Also, will he forget Ayato and move to Uta?”

          “Why would he attack Uta?” Reo knew the answer as the words left his mouth, “never mind, Uta is the blood spouse, a place that Issay believes should be his by rights.” Jyou nodded, “My esteemed leader is very perceptive.” Sarcasm dripped from her voice, Reo grinned, “Alright, you’ve made your point, I may not see things as clearly as you do.” With instructions to continue to watch the man, Jyou left Reo’s office.

          He had said nothing to Jyou, wanting to wait until Sakurai and Kai returned to Kyoto, but the letter he had received from Inoran worried him. “They are together?” he murmured, the information on how Inoran’s new clan members were brought into the blood, was disturbing, “sounds like Akinori’s story.”

          A knock at his door, interrupted his thoughts, “They are at the stables, would you like to wait to speak to them?” Asanao brought the news of the groups return to Kyoto. “I think we should let them see their family first, we can speak at length later.” Asanao bowed and closed the door.

          The reunions were joyous, though the men had only been gone a few days, Ayato and Uta welcomed their lover’s home with more than a little excitement. “Did you find us a house?” Uta jumped into Sakurai’s arms. “Well hello to you as well!” Sakurai reached down and smacked Uta’s butt. “and yes, I believe I have, but I will wait to tell you about it until we know its status, ne?”

          Kai and Toshiya were in the same position, a passionate kiss being shared, “I was only gone a few days, what kind of welcome home will I get if I’m gone longer?” Kai teased his lover. “You’ll never be gone that long, but we can pretend, can’t we?” Toshiya rubbed his nose on Kai’s, “Yes, we can but it will have to wait until later, we have to speak with Reo.” The four travelers and their lovers gathered in Reo’s office, with Jyou, Asanao and Issay, Reo anxious to hear what they had found.

         

          “Interesting, so Morrie and Tatsu settled in Edo, though they are not interested in corresponding with us?” It was important to Reo to establish other immortal’s position on the knowledge of the other clans. “I’m not sure that they are disinterested, as much as they feel like they’re being forced, or what they feared. Edo seems to be a neutral area for immortals, though Morrie said they had a problem with rogue vampires.”

          Arimatsu and Kyo gave their opinions, all of which satisfied Reo’s concerns. “All we can do is hope that there are no issues in the future. Now, did you find a home to purchase?” Reo asked. Sakurai smiled, “I did, and I am waiting to hear from one of Arimatsu’s associates on it’s availability, the estate is empty at this point. I would like to ask for your hospitality a little longer, Reo-san. I don’t want to drag my family across country if I will be purchasing the house.”

          Reo waved off Sakurai’s concerns, “Of course, it seems that our young one’s have become fast friends with your family, separating them now may cause a riot.” Uta and Ayato looked at each other and clapped, “Yus!” As they were leaving Reo’s office, the clan chief held Sakurai back, “I will need to speak to you for a moment.” Kai offered to help with the dinner meal, and excused himself.

          Sakurai knew that whatever Reo was going to say, it couldn’t be good. “I received a letter from Inoran-san while you were gone,” He handed the letter to Sakurai. “This is disturbing. Are they now running together or was this a coincidence? The fact that Ryuichi was so callus is not surprising, but Yoshiki’s words are, is he still actively searching for a blood spouse or companion?”

          “I wish I knew, but the fact that he left those two men alone, with no instructions on how to survive, and the possibility that he or Ryuichi did the same to Akinori, is worrisome. I wish I knew what was driving them to do such things.” Sakurai huffed, “I doubt we’ll ever understand, even if they do offer an explanation.” Reo had written a response to Inoran, adding that he had spoken to Sakurai about the issue, and explaining that the Sakurai clan was moving to Edo. “I do believe we need to have a meeting of the clans, sooner than later, and I’d like to invite Morrie and Tatsu as well. Shall we wait until you have completed your move?”

          Sakurai agreed, “Yes, that would work. Would you like me to host the meeting at my estate? I fear overcrowding and having so many immortals in one place in Kyoto, may be a bit overwhelming, and it would give the young one’s something to look forward to.”

     Reo hoped that it would help Akinori, the young man had not been included in the friendships between Ayato and Uta, Mana and Toshiya, through no fault of the young people. Akinori was a loner, very quiet and reserved, the only time he spoke more than a few words, was when he was with Reo. He had become close friends with Ayato and Mana, but the fact that both men had lovers, often left Akinori feeling left out and alone.

     Reo chuckled, “You’re always thinking of them, aren’t you? It’s always the young ones, first and foremost in your mind.” Sakurai blushed, “Is that such a crime? Toshiya, Naoto and Uta have been through such horrific experiences in their short lives, that I want nothing more than to protect them at all cost. Making them happy does my heart good, I’m sure you feel that way about Ayato, Mana and Akinori?”

   At Akinori’s name, Reo shifted in his chair, “Mana is an exception, that woman should have never been treated like that, ever. It was despicable what was done to her. Akinori like most of us, had no choice and less instruction than any. That boy is close to my heart as well, I feel very protective of him. He’s a loner, he feels out of place even with Ayato and Mana, I believe because they have lovers and well, it’s hard for him to relate at times.” Sakurai smiled inwardly; he could see that Akinori meant more to Reo than the clan chief was willing to admit. Jyou came into the office, announcing that Kai was calling for them to join in the dinner festivities. “Whatever Kai-san has cooked, smells amazing.”

 

    The voices from the dining area were already loud and boisterous, Sakurai and Reo could hear Ayato and Uta’s teasing voices over everyone else’s. “Acchan! Come and sit with me!” Uta called for his spouse, Ayato had already taken his place in Kyo’s lap and Toshiya was helping Kai with serving the food.

    “Kai-san, this is amazing!” Hazuki said through a mouthful of rice, “Thank you, Hazuki-san. It was nice to visit the shops and stalls in Kyoto; it gets rather boring in Sendai when you only ever have the same ingredients to choose from.”

    Reo sat next to Akinori, whispering in his ear which brightened the young man’s smile, Issay was to Reo’s right, speaking to Asanao. A servant brought in several bottles of sake which was poured rather quickly and consumed even quicker, with Ayato and Uta in a race to see who could drink the most.

   “I am not holding you while you vomit, I’m going to tell you that right now.” Kyo growled at Ayato, “Jusss think how much funnn ess’ll have later,” he gave Kyo a sloppy kiss, much to the amusement of the others. Uta giggled and fell backwards on the tatami, Sakurai raising an eyebrow at the ridiculous antics of his spouse, “What? I’m not nearly as drunk as Ayato is, see!” Uta tried to jump to his feet, only to fall over and into Hazuki’s lap, “woops”

“Uta!” Sakurai said sharply, “sit your ass down!” grabbing Uta by the arm and dragging him into his lap, “My apologies Hazuki-san, it’s obvious my spouse can’t hold his alcohol very well.” Uta was pouting over the public scolding, hiding his face in the crook of Sakurai’s neck.

  During the commotion, Jyou had been watching Issay’s reaction to the two young men’s display of silliness, and what she saw alarmed her. Issay’s scowling was not in annoyance, but one of anger and jealousy, prompting her to try something to gauge that his reaction was only about the boys. Leaning over she whispered in Hazuki’s ear, “Kiss me.”

   Hazuki looked at her, “What? Why should I…” before he could complain any further, Jyou grabbed him by the shirt and forcibly pulled her lover into a rather seductive kiss. “What the hell was that for?” Hazuki sputtered as Jyou broke the kiss, but she wasn’t looking at her lover, she was looking at Issay, who was now glaring at Ayato and Uta.

  Jyou wasn’t the only one that noticed Issay’s reaction, Reo and Kyo both saw the man’s face, Kyo tightened his arm around Ayato, and holding him protectively. “Hazuki, I’m sure you being ambushed like that wasn’t unpleasant, was it?” Reo teased the man. “No, but I um… not in public,” the man was blushing.  The rest of the meal was subdued enough that both Ayato and Uta fell asleep in their lover’s arms, much to the chagrin of Kyo, “He promised me…” he mumbled.

           

          “Why did you kiss me like that, in front of everyone?” Hazuki asked Jyou as they readied for bed, “I love you, so why wouldn’t I kiss you?” Hazuki snorted, “Give me the truth Jyou, that wasn’t a kiss of love, that was a message, for who?”

          “Did you watch Issay at all during the meal?”

          “No, not really. I was speaking with Asanao and Kai…why what did I miss?”

          “I’m surprised he didn’t go up in flames, or physically attack Sakurai-san or Kyo, he was angry enough and the aura of jealousy surrounded him. When I kissed you, it just amplified it…I don’t trust him, ‘Zu.” The last thing she wanted for her family, is a jealous vampire that wanted or thought he deserved revenge.

          “Will you go to Reo? If you think he may do something to harm Ayato, or even Uta…I wouldn’t wait too long.” Hazuki had thought that Issay would have tried to lure Ayato back, long before that night. “I will speak to him tomorrow night, now I would like to continue where I left off at dinner.” Hazuki had no complaints with that.

          As luck would have it, Uta had surprised Sakurai with not being as drunk as he had pretended, “You drank almost as much as Ayato, how are you even standing?” Uta giggled, “Aya gets sloppy drunk, I just get dizzy drunk. I feel bad for Kyo-san, Ayato promised him some fun and now he’s probably passed out.” The two lovers fell into bed after dinner, Uta giving Sakurai a rather nice welcome home session of very hot sex. “Tell me about the house.” Uta asked as they snuggled.

          “The house is large and modern and is at least the same size as the house in Hokkaido. There is a solid wall around the property, and the barn appears to be large enough for the horses and a few goats. I obviously have not seen the inside, but I am hoping to before we go back to Sendai.”  Uta sighed, “We don’t get to take the goats with us, do we?” Sakurai kissed Uta’s forehead, “No, we will do as we did when we left Hokkaido, it is much too difficult to move the goats that far, when we can just buy more, I will leave them for the community.” With a last kiss, the couple settled in for the day.

         

          It didn’t take long for the word to reach Sakurai that the house was available, in fact the house, the barn and the land was vacant for a specific reason; the locals in the surrounding rural communities believed it to be haunted, specifically by a yanari. “The family of the last owner said that they would gladly sell the house at a very low price, I get the feeling that they just want to be rid of the property.” Arimatsu brought the paperwork to Reo’s office.

“I would still like to see the house before I sign any papers, regardless of the price,” Sakurai asserted, “I’d like to take the young one’s to see it as well, though I don’t think we need an escort this time.” Sakurai did not want to take any of Reo’s men away from their duties.

          The members of the Sakurai clan left the next evening, promising to return in five days, “If we fail to return, please…if you would, send some men to the estate, I don’t anticipate any problems, but one can not be too careful.” Reo wished them a safe trip, and returned to his office, meeting Issay on the way. “Is Sakurai-san leaving for Sendai? I thought he would stay longer.” Jyou had made Reo aware of what she had seen and sensed that night during the dinner celebration, cautioning the clan chief to keep a watchful eye on the bookkeeper.

          “No, they returned to Edo to look at a property that is for sale, they will be returning in a few days.” Reo felt that Issay didn’t need to know the specifics, “is there something you needed, Issay?” Issay handed Reo the ledger, “Just the week’s earnings, I’m going out to the shops tonight, is there anything in particular you would need, Reo-san?” He almost laughed, “Uh, no Issay, I don’t believe there is, thank you for asking.” Taking that as a dismissal, Issay walked away quickly.

          Turning the corner towards the kitchen, Issay slammed into Mana, knocking the woman to the ground, “Oh Mana-san! I’m so sorry!” He reached down to help the woman up, “It’s fine Issay-san, neither one of us were looking where we were going.” Issay blushed, “Are you hurt? I wouldn’t want to be the cause of any pain for you.” Again, Mana waved off the man’s concern, “I’m fine, not hurt at all, thank you.” And with a light bow, Mana made her way down the hall, Issay’s eyes watching the sway of the woman’s hips.

Chapter Text

 

          The discussion had been intense but well received by the newest members of Inoran’s clan, Aoi and Sato. They had a better chance of survival remaining with Inoran, than they did alone, which Miya pointed out frequently. “We are the clan with the fewest members, that does not bode well in any sort of attack, by human or immortal.”

          “Is it truly that large of a problem, Inoran-san?” Sato had his doubts, believing Miya to be an alarmist. “Miya believes it to be so, and on one point, he is correct; our clan is small compared to that of Reo-san, though we have one more member than Sakurai’s clan.” Inoran looked fondly at Heath, the young man had not added to the conversation, choosing instead to sit quietly.

          Aoi and Sato had wondered why Miya was so eager to have them join the clan, “You will not keep us here against our will, if we choose to leave, correct?” Aoi was concerned that being considered a clan member, he would be confined. “Of course, you may leave whenever you like. I only suggested you stay for your own safety considering Ryuichi and Yoshiki abandoned you with no instructions on how to successfully live as an immortal.”

          Heath cleared his voice, “I’m sorry you had that experience, Yoshiki had stayed with me for about an hour before he disappeared, and I struggled with feeding, he had not told me that I could survive on the little drink, that I did not have to kill my victims. I’m thankful that Yusuke-san and Inoran-san found me and asked me to stay.”

          “You talked about lovers and blood spouse’s, what’s the difference?” this had caught Aoi’s attention. “Lovers are just that, but blood spouses are special,” Inoran picked up Yusuke’s hand. “If you meet someone that is not an immortal, and you wish to stay with that person for eternity, and they are agreeable, only you can bring them into the blood. There is a deeper bond when one changes another based on their love, of course there are exceptions such as Sakurai and his spouse Uta.” Inoran told their story.

          “And he has suffered no ill effects of the poison?” Sato asked, “None that we know of and it’s been close to three-hundred years.” Inoran explained, “Sakurai would have brought Uta into the blood regardless, Kai-san explained that the man was dragging his feet a bit.” Yusuke covered his mouth and giggled. “Miya-san has voiced concerns over the numbers of female immortals, which the answer I don’t have other than the women I know. Sakurai’s daughter Naoto is very young, only 18 I believe, Reo’s daughter Jyou is in a relationship with Hazuki, and Mana-san is bishonen but lives as a woman and is in a relationship with Reo’s second in command, Arimatsu.”

          Aoi and Sato said nothing, the topic of female vampires did not interest them at the moment, they were more concerned with the whereabouts of Ryuichi and Yoshiki. “How many immortals are there in Gifu?” Aoi asked. “Other than us? I’m not sure…there may be some in the city but we have not encountered them,” Miya said, “though we have not gone out and actively searched, something I’d like to do in the future.”

 

          They had grown bored and snotty, Ayato and Uta whining about wanting to go into the city, to hunt, shop and check on the horses, Kai had agreed to be the chaperone, as Sakurai was still speaking at length with Reo, who had a request, “Could you please ask Akinori to join you? I worry about his solitude these days.” Kai smiled, his dimples showing, “Yes, Reo-san…I’ll pair him up with our quiet child.”

          Ayato and Uta were at the front of the group, with Mana and Toshiya following, Kai had given everyone strict rules; “We feed quietly in the countryside, then we meet back at the pottery stall, is that clear?” Naoto was standing next to Akinori, “Would you come with me please? I don’t like going out alone.” Akinori was shocked, someone wanted to spend time with him? “Sure…though I wouldn’t be very good at protecting you,” Naoto giggled, “It’s okay, Kai will watch over all of us…he’s kinda a mom.”

          After the hunt, Naoto claimed she needed to see Naki, “I’m not waiting, I haven’t seen her in two days! What if they’re not feeding her enough?” Kai threw up his hands and gave in to the young woman, “fine, we can go to the stable first, then it’s shopping!”

          Akinori had not left Naoto’s side since she asked him to hunt with her, now following her into the stable, he was amazed when she ran up to her horse and threw her arms around the mare’s neck. “You’re not scared of her? She’s not going to bite me, is she?”  Akinori wouldn’t approach the horse, “No, she doesn’t bite, come here…just put your hand out and let her sniff you.”

          Naoto held out her hand to Akinori, then led him up to Naki, who sniffed his hand, snorted softly then started to nuzzle looking for a treat. “Her nose is so soft! We never had horses at home, just cows and goats, this is nice.” Getting up the courage, he stroked the mare’s face. “She likes you,” Naoto smiled at him. “Okay children, let’s go shopping now please!” Kai announced loudly.

          Kai led the way through the stalls and shops, stopping to look at food items and cooking utensils, Ayato and Uta giggling at things in the store. “You two are so naughty!” Mana signed. “How are we naughty? We’re not doing anything wrong, just having some fun.” Ayato argued, leaving Mana to roll her eyes.

          “Do you have someone at home…a lover?” Akinori was still with Naoto, the two had been talking about their lives after they came into the blood. “No, I wasn’t allowed to see any men when I was still…um, human. I was the youngest, and my sisters were much prettier than me, so it was unspoken that I wouldn’t marry, what about you? Is there anyone you like?”

          The young man looked down at the ground, “I um, there is but I’m too young and not suitable, he needs someone older with more status.” Naoto wanted to ask who it was, but was interrupted by a squealing Toshiya, “It’s sooo cute!” Stepping into a shop, they saw what Toshiya was squealing about; a very small kitten, and it looked rather sickly. “Let me see it Totchi,” Kai held his hand out. “Koneko, why are you so ill?” looking at the shop keeper, she just shrugged. “The mother just had kittens under the step, she dragged this one in and I haven’t seen her since. It won’t eat…I was just going to put it outside.”

          The kitten appeared to be about four weeks old, Kai checking, “It’s a boy.” The kitten’s eyes were red with some sort of infection, and was weak and dirty. “Kai? Can we keep him?” The vampire turned to the shop owner, “I will be taking this kitten with me, any objections?” The look in Kai’s eyes was one of anger, the woman backing up against the counter, “No sir, please take it.”

          Handing the kitten to Toshiya, “Let’s finish our shopping quickly and get this little kit back to the house, I’m sure I can find something to help his eyes.” Going through the stalls and buying what they needed, Kai hurried the young one’s back to the house.

          The kitten slept inside Toshiya’s yukata until they reached the house, then Kai took the baby and started to clean the eyes. “This doesn’t look too serious; the nose is clogged though.” With warm water and a gentle hand, Kai bathed the kitten carefully then wrapped him up in a towel and handed him to Toshiya, “You’re in charge of naming the kitten, Totchi.” Kai reminded his lover. “I have to wait to see what his personality is first; I can’t just give him some random name.” Toshiya huffed, “he’s special.”

          Sakurai had heard that there was a new member to their small family, “What’s this? Kai-kun has found another koneko?” he took the kitten from Toshiya, “No Acchan, I found him…in a shop. The lady was going to let him die…we can keep him, can’t we?” They all knew the answer; Sakurai Atsushi had never refused a cat. “Yes, we can keep the little kit, let us hope he recovers quickly.” Uta jumped into his arms and smooched his lover all over his face, “Thank you…” Uta whispered.

          “Kai, do you believe the kit to be recovered enough for travel tomorrow?” This caught everyone’s attention, “where are we going…wait! Are we going to go see the new house!” Sakurai had to raise his voice over the din of the others asking a million questions. “Yes, yes…we’re going to see the house, and our little koneko-chan must be able to travel, as I do not want to leave him here. I will be arranging things with Reo-san, as he has expressed an interest in going as well.”

          Naoto quickly looked at Akinori, he seemed disinterested, almost resigned to the fact that he would be alone during the time Sakurai’s clan was gone, turning and leaving the kitchen area to return to his room. “Acchan, can I ask a favor please?” Taking her clan leader by the hand, Naoto led Sakurai out of the kitchen.

          “Do you think you could ask Reo-san if Akinori could go with us, please?” This was unexpected, “Why do you want Akinori to come with us?” Naoto shifted uneasily, “I think he may be in love with Reo-san, but he believes Reo thinks he’s too young, so that’s why he’s always alone, he can’t relate to any of us…except me.”

          Perceptive girl, she doesn’t know that Reo loves Akinori as well. “Yes, I will ask Reo if Akinori can come along, though I don’t believe the boy knows how to ride a horse, does he?”

         

       Two night’s later, the seven immortals rode out of Kyoto, Reo having borrowed a horse, with Akinori riding behind him, his arms tightly holding Reo around his waist. “What if the horse bucks or runs away, then what do I do?” It took some convincing by Naoto to get Akinori to agree to go. “Sir, this old boy is so quiet, you may fall asleep on your journey, nothing gets to old Joji. With help from Kai, Akinori got onto the large horse, without much effort. “Just relax, Joji won’t do anything and you won’t fall off, just put your arms around my waist.” Reo patted Akinori’s hands.

        With the new kitten tucked inside Toshiya’s shirt, the group started out a leisurely walk, until they were a few kilometers from the city, kicking their horses into a canter, which terrified Akinori. “Relax, just lay your head on my back and close your eyes.” Reo told him. After a few minutes, Akinori began to relax, breathing in Reo’s scent brought a calmness to him.

         Finding a ryokan to spend the night was another matter, but going on Kyo’s directions, the group soon found themselves at a stable, that was just across from a ryokan and izakaya. “This is fortunate,” Sakurai commented, but convincing the proprietor of the ryokan that they only needed two rooms was more difficult. “My young one’s will not be separated, we shall only need one room, and Reo-san shall need another, do you want our business or not?” With a grunt, the ryokan owner took Sakurai’s money and gave them the rooms.

       Rolling out the futon’s, Reo could sense that Akinori was uneasy, “I’m sure Sakurai would let you stay with the others, if it would make you more comfortable.” He wasn’t looking at the young man, “NO! I mean no, it’s fine, I want to sleep with yo…here.” Reo said nothing and changed into a yukata, then dropping down to the futon and pulling up the cover. “Oyasumi, Akinori.” Reo turned over and closed his eyes.

     The young man stood in silence, the obvious rejection breaking his heart, and without a word, he ran out of the room. Noticing that dawn was only a few hours away, Akinori crept along the back side of the Ryokan and snuck into the barn. “Where can I go?”

         He heard the door slide open and closed with some force. Reo knew he had made a huge blunder by ignoring the young man’s feelings, but at the same time he thought Akinori was also making a huge mistake, by choosing him, an old man. “Fine!” Reo got up and quickly dressed, and went in search of the young man. Looking at the sky, he knew he had less than two hours to find the boy and bring him inside to safety. “Probably trying to hide in there,” he walked into the barn, “Aki, come here.” Reo stood with his arms crossed over his chest. “Akinori, I’m going to count to three, then I’m going to turn and leave and you can stay here and burn. Is that what you want? Do you want to die boy?”

        A shifting of straw drew Reo’s attention to Naoto’s mare Naki, “No, I don’t want to die, but I want to leave. I will return to the house and collect my things and leave the clan.” Stepping out of the stall and brushing the straw off his clothes, Akinori would not look at Reo. “Why would you leave the clan? Are you not happy living with us?” The boy didn’t answer.

     “You need someone younger, Aki…not an old man. If you want, I will help you find a suitabl…” Aki shook his head, “I don’t want anyone else, you need someone with more status, and that’s not me. I will leave the clan.”

     “More status?”

     “Yes, I’m nobody, even when I was human, I was nobody. You need someone better and I’m fine with leaving, so you can find that person. I will return with you to the ryokan, but I will leave tomorrow night, please extend my apologies to Sakurai-san…and Naoto.”

       Akinori brushed past Reo and trotted back towards the ryokan, “Aki….” Giving the young man some time, Reo slowly made his way back to the room. Sliding the door open, he see’s that Akinori’s futon is in the far corner, folded in half to make it as small as possible, the young man lying in his side facing the wall.

      Changing back into a yukata, Reo laid back down, “I had a wife and a daughter, but they were taken from me by disease early on. My wife was only 33, and my daughter was 7. I wasn’t sure I could live without them; I just had given up. I had started wandering the country side, picking up odd jobs where I could find them, mostly paid in food. I was sleeping in a small cave one night; I heard nothing and was woken by the act of him sinking his fangs into my neck. When he was done draining my body of blood, he placed his wrist against my mouth and told me to drink.”

      Akinori had turned over, straining to see Reo in the dark. “My body started to die, and he just stood over me and laughed, called me pathetic and weak as I called out for my wife and daughter. Once I had changed, he told me what he had done, “I’ve given you eternity to grieve for your family, you will now live forever…alone. You will feed off the blood of humans and you will learn to enjoy the kill, the flow of hot blood filling your mouth. But do not waste time trying to live in the light…it will burn your body to ash as quick as a flash. The he left me.”

       Akinori had sat up, “How long ago was that?” his voice quiet and unsure. “Over seven-hundred years, and I have been alone for some of that, I have had no companion, no lover to call my own. I have built up my clan, and offered sanctuary to those who were brought into the blood by force.”

      With a heavy sigh, Reo also sat up, “Aki…you need someone young to love, not an old grizzled immortal that has forgotten how it feels to hold someone. I am not what you want.”

      “You don’t get to tell me what I want, Reo,” Akinori said in a strong voice, “If you do not want me, then I will accept that, and I will remain alone…but know this, I have had feelings for you from the moment you explained to me what I was, and that you would care for me. Oyasumi, Reo.” Akinori laid on his side, facing the wall, leaving Reo to wrestle with his feelings.

Chapter Text

 

          Born in a small rural village, he couldn’t remember ever having a kind word said to him, by his parents or anyone in their village. Shinya was a sickly child, prone to illnesses of all sorts, a mere cold almost killed him. As an adolescent, most people openly scorned him, seeing him as weak and fragile, too unhealthy and small to contribute to the community. His parents barely fed him, a situation that plagued his already slender body. The moment he was old enough to survive on his own, or so his parents believed, Shinya was thrown out of his house and told not to return.

          With nothing more than the clothes on his back and a small bag with some cooked rice, Shinya started walking, though he had no thoughts of where he would go. Stealing from untended gardens, robbing a barn of some goat milk, Shinya kept walking, often having to sleep in the fields, which left him cautious and hyper-aware, waking at every small sound.

          Within a month, Shinya was near death from starvation, when he entered the city of Kofu, stumbling into an alley next to an izakaya. He dug through the trash looking for anything edible, finding only a few rotten pieces of cooked chicken and a lump of rice. With a meal in his stomach, Shinya didn’t have the energy to move very far to find a suitable place to sleep, instead moving away from the trash heap to lay against a wall, “Maybe I won’t wake up this time.” Closing his eyes, he repeated his prayer to the kami for a peaceful death.

          “Hey, you…get up. You can’t sleep here.” Shinya felt a kick to his ribs, “get up kid,” looking up at the voice, he saw a burly man, rather fat than muscled, with an apron around his waist. “Yes sir,” getting up on his hands and knees, he tried to push himself to standing but collapsed back to the ground. “Can you just leave me here to die? I won’t cause any problems,” he whispered.

          “No, because a dead body behind my place is not something I want to deal with,” the man’s voice was gruff and raspy. “Come on then,” Shinya felt himself being lifted by his arms, “can you stand now?” Shinya placed a hand against the wall, “yes sir, thank you.” The man picked up Shinya’s bag and handed it to him. “Go over to the shrine, the monks will feed you.” The izakaya owner gave Shinya directions to the temple, thanking him he staggered out of the alley.

          Being jostled by the crowds in the street and falling twice, it took Shinya nearly an hour to walk the eight blocks to the shrine and was barely able to climb the steep steps towards the temple. At the top of the staircase, Shinya’s body gave out and he collapsed once again, and was resigned to the fact that he would die in the place he fell, and laid his head on his small bag. Closing his eyes, Shinya could feel his life draining with every breath.

          What was in his mouth, was it blood or did he vomit? “Drink this child, you need nourishment.” A soft voice whispered in his ear. His eyes felt too heavy to open, but there was a gentle hand on his back, helping him to sit up and drink whatever was given to him. I must be dead, he thought. “That’s it child, that’s enough for now…I will return later with more, just sleep now.”  The gentle voice told him, and he felt himself being lowered to the floor…but the floor was soft and warm. Shinya was confused, but too exhausted to try to figure out where he was, as sleep claimed him again.

          After a few days of forced feedings and sleep, Shinya woke one afternoon to the sounds of bells and prayers, and the scent of incense, wafting through the open doors. Looking at his surroundings, he assumed he had made it to the shrine as the izakaya owner suggested, and that he was in fact alive and felt better than he had in recent memory. Pushing the covers off the futon he was lying on, Shinya slowly got to his feet. “Hello?” there was no answer.

          Peeking through the open doors, to the left was a long porch that wrapped around and disappeared, in front of him was a large garden and a small koi pond. “Hello?” he asked again. Not seeing anyone that would keep him from walking around, Shinya followed the long porch around the building, which led him to the kitchens, “Konnichwa,” he bowed deeply to the monk who was standing at the stove. “You’re awake, how do you feel?” the monk’s open and friendly expression eased Shinya’s mind. “I feel much better, thank you,” he didn’t know what else to say, “Is there um, something I can do to help you?” He was no freeloader; Shinya knew he’d be asked to help with chores.

          The monk smiled again, “I think we shall wait until you speak with the shaso before we assign you any chores, ne?” Shinya bowed again, “yes sir.” Shinya returned to his room, sitting just outside the door enjoying the garden. “Well young man, I’m happy to see you awake.” An old monk walked slowly towards him, and it was obvious that this was the shaso of the shrine. Shinya stood and bowed deeply, “Thank you for helping me, I greatly appreciate it. What can I do in repayment?”

          The monk sat down on the edge of the porch, patted the floor next to him. “My son, why were you in such dire need? You were so close to death,” Shinya sighed then told his story, the monk’s eyes sadden with each detail. “Death was just easier to accept, than to believe that nobody in this world could love me, I still believe that though now I do not know what to do.”

          The two men were silent for sometime, watching the sky and enjoying the peacefulness of the shrine’s beautiful gardens. “I do not have the answer for you Shinya-kun. I would gladly accept you into training if you so desire, but I feel that it is not the path you’re destined for. There is one out there that feels a great need for a companion, but his soul is tainted but not by his own hand.”

          Shinya’s heart skipped at the words, “Truly?” The monk nodded, “It will be some time before you meet this person, and there will be a moment when you will have to choose between living in the sunlight or living in the dark.”

          Shinya stayed for a few more days, gaining his strength back and putting on some weight. He had told the monk about the man at the izakaya, who had sent him to the shrine. “His name is Shigeo, perhaps you should ask him for employment, as a server or cook? The person you are destined to be with, will cross the threshold of Shigeo’s izakaya, you must be patient and wait.” The monk agreed to let Shinya stay at the shrine until he could find his own place, “please go speak with Shigeo,” the monk urged. After a hot bath and more food, Shinya left the shrine to speak with the izakaya owner, hopeful for some form of employment…and to wait for whomever would be his future.

 

 

          “Akinori’s gone.”

          That was the first thing that greeted Sakurai the next evening as they woke to continue their journey. “What do you mean he is gone?” Reo explained what had happened the night before, Sakurai groaning and covering his face with his hand, “So you rejected him?” This comment stunned Reo, “No, I did not reject him, I am not what he needs…I’m old and well, I’m old.”

          “You’re also an idiot. I believe we are friendly enough for me to tell you that. Age has no place in relationships for our kind, you see a seventeen-year-old boy standing in front of you confessing. He see’s an older man, that he’s in love with. He does not see that you have been an immortal for centuries, he sees how kind and caring you are.”

          Naoto cleared her throat, “Reo-san, with all due respect; I know you are not my clan leader, and it is not my place, but I have to tell you that you’re stupid.” A gasp was heard behind the young woman. “I’ve gotten to know Akinori quite well these last weeks, we’ve spent a lot of time together, and I can say with confidence that he’s in love with you, but he doesn’t believe he’s worthy, he is worried about status and the type of person that should be in a relationship with you. If you have even the tiniest feelings for him, you’d better go find him.” Naoto bowed deeply and went to sit down next to Kai.

          Reo wore a smirk, “Naoto-chan, have you been spending time with Jyou? Because it’s her voice I’m hearing when you’re scolding me.” Sakurai turned and winked at his daughter, letting her know that he was not angry with her, “What will you do?” he turned back to Reo. “Sakurai-san…Acchan, would you mind terribly if I did not go with you to inspect the new house? I have a guilty conscience hanging over me and a compelling need to find a certain young man.”

          Waving at Reo as he turned his horse towards Edo, Sakurai gathered up his family and rode on into the night. “You’re not angry with me, are you Acchan?” Naoto rode up next to Sakurai, “No love, I’m not…I think he needed to hear it from someone other than just Akinori, and now all we can do is hope for the best.”

          It took only half the night to reach the new estate, everyone excited about going inside. “Remember what Arimatsu said, the previous owners believed it to be haunted by  yanari, so please be aware of what’s around you.” Everyone dismounted and Sakurai opened the gate. “Let’s put the horses in the barn, and get them water at the very least.” Kai ordered.

          The barn was open and roomy, each horse having its own stall, Toshiya and Uta finding a bucket and a well to water the horses. “Not much in the way of food for them, but the hay that is here, isn’t moldy. It will have to do until we can make sure the fence is secure, then we can let them out to graze.”

          Sakurai was walking the perimeter of the property, looking for any holes or gaps in the fencing. “Seems to be secure…” he muttered to himself. The well was thankfully working and not dry, “that saves me a little work” and the roof of the main house looked in good condition.

          “The horses are in the barn can we go in now?” Uta tugged on Sakurai’s arm, “Yes, we can go in…but please be careful and watch where you’re walking, there may be holes in the flooring.” The first room smelled old and musty, but it was surprisingly clean with very little dust on the floors.

          Sakurai went in first, Kai standing and holding the others back for a moment. “The floors look fairly solid, I believe we’ll be safe enough.” With that Uta and Naoto let out a yell and scrambled into the house, Kai taking Toshiya by the hand to look for the kitchen. Slowly walking through the house, checking the doors and windows, Sakurai could see that there was very little needed in the way of repairs, mostly the house just needed to be cleaned thoroughly. “Acchan!” Uta called out from somewhere in the back of the house. Following the chittering voice of his spouse, Sakurai found Uta lying on the floor in the middle of a large room, “Can this be the living room, please? The tatami looks almost new!” This was one thing that Sakurai had noticed as he walked through the house, that certain items did in fact look new.

          “Let’s go look at the other rooms first, before we decide on what rooms are to be used for living space.” With Naoto and Uta at his side, the Ancient walked the remainder of the house and the gardens in the front and back.

          Kai and Toshiya caught up with Sakurai and the others, “The kitchen is in amazingly good condition…almost as if it were new. It’s large and well appointed, there are even utensils left on the counter.”  All of this was good news, but also had some alarms sounding in Sakurai’s mind. “Let us get the packs from the horses and we will sleep here tonight, I’m sure we can find one interior room that we can darken completely.”

          Before they settled in for the night, the family went out to hunt, but satisfying their thirst on animals only, “better for the community not to notice us quite yet,” was Sakurai’s justification, which nobody complained about. Going back to the house and checking on the horses one more time, they found some old tarps in a shed at the back of the property. “We will put these over the doors, just to be safe.” Once everything was ready, Clan Sakurai settled in for the day.

 

 

          “Akinori? What are you doing here? Where is Reo and the others? Answer me boy!” Arimatsu had seen Akinori walking through the city gates, approaching him quickly, “They’ve gone on to Sakurai’s new estate, I’m just here to pack my things, I’ll be gone before daylight.” The young man kept walking towards the house.

          “Was that Akinori?” Kyo had seen the immortal talking to someone, “Something’s wrong, he just showed up by himself, said Reo’s still with Sakurai.” Both men started walking towards the house.

          Jyou leaned in the doorway, “Would you like to tell me what is going on and why you’re packing?” The young man shrugged, “Nothing to tell. I’m not wanted so I’m leaving.” Jyou said nothing, she had an idea of what had happened. “Well, be sure to stay safe, and if you will I’d like for you to send me a letter wherever it is that you settle. Good luck.” Jyou turned and walked away. “Nobody gives a shit about me.”

          The vampire stopped in mid stride, listening intently, then walked towards Reo’s office. “Reo-san, welcome home…or is it?” she said in a dry voice. “No, it’s not…where is he?” Jyou nodded her head towards the door, “In his room packing.”

          “I don’t care what story you have to tell him, but send him to my private room, then leave us be, no matter what you hear…I want no interference.” Jyou bowed and left the room, walking back to see Akinori, who had just come out of his room, “Wait a moment, there are some documents that you will need to carry with you, to present to any other immortals you may come across, that stipulate you are no longer part of the Aichi Clan, they are sitting on Reo’s desk in his private room.”

          With a sigh, Akinori put his bag down and walked towards Reo’s room. Sliding open the door and stepping in, he stops suddenly, “How did you? Never mind…I don’t want to know. I’m just here to grab my papers and leave.” Akinori looked around the room for the papers, “I need the documents please…”

          Without a word, Reo walked to stand in front of Akinori, gently sliding his arm around the young man’s waist. He pushed the boy’s hair out of his face, cupped his chin and leaned in, just brushing his lips across Akinori’s, “You’re not leaving me, I refuse to let you go. You will stay here and live with me as my companion and my lover.” Tears slid down Aki’s face, “Why?” Reo shook his head, “I was stupid, I’m old so you’ll have to forgive me for not seeing the truth, that I love you…”

          Jyou had an idea that she really didn’t need to worry about having to interfere with Reo’s reunion with Akinori, she had seen this exact night coming for quite some time, “My father, you are sometimes such a man…too stubborn to see happiness standing right in front of you.”

 

 

Chapter Text

          The next two years were brutal for Shinya, moving from the shrine and the caring monks, to Shigeo’s izakaya and the conditions he was living in now. As a server, he was forced to deal with drunk customers, with no support from Shigeo who told him to accept his station in life or he could leave and live on the streets again, “You’re fed, you’re clothed and you’re employed, what else do you want?” the man laughed.

          Shinya kept his head down, did as he was told and ignored the random touching and the comments; “You’re pretty enough to be a woman,” was what he had heard the most. Shigeo wasn’t oblivious to the attention his server was getting, which is what sparked the dirty idea.  He approached Shinya one night after closing. “We’re going to try something different, boy.”

          Business had increased ten-fold, the izakaya now full most evenings to Shigeo’s delight. The random touching of Shinya had also increased; Shigeo had forced him to dress as a woman, in full make-up and his hair pinned up and for anyone who asked, Shinya was now female. It wasn’t only the customers that were taking liberties with the young man, after the first night of Shinya’s new look, Shigeo raped the boy, driven by alcohol, greed and lust. Shinya was now regularly being raped by not only Shigeo, but by his more popular customers, “You’re working your way up, girl,” he laughed one night after Shinya had been roughly abused.

          “I don’t agree with them beating you, I’ll make sure they don’t mark you again, I won’t get half the price for you if you’re busted up and bleeding.” Shinya bowed and thanked the man, feeling that he could do nothing more. The beatings had stopped, customers warned by Shigeo, “if she comes back to me with a mark on her, you’ll be paying twice as much.”

          Shinya had taken to hiding a few coins from the measly amount of wage he earned from Shigeo, hoping one day to have enough to escape, keeping it buried in the floor, in a corner of her room, under the rag that she called her bed. Every night she prayed to the kami to either shield him long enough to escape, or to take her in death as he slept, in the harsh reality of his life there was no room for dreams.        

 

          The journey to Edo would not be so much long, as it would be boring. Horses do not cover a great deal of miles quickly, and the group had to travel at night, so finding a ryokan was always the highest of priorities. Making their way through Nagano had been easy, the prefecture was large enough to have decently populated cities. It wasn’t until they came upon the small city of Kofu, that Inoran started to worry about finding someplace to sleep for the day.

          Dismounting and walking their horses into the village, Inoran asked about stables and a ryokan, getting directions from an older shop keeper, “You’ll only get decent food at Shigeo’s, I can’t vouch for the ryokan attached, but it’s the only one in Kofu.” Inoran thanked the woman and led his group to the stables, informing the owner that they would be leaving the next evening.

          Entering the izakaya, they were greeted by a young woman and shown to a table. The woman looked worn and tired as she took their orders, “It will be a few moments,” a rough looking man came and put down a large bottle of sake, “Enjoy your meal,” he said. Aoi and Sato looked around, “Not really what I would call decent, but if this is it, we have no choice.”

          Waiting for their food, they watched as the serving woman made her rounds to the other tables, where she was often grabbed and made to sit on someone’s lap, “What’s the problem pretty…maybe I’ll pay for some fun tonight, ne?” The rough looking man came over and slapped the young woman, “Don’t let them touch you without paying first!” he shoved her from behind towards the kitchen.

          Miya started to rise from his seat when he saw the man slap the girl, “Do not get involved,” Inoran hissed. “We don’t need unnecessary trouble.” Miya glared at Inoran, but obeyed his clan chief, Aoi and Sato were also glaring at the abusive man. “This is the last place we need trouble in, it is too late in the evening to have to run the horses to find somewhere to sleep.” The three men grumbled under their breaths, but obeyed the order.

          “I’m sorry for the wait,” the young woman approached their table with food, “I hope you enjoy your meal.” Miya looked up and smiled at the girl, “I’m sure we will.” The girl blushed deeply under Miya’s gaze, she bowed and hurried off back to the kitchen. “She’s pretty, it’s hard to see her abused like that,” Yusuke said, “I wonder what her story is…”

          After one more bottle of sake split between the men, and noticing the the sky was growing pale with light, it was obvious that they needed to get into their room at the ryokan as soon as possible. Miya looked at the serving girl, and waved her over. “Thank you for your service tonight, we greatly appreciate it,” and with a smile, Miya pressed a few extra dollars in her hand. “Put this away and save it for yourself.” Miya saw a tear form in the girl’s eye, “Thank you so much,” she bowed low to Miya and smiled at him.

          Leaving the restaurant, Miya could feel the girl’s eyes on his back, he turned and she was in fact staring at him, “come on, stop gawking at her.” Heath grabbed him by the arm. “I wasn’t gawking,” he protested, Heath slapped him on the back, “She was pretty, wasn’t she?” Now it was Miya’s turn to blush, “yah, she was.”

          Taking some large canvas tarps, they had packed, Inoran and his clan blocked out as much light as they could, “We’re going to have to be careful, but I told the owner not to bother us, that we must travel at night.” Satisfied that they would be safe, the six men settled in for the rest of the day.

          Shigeo slapped Shinya hard, “You’re worthless!” he screamed at him, slapping Shinya to the ground, “You cost me money…you should have let him fuck you!” The beating continued for some time, almost to the point of Shinya’ losing consciousness before Shigeo stopped, the man leaving him where she fell. Just before dawn, Shinya had crawled back to his room, curling up on the rag that served as a bed.

 

          Their sleep was undisturbed, leaving them to rise just after sunset, “I want to get the horses and get out of this putrid city,” Miya growled. Gathering their things, they walked down to the stables and retrieved their horses, mounting and riding out to the west.

          Shigeo kicked Shinya, “Get up! We’ll be opening soon and you need to go put makeup on, cover those bruises on your face,” Shinya slowly got up, reaching up to touch his face, he could feel the dried blood and the swelling. Going into the kitchen, he washed his face in cold water, peering into a small hand mirror, the damage was severe. There was a side of him that was pleased with the damage, perhaps it would keep the customers away.

          “Hurry up, we’ve already got customers!” Shigeo screamed.

          “Yes, Shigeo-sama, I’m trying…” Shinya whined. He walked quickly towards the guests already seated at a table, “What can we make for you today?” he bowed. “What’s wrong with your face? You’re not bleeding on the food, are you?” a crass man accused. “No sir…I um, had an accident yesterday and fell.”

          “Hey! Shigeo…you let this thing bleed on your food? I’m not eating that shit!” The customers got up and walked out of the izakaya. Shinya turned in horror to see Shigeo advancing on him, carrying a wok in his hands, “You just cost me money, bitch!” Shinya started his backing up, his hand searching for the door or something to protect him from Shigeo, “It’s not my fault! I’m not… stop!”

          Feeling the door behind him, Shinya turned and ran out into the street, Shigeo reaching for him as he stumbled. “Get your ragged filthy ass back inside! You owe me money bitch!” Scrambling and clawing his way into the street, Shinya looked to his right and saw a group of horses advancing on him. Running towards the group, Shigeo still chasing her, he see’s the man from the previous night, “Help me please!”

          Grabbing Miya’s leg, Shinya looks up at the man, “Please… help me!” Turning to see where Shigeo was, she ran behind the horse, putting herself between Miya and and Inoran. Miya looked down in surprise as Shinya held on to his leg, the young woman’s face was torn and battered. “What…?”

          “Shinya! Get back inside, whore!” Shigeo was stomping towards the group, “Miya drew his sword and pointed it at Shigeo, “Not another step…” he growled, then looking down at Shinya, “Did he do this to you?” the young woman nodded, “yes…” she whimpered. Miya looked over at Inoran, who nodded, “Do you want to come with us? We’re going to Edo.”

          “You can’t take her with you! That’s theft of my property!” Shigeo stepped closer, “Shinya, go inside right now!”

          “I suggest you go back to your establishment, she will be coming with me,” looking down at Shinya, “Is there anything you need to get from your room?”  Shinya shook her head, “No, nothing.” Miya reached his hand down and pulled the woman into the saddle behind him. Shigeo took another step forward, this time Sato nudged his horse forward, pushing the man back towards his restaurant. “The girl goes with us, she is not property, she has free will. Be thankful that we don’t turn on you, unless you want to die.”

          Shigeo hesitated for a moment, “Fine, let that whore be your problem, she’s a worthless piece of trash.” The man spit on the ground in front of Sato’s horse then turned and walked away. “Let’s go, we’re wasting valuable time.” Inoran said.

          Shinya wrapped her arms tightly around Miya’s waist, burying her face in the man’s back. “Thank you,” she whispered, though the vampire could hear her. Miya patted her hands at his waist, “Of course, you’ll be safe with us now.” He felt Shinya nod her head. Yusuke rode up next to Miya, “Is she okay?” Looking at Shinya, the young woman looked in bad shape, “The next time we stop, I’ll check…I think she’s just very tired right now.”

          Inoran pushed them hard into the night, only stopping after several hours, to rest the horses. By that point, Shinya was ready to fall out of the saddle in exhaustion, Aoi dismounting first then letting her slide into his arms. Carrying her to a large rock, he set her down, “I’ll get you some water,”

          Shinya’s face was throbbing in pain, her lip felt ready to split in several places. Aoi walked towards her, holding out a waterskin, “Be careful of your lip, and drink slowly.” Miya had tied his horse up and walked to where Shinya was sitting, “How are you feeling?” kneeling in front of her, he reached up and caressed the bruise on her cheek, with the back of his hand, “He did this to you, didn’t he?”

          Shinya dropped her eyes to the ground, “The night you came in, he said I should have let you, um…have sex with me and that I lost him money. Then this morning, there were some customers that accused me of bleeding into their food, he came at me with that wok, and well you know the rest.”

          He was going to ask more questions, but Inoran interrupted them, “I’m sorry, but if we really push the horses, we can be at Sakurai’s before sunrise, and I’d much rather sleep there than at another ryokan or outside.”

          “Are you okay to ride?” Miya asked the young woman, “Yes, I’m fine, thank you.” With help from Sato, Shinya got up on Miya’s horse, riding behind him again, her arms tightly around Miya’s waist. He patted her hands, “If we can, you’ll be sleeping in a nice soft bed tonight, and I’m sure that one of Sakurai’s people can tend to your wounds.” With a kick to their horses, the group rode off into the dark.

         

          There were only a few hours left until sunrise, the horses were starting to tire, their riders swaying in their saddles, with Shinya barely able to hold on, when the group finally approached Sakurai’s estate. “I’ll go in first with Yusuke, you stay here and wait, it won’t be long.” Handing the reins of their horses to Heath, Inoran and Yusuke walked quickly to the house, pleased to see Sakurai standing on the porch, “Inoran-san…I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow night! Please, come inside.” Inoran shook his head, “I need to get the others inside as well, there are seven, we picked someone up on the way…a human woman.”

          Sakurai raised an eyebrow but said nothing, “Go get the others, I’ll send Uta out to help you, then come straight to the house.” Inoran nodded and started to walk away, stopping when he remembered, “Sakurai, the woman is injured, can Kai-san treat her please?” Sakurai waved him off, “Bring her in right away.”

          “Kai!” Sakurai barked, “you need to get your herbs; we have an injured woman coming in with Inoran-san. Put her in the very back bedroom, next to yours. Uta, go help Inoran with the horses! Toshiya and Naoto, make sure there are bedrooms ready for everyone, and please, get something for them to eat right away, we don’t have much time before sunrise.”

          Uta was already in the barn with the horses, Sakurai meeting Miya as he walked with Shinya in his arms, “She’s been beaten, can Kai help her?” Sakurai pushed the hair from Shinya’s face and moaned, “yes…quickly let’s get her inside.” Kai met them at the door, wanting to assess the damage so he could bring the necessary medicine, he gasped softly at the woman’s injuries, “Please, Naoto will show you to the room, I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

          “Acchan, who is that woman and why…why has she been beaten?” Kai started grabbing jars and bandages, a basin of warm water and a mug of his sleep tea, “I don’t know, I’ll have to get the full story tomorrow night, we just need to get everyone in the house, fed and given rooms, there’s only about an hour left until dawn.”

          Miya gently laid Shinya on the floor, covering her with a blanket, “I told you we’d have a nice soft bed for you to sleep in tonight, and Kai-san is coming to look at your injuries,” Shinya nodded, “Thank you.” Kai quietly came into the room. “Hello, my name is Kai and I’m going to tend to your injuries and then give you some tea that will help you sleep through the day.”

          “Her name is Shinya, and this was done by a man she worked for,” Miya told Kai. “Let’s just look, it’s just your face, you’re not injured anywhere else?” for a moment Shinya’s eyes grew wild, “It’s fine, I won’t do anything you don’t permit.” Kai gently cleaned her face, looking at the cuts and bruises, none of which appeared to be serious, none that needed to be stitched. Applying some pain salve, Miya help Shinya sit up to drink the tea, “This will keep away any nightmares you may have, and we’ll get you something decent to eat tomorrow night, ne?”

          Miya helped the woman lie back down, “thank you again, for saving me.” Miya brushed his hand over her cheek, “just close your eyes and sleep.” When Miya started to stand up, Shinya reached out quickly and grabbed his arm, “please…stay with me, I’m scared…I don’t want to be alone.”

          “I’ll grab an extra futon,” Kai said as he gathered his jars and left the room. Miya looked down at the woman, “you are simply the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” He whispered. Within a few moments a knock came on the door, and Kai brought the futon in, laying it next to Shinya, “We will come and wake you tonight, please rest easy, both of you.” Miya shed his hakama and pulled the covers over him, laying as close to the woman as he dared. “I promise, I will allow no one will ever hurt you again.”

 

Image result for shinya dir en grey Feminine Shinya

Chapter Text

         “Would you please stop wiggling around so much,” Kyo muttered. “I’m not doing it on purpose, this isn’t comfortable.” Ayato rested his chin on his lover’s shoulder. Reo scowled at the young man, “I asked you if you wanted to have your own horse to ride, Ayato-kun. You declined so now you’re paying the price.”

          Making their way towards Edo, Reo had carefully chosen who he wanted on the journey to the clan meeting. Not wanting to leave Kyoto unprotected, he had chosen Asanao and Kyo to accompany him to Sakurai’s estate, along with Jyou. Ayato had whined and pouted so much that Kyo finally asked his clan leader if the boy could join them. “He wants to see Uta, and frankly I don’t feel comfortable leaving him behind.”  

          Reo understood Kyo’s apprehension, he himself wasn’t completely confident in Issay’s loyalty and his promise not to interfere in Ayato’s relationship with Kyo. The man had not made any attempts, but there was little confidence that given a perfect opportunity, Issay would abduct the boy.

          Ayato continued to whine, “I didn’t see the necessity for me to have my own horse, I don’t like them, they scare me.” Kyo pulled his horse up short, turning in the saddle to face his lover, “Stop whining like a child right now, or I will make you walk!” he growled, “just sit there and be quiet.”

          Jyou covered her mouth with her hand, stifling a giggle. The two small men were always at each other’s throats over something, though everyone knew that there was nothing but a deep love between them. “Fine!” Ayato leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. Reo shook his head, “Can we move on now?” Putting his heels to his horse, the group cantered into the night.

 

          His eyes felt like they were sealed with mud, heavy and dry. Shinya startled slightly before he understood where he was; at Sakurai’s home outside of Edo. The last half of their ride the night before, it took everything Shinya had to stay on the horse, fatigue and hunger weighed heavily on all of them. He remembered little of his arrival at the estate; the friendly face of Kai as the man washed his face, Uta’s child-like appearance and finally there was Miya, stroking his cheek and promising to protect him.

          Turning his head to look for Miya, he sees an empty futon, though he can hear Miya’s muffled voice in the distance, mixed with other voices. Sitting up, Shinya looked around the room, noticing first the heavy canvas curtain that hung over the door, a soft knock interrupted his thoughts, “Hello, I’m happy to see you awake.” A tall slender young man, kneels in the doorway, “My name is Toshiya, is there anything you need right now?” The young man was beautiful in a feminine way, more beautiful than Shinya had ever seen.

          “I um, I’m hungry. Where’s Miya?” Toshiya sat next to Shinya, “He’s in the living room, speaking to the other clan members. I’m sure he’ll want to see you when he’s finished.” Toshiya could smell and sense that Shinya was not in fact, female. “Do they know?” he asked. Shinya didn’t understand the question right away. “Know?”

          “Does Miya know you’re not a woman?” Shinya gasped, “How…how do you…” Toshiya reached out and put his hand over Shinya’s, “I’m bishonen, when Sakurai-san found me, they thought I was a woman, I was dressed as one when they rescued me. It wasn’t until Kai-san tended to my injuries that he discovered I was male.”

          Toshiya’s hand was cold, but not unpleasant, “No…at least I don’t believe they know, will…will you be the one to tell them?” The young man shook his head, “No, it’s not my place. I will speak with Kai and Acchan if you’d like, would you like to speak with them?” Toshiya’s concern was not with Shinya’s revelation of being male, more so that they were all immortals.

          “Reo-san has a clan member, Mana, that is bishonen, Arimatsu found her outside the city walls of Kyoto, she’d been beaten and had her tongue cut out. She had been a prostitute and a customer beat her when he found out she was male. But she lives as a female, it’s her preference and we all treat her as such. Is that something you wish, to live as a woman?”

          He didn’t know what he wanted, other than staying close to Miya, “Can I have something to eat please?”

 

          Clan Aichi entered the courtyard of Sakurai’s estate, the man himself waiting to greet the group, “Reo-san, welcome. I hope your journey was unhindered?” Reo swung down out of the saddle, “For the most part, other than a rather spoiled bratty child that complained the entire trip.” Ayato hid his face in Kyo’s back. “Our bratty children will at least keep each other occupied, isn’t that right Uta?”

          “Aya!” Uta ran over to Kyo’s horse and grabbed the boy’s hand, dragging him from behind Kyo, “It’s about time you got here! I want to show you the house, it’s huge!” With nary a glance back, Ayato and Uta ran off towards the house. “You look somewhat relieved, Kyo-san,” Sakurai chuckled. “Relieved is an understatement, I should have left his ass at home.” He muttered.

          With Toshiya and Naoto to take care of the horses, Sakurai welcomed his guests and took them inside. “Inoran-san arrived last night, but they had an extra person with them,” he said, “a human woman, that they had rescued from what appears as a severe beating.”

          Reo was concerned, “Does she know or suspect us?”

          “I haven’t spoken to her yet, nor have I had a chance to speak at length with either Inoran or Miya. I’m sure Toshiya and Uta will talk with her tonight. Come, let’s get you settled in your rooms.”

          His nerves were on edge, he wanted to speak to Shinya but he had no idea what to say to the woman. He had watched her sleep in the hours before dawn, reaching out to stroke her face, “You’re so beautiful, how could anyone scar you this way?” As sleep claimed him, Miya’s thoughts turned to how to keep the woman next to him; how would he explain that he was a vampire.

          Returning to the estate after hunting with Heath, Miya made his excuses, “I want to check on Shinya.” Walking towards the bedroom, he met Toshiya in the hallway. “How is she? Has she said anything?”

          “She’s hungry, I’m going to get her something to eat, and she has asked to see you. Just please be careful, she’s extremely fragile right now.” Toshiya warned Miya, though he was sure that the immortal would sense that Shinya was not a woman. The immortal bowed to Toshiya, “Thank you.”

          Knocking lightly on the door, Miya slid it open. “You’re awake…how are you…” Miya stopped. There was a long pause…Shinya searched the man’s face. “Excuse me,” he bowed and left the room. Shinya knew at that moment; the man knew he was not a woman. Bowing her head, Shinya’s life had just shattered. “I may as well go back to Kofu,” he whispered.

          Miya quickly walked out of the house, nodding to Reo as he made his way to the barn, he needed to be able to think clearly. How did he not sense that Shinya was male on the journey to Edo? Was he that inept or somehow blinded? Walking to the far end of the barn, Miya sat on a low wood box, “Now what?”

          “Does it make that much difference, Miya-san?” Toshiya had returned to Shinya’s room, to find the man curled up and crying, “he knows,” he said between sobs. Watching as Miya stomped off to the barn, Toshiya took matters into his own hands, following the immortal.

          “Shinya is a man! Of course, it makes a difference,” Miya snapped, “I’m not interested in men, um…that way.” Toshiya stood in front of the man, “Really? Are you so stuck in your ways that you will ignore feelings, because of Shinya’s gender? How many female immortals have you met, Miya-san?”

          “Two, Jyou-san and Naoto-san,” he mumbled.

          “Are you interested in either one of those ladies?”

          “No! Jyou-san has a lover and Naoto is a child, I am not an adulterer nor am I interested in children.”

          “Do you believe that you will eventually find a blood spouse?” Toshiya was metaphorically kicking Miya in the gut.

          “I, I don’t know. From what I understand, for a blood spouse, I would need to bring that person into the blood. So, I’m not sure if I will find someone.”

          “Have you bothered to speak to Shinya at all? You rescued him; did you only rescue him because you thought he was a woman? Are you that shallow of a person, immortal or not?”

          Miya was becoming angry, “What the hell do you want from me Toshiya? What do you want me to do?”

          Toshiya’s body relaxed, “It would be nice if you went in and spoke to Shinya, and perhaps explained why you’re rejecting him. You literally took one look at him and turned away, he’s now in his room, crying his eyes out. He’s confused, and he’s alone.”  

         “Has anyone explained what we are? That’s going to come up quickly, do you think he’s going to want to stay by my side when he finds out what I am?” Miya shook his head, “No, Toshiya. It’s better if I just walk away from him, he’s better off not knowing.”

        “You’re an asshole.” Toshiya snapped, then walked out of the barn. “Yes, I am an asshole.” Miya mumbled.

 

         Ayato and Uta had heard Shinya crying, Uta taking a chance and knocking on the door, “Shinya, can we come in please?” Shinya sat up, carefully wiping his face with his sleeve, “Yes, of course you can.” Uta entered first, “I’m sure you don’t remember me from last night, I’m Uta and this is my friend Ayato, he’s in Reo-san’s clan, Sakurai-san is my blood spouse and this is his estate.”

          Before they could ask any questions, Toshiya returned to the room. “God, men are such stupid creatures!” he huffed as he sat down next to Uta. “Miya’s being an idiot, I’m sorry he’s …I don’t know – such an unbelievably stupid man.”

          Ayato and Uta giggled, “What’s so funny? You two boys are going to get yourselves in a lot of trouble during this meeting…and I’m not going to rescue you either. I hope Kyo-san turns you over his knee and spanks you!” he glared at Ayato.

          Shinya giggled softly at the teasing, “What is this clan meeting? I’m a little confused.” The three men exchanged glances, Toshiya nodding. “Let me explain a little. What I’m going to tell you, is true. But also remember that no one will ever force you to do anything against your will, and you can leave any time you’d like.”

          Toshiya reached over and covered Shinya’s hand with his, “Do you feel how cold my hand is?” Shinya nodded, “I noticed that earlier…why?” Ayato and Uta both put their hands on the man’s arm. “Why are you so cold? Are you ill?”

          Uta asked first, “Do you know what an immortal is?”

          “I know what the word means, why?”

          “Well, everyone here at the estate…um, we’re all immortals.” Uta waited for the negative reaction. “How are you immortal, I don’t understand?” Toshiya started to explain their lives, how they came to be and how they lived now. Shinya was not horrified, but intrigued.

          “You were dying?” Shinya looked at Uta, “Yep. I did something really stupid and ate poison mushrooms, Acchan did it as the only way to keep me from dying…well a human death.” Shinya looked at Ayato, “and you?”

          “I asked to be brought into the blood, I knew that if I ever had to leave Reo’s clan, I probably wouldn’t live very long. Pretty boys that live alone, don’t survive. I didn’t want to be a prostitute, and at the time I wanted to stay with Issay,” he made a rude noise, “that didn’t work, so now I’m with Kyo-san.”

          Toshiya explained about his relationship with Kai, “It didn’t start out great, I pretty much rejected him and everyone else.” He explained the attack by the random man on the road, “He was trying to rape me, and I didn’t care anymore, but then Kai was there. He pulled the man off me and took me back to the estate; I chose to be brought into the blood.”

          Uta explained that many clan members had no choice, “Acchan and Inoran-san are the oldest that we know of, Reo-san’s pretty old too.”

          “How old?”

          “Um… Acchan was brought into the blood in 978, Inoran in 980.” Shinya’s jaw dropped, “you’re not serious? How, I mean they both look so young!” Ayato giggled, “How old you think I am?”  Shinya shrugged, “sixteen?”

          “Nope, I was 18, I was brought into the blood in 1654. Uta and Toshiya are both way older than I am!” Toshiya explained, “Whatever age you are when you’re brought into the blood, you never age, so we will always look like this, for eternity.”

          He was stunned almost to the point of silence, but he had to ask the final question, “How do you become immortal, I mean what’s the process like?” Toshiya explained, but adding the key element; pain.

          “It hurts when your body dies, but not for very long, maybe fifteen minutes. But then when you first taste the blood, it’s um, pretty exciting.” Ayato and Uta were giggling.

          “Exciting how?”

          “Sexually exciting, almost um, like an orgasm.” Toshiya said.

          “Is the feeling different when you become a blood spouse?”

          “Oh, definitely,” Uta moaned, “it was um…more than just an orgasm, it was like really great sex.”

          Shinya frowned, he had never had great sex, something that Ayato picked up on, “You were raped by the man from the izakaya, and his customers.” Shinya nodded, “Yes…I don’t know what it’s like to be made love to.”

          Toshiya groaned and fell back onto the tatami, “Then Miya had to be an asshole! He could have been the one!”

          “Maybe he’s not the one, maybe it’s someone else that wants me.”

          “What about the other members of Inoran’s clan? Heath, Aoi and Sato? Heath is really good looking, so is Aoi…Sato’s like Kyo, he’s manly.” Ayato said.

          “I haven’t spoken to them; I haven’t even spoken to Inoran-san or Yusuke-san. Inoran was in a rush, so we just rode hard to get here.”

          Ayato leaned over and whispered to Uta, a smile breaking across the boy’s face. “I think we need to introduce you to the others. I’ll explain to Acchan that we discussed this already, but we won’t tell anyone else. Get dressed and we’ll come back to get you in a few minutes!”

 

          The gathering of the clans for a meal was a lively event, everyone talking at once, complementing Kai on his cooking, Jyou teasing him and trying to lure him to Reo’s clan. “Our cook is satisfactory at best, but this is amazing Kai-san,” causing Kai to blush over the attention.

          The lively conversation came to a halt when Ayato and Uta entered the room, holding Shinya by the hand. “Shinya-san would like something to eat,” Ayato led the young man to sit next to Kyo. Shinya nodded to everyone in the room, but specifically did not look at Miya.

          Going to Sakurai, Uta explained what had happened in the hours after Shinya had woken, “Miya was being an idiot, he rejected him without a reason or even one word. Ayato, Totchi and I explained the whole immortal thing, and he wasn’t upset, just very curious. He couldn’t believe how old you and Inoran are, we all had a good laugh over that.”

          The atmosphere in the room was relaxed, everyone eating, drinking and talking, and for a few there was a lot of staring. Aoi and Sato kept nudging each other, nodding towards Shinya, Miya doing his share of subtle staring, but avoiding any direct eye contact with the young man. The main attention paid to Shinya, was from Heath, who engaged the man in quiet conversation.

          “You already look better, sleep always helps when you’re injured.” Heath murmured, Shinya blushing over the comment. “Thank you, everyone here is so nice. It’s a change from what I’m used to.”

          “How did you come to work for that man? I understand needing to support yourself, but I don’t understand the dressing as a woman.” Heath was being blunt.

          “Shigeo forced me, he said he’d make more money, and since the customers were already grabbing at me, he could let them have sex with me for even more money. I didn’t have much of a choice, I had no other place to go.”  

          “Well, you make a beautiful woman, but you’re also a beautiful man. Don’t let whatever Miya has said trouble you, it’s obvious he’s blind.” Heath reached over and patted Shinya’s hand.

 

          Helping Kai and Toshiya, Shinya carried dishes into the kitchen area and offered to wash them. “It’s the least I can do for such a wonderful meal, Kai-san.” Kai bowed, “Please, Shin-chan, just call me Kai, ne?” This put a smile on the man’s face, “Thank you, Kai.” While Shinya was helping Kai, Uta and Toshiya had Sakurai cornered. “You’re not going to make him leave, are you? If Miya’s too stupid to understand his own feelings, Shin-chan can stay here with us, right?”

          Sakurai groaned, “Are we becoming the clan of lost souls? I’m picking up yet another stray?” That comment earned him a very hard punch to the chest from his spouse, “He is not a stray! You’re as bad as Miya! I don’t care what you say, if Shinya agrees, he’s staying here, you have no say in this!” Uta turned and stormed off, leaving his lover with his mouth hanging open. “I never said no…”

          “No, you didn’t…but you didn’t actually say yes either, Acchan. Uta’s right, you have no say in this.” Toshiya also left the room. “What the hell just happened? Have I been deposed of being the leader of this family?” Sakurai shouted at the two men.

 

          There was a similar conversation going on between Inoran and Heath, “Would you agree to Shinya living with us? Or are Miya’s feelings the final word?” Heath had felt a connection with the young man, both feeling lost and out of place; Heath’s place in Inoran’s clan had never felt very solid. “Miya’s feelings are not the final word, and for that matter, neither are yours.” Inoran snapped, he hated what this one person was doing to all the clan’s members.

          “Will you then just turn him away? Let him go out and fend for himself? If you do, you’re signing his death warrant, he will not survive on his own and I for one won’t let that happen.” Heath said heatedly.

 

          “He could come home with us, I’m sure we can find something for him to do, can’t we?” Akinori and Ayato were pressing the issue on their clan leader as well. “He could help Mana, I’m sure he’d like to have another bishonen friend, don’t you?” Akinori’s relationship with Reo, had blossomed to the point that he knew he had influence over his lover’s emotions. “Has anyone bothered to ask Shinya what he wants?”

 

          “Before you ask, yes…if he so desired, he could come and live with us, but I’m sure there will be a single man in one of the clans that would love to take him as a blood spouse,” Morrie held up his hand, halting Tatsu’s questions. “Thank you. I know you don’t want to have a typical clan, but Shinya is a special case.”

 

          Shinya knew what he wanted; Miya. But it was plain to see, that the man didn’t care for him in that way, something that hurt him to the core. After helping Kai with the dishes, Shinya had wandered out to the barn, Toshiya having told him that there were new baby goats and a litter of kittens, “I bet if you stayed, Acchan would let you have one for your own, he loves cats.” Shinya had fallen in love with Mau, the kitten climbing into his lap every time he sat down.

          Looking behind a barrel, Shinya found the mother cat and her litter, “Hello Mama-chan, how are your little ones?” The cat looked up at Shinya and nudged his hand for a pet, “Your babies are beautiful,” he said as he sat down next to the barrel.

          “How many babies are there?” Shinya’s head snapped up at the sound of Miya’s voice, “Um, six…one is pure white with a tiny black spot on his head.” Shinya’s voice was shaking, he wasn’t sure what to do. “Can we speak, please?” Miya sat down on a wooden box and leaned against the wall of the barn.

          “I want to apologize for the way I treated you earlier, it was unfair and frankly, mean spirited when I just walked away without telling you why, I’m sorry.” Miya explained. “It’s fine, you thought I was a woman, and when you found out that I’m a man, it repulsed you, I understand.” The tears were hiding behind Shinya’s lashes.

          “I wasn’t repulsed as much as shocked. I should have sensed you were not a woman when we were riding, but for whatever reason, I did not. Then this evening, it hit me full in the face and instead of talking to you, I ran like a coward.” He was stumbling over his words, “then when I realized that you knew what I was, how I live, I was sure you would reject me as well.”

          “I would have only rejected you if you had treated me badly, but you didn’t. With no questions asked, you took me from my horrible life and brought me somewhere safe. As for what you are? You’re a man with a good soul, that’s all I see, being an immortal is not a concern.”

          Miya wasn’t convinced, “I drink human blood to survive, how is that not a concern?”

          “Do you kill your victims?”

          “No! Of course not. There is no need to kill them, unless they deserve death, like the man that abused you.”

          “What do you see when you look at me? I want the truth, not some lie that will make me feel better.” Shinya demanded.

          Miya said nothing for several moments, gathering his thoughts. “I see someone that has been horribly abused, raped and beaten. I see a beautiful man, that deserves love and acceptance for who he is, and someone who should not have to be ashamed of his past life.”

          Miya stood and walked to where Shinya was sitting, and held out his hand. With a heavy sigh, Shinya let Miya help him to his feet. Cupping Shinya’s chin in his hand, Miya leaned in and kissed him softly. “I see someone that I want to remain by my side. I promised you last night, that I would never let anyone harm you again, that I would always protect you.” Miya slid his arms around Shinya’s slender waist, “I have never been in a relationship with a man before,” Shinya giggled, “Um, neither have I… at least not willingly.”

          Miya kissed him again, pulling Shinya closer, “I want you by my side, can we at least try this? I will ask nothing of you that you aren’t ready to give, but I don’t believe I can let you go, ever.” Touching their foreheads together, Shinya whispered, “I don’t want you to let me go, I want to stay with you for eternity.”

Chapter Text

          The members of the three clans, including Morrie and Tatsu, were all gathered in the living room, with Sakurai speaking first, “What we know as of right now is that both Yoshiki and Ryuichi are creating fledglings at an alarming rate, and leaving them with little to no instructions on how to survive, or in the case of Akinori, abandoning before their mortal body dies.” Reo reached over and took Akinori’s hand in his, whispering in his young lover’s ear.

          Looking at Reo, Inoran spoke first, “Are you saying that Akinori was left alone?” Reo nodded, “Yes, and he did not see who the immortal was, he was blindsided by the attack. Asanao found him wandering the streets, he had not yet fed for the first time. When we asked if he knew who his maker was, he had no understanding of what that meant.”

          “We have to assume that there are more immortals that are being brought into the blood in this manner,” Sakurai continued, “the main question for me, is why are they doing this?”

          Reo brought up another point, “Can we hold those two responsible for the rogue vampires that were in my city and attacked Ayato? Or are they some strange by product of whomever Yoshiki and Ryuichi brought into the blood, and how many are there?”

          “The number of immortals is obviously still growing,” Inoran looked at Aoi and Sato, “we know that they are still leaving the fledglings with no instructions on how to survive, also, it appears Yoshiki is still looking for a companion.”

          Aoi shifted uncomfortably, “Yoshiki was my maker, he wanted me as a companion. He asked me to stay by his side and that we would travel to Europe, to feast on the blood of royals, I rejected him and spit in his face.”

          “Ryuichi stated that we were their ‘new soldiers, I’m going to assume they are planning something more serious than just randomly creating more vampires.” Sato added.

          Inoran looked to Sakurai, “You saw Yoshiki in France, did you not? Should we be considering that he has also created fledglings in Europe?”

          “It’s entirely possible. There was a female vampire that approached us first, all I know is that she did not appear to be Japanese, but did speak the language. This could mean that there may be more immortals than we are led to believe.”

          The rising din of everyone speaking at once, was only calmed by Reo’s voice, “We have one other important issue. Sakurai’s first born, Imai.”

          “Why is this a problem?” Inoran asked. Reo looked at Sakurai, “I’ll let you explain.” Sakurai gave the group the history between himself and Imai, the reasons why he had sent him away. “I know that some of you have actually seen or come in contact with Imai and Tangier, though they were not approachable.”

          Uta scooted closer to his spouse, almost in Sakurai’s lap, “Earlier this year, I had taken Uta and Naoto out for a ride, and we encountered Imai and Tangier standing in the road.” Naoto had crept up to sit with Kai and Toshiya, “He wanted to speak to me, asking me if we could return to my estate. I dismounted and approached Imai, telling him that I had no interest in what he had to say, that my decision to ban him from my life still stood.”
          “Imai pushed the issue, arguing with me over Uta and Naoto, and why I was ignoring my first born. He brought up that night in Paris, asked me why I wouldn’t speak to him. He justified his using Yoshiki as a mediator, claiming that at least Yoshiki had listened to him.”

          Uta was now sitting in Sakurai’s lap, burying his face in his lover’s neck, the others noticing how distraught the young man had become.

          “It was so sudden I had no chance to think clearly; why the boy felt threatened I’m not sure, but he rushed at Uta and dragged him off his horse and was attacking him with the obvious intent to kill, I grabbed the boy off Uta and threw him…then I set the boy on fire.”

          Silence followed Sakurai’s last words and both Naoto and Uta were crying softly.

          “I do not regret my actions; the boy was trying to kill Uta. I’m sure you that have a blood spouse would have done the same, but this does put us in a difficult situation. Imai disappeared after that, but he swore he would avenge Tangier’s death. This was the main reason for me leaving Sendai and moving to Edo, a larger city and closer contacts with other immortals.”

          Reo was the first to calm the murmurs, “I doubt anyone here believes you were acting with malice, you did what you had to do, to save your spouse. I understand and acknowledge your concern over Imai’s possible revenge, and this is another reason we are having this meeting.”

         Inoran wasn’t sure he agreed to this, “I have my own concerns,” he looked at Yusuke, “How can you guarantee that Imai will not strike at one of your associates, if we are corresponding, does that not put my own family in danger as well?”

        “Inoran! That statement is uncalled for,” Yusuke smacked his lover on the arm, “No, it is not, it is the simple truth of how we live. I refuse to put you in any danger and if that means not being involved in a clan alliance, then that is what it shall be.”

        “I am sorry gentlemen; I will not agree to an alliance if my family is then subject to risk.” Inoran stood and bowed, then left the room, leaving Yusuke and the other members of their clan, watching his exit in disbelief. “I’m sorry everyone, I’ll go speak with him.” Yusuke got up and followed Inoran. “Well that didn’t go as planned,” Kai said, “I suggest we take a break.”

          Yusuke ran after Inoran, catching him just outside the barn, “Really? You’re insulting our host, they’re only suggesting safety measures, why will you not agree?” Inoran glared at Yusuke, “I will not put your life in danger, because Sakurai is having problems with his first child. That is none of my concern, you are what’s important, no one else.”

          The man’s tone of voice startled Yusuke, “you’re going to be that selfish?” Inoran turned and faced his lover, “Yes, I will be that selfish. You are the single most important thing in my life, I refuse to live without you, if it takes being an outsider, then so be it.” He walked up and took Yusuke in his arms, “I love you beyond anything in my immortal life, I will protect you over anyone else, we shall go home and continue to live as we were. If Miya and the others want to leave, I will not prevent their departure.”

          Kai had cornered Sakurai in the kitchen, “What will happen now? I’m getting the impression that Inoran will take Yusuke and leave, with or without the others.” Sakurai shrugged, “We can’t force him to cooperate in the alliance, but I will make sure to tell him, that if he needs our help, we will be there.” The new developments were not something that any of them had thought of, the idea of a collective alliance was solid, but Inoran’s refusal had thrown everything into turmoil.

 

          With dawn quickly approaching, Sakurai had called an end to the clan meeting, “We all need sleep, and a clear head. We will continue tomorrow evening after we’ve hunted.” Taking Uta by the hand, Sakurai led the boy to their bedroom. “I don’t like Inoran anymore, he’s being selfish.” Uta said.

          “Baby, if he’s being selfish, it’s for a good reason; he’s afraid of Yusuke being harmed, and I can understand that. We will revisit the conversation in the evening, now get your butt in bed.”

          Miya had asked Shinya if he could continue sleeping next to him, “I’d like that.” They had stayed in the barn for the better part of the night, just talking and learning about their lives, Miya growing angry when Shinya talked about his family. “That’s unacceptable for a parent to behave that way,” he growled. They talked about the development of Inoran’s refusal to participate in the clan alliance, “I’m going to speak to him this evening, I’m also not willing to put you in any danger, though I would much rather be a part of a clan, there is safety in numbers.”

          Aoi, Sato and Heath had also talked about Inoran, “I’m not sure I want to be isolated from the other clans, Gifu is a good distance away from both Kyoto and Edo, what would we do if we are attacked?” Sato argued.

          “I will go back to Gifu with Inoran, I have no reason not to. I have no desire to live apart from him.” Heath said, “What you do is your business, I understand if you do not want to stay, I only wish the best for you.”  Aoi could see Heath’s pain, he had noticed the man speaking with Shinya, and it was obvious that he had feelings for the man.  They said no more as they slipped into sleep.

         

          Kai rose just before sunset to prepare the first meal of the night, that would be taken after the hunt. The immortals were going out in groups of two or three, using the cloud gift if they could, not wanting to alarm the citizens of Edo and the surrounding villages. Uta and Ayato had been first up, and first in from the hunt, both young men shoving each other around and laughing.

          “I almost passed out when you chose that guy, eww Aya he was disgusting!” Uta laughed, “Hey, he didn’t struggle and seemed a little slow in the mind, I only took a tiny drink.” Ayato huffed, “You didn’t do much better, that woman was old enough to be your mother.”

          Before Uta could say another word, a tiny flash of orange shot by both, running through the open door, “Mau! Seriously? Argh! You’re such a pain in the ass!” Toshiya ran after the kitten, a small comb in his hand. This of course sent both young men into another fit of laughter.

          “I’m pleased to hear this sound so early in the evening, why are we laughing?” Sakurai came up from behind Uta, bent down and wrapped his arms around his lover tightly, “Totchi is chasing Mau again.” Ayato blushed and looked away as Sakurai took a few liberties with his young spouse.

          “Konbanwa,” Shinya entered the kitchen, bowing deeply, “Good evening, Shinya, would you like something to eat?” Kai smiled, “I have rice, some nice fish and some braised vegetables, please help yourself.” Shinya bowed again, “Thank you.”

          Herding Ayato and Uta out of the kitchen to give Shinya some space, Sakurai made his way to the living room, hoping that the night’s meeting would go smoother than the last. “Acchan, what will you do about Inoran? Isn’t it unsafe for him to refused to be in the alliance?”

          “That is not my place to argue, Inoran will choose what he will if he believes that choice will keep his family safe.”

          Morrie and Tatsu were seated in the living room, waiting for the others. “Sakurai-san, I would like to speak today about a new presence we have felt in Edo, I’d like the other’s opinions on the matter.” Morrie asked.

          This was a surprise, “Oh? Well of course, let us see where Inoran-san’s mind is this evening, then we can speak of your problems.” Morrie bowed his head, “Thank you.”

          The remainder of the clan members drifted in over the next hour, most with cheeks flushed from the hunt, Kai offering warm food and sake if they so desired. With everyone in the room, Sakurai started the meeting.

          Miya had walked in with Shinya at his side, and stopped just inside the door, “May Shinya sit with us, my lord?” he asked Sakurai. “Yes, this will be informative for him if he so desires to become your blood spouse.” Shinya bowed low in thanks, but sat back against the wall instead of next to Miya.

         

          “Morrie has brought to my attention that he and Tatsu have felt an unusual presence in Edo, I will leave it to him to explain.”

          Morrie looked at each clan member before speaking, “It has been some time now, but we have noticed a presence in Edo, that has us conflicted and frankly, confused. We have heard whispers, much as many of you had, but it’s not of other immortals, but of an onmyoji.” A murmur went through the room.

          Reo held his hand up to speak, “Mana had come to me about a decade ago, and told me that she had heard whispers, with the title of Onmyoji and the name Hide, that it was said as if it were a herald for a dignitary. But we have heard nothing more than that in Kyoto, could it be the same person?”

          Tatsu leaned over and whispered into Morrie’s ear, “We have heard the name Hide before, but not in connection with the onmyoji, so I’m not sure if there is an actual connection. What I worry about, is this onmyoji a vampire? If that were the case, it would give the man immense power.”

          “But you have never seen anyone that fit that description before, and no one has approached you?” Inoran asked, this was a new development that may change his view of a clan alliance. “No, never.” Tatsu said.

          Before anyone else could speak, “Shit!” Kyo growled, “What is it, Kyo?” Reo looked at his man. “When we were in Edo assisting Sakurai in his search for a house, I kept catching a glance out of the corner of my eye, or the sense of someone watching us. I dismissed it as me being hyperaware for an attack, but now I’m not so sure…it could have been the onmyoji, as he would not have the same scent as other immortals.”

          “Then who is this Hide person? Could that be the man’s name?” Inoran asked. Morrie shook his head, “I have no idea, Inoran-san. I have only heard the voice a few times, and it was distant, I’ve never come close to seeing any onmyoji in Edo. I’m as perplexed as you.”  

          For the next several hours, ideas and suggestions were thrown about in a mutual discussion of what the next steps should be. Inoran had walked back his reluctance to quit the alliance, at least for the time being, though Miya was certain he would not remain in the man’s clan, telling Shinya, “I’m going to speak to Sakurai-san, I’m sure he will let us stay here at least until we can find other arrangements.” But it was those arrangements that worried Miya the most.

Chapter Text

          “Are we agreed then? The four of us will leave the clan, but stay together?” Miya was acting as the leader for the time being as the men made their plans to separate from Inoran’s clan. With Inoran’s pronouncement of not wanting to remain in the clan alliance, due to his fear of outside forces harming his family, specifically Imai seeking revenge against Sakurai, Aoi, Sato and Miya had decided to speak with the other clan leaders.

          While Miya was with the others, Shinya was visiting with Ayato, Uta, Naoto and Toshiya, in the barn looking at the new kittens. “I like the black one, I wonder what color his eyes will be?” Ayato had the tiny newborn in his hand, the mother cat watching closely.

          “Are you going to be Miya’s blood spouse?” Toshiya suddenly asked, “Totchi! That’s rude.” Uta smacked his friend in the arm. “How is it rude?” They bickered back and forth for a moment, then looked at Shinya who was blushing over all the attention. “Probably, but he wants us to wait a little, until we know each other better.”

          Shinya had a kitten in his lap, stroking the tiny baby’s tummy, “What’s it like?” he asked quietly. “Is the actual um, act…that terrifying and painful?” He was concerned about this, it frightened him somewhat. “I don’t remember much, because I eaten the mushrooms, but when my body died, I was in a lot of pain, but not for very long and Acchan was holding me during the change.”

          “Kai made love to me first, um… he did it just as we um…you know.” Toshiya giggled. “My body dying wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, probably because I had been abused by so many others before Acchan rescued me.” Shinya looked at Naoto, but the girl was staring at her hands in her lap. “It’s okay,” Shinya reached out and put his hand over hers, “You don’t have to tell me, I know it was different for you.”

          Ayato described his change, “It’s weird because Reo isn’t my lover, he’s my father and my clan leader, but he has restricted anyone else bringing anyone into the blood, unless it’s for a blood spouse, and none of us have one yet.”

          “Kyo-san isn’t your blood spouse?” Shinya hadn’t heard Ayato’s story. “No, I wish he was though,” Ayato fell back into the straw, “I was given to Issay, who I believed truly loved me, but he’s a coward and left me to die. Kyo rescued me and I asked Reo if I could stay with him.”

          “Kyo-san scares me, he always looks so angry, like he’s ready to kill someone.” Shinya admitted, which caused Ayato to laugh, “He’s anything but scary…I mean he can be if someone angers him, but with me? I can get him to do most anything, if I promise some sort of lewd sex.” This statement of course led to more giggling and Shinya blushing a bright pink, before he admitted to not knowing what lewd sex was.” I’ve only been forced,” he whispered.

          “You’ve been raped, that’s not the same!” Uta came to his defense, “I’m sure Miya will be very careful and patient your first time, he doesn’t strike me as one that would force himself on you.” Shinya hoped that Uta was right.

 

          Miya had gone to Sakurai and Reo and requested a meeting with them, “Please ask Morrie-san to attend as well, but this meeting will not include Inoran-san.” Meeting in Sakurai’s private study, they sat before the three other men to listen. As leader, Miya spoke first. “After Inoran’s decision not to join the clan alliance, myself, Aoi and Sato wish to seek a new clan, or if that’s not possible, to form our own. Shinya will be my blood spouse in due time, but we’re moving slowly.”

          “Reo-san, I realize that you already have a large clan, and I surely don’t expect you to add to that, Kyoto is already well protected. Sakurai-san, you also have five members in your clan, if possible, we would like to join your clan, but if that’s not an option, I ask you, Morrie-san to reconsider creating a clan. There is safety in numbers and if the possible problems with this unknown onmyoji surface, yourself and Tatsu-san would be vulnerable.”

          “If none of these are viable options, we would like to start to form our own clan, and be allowed to choose the city in which we will live. Please, talk among yourselves and give us an answer before the end of the meeting of the clans.” Miya bowed deeply and with Aoi and Sato, left the room.

          “It was as I expected, Inoran’s decision has already created riffs in the alliance. Gentlemen, what do you think?” Sakurai leaned back in his chair, wondering how to move forward with this new development.

          “Miya is correct, Kyoto is becoming heavy with immortals, more so than any other city, but that does not preclude me denying them a place in my clan, though it is something I would have to speak to the other members about before agreeing.”

          Sakurai sighed, “I’m sure that my young one’s would happily accept Shinya as Miya’s blood spouse, and as far as being prepared for any outside attacks, it would be beneficial for us to have a military man as a member of the clan. Aoi and Sato seem amiable enough, but that would then grow my clan to nine, and Reo’s to fourteen members.”

          Morrie hesitated before speaking his mind, “I’m not in favor of them trying to create their own clan, mainly as they are new to the blood, it may be an old fashion notion, but I believe the head of any clan should be an ancient or at least someone that is several hundred years old, one that is less than a decade will not make a good leader.”

          “With the three of them…well four with Shinya, leaving Inoran’s clan, that will leave him vulnerable, with only Yusuke and Heath as members, I’m sure he has no problem with that, but will that end up being a problem for us? If they are attacked, we must help them, which in turn depletes our own clans for a time.” Sakurai made the point.

          “Tatsu and I discussed this before we slept, he has very good persuasive tactics when he believes I’m being stubborn.” Reo and Sakurai raised an eyebrow, “he pointed out that here in Edo, as far as we know, the number of immortals is yet but seven, not including the onmyoji who is an unknown entity. What I’m getting at, is that if they wish to stay in Edo, I will welcome them into my home, and we will live as a family, though I will ask if they can remain for a time with you Sakurai, as Tatsu and I will need to find a bigger home.”

         

          Calling Miya to meet him in the garden, Sakurai sat by the koi pond as he waited. The problem of Inoran’s refusal, was troubling. He had made the point of they had to go running off to assist Inoran in case there was trouble, and that would leave their own clans without their leaders, but he could not force the man to join the alliance if he did not choose to do so.

          “Sakurai-san,” Miya walked through the garden torii, “You wish to speak to me?” Sakurai waved Miya towards a bench next to him. “We have spoken at length on your problem. Morrie-san has agreed to admit you to his clan, though you will be spending some time here at my estate, as he needs time to find a larger house.”

          The grin that spread across Miya’s face was thanks enough for Sakurai, the man stood up and bowed deeply, “Thank you for your effort, Sakurai-san!” Sitting back on the bench, Miya had a few other questions, “Would it be possible for Morrie-san or yourself to be there when we inform Inoran? I don’t anticipate there will be trouble, but I know he will be hurt none the less.”

          “I would be happy to be present. I have a question for you as well; will you be taking Shinya as a blood spouse, and do you have a time that you’d want to perform the act?”

          “We have talked about it, and he is willing but I’d like to delay it as long as possible, we don’t really know each other well enough yet, and I want him to make sure that this is what he wants, but perhaps before we go on to Morrie-san’s home.” Miya excused himself and went back to the house, to inform the others of where their new lives were going to begin.

         

          Watching as Inoran, Yusuke and Heath rode out the gate of the estate, Sakurai sighed in weariness. The announcement that Aoi, Sato and Miya were joining Morrie’s clan, did not go over well, the man burning with resentment for the defection. “It is their choice, you can not hold them to us as you are not their maker, you saved them when there was no one else and you told them that you would never bind them to you.” Yusuke had to remind his lover, but the sting was raw and on the surface.

          “It’s for the better, you know that as well as I do. He just wasn’t interested in an alliance, which to me means he’s in danger from now on.” Sato explained to Miya. “I know, but the pain in his eyes when we told them, I never wanted to hurt the man, he did save all of us when we were changed, it feels like betrayal.” Miya said, “Perhaps he’ll come to see the situation differently in the future.”

          Morrie had spent time with his new clan members, talking about their shared experiences with being brought into the blood against their will, “But at the same time, I would have never met Tatsu,” Morrie caressed his lover’s cheek. “And you sir, would have never met Shinya,” he smiled at Miya, as it was so obvious that they cared a great deal for each other even in the short time they’d been together.

          It was Shinya that had decided to move on to a more physical relationship with Miya, quietly explaining that he wanted no surprises after he came into the blood, “You’ve been speaking with that naughty boy Uta, haven’t you.” Miya gently chided his lover. “No, actually I’ve been talking to Ayato about Kyo-san, you two are a like in some ways. Tough and moody exteriors that covers a soft hearted and kind soul.”

          Neither man had been in a caring relationship with another man, so the exploration that first night, was new for both. Shinya had only been raped, never made love to. Miya had never made love to a man, but was confident it couldn’t possibly be that much different than a woman, except for some dangly parts. After some initial awkwardness, the couple came together at the basest of human levels, both understanding that they were now connected, and Shinya had no more worries about being brought into the blood.

 

          He watched as the two immortals walked towards the wooded area of Edo, the small houses and estates settled among the trees. Isshi wanted to contact the two men, but unsure if he would ever do so. The Kami had been silent on this part of his long journey, instead letting him fumble his way through. The Kami had always been a part of Isshi’s life, and he had rarely questioned them on why that life had been extended into the centuries. He had heard the term immortal in reference to those that hunt humans for their blood, he had even watched them feed, noting that rarely was the victim killed. But there was a difference between the immortals of the current time, and the two that he had first come across, centuries earlier.

          The vileness and disregard for everything human, is what struck Isshi the hardest. Watching as the two immortals tore the throats out of the victims and throwing them to the side of the road as if they were nothing more than an after thought. He had followed them for decades as they wandered through the country, killing, maiming or creating others like themselves, but to what end he did not understand.

          The onmyoji had prayed to the kami for answers, but the responses he got were less than satisfying, “It is something that must be,” was the repetitive answer to his questions of why those two men should exist. After so many centuries, Isshi stopped asking the Kami, his gods were through with his questions. Now he must decide; does he approach the immortals, just let his presence be known or keep hidden as he had for so long? As he made his way back to the shrine, Isshi would ask the Kami again to tell him what path he should be following.

         

         

Chapter Text

2015.

          Morrie walked down the darken stairwell of Club Nosferatu, his face marked with worry and his heart shadowed in fear with the new information that had come to him earlier that evening. Reaching for the doorknob to the office, he hesitated and took a deep breath to steady his nerves, before opening the door. Knocking once, Morrie stepped into the office, “Konbanwa everyone,” he greeted the eight staff members of Club Nosferatu, interrupting their weekly meeting.

          “Morrie-san, this is an unexpected surprise, what brings you into the dark?” Daisuke chuckled. “This is not a social call Dai, though I wish it were.” Morrie sat down on the long velvet couch, reaching over to pick up You’s hand.

          Dai and You shared a concern look between them; this was not what they were expecting. “If not a social call, then what? You are usually not at the club before midnight.” Before Morrie could answer, another knock at the door, “Tatsurou?’ Daisuke was now doubly surprised, Tatsurou rarely came to the club, preferring to remain in the background as a co-owner.

          Tatsurou sat down next to Morrie, “Have you told them yet?” Morrie shook his head, “No, I was just about to,” Morrie turned to look at the staff, “There are rumors that there have been sightings throughout the city of random fledglings, apparently with no connection to a maker.”

          “Yoshiki?” Hiro dared to guess, “Are they rogues?”

          “Possibly, I haven’t spoken to the other clan leaders yet, I will contact them later tonight.” Morrie sighed; this was not what he had planned to be dealing with in this century. Aoi cleared his throat, “What does this mean for us? I mean, what do you want us to do if we see one of these fledglings, if they’re rogues what do we do if they enter the club?”

          “That’s why I’m here. If you suspect or see one of these fledglings, do not approach them, I have no idea if they’re rogues or just unfortunate victims. Also, be hyper aware of any vampire that comes to the club, not that I believe Yoshiki would, but there obviously is some unknown in this whole ordeal.” Club Nosferatu’s cliental was mixed; humans and vampires frequented the club, though the latter were far and few between, and known to the staff.

          Morrie looked at Daisuke and You, who were the managers of the club, “I’m leaving Tatsu with you, I want an elder in the club at all times. If I must, I’ll ask Inoran if Heath can be available if needed.” Yuu, the chief bartender, shifted in his seat, “Is it truly that bad, that we have to ask for assistance from another clan?”

          “In a word, yes…it is truly this bad.” Morrie got up from the couch, “I want you to be cautious and watchful, please. I do not want any of my children to come to any harm. If perchance Yoshiki shows up, Tatsu will call me and you will shut the club down and get everyone out as quickly as possible.” Taking Tatsu by the hand, Morrie left the room.

          Standing just outside the door, in the darken hallway, Morrie kissed Tatsu, “Whatever you do, do not risk your life, you mean more to me than any of my children, remember that.”  Morrie took Tatsu into his arms and kissed him, “I love you.”

 

 

          “How cliché, you are so unoriginal, Morrie my love.” Yoshiki stood across the street from Club Nosferatu, laughing at his child. “Who do you hide inside, are you hiding them in plain sight?” The immortal watched as the line of people lengthened in front of the club; teenagers and twenty-somethings, most of them dressed in black. “Are these now your children?”

          An older man, in his thirties, stared at Yoshiki. “Oh? You have immortals as cliental?” Yoshiki stared back, challenging the man to make a move, the man averting his gaze, deciding that he did not need to be at Club Nosferatu that night, leaving the line and walking quickly down an alley.

          The club opened its doors and the line dissipated, with stragglers running down the sidewalk hand in hand. Each time the doors opened, the music with its pounding bass, flashed noisily out on to the street.  Bored with watching, Yoshiki walked down a side street to the sleek BMW. “That’s enough for tonight love, but I will return.”

 

          “Are you sure?”

          “I know that he was an ancient, how many of them are there? Four? Five at the most?”

          The immortal that had abandoned his place in line after the stare down with Yoshiki, had returned but through a back door used only by the staff. He had pounded on the door relentlessly until Sato had come to the door. “I need to speak to Daisuke, this is important.” Sato took the man upstairs to the office, “You need to hear this.” The man explained what had happened, “He has power, a lot of it. I’ve never seen him before,” he explained. Tatsu was also in the office. “Did the man have longer hair, a sort of honey brown color?”

          “Yes, he was slender, and very effeminate features.” Tatsu thanked the man and Sato escorted him out, even as Tatsu took out his phone.

          “It seems as though Yoshiki is watching the club, no an American by the name of Tony…yes he said that the man was an ancient, and he described Yoshiki clearly. I honestly don’t know, but I don’t want to shut the club down for just that. The man has not approached any of us. I agree, I will tell the others. I love you too.”

          Tatsu rubbed his eyes, “Morrie is asking us to be vigilant, do not approach him if he shows up again, as long as he doesn’t try to get in, we should be safe for now.” Daisuke frowned, “Safe? This man could set this building on fire in a half second if he so desired,” Daisuke sighed, “fine, I’m going to put Sato out on the street just before opening, at least he can keep watch for him.” This was not the news that anyone wanted to hear and it struck fear in everyone’s heart.

Chapter Text

 

            “I’m fine Uta, it’s not a problem, this family is all I need, so stop pestering me.” Naoto got up and left the room. “I just care about you!” Uta shouted as he heard the front door slide closed with a slam. “I just want you to be happy…” To Uta at least, it had become obvious that his sister Naoto, was lonely. Twenty years had passed since the clan meeting and it had been hard for Naoto to see the blood spouses interact with each other, and the other members. Akinori had spent time with the young lady, but he was now bonded to Reo as his spouse, and that meant when Reo left… Akinori went with him.

     Being the only female immortal known, except for Jyou, (and not considering Mana), Naoto had resigned herself to being alone for eternity as a female vampire. She dreamed about finding someone, male or female, that would love her enough to claim her as their own, fantasies of a beautiful woman or handsome man visiting Sakurai and asking about her. “Nobody’s going to do that, look at yourself.”

     Uta had told Sakurai what he suspected, “She’s lonely Acchan, she needs a lover, it’s not fair for her to have to live here with us, and be alone!” Kai and Toshiya had weighed in as well, “Uta’s right…haven’t you seen how she’s slowly pulling away from us?” Kai commented, as he was cleaning the night’s dishes before they slept. “She’s still an eighteen-year-old woman physically, but she’s been in the blood for over two hundred years, I can see where her loneliness is starting to become a problem.”

     “What would you have me do? I can’t very well put out an advertisement for a lover in the local newspaper, can I?” Sakurai had been somewhat oblivious to Naoto’s condition, he was often busy with correspondence with the other clans, “I’ve been dealing with Inoran and his problems, I’m sorry that I haven’t noticed what’s happening at home.”

 

     Inoran. Over the years, Sakurai and Reo received letters from Yusuke, detailing the severe depression that Inoran was suffering. The loss of the three clan members, who decided to join with Morrie and Tatsu, had hurt the immortal deeply. He knew Aoi, Sato and Miya had left as a result of his decision not to be part of the clan alliance, the fact that he worried about retaliation from other immortals, based on something that he had no part in.

     “He’s moody and depressed, he often leaves for weeks without notice, then reappears and acts as if nothing has changed. He feeds irregularly, though we know that as an ancient he does not require as much blood, but it’s starting to wear on him and we are at a loss as what to do.”

     Sakurai and Reo had been corresponding over the years, sharing suggestions and insight, Reo believed they needed to include Morrie, “Perhaps we can have Aoi or Sato, go to Gifu and speak with the man, this is not normal behavior.”

     Sakurai disagreed, “No, I think that would not go well, the resentment is there, pushing any of his former members in his face, could be deadly.”

     The other suggestion was for Reo and Sakurai to travel to Gifu to speak with Inoran, but Akinori and Uta made enough noise that it had to be considered carefully. “I don’t want you leaving and traveling all the way to Gifu, by yourself.” Uta demanded to be allowed to come with him.

     “And I will not subject you to the dangers that we may face on the road. If Reo and I travel alone, we can use the cloud gift and only be gone for two, three days at the most. No, Uta. You will not be coming with me.” Sakurai had the last word, and Uta knew better than to push any further.

     Reo was having the same argument with Akinori. “Uta will not be traveling with us, and neither will you. I want you safe here at home, and there is no more debating the issue, this is final.” Akinori glared at Reo and stomped off to their room, a bemused Jyou watching from the doorway. “You’re going to need to spoil him once you return, you realize that?” Reo narrowed his eyes at his daughter, “I’m just warning you, Father…your little spouse will not be happy if there isn’t a decent amount of attention, when you return.”

 

     “Will you travel to Gifu?” Tatsu asked as he lay in Morrie’s arms. “No, I don’t believe I’d be welcomed if I did, I will leave the task to Reo and Sakurai, I’m confident they will be able to handle the situation successfully.” The exchange of information between the three clans in the last two decades, had increased with what appeared to be a dire situation with Inoran, Morrie also receiving letters from Yusuke, pleading for assistance.

     “Is he that depressed about us leaving?” Aoi asked one evening during dinner, “It seems that is the case, but I would not blame yourselves, this is something that is entirely on Inoran.” Morrie tried to quell his newest members anxiety. “What do you think Sakurai and Reo can accomplish? If the man is unwilling to face his emotions, I doubt that anyone else can force him to do so.” Shinya pointed out.

     “That’s very true, though it is a better plan than just sitting around waiting for him to attempt something drastic as killing himself.” Morrie agreed. “Sakurai said he would stop here and let us know what has happened, before he returns home. All we can do now is wait.” This wasn’t what they wanted to hear, but as clan leader, Morrie had the last say.

     The transition from being a family of two, to a clan of six, went more smoothly, much to Morrie’s surprise, with Tatsu reminding him that the man worried too much, “Seriously, it’s not like we don’t know them at all, they’re not some random immortals banging at our door, demanding to be accepted.”

     He had to agree with his spouse, Morrie was confident that his family would be protected; Miya was ex-military and as such made sure that their new home was secure enough to be defended. Aoi and Sato had become valuable with their abilities to hide in plain sight within the city, and Shinya, they all had come to love the gentle and kind man.

     The act of bringing Shinya into the blood, was done while they were still living with Sakurai, the final act taking place not long after the other clans had gone home. “I want this now, I don’t want to wait any longer,” he insisted, and as such, Miya was finally forced to go to Sakurai.  “My lord, will you assist me? I’m not completely sure how this will go and I want someone there in case I botch things.”

 Sakurai asked Kai to be there as well, sending the others out to hunt. “They don’t need to smell the blood; it is best that they are not in the house.”

     With the two elder vampires in the room, Sakurai gave Miya the basic instructions, “I will tell you when to stop, we do not want to kill the boy,” Sakurai tried to joke, which earned him a punch from Kai, “That’s not funny Acchan.” The exchanged caused Shinya to giggle.

     With Shinya lying in Miya’s arms, and Kai and Sakurai sitting nearby, Miya kissed his lover deeply, then as he nuzzled his neck, he slowly sank his fangs into Shinya’s vein. Shinya moaned, raising his hand to clutch at Miya’s shirt.

     Sakurai watched carefully, as Shinya was drained of blood, “That’s enough Miya,” with a great deal of regret, Miya pulled back and then looked to Sakurai, “Slice open your wrist, put it on Shinya’s mouth…hurry now.” Kai moved to sit next to Shinya, slowly petting the man’s hair, “Shin-chan… you must drink, love,” The rushing noise in Shinya’s ears began with the first taste of Miya’s blood as it flowed over his lips.

     After a few moments, Sakurai spoke, “Shinya, that’s enough…Miya, lick the wound and it will close.” Miya did as he was told, still holding Shinya in his arms, “Shin-chan, listen to me carefully,” Kai reached over to pet the man’s hair, “you’re going to experience pain for just a few minutes, your mortal body must die, don’t be frightened, we are here to help.” Shinya whined as he looked up at Miya, “I love you.”

     The first wave of pain surprised Shinya in its intensity, even with the rapes, he had never felt pain like this…and it scared him. He reached out and grabbed Kai’s arm, then looked up at Miya, unable to speak through the pain as Miya held him close to his chest, whispering words of love in his ears.

     “It should be close to being over, Shin-chan…look at me,” Kai asked. “I can’t…” Shinya had his eyes shut tightly. “Babe, look at me…please open your eyes, that’s it,” Miya said. Shinya shuddered one last time, then slowly opened his eyes and looked up at Miya. “Is it over? Am I …?” he looked around the room, and gasped, his eyes adjusting to the hyper-vision of an immortal.

     Miya helped Shinya to his feet, “We need to go and hunt, are you okay?” Shinya nodded, then turned to Kai and hugged the man, “Thank you, Kai-san.” Kai blushed, “I said I’d help you…” Shinya pulled away then walked over and bowed to Sakurai, “Sakurai-san, thank you for assisting and letting us stay in your home until we are able to travel to our new clan.”

     “No need for thanks Shinya, I’m happy that you and Miya have found each other, it’s always nice to have someone to love when you live for eternity. Now go with your spouse and hunt.” Shinya bowed again then held his hand out for Miya.

    “They’re cute together,” Kai said wistfully as he watched the newly fledged vampire and his blood spouse leave the estate. “Acchan, we should do something for Naoto though, you’ve noticed, haven’t you?”

    “Yes, and I understand everyone’s concerns, but as I’ve said, I can’t just go out and find her a mate, would you have me create one for her? Bring some random boy or girl into the blood just for Naoto?”

    Kai frowned, “Why not? You’ve done it before, just as Reo had with Ayato, so why not someone for Naoto?” Glaring back at Kai, Sakurai threw up his hands and stomped out of the room, “NO!” he yelled back at Kai.

 

     Uta and Naoto walked hand in hand back towards the estate, both flushed with fresh blood from the hunt. Uta was still concerned with Naoto’s depression, “Just for fun,” he looked at his friend, “if you had a choice in either a blood spouse or a mate, what kind of person would you be looking for?”

     Naoto thought for a moment, “Someone strong that could protect me and care for me.”

    “Man or woman?”

    Naoto scoffed, “At this point, I don’t care,” she stopped walking, “look at me Uta, I’m a freak even in our world. I’m not pretty or cute like Jyou-san or Mana-san, my eyes are strange even for an immortal, I’d pretty much take a ninety-year-old man at this point.”

    Uta giggled, “Okay that’s just too gross to even think about.” They kept walking, Uta chatting about other random things, dropping the subject of a mate for his friend, but in his sneaky little mind, he was already plotting.

 

     Sakurai walked through the streets of Kyoto, making his way towards Reo’s large clan house, knowing that his arrival had already been announced. “Hello Kyo-san, how is that lovely boy of yours?” He sensed the samurai walking behind him, “He’s fine, still a brat.” Kyo chuckled. “Reo’s waiting for you, I’ll leave you to your business.” Without looking Sakurai knew that the man had disappeared.

     Jyou was waiting at the door for Sakurai, “Konbanwa, Sakurai-san, I hope your trip was uneventful?” She held the door open, “Yes, thank you. Is he in his study?” Jyou nodded, “He’s waiting for you.” Sakurai bowed and entered the room.

    “Sakurai, welcome…how was your journey?”

    “Uneventful thankfully, though I had a battle at home – Uta wanted to join us and I said no.”

    “Ah, well if it’s any consolation, I had the same argument with Akinori. I kept telling him this is not a social call; this is something far deeper. He finally stopped pestering me, though Jyou believes I will need to spoil him when I return.”

     Sakurai had to laugh, “I’m sure I’ll be doing the same,” a serious look crossed Sakurai’s face, “have you had any thoughts on how to approach Inoran?”

    “Straight forward. We must explain to him that his family is terrified for him, and that the collective family of immortals is small, we all must help each other when needed. He’s an Ancient, second only to you in age. I don’t want to say he has a general responsibility to the entire immortal population in this country, but he has.” Reo had been struggling with the problem since the day Sakurai had contacted him.

     “We will leave just after twilight, it shouldn’t take more than two hours, and depending on what state he’s in, we could return the next evening.” Reo said. Offering Sakurai, the chance to hunt, Reo withdrew and went to his private room, mostly to spend time spoiling Akinori.

     Kyoto had grown so much, that there was no longer a need to wander off into the wooded area to hunt, Sakurai was satisfied with an unruly victim that was harassing two maiko that had been shopping. Leering at them and making rude comments, Sakurai waited until the two maiko had quickly walked past an alley, then he quickly grabbed the man and dragged him behind a wall, taking more than just the little drink. He had no remorse for taking the thug’s life, just that a dead body would cause a bit of a problem for whomever found it.

     Returning to the house, Sakurai settled in for the remainder of the evening, talking with Asanao and Arimatsu, and decidedly avoiding Issay. From what Arimatsu had told, Issay had become difficult and obnoxious, constantly belittling Mana and Ayato. “He’s unhappy because he has no mate, but that is of his own doing.”

     “He has not tried anything with the boy, has he?”

     “No, Kyo would kill him first, then I’m sure Reo would kill him a second time.” Arimatsu laughed.

     “To be fair, we are having a similar situation at home; Naoto is lonely and believes she’ll never find a mate. It’s heart breaking as her father, to know she is suffering and could continue for some time.” Sakurai said.

     “I can understand that completely, I had resigned myself as well, it is not as if there are plentiful female immortals, or males for that matter. I am lucky to have Mana, she’s everything to me,” Arimatsu blushed as he spoke about his lover. Dawn being only a few hours away, Sakurai made his good nights and retired for the day, wanting to get an early start to Gifu the next evening.

 

     “I need to speak to either Arimatsu or Asanao,” a human had knocked on the main door to Reo’s house, Jyou answering it and seeing that it was one of Arimatsu’s agents. “Wait here,”

    Arimatsu had just seen Reo and Sakurai off to Gifu, and was going to see Mana, when Jyou intercepted him. “one of your agents needs to speak to you, he seems frightened.”

    Arimatsu walked with the agitated man towards the seedier side of the city, where the shacks and huts were thrown together where ever there was an inch of space. “He’s in here,” pulling back a greasy tarp, Arimatsu stepped into a darkened hut. Lying on the floor was a man, covered in tattoos.

    The anxious agent stood behind Arimatsu, “He staggered in about an hour ago, but I knew not to come so early, the only thing he said was ‘hitokiri’, then he passed out.” The man was wearing a torn and bloody hakama, with a katana sheath still at his side. “He’s badly injured,” With Arimatsu’s help, they rolled the man onto his side, a large gash across the man’s back was seen, it was filled with dirt and dried blood.

    Carefully rolling him to his back, Arimatsu knew that this would be someone Reo would want to see. “I will send someone to pick him up, cover his body as if he is dead, and answer no questions.” Standing up, he looked down at the man, “What is your story, my friend?”

Chapter Text

 

          Sato moved through the streets of Edo mostly unnoticed, normal humans could not detect his presence, but there was one that could. Isshi had decided to approach the immortals, an undercurrent of fear had forced his hand. Waiting until Sato was in an open area away from the shops and the crowd of pedestrians, Isshi merely stepped onto the road in front of the vampire and waited.

          Sato had felt the other immortal’s energy throughout the evening, wondering if he would make himself known, and was not surprised completely when he came face to face with Isshi. They stared at each other for a moment, until Isshi bowed low, “I do not wish to harm you, just to speak to you at length.”

          Sato took a breath, “Where would you like to go? I don’t believe that a conversation should be had in the middle of the street.”

          Isshi bowed again, “There is a very small izakaya near the shrine, we will not be disturbed by the proprietor.”  There were no red flag warnings for Sato, so he agreed to follow the man to the izakaya.

          “Isshi-san, welcome,” A man with an apron greeted the men, “Sake please,” Isshi led Sato to a corner table, “Sit please,” A bottle of sake was brought to the table, and the two men were left alone.

          Pouring a cup for Sato and one for himself, Isshi spoke first, “As you heard, my name is Isshi, I have lived in the Inari Okami shrine for several centuries. It might seem rude, but I have been watching your kind for quite some time, but until today I had no desire to speak to any of you, but something has changed that.”

          Sato took a sip from his cup, “I am Sato, my clan leader is Morrie, why have you waited until now to approach us? We have also known of your presence for some time, you are an onmyoji, but you are also an immortal. How does that happen?”

          Isshi smiled, “I would like to know that myself, though I believe it is because of my master, Abe no Seimei, I was his disciple until his death in 1005.”

          Sato thought this through, “I believe we are wasting our time here; I would think it would be better for you to speak to my clan leader. There are just too many questions to be asked and answered, when would be convenient for you?” With a meeting secured, Sato wasted no time on returning to the house.

 

          “Centuries? Then he is an immortal, but not a vampire?” Morrie asked Sato, “Yes, he said he was the disciple of Abe no Seimei until his death in 1005. That makes him older than most vampires we know of.”

          “Do you think we can trust him?” Miya asked.

          “I felt no threat from him, simple curiosity though he did say something had changed, that forced him to approach us.” Sato said.

          “I will take you both with me, Tatsu and Aoi are to stay here with Shinya, I want the house protected while we are gone.” Morrie wasn’t sure how he felt at that moment, but he could not pass up the opportunity to speak to the onmyoji, and if the man had any information on what may be coming, Morrie needed to hear it.

          “Are you sure it’s safe? You don’t know what kind of power this onmyoji has, if he was Abe no Seimei’s disciple, his power is immeasurable,” Shinya was voicing his concerns over the meeting with Isshi. Miya gathered Shinya in his arms, “He may be powerful, but Morrie is an ancient, I don’t think it will be much of a problem. We will be cautious and on guard, when we do sit down with him.”

 

          “You’re sure he was speaking about Ryuichi? Do you know when he first became aware of the man?” Morrie was stunned at the comment, the fact that Abe no Seimei had knowledge of Ryuichi for at least a century before either Sakurai or Inoran were brought into the blood.

          “Yes, I’m quite sure. My master made a point to bring it up to me when he was in his later years. He warned me about this Ryuichi man and he also warned me that there would be another with equal hate in his soul and that together they would wreak havoc on both the living and the immortal.”

          The meeting between Morrie and Isshi had started off with the basic general questions being asked. Isshi not sure why he was still living after almost nine hundred years, “I have no answer for that, gentlemen, my master said nothing to me about being immortal, or at least long-lived. I was quite shocked really, once eighty years had past and I still looked as I do now, and even more shocked as the centuries turned.”

          Morrie shook his head in disbelief, “In our world, you would be considered an Ancient, as you are just slightly younger than our oldest known immortals, yet you are not a vampire. Do you require any sort of special food or herbs to continue to live?”

          “Not to my knowledge, I eat and drink what I please, I sleep day or night, the sun does not affect me in any way. The locals in Edo have long since stop questioning my existence, they rationalize it to my being an onmyoji that is favored by the kami.”

          “Why now? Why come and want to speak to us?” Morrie asked. Isshi nodded and smiled, thinking a moment, “Because I can feel a change in energy in the country, a negative energy and I truly believe that it is coming from Ryuichi and whomever his close associate is. He is creating immortals with no boundaries, am I correct? There have been attacks by these soulless creatures.”

          Isshi paused, “If Ryuichi continues on this path, there will be some sort of conflict, a war if you will, and the outcome will be devastating to both human and immortal. I would like to assist you any way I can to prevent this from happening. We live in two worlds, one we have in common, the other is at opposite ends of many religious teachings. An onmyoji walks in both worlds, and tries to at least stay them in peace.”

          “I would like your permission to inform the other clan leaders of your existence and your offer of assistance, will you agree to that?” Morrie believed that both Reo and Sakurai needed to know of Isshi’s views. “Yes, that is acceptable. The one that lives near by…his name?”

          “Sakurai Atsushi; he is an Ancient having been brought into the blood before even Seimei had died.” Isshi nodded and closed his eyes, “You must tell him that there is one that has been found, that will come to care for his lost child.”

          Morrie exchanged looks with his men, “I will not pretend to understand what you’re saying, but I will pass the information on to him.” With a deep bow and a thank you, Morrie took his men and left the izakaya.

          “What do you think the message for Sakurai means?” Sato asked. “I’m not even going to begin to decipher it, but I believe Sakurai will understand. Enough questions for the night, I want nothing more than to return home and sleep.”

 

 

          Inoran was glaring at Yusuke. “How could you do this without telling me?” Yusuke shrugged nonchalantly, “You would not have agreed to it, you would have become as you are now, petulant and angry. We are worried about you; we did this as a last resort and out of love. Please just listen to them.”

          Reo and Sakurai sat on a low couch, relaxed in attitude but both men sharing concern over Inoran’s appearance; the man was drawn and tired looking. “Inoran, we came because Yusuke and Heath both begged us to intervene, and we agreed. Your letters had stopped coming, you were ignoring our correspondence and frankly we are concerned for your well being. Now, tell us what the problem is.” Sakurai wasn’t going to be diplomatic.

          “Nothing’s wrong, go home gentlemen.”  Yusuke made a rude noise, then walked up to his lover and smacked him lightly across the face. “You’re an idiot, they’re here to help you. Stop being so immature and tell them what the problem is! Do it Inoran, or so help me, I will leave your ass sitting alone in Gifu.” Yusuke turned and walked away.  “He’s right you know, you’re being childish. But I’ll stay with you, even if he leaves.” Heath walked out behind Yusuke.  Sakurai and Reo decided to wait for a response from Inoran.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

          The vampire sighed and looked up, “I’m tired. Plain and simple. I have no clan, my lover…my spouse cares nothing for me, and Heath is staying out of twisted loyalty. I am not welcomed in the alliance, and honestly, I don’t care anymore.”

          Reo and Sakurai shared looks again, “You’re wrong about the alliance, you’ve never been unwelcomed. It was your choice to not join, once Miya and the others decided to stay in Edo, and they only agreed on that because you were against the alliance. We never said you couldn’t be a part of it.” Reo explained.

          Sakurai tried next, “What would it take for you to agree to the alliance, Inoran? You deserve protection from Ryuichi and Yoshiki as much as any of us, perhaps more as you are just two years younger than myself. Think about it…what could you do against the man if he decided to attack your home?”

          “What do you want of me? Where shall I live that would suit you? Shall I fall at the feet of the almighty Sakurai Atsushi, merely because he is an Ancient. Shall I remind you that I am an Ancient as well? Do you suspect my powers to be any less than yours?” Inoran’s temper was flaring.

          “No, you need not remind us of any of that, but we’d like to know when you’re moving to Edo, or Kyoto if you so choose.” Reo snapped.

          “Move? Are you fucking joking? Why the hell should I move to Kyoto or to Edo? I don’t need protection from the other clans.” Inoran had stood from his chair. Looking over his shoulder, Reo and Sakurai could see the other two men standing in the doorway watching.

          “I would suggest Kyoto, as Edo already has two clans, there is enough territory for another clan, there would be no animosity if you chose to move. My men would be happy to have another clan, there are times that even our human agents are stretched thin.” Reo smiled grandly.

          “I never said I’d move to Kyoto!” Inoran shot back.

          “You never said you wouldn’t, either. So, will it be Kyoto or Edo?” Before Inoran could say anything else, Yusuke walked into the room with Heath, “I say Kyoto, but Heath wants Edo, but either will do just fine.”

          “Why are you pushing this? I thought we were happy here; it’s small community and you love our house.” Heath walked up, “You know I normally don’t say much, but honestly? Yusuke and I are getting tired of each other. I’d really like to get to know some other immortals, but I don’t want to leave you either.”

          “We want friends, or at least acquaintances, babe. We’re tired of being alone, it would be so nice to be able to see Toshiya and Mana again, and you could see Asanao and Kyo. Please Inoran, will you least consider moving us to either Kyoto or Edo?”

          Inoran looked at the four men, “Why are you all ganging up on me? You’re insisting on forcing me against my will…why?” Yusuke gathered Inoran in his arms, “Because we love you, at least in mine and Heath’s case, Reo and Sakurai are only looking out for you, it’s not like there is a huge population of immortals in this country. We want to feel secure, and remember what Miya said? There is safety in numbers, we are but three in this family…what if we could grow our clan again? There are bound to be more fledglings created by Ryuichi and Yoshiki that will need a place to live and guidance for living as immortals.”

          Reo was the next to approach his friend, “Yusuke’s telling you the plain truth, you are alone out here and you are anything but safe. It is your choice in the end, but I suggest you listen to your spouse and Heath, please choose between Edo and Kyoto, Saitama at the furthest.’

          Defeated, Inoran gave in to the men’s wishes. “Fine, we will move. I believe Kyoto would be best, I would not want to make Miya or the others uncomfortable with our presence in Edo. May we travel to Kyoto with you tomorrow night? I will need to look for a house and would like to meet with the other members of your clan, Reo.”

         

          Arriving back in Kyoto late the next night, Reo gave Inoran, Yusuke and Heath a room of their own, then Reo offered Sakurai to stay one additional night before heading back to Edo. “I’m glad we convinced him…well that Yusuke and Heath convinced Inoran to move, and here to Kyoto specifically.”

          Walking into Reo’s house, Asanao met them at the door, “Welcome home, I hate to spring this on you right away, but we have a bit of a situation.” Reo looked at the ceiling and sighed, “Right, what’s the problem?” Asanao led them to an unused bedroom towards the back of the house, near his own. Sliding open the door they found a man lying unconscious on a futon, his torso wrapped in bandages.

          “One of Arimatsu’s human agents found him staggering in the street. He brought him to his home then came and got Arimatsu. He has a fairly severe wound across his back.”

          “Has he said anything?”

          Asanao’s face grew dark, “Only one word; hitokiri.” Sakurai made a choking sound, “Manslayer? Does this mean he is hitokiri, or is that who tried to kill him?” Reo told Asanao to bring Kyo to him. “He might have some insight to this.”

          Asanao brought Kyo to the room, “Well? Any opinions on this man?” Reo asked. “A few, some may not be what you’re going to want to hear, but too bad.” The samurai grunted. “Whether he is hitokiri or not, I can’t answer that. The tattoos would lead me to believe Ronin, rather than hitokiri, he may have been saying it was the man who tried to kill him. If he was attacked by a hitokiri, he’s lucky to be alive, either way he was a fierce warrior, it’s a shame he will die.” Kyo bowed and left the room.

          “What will you do with him?” Sakurai asked. Reo was unsure, “If he lives, I will ask him the same as I did Kyo and Hazuki. He’s a warrior, Acchan…we need men like him in our clans,” Reo turned to look at his friend, “he may be more beneficial to your clan than mine, you have no one like him, no Ronin.” Sakurai was struck hard by the suggestion, though it was true. “Let me think on it, if he lives, I may revisit the idea but I also need to speak to my family as well.”

          The hour was growing late and dawn was on the horizon, Sakurai excusing himself and going to his room. The thought of bringing someone into the blood, purely for safety was something he had not considered for himself or his clan. He believed that as an Ancient, he had more than enough power to protect his family. But could he offer enough protection if they were attacked by Ryuichi? Going over what he had told Inoran only twenty-four hours earlier, Sakurai was in doubt. “Let us see if you live first, then we shall decide.”

 

Image result for ue-chan maximum the hormone Futoshi Uehara, AKA Ue-Chan. Couldn't find a picture of him without his bass, just pretend it's a katana. 

Chapter Text

          The emotions that followed Tangier’s death surprised Imai; no intense grief, no wailing over the loss of his lover, the only thing he felt was anger and betrayal, Sakurai had forsaken him as a blood spouse, as a lover and replaced him with a beautiful young man.

          The death of Tangier was regrettable, but not unexpected; he had attacked Sakurai’s blood spouse, any immortal would have done the same. Had he loved Tangier? Imai had to admit, that he did at a very base level. Was he completely devastated? No, though now he had the perfect motive to exact revenge for Sakurai’s dismissal and betrayal, and there was only one that he needed to seek out.

          Yoshiki.

          The first month after Tangier’s death, Imai traveled the country in search of the immortal, knowing that the man would be more than pleased to assist him in the destruction of Sakurai. He was always one or two steps behind Yoshiki, sensing the man had been in the area, but had left days or even hours before. The night he thought he had found the man, he sensed that there was someone else with him, someone with more power than even Yoshiki, and whomever he was, Imai wanted nothing to do with him.

          Imai gave up his search for Yoshiki at that point, self doubt and guilt plagued his mind, “Why Acchan? Why not me?” he would cry as his eyes grew heavy with sleep. Imai’s waking hours were spent going from large town to small village, leaving a trail of bodies with their throats ripped out, but even that was no longer satisfying for the immortal.

          His search for Yoshiki returned and intensified, using the cloud gift to search the country faster, but with no results. Imai wondered if the immortal had returned to France, it had always been a favored haven for Yoshiki, he could kill indiscriminately and leave no trace of the fact that it was an immortal who was responsible for the bodies that were found throughout the country.

         

          It was 1847 and France was in turmoil. Louis Phillipe was king, liberal public discourse on any political topic was outlawed and an influx of people into Paris seeking jobs, was overwhelming the city, and the liberals were preparing to overthrow the government. Once Imai was in Paris, he knew that Yoshiki would no longer favor the city of lights, and as such, he left France and traveled to England.

          Victorian era London was a cultural haven, one could lose themselves in the theatre district, be viewed as an eccentric foreigner and live his or her life as they chose. Imai had to go to the Bank of London, he knew that gold would have to be exchanged for paper pound notes, explaining to the bank manager, “My family in Japan are old fashion,” he told the man in broken English, the bank manager happily taking the gold coin in exchange, with no further explanation needed.

          Imai took a room at an inn, asking the desk clerk not to wake him during the day, “I prefer to sleep, I rather enjoy the nightlife in the city.” The clerk saw Imai as just another random foreigner with odd habits, and took note of the customer’s preferences.

          With his senses on high alert, Imai wandered through the city that first night, taking in the changes since he had last been in England, the city was more modern, the sidewalks were crowded with people, the streets were a mishmash of carts, carriages and vendors hawking their wares, but he could also hear the whispers of a name; Yoshiki.

          There were a multitude of theatres, with variations between opulence and common. The steady stream of people into a large opera house caught Imai’s attention, as he stopped to look at the billboard, though he couldn’t read the title of the play, the picture not giving any indication of the content, and so he moved on.

          As he was approaching another theatre, a sudden flash of movement some distance in front of him, that could only be identified as an immortal. “Yoshiki?” he murmured to himself. Without looking concerned or suspicious, Imai walked up to the theatre and bought a ticket, not caring what the play may be about. The attendant showed him to his seat, on an aisle midway down the center. Taking his seat, he looked around the theatre, looking up at the people sitting in the balcony boxes.

          The ladies in ornate gowns, the men in smart suits, a flash of jeweled elegance. Just as the house lights started to go down, Imai made eye contact with the immortal. It was not Yoshiki. The house lights were fully down, and the first act of the play started. Resisting the urge to turn and look at the man in the balcony, sitting quietly as he watched the stage, was torture. He tried sending thoughts out to the immortal, but was blocked; the man was purposely rejecting Imai.

          As the first act ended, Imai couldn’t get out of his seat quickly enough, first looking up to the balcony box where the other immortal had been sitting; he was no longer there. Making his way to the lobby, politely stepping past people, he walked to a wall that gave him a good view of the room, and he waited. The call came out for the second act of the play, Imai not wanting to return to his seat, he had to speak to the immortal.  “Sir, the second act is about to begin, do you wish to return to your seat?” an attendant asked Imai, “I will wait, thank you.” The attendant smiled and walked away.

          “Do you speak English?” a whisper in his ear startled him. “No, do you speak French?” Imai asked, the immortal smiled, “Yes,”

          “Yoshiki, where is he? Is he with Ryuichi?” Imai snapped, he wanted to waste no time with this man. “If you are searching for either one of them, I suggest you come with me to my flat, where we can speak at length.” The momentary hesitation was enough for the other immortal, “I promise you will not be harmed. Neither of them are at my flat, we will be alone.” Imai agreed, “I will go with you.”

          They did not speak on the walk to the man’s flat, Imai following him and staring at his back, it took less than ten minutes to arrive at a narrow row house. “Please, come in. Can I get you any refreshments?” Imai waved him off. “I just want answers, I’m not here to become your friend. Tell me where Yoshiki is.”

          “My name is Raymond Watts, my maker is Ryuichi and I was brought into the blood in 1588.”

          “I did not ask for your information, I don’t care who you are,” Imai snapped. “You might want to reconsider that,” Watts replied. “If you want to know where Yoshiki is, I suggest you act with a little more decorum.”

          Imai narrowed his eyes, “Fine. Tell me about yourself, sir.” Watts poured himself a glass of wine, then sunk his long frame into a soft backed wing chair. “Why are you so interested in finding Yoshiki? Do you hold a grudge against him?”

          “I need his assistance in something, I’m familiar with him as we have worked together in the past.”

          “Oh? How long ago are we talking?”
          “1489, in Paris.”

          “Ah, well now I know who you are! You’re Imai-san, yes…he’s told me about you and your situation at the time. Are you still having problems with your maker?” Watts did know about Imai, Yoshiki had told him the full story, and the outcome.

          “I need his help, and yes it does have to do with Sakurai Atsushi. Do you know where he is?”

          Watts ignored the question, “Ryuichi is my maker, and I believe my coming into the blood the way I did, seems to follow a pattern for both men. Seduction, attack and then abandonment. Yoshiki and I met some years later, and became lovers, though I was not the only lover he had at that time. Now I have no idea who he fucks.” Watts almost spit the words out.

          “When was the last time you saw him?”

          “Hmm, twenty years or so? He was in France, said the political atmosphere was becoming unstable and he left. He came to London to find me, we spent some lovely evenings together, hunting and enjoying the culture, then unexpectedly one night, without warning he was gone. So, to answer your question, I don’t know where he is exactly.”

          The disappointment showed on Imai’s face, “Why is it that you’re so desperate to find him? What has happened?” Watts asked.

          Imai went through the story of his life after he had Yoshiki help him contact Sakurai, in Paris, the relationship he had with Tangier and the constant attempts at contacting his maker. “When I finally discovered where he was living, I went to Sendai to confront him, to ask him if we could at least speak to each other.”

          Watts offered Imai a glass of wine, which the man took. “I confronted Sakurai one night when he was out riding with his blood spouse and another young woman, unfortunately the boy, Uta, saw me first. Sakurai dismounted and told me to leave, that he never wanted to see me again,” Imai started to cry hot burning tears, “my lover Tangier…he saw Uta as a threat and attacked the boy, grabbing him out of the saddle and throwing him to the ground. Sakurai grabbed Tangier, and threw him against a tree…then he set the boy on fire.”

          “He what?” Watts asked incredulously, “he killed the boy?” Imai nodded, “Right in front of me, with no remorse, he said he’d do the same to me if I threatened his family. I used the cloud gift and left the area immediately.” Watts knew that certain immortals had the gift of fire, but this was horrifying.

         “Why do you want to speak with Yoshiki?”

         “I want revenge, I want Sakurai to hurt as much as I have, he took my lover, I want his in repayment. Yoshiki has helped me once before, I’m going to assume he’ll help me again.” Imai drained his glass of wine, Watts reaching over to refill it. “What do you want with Uta? If he is Sakurai’s blood spouse, there is no way you can force him to become your lover.”

         “I don’t want that brat as a lover, I want him as a slave.” Imai snarled, “I’ll make that fucking child work for me, I will feed from him and I will make him suffer as Tangier suffered. I may even set the boy ablaze in front of Sakurai if he displeases me so.”

          Raymond Watts didn’t like the person he saw sitting in front of him, Imai sharing  the same vicious traits Yoshiki had, that had kept them apart for decades at a time. He no more wanted to be a part of Imai’s plans of revenge, than he ever did with Yoshiki and his incurable thirst for violence.

        “I can only offer you this; if you plan on staying in London for a time and if Yoshiki contacts me, I will make it known that you wish to see him, that is all I can do at this point. As I said, I have not seen him for at least twenty years, which is not unusual.”

          Imai sighed in resignation, “I will have to accept that for now as I can not go against Sakurai Atsushi alone. I will remain in London for the time being,” getting up he bowed to the immortal, “Thank you for hearing me out, I bid you good night.” Imai left the flat, slipping into the darkness.         

          Raymond Watts watched Imai as the man walked down the street and into the night. “Sakurai Atsushi, I would watch your back…you do not know what evil may be lurking behind you at any time.” Watts hoped that he was no where near any of the three men involved, the last thing he wanted was immortal drama playing out in front of him.

          Making his way back to his hotel, Imai was in deep thought; what would he do if Yoshiki would not help him? He had no thoughts of going to Ryuichi, that was not possible as the immortal would most likely kill him and Sakurai just out of spite or for entertainment. No, it would have to be Yoshiki…or he would have to bring someone into the blood himself, create a willing partner that would find joy in hunting down Sakurai and taking Uta by force. This would be Imai’s last resort plan.

 

 Raymond Watts

Chapter Text

          The evening after Sakurai’s return to Edo, Kai handed him the letter from Morrie. “What’s this?”

          “Not sure, it came yesterday, but you and Uta were so wrapped up in your reunion, I decided not to give it to you until tonight.”

          Watching Sakurai’s face as he read the letter, Kai hoped it was good news, or at the very least, neutral.

          “Morrie has been in contact with the onmyoji that they had sensed over the last few years. It seems that the man approached Sato one evening, asking to speak to Morrie.” Sakurai said.

          “And? Was there a problem?”

          “No, but it seems that Morrie has received enough information that he’s requesting another clan meeting. He’s already sent word to Reo.”

          “NO! You won’t leave me behind this time Acchan.” It seems that Uta had been eavesdropping, and upon hearing that his lover may be returning to Kyoto, Uta was already protesting. Stomping into the room, Uta stood in front of Sakurai, “You will not be leaving me behind this time, Acchan, I’m going with you to Kyoto.” Kai was trying to stifle a giggle, his hand covering his mouth as he watched the as the younger man protested heatedly.

          “I never said I was leaving you behind, but you had to stomp in here like a petulant child and throw a tantrum. If you will wait until Naoto and Toshiya are with us, I will explain what is happening. Now, go get your siblings.”

          Kai smirked at his clan chief, “He’s a handful, isn’t he?” Sakurai chuckled, “More than a handful…but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

          “What are you expecting with this meeting?” Before Sakurai could answer, Uta returned with Toshiya and Naoto, who then sat down and waited.
          “I’ve received a letter from Morrie-san. It seems that the onmyoji has spoken with them and for whatever reason, Morrie is now requesting another clan meeting. Morrie has sent a letter to Reo as well. I will assume this means a trip back to Kyoto, as the last clan meeting was held here.”

          “What did Morrie-san say about the onmyoji? He’s not threatening or violent, is he?” Toshiya’s voice quivered slightly.

          “There was no mention of any hostility from the man. This is all that I know right now, and yes, we will all be going,” Sakurai looked at Naoto and Toshiya, “I know how important it is for you to see your friends.”

          The young one’s left the room, chattering about the upcoming journey, “Did you see how quickly Naoto perked up?” Kai said. “Yes, I did, I wish I could give her what she needs, but I’m not sure that is in her future.” Sakurai added sadly, “She’s the one I’m most concerned with, her being alone is not healthy.”

         Kai started laughing, “Not healthy? Do you hear yourself Acchan? What part of our lives revolve around being healthy?” Sakurai sighed, covering his eyes with his hand, “You too, Kai? I have a family full of pert mouthed delinquents.”

 

 

          “We will host the meeting here in Kyoto, I’m assuming we have enough room for everyone?” Reo had Asanao, Jyou and Arimatsu join him after reading Morrie’s letter. “We have adequate room, now that the other guest house is finished. If each clan brings all their members, it will be about twenty people and we can house at least thirty,” Jyou calculated, “Knowing Uta, he will be sure to come as there is no doubt he would never agree to being left behind.”

         “Then I will send a reply stating that I agree to host the meeting here in Kyoto,” Reo paused, “We should perhaps find separate lodging for the onmyoji. I’m not confident that all members of the clans will agree to being housed with him. I will leave the arrangements to you, Jyou.”

          Reo wrote a quick reply, then called for one of the human members of his clan, “I need this to go to Morrie-san in Edo, it’s important that it arrives quickly.” The man bowed, “Yes Reo-san, it will take me but a day and a half to deliver the letter.” Reo waved him off and settled back into this chair. “Onmyoji, what do you want with us?”

 

        “Are we going? It would be stupid of us not to go.” Yusuke had a leg thrown over Inoran’s hip, cuddling after making love. “If there is to be another meeting, yes, we will attend, though I’m not sure to what end our involvement with an onmyoji will be. I can see no positive outcome from this.”

         Inoran still wanted nothing to do with the clan alliance, but he had promised Sakurai that he would at least attend any meetings that were held, “For the safety of our community,” Sakurai emphasized. Yusuke kissed Inoran softly on the cheek, “Good, I’d hate for us to miss something important that may have to do with the onmyoji, it’s very strange that now he has chosen to come forward.”

         This is the exact reason that Inoran didn’t want to go to the meeting; the risk of having an unknown immortal possibly seeking to harm Yusuke or Heath, was not something he wanted to do. “I’m not happy about this, and you and Heath will stay with me at all times, I trust no one, we don’t know who or what this man really is.” Inoran said before drifting off to sleep.

 

          It was Mana’s duty to sit with the injured man that had been found wandering the streets of Kyoto with a grievous wound across his back, the only word that he had spoken since, was ‘hitokiri’. The warrior was still unconscious, but breathing normally, he would occasionally mumble random words that at times made no sense. After leaving Reo’s office, Arimatsu stopped to see Mana for a brief visit. “Will you be able to sleep today? You look like you need to feed, I will sit with him, please…go out and hunt before the sun rises.”

         Mana smiled, “Thank you, I won’t be long. He has not said anything lately, but you should call for Jyou if he does.” With a quick kiss, Mana left the room.

          Arimatsu looked down at the man on the futon, pulling back the blanket to look at the tattoos on the man’s chest. “What do they mean?” The tribal patterns of the sun, a large kraken on his shoulder and designs had no meaning to Arimatsu. Just as he was covering the man, his eyes fluttered open.

          Arimatsu got up quickly and slid the door open, seeing an older geisha nearby, “could you please get Jyou-san for me?” The geisha bowed, “Yes Arimatsu-san.” Sliding the door closed again, the man was fully awake, “Where am I?” his voice was raspy, dry from not speaking.

          “You are in the house of my master, Aichi Reo,” Arimatsu sat down next to the futon. “Here, drink this.” Arimatsu held a small bowl of water to the man’s mouth. “Thank you.” Before the man could ask another question, Jyou came into the room along with Kyo.

          “It is good to see you awake,” Jyou kneeled next to the futon, “Can you tell us your name?” Kyo leaned against a wall, watching and listening carefully.,

          “My name is Futoshi Uehara.”

          “Futoshi-san, how were you wounded?” Kyo asked, “When you were found, the only word you said was hitokiri,”

          Futoshi frowned, “I am surprised then, that I am alive,” He tried to sit up, grimacing in as the pain from the wound shot through his body, “Do not try to move, Futoshi-san, your wound will open again if you move too suddenly.” Jyou gently scolded the man.

          “You survived an attack by a hitokiri? That’s impressive, who were you serving at the time…your daimyo?” Jyou held Futoshi’s head for more water.

          “Thank you. Yes, my daimyo’s home came under attack and there was a hitokiri within their ranks, who he was loyal to, I didn’t bother to ask as he was killing at an amazing speed, I attacked him, but he was too fast for me to assert any reasonable counter attack. I fell within a few minutes.” Kyo looked at Arimatsu, “How did you make your way to Kyoto and why?”

          “I was born in Kyoto, and I wanted to die here. I have little memory of the journey, or who dressed my wounds. When I woke, I was alone in a small hut, some miles from my daimyo’s estate, there was some food and water which I ate immediately, then I just got up and started walking,” Futoshi stopped for a moment, “I feel as if I should warn you, Bakumatsu is near, and it’s going to be violent and ugly until the new regime is in place.”

          Arimatsu looked at Kyo, who nodded and left the room. “What makes you believe this Futoshi-san?” Jyou asked.

          Futoshi shook his head sadly, “The modernization of the country, mostly by the foreigners that are coming in, the new government seeks for Japan to become more westernized, more involved with international trade policies, and the shogunate is falling quickly. The country will see a new era within two years, if not sooner.”

          Arimatsu returned with Reo, “Futoshi-san, welcome to my home. I hope you’re feeling a bit better than when we found you?”

          “Yes sir, thank you for your hospitality,” he looked at everyone in the room, “if I may ask, the young woman said this is a clan, can you please explain that to me?”

          “In due time, yes of course. Right now, I’d like to hear more about this Bakumatsu you’re speaking of, do you have more details?”

          For the next thirty minutes or so, Futoshi told Reo everything he knew about the upcoming revolution, most of which Reo was familiar with, some that came as a surprise.

          “You’re certain about the Bakumatsu?”

          “Yes, Reo-san, very certain. I fear the near future will be consumed in violence and killing, I am ashamed of having lived through my wounds.” Futoshi sighed and closed his eyes.

          “Thank you for that information Futoshi-san, rest for now and we will speak more later, and I will explain the relationships in my clan.” Reo bowed and left the room.

          “Did I anger him?” Futoshi looked at Jyou.

          “No, but the information is disturbing and I’m sure he’s going to want to share it with the other clans. I’m sure he’ll explain it later,” Jyou stood up to leave, “I’m going to send Mana in with some miso and rice.”

 

          “Bakumatsu…this isn’t good news, Reo.” Asanao had run into Reo as he left Futoshi’s room, asking him to come into his private office. “I agree, but what can we do about it, if anything, other than keeping our heads down?”

          “Just that, keep our heads down, keep out of the politics. I want you to have Arimatsu bring in all his agents, I need to speak to them about this. Also, make mention to any of the shop owners or vendors that are in our system, that Clan Aichi will not be involved politically at any time, I don’t want to risk losing any of our members to some random violence.” Asanao bowed and left the room.

          “What will you do about Futoshi? Let him heal then turn him out?” Jyou had a bad habit of standing in a corner unnoticed or forgotten whenever Reo was handling business. “I don’t know, perhaps have Kyo and Hazuki speak to him, ask him the same questions and explain our special situation?”

          “Will you keep him bound to you?”

          “As his maker only, he is free to go where he chooses.”

          Jyou sighed, “That’s not what I asked you, and you know it. Will you be his maker?”

          “I don’t even know if he would agree to being brought into the blood, so why are you pushing this?” Reo said irritably.

          “I’m not pushing anything, tou-san, just reminding you to explore your options in regards to Futoshi-san.”

          “You’ve made yourself clear, now leave me before I turn you over my knee and spank you!” he snapped. Jyou laughed, “Yes tou-san.” Bowing to her father, she left the room still laughing.

 

          “You’re sure you want to come with us? We could take a formal letter or some other message if you believe you’ll be uncomfortable.” Morrie was giving Isshi as many options as possible, the main option was not to go. “I will travel with you, but apart, I do not want to cause any discomfort to you or your family by traveling along side of you.”

          “As you wish. We shall be leaving in three nights, just after sunset. I suggest you rent a horse as it is the quickest and easiest way to travel at night. We will be stopping at ryokan that we have used in the past; the trip should take no longer than four nights. Sakurai and his clan will be leaving a night earlier, as not to lead to any suspicions. Reo has indicated that he has separate lodgings for you as well. Please do not take this as a slight, it’s done purely out of the need for your safety.”

          Isshi bowed, “Thank you, Morrie-san. I understand the arrangements that need to be made. I will wait for you here, in three nights. Thank you for arranging the meeting.”

         

         

          Futoshi Uehara was sitting up on the futon, his back resting against a wall, staring at Kyo and Hazuki like they were some sort of three headed yokai. “Surely this is a joke, you can not possibly be serious?”

          “I told you he wouldn’t believe us,” Hazuki muttered.

          “I know, but we always have to at least tell them first, before anything else.”

          “Um, I’m sitting right here, would you care to explain to me how I am supposed to believe this story of blood drinkers, how to believe, that you are vampires?” Futoshi objected.  

          Hazuki had spoken with Reo before he and Kyo had gone into Futoshi’s room, with the intent on explaining the life of Clan Aichi. “I’m not sure Jyou will agree to this, she’s not one for public displays of affection,” Hazuki hesitated to ask his lover to help Futoshi understand their unique relationship.

          Reo chuckled, “I would suggest using almost anyone else other than Jyou, Mana and Arimatsu perhaps, or Kyo and Ayato, though that would sideline Kyo for the remainder of the evening.” Kyo and Ayato’s sharing of blood usually ended with a rather heated round of lewdness in their private room.

          “It’s not like Ayato will care,” Kyo interjected, “He’s just as lewd as I am, but in a softer way and he doesn’t mind playing in front of others.”

          That led up to Kyo and Hazuki explaining their special circumstances, “Would you like a demonstration?” the shorter immortal growled. “Demonstration? Surely you don’t mean killing someone in front of me?”

          Kyo got up and slid open the door, “Ayato! Get your tiny ass in here,” he said gruffly.

          Ayato slumped his shoulders as he walked to the door, “What? I haven’t done anything wrong, why are you yelling at me?”

          “Just do as I tell you to, stop whining,” pulling the young man into the room, “this is Futoshi-san.” Kyo really didn’t need to explain anything further, Ayato knew what he wanted.

          “Again? Can’t you just believe what they tell you?”

          “Why are you being such a brat today?” Kyo grabbed Ayato in his arms, “If you don’t let me do this, I’m not fucking you for a week. Think about it… no getting slammed into the floor or sucking cock for a week? How long do you think you can last before you come to me begging for it?” Kyo whispered in Ayato’s ear.

          The words caused the young man to shift uneasily, “for a week?” he whimpered. “Yes, a week…now, sit in my lap and get comfortable,” Kyo sat down on the floor next to the futon, grabbing Ayato and pulling him into his lap.

          Futoshi watched as Kyo first kissed his lover passionately, then reached up and tipped the boy’s face to the side, licking up Ayato’s neck, then slowly sinking his fangs into the boy’s neck.

          “Be careful Kyo, don’t get carried away,” Hazuki warned his friend. Ayato moaned and clutched at Kyo’s shirt, “Kyo…that’s enough…” he whined. Futoshi watched the exchange, the sensual act of taking the boy’s blood.

          “Is it true then? You do drink the blood of humans…well, the boy is a vampire as well?”  Kyo stood up with Ayato in his arms, “I’ll be right back, let me put him to bed.”

          Hazuki smiled and slid the door opened for the couple. “Yes, but it’s also part of our sexuality, there’s a great deal of passion to be had when you take the blood of your lover.”

          “How does all of this effect me? Are you saying that I will be changed into a vampire?” Futoshi’s voice was shaking. Before Hazuki could answer, Kyo returned. “No. Reo-san never takes anyone by force. There are a lot of immortals that had no choice on being brought into the blood, but there are some of us who chose to. I was dying when I was found, Reo-san offered me immortality, and the opportunity to avenge the death of my master, which I was able to do,” Kyo turned to Hazuki, “He was given the choice, but for the same reason, revenge against those that wronged us.”

          “And that boy? He’s so young, he looks to be fifteen at the oldest, what reason could he have for being changed?”

          Kyo’s face softened, “He’s beautiful, isn’t he? He’s also the child of a geisha, which leaves him with no status as an individual. Were he to be turned out of the house, he would have been forced into prostitution, which may have ended his life. He asked Reo to be brought into the blood. There are others here that were changed in order to save their lives; Arimatsu’s lover Mana, Hazuki’s lover Jyou and members of other clans.”

          Hazuki squatted down next to Futoshi’s futon, “It is your choice and yours alone to make, but know this; Reo-san will not force you into the blood. If you choose to do so, he will allow you the opportunity to avenge the death of your daimyo, and perhaps to revisit the hitokiri. If you wish to leave, Reo will allow you to heal, and you may leave at your will.” Hazuki and Kyo left Futoshi at that point, wishing him a good evening, and leaving him with questions, choices and decisions.  

Chapter Text

          Futoshi Uehara had graduated to sitting up for a few hours, before the pain from his wound would force him to laying back on his futon. He had come to appreciate Mana and Ayato, the former bringing him food and the latter filling his hours with chatting and not a fair bit of gossip. It was from Ayato that Futoshi started to understand the dynamics of the clan, and the reasons that most of them had been brought into the blood.

          “Issay was Sakurai-san’s third child, but started demanding more of Sakurai-san’s time, and then he had the audacity to call Kai-san a peasant, and unworthy of their master’s attention.”

          “He sounds like an asshole.” Futoshi surmised just from the stories Ayato had told him.

          “Oh, he’s worse than just an asshole.” Ayato told Futoshi about the incident with the rogue vampires, and Issay’s abandonment. “He left… you’re not serious! How could he?”

          “Because he’s a coward, and only thinks of himself.” Ayato declared, “I was lucky that Kyo found me.”

          “Will Reo-san force me to leave, if I choose not to be changed?” This was Futoshi’s concern, “I don’t have anywhere to go, Kyoto is my home.”

          “I doubt it, Reo may put you to work with the other human agents that are connected to the clan, we have quite a few that are under Arimatsu’s control. I’m sure you could speak to him about joining the clan as a human.”

          The ultimate question was next, “What’s it like? Are you honestly happy living like this?”

          Ayato smiled, “I am happy. I have friends, I have a man who loves me and honestly, if I had not been brought into the blood, I probably would already be dead. I’m the child of a geisha, I’m small and I’m pretty. Do you know what happens to boys like me?” Futoshi knew, he’d seen how these bishonen boys were abused and often killed during sex acts.

          “What’s the change like?” Ayato was blunt and truthful, making sure that Futoshi knew of the pain, but also the ecstasy at the end.

          “When you first look at your maker or your lover, it’s like nothing else in the world. Your first feed is a little tough, but it takes no time to learn to enjoy it, and before you ask, no…we do not kill our victims, we take a little drink, and leave them as comfortable as possible. There are some who kill, Sakurai’s first born, Imai was like that, he hunted and killed viciously, ethical immortals don’t do that.”  

           They talked into the wee hours of the night, Ayato only leaving when he knew that dawn was quickly approaching, “Think about it Ue-chan, there other opportunities for you. You do not have to stay with our clan, I’m sure Morrie-San or Sakurai-san would welcome you into theirs.”

 

 

          The clans having arrived in Kyoto, were assigned housing for the length of the meetings, with Isshi staying in one of the newer buildings, with Reo assuring him it was not out of concern for anyone’s safety, “Isshi-san, I believe it would be prudent to keep you apart from the others, as not to distress you when we go out to hunt, I hope you understand.”

          Morrie had brought Isshi to Reo’s private room for the clan leaders to be introduced. “I hope I will be of some assistance to your collective community. I have no hidden agenda; I am concerned that there is some sort of evil force building in your world that may impact the mortal world.”

          The next evening the clans had gathered in the largest of Reo’s rooms, with the clan leaders sitting together. “I want to thank all of you for coming,” Reo spoke first, “We have with us the onmyoji Isshi, and he has requested to speak to us collectively.”

          Isshi entered the room, and bowed, sitting to the side of Morrie. “Konbanwa, my name is Isshi, before I start with why I’m here tonight, I’d like to give you my background if that is permissible?” He looked to Reo for approval, Reo nodding his head.

          “As you may have heard, I am an immortal, or that is what I believe at this point, as I was born in 975 in Nara. I was the male child of a concubine of my daimyo, who was connected to the Fujiwara clan. I was raised along side of my daimyo’s children, I was taught to read and to write, something that was unusual for the time.”

          Isshi paused to sip some sake, then he continued, “I do not remember exactly when Abe no Seimei came to the estate, it seemed to me that he had always been there. I used to hide behind a large silk tapestry when he would be in counsel with the daimyo and listen to their conversations. I thought I was a clever boy, until Abe called out to me, alerting the daimyo to my hiding spot.” Ayato and Uta giggled softly, nudging each other, much to Kyo and Sakurai’s chagrin, both earning a stern glance from their lovers.

          “Abe called to me to reveal myself, though I was terrified of what punishment my daimyo might call for, I did as I was told.” Isshi smiled as he closed his eyes, seeing the look on Abe’s face as he presented himself to the onmyoji. “Abe asked me my name and how old I was, ‘Boy,’ he said, ‘why were you hiding and eavesdropping on our conversation?’ It never once crossed my mind to lie, I simply told the truth, ‘I was drawn to you, Abe-san, I needed to hear your voice.’ I said. My father, the daimyo looked at me with a renewed interest, then back at Abe-san. ‘Is he the one?’ he asked. Abe-san nodded, ‘I believe he is,’.

          Isshi opened his eyes and looked around the room, everyone was captivated by his story, which pleased him enormously, “It was that day that I came to Abe no Seimei as an apprentice.”

          A knock at the door startled everyone badly, with twitters of laughter, Mana came in with several other servants, carrying trays laden with food for everyone. Isshi continued with his story as they ate, talking about his apprenticeship with Abe no Seimei, his mastering of his talents and of the one that would cause a great deal of pain, for the world.

          “My master talked about the dark one, as he called him. That this man would be the downfall of a future society, and that he had taken a partner as well. I believe now, he was speaking of Ryuichi the vampire, and Yoshiki.” The room buzzed with murmured conversation, “Please, everyone, let us hear him out,” Reo shushed the room.

          Isshi nodded to Reo, then continued. “In my masters later years, he had spoken of an undead evil that would wreak havoc among the living and the immortal, and with him a man with equal hate in his heart. He knew the name Ryuichi, but not the other’s, I’m assuming he meant Yoshiki, this was twenty years before his death.”

          “Do you know if your master and Ryuichi had met face to face?” Sakurai asked. “If he had, he never told me.”

          “Please, continue Isshi-san.” Reo said. Isshi bowed his head lightly. “My master was aging peacefully, still instructing me as his body deteriorated, but his mind remained sharp until the end. He died peacefully in 1005 and I was thirty years old.”

          “I started traveling, advising various daimyo’s and other dignitaries, but I grew tired of the constant state wars, the bickering over immaterial things, supposed slights and betrayals. After eighty years of traveling, I noticed that I was not aging, and I concluded that my master had bestowed long life on me before he died. As the centuries passed, I assumed that I was immortal, my appearance has not changed, I am as I was at age thirty.

I kept to myself, and in 1631 I came to Edo and I presented myself at the Inari Okami shrine, and I have been there since.”

          Morrie asked the obvious question, “We could feel your presence, the fact that you were an immortal, but not a vampire. What drove you to approach us at this time?”

          Isshi smiled and nodded, “I have been observing you as well, I believe Kyo-san knew I was nearby when Sakurai-san was searching for a new house, isn’t that right?”

          Kyo snorted, “I could feel something, but I excused it as my being overly cautious.”

          “Kyo-san, I was being very clumsy that day, it was my inattention that almost revealed my presence near you.” Looking over at Morrie, Isshi explained his position again.

          “There is some great evil that is lurking just behind us all, I’m certain it is Ryuichi and Yoshiki, they are planning a war of some sort, the soldiers are the rogues that you’ve described, the one’s that are left with no instruction on how to survive. It is a game for them, they are soulless creatures. Why they are preparing for this, I don’t know, who can figure out a mind that is so clouded with violence and inhumanity?”

          Reo signaled to Asanao, who then left the room. “I may have some added information, and whether it pertains to Ryuichi’s plans.”

          The door slid open and Futoshi Uehara, leaning heavily on Asanao’s shoulder, was brought into the room, and helped to a chair, and he was visibly nervous, surrounded by immortals will do that to a man.

          “This is Futoshi Uehara, he was found on the streets of Kyoto, badly wounded. I was informed that the only word he said was hitokiri.” Reo waited as the murmured voices rose. “Quiet please, Futoshi-san would you please tell us how you came to be so wounded and in Kyoto?”

          Futoshi’s story was nothing new to those assembled, especially to Kyo and Hazuki, both whom had to resort to becoming ronin in order to survive. The difference in their story was it was a different era, “Bakumatsu is coming, the Tokugawa shogunate is collapsing and it will be the end of the Edo era. The hitokiri, are assisting the new government, which is one for the westernization of Japan, they want to bring us into the new century. The new government wants to do away with the samurai, replace it with the stylized armies of the west. This will impact your lives as immortals, just as it will impact the lives of all who live in this country.”

          Uta was listening, but he had also noticed Naoto staring at Futoshi. He nudged Ayato and whispered in his ear, “Will he be joining your clan?” Ayato shrugged, “I’m not sure, he never really said what he’s going to do.” Sakurai sent a sharp look as a reprimand towards Uta, who bowed his head to avoid his leader’s gaze.

          Asanao was helping Futoshi to his feet, “Thank you Futoshi-san, for the information.” Reo bowed his head as Asanao helped the injured man to the door. Futoshi looked around the room, nodded and smiled, catching Naoto’s gaze, he smiled and winked at her. Naoto’s jaw dropped, then she quickly looked around, there was no way he winked at her; both Shinya and Toshiya were sitting nearby, the man must have looked at either of the beautiful men.

          Uta and Ayato were also watching, Uta quickly looked to see if Sakurai was watching him, then he nudged Ayato again, “Did you see?” Ayato shook his head, but said nothing.

          Asanao helped Futoshi into a chair in his room, “Thank you for speaking to the clans.” He bowed and turned to leave the room, “Uh, Asanao-san? Who was the girl with the long dark hair, she has very strange eyes?”

          “That would be Naoto, she is Sakurai-san’s adopted daughter…why?” He knew the answer. “She looked lonely, and unhappy, I bet she’s beautiful when she smiles though. Thank you for your assistance today.”

 

          Isshi returned to the new house, leaving the clan leaders to talk amongst themselves, about what to do with the information he had given them. “Can we trust the information he’s given us?” Inoran asked.

          “There’s no reason for him to lie, I don’t see any reason not to trust him.” Morrie countered, “He came to us, he sought us out. If he had ulterior motives, would he have not then executed them in secret?”

          “I sensed no ill will from the man, I have to agree with Morrie, if Isshi had wanted to somehow hurt us, he wouldn’t have come and asked to speak to a room full of immortals.”

          Inoran scoffed, he saw this statement as an attack on his concerns. “Do whatever you will, this does not concern me. Thank you for your hospitality, Reo-san but we will be leaving tomorrow night.” With a stiff bow, Inoran left the room.

          Morrie shook his head as he watched Inoran leave the room. “What the hell is wrong with that man? Why must he isolate himself so?”

          “I’m beginning to wonder that myself,” Reo muttered, “Back to the issue at hand, I would like to speak to Isshi again privately, just the three of us. I’d like to find out exactly what Abe no Seimei knew about Ryuichi and Yoshiki.”

 

          The scattered footsteps rushed down the hall, stopping in front of Futoshi’s door, a gentle questioning knock followed, “Futoshi-san, can I come in please?” Ayato and Uta were acting as the typical busybodies. “Yes,” Futoshi answered.

          “This is my friend Uta, he’s Sakurai-san’s blood spouse,” Ayato introduced his friend, “It is a pleasure to meet you Uta-san.” The honorific drew an immediate giggle from Uta, “Oh please, Futoshi-san, don’t use honorifics with me, I might be physically older than you, but look at me.”

          Ayato sat down next to Futoshi, “What did you think of our meeting?” the young man asked carefully. “It was interesting to see the different kind of people who are immortals, I don’t know what I was expecting…yokai maybe?” Futoshi blushed, he was embarrassed that he had thoughts of such things.

          “Is it strange for there to be no women? I mean obviously Jyou-san, and Mana-san, but other than the girl with the long dark hair, there are no women?”

          “Jyou and Naoto are the only women, Mana-san is physically a man, but has always lived as a woman, so that only leaves Jyou and Naoto, and Jyou’s in a relationship with Hazuki.”

          “And Naoto?”

          “Naoto’s my sister…well she’s my sister by clan. She doesn’t have a mate or spouse.” Uta said slyly.

          “But she’s so pretty, her eyes are different but I find them beautiful.” Futoshi was blushing bright red.

          “We’re not really sure what happened with her eyes when she was changed, though we believe it was Ryuichi, and he might have done some other things to her.” Uta explained. Futoshi’ anger presented with a growl from the man, “Other things? How can…he hurt her?” Uta nodded, “He might have raped her before or during her change, but she won’t say anything about it, it’s just a feeling I get.”

          “The same happened to Mana,” Ayato explained how Mana was brought into the blood, “that’s why she doesn’t speak, her tongue was cut out. I helped her create a type of sign language that everyone has learned, so she can speak to us. Arimatsu is her mate, they’re very cute together.” Ayato laughed, hoping to lighten the mood. Futoshi looked at the two young men, “Would it be possible for me to speak to Naoto?”

 

          The conversation between Naoto and Futoshi Uehara had to wait until the next evening, after Uta and Ayato pleaded to Reo and Sakurai, to let the man meet the young woman. “You should have seen how he reacted to her story, Acchan, he was so angry.” The two young men sat before their clan leaders, explaining what had happened the night before.

          “Ayato and I will stay in the room with her, or we could do it in the main hall, or the dining room. Please, Reo-san…Acchan, he might…” Uta’s thought trailed off.

          “He might what, Uta-kun?” Reo raised an eyebrow, glancing over to Sakurai. “He might want to be brought into the blood, to be with Naoto.” Uta said quietly.

          “We have had an issue with Naoto’s loneliness, I believe she would like to have a mate, but available bachelor men are not in abundance, and she’s worried about her strange appearance, specifically her eyes. She believes herself to be ugly and unlovable.”

          This revelation broke Reo’s heart, “That beautiful child…” he sighed, then looking at Sakurai, “I will agree to letting Futoshi meet Naoto, if you also agree, and I want a chaperone from each clan; I will send Kyo, I suspect you will have Kai with her, but these two brats are to stay out of the room.” Disappointed groans followed.

 

          “He…he wants to speak to me? Why?” Naoto refused to believe Sakurai, that being the third time she had asked. “Naoto, my love, please, just speak with the man. Kai and Kyo will both be in the room; you are perfectly safe, if anything the man should be the one that should be worrying, considering you’re the immortal, not him.” Sakurai hugged his daughter.

          Kyo was in another room, drilling the rules into Futoshi’s head, “You will be respectful of her at all times, you will not touch her, and you will not speak ill of her. She is a sweet and fragile young lady, regardless of how long she’s been in the blood. Kai and I will remain in the room with you, as you speak to her.” Futoshi had nothing to say but “I understand and agree to all of it.”

          Futoshi had combed out his hair and tied it back, washed his face and asked for a clean plain black yukata. Sitting in a chair, he waited for Naoto to arrive.

          Kai knocked first then slid the door open, stepping inside first, then holding out his hand for Naoto, leading her to a chair across from Futoshi. “Futoshi-san, this is Sakurai Atsushi’s adopted daughter, Naoto.” Kai introduced her. Futoshi stood and bowed as far as his wound would let him, “It is a pleasure to meet you, Naoto-san.”

          Naoto had borrowed a blue and red yukata from Mana, “I don’t want to come dressed in my plain clothes,” she explained, Mana telling her “You’re beautiful enough, you don’t need fancy clothes.

          Naoto bowed awkwardly, “The pleasure is mine, Futoshi-san.” Kai and Kyo retreated to the far corner of the room, trying to be inconspicuous as possible, turning their backs to the couple.

          Futoshi spoke first, “I asked to meet you today, I saw you last night at the meeting, and you looked so sad. I told myself that if I could make you smile just once, that my life would be fulfilled.”

          This statement caught Naoto completely off guard, “You don’t even know me…how could you say such a thing?”

          “I took it upon myself to speak to your clan leader, your brother Uta and Ayato-san, I wanted to know more about you and why you appeared to be so sad. I hope I have not offended you?”

          Naoto shook her head, “I saw you smile, then wink but I was sure you were looking at Mana-san or Shinya-san, I never thought you’d look at someone like me.”

          “She really has no self-worth, does she?” Kyo whispered to Kai. “No, she doesn’t. I understand that she had sisters that were far more beautiful than her, and that’s how Ryuichi was able to seduce her so quickly, he played on her insecurities.”

          “How long will you be staying in Kyoto, Naoto-san?” Futoshi had to make a quick decision, depending on her answer. “A few more days I suppose, then we will return to Edo.” Naoto’s voice was sad and dejected.

          “Will you be joining Reo-sama’s clan here in Kyoto?” If he was, at least she could look forward to seeing him again.

          “No, I don’t believe I will.” The man answered with certainty, Kai and Kyo sharing a look of concern.

          Naoto’s shoulders slumped, the small hope dashed into the rocks, “Oh, that’s too bad. I hope you heal well and can return to your home.” She stood and bowed, “Thank you for seeing me, sayonara.” Without waiting for Kai, Naoto opened the door and quickly walked back to her room.

          Futoshi stood and waited for Kai to leave the room before speaking to Kyo, “I’d like to speak to Reo-san and Sakurai-san as soon as possible please.”

Chapter Text

          “Where is he now?”

          “In the small garden behind the house,”

          “What’s he doing?”

          “Nothing, just staring at the sky.”

          Inoran’s odd behavior was beginning to worry his blood spouse, Yusuke was constantly watching his lover slip further into isolation every night. “Have you spoken to him at all?” Heath had noticed the odd behavior.

          “Not since the meeting, I may try before we go to bed.” Looking at his friend, Yusuke hoped that Heath would continue to live with them, but he had to give him the option, “You know, you don’t have to stay with us. I’m sure that either Morrie or Sakurai would gladly allow you to join their clan.”

          Heath smiled sadly, “No, I will stay with you and Inoran as long as you’ll have me. I have no desire to leave either one of you.”  He put his arm around Yusuke’s shoulder, “We will deal with the problems as they come.”

 

          After speaking with Naoto, Futoshi Uehara had requested to speak to both Reo and Sakurai immediately. “It is vital that I speak to them before they leave the clan meeting,” he explained to Kyo. “Wait here,” the man said gruffly.

          Up until Futoshi had seen Naoto, he was resigned to leaving Reo’s home after his wounds healed, and try to somehow create a new life for himself. He had no real skills, other than as a samurai, and with the Bakumatsu on the horizon, he knew he’d have to find some type of employment in the new era.

          The sight of Naoto sitting with her clan, but keeping her eyes cast to her lap, had touched Futoshi’s heart. Once he had heard her story, the anger had built in his mind, and upon meeting her face to face, he vowed to himself that he would make her smile, even if it was just once. With the clan meeting scheduled to be complete in the next few nights, Futoshi knew that his choice was the right one.

          “Come with me,” Kyo slid the door open. “Yes, Kyo-san.” As they walked down the hall towards Reo’s office, Kyo stopped and turned to look Futoshi in the eyes, “If I ever hear that you have hurt that young woman, in any way, you will die within the night, is that clear?” Futoshi was taken aback, “Of course, Kyo-san. I will never intentionally hurt Naoto, quite the opposite, I will make it my goal in eternity to keep a smile upon those beautiful lips.” Kyo grunted and they continued to walk to Reo’s office.

          Jyou was standing at the door, “Good luck, Futoshi-san,” she smiled. Futoshi bowed, then knocked on the door.

          Walking into the room and standing before Reo’s desk, Futoshi bowed, “Thank you for agreeing to see me, tonight.”

          “Please, sit down. Tell us what’s on your mind.” Both Reo and Sakurai had been told about the meeting by Kai, “He’s already half in love with her,” Kai giggled, “It’s so sweet.”

          Futoshi cleared his throat, “I’d like to speak to you about Naoto-chan if I may,” he turned to Sakurai, “She has no lover, is that correct?” Sakurai nodded, “No, she has no one in her life, other than her family.”

          Turning to Reo, Futoshi breathed deeply, “Am I free to leave if I so wish?”

          “Of course, you are not bound to me in any way. What did you have in mind?”

          The man looked back at Sakurai, “I would like to join your clan if it is permissible, with the obvious reason being, that I’d like to court Naoto, my lord. I also understand that I would be required to be brought into the blood, and I will agree to that,” he paused, choosing his words carefully, “Uta told me her story, how she was brought into the blood by Ryuichi, and what the people of her village did to her after she was changed. If war comes to the immortal world, I’d like to request that I be allowed to deliver the death blow to Ryuichi, to avenge Naoto.”

          This came as a complete shock to both Reo and Sakurai, “You do understand that you would be going up against the most powerful immortal in our world, this is a heavy responsibility to hang on yourself.” Reo explained.

          Futoshi’s back stiffened, “Yes, but…what he has done, not just to Naoto, but anyone he has forcefully brought into the blood is equally reprehensible. I am just asking for the opportunity should it present itself.” 

          “I would like to confer with Reo-san for a moment, would you please step out and wait for us?” Sakurai asked. Futoshi stood and bowed, “Yes, my lord.”

          Waiting for a moment as Futoshi left the room, Sakurai leaned back and let out a deep breath, “That was unexpected,” he chuckled, “I figured he wanted to talk about Naoto, but to request to kill Ryuichi? The man is either insane, or in love.”

          “I would venture to guess he is insanely in love?” Reo joked. “Will you allow him to join your clan, and will you be the one to bring him into the blood?”

          “If he will love my daughter unconditionally, yes…I will allow him to join and I will be his maker, though I think I will wait until we return home. I’d like to make sure that his affections are not rejected, I would hate to have him tied to me, and Naoto hating the sight of the man.”

          Futoshi returned to the room, Sakurai explaining how they would proceed, “It would be irresponsible of me to bring you into the blood if Naoto does not desire your attentions, it says nothing about you, but more so about the protection of my family, I hope you understand.”

          “I would think less of you if you blindly allowed me to join your clan as an immortal, without knowing the feelings of your family.” Futoshi’s mind was screaming in joy.
          Sakurai nodded in agreement, “If you will go with Kyo to the stable and choose a horse, I will let you know when we will be departing.”

          “If allowed by her, may I speak to Naoto again?” Futoshi had his hands behind his back, fingers crossed.

          “With Kai as a chaperone, of course if she is agreeable.” The smile that crossed Futoshi’s lips, was enough for Sakurai to know that the man was genuine about his feelings for his daughter.

          Bowing as low as he could, Futoshi held that bow for some time, “Thank you, my lord Sakurai. I will not disappoint or fail you; you have my loyalty for eternity.” With a lighter heart, Futoshi Uehara left the room and went in search of Naoto.

 

 

          For Naoto, the meeting had been just another kick in the stomach and a stab to the heart. She allowed herself no feelings, no emotions for Futoshi, as he had stated that he would not be joining Reo’s clan, to which she believed he would remain human and live out his natural life.

          “How can you be so sure that’s what he meant, onee-chan?” Uta was sitting on Naoto’s bed, holding her hand and trying to comfort her. “How else could I take it? He said he wasn’t going to join Reo’s clan, to me that means he’s just going to be healed and then go back to wherever he’s from.”

          “I think you’re wrong, but I know I can’t change your mind. Let’s go see Rai and Naki, I don’t want to stay cooped up in here anymore, maybe we can get Akinori to go with us.” After checking with Reo and Sakurai, Uta, Naoto and Akinori made their way to the stables where all the horses were being housed. Sakurai had Kyo following them at a safe distance.

          “I grabbed some apples from the kitchen, I hope Kai, and Reo’s cook don’t mind,” Uta snickered, “If we don’t come with treats, Rai might bite me!” The trio talked about Mana and Arimatsu and how cute they were together, Kyo and Ayato’s weird love life, and how much longer they would be staying in Kyoto.

          Telling the stable master that they wanted to visit their horses, the three friends went inside, “Naki…” Naoto called out softly, knowing her mare would nicker at the sound of her voice, and she was right. Uta ran up to Rai and threw his arms around the horse’s neck, “Have you been good, you haven’t bitten anyone have you?” Uta gave the horse part of an apple, then picked up a brush and started brushing the horse.

          “Naoto-san?” an unfamiliar voice called her name, Uta instantly by her side. “Futoshi-san, what are you doing here?” Uta was cautious, “I’m actually choosing a horse for myself; would you be able to help me Uta-san?” Seeing Kyo standing behind Futoshi, Uta relaxed.  

          Uta looked at Naoto and then Akinori, “I suppose I could,” why the man needed a horse was beyond him, but it would have been rude to ask, “What are your choices?”

          “The stable master said any of these are available.” Futoshi led Uta down a row where four horses were standing. Uta looked at each horse, also looking to see how tall Futoshi was, “How well do you ride?” he asked.

          “I’m not an expert, but I have yet to be thrown from a horse’s back.” Futoshi wanted to speak to Naoto, but he knew he needed to be very careful in approaching her.

          Uta and Futoshi looked over the horses, seeing which would be a good fit in size, and temperament. Naoto and Akinori were standing off to the side, “Naoto-san, could you help me please?” Futoshi took a chance.  The young woman’s breath caught, she looked at Akinori, “What should I do?” she hissed. Akinori put his hand on her back and gave her a little push, “Go look at the horse!”

           With small steps, Naoto walked over to where the two men were standing. “I like the way this one looks,” Futoshi started, “but I’m not sure about temperament, does he seem like a nice horse?”

          Naoto looked at Futoshi, then at the horse. She reached out to touch the animal’s nose, when it chuffed at her, causing her to pull back her hand quickly. Stepping back, Naoto went over to the other horse, and put her hand out again. This time, the black horse put his nose into her hand, lipping it to see if she had a treat and nuzzling her yukata’s pocket. “This one, he’s much nicer than the other one.” Uta and Akinori had moved around the corner to give Futoshi some privacy, though Kyo was still watching.

          While Naoto petted the horse, Futoshi looked at the animal’s feet, running his hands over the body of the horse, making sure there were no sore spots or wounds, turning to Naoto he smiled, “Thank you for helping me, I don’t know if he has a name yet, what should I call him?”

          She couldn’t understand why the man was acting this way, friendly and cordial, as if they were going to remain friends, “Um, I don’t really know. Uta and I have always used the same name for our horses; all his horses have been Rai, and mine have been Naki.”

          “Well, he may already have a name, if not I’m sure I can come up with something suitable. Thank you for helping me today, Naoto-san.” Futoshi didn’t want to spoil the surprise for the young woman. “I will see you later this evening for dinner, ne?” He bowed and walked out of the barn.

          Uta and Akinori rushed around the corner, “What did he say?” Uta grabbed Naoto’s hands in his, bringing them up to his chest, “Nothing really, only to help him choose a horse and that he would see me tonight at dinner.”  

 

 

          Before they were to gather to eat, Isshi had asked to speak to the clan leaders alone, all accepting except for Inoran, who was readying to leave, “Shouldn’t we hear what Isshi-san has to say before we leave?” Yusuke tried to delay them.

          “No, Sakurai or Reo will send a letter if it’s important, I want to go home now.” Was all that the clan leader would say to his spouse and to Heath, neither one putting up much of and argument.

 

          Relaxing in Reo’s private room, Isshi was greeted with a cup of sake and a comfortable couch, “Thank you for seeing me, Reo-san,” he nodded his head. “I think we can do without the honorifics if you’d like, Isshi.” Sakurai offered, “I believe we will be in contact with each other frequently now.”

          “I’m afraid you’re right, um…” Isshi hesitated, “You may call me Atsushi.” Sakurai allowed. With a few cups of sake taken, Isshi was ready to explain further, the information that he had obtained from Abe no Seimei.

          “I did not want to divulge this information to all that were at the clan meeting, as I feel it could frighten the younger members, but it is important for you to know.”

          “What exactly did your master tell you about Ryuichi? Do you remember his words?” Morrie asked.

          “About twenty years before my master’s death, he started telling me stories about Ryuichi the immortal. He did not use the word vampire as you do today, he called the man an immortal. It was the way he described how Ryuichi came to be a vampire and an immortal that is what worried me enough not to speak about it openly, not even to Morrie when we first met.”

          Taking another long drink of Sake, Isshi continued, “Ryuichi was created by his mother.” A look of surprise crossed the faces of the other three men, “His mother? How is that possible?”

          Isshi raised his hand, “I had the same reaction. My master claimed that Ryuichi’s mother had become a nukekubi. She had been killed by her husband for having an affair, and was cursed. In seeking vengeance, she came to their home as a nukekubi, killed her husband and attacked her son, Ryuichi, but only able to drink some of his blood, she did not kill him. He was able to fight her off, taking her head, he put it in a box, not allowing it to return to her body, thus killing her.”

          “I hesitate to ask you this; in what year did this happen?” Morrie knew that with age came power for the Ancients of their world, but how much more power did Ryuichi have?

          Isshi paused, “It was the year 817.” Sakurai gasped, “That’s over one hundred and fifty years before he brought me into the blood!”

          “Yes, which makes him that much more powerful, more powerful than even my master wanted to face. He explained to me that I must avoid this man at all cost, that he could destroy my very soul with a thought.”

          “You have managed to avoid him for all these centuries? Was this intentional?” Morrie found it hard to believe.

          “For the most part, yes. Though when I moved to Edo, I was finally just tired of being homeless, I wanted to establish roots in a city that I could serve.” Isshi claimed. “My master had told me that it had taken Ryuichi some time before he completely transformed into what he is now; an immortal and a vampire. He attributed it to the fact that his mother was unable to kill him, but had instilled that part of the nukekubi that desired blood. He is what you would call the primogenitor, he is the father of you all regardless of maker.”

          Absorbing the information that Isshi had just spilled into their laps, Isshi had one last comment,

          “Gentlemen, I have to say that I truly believe that a war is coming. How it will be waged, when and where are still yet to be seen. My visions only show blood, fire and the deaths of both ancients and innocents. It may happen tomorrow; it may happen in one hundred or even two hundred years from today. My point is that you must be prepared, you must protect those who can not protect themselves. There will be children involved, how young I do not know, but they are the children, created by the purest form of evil, left behind to try and live without the knowledge of their elders. Please, I beg you; watch your backs, watch your families, keep watch on your friends, I will assist you in any way I can, but I am not a soldier and I can not fight your war.”

Chapter Text

 

          Issay was relieved when each of the clans left Kyoto, he was tired of being on his best behavior, having to watch what he said out of respect for everyone in attendance. For his part in the meetings, Issay listened carefully, was quiet and rarely made a comment, something that others in his clan noticed, Arimatsu nudging Hazuki, and nodding towards Issay. What they had missed was the change in Issay’s hunting practices that had turned violent.

          His anger and frustration from surreptitiously watching Ayato and Uta, careful to avoid Kyo or Sakurai’s gaze, had built with each meeting, only being released during his nightly hunt.  The immortal’s hunts, would take him into tiny villages or single homes that were situated on land. Coming across lone travelers, he drained them of blood and threw the body into the woods, knowing that a single death here and there would not be noticed, there would be no reports getting back to Reo.

          Trying to speak to Uta late one evening, he had cornered the young man in an unoccupied room, “How is it living with Acchan these days? Is he still an old man when he rises every night?”  Uta was shaking, “I…I don’t know what you mean,” he stuttered. “Oh? Has he changed that much since you became his blood spouse? When he would sleep with me, he would be a complete bear, until he fucked me into the floor, then he would turn over and fall asleep like an old man.” Issay laughed.

          Just before Uta was going to scream, Kai spotted Issay with the cornered boy, “Uta?” Issay quickly stepped away from the youth, “Acchan wants to talk to you, he’s in with Reo.” Uta nodded and pushed past his captor, noticing Kai’s eyes glowing red as he walked towards Issay, “Why did you have Uta pushed against a wall, what were you saying to him?”

          Issay chuckled, trying to defuse Kai’s anger, “I was just asking him about living at the estate and how it differed from ours in Hokkaido, there was nothing sinister about it, Kai-kun.” Before Issay could blink, Kai had him by the throat, pressed hard against the wall.

          “You will stay away from him Issay, this is your only warning,” Kai growled menacingly, “You don’t need to worry about Acchan…if I see you near Uta again, I will be the one to kill you.” Releasing his grip on Issay’s throat, Kai turned and left the room. From that moment, Issay’s interest in Uta waned…for the time being, though Sakurai and Reo had been told by Uta what the man had done. “I don’t trust him Acchan, he’s scary, you should see the way he leers at Ayato all the time.” This cast another shadow over Issay’s loyalties, Reo believing that he may have to remove the man from his clan.

 

          The night of the main meeting, Issay sat next to Asanao, listening as Isshi told his story, a story that he didn’t believe. The unbelievable claim that Isshi was an immortal, though not a vampire, grew an instant distrust of the onmyoji, for Issay, though he kept his mouth shut until after the meeting closed.

          Muttering to himself as he made his way to his room, Jyou suddenly appeared, “Is there something wrong, Issay-kun?” Jyou always used this honorific with Issay, knowing that it annoyed the man.

          “Isshi, I don’t trust him, he’s lying about being an immortal.”

          Jyou turned her head, “Oh?”

          “How do we know what he is claiming is the truth? He could be setting us all up for Ryuichi and Yoshiki, to come in and slaughter us all,” Issay sputtered. Jyou stood in front of him, her arms crossed over her chest.

          “Do you believe that Reo or Sakurai, would agree to see the man if he was dangerous? You have such little faith in your clan leader?” This would hit Issay in the gut, the question of his loyalty to Reo.

          Issay backpedaled, “Uh…no, I believe Reo has acted on good faith by inviting him here, my point is, we have no way of knowing if he’s telling the truth or not! If Isshi is lying, that is putting all the clans at risk, I think Reo and Sakurai should have investigated this onmyoji more carefully before inviting him to our meetings.”

          “Reo-SAN and Sakurai-SAN are in total control here,” Jyou emphasized the honorifics, “If you have concerns, I suggest you best voice them to Reo before the next meeting.” Jyou bowed lightly and walked away. “Fucking bitch.” Issay hissed as he walked into his room, “How dare she question my loyalty.” The fact was, Issay wasn’t loyal to anyone but himself.

 

          The departure of the clans from Kyoto had taken place over several nights, with Inoran leaving without any notice, Heath and Yusuke scrambling to join the man as he rode out of the city. “Please accept our apologies, Reo-san. I don’t believe he means any disrespect, and thank you for accommodating us for the meeting. I will continue to correspond should any problems arise.” Yusuke was embarrassed by his blood spouse, unable to understand what was happening to the man he loved.

          “How can you treat our hosts in such a way? Have you no honor? Are you willing to dishonor your spouse and Heath? What is wrong, my love? Please tell me so I can help you!” Inoran stared at Yusuke, “I owe nothing to anyone. If you do not care for me any longer, please, feel free to leave my side, I will not stop you.”

          The behavior by Inoran worried the other clan leaders a great deal, “I don’t understand why the man wants to isolate himself from us, this will leave him wide open if Ryuichi or Yoshiki decide to attack. Yusuke and Heath are no match for the ancients.” Reo watched as the two men rode quickly up the street to join Inoran.

          Sakurai put his hand on Reo’s shoulder, “We can only do what he will allow. You know we can’t force him into the alliance and we were lucky enough to get him to move to Fuji, Yusuke will keep us updated on the happenings surrounding them.”

          Meeting for an hour before they departed, Morrie and Isshi assured the clan leaders that they would alert them to any changes in Edo, “Immortal or not, if the Bakumatsu starts to gain momentum, I will send Aoi or Sato to warn you both.” Isshi for his part, agreed to speaking to the clan leaders frequently. “I may see or hear of changes before any of you, I will quickly report them to Morrie.”

          Kyo had mentioned to Reo, the possibility of shoring up the number of clan members, “If this Bakumatsu happens, there will be ronin and Samurai a like, that will have no master, and no loyalties. Is this something you’d like to me to take care of?” The possibility of gaining more warriors was appealing to Reo, “It will be as it always has been; a case by case basis. I do not want anyone going and looking for these men.” With Reo’s word as law, Kyo bowed and left the room.

 

          Mana and Toshiya had grown fond of Shinya over the course of the clan meetings, both men there to see Shinya before they journeyed home. “Please be careful, Shin-chan, perhaps we will visit Edo for the next meeting.” Mana patted Shinya’s leg, “I’d like that, let’s hope that the next time we meet, it will be for more pleasurable reasons.” Shinya turned his horse and followed Miya, as they left the city.

          Clan Sakurai was the last to leave, Uta pleading with his lover to stay an extra night, “I don’t know when I’ll get to see Ayato again, please Acchan…just one more night?” Once Reo heard about the request, he laughed at his friend, “Anything for the young one’s, eh Acchan?”

          “I could easily throw that back in your face, Reo… you’re no different when it comes to Akinori,” Sakurai countered. Both men were aware of the deepening friendship between the youngest members of their clans, “I hope the next meeting will be at my estate and for only pleasure.”

The topic of Futoshi’s request to join Sakurai’s clan, came up again, the ronin wanting to speak to Sakurai before they left Kyoto.  “I need clarity on what you want me to do when we are traveling, my lord. Shall I stay away and not speak to Naoto?” Futoshi wanted no mistakes or missteps.

          “I say let’s take it hour by hour, Futoshi-san. I will have you ride with Kai, that way we have some rear guard as protection. I don’t doubt that once we pass the city, Naoto will start to question your presence, and at that point, we will deal with it as it happens.” This answer satisfied Futoshi, though he hoped that he would be able to let Naoto know of his intentions sooner than later.

          Ayato and Uta clung to each other, both boys crying, “Next time you need to come to our home, and make sure to bring Mana, and Kyo,” leaning in Uta whispered in Ayato’s ear, “Don’t bring Issay, he’s an asshole and I don’t trust him.” The close friendship between the two clans was something that both Sakurai and Reo treasured, “I’ll send word if we encounter anything unusual at the estate.” Sakurai said.  Reo patted his friend on the shoulder, then watched them as they rode out of the city of Kyoto.

         

          “Why is he following us?” Naoto was riding next to Uta as the clan made their way back to the estate outside Edo, Futoshi Uehara was riding behind them with Kai. Sakurai had told the others, but asked them not to say anything to Naoto. Uta shrugged at the question, “I don’t know, maybe he’s just riding with us to a certain point?”

          Arriving at the crossroad between the city of Edo and Sakurai’s estate, Naoto assumed that Futoshi would be leaving and making his way into the city, but was stunned as the man continued to ride next to Kai. “What’s going on?” she asked Uta, who just smiled then trotted his horse up to ride with Sakurai.  An hour later, Futoshi moved his horse up next to Naoto, smiled and nodded at her.

          “What are you doing?” Naoto hissed at Futoshi, who smiled again, “I’m riding with my clan, why?”

          “Your …your clan? Since when are you a member of this clan?” Naoto demanded.

          “Since I asked my lord Sakurai if I could join.” Futoshi continued to smile, speaking softly and with care.

          Naoto’s eyes grew wide, “But you’re not…” This wasn’t happening, there was no way that he would…

          “Not yet, but soon.” Futoshi answered quietly.

          The young woman stared at Futoshi, “Why…”  pulling her horse away from the man, Naoto kicked her horse in the sides sharply, scaring the horse into a panicked gallop. “NAOTO!” Before Futoshi could move, Sakurai had already kicked his horse into a run, chasing after the distraught young woman. “Wait here, Futoshi-san, Acchan will find her.” Kai held the man back.  

          Branches and dense underbrush scratched her across the face as she tried to guide her horse through the dense woods, tears stinging both her eyes and the small cuts. “Why…why would he tease me? He …” Naoto was caught by a branch and thrown out of the saddle and to the ground roughly, causing her to black out for a moment. As she opened her eyes, she saw Naki standing over her, nuzzling her hair. “Naki…are you alright?” Naoto got up and brushed off her clothes, then checked the horse for injuries, thankfully the mare was unharmed.

          Sitting on a fallen tree, her face in her hands, Naoto started to cry, this is where Sakurai found her. Jumping off his horse, not caring what happened to the animal, Sakurai rushed to Naoto, kneeling in front of her, “Naoto, are you hurt? Look at me, please,” reaching up he carefully moved her hands from her face, “What’s wrong, did he say something to scare you?”

          She nodded, “He said he’s joining our clan, why?” Sakurai stood and sat down next to his daughter and started to explain the meeting Futoshi requested. “He did this because of you, love.” Naoto shook her head, “No, he didn’t…he just feels sorry for me or something.”

          “No, I don’t feel sorry for you.” Neither Sakurai or Naoto had heard Futoshi ride through the brush, stopping a few yards back. “it will be okay, I promise.” Sakurai got up and remounted his horse, leaving Naoto and Futoshi alone.

          He tied up his horse, then walked to where she was sitting, “Will you listen?” Naoto quickly wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt and nodded. Taking a deep breath, the man confessed his feelings, “When I saw you that night at the meeting, and how sad and unhappy you were, I thought to myself that if I could make you smile just once, that my life had purpose and meaning.”

          “After we met and talked, I asked to meet with Sakurai-san and Reo-san, I wanted to make sure I would not be bound to Reo, and it was then that I asked Sakurai-san if I could join the clan. He agreed but with the stipulation that he would not change me, until he knew that you would accept my affection, that you would be willing to let me court you properly.”

          Naoto was stunned, “You’re willing to do this for me?”

          Picking up the young woman’s hand, and kissing the back of it, “Yes.” Looking at her hands, Naoto started crying again, “Hey, there’s no need for that…don’t you understand?” Futoshi reached out and put a finger under her chin, “Look at me please,”

          Naoto looked up, “I want to be the one to make you smile and laugh, to live through eternity with you and to love you the way you deserve,” leaning in, Futoshi brushed his lips across Naoto’s lightly. “I’m in love with you already.” Without a breath or warning, Naoto threw her arms around his neck, “Thank you…”  Riding back to the group, Naoto blushing in embarrassment and Futoshi grinning like a fool, Sakurai and his clan continued their journey back to the estate.

Chapter Text

 

          Without a word to either Yusuke or Heath, Inoran left his horse in the barn and walked into the house, “I do not want you to sleep with me tonight, find your comfort with Heath.” closing the door to his room with a finality that hurt Yusuke’s soul.

          “What have I done to deserve this?” Yusuke whispered as he laid his forehead on the door, “do you not love me anymore?” Heath had stood back as the drama played out, not wanting to intrude on the lover’s quarrel.

          Once Inoran had shut the door, Heath went to his friend and put his arm around his shoulder, guiding the man away from his lover’s room, “Come with me,” he said softly. Taking Yusuke to his own room, Heath knew that the man was headed for a breakdown, it was just a matter of what would trigger the tears to start falling.

“I don’t understand…does he no longer love me? What am I suppose to do Heath, abandon him and live alone?”

          Sitting on the side of Heath’s platform bed, Yusuke leaned forward and put his head in his hands, his shoulders starting to shake. “I have no answers for you or me, I don’t know what’s wrong with him, but know this, I will not abandon you or him. We are not bound by blood, but by friendship and love,”

          Yusuke turned his head, “He’s my blood spouse, I will not leave his side, no matter how far he pushes me away, but honestly, I do not see you staying with us.”

          Without a moment’s hesitation, Heath leaned over, brushing his lips softly against Yusuke’s. “I don’t need a mate, I have you and Inoran.” The kiss caught Yusuke by surprise, “Me, are you saying you would…?” Heath nodded, “Yes I would,” he leaned in again and this time the kiss showed his honest feelings. For Yusuke, it was years of pent up longing to be held and loved, that drove him fully into Heath’s arms for the first time.

 

          As Inoran closed the door on his lover, he breathed a sigh of relief. He was finally alone again, no one to drag him around and expect anything of him. The clan meeting had been tiring and unnecessary in his eyes, there was no threat to the clans from either Ryuichi or Yoshiki, Inoran believing it all to be a false alarm. The presence of Isshi the onmyoji had irritated him beyond words. “We don’t need him meddling into our affairs,” he told Yusuke and Heath after returning to their rooms from the main meeting, alarming the other men, “Do you believe him to be lying about the signs he’s seeing? About what his master had told him about Ryuichi?” Yusuke tried to sit with Inoran, the man getting up just as Yusuke sat down, moving away from his blood spouse.

          “Yes, I do think he’s lying. How is he an immortal if he is not one of us? That’s not physically possible. Everything he said about Abe no Seimei is a child’s tale, nothing more than stories to scare women and children at night.” Yusuke had never seen Inoran in such an agitated state, pacing the room and gesturing wildly over the stories that Isshi had told them.  He tried to calm his spouse, “What purpose would he have to lie to us? I’m not sure I follow your meaning.”

          Inoran spun around, narrowing his eyes and growling, “That’s because you’re an imbecile, you wouldn’t know truth if it slapped you in your pretty face!” he snapped. Yusuke’s mouth hung open, “Is that how you truly feel about me? You believe me to be so stupid as not to understand anything?”

          Within a second, Inoran’s face softened, “No, I don’t think that, I’m sorry for using those words against you,” sitting next to his lover, Inoran’s face grimaced in pain, “I want you to know that I will not fault you for anything. I have no control over this and if it consumes me, you are free to seek companionship else where, though you are my blood spouse, I will not bind you to me against your will.” He cupped Yusuke’s face in his hands and kissed his lover. “I love you.”

 

          “Do you believe him to be ill, this change has been gradual over the last few centuries, will it continue to progress?” Yusuke was in Heath’s arms, a feeling of contentment washing over his body. “I believe he’s mentally ill, yes,” Heath kissed Yusuke’s head, “I don’t think this is something that can be cured in the traditional sense. We are immortal until we decide to take our own lives, which may be the case for Inoran.”

         He felt Yusuke stiffen, as he spoke the words, “I will not leave him, he is my blood spouse, I am bound to him for eternity,” he looked up at Heath, “I will be able to survive without his love, if I have yours.” Yusuke moved to lay on top of Heath, “I will give myself to you fully, but if at any time you want to leave us, please go with out guilt. I will take what I can get for now, and be satisfied with my life.” Yusuke kissed Heath with an uncertain urgency, neither man knowing what eternity held for them.

 

          She had gone to Reo after the incident with Issay and his open statement, and disappointment in his leader’s trust of the onmyoji, “He questioned me?” Reo sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose, “You don’t believe he will act on his feelings, do you?”

         Jyou chuckled, “No, he’s a coward by nature. He will whine and complain but he will do nothing. I just thought you should be aware of the quivering nature of his loyalties; I believe that they lay only with himself.”

        With the addition of this new revelation, to the already shaky status after the incident with Uta and Kai, Reo knew he was going to have to make a drastic change in regards to Issay staying with Clan Aichi. “Give him another week, put men on him any time he leaves the house, but use our human agents. If something unusual happens before the week is up, come to me immediately,” he instructed her, “Bring Kyo and Hazuki to me please.” Jyou nodded and left the room.

        Asanao remained in his chair, “If he leaves the clan, do we need to warn the others that he is not to be trusted?”

       Reo grunted, “Sakurai already knows, but I will send a letter to both Morrie and Inoran, though it will do no good for Inoran, he’s pulled away so far I doubt anyone can reach him now.”

        “What do you think is the problem with him? His actions have become rash and unpredictable.” Asanao had silently watched Inoran interact with his blood spouse and Heath, there was no showing of affection as one would expect, just a cold closed off mind.

       “He’s sick, with what I can’t say, Yusuke felt the need to apologize for his behavior, and Heath looked sad and embarrassed. The man wouldn’t speak to me alone, which puzzled me even more, I do fear for his life.”

 

         “Yes, my lord?” Hazuki and Kyo entered the room, bowing before Reo, “what can we do for you today?” Hazuki was the diplomatic type, Kyo would have barged in and demanded to know what Reo wanted.

          “I’ve been made aware of some distasteful incidents involving Issay.” Reo explained the interaction between Issay and Uta, and Kai’s involvement, Kyo instantly becoming angered, “Has he said anything to Ayato?” he demanded. Reo lifted his hand, “No, Ayato has not been involved, but that doesn’t mean that he is safe. I would like you both to conduct some surveillance on Issay, I will have some of our human agents following him if he leaves the house, but I need you both to watch him while he is home. I’m giving you a week to collect any necessary information, and report back to me. If he is seen doing something that violates the clan, bring him to me in person and preferably conscious enough to speak. Thank you, gentlemen.” Reo dismissed both men with a wave of his hand.

         

          Issay had kept to himself after the clan meeting, only venturing out to the city to hunt and do some personal shopping. He had been trying to remain on the good side of the other members, always trying to flatter Mana, being cordial with Jyou and showing an interest in what Arimatsu and Asanao were doing in regards to the businesses that were under the clan’s control. He believed himself to be in the clear, but it was that thought that led him into a place he had not anticipated.

          Traveling further out of the city each night to hunt, Issay had grown careless in his feeding, letting the passion of the blood take control, and draining his victims to the point of death. “Shit…fledgling mistake…but it felt so good,” licking his lips as he kicked the man behind a tree stump, Issay moved on to the next victim, an elderly woman who put up no fight. Though he thought he was alone in his time outside the city, Issay couldn’t have been more wrong.

          His face flushed hot from the hunt, Issay stopped at a stall that sold trinkets and pottery. Wandering the aisles, he stops and picks up a hairpin. “I’m sure she wouldn’t mind…” Buying the hairpin and a small tea pot, Issay left the shop and made his way through the crowded streets back to the main house, unawares that there were several pairs of eyes following him.

          “Hello Issay-san, have you been shopping?” a voice hissed in his ear, startling him so that he dropped the bag he was carrying, the small tea pot inside shattering. “Hazuki-san! Do not sneak up on a person like that,” bending down to pick up the bag, Issay groaned, “Look what you’ve done, I just bought this teapot.” Turning to glare at the other immortal, “What do you want?”

          Hazuki grinned maliciously, “Reo-san wants to see you,” Issay shrank back slightly,

          “Oh? Do you know why?”

          “Nope, not my place to question my leader, he just said to find you and bring you to him, so I would suggest we move right along.” Hazuki stared Issay down, until the man turned and walked towards the house. “Fine,” he muttered. Looking behind him, Hazuki gave an unknown person lurking in the shadows of an alley, a smile and a nod.

          Everything he had done in the last week had flashed through his mind, trying to piece together anything that may have caused Reo to be angry with him. He knew that Uta had run to his precious Acchan and probably made up some elaborate lie, but was there something else he was missing? Had Reo found out about his recent hunting practices?

          He now stood at the door to Reo’s private office, thankful that Jyou was not around to make some sort of snide remark, he knocked on the door and held his breath. “Yes, come in Issay.” The man entered the room, surprised to see the clan leader surrounded by his chiefs, Hazuki and Kyo, “You needed to speak to me, Reo-san?”

          “Sit down, Issay,” he took a seat in front of the large desk. Reo said nothing for a few minutes, shuffling through paperwork and delaying the questioning, wanting Issay to squirm, which was exactly what the man was doing, shifting uneasily in his seat.

          Finally moving a pile of papers off to the side, Reo sat back in his chair, “It has been brought to my attention that there were some problems with Isshi-san at the meeting, care to tell me about it?” Issay’s gaze instantly went to Jyou, who just smiled.

          “Yes, my lord, I didn’t…don’t trust the man, I believe he is lying about being an immortal.” That bitch had to run to her father

          “It’s not your place, Issay, to decide whether or not someone is trustworthy, considering you were not in charge of the clan meeting, you have no opinion separate from your clan leader.”

          “How can you believe him to be immortal and yet not be a vampire? Do you honestly believe that lie about Abe no Seimei? How do you not know if the man is an agent for Ryuichi and Yoshiki? He may be infiltrating our clans in order to help facilitate an attack! Seriously, Reo…how do you not see this!” Issay had jumped up, knocking his chair over as he slammed his hands on Reo’s desk, an action that Kyo did not appreciate, grabbing the man by the throat. “Don’t even think of it, maggot.”

          Issay smacked Kyo’s hand away, “Get off me!” he snapped, as he shoved Kyo away. Looking back at Reo, Issay had reached his limit, “What exactly are you accusing me of, Reo?” he purposely did not use the honorific, he had already decided his own fate. “If you believe me to be so disloyal to Clan Aichi, I will leave...”

          Issay was so pompous and arrogant, that he believed he was an indispensable member of the clan, that Reo would back down on his threat, but he was mistaken.

          “If that’s what you wish, I release you from the bonds of Clan Aichi, Issay,” Reo watched as Issay’s face paled, “but know this, you will never be able to claim my clan again, once you leave, it is permanent. I will give you until tomorrow evening to gather your things and leave the house. Good luck in your life.” Reo stood and walked over to the door, with his clan leaders, and Hazuki and Kyo, without a look back.

          The anger started burning at the sound of the door closing, Issay’s eyes flashing a dangerous red, “You’ll regret this, Reo…for eternity I’m going to make sure you regret crossing me.”

          “You should have seen his face when Reo didn’t back down, it was pure shock and disbelief,” Kyo was laughing as he told Ayato what had taken place in Reo’s office, though Ayato didn’t find it amusing. “This is bad, Kyo…it’s not funny at all!” Ayato ran out of the room. “Ayato wait! Damn him.”

          “Where’s Reo?”

          “I believe he’s in the kitchen,” Mana’s eyes followed Ayato as he raced through the house, then saw Kyo running up the hallway, and she pointed towards the kitchen.

          Slamming the kitchen door open, Ayato scanned the room quickly, “REO!” he ran up to his father, “you can’t let Issay leave, you need to keep him in the clan!” Lurching into the man, Ayato hugged him tightly, “You don’t understand, he’s going to go after Uta and Kai!”

          Reo held Ayato at arms length, “Why do you think that? Has he ever said anything about harming Uta?”

          Ayato shook his head, “No…not directly, but you should see the way he looks at them, he looks like he wants to hurt them…”

          Reo looked at Kyo who had just entered the room, “Do you know if he’s ever said anything?”

          “No, not directly, but Aya’s right…Issay honestly hates Uta and Kai…but I don’t think we have to worry about their safety.”

          Kyo took Ayato into his arms, “Listen to me, Futoshi joined Sakurai’s clan…he’s a warrior, he won’t let Issay touch anyone in that family. Issay doesn’t know this, and it will be a huge surprise to him if he shows up unannounced,” he looked up at Reo, “Send a letter tonight, at least give Sakurai-san a warning.”

          Nobody had seen Jyou standing just outside the kitchen, moving toward Reo’s office before she was asked, Arimatsu following her closely, “I need one of your men, and contacts from here to Sakurai-san’s estate, and I need them ready to leave in fifteen minutes.”  

Chapter Text

 

          Without the assistance of Raymond Watts in his search for Yoshiki, Imai had settled into the quiet life of a wealthy eccentric foreigner, renting a flat in the fashionable St. James street. The neighborhood catered mostly to men; coffee houses were a new trend, with one every block. Gentlemanly gambling establishments were plentiful, as were the homes of single high-born women, who hosted discrete nights of entertainment of a sordid nature. Imai had no desire to become acquainted with any of these distractions, he had a single-minded focus on finding and speaking with Yoshiki.

          Within a ten-minute walk, a person could leave the gentrified St. James street, and the dregs of humanity would swallow you whole. St. Giles, The Rookery, and The Mint, names that every Londoner knew and if they were of a genteel class, would avoid at all costs. The pure suffering of the residents of these neighborhoods, was palatable and it left no guilt in Imai when he would use those dregs, in which to feed. Street children, whores and thugs, were the easiest of victims, and he sated his thirst each night.

          Luring the children with a bit of candy or even bread, Imai told himself he was easing the suffering, that the children were better off dead than living in squalor, with parents that neither loved or cared for, products of their environments. The whores were just as simple as the children; with promises of a few coin and perhaps a bit of food, Imai had no qualms about killing them.

          The toughest of the lot, were the thugs and criminals; most were of a decent size and always carried some sort of weapon. They were not so easily talked into taking a walk with Imai, not so easy to sneak up on, but the immortal felt it was his civic duty to rid the streets of London of the worst of its inhabitants. The single problem he had with all his victims was tainted blood, either from sickness or alcohol.

            One incident while hunting had made Imai more cautious; he had chosen a whore, lured her into an alley with the normal offers of food and money. Once he sunk his fangs into her neck, he could taste the tainted blood, what it was tainted with he couldn’t identify. Spitting out the blood and rapidly twisting the woman’s head until her neck broke, Imai threw her into a trash heap, “What the hell is wrong with you?” he accused the corpse, he knew after that night, he would have to choose his victims more carefully.

          After a night of hunting, Imai would wander the streets until just before dawn, sending his thoughts out to Yoshiki and hoping for contact. It was with great frustration that he would return to his flat on St. James each morning, locking up the house and settling in for the day, his last thoughts were of Tangier or Sakurai, thoughts of love and betrayal, and ultimately of revenge.

 

       Raymond Watts avoided speaking with Imai at all costs, though there would be nights that they would cross each other’s path, making it difficult to avoid. Imai would ask the same questions; has Yoshiki been sighted in London, has he contacted you? Watts would never allow himself to admit to anything in relation to Yoshiki, and for a time his answers were truthful, “No and No.” They would make small talk for a few moments then go their own ways, Watts feeling that Imai was too dangerous to pursue any sort of friendship with the immortal.

        Imai’s questions came to haunt Watts, early one evening in the fall of 1852. Returning to his flat after an evening out at the theater, Watts reached for the doorknob when the scent hit him; Yoshiki. He stepped away from the door, he knew that Yoshiki could sense his presence as well, taking a breath, Raymond Watts opened the door.

       “Raymond my dear man, how are you?” Yoshiki was lounging in a large wingback chair, one leg negligently thrown over the arm, with a glass of red wine in his hand, looking as if he lived there.  

       “Hello Yoshiki, I’m in good health as it is, may I ask why you are in my flat?” Watts carefully walked over to a sideboard and poured himself a glass of wine.

       “Am I intruding on something? I was certain that you would be pleased to see me, am I wrong in that assumption?” Yoshiki peered over the wine glass as he sipped.

        Watts took a seat on a fainting couch across from the ancient, “You’re not intruding, as for being pleased to see you, I’m neutral in my opinion, though you did not answer my question; why are you in London?”

        Emptying the wine glass, Yoshiki rose and walked to the sideboard, pouring himself another glass, Watts watching every move. “I had a certain buzzing in my ears for several years now, someone has been whispering my name and demanding that I return to London, is that cause enough?”

       Careful, Watts thought to himself, “Buzzing? I’m not sure I get your meaning.” Watts new it was a lie the moment it left his lips, but he wouldn’t give Yoshiki the satisfaction of handing Imai to him unconditionally.

       “You know my meaning,” Yoshiki snapped, all sense of propriety disappearing in an instant, replaced by a dangerous tone. “Where is he and what does he want?”

       “I don’t know where he is at this exact moment, last I saw of him was at the theater about a month ago, we acknowledged each other but did not speak. I’m not overly fond of the man.”

       Yoshiki’s pleasant decorum returned, “You mean you’re nothing more than two immortals in the same city, and you’re not friendly? I find that hard to believe, Raymond.”

       Watts shrugged, “He’s much like you, he kills his victims…brutalizes them actually. I don’t feel the need to associate with immortals that exhibit uncouth behaviors, it’s tacky and classless.” He knew he was pushing the limits of what Yoshiki would accept.

       And Watts was correct, the ancient glared at him, “You’ve always been a coward, Watts, our master made a mistake in bringing you into the blood.”

      “Are you now assuming to belittle our master’s choices? How bold and brave of you.”

      “At least tell me what he wants of me, if it’s nothing I’m interested in, I will leave you and London behind, and continue on my way.”

       Watts sighed, “Fine. Imai is seeking revenge on Sakurai Atsushi for the murder of his lover, Tangier.” Watts went on to explain the incident with Imai’s lover.

      “Oh? Sakurai is turning vicious now? I didn’t think the man had it in him,” Yoshiki smirked, “what type of revenge is Imai seeking?”

      “He wants Sakurai’s blood spouse, Uta, he seeks to have the boy with him and to wreak as much havoc as possible against Sakurai and his clan.” Watts didn’t like being the messenger, he would have to reexamine his part in all of this after Yoshiki departed.  

      “Uta? Is the boy that special as for Imai to take him by force? Does he not realize that Sakurai could do the same to him, as was done to his lover? Foolish, petty man.” Yoshiki rose from his seat, “I do believe I will assist Imai in this farce, I do love to toy with Sakurai Atsushi, the man is just too proud for my tastes, elevating himself among his peers with his alliance of immortal clans.” Yoshiki scoffed at the idea, there was nothing Sakurai or any of the other clan chiefs could do to delay the impending war.

       Moving to the front door, Yoshiki paused before leaving, “Do not tell Imai that you have spoken to me, I will approach him on my own terms when the time is right. Now my dear Raymond, I thank you for the delicious wine and the less than stimulating conversation.”

       Watching the ancient walk to the street and disappear in the crowd, Raymond Watts was certain that he wanted no part in any of the upcoming war, as Yoshiki called it. “This is not going to turn out well.” Even before Yoshiki had finished his conversation, Watts knew that he needed to journey to Japan to warn Sakurai Atsushi. “I will not be part of this,” he murmured. After he informed the immortals in Japan, Watts would not return to London, no…he knew that he’d have to find another safe spot in a distant country, somewhere he could live his life and not be bothered by the malicious intent of others.

 

 

          Without so much as a look back, Issay left Kyoto the night after his dismissal by Reo, removing him from Clan Aichi, he was aware of the various human agents that were watching him, as he walked out of the city. He had not spoken to anyone in the clan, they had all made themselves unavailable to him, all but Ayato and that was a mere coincident.

          Issay was making his way through the halls of the main house, towards the kitchen to assemble a small bag for food; blood would sustain him but he also enjoyed eating. With bag in hand, Issay was making his way back to his room, when he turned a corner and ran into Ayato, knocking the boy to the ground.

          “I didn’t see you! Are you alright?” Issay put his hand down to help the young man up, “I’m fine, it’s my fault I wasn’t looking.” Ayato shrank back from the offered hand, that gesture angered Issay. “Do you think I’m going to hurt you? All I wanted to do was help you off the floor. I’m sure your lover has been filling your head with stories about me, hasn’t he?”

          Ayato started to step backwards, away from Issay who was pressing the boy, “Ayato? Is there a problem here?” Jyou had heard Issay’s voice, deciding to investigate who the man was talking to. “No, I um, Issay accidently knocked me down, I wasn’t watching where I was going,” Ayato stammered.

          Jyou quickly looked Ayato over, making sure there were no hidden injuries. “I was just getting a bit of food together, Jyou-san. I will be leaving within the hour, now if you’ll excuse me.” Issay bowed deeply, then made his way to his room.

          “Did he say anything?”

          “He said Kyo was probably telling me that he was going to hurt me, filling my head with stories,” Ayato was trembling, “you came at the right time, I’m not sure what he would have done.” Jyou held the scared young man in her arms, “we won’t let anything happen to you or anyone else, at the hands of that man.”  

           

 

          He only had one destination in mind after leaving Kyoto; Issay had decided to travel north to Hokkaido, and to Sakurai’s old estate. The age of the property would leave him securely hidden, he believed that he would find it in disrepair after centuries of being uninhabited, or at least that was his hope.

          With a turbulent mind, the immortal kept to the larger cities when he needed to feed, another dead body in a big city didn’t warrant much attention, regardless that the victim’s throat had been torn out. The anger he harbored for everyone in Kyoto, for Sakurai and Morrie, had built until he lost control over it, savagely killing his first victim. With visions of Sakurai, Reo, Uta, Kai and Ayato flashing through his mind as he fed, Issay’s victims were replacement vessels for his hostility.

          Using the preternatural speed of immortals, it took but a few days for Issay to arrive in Hokkaido. He had thought about attempting to use the cloud gift, but he was uncertain if he had that power, and it had always been an issue for traveling at such heights.

          The city of Hokkaido was no longer the dust filled village of Issay’s youth, it had been replaced with modern buildings, paved streets and a large population. Arriving in the early days of winter, it had grown cold, there was the threat of snow on the horizon, pushing Issay towards Sakurai’s abandoned estate with urgency.

          Finding the gates of the estate still hanging from their frames, was the first surprising feature Issay encountered, as he carefully made his way onto the property. With dawn being a few hours away, he still had time to investigate and prepare for the upcoming day.

          The barn was in disrepair, no animals having been stabled there for some time, the house it self seemed in tact and in good shape, which gave Issay hope that he could live there comfortably for some time.

          Walking the familiar floors, peering into the rooms he had once lived in, nostalgia was thick in the air. Looking into the kitchen, Issay gasped; there had recently been a fire in the stove, probably within the last few decades, meaning someone had lived there for a time. Then it hit him, “Imai and his lover.”

          Sakurai had told Reo’s clan the tale of Imai and Tangier living at the estate before the immortals came to search for him in Sendai. The couple had lived undetected at the estate for some time, which in turn was beneficial for Issay. Leaving the kitchen and looking in each of the bedrooms, he found large heavy tarps still folded in a corner, ready to be hung for the day. “Thank you, Imai-san,” he whispered.  

         

 

          Sakurai read Jyou’s letter carefully, his brow furrowing in concern, “Is something wrong, my lord?” Kai knew exactly when to be formal with his leader, and this was one of those times. “It seems that Issay has been dismissed from Clan Aichi,” he looked up at Kai, “where are the young ones?”

          “I believe they’re showing Uehara the animals in the barn; would you like me to bring them to you?”

          Sakurai shook his head, “No, I don’t want to worry them, but I will speak with Uehara later this evening, I’m sure he’s looking over our defenses even as he looks at the goats.”

          The concern was not that of Issay, as Sakurai saw it, but more so the possibility that the man may try to contact Yoshiki or Ryuichi, “I do not trust him, Kai-kun. I’m sure he’s looking for any excuse to come to me and ask me to take him back,” he looked at Kai, seeing a worried face, “I will not take him in, if that’s what concerns you, he would have to prove himself worthy of my attention, before I will let him near my family again.”

Chapter Text

          Futoshi Uehara had agreed with Sakurai, to a delay of one week, before he would be brought into the blood. “I want to know Naoto more intimately before I go through the change, she needs time to decide if I am what she desires for an eternity.” That request pleased Sakurai immensely, to know that his daughter’s future blood spouse had such high regard for her feelings, “Thank you, Uehara-san.”

          The new couple had begun a nightly routine; after Naoto had returned from hunting, she and Uehara would walk the grounds of the estate, hand in hand, usually ending the evening in the barn, so Naoto could visit Naki and the other horses. “I believe she truly loves you; she always nickers when you come in.” Uehara commented as he ran his fingers through the horse’s mane.

          Naoto smiled, kissing her horse on its soft velvety nose, “I think it’s because the spirit of my first Naki, has been with all of my horses, the same with Uta and Rai.” Taking her by the hand, Uehara had Naoto sit with him in the straw, leaning against the wall.

          “My family have been samurai for generations, we served the daimyos of the Minamoto family since the Heian period, and I had a distant relative that was one of the 47 Ronin.” Uehara started to tell his story, “There was never any question what my purpose in life was; to be a samurai and serve my daimyo until I died.” Uehara squeezed Naoto’s hand.

          “I had two older brothers, both had achieved a great deal of success in their fighting skills, there were none in the area that could best them in combat, either on foot or horseback. I never learned to ride as well as they did, as the youngest it was my duty to protect our home while my brothers were fighting for our daimyo.”

          “What were your parents like?”

          “My father was a proud man, but not unkind, he treated everyone equally, including the servants. My mother was a small woman, even smaller than Uta and Ayato, very delicate and beautiful. We teased her that we must have been found in a creek bed or some far away place, there was no way she could have given birth to such large children. She was kind and caring, and never turned anyone away that was in need.”

          “Did you have a wife and children?” Naoto asked meekly. “No, my brothers were both married and multiple children, they would pass on the family name and heritage. I never had an opportunity to think about marriage, the war came on so quickly.”

          “Nee-chan? Futoshi-san?” Uta peered into the barn, “Kai has dinner ready.” Futoshi got up, then held his hand out for Naoto, and together they walked back to the house, still holding hands.

 

          Gathering in the large living room, the meal time was loud and boisterous, with good natured teasing and joking, Futoshi being the victim, due to his being the newest member of the clan. “If this is life in Clan Sakurai, I don’t ever want to leave,” he laughed.

          Naoto leaned over and quietly spoke to Kai, who smiled sadly and nodded, “Of course I will.” Naoto helped Uta and Toshiya clear away the dishes, Kai taking Sakurai aside to speak to him, “She wants to tell her story, but she wants us all there to support her,” Kai whispered, “she’s afraid that once Futoshi learns about her past, that he will leave.”

          Uta didn’t say anything to Naoto or Toshiya while they were washing dishes, he had an idea of what would be happening once they returned to the living room. Nudging Naoto’s shoulder, Uta reassured her that whatever happened, she still had her family, “Don’t worry, I don’t believe he’s that shallow…besides he’s already confessed.” Naoto giggled, “He’s trapped then, right?”

          Returning to the living room, Naoto chose to sit between Sakurai and Uta, the men holding her hands. “I’ve never told anyone this, not even Kai or Acchan, but if you will stay after what I’m about to tell you…” Futoshi could tell by Naoto’s body language, that she was scared, scared that he may abandon her, “I understand and I promise you, I will not leave you.”

          Naoto smiled, “My story could be Acchan’s, or any other immortal’s as it has one constant; we were brought into the blood against our will.” Uta patted her hand, “It’s okay.”

          “Our family was educated, but not wealthy. My father was a teacher and there were at least ten students every day, coming from other estates to learn to read and write and learn their mathematics. My mother took care of the family and ran the household, we had a few servants through out the years, that were employed mostly to help clean the house after father was done teaching.”  Naoto paused, drinking a cup of sake before she continued.

          “I had two older sisters; Nami and Rena, and they were the light of my parent’s eyes. They were talented in the arts, intelligent and could hold a conversation on various topics and they were very beautiful. I was younger than my sisters by five years, and being the ugly one, my parents essentially ignored me and left me to my self. I was just as educated as my sisters, though I had no talent for the arts, I rarely left my room.” Futoshi coughed, he had his eyes closed tightly, fighting back tears of anger.

          “Early one evening, Ryuichi appeared at the gates of our home, introducing himself and telling my father that he was looking for a wife. He was well dressed and groomed, there was no outward appearance of him being anything but a wealthy traveler.”

          Uta had gotten up and brought Toshiya’s cat Mau, into the room, placing him in Naoto’s lap. “Father sent my mother to get us, she fussed over my sisters, making sure they looked as beautiful and perfect as possible, “Change into a clean yukata, Naoto.” Was all she said to me.”  Stroking the cat’s soft fur, had a calming effect on the young woman.

          “We were brought into Father’s study and presented, Father only giving Ryuichi my sister’s names, ignoring me. Once they were speaking to my sisters, I left the room, there was no point in remaining, I was of no consequence to my father.”

          “He sounds like a real asshole,” Toshiya muttered under his breath, Kai smacking him in the back of the head, “Hush.”

          Naoto smiled, “Nii-chan, he was a very kind man, but he also knew that I would never marry, I was strange and ugly. It was only his wish for his daughters to be securely married and safe and I understood that.”  

          “Later that evening, I was sitting on the engawa, playing with my cat. I heard Ryuichi come down the walkway, I bowed my head to him in greeting, and assumed he would leave and go to his room, but he sat down next to me.

          ‘You did not stay when I asked to see your sisters, why is that?’

          ‘I’m not worthy of your attention, sir, there was no reason for me to stay.’ He reached out and ran his hand through my hair, ‘how can you say that, you’re just as beautiful as your sisters, you’re unique in your beauty.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, a man telling me I was beautiful was something I never thought I’d experience.”

          Picking up Mau, Naoto nuzzled the cat’s nose, then placing him back in her lap, “I’m not sure how it happened, but before I realized it, Ryuichi had me on my back on the engawa,” her voice choked, Uta reaching for her hand again. “he was raping me,” Naoto choked back the tears, “then he bit me. I started to scream, but he was draining me of blood…he was stronger than I was.” Toshiya was whimpering, hiding his face in Kai’s neck, Futoshi still had his eyes closed, but his fists were clenched.

          “He gave me his blood, after he was done, he started raping me again as my body died,” Naoto could no longer hold the tears back, “he stopped only long enough to go through the house and slaughter my parents and the servants…I could hear my sister’s screaming. When he returned, he was dragging Rena’s body…she was already dead, he had Nami by the throat, ‘watch and learn little one, this is the only instruction you’ll get from me.’ I reached out for Nami who was crying and calling my name, he kicked me in the face and … then he bit Nami and tore her throat out, ‘this is the best way to kill, my child’, he laughed, then he threw her body against the wall.”

           A loud sob was heard as Uta jumped up and ran out of the room, he just could not listen any longer to what had happened to Naoto, who looked to her clan leader, “Um, I don’t have to…” Sakurai held his hand up, “Tell the rest of your story, love.”

          “There’s really nothing more, he disappeared after he killed Nami, he told me nothing about how to survive, about the sun…about how to live. I tried to go to the village and get help, but when he changed me, something happened to my eyes and the villagers were scared, they started screaming namanori at me, and came at me with knives and katana, so I just started running.”

          “It was close to daybreak and the sun felt hotter than any fire, I couldn’t stand it, luckily I found an old woodcutters stone shack and buried myself in the floor. I don’t remember much else after that, Kai and Toshiya found me and brought me here.”

          Naoto looked at Futoshi, “I needed to tell you all of this, I didn’t want to lie about myself, I wanted to give you a chance to leav…” Before Naoto could finish, Futoshi jumped up from the floor and ran to her, skidding on his knees, he put his head in her lap.

          “I swear by all the kami, that you will never be unhappy again. I will protect you with my very life, I will protect my family at all costs.” He raised his head, and gazed into Naoto’s eyes, “please, I’m begging you, please bring me into the blood, make me your blood spouse, I promise you I’ll never leave your side.” Sakurai, Kai and Toshiya had quietly left the room.

          “If I have a chance, something that I’ve already discussed with both Sakurai-san and Reo-san, when the time comes I want to be the one to deliver the death blow to Ryuichi and Yoshiki, I want to avenge all the immortals that were brought into the blood by force, avenge those that they killed, and I want to be able to do this for you.”

          Naoto gasped, shaking her head, “No! You can’t do that…I …I won’t accept you as a blood spouse if that’s what you want to do…NO!” Scrambling to her feet, Naoto ran out of the room, Futoshi hearing the door to her room slam.

          Sitting back on his heels, Futoshi wondered where he had gone wrong; did he miss something that Naoto had said in her story, that would make her react so negatively? “No, you didn’t, she’s just scared.” Sakurai had been just outside the door, hearing what the young samurai had said to his prospective spouse.

          “Why would she react like that? I understand being scared but…to scream at me and run away?” He was thoroughly confused.

          “Naoto knows the danger, she knows that Ryuichi is the most powerful of our kind, and Yoshiki just slightly less. Even Reo, Inoran and myself…we have no idea of their power. I am the oldest, Inoran only younger by two years and Reo, is younger by just seventy years. Yoshiki is younger than even us, by over one hundred years, yet he has the strength of an ancient. Naoto is aware of this, all immortals are…and we are cautious when we speak of confronting Ryuichi and Yoshiki.”

          Naoto appeared in the doorway, “I will not take you as a blood spouse if you intend on facing Ryuichi. I will not have you love me, if you care so little for your life, only to be taken by those monsters. You promise me that you will do as your told by our clan leader, whatever his commands may be, you must promise to obey them, or you may as well leave me now.”

          A soft sigh from Sakurai, “Naoto, must you be so harsh?”

          “Yes, I do, Acchan. Would you have me take a chance at love, only for it to be violently taken away at the very moment we face Ryuichi? I will not take that chance, I’d rather spend my life alone, than to have him ripped out of it during the war.” Naoto’s voice held no quiver, there were no tears, there was just a determined young lady that was hoping that the man who loved her, would listen.

          And that man did listen, standing up he walked to Naoto, and picked up her hands, bowing before he spoke, “I’m sorry I spoke that way. I do understand the danger in facing Ryuichi, and I was ready to accept that danger, but you are right. It’s stupid of me to think that I could go against that monster, when I barely survived going against hitokiri. I want revenge, but I am not the one to exact that revenge. I will listen to my clan leader, and my elders, I will take care with my life as it is so important to you.”

          Slowly stepping out of the room, Sakurai winked at Futoshi, then quietly turned and walked away. “Don’t go in there,” Sakurai cautioned Uta, who had recovered from the horror of Naoto’s story. “Why?” Uta slumped his shoulders.  Without a word, Sakurai scoops Uta into his arms, “None of your business why,” a quick nuzzle to the young man’s neck, and Uta forgot all about Naoto and Futoshi.

          Dawn was approaching and it was time to close the house up for the day, Futoshi not wanting to be separated from his new love. “Would you agree to letting me sleep next to you? I promise to keep my hands to myself.” Naoto blushed, “Do I have to make that same promise?” it would be difficult to not touch each other, in the large western bed.

          “Kai-san?” Futoshi had sent Naoto to her room, “may I have a word with you please? I would ask Sakurai-san, but he’s um, occupied with Uta.” He explained what Naoto had asked.

          “Obviously Naoto has agreed to this, or you wouldn’t be asking, am I right?” Kai teased the man. “Of course, she agreed! I’m not that kind of man Kai…please you should know that by now.”

          “Uehara, I’m teasing you my friend. You have my blessings, and anything that Acchan says, will reflect on me, and not you, please go and enjoy your day.” Kai patted the man on the shoulder, and giggled as he watched Futoshi run down the hallway.

            Stopping at his own room, Futoshi grabbed a yukata, then with a deep breath, approached Naoto’s room, knocking before sliding the door open. Naoto was already in bed,

           “What did Kai say?”

            “That he would kill me if I touched you.”

             Naoto rolled her eyes, “He did not… he’d never say something like that.”

             The man chuckled, “You’re right…he just made sure that you gave your consent for me to spend the day with you.” He quickly slid into bed, taking Naoto in his arms. “This is a dream for me…” The only answer Naoto gave him, was a passionate kiss, “It’s come true.”

Chapter Text

 

          They were together in Nagasaki, sitting on a large boulder, gazing at the moonlight shimmering across the Sea of Japan, Yoshiki and Ryuichi spoke quietly, a business meeting as it were, the topic of the number of immortals currently in Japan.

          “How many are there? Have the numbers increased sufficiently?”

          “Including ourselves? There are 29, and I do not figure the onmyoji Isshi into the group, he is not a vampire, as far as I know he can not create immortals.” Yoshiki looked behind him at the body of a young fisherman, lying dead in the sand, his throat torn out.

          Yoshiki sighed, he should have changed that one, “I’m going to assume that 29 is not a healthy enough number, as not all them are loyal to us and to our cause.”

          “It depends; which are loyal to either you or myself?” Ryuichi had not hunted that night, the irritation of not having fed, created the tension building in his mind over the impending conflict.

          “Imai for certain, he wants revenge so badly he can taste it. Perhaps Watts, though I’m not overly confident, and Issay…his state of mind right now I would have him at a solid ‘yes’, but you know he has a soft spot for Sakurai, and like a faithful dog, he tries to return to the man’s side every few centuries.”

          Ryuichi turned to his protégé, “I believe I may have the answer, as the situation is upon us right now.” Yoshiki raised an eyebrow, with a questioning look to his master.

          A slow grin spread across Ryuichi’s face, “Bakumatsu.” Yoshiki instantly understood what his master was suggesting. “We can create an army of samurai, hitokiri, and ronin. All we must do is tell them that they will live forever, and will be able to exact revenge on those that hurt them or their families.”

          Throwing his head back, Yoshiki laughed, “Brilliant! We won’t have to subdue them…they’ll already be close to death. There will be so much anger and resentment, we will have the perfect soldiers.”

          “The government will be aiding our cause, without even knowing it, and in return, we will be helping them by removing the bodies…of course we don’t have to tell them what we’re doing with those bodies,” Ryuichi’s eyes narrowed, “not to mention, the blood, Yo-chan…the heated blood of war, flowing over your tongue and staining your lips, it will be an orgasmic sensation worthy of the best fuck of your life.”

         

          The Bakumatsu was in full swing in 1863, the fall of Edo and the Tokugawa shogunate, was nearing its end, as were the ways of the Samurai. The influences of the western world had invaded Japan, with the forced trade agreement by the US, to open Japan’s ports to foreigners, had created a hostile environment for all living in the country. With the open ports, the influx of travelers from the west, had increased rapidly, leaving the immortals with a new banquet choice for hunting.

          It was that ability to taste the blood of foreigners, that a very sick Arimatsu returned early from hunting, and falling into the lap of his lover, frightening Mana badly enough for her to ask for Reo.

         “I don’t know what’s wrong, he’s just lying on the floor moaning.” She signed frantically to the clan leader. “Arimatsu, what has happened?” Reo squat next to his clan chief. “A man, from the west, his blood had a strange taste to it.”

        “Strange? Like with alcohol or food?”

       “Neither, I’ve had blood that was tainted with both…this was something so different, I can’t explain. The man’s skin was pale like an immortal.” Reo had seen these pale people from the west, he knew them to be from a far-off country, but without any specific knowledge, he was at a loss on how to treat Arimatsu.

       “Sakurai-san!” Mana signed. “When he had brought Uta into the blood, Kai-san forced him to feed on his blood, can we not do the same for Arimatsu?

       Without answering, Reo pulled Arimatsu into his arms, “Do it,” he growled, without hesitation, Arimatsu sank his fangs into his clan chief’s neck and fed. After a few moments, Reo started to become dizzy, “That’s enough,” with reluctance, Arimatsu pulled away.

       Laying the man back down on his futon, he looked in Arimatsu’s eyes, “How do you feel?” The man nodded, “Better…the pain is gone.”

       Reo stood, “I want everyone to be warned to take care in choosing people from the west to feed from. I will have Asanao inform the others, please stay and rest for the evening.”

      “Thank you, Reo-san” Mana signed.

           

          The political turmoil in Kyoto had increased the violence in the city. There were now ronin that were guarding the shogun Iimochi, another Daimyo had been given the official position of Protector of Kyoto, and it annoyed Reo to no end, something he voiced to his leaders often.

          “We do not need an official protector, what the hell is the shogunate thinking?” Reo paced in front of his desk, “we’re losing human agents to the shinsengumi, or they are attacked by ronin, and killed before we can get to them.” Reo had ordered that any human agent that had been dealt a life-threatening injury, to be brought to him immediately to be asked to become an immortal… there had not been one that had survived long enough for the question to be asked.

          Jyou sat calmly in a chair, watching her chief pace, “Has it occurred to you, to ask the agents before they are killed? Or give one of us the ability to decide on the spot?” Reo stopped. No, the thought had not occurred to him, but was it an ideal solution for the time?

          “What limits would we set? Do we wait until they are injured, or do we ask them now?” Arimatsu was concerned, he wasn’t sure any of his human agents would agree. After recovering fully, Arimatsu had carried out Reo’s orders and informed all immortals, to take care when feeding on people from the west, going as far as to send messages to the other clan chiefs as a warning.

          Watching the men struggle with the issue at hand, Jyou finally got tired of waiting.

          “Have you thought about asking them here, for a meeting and asking them what they’d like to do?” she said bluntly. Three pairs of eyes glared at Jyou, “you…are you joking? What kind of solution is that?” Asanao sputtered.

          “A reasonable solution, considering you three have come up with nothing.”

          “You’re going to ask a bunch of humans, if they want to become vampires, for no other reason than to build an army?” he shot back.

          “Nobody said anything about an army, nii-chan,” Jyou huffed, “it’s merely a suggestion on what to do about the dwindling numbers of human agents that work for Clan Aichi, that we are not able to bring into the blood or even ask them, before they’re dead.”

          Reo had been oddly quiet during the exchange, thinking his daughter may have come up with an actual viable plan. “Gather the remaining agents, bring them to me tonight, everyone must attend.” Taking that as a dismissal, the three leaders left the room.

          “I hope you know what you’re doing, Jyou…I’m not sure it’s the right way to go about the problem.” Asanao muttered, “but all we can do is ask.”

 

          Within an hour, the six remaining human agents of Clan Aichi were sitting in front of Reo, who was flanked by Arimatsu and Asanao. Looking at each of the men closely, Reo gaged which would accept the offer, and which would refuse.

          “Gentlemen I asked you hear tonight to discuss the current political situation in our city. As you know, some of your fellow agents have fallen at the hands of the shinsengumi, agents that I depended on a great deal. It had been my plan to offer those that were close to death, the opportunity for immortality, though I could never get to these men before they died.” The agents were silent, all eyes were on Reo.

          “What I have in mind, in order to keep our clan safe and in tact, which includes my human agents is this; to offer you immortality, to be brought into the blood as one of us, by me. I can guarantee you the opportunity, on your own time, to avenge the death of any loved one or family member.”

          “I understand if you reject my offer if you have family of your own, it is not my intention on forcing you into the blood, this is a completely volunteer situation. I am not offering this lightly, but Kyoto is in danger, the Bakumatsu is pushing Nippon towards the new era, we are being invaded by the west and our way of life will be changing drastically in the next ten years.”
          One of the men cleared his throat, “Yes Sugizo?” Reo knew there would be questions. “How long until you need an answer?”

          Reo thought a moment, “Within the next week. Depending on how many of you choose to come into Clan Aichi, will dictate when the change would occur.”

          A younger man raised his hand, “Yes Reita-kun?”

          “If I can find the shinsengumi that did this to me, can I make him suffer?” Reita had a thin cloth band that covered his nose, “Show me the injury please.” Reo wanted to see the damage…it was extensive, the nose was almost completely gone.

          “I would hope that you would exact the appropriate revenge for your injury, so yes, you would be allowed to kill that man.” Reita smiled at the thought of the punishment he would carry out. “I agree to it, Reo-san. I need no more time to think about it. I am the last of my family, and I will gladly swear fealty to Clan Aichi, as an immortal” The man stood, then walked to the front of Reo’s desk, dropping to his knees he bowed his head until it touched the floor.

          “Thank you, Reita-san. We will speak at a later time.” Reo looked to the remaining men, “Please do not feel pressured in your decision, there of course will be no repercussions if you decline the offer. I would like to hear from each of you, regardless of what you choose. Thank you.” Jyou escorted the men out of the room.

          “How many do you expect?”

          “Perhaps Boh, Taiji, Toll…the others I am not confident. Tora is young, even younger than Reita.”

          “And Sugizo?” Asanao had his own opinions on the man, concerns that he had never voiced to Reo before.

          “Sugizo,” Reo frowned, “I see him more as a leader, than a follower. My concern is that if he is brought into the blood, he will want to form his own clan.”

          Asanao chuckled, “Those were my concerns from the moment you agreed to this.” Reo turned to look at his number one, “Oh? How is it just now that I’m finding this out?”

          “I’ve had my concerns about him since we brought him in as an agent, but he’s never shown any outward independence from the clan…it is just something I believe is simmering just under the surface.”

          “I agree with my dear brother.” Jyou had quietly returned to the room, “he is arrogant, without being difficult. He is proud, and considers himself of a higher rank than his compatriots, but he is not at the level of arrogance we have seen in someone like Issay. He is in control of his entire being, and will not show any weakness.”

          Reo’s brow furrowed, “But will he accept? And if he does… do we then turn him away with insincere apologies? If we do that, he will know in an instant that we suspect him of something.”

          Jyou shook her head, “The same can be said if he is changed, if he comes to us and says he will be creating his own clan, possibly to come up against ours in the future. We are trapped gentlemen.”

          “If I may,” Arimatsu spoke, “what if we ask him straight out, do you intend on using your newly found power, to form your own clan? If we confront him with our suspicions, he will do one of two things, deny it outright, or admit that yes…he wants to start his own clan. If that is the case, then obviously we refuse him.”

          Reo chuckled and shook his head, “Who would have thought, three centuries ago we would be discussing this type of a problem?”

          “Three centuries ago, we were still under the Tokugawa shogunate, and life was a little more stable, Reo-san.” Jyou chided her father.

 

          Reita and Tora walked down a long alley, looking around to make sure they were alone, “What are you going to do? You’re coming with me, right?” Reita hissed at his friend.     “I’m not sure, I don’t have a good reason not to, but something feels weird for me.”

          “I’ll tell you what it is, it’s Sugizo. That bastard wants to run his own gang, if Reo-san takes him into the clan as an immortal, he’s asking for trouble.”

          “Should we warn Reo-san?” Tora stopped, reaching out to take Reita’s arm, “Let’s go back Rei, I don’t want to deal with Sugizo as an immortal, I don’t think anyone wants to.”

 

          “Reo, you have visitors,” Jyou held the door to Reo’s office opened, “Reita, Tora…what do I owe this unexpected visit to?”

          Both men bowed deeply, Reita spoke first, “Sir, we want to warn you about Sugizo.”

          Reo raised an eyebrow, “Wait one moment,” he raised a hand and they heard the door close, “I want Arimatsu and Asanao in here as well. Please sit down.” It wasn’t three minutes later, that the clan’s chiefs came in.

          “Please continue,” Reo nodded at the two men. “We want to warn you about Sugizo, we um, we don’t think he should become an immortal.” Reita nudged Tora, “Tell him,” he hissed. “More than a few times, Reo-san, we’ve heard Sugizo brag that he wants to run his own gang, whether or not he means humans or immortals, I’ve never heard him say.”

          Leaning back in his chair, Reo nodded to Arimatsu, who then left the room, “It is not a coincidence that brought you to me, gentlemen, as we were discussing this same issue. I sensed that Sugizo-san was not terribly pleased with what he was hearing, now you have just confirmed my suspicions.”

          Reita nudged Tora again, “I um, I’d like to accept your offer, Reo-san. I like working for Clan Aichi, and would like to remain as a member, and if it takes me becoming an immortal to help protect the others, then you can sign me up as well.”

          “Plus, you don’t want to be separated from Reita-kun, do you Tora-chan?” Jyou mused. This brought a bright red blush to Tora’s face, and a look of surprise to Reita’s.

          Tora snorted, trying to cover his embarrassment, “He um…he’s my best friend, we’ve known each other for years, of course I don’t want to be separated from him.”

          Dismissing the two men with thanks, and some time to arrange their lives before being brought into the blood, Reo spoke to his chiefs about Sugizo, “What do we do about him?” Asanao wanted to put a plan in place.

          “Rescind our offer, with no explanations, if he objects then he will have to confront me, and I doubt he’ll want to take that chance.”

          “There’s something else that we may have to worry about; Yoshiki and Ryuichi. If they hear tell of a human man, that wants to start his own clan, he may fall into one of their traps. I suggest that we warn Inoran, Sakurai and Morrie about Sugizo, give them a description of the man.” Jyou was thinking of the worst-case scenario. “I agree, please draw up a letter and have it sent out.”

         

          He watched Reita and Tora exit Reo’s house, knowing that the two younger men went to the clan leader and exposed his thoughts. “Little shits,” he muttered under his breath. He had thought the opportunity to become an immortal more than just appealing, the ability to live forever and wreak havoc on those that had wronged him, and their ancestors for eternity? The thought sent shivers through his body. Now he had to contend with his intentions being discovered. He would not go to Reo within the week, he knew enough to go in search of the two that would grant him immortality without all the moral roadblocks that Reo and his ilk had set up for themselves. He had no use for Reo, he had no need for anyone to be his leader, his needs would be fulfilled by one person. Yoshiki.

Chapter Text

 

          With a groan of frustration, Sakurai asked Kai to gather the members of the clan, “I’ve received a letter from Reo, there are some changes happening in Kyoto that may affect us, that I need to discuss.” Kai left the room, Sakurai folded the letter and put it in his desk drawer. “Why can’t we just have peace for a century or two?” he muttered to himself. Kai poked his head in the door, “We’re ready, my lord.” Kai slipping back into honorifics, he knew what was to come would be serious.

          The assembled members of Clan Sakurai wore worried expressions as they watched their leader come into the room and take a seat in his usual chair. “I’m sorry to have interrupted whatever it is you were doing, but I’ve received a letter from Reo, and what he has told me, has given me cause for concern,”

          Uta was sitting with Naoto and Uehara, holding the young woman’s hand. “Is it that serious, Acchan?” he asked in a tiny voice. “Reo seems to believe it to be, and if he’s concerned, I want to know about it.”

          “We are all aware of the problems in Kyoto of a political nature, that is effecting both the human and immortal world. Reo is losing human agents to the shinsengumi and to ronin, he had thought to bring some of them into the blood, if they were mortally wounded, but he has been unable to get to these men before they died.”

          They shared concerned looks with each other, “What does that have to do with us?” Toshiya asked. “Reo has by now, accepted two more humans into the blood, by their choice.”

          “What do you mean, by their choice?” Naoto didn’t quite understand.

          “He called a meeting of his remaining human agents, which I believe there were seven, and spoke to them about being brought into the blood, and becoming a permanent member of Clan Aichi.” Sakurai tried to read the reactions of his family to the news. “As I said, two have accepted, and four others are considering.”

Kai frowned, “And the sixth? Is that who we should be concerned with?”

          Sakurai nodded, “His name is Sugizo. The two newest members of Clan Aichi reported to Reo that the man was not to be trusted, and should not be brought into the blood, as he has designs on creating his own clan.”

          At the idea that his new clan was under threat, Uehara’s concern reached a new level, “What was the warning from Reo-san?” His body rigid with tension.

          “He believes that Sugizo will be seeking out either Ryuichi or Yoshiki, in hopes of convincing them to bring him into the blood. My guess is that Sugizo would not be part of the clan alliance, and may willingly work against us, with the two ancients.”

          “Are we in danger, Acchan?” Uta had moved to sit next to his lover. “I don’t believe we are in imminent danger, but I want you all to be very careful when you hunt, there will be no going out alone for any of us, that includes myself.”

          Uehara patted Naoto’s hand, getting up from the floor he approached Sakurai, “I’d like to have you walk with me tonight, my lord.” Sakurai nodded, “Yes, of course. We should walk the estate and look for anything that is lax in our security. Thank you, Uehara.”

          Ending the meeting, Sakurai stood and walked towards the door, “One more thing; we will be making a trip into Edo so I may speak with Morrie-san. We will leave just after sunset tomorrow, please make sure the horses are ready for travel.”

 

          Uta, Naoto and Toshiya walked to the bedroom Uta shared with Sakurai, “What do you think?” Naoto asked as she flopped down on the bed. “I think that we do exactly what Acchan and Ue-chan tell us to do, without question.” Toshiya sat next to Naoto.

          Uta started pulling clothes out of a trunk, “For once, I totally agree,” Naoto and Toshiya made a rude noise, “What?” he threw a yukata at Toshiya, “this Sugizo guy sounds scary, if he’s looking to be brought into the blood by either Yoshiki or Ryuichi, that means he’ll have the same powers as Acchan, Reo and Morrie.”

          They shared looks, “Could he set someone on fire?” Naoto asked softly, Uta nodding, “If he’s as powerful as Acchan, yes…I’m going to guess he’ll be able to use the cloud gift as well.”

          Toshiya snorted, “Please…we have Ue-chan to protect us…if we can get him away from you long enough,” Toshiya fell over on the bed and started to tickle Naoto, which Uta jumped into, leaving the three younger members of Clan Sakurai screaming in laughter.

 

          “Change the gates, have iron one’s made and get rid of the wood. Block up the small side doors to the outer gardens, those are weak points.” He was the general, taking command of the safety of his clan, Uehara was dead serious and Sakurai knew it. The former samurai had fallen deeply in love not only with his blood spouse Naoto, but with the entire clan, the feeling of family even more than when he was human.

          “If Sugizo is able to be brought into the blood by one of the ancients, he’s going to be almost unstoppable, Acchan.” Kai reminded his friend.

          “That’s my fear, yes.” Sakurai was aware of the capabilities one achieved in having an ancient as your maker. “Time is all we can hope for, that Ryuichi and Yoshiki are not so easily found.” Reinforcing the estate, would at least hinder an attack by another immortal, only if long enough to get the young ones to safety.

          “The horses, that’s another issue,” Uehara stopped in front of the barn. “this could go up in flames in a matter of minutes, but I have no suggestions on how to keep that from happening.”

          Kai studied the structure, “What about assigning duties to each person, in case we come under attack? Uta or Toshiya, or even myself would be tasked with running to the barn to turn the horses out.”

          “If we had enough warning, that would at least save the animals.” Uehara agreed.

          Enough warning, that was what Sakurai felt they would not have enough of, an unplanned random attack on the estate, with no assistance from Morrie’s clan. He hated what he was thinking…they loved the house so much, but it was about safety, not sentimentality. “I will wait until we speak with Morrie to come to a decision.”

         

 

          “Is he out?”

          Yusuke sighed and nodded, “He left about an hour ago, he used the cloud gift and was gone before I could ask where he was going.”

          Heath sat next to his lover, sliding his arm around Yusuke’s slender waist. “We can’t keep him locked up here, you know that.” Laying his head on Yusuke’s shoulder, Heath wished he had an answer. Inoran’s behavior was becoming more bizarre by the year. “Did you tell him about Reo’s letter?”

          “There’s no point, he doesn’t care…I don’t even know if he remembers anything about Reo. He just sits in the garden and looks at the sky.”

          Heath nuzzled Yusuke’s neck, “I’m sorry. I know I say it all the time but I have no other words, I can only make you so happy, I can not be your blood spouse.”

          Patting Heath on the thigh, “And I love you for it, you know I do, but I can’t stop trying to get him to come back to us.”

          “I would think less of you, if you ignored him and came only to me, I am here to comfort you, just as Inoran said. I will stay by your side as long as you’ll have me, but I will never leave Inoran’s side, ever.”

          The couple shared a passionate kiss, that spoke of longing and uncertainty of what would hold for the small trio of immortals; Yusuke wanting Inoran, and Heath wanting Yusuke, though it seemed that nothing would be resolved.

 

          As he lifted into the cloudless sky, Inoran felt free from the darkness that had steadily been growing in his mind; insanity was encroaching further with each passing night, yet he wasn’t sure he cared anymore. He was not blind to the fact that Heath was now the one sharing Yusuke’s bed, he was happy for the man, he wanted Yusuke to be taken care of, and he knew he was not the one to provide any stability, let alone create any happiness for his blood spouse.

          He continued his routine of sitting in the garden and gazing at the sky, searching for something that he knew could only be found in the dark stillness of the night. Leaving without telling Yusuke or Heath where he was going, he finally felt free from the binds of his title of clan leader. He wasn’t leading anyone. He had no desire to know what was going on in the world of the immortals, any correspondence from Sakurai, Morrie or Reo, he let Yusuke deal with it.

          “Don’t you want to know about the changes that we as a country are facing? Not just the immortals, but the change in the government and how we live as citizens…do you not care?” Yusuke challenged him. “No, I don’t care. It is of no concern of mine what the mortal world is doing, it does not effect me in the least…leave me be, Yusuke.”

          Yusuke had taken to slipping into Inoran’s room just before dawn, to lie in bed with his lover. He did not reach out for him, he was happy just to sleep next to him, something that he knew hurt Heath, but Yusuke couldn’t help himself.

          There had been a heated argument one evening, when Inoran woke to find Yusuke in his bed, picking the man up and violently throwing him out of his bedroom. “I told you to find your comfort with Heath,” he growled at Yusuke, “Do not make me take further steps to keep you out of my bed.”

          The words crushed Yusuke to the point he fled the house, and was not seen for two nights, leaving Heath to worry about his lover’s life, and confronting Inoran, “What you said to him is inexcusable, and I will blame it on your mental state, but hear me now Inoran, do not give Yusuke reason to leave this house.”

          “Or what, Heath? What will you do?” he sneered at the man, “You’ll do nothing, because you’re in love with my spouse, are you not? You fuck him every chance you get, you hold him as he weeps for me, you play the comforting friend when really all you want is for me to die, so you can take him away from me.” Inoran’s rambling speech made no sense, Heath understanding that the man was slipping further into madness.

          “I have promised you, and promised Yusuke, I will not leave you.” Heath mumbled lamely. “You are right, I do love Yusuke, and I do want him as my own, but that is not possible, so I stay in the background, and yes, I comfort him when you have treated him as you have tonight.”

 

          Yusuke wandered through the house, walking through the grounds of their small estate, looking to the sky every so often as in hopes of seeing Inoran. He wondered how long the man would be gone this time, a night, a week? He sat on the bench in the garden, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, the man wept for the love he had lost, that was still present in a physical form, but that he could no longer reach.

          Heath peered around a corner, heaviness in his heart as he heard Yusuke’s sobs, “Why can’t you just let him go? I can love you enough for him…why?” The ties of a blood spouse are not so easily removed, he understood that at some level, and had to accept that truth.

 

 

          “I can’t believe how crowded the city is, it was as if we were wading through a cesspool of humanity.” Clan Sakurai had entered the city of Edo, dismounted and leading their horses, with the young one’s in the middle of the group. Uehara had taken the position at the back, leaving Kai to flank the younger members as they made their way slowly towards Morrie’s modest home.

          Morrie greeted his friend, “It is getting worse every day Acchan, I fear that I will have to move my own family further outside the city.” Sato stood near by to take care of the horses, leaving Morrie to escort his friends inside.

          Noticing Uehara holding Naoto’s hand, Morrie greeted the samurai, “Futoshi-san, how are you enjoying life as an immortal?”  Uehara looked at Naoto, “I’m happier than I’ve ever been, including my human life. My love for Naoto, has spread to the other members of my clan, thank you for asking, Morrie-san.” Uehara bowed deeply, Morrie returning the bow.

          “Shinya!” Uta suddenly squealed and pulled away from Sakurai’s grasp, running towards the slender man, catching him up in a tight hug. “I’ve missed you, Shin-chan,” he mumbled into Shinya’s neck. “I have missed you as well, Uta-kun.” Shinya nodded to Sakurai and smiled. “Shinya, could you please take the young ones and show them to their rooms?” Morrie asked. “A noisy group when they are together, ne Acchan?”

          “Walk with me, Acchan.” Morrie led the others to a large living space, “Please, make yourselves comfortable.”

          Waiting for Sato, Morrie offered them tea. “Have you spoken to Isshi-san as of late?” Sakurai asked. “Not in the last few weeks, he’s been dealing with the influx of pilgrims that are going to the shrine.”

          “Have there been problems? I would suspect a pilgrim would not be any sort of nuisance,” Sakurai asked. “Not in as much as a problem, just too many for him to deal with on a daily basis, the man looks tired.”

          Sato knocked on the door before entering. “Sakurai-san, the horses are stabled, watered and fed.” Sato took his place beside Aoi and Miya.

         Sakurai began, “You’ve received your letter from Reo, correct?” Morrie nodded, “Yes and it’s disturbing news, an unknown person actively searching for those two monsters, is something to be concerned about.”

         “Have you thought of taking any action against this Sugizo, active action?”

         Morrie shook his head, “No, I haven’t. I fear leaving my family unprotected,” he looked at Miya, “I know that they are safe, but I don’t want to invite trouble. What about Reo? Do you think he would consider relocating, perhaps somewhere close by? It would be of a benefit to all of us if he did.”

        “No,” Sakurai knew the clan leader would never leave Kyoto, “I know Reo too well, he will not be chased out of Kyoto, that is his home. He is taking precautions and trying to bolster the numbers of immortal clan members, though he wasn’t expecting Sugizo to be the lone exception.”

        “It must have been a bit of a shock,” Morrie frowned, “to have a human agent you thought loyal to your clan, wanting to come up against you as an immortal,” he paused, “I know better than to ask you about Inoran. I’ve only had a few letters from Yusuke and Heath, Inoran will be of no assistance to any of us. Heath believes the man to be insane, his grasp on reality is fragile. Inoran has taken to disappearing for upwards of a week at a time, then suddenly appears at home and locks himself in his room.”

        “I’ve received the same information. I believe we must write Inoran off as a member of the alliance, though I will go to him if he asks. I’ve also offered Heath a place in my clan, which he politely refused. He is loyal to Inoran, to a fault and I suspect he’s also loyal to Yusuke.”

          The meeting was interrupted by Shinya, who along with Naoto, were carrying trays of food and drink. “Morrie-san, please allow our guests to eat, we are only a few hours from sunrise and I don’t think you’d like to send our friends to bed, hungry, ne?” Shinya chided his leader. “Better do as he says, Morrie. Shin always gets his way.” Miya laughed.

          The meal was loud and boisterous, the gentle teasing of Naoto and Uehara, Uehara beaming, Naoto smacking whomever was close and hiding her face in embarrassment. The meal went by quickly, the dishes cleared and the guests made their way to their rooms, with promises of an evening hunt, and a tour of the now densely populated city of Edo.

Chapter Text

          Letting the wind currents carry him at their whim, Inoran felt at peace while he moved through the night sky, a relaxed calm settling his often turmoil filled mind. There were no thoughts of Yusuke or Heath. No arguments about the clan alliance or what was expected of him as a clan leader, just a peaceful quiet.

          The urge to feed started to nag at Inoran’s mind, something he rarely felt these last few years, the blood of the ancients flowed through him, negating his actual need for blood. Looking down, he chose a wooded area to land, far enough from whatever city that was nearby, he knew a traveler would cross his path soon enough. He chose a fallen tree to sit on, and continued his normal routine of staring at the sky.

 

          Inoran smelled the traveler before he saw him; the man was on horseback, but moving at a leisurely walk, a surprise attack would heat the man’s blood with unimaginable fear, feeding on the terrified horse would be an added pleasure.

          The rhythmic sway of his horse’s gait had lulled Sugizo into a light sleep. He had left Kyoto early that morning in his search for Yoshiki, traveling north towards Edo. He had no real plan on how he would find the immortal, though he constantly sent out thoughts, pleading for Yoshiki to contact him. It had been a long rough day in the saddle, and Sugizo wanted to reach the next city in time to find a ryokan for the night, but as the sun slipped behind the western mountains, Sugizo started to doze in the saddle.

          The attack was sudden and fierce; Inoran flew at the horse’s head, causing the horse to shy and try to run, bucking and screaming, pitching Sugizo off as it tried to escape. Inoran grabbed the horse by the neck and with his preternatural powers, broke the animal’s neck, he hovered over the fallen horse, feeding on the hot, fear tinged blood.

          Sugizo had landed heavily on his side, hitting his head on the hard-packed dirt road, he wasn’t clear on what had just happened. Rolling into a sitting position, he looks for his horse, “What the…” he sees Inoran, hunched over the animal’s neck, knowing instantly that the man was a vampire, and was feeding on his dead horse.

          “Yoshiki?” Sugizo struggled to get to his feet, “I’ve been calling for you! Please…I’m begging you, bring me into the blood!” He staggered towards the immortal, his hand reaching out for the man. Inoran stood up, glaring at Sugizo, baring his teeth, his lips dripping in dark red blood, “Yoshiki? You dare call me that filthy animal’s name?”

          Sugizo took a step back, “Ryuichi?” Before he could take another breath, Inoran had him on the ground, his fangs stuck deep into his neck, “No! Please… bring me into the blood, I beg you! I want revenge…” his words weakened as his body was drained, he struggled to keep his eyes open, the cloud of darkness was narrowing his vision.

          At the word ‘revenge’, something clicked in Inoran’s mind. He pulled away from his victim, “Who…?”

          “Reo…” Sugizo couldn’t breathe anymore, his heart beat had slowed to almost nothing, his last thoughts were of anger that he failed in seeking out the ancient.

          With a rash act, Inoran sliced open his own wrist and put it against Sugizo’s lips, “Drink boy…if you want revenge on Reo, drink for your life!”  Through the fog of impending death, Sugizo heard the vampire’s words, tasted the flow of the hot metallic bitterness of his blood, and without any more urging, took his new immortal life, from Inoran’s wrist.

 

          Mildly interested, Inoran sat on a large rock and watched as Sugizo thrashed around on the ground, as his mortal body died, the man screaming in pain and anguish. “Must you make so much noise? Honestly, you’re the first of my creations to cry out with such loudness.”

          Sugizo grit his teeth, “I’m sorry if my dying is offending you master, but I understand it is needed…”  he tried to catch his breath as the pain dissipated. He lay on this back, his eyes still closed, hoping that Inoran would speak.

          “Master, what is your name?”

          “Inoran, and do not call me master, I am not your savior nor murderer.” He felt nothing for Sugizo, just a by product of his unhealthy desires. “Do you understand how to feed?” he asked bluntly.

          “I believe so yes, will you stay to assist me in my first hunt?” Sugizo stood up, brushing off his clothing. Inoran was squirming, looking anywhere but at the man’s face.

          “You should not need any assistance, if you know the basics of feeding, you’ll live, I’m assuming you must as you begged me to change you, you’ve lived among vampires in the past, have you not, why else would you be seeking revenge on Reo?”

          “Reo doesn’t know how to run a successful gang, he’s too worried about loyalty and not power or profits. He offered to bring some of his human agents into the blood, for safety he said,” Sugizo spat on the ground, “I have no need for a soft-hearted leader, I want power and position, I want my enemies to fear me.”

          Gazing at his newest creation, there was little in the way of caring of any sort, Inoran already becoming both bored and annoyed. “Do what you will, it’s of no concern of mine. Do not seek me out any further,” with that last word, Inoran rose into the sky and was out of sight beyond the clouds in seconds.  With a shake of his head, Sugizo walked over to the dead horse, untying his bag from the back of the saddle, “Sorry you had to be part of this, but I bet you tasted good.”

         

 

          Walking through the city of Edo, Sakurai had his arms full of two frightened young people; Uta and Naoto, both overwhelmed with the crowded streets. Morrie led them through the merchant stores, Kai with Miya and Sato on each side of the group and Uehara at the rear, they were at least protected against any potential problem. Dodging hand carts and horse-drawn carriages filled with Europeans and other nationalities from the west, even Sakurai was on guard.

          “It is truly amazing, the streets are completely full, even at this time of night.” Kai said as he looked around. “It’s been like this for the last few years, more and more westerners are arriving, moving about the country at free will.” Miya explained. Stopping at a general type store, Kai and Miya went inside, the latter having a list from Shinya, “If I don’t get what’s on this list, I may as well sleep alone for a decade or so.” Miya teased.

          The group left Kai and Miya at the shop, Morrie leading the group out of the densely crowded main streets and up a small hill to a shrine, “I think we should speak to Isshi; he may have more information for us.”

          Walking up through the tori gates, the flow of people leaving the shrine had slowed to just a few stragglers. “He should be inside,” Morrie walked around the main building, and to a small house in the back, as he raised his hand to knock, Isshi opened the door.

          “Konbanwa gentlemen, I’ve been expecting you.” Isshi bowed deeply, “Let’s move to the temple,” the look Isshi gave Sakurai and Morrie was enough, “Aoi-san, Sato-san, I’m sure the young ones would like a tour of the grounds, please feel free to escort them.” Both Aoi and Sato understood, and quickly led Uta, Naoto and Toshiya, away from the temple.

         

          “Reo’s name was being cursed and someone was calling for Yoshiki, the other names I did not recognize.” Sakurai and Morrie shared concern looks, “Who would be cursing Reo? Wait, never mind…Sugizo.” Morrie shook his head.

          Isshi frowned, “Who is this person? His thoughts were vile, I rarely can pick up someone’s thoughts from that distance, but this man is angry.”  Sakurai took out the letter Reo had sent, handing it to Isshi. “We believe he is actively searching for Yoshiki, that he wants to start his own clan, and my guess is, it will be for nothing more than some twisted type of revenge against Reo.” Isshi frowned as he read the letter, then folded it up and handed it back to Sakurai.

          “How is it in the city? Have you come across any other immortals?” Morrie asked. “I have had fleeting glances, I don’t believe them to be rogue, but they are not affiliated with a clan or even a master. They are frightened, but I don’t feel anger or sense that they are dangerous, they stay hidden and do not hunt until the city is quiet and the streets uncrowded. I have not heard of any bodies being found, so it leads me to believe that they are not killing whomever they feed from.”

          Before they could continue, Aoi and Sato had returned with Uta, Naoto and Toshiya, followed by Kai and Miya, both men carrying rather large packages. “Really Kai?” Sakurai raised an eyebrow at the size and number of packages he carried.

          “Don’t you dare scold me, Acchan. You will benefit from some of these items.” Kai glared at his master. Placing the packages in a corner, Kai and Miya sat down and listened to the discussion.

          “What are some of the names you have heard, Isshi?” Sakurai wanted to commit these names to memory, in case they were ever approached by any unknown immortals.

          Closing his eyes, Isshi cleared his mind, bringing the names into focus. “Taiji, was the loudest name, Toll and Boh were the others. These names were said in anger or hostility. There were other names whispered softly, these may be the vampires here in the city, there was one that stood out; Hyde.”

          “Do you know how many unknown immortals there are in Edo?” Sakurai wondered if they could be coerced into joining one of the clans.

          “I would guess less than ten, I’ve seen three for certain, a woman and two men, but the others I can only hear their voices, but not exactly what they’re saying, but they do seem to be distraught at times.” Sakurai thanked Isshi for his information, and his continued support of the immortals in Edo, “If at any time you can not reach Morrie, and it is urgent, please feel free to come to my estate.” He wanted the onmyoji to be a close ally, it would be in all their best interest to have someone that could move about in daylight.

           The next evening, Sakurai and his family were ready to go back to the estate, thanking Morrie for his hospitality, “We will stay where we are, but please know if the situation worsens here in Edo, come to me…all of you, bring Isshi if he so desires. I would rather have a house full of people, than to lose even one of you.”

          “I will keep that in mind, I pray that the city won’t drive me out. If I hear from anyone, I will either send a letter, or a member of the family if it is urgent. Please take care on your journey.”

 

          They watched from the shadows as Sakurai and his family rode away from Morrie’s home, “We should have approached them!” a man hissed.

          “Right, just walk up to them and introduce ourselves, then burst into flames. You’re not thinking things through Yuu, that’s not how you approach an ancient.”

          Yuu glared at Daisuke, “Do we send a calling card? How would you do this?” Daisuke wasn’t sure, “I think we should go through the onmyoji; he knows of us and he’s no vampire, so he’s not really much of a threat. I want to talk to Hiro and You before we do anything.”

          “What about Hyde? I know we’re not that close to him, but it seems unfair if we don’t at least ask him.” Yuu liked the man, regardless of his usually volatile attitude, he was undeniably beautiful, but small in stature.

          “I’m sure You will want to speak to him, but I don’t want him with us when we approach the onmyoji, I don’t need that attitude being thrown around.” The two men stepped back, deeper into the shadows, quietly making their way back to their small hut in the hills behind the shrine.

Chapter Text

          Yusuke was hurt and angry, Heath anxious over the animosity between his lover and Inoran, the latter just randomly showing up late one evening. He had said nothing as he floated down from the sky, stepping lightly into the house and going straight to his room.

          Yusuke sensed Inoran before the man had entered the house, relieved that his spouse was alive and well, angry over how the man had disappeared without a word. Running towards Inoran’s bedroom, the door was slammed shut in his face.

          “You have no right to keep me out! I’m your spouse, not some random person, Inoran. Be a man and talk to me.” Yusuke screamed at the closed door.

          “I owe you nothing. I am free to go where I will, your input does not matter.”

          “What did you just say?” Yusuke was stunned. The door was slid open with such force, that it fell from the tracks, Inoran rushing at Yusuke and throwing him to the floor, standing over the man. “I do not answer to you, or anyone else…boy!”

          Yusuke grabbed Inoran by the shoulders, throwing the man up and back into his room, standing up and advancing on his lover, who sat on the floor, “You left with no word, you have been gone for three nights, you DO have to answer to me!” What Inoran did next, not only shocked Yusuke, but caused Heath a great deal of pain.

          Grabbing Yusuke by the throat, Inoran lifted them both, propelled them through two walls and into the side garden, thrusting Yusuke against a brick wall and holding him there, “Fuck you, you pathetic creature. You have zero effect on me, I will not cave to your whining protestations and simpering words of love. Leave my sight, leave my house. You get this one chance, if you do not take it, I will kill you.”

          Inoran stood up, “Get out of my sight.” He turned and walked away, going out to the garden. Heath came in and held his hand out for Yusuke, who slapped it away. “Fuck off,” he growled as he shoved his way past the man, Heath looking helpless and unhappy. The only thing he felt he could do was confront Inoran, with the knowledge that he may also, be threatened with death.

          “He’s gone, and it’s your fault.” Heath said softly, he was standing behind Inoran. “I don’t care. He means nothing to me.” Inoran said in a flat voice.

          “You brought him into the blood, lived with him for hundreds of years as your blood spouse, never mind me, but to say you have no feelings towards Yusuke? What has happened to you?”  

          Before he could sense that Inoran moved, Heath also found himself on the ground, Inoran’s hand across his throat as he straddled the man. “You go fuck yourself, Heath. I’ll tell you the same, you mean nothing … to me or anyone else. Get the fuck out of my house, or I will kill you as well.”

          Heath got to his feet, “You’re going to regret this, one day when you need someone, you will find that what you’ve done, what you’ve said, will be the reason you’re alone. I will come to you if you call me, but I can’t say the same about Yusuke. Try to live in peace.”

          Going to his room, Heath packed a small bag with important items, then he went to Yusuke’s room and did the same. Walking towards the front of the property, he took one look back at the house, shook his head and started walking, going in search of Yusuke.

 

 

          “We wish to speak with you.”

          After an evening of debate, Daisuke and Hiro had been chosen to seek contact with the onmyoji, Isshi. The group had also decided that they would reserve informing Hyde about their decision, for a later date. “I don’t want that little man to explode, it never ends well when he does.” Yuu declared. Hyde was not tied to them as a family member, more so an acquaintance that they came into infrequent contact with. For Isshi’s part, he had heard the whispers of the immortals and prepared himself for the meeting.

          Once the shrine had been cleared of townspeople, Isshi sat on the engawa at the front of the temple, and waited. He had sent out a soft thought to Morrie, informing him of the meeting, that he would contact the clan leader later that evening. “Leave me to speak with them.”

          It was well past midnight when the two immortals appeared at the steps of the temple, both bowing deeply to the onmyoji. Isshi stood and smiled, “You are safe here, you will not be harmed. Please, come inside.” Leading them into the temple, Isshi introduced himself, and offered them both some sake, as they retired to a small side room.

          Daisuke introduced himself and Hiro, “There are three more, but we wanted to meet you first, before exposing the others.” Isshi smiled, “I’ve known of you for some time, but I never wanted to approach you without an invitation. What made you change your mind? You all seemed fairly happy living as you do.”

          Daisuke looked to Hiro before continuing. “We were happy, though there have been recent changes that caused us to fear living unprotected in the city, the whispers and voices we’ve heard are disconcerting to say the least.”

          Isshi wasn’t surprised, “I have heard them as well, as has Morrie and Sakurai Atsushi.” Daisuke recognized Morrie’s name, but not Sakurai’s. “Is that the Ancient that was here in the city recently? There were several other immortals traveling with him.”

          “Yes, that is Sakurai and his family. They live outside of the city on a relatively large estate. They are one of the oldest clans, along with Reo of Clan Aichi, in Kyoto.”

          “Clans?” Hiro looked surprised when Isshi used the term.

          “Yes, there are four clans to our knowledge; Clan Aichi, Clan Sakurai, and Clan Otsuka, here in Edo,” Isshi paused for a moment, “There is another Clan, but with only three members, and the leader is not involved in our alliance. Inoran lives in Fuji, with his blood spouse Yusuke and another member, Heath. Inoran does not participate in any of our meetings.”

           “If I may ask, why did you seek me out?” Isshi needed to understand their motives.

            Daisuke nodded, “We’d like you to introduce us to the immortal that lives here in the city. I feel we have some information to share with him, but did not feel comfortable approaching him on our own.”

           “How many of you, are there? I understand that there are more than just you two.” Isshi smiled, he didn’t want the men to think that he was being untrustworthy.

           “Myself and Hiro live with two others, You and Yuu. We have an acquaintance that does not live in the city, we see him rarely and at times the man can be contentious, his name is Hyde. There are others in the city, though we do not associate them, they are more violent in nature, not quite what you would call a rogue, but close enough to be dangerous.”

           The name caused Isshi to sit up a little straighter, “Hyde? That is a name I have heard being whispered. There is some animosity connected with him, but I can’t figure out exactly what the issue is.”

           Hiro chuckled, “He’s short.”

          “Short? What do you mean?”

           “He’s not very tall, and he is strikingly beautiful…but his height sometimes causes him pain. He is not taken serious very often, which can be a problem.”

            Carefully considering his next words, Isshi spoke, “Would you like me to have Morrie come to the temple tonight? It is still early and he does not live far from here, and I can promise you that you will be met with no harm.” Daisuke nodded, “If we could also bring our friends, we’d appreciate your help.”

           Setting a time to meet back at the temple, Daisuke and Hiro left the shrine and returned to their home.

          “They want to meet with you, please bring whomever you deem appropriate.

 

          Returning to the temple, Hiro holding You’s’ hand, Daisuke and Yuu walking together, “Are you sure we’re safe?” Yuu was decidedly nervous, they would be in the same room with an ancient. “I trust Isshi, if he wanted to harm us, he had ample opportunity to do so this evening.” Daisuke tried to reassure the younger man. Approaching the Shrine, Daisuke gave them instructions, “Do not give any information out unless it’s absolutely necessary. Better yet,” he paused, “let me be the one to speak to the ancient first.”

          “What about Hyde?” You asked, she was concerned about the fall out, when the small man found that they had approached Morrie.

          “I’m not going to worry about him right now. He is not part of our family, nor is he even what I would consider friendly. He just happens to be an immortal that we are familiar with.”

         

          The room was stuffy and airless, too small for the seven immortals that had entered, and were now seated across from each other, Isshi sitting alone.

          “Thank you for agreeing to meet with us, Morrie-san,” Daisuke bowed his head. Morrie smiled, “Of course, I hope we can be of assistance to each other. May I ask you some questions?” Daisuke agreed.

          “Who was your maker and what year did you come into the blood?”

          “Yoshiki and Mari, the year was 1818.”

          “Mari?” Morrie was stunned, he had never heard this name before.

          “A rather tall woman, with long red hair, rather pretty, but she was not Japanese. It was years before we knew their names, and only in the last forty years, understood who they were,” Daisuke explained. “She was with Yoshiki that night, when they entered the city. We were sitting in an izakaya, it was just before closing when they entered. We were the last customers, and were making ready to leave, when they approached us.”

          The fact that Yoshiki had someone with him, a woman no less, was unwelcomed information, “Where did they carry out the attack, certainly not inside the izakaya? What city was this in?”  

          “Our home town of Ibaraki.” Hiro answered.

          “WHAT?” Miya yelled. “You’re from Ibaraki? Who are your families?” Morrie reached over and patted Miya on the knee, “Let them speak,” Miya bowed his head.

          “We left the izakaya together. You and Hiro live next door to Yuu and I. We were just going to go home and go to bed, when Yoshiki approached us. I instantly cringed when I saw him, but that lasted but a few moments.”

          Hiro leaned over and whispered in Daisuke’s ear, he nodded. “Um, if I may?”

          Morrie nodded, “Of course, please.”

          “I was with You, holding her hand when we first saw Yoshiki and Mari. Within a few seconds, I felt almost like I had left my body…the pull towards Yoshiki was like a rope dragging me. I dropped You’s hand, and without a thought, walked up to him. That was the last thing I remember until I woke, and my body started to die.”

          All three members told their story on the seduction by Yoshiki and Mari: Yoshiki taking Hiro and You, Mari doing the same with Yuu and Daisuke, and as was the norm for the ancient immortal, he left the four fledglings before any instruction had been given. “He left us with nothing.” Hiro told them.

          “Hyde has a similar story, though Mari was alone at the time and I believe that his anger and aloofness is in part because he was overwhelmed by a woman. He was attacked in Wakayama, somewhere near his home. He’s never given us the complete story.”

          Telling their story, Daisuke emphasized that they wanted nothing to do with Yoshiki or Mari. The tale of moving through the country for the last forty years, and finally settling in Edo, had a ring of similarity in virtually all immortals.

          “Why Edo?” Miya asked.

          “It’s a large crowded city, that makes it easier to blend in. People only see what they want to, not what is hiding in plain sight. We could live in the hills behind the shrine, but still have access for hunting. We never kill our victims, that’s unethical, and dangerous.” Yuu’s answer made perfect sense.

          “Why seek us out now? It seems a bit odd to me, to have lived in this city for so long, yet stay hidden from other immortals.” This was the important question, that needed a thorough answer.

          After a minute or so, Daisuke looked at Morrie, “We’ve been hearing whispers, voices that sound more than just angry. There’s an undertone of fear, that everyone in the city, mortal and immortal, is feeling. We are a small family, Morrie-san, and we’re scared, we decided to come forward, in hopes of gaining some sort of friendship that might benefit us if what we are feeling, comes to fruition.”
          “But we don’t expect you to offer us a place to live!” Yuu stammered quickly. “I mean, um…”  You reached over and patted her friend on the leg, “Let them talk.”

          Miya leaned over and whispered to Morrie. “That’s acceptable.” Miya straightened up, “I’d like to ask you, what are your family names?”

          Each of the four members obliged, Miya’s face a mix of joy and trepidation. “I believe I know each of your families, or at least I’m familiar with them. You all seem to be one or two years younger than myself.”

          The group excitedly talked about their families and the city of Ibaraki, “I remember your grandmother,” Miya laughed as You described her family member.

          “You favor her, and your mother as well.” Miya’s face darkened, “Yoshiki was alone when he took me by surprise, there was no sight of this Mari woman. It’s safe to say that we were probably just months apart of being brought into the blood.”

 

          “We need to return home,” Miya nudged Morrie, “Dawn is only two hours away.” As they stood to leave, Daisuke bowed deeply, “Thank you for agreeing to meet with us, Morrie-san,” he also bowed to Isshi, “I hope that in the future we can get to know each other more intimately.”

          As they walked through the torri gates, and down the stairs, Morrie stopped and looked back at Daisuke, “Would you like to come to my home tomorrow and meet the rest of my family? I’m sure Miya has more questions to ask, and it feels like a family reunion of sorts. I can promise you, that you will not be harmed.”

          Hiro bowed, “I think that would be acceptable, shall we meet at the shrine tomorrow night around midnight?”

Chapter Text

           The edict handed down by Emperor Komei, in 1863, to expel the barbarians from Japan, had wreaked havoc in the major cities in Japan, including Kyoto. The rash of dead shogunates, ronin and foreigners that were found daily, if not hourly, had quickly increased in numbers. Reo’s men had been stretched thin, even with the addition of the two newest members of Clan Aichi; Tora and Reita. It was those new members who stumbled upon a mortally wounded ronin, while on patrol of Reo’s business interests. 

          “Tora-san!” a shopkeeper rushed out to the street and stopped the man and his partner. “Please, Tora-san, Reita-san… I need your help!” The shop keeper was sweating in fear, as he waved the two immortals into his shop, closing and locking the door behind them.

          “Hiro-san?”

          “Please, this way… hurry!” The shop keeper waved them towards a back room. “I found him lying against my back door this evening, I’m not sure if he’s still alive.”

          Lying on the ground, was a large man, clothed partially in samurai armor, and bleeding profusely from a wound that stretched across his abdomen. Tora squat down next to the man, reaching for his neck. “Well?” Reita waited, “Is he dead?”

          Tora shook his head, “No, he’s alive but barely. Do you think we can get him to Reo?” Tora often forgot that the immortals possessed immense strength. “Help me sit him up,” Reita reached down and grabbed the man under the arm.

          “Hiro-san, we’ll take care of this, thank you for alerting us.” Tora bowed lightly, and with Reita’s assistance, they walked down the alley towards the clan house.

 

 

          His eyes were blinded by tears, as he stumbled out of the house, Inoran’s words and death threat echoing in his head, and his own rough treatment of Heath was burning in his mind. It was those thoughts that almost cost him his life, as he had paid no attention to the sky, until he realized that he had less than an hour before sunrise and no place to take shelter from the killing sun.  Snapping out of his fog, he quickly searched for a place to hole up for the day. He eventually found a large fallen log, under a canopy of dense brush, that was hidden well enough from the dangerous light of day.

          Gathering extra brush to cover the open end of the log, Yusuke crawled inside, pulling in the debris behind him and blocking the entrance, it wasn’t totally dark, but enough to shade him from the sun. As sleep dragged him down, his last conscious thoughts were of Inoran, and the realization that he may never live to see his lover again.

 

          “You’d better tell me why you’re in this city, vampire.” Heath heard a growl behind him, as he drew closer to Kyoto. “I’m here to see Reo, though he does not expect me,” turning slowly he saw Hazuki standing behind him. “Hazuki-san,” he bowed, “could you please take me to see your clan leader, it’s important.”

          Walking through the mostly quiet streets of Kyoto, Hazuki leading Heath towards the main house, “Inoran-san is not with you this trip?”

          “No, and this is why I am here to speak to Reo-san.” Heath did not want to say anymore on the subject, something that Hazuki sensed immediately, as he then remained silent until they reached the house.

          “Heath-san, what a surprise,” Jyou had opened the door, “Reo-san is waiting for you, follow me please.” Walking down the long hallways that led to the underground office of Clan Aichi, Jyou knocked on the door once and opened it.

          “Heath-san, welcome. I am surprised to see you here…alone.” Reo stood and bowed, offering Heath a chair. “What brings you to the city?” Heath sat heavily in the chair, his face worn and haggard. “Inoran.”

          Reo had guessed as much, “What happened?” Heath went through the days that the ancient was missing, the slinking back into their home and the confrontation by Yusuke and the physical altercation. “He threatened to kill Yusuke… then he threatened to kill me. I have no idea where Yusuke has gone, I only thought to come to Kyoto in hopes that he would come to you for advice, obviously I was wrong.”

          This was more than disturbing news for Reo, he now understood just how far Inoran had slipped into madness. “I’m sorry Heath, I haven’t seen Yusuke, and there have been no reported sightings of him in the area. Perhaps he went to Edo?”

          Heath nodded sadly, “May I stay here for the day? There’s not much time left before dawn.”

          Reo stood and moved from behind his desk, laying a hand on Heath’s shoulder, “Yes, of course you may. I will have Mana show you to a room, and if you’d like a meal, I’ll send Ayato in with some food.” Heath rose from his chair, “Thank you, Reo-san.” He bowed and left the room.

         

          “What are you going to do? This sounds like Inoran is seriously ill.” Asanao had listened to the conversation from outside the room, knowing that Reo would most likely have him investigate the situation in Fuji. “I want to send a message to both Morrie and Sakurai, get one of our couriers, I want them to leave at dawn.”

          “We have another problem. It seems that Reita and Tora have found a ronin, badly injured. The spice merchant Hiro found the man at his back door earlier this evening. He saw Tora and Reita, and basically dragged them both into his shop and begged them to do something about the man. They’ve taken him to the koteji and are waiting for your instructions.”

          “Let me see this ronin.”

 

          Standing just outside the koteji, Tora kept his eyes on the crowds passing by, the atmosphere tight with tension. Inside the small house, Reita was tending to the ronin’s injuries, trying to stem the flow of blood, to keep the man alive long enough for Reo to reach them. “He needs to hurry; I don’t think this man will live much longer!” Reita said urgently. The ronin lying in the bed was mumbling incoherently, as a fever was starting to course through his body.

          “Reita, what have you found?” Reo walks in and stands at the foot of the bed, looking down at the wounded warrior. “I’m not certain, Reo-san, other than he’s a samurai…or was.”

          Reo took in the man’s features; long hair, shaved on the sides, a full mustache and heavily muscled body, “No tattoos?” he asked Reita. “None…he doesn’t appear to have been ronin for very long.”

          Sitting on the edge of the bed, Reo gently slapped the man in the face, trying to wake him, but with no luck. “Can we keep him alive until he’s at least awake? I can not bring someone into the blood that is unconscious.”

          Reita shrugged, “I’m no doctor so I can’t answer that.” Reo had to make a hard choice. “Have him brought to the main house.”

 

 

          The introductions between the two families had gone well, albeit tense with apprehension, Morrie explained the relationship status of his members, noting that only he and Miya had blood spouses. “We’re still looking,” Aoi joked. “so, if you know anyone…just send them to me.” Tatsu reached over and smacked Aoi in the arm.

         “What are your plans?” Morrie asked Daisuke, as they sat around a large table in the dining room of Morrie’s estate. “I can’t speak for Hyde, we’ve not seen him in some months,” Daisuke paused, “we are but four in our small family and with so many unknown immortals flooding the city, we live in fear for our lives. Add the problems with the current changes that we are seeing in our country, the street fights, the assassinations and blatant open murders…” he believed he had made himself clear.  

         Morrie could hear the fear and concern in Daisuke’s voice, the way the man had reached out and held You’s hand to comfort her.

          “Are you asking to join my clan?”

          “Yes, we are,” Daisuke sat up a little taller, “we have a familiar bond with Miya-san and Ibaraki, and I believe we share the same values and ethics of immortality. I understand of course if you have reservations, or do not want to expand your family, if that is the case then we will push through and hope for the best.”

          Looking at the other members of his clan, Morrie knew that there would have to be a discussion. “I can not offer you this at the moment, I will have to discuss it with my family. I can appreciate your honesty, and your ideals…I can give you my decision tomorrow night, if that will work for you?”

 

         

          “There is no chance he will survive this wound. I do not have the skill to cure him, I’m sorry.” The physician bowed and left the room.

          “I told you not to bother with me, I know I’m dying, just leave me be.” The ronin’s breaths were shallow, the fever increasing with each hour, but he was awake. “Suzuki-san, I want you to listen to me carefully.” Reo watched as Kyo and Hazuki spoke to the ronin.

          “You don’t have to say anything, the answer is yes.”

          “Yes? You don’t know what I was going to ask you.” Kyo snorted.

          “I know who and what you are, the answer is still yes. I want to make sure that my life and the lives of other samurai are never forgotten, so just bite me damn it before I fucking die.” Suzuki growled.  Kyo turned to Reo and shrugged, “There’s your answer.”

          As with Kyo, the process of Suzuki Masayuki’s immortal body dying, was almost passive, the man had already been in serious pain and near death, so a bite to the neck and what took place after, was inconsequential to the samurai. “How do you feel?” Reo asked after the change was completed.

          “Hungry, maybe a little tired but I was tired before I was wounded. Teach me how to hunt so I can get on with this vampire thing.”

 

          Later that evening, Reo discussed the intricacies of how Clan Aichi lived, what was expected of him as a member, “Keep your private life away from the clan, don’t bring your problems into my home and we’ll get along just fine. Any comments or concerns?”

          “Would you be interested in three other samurai?”

          “What do you mean, interested?” Reo wasn’t sure where this was going.

          “There are three men, brothers in arms as it were. If they still live, would you be willing to bring them into the blood?”

          This was not what Reo was expecting, “How do you know they would agree to this? I admit that I was initially stunned that you knew of our existence, but what makes you think your brothers would be as accepting?”

          “Simple,” Suzuki said with a smile, “We don’t like where the country is heading, we don’t like that the foreigners are on our land, trying to westernize our people. My brothers would love nothing more than to spend eternity punishing those that brought these changes to our way of life.”

          The clan leader said nothing for a few moments, “If I agree to this, I expect you to adhere to all rules and regulations set forth for Clan Aichi. There will be no indiscriminate killing just for the sake of the Samurai class, is this clear?”

          “I expect nothing less from my leader, Reo-sama. You must control your members as a general would control his troops. If one of my brothers were to violate our clan laws, I will be the one to execute him.”

          Somehow, Reo knew Suzuki was dead serious, the man was intimidating in size and presence. Standing up, Reo bowed then extended his hand, “Welcome to Clan Aichi, Suzuki-san.”

 

 

          Yusuke stood outside the iron gates of Sakurai’s estate, wondering how to gain the attention of any of the family members. He considered pounding on the gate with a large stone but thought better as it may attract the wrong kind of attention. Looking towards the sky, he could see that dawn was perhaps two hours away, leaving him little time to worry about a polite entrance.

          “Yusuke-san?” a soft voice behind him startled the immortal. “Naoto-chan, konbanwa,” he bowed deeply, genuinely relieved that it was Naoto and not Sakurai who saw him first. “Yusuke-san, why are you here?” Naoto reached up and pushed on the gate which swung open with ease, Yusuke’s face flushing in embarrassment as he did not think to simply push the gate open.

          “I need to speak to Sakurai-san please,” Yusuke didn’t wish to say anymore, and Naoto respected that, as she invited him into the estate and into the house. “I’m sure Acchan will be pleased to see you again, I will get a room ready for you and have Kai fix you a bowl of rice before you sleep.” Leading Yusuke to Sakurai’s room, she knocked on the door then bowed and made her way towards the kitchen.

          Sliding the door open, Yusuke stopped and bowed deeply, “Sakurai-san, I apologize for coming to your home unannounced, but I need your help.”  Sakurai sighed, the messenger from Reo had arrived earlier that evening, letting him know that there was a situation with Inoran, “What has he done now?”

Chapter Text

          “Is it as you suspected?”

          “Actually, it’s better. The thrill you get when the blood first washes over your tongue is exciting.”

          Kyo and Hazuki had taken the newest member of the Aichi clan, Suzuki Masayuki, out for his first hunt after Reo had brought him into the blood. It was blind luck that the man had survived his initial wound, long enough for Reo to change him, the ex-samurai having weathered the change with little more than a gasp. Sitting up after his mortal body had died, Suzuki scoffed at Reo, “I thought you said it was going to be painful? I’ve had more pain with a splinter, than with this process.”

          Reo chuckled, “A true testament to your worthiness as a samurai, Suzuki-san.” Helping the man from the floor, Reo pointed at Suzuki’s stomach, “Check your wound.” Pulling his yukata open, the man was amazed that he only had a faint scar, which was slowly disappearing. “One of the many benefits of being an immortal, you immediately heal if you are wounded.”

          “That’s good to know, but what can kill me?”

          “Sunlight, and someone cutting your head off. If you anger an ancient, they can set you ablaze.” Reo said in a serious tone.

          Suzuki frowned, “Have you seen this before?”

          “No, but I know of one ancient that has done this, but it was in response to his blood spouse being attacked.”

          Suzuki nodded, “That sounds reasonable,” he paused, “how many ancients are there?” That led to a lengthy discussion, that lasted until Suzuki’s blood thirst became overwhelming, leading Reo to call in Kyo and Hazuki. “Take him out to hunt.”

          Walking through the city, Suzuki started to notice some of the others that belonged to clan Aichi, “Who was that?” he asked as he saw a very slight child stepping into an izakaya. “That’s my lover, Ayato.” Kyo said gruffly.

         “That tiny boy is a blood drinker? If I may ask, how did that come to be?” Looking back at the izakaya. Kyo went through Ayato’s history with the clan, leading up to the incident with the rogue vampires. “He left that boy to…?”

          “Yes, he did,” Hazuki snorted, “Kyo found him and brought him back to the main house.” The remainder of the story was told, each detail further infuriating Suzuki. “Where is that pathetic excuse for a man now?” he asked about Issay.  Kyo shrugged, “We don’t know, but he’s no longer a member of the clan, though I suggest you speak to Reo for specifics.”

          “The boy is under Reo’s protection?”

          Kyo smirked, “Reo is Ayato’s maker, but he is under my protection.” Suzuki raised an eyebrow questioningly, “Ayato chose to become my lover, my mate. I will protect him with my life, if I must.” Suzuki knew enough about his ronin counterparts to know, that no one with any sense, would go up against Kyo to get at Ayato. “Good, he’s a beautiful boy, you’re a lucky man.”

          Entering the main house from the street, Kyo escorted Suzuki to Reo’s office, greeting Jyou who stood outside, “We need to speak to Reo.” Kyo grunted, he was not one to use honorifics with anyone, and that included his clan leader. “Go right ahead Kyo, but you,” she reached out and grabbed Hazuki, “you and I need to talk for a moment.”

          Closing the door behind them, Kyo approached Reo’s desk, “You need to explain Issay to Suzuki, I want him to know every detail about that maggot. You know damned well that we’re not done with him.”

          “Please sit, Suzuki-san. How was your first hunt?” Reo asked cordially. “Better than I expected, it was quite exhilarating to be honest.” He at least had a little better decorum than Kyo, but respected the ronin a great deal.

          “What to tell you about Issay? He is the third creation of Sakurai Atsushi, who is an ancient, having been blood born seventy years before myself. He is the oldest of us, Ryuichi being our primogenitor, and one hundred fifty years older than Sakurai-san.” Reo went through the incidents of Issay’s life while he was with Sakurai, his appearance in Kyoto and the incident between Ayato and Miko.

          “I believed him to be an honest and upstanding man when I created Ayato to become Issay’s mate, my child seemed to be happy and contented. When the ordeal with the rogue vampires occurred, I believe I was the most shocked, of course after Ayato.”

          “What was his reason for abandoning that boy?” Suzuki had only a short glimpse of Ayato, but he could tell the waif like boy was indeed beautiful.

          Kyo snorted, “He believed Ayato to be lost… his excuse was he was coming to the main house in order to get backup, we now know that it was a blatant lie.”

          Just as Reo was going to continue, a light knock on the door and Ayato and Mana came into the room. “Oh, my apologies,” he bowed to Reo, “We didn’t know you were having a meeting, my father.”

          “Come here, Ayato-kun, Mana-chan.” Reo held his arm out for the young man. “This is Suzuki Masayuki; he is our newest clan member. I would like you to explain and perhaps give him some instruction on how to speak with Mana.”

          “Yes, Reo-san, I’d be happy to.” Ayato said brightly, Mana nodded, “I’m sure you’ll learn to understand me quickly, Suzuki-san.”

          “Thank you Ayato-kun, Mana-chan. It will be a pleasure to learn to speak your language.” Suzuki bowed.

          A rather loud bang startled them, followed by Hazuki being shoved through the door of the office, barely catching his feet before falling, and an upset Jyou coming in behind him.  “Is there a problem Jyou?” Reo asked, obviously amused at the sight of a very flustered Hazuki.

          “No, Reo-san. It was taken care of privately.” Jyou said tersely. The sheepish grin on Hazuki’s face gave nothing away to his friends. “Dare I ask what the problem is?”

          Jyou shoved Hazuki in the shoulder, “Tell him.”

          “What? Why would I do that? This is private and personal.” Hazuki argued, but the look on his mate’s face, countered that argument. “Fine. If you must know, I forgot her birthday.” Ayato was the first, covering his mouth quickly and giggling. Reo looked away from the couple, he tried hard not to laugh, but the antics between Jyou and Hazuki were always a source of amusement.

          “I reminded you of that, why didn’t you fucking listen to me?” Kyo growled, “I shouldn’t have to be the one to remember YOUR mate’s birthday!” Kyo cuffed Hazuki in the back of the head.

          The teasing when on for some time, Suzuki watching the interaction between the members of his new clan…no, that wasn’t right. This was his new family, one that he already felt strongly about, “I would suggest in the future, Hazuki-san, that you make yourself a reminder note. Such things as birthdays and anniversaries are important to most women,” he paused, stood up and bowed to Jyou, “A happy belated birthday, Jyou-san.”

          Jyou blushed, which was something that anyone rarely saw, “Thank you, Suzuki-san, I appreciate that.” She turned to Hazuki, “You’re going to pay for this later, I’m just warning you now.” Grabbing her mate by the arm, Jyou pulled them out of the office, closing the door quietly. “He’s going to be useless tomorrow,” Kyo muttered.

          “Suzuki-san, about your brothers; do you know where they are at the moment?” The opportunity to possibly have three more samurai, that would agree to be blood born, was more than just enticing to Reo.

          “I do not. We became separated some months ago on the battlefield, and I have yet to find them again. I will however, look for them on my own time, if that’s permissible, Reo-san.”

          “Yes, of course. If they are still alive, I would be interested in speaking with them, I believe that they would be a great asset to Clan Aichi.”

 

 

          “I can’t believe you actually thought we’d object, that’s ridiculous.” Tatsu was scolding his spouse. Morrie had posed the question to his clan members after Daisuke and his family had left for the evening. “I wasn’t about to just welcome them with open arms without speaking to you all first, that’s being a cautious leader.” Morrie was sulking.

          “Just because they come from the same town as Miya, was not an open invitation to join the clan, it had to be discussed first.”

          Tatsu playfully smacked his lover in the arm, “Well it was stupid of you…you should know us all better than that by now.”  Miya reached over and patted Tatsu on the shoulder, “He was really just looking out for his family, it’s natural for him to do so.”

          “Thank you, Miya. It seems that nobody trusts my judgement these days.” The gentle teasing went on through the rest of the evening, but the fact remained, that they were all excited about the newest members of the clan. “We may need a bigger home,” Tatsu reminded Morrie, “Yes, I know…but do we stay in the city, or do we move out near Sakurai?”

          “Ideally, we stay in the city,” Aoi said, “it is much easier to be kept aware of what’s happening within Edo, and the ability for us to send a message to either Sakurai-san or Reo-san, is key. Living in the countryside reduces that ability.”

          Miya agreed, “Leaving the city would put us at risk for any attack by rogues, I’m sure we’d be able to find a large enough home that would be suitable.”  Shinya leaned over and whispered in Miya’s ear, “Oh? Is it for sale?”

          “Yes, and it’s lovely. There have been workers there during the day. I was at the shops two nights ago, and the gates were open, I just peeked in and it has a good-sized garden and a large pond. The house looks to be in good condition.”

          Dawn was approaching and the need for sleep became obvious. “I will contact Daisuke and let him know that we have accepted them into the clan. Once they have moved in, we will further discuss the move to a new house. Now I believe we should all retire for the day.”

 

         

          He shut the onmyoji out as soon as he felt the man’s presence in his mind. “I don’t need to speak to you,” Hyde muttered to himself. He had been watching Daisuke and his family leave the small home on the hill behind the Inari shrine, being led by Isshi, but to what end he had no idea.

          Following the small group, Hyde watched as they made their way through Edo and enter through the gates of Morrie’s small estate. “Why are you joining them?” Hyde had mixed emotions about the clan members, understanding that while you would have added protection, there were binding laws and constraints that were expected to be followed.

          “Fools.”

 

          “He ignored me, but he followed us all the way here.” Isshi explained that he knew Hyde was watching them. “It’s Hyde, I could hear him yelling in his mind.” Hiro explained, “He’s not about to face you unannounced, I’m not even sure he would come if he was invited. He’s a very strange man.”

          “Shall I approach him?” Isshi offered.

          Hiro shook his head, “No. If you’d like to speak with him, either myself or Daisuke should contact him first.”

          Morrie wasn’t sure he wanted to involve this unknown immortal in his clan’s activities. “Would he even agree to meet with us? He sounds a bit unstable.” The worry that they could be exposed to an immortal that had similar mental issues as Inoran, was not an option for the clan leader.

          “I’d like to offer the neutral grounds of the shrine, if you’d like to meet with Hyde, it may be more comfortable for him, he’ll feel less threatened.” Isshi believed in the importance of cohesion within the immortal world, would benefit them all.

          “I’m willing to meet with Hyde if he agrees, Miya will accompany me.” Morrie announced. Hiro looked to Daisuke, “You and I? I don’t want to bring Yuu into this, I feel he is safer here with the others.”

          They made plans for the next evening, Isshi departing at that time, “I want to make sure that he hears me.” The onmyoji bowed and left Morrie’s home. “He’s growing on me,” Sato laughed, “I never thought I’d say that in my lifetime.” Isshi had indeed, grown on all of them. It was hard not to like the amiable man, “It’s still rather strange that he is not a vampire, just a mere immortal.” Aoi sighed.

          That evening as Tatsu and Morrie laid in bed, they spoke of Hyde, “What do you think about this Hyde person? I’m not sure I’d want him in the clan, he sounds like a bit of an asshole.” Morrie nuzzled Tatsu’s neck, “I agree, but I want to make the offer. If he is civilized and not dangerous, I feel that we should at least speak to him.”

Chapter Text

          “No, I will not.”

          The meeting Isshi had arranged between Morrie and his clan members, and Hyde went as predicted; the diminutive immortal refusing to join the ranks of Clan Otsuka despite the connection with Ibaraki. This was of no surprise to Daisuke or Hiro; they knew that the man had a stubborn attitude. Morrie bowed his head, “Is this your final decision? My offer will always stand, you are welcomed into Clan Otsuka at any time.”

          Hyde had initially refused to meet with Daisuke and Hiro, telling them he thought them to be fools for aligning with Morrie. “Why would you do such a thing? Do you not have confidence in your own family? How well do you know these Otsuka people?”

          “Miya is from Ibaraki, he knows You’s family and mine, he is a good man and I get no sense of hostility or danger from Morrie-san. You know there are immortals in the city that wish to do us harm, yet you berate us for wanting to remain safe?” Hiro argued.

          Hyde crossed his arms over his chest in defiance, “Do whatever it is you want, but leave me out of this, I will remain on my own,” he looked at Isshi suspiciously, “what part do you play in all of this, onmyoji? You are no vampire so why are you acting as a mediator between immortals?”

          “A legitimate question, and a simple answer; I do not wish to see anyone harmed, mortal or immortal. You’re correct, I am not a vampire, but does that negate the feelings I have for humanity? Shall I live my life in blind ignorance and remain at the shrine, ineffectively praying for the good of all?”

          “Do whatever it is you feel is right,” Hyde stood, “thank you for the offer, but I still wish to remain on my own, I can not, in good conscious commit to becoming a member of any clan.” The vampire bowed, and left the room.  Daisuke sighed, “We tried,” looking over at Morrie, “he still may change his mind.”

         

 

          The night long conversation Sakurai had with Yusuke, shed light on how far Inoran had dropped into madness; threatening to kill his blood spouse was more disconcerting than anything he had done previously. Yusuke had spent the evening with Sakurai, talking about his relationship with his lover, explaining when he believed the illness started.

          “It wasn’t until we met with Reo and yourself, and the discussion of a clan alliance, that he started to have episodes of irrational anger.”  Kai had been listening to the conversation, but from another room, he didn’t want to intrude on the private talk between his clan leader and the distraught man. Sakurai had sought out Kai while Yusuke went to hunt with the young ones.

          Sitting heavily in a chair, Sakurai pinched the bridge of his nose, “I don’t know what to tell him, Kai, I have no answers. He’s bound to Inoran, but how do we tell him to live?”

          “Herbal medicine.”

          “You’re joking.”

          Kai smiled, “No, I’m not joking. The problem will be getting Inoran to actually use the herbs.” He had started researching medicinal herbs when Inoran first showed signs of being ill, he was certain he could help the man.

          “My only concern is, will the herbs work on an immortal?” This was the same valid concern that Kai had, when Sakurai brought Uta into the blood, the unknown effects of toxins on an immortal.

         

          Kai was standing on the engawa, waiting for the young ones to return from the hunt, intercepting them before going into the house. “Acchan has something important to speak to us about,” Kai said ominously.  Sakurai had received a letter from Reo and he knew the contents had to be about Inoran, and thusly wanted to wait until Yusuke was present before he read it.

          The clan members gathered in the large living room, Yusuke sitting with Naoto. “I received a letter from Reo,” Sakurai opened the letter, reading it quickly, “it seems that Heath is with Reo, he arrived two days ago.” He looked up at Yusuke, “He’s looking for you.” Yusuke’s face paled, “Is he alright?”

          “It doesn’t say, but Reo is sending him here. I would assume that means that he’s fine, but he’s probably distraught over you having gone missing from your home.” He looked up at Yusuke, “Will you wait for Heath to arrive?”

          Yusuke stood and bowed deeply, “May I intrude on your hospitality a while longer, please Sakurai-san?” He held the bow, “Sit down Yusuke-kun, of course you can stay here.” Sakurai chuckled. “Thank you, Sakurai-san.” Yusuke was pulled back into his chair by Naoto, “I’m glad you’re staying,” she said as she leaned into her new friend.

 

          It was two days before Heath reached Edo and Sakurai’s estate, arriving at the gates just before dawn. Uehara was making the last of his nightly rounds, checking on the security of the estate, when he came upon Heath standing in front of the gates.

          “Konbanwa Heath-san,” he bowed, “We’ve been expecting you.” Following Uehara towards the house, a sudden rush of air was felt and Heath was shoved to the ground roughly, a sobbing Yusuke clutching him tightly, “I’m so sorry, please forgive me,” he whined in Heath’s ear. “I forgive you,” Heath wrapped his arms around his lover, “it was a natural reaction, but you scared me when you left, I couldn’t find you.”

After several minutes of whispered apologies, Heath patted Yusuke on the ass, “I think we should go into the house, don’t you?” Heath smiled and kissed Yusuke on the nose.

“Fine, but I kind of like laying here in the dirt with you.”

         

          Sakurai didn’t press Heath for any further information on Inoran’s breakdown that night, instead letting the two men reconnect and start to decide on their future, with or without Inoran.

          The next evening, Sakurai met with Yusuke and Heath in his private room, wanting to discuss the information that Kai had come up with, regarding the use of herbs as a mood stabilizer. Kai brought the Chinese medical text book with him, setting it on the table for Heath and Yusuke to look at.

          “There are different herbs, that when used in the right combinations, may help Inoran, though I wouldn’t say it will cure him completely. I believe the only issue you would have, is getting him to agree to take the herbs.”

          “How are they prepared?” Yusuke was keenly interested; he was willing to try anything at that point. “They can be steeped in hot water, as a tea of sorts, or you could possibly mix them with food.”

          Heath wasn’t convinced, “Is this safe? How do you know it won’t poison him?” This was the key issue, the unknown effects of the herbs on an immortal. Sakurai frowned, “I don’t know, I’d say that they are safe, as mortals have been using them for centuries. I think the bigger question is will they work on a vampire?”

          Kai chuckled, “Well, it can’t kill him, I would say the worst it could do is make him sick,” he looked intently at Yusuke, “this is the only thing I can come up with to try and help Inoran, your part in his recovery, will be to get him to agree to taking the herbs.”

          Yusuke looked at Heath, “How will we do this? He threatened to kill both of us if we return, do we wait for him to calm down, or do we go back and force him to listen to us?”

          “May I suggest staying here with us for a few weeks? Perhaps Inoran’s temper has cooled, and he will be approachable,” Sakurai offered, “I’m sure everyone would love to have you as guests.”

          “Hell yes we will!” A loud giggle preceded the door being slid open, Uta and Naoto pushed their way into the room, Uta running over and hugging Sakurai, Naoto shyly smiling at Heath. “I’m glad you’re here,”

          “How long were you both eavesdropping?”

          “Long enough to know that Kai is going to help Inoran-san, and Yusuke and Heath will stay longer,” Uta said smartly.

 

          Lying in bed and talking until just before dawn, Heath held Yusuke in his arms, “How long do we stay?”

          “Here? I think no longer than a week, I don’t want to inconvenience Sakurai-san any more than we have to.” Yusuke would rather have left that next night, but the thought of Inoran possibly killing Heath…he fought against those urges.

          The gentle love making between the two immortals, had been an act of desperation for Heath, trying to win Yusuke’s heart away from his blood spouse, something he knew to be futile. His lover’s heart had a large hole where Inoran should be, Heath being relegated to act as a stand in.

          “I want to watch him first, for at least a night or two, to see how his mind may be working.”

          Heath shook his head, “No, I will approach him first, he’s likely to attack if you just walk boldly up and speak to him. I will tell him that we have found a remedy for his madness, if he won’t listen to me, then you can try.” Nuzzling Heath’s neck, Yusuke closed his eyes.

          “Yu…”,

          “Hmm?”

          “What will we do if he rejects us?”

         

 

          He no longer stared at the sky, there were no answers there. Prowling his property nightly, feeding on small animals or the occasional deer, Inoran’s mind was never quiet. “Yusuke? Can you make me some rice please?” He would lean into the kitchen, then realize that his blood spouse was no longer living with him. “Heath…” he would whisper the man’s name.

          The turmoil that he was going through scared him, when he was lucid enough to understand what was happening. “I’ve lost everything, he’s gone and taken Heath with him and I’m going to die alone.” These musings had lasted more than just a few hours, the feelings of remorse were consuming him as much as the anger had.

          It was one such night that Inoran left his home, something in his heart told him to search for Yusuke, to apologize and reconcile with his blood spouse, “He loves me and yet I destroyed him…did I destroy Heath as well?” Walking out of his garden and onto the dirt road, Inoran headed north towards Edo. “You’re with Sakurai, aren’t you? Acchan would take care of you, he’s a kind man.”

         

          Sweeping the long stairway to the shrine, Isshi greeted everyone who passed by, exchanging small talk about daily life in the quickly changing city. He had just turned to go up the small hill to the temple when he heard a voice that was not spoken aloud. The confusion in the mind of the immortal initially caught Isshi off guard; “Inoran.”

          Quickly laying down the broom and jogging down the stairs to the street, Isshi let the voice in his mind guide him. The main street was crowded even at the late hour; scanning the masses in the street it takes him but a few moments to see Inoran.

          The man looked confused, he was mumbling to himself and not paying mind to how he was walking through the crowd, not acknowledging the people he bumped into. “This is not good.”  He carefully walked on the opposite side of the street, following Inoran while calling for Morrie.  For twenty minutes Isshi followed the confused immortal, hoping that the man would not suddenly lash out at an unsuspecting person.         

          “Isshi-san,” a whispered voice in the onmyoji’s ear, “Miya-san, I’m so glad you’re here. His mind is so confused, I can’t understand what he’s thinking.” They watched Inoran until the man was in a more secluded area, “I’m going to speak to him, please just watch my back.”

          Miya slowly approached the immortal, “Inoran-san…what a nice surprise to see you in Edo,” he said, “Are you here to see Morrie-san? I’m sure he’ll be happy to visit with you.” Inoran looked at Miya, confusion showing in his eyes, “Miya-san? Have you seen Yusuke? I can’t seem to find him.” This saddened Miya, “I haven’t, Inoran, but let’s go see Morrie-san, perhaps he can help you find Yusuke.” With a quick look at Isshi, Miya guided Inoran towards the new clan house, feeling as if he was helping an elderly person who had lost their way.

          The Otsuka clan members waited anxiously for Miya to bring Inoran home to them. “I want you all to watch what you say, be very polite and try not to anger him, it’s obvious that something is wrong,” Morrie was concerned that Inoran was found wandering the city streets. “Morrie,” Shinya hissed from the front door. “Thank you, Shinya, please everyone just be careful.”

          “Morrie, Inoran has come for a visit.”

Chapter Text

          Inoran’s demeanor was shy and reticent, his eyes darting around the room as if he was planning an escape if necessary. “Inoran-san welcome, would you like a cup of tea?”

          The man ignored the question, “Do you know where Yusuke or Heath are? I need to speak to them both, I’ve done a terrible thing.” Inoran’s voice was quivering.

          “I believe they are both with Sakurai-san,” Morrie said carefully, “would you like to see them?” Inoran shook his head, “No, not yet…I’m not ready to see either one of them.” Tatsu was standing near Morrie, “Inoran-san, would you like something to eat? Or would you like me to show you to your room?” he asked softly.

          Inoran’s eyes widened, he grabbed the man’s arm, “Tatsu-kun? Do you know what I did to Yusuke? I told him I would kill him…then I told Heath that I would kill him as well. Can you help me find them, Tatsu-kun?”

          Tatsu quickly stole a glance at Morrie, who nodded imperceptivity. “Would you like to talk about it, Inoran? Let’s find you a room so you can rest, and you can tell me what happened, ne?” Taking the ancient by the hand, and murmuring softly to him, Tatsu led Inoran down out of the room and towards the back of the house, “Let’s move to the garden, we need to discuss how to proceed.”

          “It’s sad to see him in this condition, he was so vibrant when we first came to him.” Miya was the first to mourn the ancient that he knew. “How do we proceed from here?” Everyone wanted to help the ancient vampire.

          “Aoi, I want you to go to Sakurai, tell Yusuke and Heath that Inoran is here with us, but tell them to wait three days before coming to the city.” Aoi didn’t wait to hear the specifics of the plan, leaving the room immediately to get ready for the short journey to Sakurai’s estate.

          “Shinya, I’d like to see if Inoran would also speak with you. Try bringing him some tea, it would be better if there were two of us whom he could trust.” Morrie’s shoulders slumped under the weight of knowing that anything they could do, may still not be enough to save Inoran from himself. “All we can do is try.”

 

 

          Patrolling the streets of Kyoto and keeping Clan Aichi’s business investments safe, had become more difficult as the Bakumatsu continued. The thin lines between Shinsengumi, Samurai and Ronin, were tightly strung, with seemingly minor incidents turning into major and often deadly events. Not every Samurai wanted nor believed in the edicts that held the Shinsengumi in power, nor did every Samurai want to join the elite guard.

          As such, Reo had every available and capable member of the clan, out on the streets every night, Akinori, Ayato and Mana being the lone exceptions, much to Ayato’s chagrin, “Why can’t I help? If I’m with Kyo and Hazuki, I’m safe…this really isn’t fair.”

          With a nod from Reo, Tomo, one of the last human members of Clan Aichi, attacked Ayato, throwing him to the ground before the slender vampire even knew what hit him. “If Tomo can do that, what do you think would happen to you if a man the size of Suzuki attacked you?” Tomo held out his hand to help Ayato off the floor. “Fine, but that wasn’t really fair.”  Reo laughed at the boy, “Who would you be protecting?”

          The members of Clan Aichi were paired up and sent out to check on Reo’s businesses, leaving Reo and Jyou as the only two immortals with any true power, at the clan house. The nightly kisses and promises of safety were always present, “Please, be careful out there.” Jyou hugged Hazuki, surprising her mate. “Oh, what’s this? Concern for my safety?”

          “Yes, is there something wrong with me wanting you to come home to me?”

          “No, there’s nothing wrong. Is there something wrong about me loving you as much as I do?” Hazuki held Jyou tightly in his arms, “No, and I’d like to keep it that way.”

          Ayato was attempting to be loving and concerned, until Kyo grabbed his young lover and molested him for a good fifteen minutes, “You think I don’t want to come home to this?” he hissed in Ayato’s ear, “just be waiting for me, you know what I’m going to want.”

 

          Nakamura Taizo was on edge, his senses bristling like an agitated badger, there was something lurking nearby that didn’t’ feel right. His two companions made note of their leader’s apprehension, “What is it?” Ogawa Hide asked, putting a hand on Nakamura’s shoulder. “I’m not sure, but we’re being watched.” Ogawa turned and nodded to Jin Koba, who was trailing behind his two brothers. The three samurai were on a mission to find an identity they could use to blend in, not wanting to become part of the shinsengumi forces, though they were also unwilling to being labeled as ronin.

          Walking down a side street away from the main boulevard, Nakamura led his friends to the door of an izakaya, “Watch your backs, all I want is food and some sake, then we try to find a ryokan.” Ogawa and Koba nodded but said nothing.

          The fact was that the three men were indeed, being watched; Kyo and Hazuki had been watching the three men since they entered the city. Kyo was the first to notice that the men were samurai, though they were trying hard not to be seen. “They’re not ronin, not yet anyways…I don’t like this.” He growled. As they followed the three men through the side streets, it was of great fortune that the men chose the izakaya that they did, one controlled by Reo.

          Entering the large room, Kyo and Hazuki went straight to the table where the owner of the small pub was sitting with some other patrons. “Good evening, gentlemen.” Kyo bowed, “the three men in the corner, have they said anything?” The owner of the izakaya knew exactly what Kyo was insinuating, “No, Kyo-san, they have ordered food and sake, that is all.”

          Hazuki was first to approach the samurai, grabbing a chair and setting it down at the head of the table. “Can we help you?” Nakamura Taizo asked politely. “I’m not sure, perhaps.” Kyo walked up and stood behind Hazuki. “Why are you in Kyoto?” he asked bluntly, which caused one of the men to reach for the blade that hung off his belt, “If you draw that against me, you will be dead in seconds.” Kyo murmured, the samurai hesitated for a moment, then put his hand back on the table.

          “We are searching for a compatriot of ours that we lost contact with on the battle field, we never found his body so we are assuming he is still alive.” Hazuki looked over his shoulder at Kyo. “Do you believe these are the men he was speaking of?” he asked.

          Kyo grunted, “What is this man’s name?”

          “Suzuki Masayuki.”

 

 

          “Isshi was the first to alert us that he was in the city, but he called for Miya to approach Inoran, he sensed that the man was not well.” Aoi had reached Sakurai’s estate within an hour, much to the surprise of Yusuke who was the first to greet the man. Now he was explaining how and why Inoran was with them.

          “He said he threatened to kill Yusuke and Heath, that he had done something terrible and wanted to speak with you.” Aoi could see the pain in the two men’s eyes, Yusuke’s pain more palatable than Heath’s, for these were the words spoken by his blood spouse. “Morrie wants you to wait at least three days before joining us, I believe he’s afraid that Inoran may still attack you.”

          “Three days? I can’t wait that long, if he’s ill I need to go to him now!” Yusuke started to get up, Heath grabbing his hand, “Yusuke, you can not put Morrie’s family in danger. If Inoran sees you and becomes angry, he could burn the house down in minutes, do you want to risk that?”

          Yusuke stared angrily at Heath, “You only want me for yourself, you care nothing about Inoran, just your own selfish desires.” Yanking his hand away, Yusuke stormed out of the room. Heath started to get up to follow his angry lover, “Heath, leave him alone,” Sakurai said, “you’re only going to make things worse by chasing after him.”

          “I’m sorry Heath-san,” Aoi apologized, “I didn’t mean to cause anyone pain, I’m just going by what my leader has ordered.”

          “You owe me no apologies, Aoi-san, thank you for helping Inoran. Now if you’ll excuse me.” Heath stood and walked away.

          “Before you leave, I’d like you to come with me, we need to speak to Kai,” Sakurai had Aoi follow him to the kitchen. “We may have found a treatment for Inoran.”  Kai was at the large work table, measuring out herbs and pouring them into small bags that were labeled.

          “I have written out complete instructions for giving Inoran these herbs, make sure you follow them carefully. I don’t believe this will hurt him, the herbs are non-toxic for humans, I’m just hoping they work on immortals.” Gathering the small bags and the written instructions, Kai put everything into a larger bag, then handed it to Aoi.

          “I’ll leave right now, please tell Yusuke and Heath that Morrie will send word when he would like them to join us at the clan house, and thank you Kai-san for the herbs.” With a quick bow, Aoi left the house. “I hope this works, Acchan. If it doesn’t, I expect Inoran may try to take his own life.”

Chapter Text

          With the move into the new house, and the addition of Daisuke and his family, Clan Otsuka had settled into a normal routine, that was until Inoran arrived. Not understanding the complexity of the situation, Daisuke and his small family stayed out of the way, not wanting to upset the obviously confused and distraught ancient.  

          Hiro had approached Sato the evening that Inoran had arrived, questioning his new friend, “Who is Inoran-san and what is the problem? It’s obvious that the man is ill, I just want to make sure not to upset him, he is an ancient is he not?”

          Sato went on to explain the situation and what was being done to help, “His illness has progressed quite significantly since the last time the clans met, he was so angry and held such animosity towards the other leaders. Now he’s rather sad and pathetic, and his illness has driven his blood spouse away.”

          Hiro thanked Sato, “We will stay away as we do not want to upset the man any more than he is already.” With a light bow, Hiro returned to his room, where his friends waited patiently.

          “Illness? As in a mental illness? Are we then susceptible to these things?” You was concerned, the possibility that immortals may not be immune to normal human maladies frightened her.

          “I don’t know, to be honest. Perhaps Inoran was mentally ill before he was brought into the blood.” Hiro replied, “I informed Sato that we would stay away from Inoran-san as much as possible, though we can’t help it if we cross paths. Be very cautious of what you say to him if he speaks to you.”

          The comfort of being in a larger clan, was not lost on any of the new members, “I don’t feel like we have to constantly watch our backs, we now have friends that will be there for us if we are in need.” Yuu was especially pleased, he had found a friend in Aoi; both men shared the love of literature and art, and would have lengthy conversations on both topics. Overall, Daisuke believed that the benefits of joining Clan Otsuka, would be bonds they could rely on thru eternity.

 

 

          “You will remain here until I return.” Kyo ordered the three Samurai before he went into Reo’s office. “I don’t like this,” Nakamura traded looks with his companions, “Something doesn’t feel right.”

          “If they know where he is, then we should at least listen to the man.” Ogawa grunted.

          When Hazuki and Kyo had initially approached the three men at the izakaya, and made mention of their companion Suzuki Masayuki, they were wary of the unknown connection. “If you’ll come with us, our clan leader will give you the information.” Hazuki offered, trying to be the screen between himself and the always abrupt Kyo. Now they were standing outside a door, in a building that was a labyrinth of underground rooms.

          The door opened and Kyo waved them in, “Take care with what you say, you’re still being watched,” the short man warned.

          “Gentlemen, please come in and sit down,” Reo stood from behind his desk, “I am Aichi Reo, and you’re in the house of Clan Aichi. I hear you’re looking for your companion?”

          Asanao, Arimatsu, Kyo and Hazuki were also in the room, an air of tension was palatable. “Yes, my lord, his name is Suzuki Masayuki, he is our blood brother. We lost sight of him in the last skirmish, and yet we could not find his body. Your man indicated you may have some information?” Nakamura took the initiative as the group spokesman.

          Reo wanted more information from the three men, before revealing the whereabouts of his clan member.

          “Why did you choose Kyoto for your search? You’re obviously Samurai, why would you risk coming into the city if you’re not interested in joining the shinsengumi? Are you not in favor of the road that this new government is taking?”

          Nakamura snorted, “It’s an asinine road, those forces are not working for unity, but for an imbalance of unimaginable power that they believe they will obtain. We chose Kyoto as it was the nearest large city from where we lost contact with Suzuki.”

          Before Reo could ask any further questions, the door to the office was slammed open, “Where the hell have you been?” Suzuki rushed over to his friends, throwing his arms around them from behind.

          The noise level rose in the small office to nothing short of a cheering crowd, the four men’s reunion was raucous and exuberant. It wasn’t until Jin Koba hugged Suzuki that the man noticed a difference in his friend, “Are you ill? You’re chilled to the bone.”

          Ogawa stepped towards his friend and reached up to touch the man’s forehead, “You’re ill, Suzuki, what illness is this that causes such a chill?” Suzuki looked over Ogawa’s head at Reo. “There is much we need to speak of, if I may have some time alone with my brothers, Reo-san?” Reo granted them the use of the small house that was now a secondary meeting place for Clan Aichi, “Go to the clan house, and reunite with your friends. When you are finished speaking, you may rejoin me in my office.”

 

          Jin Koba, the quiet concerned younger brother, peered at Suzuki, “Are you ill? You are so chilled, and you’re pale, have you seen a doctor yet?” They were now sitting at a large table and sharing a bottle of sake.

          “No, I am not ill, but there is something I need to explain,” he paused and looked at each of the men, “do you remember the rumors we heard about the undead, the immortals that were now showing themselves freely?”

          Nakamura laughed, “The vampires? Stories to scare women and children, there are no such creatures. Why do you ask?”

          “What if I told you that I know for certain, that these creatures do exist?”

          “I’d say that what ever ails you, has affected your brain.” Nakamura said, as he leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest.

          Suzuki chuckled, “Then I suppose I should claim that I am insane.”

         “You mean to tell me, with surety, that vampires exist in this world? What proof do you have?” Nakamura’s heart started beating rapidly.

          Suzuki bared his fangs, “Is this proof enough?”

          All three men pushed back away from the table, chairs crashing to the floor as they drew their weapons. “Please, put your swords away and sit down,” Suzuki said irritably, “I’m not going to hurt you.”

         “How? How could you let them change you into a monster?” Jin’s voice was filled with pain.

         Suzuki smiled, “I had a choice, either be brought into the blood or die without ever seeing my brothers again. It was not a difficult choice. I wanted to see you, I want to avenge our master’s death and I want to make sure that the way of the samurai is never forgotten. Please, sit down so we can discuss this.”

       Over the next two hours, Suzuki told his story of being brought into the blood, and accepted into Clan Aichi. “All of the members, save for Reo-san and Asanao-san, had a choice in being changed. Issay-san’s maker is Sakurai Atsushi, another clan leader in Edo. Reo and Asanao were forced against their will by a man named Ryuichi. Akinori, Reo’s mate does not know his maker, he was blind sided in an attack, and left to die in the forest, though Reo believes it to be Ryuichi.”

       “What is it like, to kill someone as a vampire?” Jin asked.

       “I don’t kill my victims; I merely take a small drink. I can’t say I haven’t killed, but that act is left for the evil and our enemies. If necessary, I can feed from animals, though the quality of the blood is substandard.”

        Ogawa laughed loudly, “Substandard blood? This is just ridiculous, I can’t believe we’re sitting here and listening to this, let alone believing, it’s rubbish.” Before the man could take another breath, Suzuki was on him and had him in a tight embrace, his head pulled back, startling the others.

       “I could kill you right this second, they would not have time to draw their swords.” Suzuki released Ogawa. “Any doubts now?” He returned to his chair.

       Ogawa was shaken, “I didn’t see you move,” reaching up to his neck, “how did you do that?”

     “As immortals we have certain abilities, that is just one of them. The ancients have the cloud gift; they can rise into the air and travel great distances. I have told that there is something called the fire gift, though it is no gift.”

        “Do I dare ask?” Ogawa said in a whisper. “Sakurai-san burned a boy to death with one look, the boy was attacking is blood spouse. According to Kyo-san, it was completely justified, though regrettable.”

         “Why are you exposing yourself to us? What end are you seeking?” Nakamura growled. “Do you intend to attack us and change us into monsters?” This deeply hurt Suzuki, “I would never do such a thing. It is one of the laws in which we live with in Clan Aichi, no one brings anyone into the blood, except for Reo-san. If you do so, you are killed.”

         Jin was relieved at what Suzuki said, “Masa, as your brother, what do you expect us to do with this information?”

         “I was granted the ability to hunt down those that killed our master, that killed our loved ones and exact revenge on those men. I have yet to find the one who murdered our master, but I have avenged my family.”

         Ogawa looked to Jin and Nakamura, “Tell us about your fellow clan members, I want to know more about the immortals you live with.”

         Telling each member’s story, Suzuki went through the list of Clan Aichi’s members, explaining how they were brought into the blood and why. He emphasized the positions that each member held, “Kyo and Hazuki were also samurai, Kyo was near death with a severe wound across his chest. Hazuki was on the way to becoming a drunken derelict and soiling the title of samurai.” When he got to Ayato, Mana and Akinori, his tough exterior softened.

         “Mana-chan is so beautiful, but has one of the worst stories I’d ever heard,” he started choking up, “Arimatsu found her dumped just outside the city, barely alive and bleeding profusely. He brought her to the main house and had her wounds tended to. She appears to be female but is actually male.”

         “You say she…um, he was wounded?” Jin asked.

         “As bishonen, she had little employment opportunities, and ended up in a brothel. She was given to a customer who when he found that she was in fact male, attacked her. He raped her with some sort of foreign objects, beat her brutally, then he cut out her tongue.”

         Jin was close to tears, “But she is a vampire now? Why was she changed?”

         “Arimatsu,” Suzuki said simply, “when Mana fell in love with the man, she went to Reo and asked to be brought into the blood, so she could live with the man for eternity, they’re actually a very loving couple.”

         “Then there is Ayato and Kyo. The oddest pairing I’ve ever met,” he laughed. “Never underestimate Kyo-san, he was and still is a fierce warrior, until he’s with Ayato, then he turns into a fierce lover and protector.”

         “What’s so special about Ayato?” Ogawa wondered.

         “He’s simply the most beautiful boy I’ve ever laid eyes on.” Suzuki went on to tell them the boy’s story.

        “This is all pleasant, but what do you want with us?” Nakamura wanted to end the unnecessary dance around the exact reason for their meeting.

          Suzuki nodded, “Bottom line; if you’d like to join Clan Aichi, Reo would be more than happy to have you. And before you decide; no, you do not have to be brought into the blood to be a member of Clan Aichi, we do have human agents that work for the clan.”

         Nakamura looked at Ogawa and Jin, “I want to discuss this further with you,” he looked back at Suzuki, “We will give you our decision tomorrow night if that’s acceptable?”

         Suzuki nodded, “You may stay here in the clan house, and I will come to you after dark.”

 

          Standing in the kitchen with Shinya, Aoi explained what Kai had told him, “The herbs are non-toxic for humans, but he’s not sure they will do anything to help Inoran. He did say that if we saw no change after the first twenty-four hours, to increase the amount, he wrote out the instructions.”

          Both Morrie and Shinya were skeptical of the effects of the herbs on completely curing Inoran’s mental illness, hoping instead for some relief for the ancient vampire. “All we can do is try and in good faith accept what Kai has told us. Please give him the first dose and keep track of the time and any reactions he may have.”

          “Yusuke and Heath were at odds with each other,” Aoi said sadly, “Yusuke wanted to leave right away, Heath stopped him but they had words. I’m not sure where their minds are as of now, though I did tell them both not to arrive for at least three days.”  

          “You did as well as you could, I’m sure Yusuke’s mind is in turmoil, the need to be with his blood spouse, but the fear that the man will attack him again must be plaguing him.” Morrie patted Aoi on the shoulder, “We can only do what we can, it’s up to Inoran to accept what we tell him.”

          Inoran was accepting the treatment, as Shinya had explained to him what Kai had offered. “My lord, these herbs have been known to cure those with the same illness that you are suffering from,” Shinya tried to reassure the immortal, “please just try them, if you don’t find they help in clearing your mind, we will ask Kai-san to find another cure.”

          “Shin-chan, where’s Yusuke and Heath? I want them here to help me, I need to apologize to them both.”

          Shinya gave Inoran the tea, “I believe they’re still visiting Sakurai-san, but they’ll be here in a few days. Won’t they be surprised on how well you’ve recovered?”

          Inoran sipped the tea, “This is good, Kai-san is such a nice man, always smiling and giggling. Toshiya-chan is a lucky boy to have Kai as his blood spouse.” Shinya watched the man drink his tea, making sure it was fully consumed. 

          “Is there anything you’d like to do today, my lord?” taking the cup from Inoran. “Maybe sit in the garden for awhile? I’d like it if Tatsu-kun could sit with me.”

          Shinya retuned to the kitchen, “He drank it all, seemed to be optimistic and now wants Tatsu to sit with him in the garden. He did mention wanting to see Yusuke and Heath again, to apologize. How long shall we wait?”

          Morrie frowned, “Perhaps three days is too long, all we can do is monitor them when they do arrive, and let Yusuke approach him first, then if that goes well, let Heath join them.”

          The fight with Yusuke had been running through Inoran’s mind since the night it happened; he knew he was wrong, but his mind was telling him otherwise. He desperately wanted to see his young lover, to beg him for forgiveness. “I love you, Yusuke…please come back to me,” he would whisper multiple times a night.

          As for Heath, he harbored no ill will towards the young man, but felt that Heath was somehow coming between Inoran and Yusuke’s happiness. Making a bargain with the kami, (something he laughed about, the irony of it all), he would make peace with Heath, but then ask the young immortal to leave them. Inoran would head no clan, but remain friendly and cordial with the other immortals he knew.

          “Inoran-san?” Tatsu knocked on the door, “would you like to go into the garden?”
 

 

          The argument was heated, both raising their voices, “All I want is to keep you safe, is that a crime? I love you and I care for you. How can we be certain that Inoran will not attack you again?”

          “You care nothing for Inoran, you’re just being selfish. This has nothing to do with keeping me safe, just admit it Heath.” Yusuke growled, “I’m finished with you. Leave me alone and do not return to Inoran’s home.”

          Heath stood stock-still, “If that’s how you feel,” he said quietly, the anger draining from his body, it was pointless to argue any further. “Yes, that’s how I feel. Leave us now.” Yusuke turned away. Staring at Yusuke’s back for a moment, Heath turned and left the room.

          Walking towards his room, Heath knew he could still travel a good distance before dawn. Entering his room and grabbing his bag, he shoved what little he had into it, then took a piece of paper and wrote a short quick note to his host;

          “I am no longer involved with Yusuke or Inoran, that part of my life is over. I thank you for your hospitality and your generosity, perhaps someday we will cross paths again.”

          Without another word to anyone, Heath left Sakurai’s estate and headed towards the north, to get as far away from Yusuke as he could possibly get.

Chapter Text

         

          “Heath is no longer involved in our lives; he’s shown his true colors to me and I’ve sent him away.” Yusuke told Aoi as they stood together in Sakurai’s office, Aoi had just arrived.

          Aoi’s brow furrowed, “Is that permanent? Are there no options now for Heath?”

          “Heath wanted to possess me completely, take me away from my blood spouse. You saw how he reacted when you first came to tell us that Inoran was with Morrie, after that we had words, and I told him to leave us. What happens when Inoran is cured, is up to him. But right now, we do not need the distraction of Heath in our lives.”

          Aoi didn’t like what he was hearing. The fact that Heath was forced out of his clan by Yusuke, without the knowledge of Inoran, was disturbing.

          “I hope that doesn’t upset Inoran, though the herbs seem to be helping his condition, he’s much less agitated and has some clear thoughts. He’s expressed how upset he is over his threats to both you and Heath, he wants to see you both, so he can apologize and make things right.”

          “Have you truly noticed a difference?”

          Aoi nodded, “He is no longer prone to bouts of anger, or severe depression. He interacts mostly with Tatsu and Shinya, though he has been joining us for dinner. He does not hunt, it’s as if he’s afraid of leaving the house.”

          “I don’t believe he’s hunted in some time, though I can’t be sure. In the past, he’s been gone for weeks, only to come home and shut himself away. The last argument we had was the worst, that’s when the violence started.” Yusuke wanted to believe that his lover was being helped by the herbs, but he had his doubts.

          Aoi reached out and put his hand on Yusuke’s shoulder, “All I can tell you is what I know. Inoran doesn’t interact with the rest of the clan much, including the newest members, but I believe Tatsu and Shinya when they say the herbs are helping.”  

          “We will be leaving as soon as I see both Sakura-san and Kai.” Aoi bowed and left the room, going to the kitchen to speak with Kai, leaving Yusuke to ready himself for the trip to Edo.

          Kai filled the last bag with herbs, handing it to Aoi. “Here is a list of the herbs that are used, and what the amount is for the blend. I’m sure if Inoran and Yusuke go back to Fuji, all of these herbs are common and easy to find.”

          “Thank you, Kai-san, I’ll make sure to explain it all to Yusuke,” Aoi shifted uncomfortably, “Do you believe that Heath will not return to Inoran? That Yusuke will keep him away?” Kai smiled faintly, “Let’s go speak with Acchan.”

          “I worry that once Inoran finds out Heath is not with Yusuke, that he may react violently, and Yusuke gave me the impression that he just doesn’t care about Heath.” Aoi said anxiously.

          “He gave me that impression as well, though I tend to believe it is a temporary anger. I can not predict what will happen when Inoran finds out that Yusuke has sent Heath away.” Sakurai hated being in the middle of the problems between Inoran and his family, but as the most senior clan leader among the immortals, he felt obligated to help.

          “The note that Heath left gave no indication on where he would go, but I will assume it will be as far away as he can get. It may take some time before we see him again.”

          With the instructions and herbs in a bag, Aoi and Yusuke walked out of Sakurai’s estate, headed back to the city. Before they left, Sakurai made one last attempt to speak to Yusuke about Heath.

          “Please remember, it is not you who is the head of the clan, it is Inoran. It may be his wishes to have Heath rejoin your family, and if that is what he chooses, then you must allow it.”

          Yusuke bowed low, “Thank you for your hospitality, Sakurai-san. I will take what you have said and think about it. But remember this, my first loyalty is to Inoran, not Heath.”

          Kai and Sakurai stood on the engawa and watched the two men leave, “I’m afraid that this will be an internal battle for them, Acchan.”

 

          Tatsu was sitting in the garden with Inoran, it had become a nightly ritual for the two men; Inoran drinking the herbal tea, Tatsu listening to the man carefully. “Yusuke will be here later this evening, are you excited to be reunited with him?”

          “What about Heath? I need to apologize to him as well, will he be coming with Yusuke?” Inoran’s voice trembled.

          Tatsu had to be cautious with his answer, “If he doesn’t come with Yusuke tonight, perhaps he will join us in a few days.” Inoran seemed satisfied with the answer, changing topics to the newest members of Morrie’s clan.

          “I like You, she’s beautiful and seems kind, though I think she’s afraid of me, she only smiles and greets me.” He confided in Tatsu.

          “No, I don’t think she’s afraid of you,” he said calmly, “I believe they don’t want to impose on you, they know you’ve been ill. I’m sure as soon as Yusuke arrives, they will gladly come out and introduce themselves properly.”

          “Konbanwa, Inoran-san,” Shinya stepped on to the engawa, a tray in his hands, “would you like some udon? I also have pickled radish and some onigiri.”  Stepping down into the garden, Shinya placed the tray on the bench between Tatsu and Inoran.

          “Thank you, Shin-chan,” he bowed his head, “do you know if Heath is coming with Yusuke tonight?” Shinya looked up at Tatsu, who shook his head.

          “I’m not sure, Inoran-san, I haven’t spoken to Sakurai-san about Yusuke’s return.” He tried to deflect the question. “But I’m sure Yusuke will be here soon.” Shinya excused himself and went back into the house.

          “How is he?” Morrie intercepted Shinya in the hallway, “He’s asking about Heath, if he’s returning with Yusuke. I tried to be as vague as possible, and he seemed satisfied with the answer, but what happens if Heath isn’t with Yusuke?”  Morrie had no answer.

         

          Aoi stopped just outside the new house, “I know Inoran is your blood spouse, but I beg you, do nothing to aggravate him. He has gained back a bit of his old self, be gentle in whatever you say.”

          Yusuke resented the remarks by Aoi, but said nothing. He knew Inoran better than anyone, and to have an outsider tell him how to behave with his own blood spouse, was more than just a little demeaning. “I understand.”

          Walking through the gates, Morrie was standing on the engawa waiting for Aoi and Yusuke, “I’m happy to see you Yusuke-san, Inoran has been waiting.”

          Yusuke bowed low, “Thank you for all your help with Inoran,” he looked up at Morrie, “How has he been these last few days?” Yusuke wanted to believe Aoi, but he had to hear it from the clan leader.

          “Amiable for the most part. The herbs are definitely helping with his anger, there have been no outbursts since he arrived. He is anxious to see you and Heath, though I understand that Heath is no longer with you.” Yusuke offered no explanation, “May I see him now please?”

 

          Tatsu sensed that Yusuke had arrived, and excused himself so that the men could have a private reunion, but with several clan members surreptitiously watching in case there was any violence.

          Yusuke stood on the engawa, looking down into the garden where his lover sat on a bench, “Inoran?” he stepped down into the garden, walking to the bench and standing in front of his blood spouse, “Tadaima,”

          “Yusuke, you came back to me…” Inoran started to cry, then stared down at his hands, “I’m so sorry I said those awful things to you. I’m sure you hate me now and I don’t blame you, but it wasn’t true, none of it. I would never kill you; I love you too much to live without you. It’s this illness, it causes such turmoil in my mind, I don’t know what’s real anymore.”

           Morrie and Tatsu watched the couple from behind a screen, “It looks peaceful enough, should we just leave them alone?” Tatsu murmured.  “Let’s just wait until he asks about Heath, that’s my greatest concern.”

          They didn’t have to wait long, Inoran looked around before asking Yusuke, “Where is Heath? I need to apologize to him…did he stay at Sakurai’s?” Yusuke sat next to Inoran.

          “I had to send Heath away. He was interfering with our relationship, he wanted me to leave you and stay with him as a mate. I told him no, that you alone are the only person I need in my life, that you are my blood spouse and I am bound to you for eternity.”

          Inoran frowned, “I hope he comes back to us, it won’t feel right if Heath is missing from our family. I need to tell him how sorry I am for saying those words, he’s part of our family, Yusuke. Once I am cured, we must go and look for him.”

          “No, I do not want him back in our family, he seeks to undermine you as our leader, he only wants me for his own selfish desires.” Yusuke said heatedly.

          In a moment of pure and total clarity, Inoran shook his head, “You do not have a say in how I run my clan, Yusuke. Yes, you are my blood spouse, but if I want Heath in my life, as a member of my clan, then that is what will be. Will you go against me if I decide that we need a larger clan with more members?”

          Yusuke was taken aback, almost cowed by the strength in Inoran’s voice. “But he betrayed you, he tried to take me from you, how can you trust him again?”

          Inoran reached out and caressed Yusuke’s cheek, “My love, you went to him, did you not? When I refused you, when I kept you from my bed, did you not go and seek comfort with Heath? Were you not lovers when I would disappear without a word? No, my love…trusting Heath is not the issue.”

          Yusuke stood quickly, “Are you accusing me of something Inoran? If so, please speak freely and tell me what your heart says.” Inoran chuckled, grabbing Yusuke by the wrist and pulling him to sit on the bench again.

          “I am not accusing you of anything love, I’m simply reminding you of facts that are still very clear in my mind. Once I am cured, or at least able to function like a reasonable person, we will be going back to Fuji, then after a time, we will go out and search for Heath.”

          Tatsu had reached out and clutched Morrie’s hand when Inoran reprimanded Yusuke, only letting a sigh of relief once Yusuke had sat down again, “Let’s leave them alone,” Morrie whispered in his ear, leading his lover away.

         “That scared me to death! The last thing I wanted to do is break up a fight.” Tatsu panted and flopped down on a couch. Morrie sat next to him, “I was so close to going out there…I was rather surprised with Inoran, he was very cognitive of what he was telling Yusuke, though I believe Yusuke didn’t like what he heard.”

          After another hour, Inoran and Yusuke joined Morrie and the other members of the clan, for a meal in the large dining room. Introductions for Daisuke and his family were made, Inoran apologizing profusely for his bad manners.

          You liked the older vampire, “Inoran-san, we understand. There was quite a bit going on in the house when you arrived, we just did not want to inflict any more stress than you already were experiencing, please, think nothing of it.” Inoran took You’s hand and kissed it, “My dear, thank you for your concern, I truly appreciate it.”

          The atmosphere was relaxed and enjoyable; Inoran was engaging and quite talkative, more so than he had been in centuries, much to the relief of everyone. He talked about going back to Fuji for awhile then going out to search for Heath.

          “I will stop by for a visit to speak with Sakurai, and to personally thank Kai for his efforts to find a remedy for what ails me, I still have small relapses, but I suspect now that my beloved is by my side, I will return to my not so grumpy self.”

          Morrie asked Inoran if he would remain for a few more days, “I’d hate for something to happen between my home and yours in Fuji, please…take a few more days before you leave, we want to make sure those herbs are working as they should.”  Inoran bowed low, “If I may intrude on your hospitality for another three days, I’d be forever in your debt, Morrie-san.”

          Once the house was quiet, with all in bed for the day, Inoran and Yusuke reconnected on a physical level, both men deliriously happy and contented, though Yusuke had thoughts of Heath that weighted him down enough for Inoran to notice.

          “Please, don’t be upset with me due to Heath, we owe it to him to at least try to locate him. I don’t want him roaming around the country alone, you know that he’s a fragile man, even as an immortal.” Inoran scolded his spouse.

          With a huff and a pout, Yusuke finally agreed, he too didn’t want any harm to come to Heath. “I love him, but not with the same intensity that is our relationship, but you’re correct, he is not a strong-willed man. Let us first return to Fuji before we go out traipsing across the country looking for him. We will have to be cautious; you know what dangers lurk; all we can do is be vigilant and pray that we do not encounter any problems.”

 

 

          The four samurai stood in front of Reo; Asanao and Arimatsu flanking the clan leader. “Is this your final decision, gentlemen? You do not wish to be brought into the blood?”

          It was a difficult choice for Nakamura, Ogawa and Jin. They had spent the night laying out the pros and cons of becoming immortal as their blood brother Suzuki had done.

          “I don’t want to live forever, to be honest. I want to live a natural life, for as long as I can. I don’t begrudge you your immortality Masa, but it is not something I see for myself.” Jin Koba spoke softly, he never meant to hurt his long-time companion.

          “Sorry, Masa. But I feel the same way as Koba, it’s just not in the cards for me, though I would like to remain an agent for Clan Aichi if Reo-san will have me.” Ogawa offered.

          “And you Taizo? Do you feel the same way?” Suzuki was surprised that his brother did not leap at the offer.

           “I’m on the fence, Masa. I’m not sure I want to be part of this new century that is coming. I would rather keep the way of the samurai in my heart and in my daily practices, and not kowtow to this new government that seeks to emulate the west. I’m going to have to say no, I do not want to become an immortal, but as with Ryo, I’d like to be an agent for Reo-san as well.”  

          He knew there was no convincing argument that he could offer, to change their minds, he had to accept it. “Well, let’s go speak to Reo-san and see what he has to say.”

 

          Nakamura acted as spokesman for the group, “We would like to offer you our loyalty as human agents, Reo-san, we will swear fealty to Clan Aichi.” The three samurai bowed low.

          “I see that you have thought this through carefully and I will honor your wishes and accept your fealty to the clan. I have several businesses that could use a sharp sword and a quick mind. I respect your wishes of course, though with regret I accept them as well.”

          Arimatsu stepped forward. “You will be under my supervision. I will assign you duties that will rotate on a monthly basis so you do not become complacent in your work. You will be paid a weekly salary; housing will be provided as are meals. If you wish to purchase your own home at some point, please speak to me first. If you seek out companionship, please make sure to alert me, so we may discuss this with Reo-san. Any questions?”

          Nakamura cleared his throat. “What if I change my mind? Is the offer still on the table?” Arimatsu turned to look at Reo.

          “We can discuss that, yes. As long as you remain with Clan Aichi, the offer stands. There is one other item I’d like to discuss. If you are on duty and you come across any samurai or ronin that are injured, please alert someone from the main house.”

          Excusing himself, Arimatsu led the men out of Reo’s office, leaving Jyou and Asanao behind. “What do you think?” Reo asked as he leaned back in his chair.

          “We have 4 new members, all samurai. There’s not much else to say about it.” Asanao said.

          “It’s disappointing that they did not want to be brought into the blood, but that doesn’t negate their abilities as warriors, just the longevity of service.” Jyou added, “Any reinforcements against the coming war, is valuable. Let’s just hope we can find more that are willing to be brought into the blood, or there may be a catastrophic ending.”

 

 

          He made sure to stay out of the city, having no knowledge of the immortals that may be lurking. The journey had been long and depressing, Yusuke’s words burning in his mind, the hate and venom behind the voice. Heath couldn’t be far enough away from Yusuke, even hundreds of kilometers felt too close.

          He had chosen to go north knowing the the cold winters would keep prying eyes away. He was hoping to find some sort of abandoned hut or small house deep in the mountains, where there would be plentiful game and fresh water. He knew his health would suffer, feeding from animals is never a good way to live as a vampire. But at this point, he cared for nothing, not Yusuke and not even himself.

          He was on a narrow path walking into a dense forest when he first sensed the immortal. He continued cautiously, looking around as to make sure there would be no sneak attack. Heath knew he was being followed; the other immortal’s eyes were burning in his back. Then the man was standing in front of him,

          “Heath-san?”