I don’t want to die.
The air was thick with the smell of sweat and blood and dirt and shit. All around were the cries of men and the scream of horses from both sides, the whistle of volley after volley of arrows, the sharp whine of a blade slicing through the air, the pounding of hooves, the ear-splitting ring of steel against steel, an impossible crush of bodies and horseflesh. Everywhere was chaos and raw fear; trained, disciplined, courageous soldiers reduced to the animal instinct of blindly hacking and slashing at anything that came near. He had fought bravely but underneath the mask of courage he was terrified, just like everybody else. I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die. The words repeated themselves over and over at the back of his mind like a mantra. I don’t want to die. There were calls to advance, calls to retreat, and he could not tell who was shouting orders, he couldn’t even tell how long he had lain there, drifting in and out of consciousness, while men and horses churned the ground into mud all around him, and even in the pandemonium of the battlefield, frightened horses wheeled and reared to avoid trampling fallen bodies. His own horse had been killed beneath him and he had taken two arrows and a glancing slash below the ribs that he barely felt. Dimly, he heard a faraway voice calling his name, “Miya! Yaguchi Miya!” and a strong pair of hands trying to pull his broken body to safety, and he looked up through hazy eyes, recognising the face of his friend Yoshida Tooru, and he clutched at him desperately with one hand. I don’t want to die! He tried to reach for Tooru’s hand, anything familiar and safe that he could hold onto, but it was torn from his grasp and he was left clutching at thin air, and his mind felt like it exploded when someone or something kicked him hard in the head, and in the split second before he slipped into blackness he nearly wept, for he knew that he was going to die.
Please don’t let me die.
* * *
Everybody says that death is peaceful, that dying is like falling asleep and never waking up again, but Miya only dreamt of pain. His mouth tasted of blood and ash, his body was at once fire and ice, he felt his insides contracting, squeezing relentlessly so that he felt like his very bones might crack and break and turn to dust under the strain. It felt as though a vile poison ran through his veins, corrupting his body. Every breath was pure agony, every breath was shallower than the last until he couldn’t breathe anymore, and he gasped for air and tore at his throat, and he choked on bile and vomit, and he instinctively pulled himself up onto his hands and knees as he was sick over and over again, his stomach heaving and twisting and convulsing. His heartbeat became irregular and slow, each beat spasming torturously inside his chest as though it were trying to claw its way through his chest until it finally beat its last. He was curled up into a ball, fists and teeth tightly clenched, when suddenly it seemed as though everything released all at once and he took a deep gasp of breath. He felt gentle hands about him, cradling his head, brushing the matted, sweat-drenched hair from his forehead, and a soft, reassuring voice, the voice of an angel or a goddess telling him that it would be over very soon.
* * *
In the hazy remnants from his nightmares, Miya heard the echo of a scream, and he realised it must have been he who had screamed in his sleep. The horrors of the battlefield will do that to a man. He had heard many a story of men who had survived bloody wars, only to be driven to madness and suicide by the nightmares that hounded them for what was left of their wretched lives. Many said that it would have been better to die in battle and rest with honour for eternity, rather than live as hollow men. They could scarcely be said to live, for they were haunted by nightmares at night and they jumped at shadows by day. But not Miya. Miya wanted to live.
It took several seconds for him to figure out where he was, and when he blinked, he glimpsed a hazy memory of a pale, ghostly face peering down at him, or was it two? He couldn’t remember. He was lying not in the mud of the battlefield surrounded by dead men and dead horses, but on a surprisingly soft futon in a dark room with heavy curtains covering the windows. He stared at the ceiling and racked his mind: had he dreamt it all? The battle, the stench of death, the cries of the dying, the excruciating agony of his own death? No, what he remembered, he remembered vividly. He had been in battle and he had been mortally wounded. Had someone rescued him, then? Yes, that had to be it. By some miraculous stroke of luck, some kind soul had rescued him from the battlefield before he expired and brought him home to nurse him back to health. He had dreamt of death, but he was alive.
Miya threw the covers aside and sat up, and almost fell back down again. His head swam and he squeezed his eyes shut until the dizziness passed. Taking a deep, slow breath to steady himself, he opened his eyes and looked down at himself. He was dressed simply in a plain yukata. He tugged the garment open and stared. Slowly, he ran a hand over his skin. It was smooth and unblemished, and his hand came away clean. He had taken a couple of arrows but there were no bandages and no dressings, no wounds and no bruises. Not a single mark. How long had he been unconscious?
He looked down at his hands. They felt so cold. And something in his mouth felt strange. He moved his tongue left and right and winced when it grazed against a sharp point. They were his teeth, he realised. They definitely weren’t that sharp and pointed before. This frightened him and he felt a sudden urge to run away. He staggered to his feet just as the door slid open and there was a sharp cry of, “No!” just as his hands grasped the curtains and tore them apart.
It only lasted a few seconds but that was more than enough. The burning was excruciatingly painful, far hotter than any fire or furnace, and he tumbled onto the floor when somebody pushed him away from the window that faced the last few rays of the setting sun and yanked the curtains closed again.
Miya lay panting heavily on the floor and he felt a hand caressing his cheek; the burns stung but the hand was cool—cold, even—and soothing on his raw, scorched flesh, and he heard a soft voice that sounded just like the angel who had spoken to him in his dream.
“You’ll be all right. The burns will heal.”
“Who… who are you?” Miya asked hoarsely.
“My name is Yoshiki,” said the stranger.
“Where am I? What’s going on, what’s wrong with me?” The questions tumbled from Miya’s mouth. “Am I dead or alive? Why did that burn so much? How long was I asleep? Why…”
He stared at this Yoshiki. At first glance he looked like a woman: beautiful with long, golden hair and elegantly-dressed in feminine clothing. He had an effeminate face with cheeks as smooth as marble and full, blush-pink lips. Why can I see you so clearly in the dark?
Yoshiki’s face was full of concern. “You were dying on the battlefield. I rescued you and brought you here. This is my home. You’ve been here for a night and a day.”
Miya was speechless for several seconds, and then he pulled himself up and bowed to Yoshiki, so deeply that his head touched the floor. “Thank you for saving my life, my lord.”
“There’s no need for titles. I’m no lord.”
Miya sat up. “Yes, my lo—” He stopped and pursed his lips.
Yoshiki smiled and gazed at Miya with a thoughtful expression. “I heard you. I heard what you said in your heart over and over. It was so loud, so earnest.”
“What did I say?” Miya was puzzled.
“I don’t want to die.”
“Oh…” Miya bowed his head in embarrassment.
“Don’t feel ashamed,” Yoshiki said gently. “I actually found it admirable. People place too much stock in dying with honour. Humans only get one life and why shouldn’t they hold onto it? Your will to live was so strong and bright, I felt drawn to you. I love passionate people. I couldn’t leave you there to die, not when you so wished to live.”
Miya nodded mutely, unable to find the words to express his gratitude. “I had such dreams, my lord… terrible nightmares. I dreamt I was dying. I was in so much pain…”
He looked up sharply when Yoshiki gave a light chuckle.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh at you,” Yoshiki said, giving Miya a sympathetic look. “But that wasn’t a dream. It was real. I understand it was very painful, believe me I know, but it was the only way to save your life.”
“What… I don’t understand what you mean.” Miya’s brow furrowed. “If I’m here now, how could I have died? How does dying save someone’s life?”
Yoshiki’s gaze fell upon Miya’s body. “Have you noticed that your wounds have disappeared?”
Miya stalled. “Y-yes. I just thought that…” He trailed off and his eyes darted here and there, deep in thought. He had no idea what he thought. He had seen wounded men take weeks and months to heal. Short of being a sorcerer, surely nobody could heal wounds in a night and a day.
“Give me your hand.”
“M-my lord?” Miya stammered.
Yoshiki smiled reassuringly. “Give me your hand.”
Miya did as he was told, and Yoshiki reached into the folds of his robe and revealed a small knife. Panicked, Miya instinctively withdrew his hand but the other man held it tight. “No, what are you do—”
But Yoshiki had already slashed the back of his hand with the knife. The blade was so sharp that he barely felt it and he stared at the cut, scarcely thicker than a strand of hair and just as blood began to bead on the surface of his skin, the wound slowly began to close. Astonished, Miya gingerly touched the spot where his hand had been cut; the residual blood smeared on his skin and he rubbed at it, but there was no sign of any wound. None at all.
“You were at death’s door. To bring you back, I had to change you.”
Miya was still staring at his hand, open-mouthed. “What do you mean, ‘change’ me?”
Yoshiki smiled and when Miya looked up, he saw that some of his teeth were pointed and very sharp. With a start, he remembered how sharp his own teeth had felt. “I’m a vampire, Yaguchi Miya. An immortal blood-drinker. That gives me the power to make others like me. That’s how I saved you. A vampire is strong and beautiful and eternal. You’ll never have to fear mortal death again.”
Miya’s mind struggled to grasp this information. He was a vampire now? It was preposterous, but Yoshiki said it with such a simple frankness that he found it difficult not to believe him.
“I know it’s not something that’s easy to understand.” Yoshiki smiled at him indulgently. He took Miya’s hand and pressed it to his own chest. “Tell me what you feel.”
With his palm pressed flat against Yoshiki’s pale chest, Miya closed his eyes and tried to concentrate. Short of Yoshiki’s chest moving as he breathed, he wasn’t sure what he could feel. Finally he said, “I don’t know. I give up. I can’t feel anything.”
“That’s exactly right,” said Yoshiki, looking him straight in the eye. “No heartbeat.”
Miya blinked at him and then gingerly touched his own chest. It felt the same: no heart beat within his chest. It was eerie. “How is this real?”
“We’re very real.”
“We?” Miya tried to swallow, but his throat was as dry as paper.
Yoshiki’s brow furrowed slightly. “I do apologise, you must be hungry. Wait here.”
Yoshiki got up and left the room, leaving Miya alone with a whirlwind of thoughts. He racked his brains and tried to remember the stories he’d been told about vampires. They were blood-drinking wraiths that looked human—no, they used to be human before they were ‘changed’ as Yoshiki said. They were often said to have preternatural powers of persuasion as well as incredible physical strength. They could live forever and sickness couldn’t touch them. Some were presented as ghastly monsters, mindless beings with an insatiable thirst for blood, devils who killed indiscriminately. Others were cultured and sensitive, beautiful and charming. Just like Yoshiki.
Miya almost laughed when he caught himself in his thoughts. He was already accepting and analysing vampires as though they were real. And yet how could he deny that they weren’t? He’d just admitted to himself that Yoshiki was exactly as one might describe a vampire: the sharp teeth, the cold and deathly pale skin, with a sort of cold, untouchable beauty that was not quite human. And if he accepted that Yoshiki was a vampire, that meant that he had to accept that he was now a vampire himself. And would that really be so bad? He had cheated death and been given a second chance. He was dying and he had wanted to live; now he was, for all intents and purposes, alive, and that was what he wanted.
Miya touched his cheek. Stories always told that vampires were nocturnal creatures who feared the sun, for it had the power to turn them to dust. When he had opened the curtains, he had been badly burnt by the light of the setting sun, but now it was healed, just as his wounds from the battlefield had healed, just as the cut on his hand had healed.
He eyed the knife on the floor and was about to pick it up and try again when the door slid open and Yoshiki came in, bearing a wooden tray with a lacquered bowl, a candle, and a neatly folded napkin. He set the tray on the floor very carefully so as not to upset the bowl and the candle. The flame on the candle flickered and danced.
“Here,” said Yoshiki, offering Miya the bowl. “Drink quickly before it gets cold.”
He was hungry, Miya realised. He cupped the bowl in both hands. Its warmth was comforting, and the aroma of the bowl’s contents was delicious, so rich and heady. His mouth watered. He brought the bowl to his lips and drank deeply. It was thick and luscious and tasted like nothing he’d ever tasted before, and he could scarcely stop himself from moaning with delight as it filled him and warmed him from the inside. Only politeness stopped him from licking the dregs that clung to the bowl’s surface. When he was done, he licked his lips and Yoshiki laughed lightly at the ravenous look in his eyes.
“Did you enjoy that?” Yoshiki asked, almost teasingly.
“It was very good,” Miya said, inclining his head in a bow to his host. “Thank you.” He paused, and his tongue darted out just a little, to savour that delicious taste on his lips again. “If…”
Yoshiki had turned to return the bowl to its tray, but looked at Miya questioningly. “Yes?”
Miya licked his lips again. “If you don’t mind my asking, what was that?” He took the napkin that Yoshiki offered him, politely wiping his mouth.
“You’re a vampire now, Miya,” Yoshiki said patiently. “Only one thing can sustain a vampire.”
Miya looked down at the napkin in his hands. There was a small smear of crimson on it.
“One of our own has very kindly offered the blood of their own prey to you for your first feed.”
“There are others?” Miya asked.
“Yes. There are two others of our kind who live in this household besides me… and you,” he said. He rose to his feet and beckoned to Miya. “Come.”
“Will I meet them?” Miya asked.
“Soon.” Yoshiki took his hand, leading him through the beautiful old house. It was silent, but Miya could feel and smell the presence of others in the house. He followed Yoshiki outside, down the stone path lined with perfectly-manicured azalea bushes with pink buds that would soon flower. By now, the sun had set and the sky had turned an inky shade of blue. “But right now I’m going to take you out into the night and show you the world as it is now that you are reborn. Tonight is yours.”
The night air was cool and fresh and sweet, and Miya marvelled at how vibrant everything was. He wasn’t sure whether it was his new vampire senses or whether it was simply a renewed appreciation for the beauty of life after his close call with death. Flowers smelled sweeter and the world before him fairly shimmered with life. His eyes felt as sharp as those of a cat; he could see things in the dark that he wouldn’t have been able to see before. It wasn’t until Yoshiki spoke that he realised he’d been standing there with his mouth open in astonishment.
“It’s fascinating, isn’t it?” said Yoshiki.
Miya watched the dark clouds gently drifting across the night sky like plumes of ink swirling and dancing in water.
“Everything’s so…” He struggled to find the right words to describe it, but all of the words that came to mind—brilliant, beautiful, exquisite, magnificent—all of these words seemed so vulgar compared to what he was seeing.
His maker seemed to understand, for he rested both hands on Miya’s shoulders. “Cherish this moment forever, Miya. You’re looking at the world through new eyes.”
Miya nodded mutely and barely noticed when Yoshiki slipped an arm through his and they continued down the path.
“Was it like this for you, too?” Miya asked.
“Of course,” said Yoshiki. “And my maker took me under his wing, just like you and I are now.”
“And where is he?”
Yoshiki gave him a little sad smile. “He passed a long time ago.”
“Oh,” Miya said quietly. “I’m sorry.”
“Let’s not dwell on such things when you have your new life ahead of you,” said Yoshiki. “The night belongs to us, and humans are ours for the taking.”
While Yoshiki took him through the little town nearby, Miya turned his head his way and that, seeing, watching, smelling, feeling. “How do you do it?”
“Have you ever watched a cat stalking its prey?” Yoshiki asked. “It chooses its quarry carefully and when it’s vulnerable, it attacks.”
Miya looked at him quizzically.
“We’re a little more refined than that,” Yoshiki conceded, seeing his face. “But the principle is the same. I’ll show you tonight.”
“All right. Well, how do you choose?” Miya asked.
Yoshiki smiled. “It depends on your taste. Everyone has different preferences, and everyone tastes a little bit different. Are you familiar with the red wines of Europe?”
“Er, no. I’m afraid not.” The question made Miya feel ignorant and uncultured, but Yoshiki didn’t seem to notice or care.
“Just as wines of different vintages and different regions have their own unique flavours, so do humans.” The older vampire swept his hand in a wide arc. “Some of us prefer a more mature taste, and the elderly do make very easy pickings.”
“I see…” said Miya, turning his head to watch a white-haired old man shuffling along with a cane.
“Some prefer the lighter taste of youths. I will say, though,” Yoshiki added with a twinkle in his eye, “the idea that virgins taste better is a myth. They actually taste somewhat… bland.”
Miya blinked at this, baffled. It wasn’t something that had ever crossed his mind and now he supposed it was something that he would never be able to forget.
Yoshiki didn’t seem to notice his silence. “Others like the stronger flavour of a man in the prime of his life, although I’ve always found it a bit musky for my tastes.”
Miya raised his eyebrows slightly. Would he have fallen into that last category? “And what is your taste, my lord?”
“I prefer the taste of young women,” Yoshiki said, smiling. “I find it’s lovely and delicate, almost sweet.”
They walked on in silence for a while. Miya could smell the different bouquet of aromas from different people, but he could also smell the stench of rotting fish and waste as well.
Miya wrinkled his nose. “Everything smells so strongly,” he said.
Yoshiki nodded. “As you mature, you’ll be able to discern smells and sounds much better. Your sense of smell especially will be sharper if you are hungry. This will help you find prey if you are starving. Animal blood will suffice in a pinch, but it’s a poor existence if you must subsist on animal blood alone.”
Yoshiki then told him about the physical strength of their kind.
“It can be at least thrice that of an ordinary human. That will take getting used to, so you must learn to be gentle. It wouldn’t do to tear your prey to pieces when all you want is a little sip!”
Miya found that rather macabre, but Yoshiki seemed amused.
“Will I become as strong as you?” he asked, trying to change the subject.
“Power is diluted with each generation. The closer you are to the blood of the ancients, the stronger you’ll be.” Yoshiki gave him a knowing look. “In my travels, I’ve only met a handful of vampires stronger than I. You will not match my strength, Miya, but know that you are strong because you are of my blood. There are those that are your equal, but not many who can harm you.”
Miya’s lips formed a silent Oh. Out loud, he asked, “If we are immortal, is there anything that can kill us?”
“There are certain inconveniences to our kind,” said Yoshiki. “Sunlight, as you no doubt already know. We have a higher threshold for pain but we aren’t immune to it. Weapons such as knives pose little threat, unless you happen to be wounded badly enough to bleed out faster than you can heal. Starvation is not a pretty way to go and would take a long, long time.”
“I don’t know,” Yoshiki said carelessly. “I’ve never been interested to find out. There’s also decapitation and fire: two surefire ways to slaughter a vampire.” He giggled a little at his own wordplay, before looking down at Miya. He was still smiling, but his eyes were as cold and hard as stone. “It’s a sin to kill your maker.”
This piece of information was delivered very suddenly and very softly, and it sounded like a threat, and for the first time Miya realised that Yoshiki might be dangerous.
The pair, teacher and fledgling, strolled up to a small shrine where a woman in perhaps her early twenties was praying. From a little distance away, they watched her bow deeply and turn to leave and as she did so, she dropped something on the ground.
Immediately, Miya heard Yoshiki’s voice in his ear. “Pick it up for her.”
Yoshiki gave him a little nudge in the back and the younger vampire moved forward and picked up the woman’s small drawstring bag, holding it out for her with a polite smile.
“Thank you, kind sir,” she said, bowing to express her gratitude.
“My friend here is nothing if not a gentleman,” Yoshiki said smoothly. “May we walk you home? It’s getting quite dark and we’d hate for a pious young lady such as yourself to run into bandits and rapists.”
The woman looked surprised but hesitantly accepted the offer.
Miya followed Yoshiki and the young woman along the back streets, poorly-lit by the occasional dim, flickering lanterns, and the older vampire kept a respectable distance from her so as not to make her uncomfortable. He was charming, indeed, and soon had the woman chatting easily. Her mother was very ill, she said, and doctors couldn't figure out what the illness was. Over several months they had watched her gradually grow weaker, thinner and paler. Now her mother was bedridden, too weak to stand up; the young woman's husband had gone to seek out another doctor in a neighbouring town, and she came to the shrine morning and night to pray that her mother might get better.
“That's terrible,” Yoshiki said in a voice so soothing that Miya could have believed that he was sincere, but the look he gave Miya said he knew exactly what was ailing the old woman. “I'm sure the gods will see how earnest you are and do everything in their power for you and your family.”
As they continued along their way, still making light conversation, they saw fewer and fewer people until eventually Yoshiki rested a hand very lightly on her shoulder and he cast a quick glance around, surveying their surroundings. He looked over his shoulder and gave Miya a look.
“Sir?” the woman said uncertainly when Yoshiki took her to one side, and in the shadows Miya could see Yoshiki leaning over her until his body obscured her entirely, and there was a high, muffled noise of fear.
Not knowing what to do, Miya stood where he was until Yoshiki lifted his head and said with a bloodstained smile, “Come. Don't be afraid.”
Miya slowly approached, watching his maker's every move.
Yoshiki stood back a little and traced a finger along the tiny puncture marks on her neck. “Go on. Feed. Smell her. Taste her.”
Obediently, Miya bent his head over her neck and inhaled deeply. Her scent bore a sharp note to it; fear, he supposed, but it was rich as well, and sweeter than the blood he had taken earlier. Hesitantly he brought his lips to her neck—god she smelled good—and when he bit down and swallowed that first mouthful of her sweet blood, he almost choked and froze all over. Something was happening inside him.
“Do you feel that?” his maker murmured, pressing a hand to his chest. “This is the pleasure of all pleasures.”
Miya barely nodded. His heart was beating and it was incredible to feel so alive. This hadn’t happened with the bowl of blood that Yoshiki had given him earlier. Was this what it was like to drink from live prey? It was so good it was almost arousing and it encouraged him to drink deeper. He almost whined like a child when Yoshiki's cool hand slipped around his neck, just beneath his jaw, gently coaxing him to stop.
“That's enough,” Yoshiki said softly. “Miya, stop now. That's enough. There’s a good pup.”
If he hadn't already fed earlier in the evening, Miya might have found it a lot more difficult to stop drinking, but he swallowed one last mouthful and did as he was told.
They returned to the main street, having left the woman sitting propped up against a wall.
“The important thing to learn is that you must only take a little here and there,” Yoshiki was saying. “If you drained them dry, people would be finding bodies all over the place and that will give us all away.”
“Will she be all right?” Miya asked, turning to look over his shoulder.
“She'll wake up feeling tired and disoriented, but she'll make her way home,” said Yoshiki. “Most will be fully recovered in a day or so.”
A little while later they stopped by a little izakaya. Out of habit, Miya reached for some tea.
Yoshiki leaned in close. “A word of warning: don’t eat anything, for it will make you very ill.”
Miya nodded but at the back of his mind he half-jokingly thought that perhaps being a vampire wasn’t all that great after all, if he couldn’t enjoy food.
The pair sat together quietly until Yoshiki began eyeing off a young man who had gotten up to leave; the older vampire touched Miya’s hand lightly and they both rose from their seats.
* * *
Miya was very quiet during the leisurely walk back to Yoshiki’s home. Yoshiki had already figured him to be the quiet type and left him to his own thoughts. He was brought out of his reverie when they approached the door and he suddenly stopped.
Yoshiki looked surprised for a second, but then he smiled. “You can smell them, can’t you?”
“I… yes, I suppose so,” said Miya haltingly.
The older vampire slid the door open and ushered him inside.
“How was my young brother’s first night out?”
The words were spoken even before they laid eyes on each other. The wooden floorboards creaked slightly beneath their feet and they rounded a corner to see a handsome man who looked to be about Miya’s age reading by the light of an oil lamp, stroking a tiny calico kitten.
“I think he took to it quite well. What do you think, Miya?” Yoshiki looked at his young charge.
“I… I think so?” Miya stammered.
“This is Hisashi,” said Yoshiki. “He’s the one who so kindly offered the blood for your first feed.”
“Oh. Thank you,” Miya said, bowing.
Hisashi smiled and looked up from the book in his lap. “I hope you enjoyed it. That was the last of him, you know.”
“Don’t say such things,” Yoshiki scolded. “You’ll make him feel bad.”
“I’m sorry,” Hisashi said, turning back to his book. “I’m only teasing. Actually, I’m honoured to have been able to provide you with your first meal.”
“Don’t mind him,” Yoshiki said to Miya, gently touching his shoulder to lead him away. “He’s always buried in his books. Have you fed tonight, Hisashi?” Yoshiki called over his shoulder.
“Not yet,” came the lazy reply. “Perhaps I’ll go out and find myself another poet.”
* * *
At Yoshiki’s advice, Miya retired to what was now his room—not without first checking that the curtains were properly drawn—and curled up on his futon. Although his skin had taken on a warmer hue from having fed well, his first night as a vampire had been mentally exhausting. Yoshiki had offered to spend the night with him for company, but Miya politely declined, saying that he preferred to be alone. Yoshiki nodded understandingly and tenderly kissed his forehead before leaving the room.
When he closed his eyes, he fancied that he could ‘feel’ the presence of the other two vampires in the house and it was an odd feeling, but not unwelcome. Even though he preferred to sleep alone, there was some comfort in knowing that the two older, more experienced vampires were around. They would protect their own, he knew. They might not be human anymore, but the very human desire to protect and shelter one’s own endured.
As the night drew on and gave way to dawn, he fell into a restless sleep and woke up several times during the day. The curtains were heavy enough to protect him from the sun, but slivers of daylight still peeped around the corners. The first time he woke with a start, fearing the very sight of sunlight creeping around the edges of the curtains. He lay there, almost frozen, waiting for that excruciating burning, but it didn’t come. He was still wary, but managed to get back to sleep with the covers pulled tightly over his head. Eventually he fell into a deep slumber and the next time he woke up, the sky was already dark.
Miya emerged from his room and tiptoed around the house in case somebody might still be asleep, wincing at every squeak or creak in the floor. The house was otherwise was silent, save for the soft sound of somebody humming a little tune. He followed the humming until he found Hisashi poring over rows and rows of bookshelves.
“You must really love reading,” Miya said by way of greeting.
“Good evening,” said Hisashi pleasantly.
“It’s so quiet.” Miya looked around the room. “Where’s Yoshiki?”
“Out.” Hisashi had his face buried in a book about philosophy. The kitten, Ayu, was curled up in his lap. “He was in one of his good moods. You might be in for a treat.”
One of his good moods? Treat? What did that mean? Miya was confused but decided to keep his mouth shut rather than display his ignorance. Instead, he drew a book from one of the shelves—something in a foreign language—and leafed through the pages, breathing in the smell of old paper and ink.
“How many books do you have here?” he asked.
“I used to know,” Hisashi said. “I was a scholar, you know. Before I was changed. I’ve always loved words and books and learning, and now I can have all the books I could ever want.” He glanced up at Miya. “What were you?”
“I was a soldier.” Miya looked down at the book in his hands without really seeing it. “Our daimyo declared war on a neighbouring daimyo over a disputed area of land. I would have been killed had Yoshiki not…” He stopped, then. He didn’t really want to talk about the bloody battles. He placed the book back onto the shelf.
“Barbaric,” Hisashi said softly, shaking his head. “One wonders if they can’t solve their differences in a more civilised manner but they insist upon behaving like feral beasts.”
Miya was quiet for a moment. “Yoshiki said there are two more vampires besides him and myself. Who is the other one? I can… I know there’s someone else here, in this house.”
“Ah, you haven’t met Mana,” Hisashi said. He closed the book in his hands. “You can find him if you like. He might enjoy having a little bit of company for a change.”
The door was slightly ajar, so Miya rapped on the doorframe very lightly with his fingertips. “Excuse me. May I come in?”
When he received no answer, curiosity got the better of him and Miya peeped inside to find an exquisitely beautiful woman sitting alone by a low table with a sheet of paper before her, brush in hand.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Begging your pardon, my lady. My name is Miya. I’m… new here.” Miya hesitated. “I don’t mean to intrude. I was looking for someone named Mana. Do you know where he is?”
The only response he received was a stony silence as the woman ignored him completely.
Miya stood at the door for a while. “Do you mind if I come in?”
He watched her carefully for any reaction but there was none. It was as though he weren’t there at all. Since she wouldn’t speak to him, Miya sat on the floor a little distance away and watched her. She had large, limpid eyes and skin as fair and smooth as porcelain. She was painting what looked like a portrait of a handsome man, taking great care with the facial features with a small, fine brush. It was so hypnotic that Miya forgot all about Mana for a moment. Her focus was so measured, each movement steady and deliberate, each brush stroke delivered with precision and grace.
“That’s beautiful,” Miya said softly. “Who is he?”
Of course she said nothing and presently, Miya felt the presence of others in the house and realised that Yoshiki must have returned. He rose to his feet and excused himself with a low bow, carefully closing the door behind him.
As it turned out, Yoshiki did have a treat for them: two pretty boys, young actors from a small, up and coming local kabuki theatre. He had plied them with alcohol after the show, just enough to weaken their will and convince them to come home with him, and they smelled ripe and delicious. Miya fed on one whilst Hisashi took the other, and Yoshiki sampled both boys.
“Don’t exhaust them,” Yoshiki warned. “Only take just enough for yourselves. My intent is to return them to the theatre before dawn.”
“They’ll get a sound thrashing for being intoxicated,” Hisashi said rather smugly, smiling with red-stained lips.
Miya was enjoying this feeding too much to care, but he did make the effort to pay attention to how much he was taking from the boy in his arms, and he stopped when he thought he had had enough.
“See how quickly he learns?” Yoshiki said to Hisashi, looking pleased.
Hisashi just smiled again and licked the blood from his lips.
As promised, Yoshiki bundled up both boys in his arms a couple of hours before dawn, and it was at this time that Miya approached him.
“My lord Yoshiki,” he said. “Who is the woman in the room upstairs?”
Yoshiki looked mildly surprised at this, and carefully placed the boys on the floor. Instead of answering Miya’s question, he posed his own: “What did you do?”
“N-nothing, my lord,” he said a little hesitantly. “I spoke to her. She didn’t speak back.”
Hisashi’s voice floated out to them from across the hall. “I told him to go looking for Mana.”
“Have I done something wrong?” Miya wondered if he’d stumbled across someone’s wife or paramour. She certainly didn’t seem like she would be a courtesan. Did vampires even take wives?
“No,” Yoshiki said. “It’s just that Mana usually prefers to be left alone. If he didn’t occasionally leave the house to feed, we’d barely notice that he’s there at all.”
“But what does that have to do with her?” Miya pointed toward the room where he’d found the woman.
Yoshiki blinked at him. “That’s Mana.”
“That’s…?” Miya stalled. “But I thought you said Mana was a ‘he’?”
“Pretty face, purple kimono? Painting?”
Miya looked so stunned that Yoshiki grinned and picked up the young boys again. “Miya, didn’t I tell you that vampires are beautiful?”
* * *
Miya was fascinated with this enigma called Mana. Every night he would go out with Yoshiki or Hisashi, sometimes all three of them would go hunting together, but invariably Miya would conclude the night sitting in that same spot in Mana’s room, watching this beautiful but silent creature painting or drawing. One night when Mana had left the house to feed—silently, like a ghost so that they barely noticed—Miya fetched some paper, a brush and some ink and knelt by the table in his own room. The paper remained unblemished for a long time while he tried to think of what to paint. Something pretty, but what?
The wind rustled in the tree branches outside, and Miya opened his window to let in the cool night air. Finally he picked up the brush, carefully dabbed it in the dish of ink and set about painting the plum tree that grew out in the yard. As soon as he laid down the first brush stroke, he knew it was a disaster. He’d never had the talent for drawing and painting and it seemed like this was still the case, vampire or no vampire. He frowned at the crude black lines on the paper and scrunched it up.
“Did somebody teach you how to paint like that?” he asked Mana the very next night.
Predictably, Mana said nothing but neither did he appear to object to Miya’s presence.
“I’m hopeless at things like that,” Miya continued. “Believe me, I’ve tried. It looks like a child’s painting.” He gave a self-deprecating chuckle and then stopped. Mana was looking at him with the most inscrutable expression, not a crease in his perfect face that could give away what he was thinking.
Miya bowed his head a little. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Am I disturbing you?”
Mana turned back to his latest work. He was painting the same tree that Miya had attempted the night before, only much better. He set the large brush down and picked up a smaller brush.
“Perhaps I should leave,” Miya said uncertainly.
“You can stay if you like.”
Miya was so surprised by this that he looked around to see if somebody else had spoken, but there was nobody else in the room with them and the door was closed, and the only other person in the house was Hisashi.
“I beg your pardon?”
Mana was concentrating on painting the leaves on the tree with the quickest and lightest of brush strokes. “It takes many years of practice.”
It took a minute for Miya to pick up on what Mana was saying. “I think I’d rather watch, to be honest. Not all of us have the gift.”
“As you wish.”
Since Mana clearly didn’t mind his company, Miya continued to visit him and he didn’t feel as bad about talking to him.
“Who is he?” Miya asked one night. Mana was painting yet another portrait of the man that Miya had seen the first time he met Mana, and this was the third one he’d seen so far.
“His name was Yu~ki.”
Mana’s use of was instead of is did not go unnoticed by Miya. “Was he your family?”
It was a while before Mana said anything more, and by now Miya knew not to rush him or expect a response. He would speak when it suited him.
“I never knew my maker,” Mana said eventually. The little paper lantern on the floor flickered. “All I know was that I was attacked one night and woke up from a ghastly nightmare, face down in my own vomit. I was alone. I couldn’t remember anything. I thought that perhaps I’d been drunk, and that someone had beaten and robbed me.” He turned his head slowly and looked straight at Miya. “Nobody stayed with me to teach me about what I had become, the way Yoshiki does with his fledglings.”
“Oh…” Miya felt guilty about this, as though it were somehow his fault that Mana had been denied the luxuries that he’d enjoyed in his short life as a vampire.
“I staggered home, looking a dreadful mess and smelling even worse. People stared as I passed by. Mercifully, it started pouring with rain. People were so busy running for shelter that they stopped staring at me.
“I went home and washed myself properly, thinking that I would feel better after some sleep. I didn’t, of course. When the sunlight burned me, I went into a frenzy and fled to the cellar and shut myself away from all light. Yu~ki was so worried about me but I couldn’t bear to let him see me like that. I knew I wasn’t the same then. I refused to let him inside but he was at the door day and night with food, water, anything he thought that might help. He begged for me to speak with him, to see him, because he loved me so dearly. This went on for weeks.”
There was a long pause as Mana focused his attention back to the painting before him.
“But how did you feed?” Miya asked very quietly.
A small smile twitched at the corner of Mana’s painted lips. “I didn’t.”
“Not at all?”
“I didn’t know that I needed to. I had no understanding of what I was.” Miya put down the brush in his hand. “One night he brought a doctor to my door, pleading with me to let the doctor look at me. Whatever it was, he would find a way to cure me. I became so angry that I finally opened the cellar door to drive them away. The smell of fresh blood spurred me into madness. The doctor was standing right in front of me, so I took him first. I think I tore his throat open. I could hear Yu~ki calling my name, pleading with me to stop, but I was so ravenous I couldn’t stop. I was too far gone, driven by nothing but raw hunger. I drained the man dry and I threw him aside and took Yu~ki.”
Mana stopped talking then, and the two of them sat in silence for a long time. Presently, Mana set the brush down and picked up the sheet of paper, folding neatly in half and smearing the still-wet ink. He clasped his hands in his lap.
“Go to sleep, Miya. The sun will be up soon.”
* * *
Miya couldn’t help recounting Mana’s grim story in his head. How frightening must it have been not to know what happened to you, only knowing that you’d been changed somehow. How sad to be too afraid to face someone you loved, only to brutally attack them just because they cared too much to abandon you. How miserable to be so alone.
“You’ve been spending a lot of time with Mana.”
Miya looked up at his maker. “Is that bad?”
“No,” Yoshiki said casually, almost carelessly. “It’s just an observation. I’m surprised, actually. He usually prefers to keep to himself. He’s not much of a talker.”
“Oh.” Miya reflected on this for a moment. “At first he just ignored me, but then he said he doesn’t mind.”
“Trust me, if Mana didn’t want you there, you would know.” Yoshiki seemed to drop the topic then, and was looking at passers by with a keen, evaluating eye. “That one looks good.”
After they had fed, Yoshiki decided to spend the rest of the night roaming the streets, while Miya elected to go home. Mana was there as usual, looking quite sated—he must have fed well—and had already started his latest painting of a vase a single iris in a brilliant purple, almost blue, that matched the kimono he wore tonight.
“Good evening,” Miya greeted him with a small bow.
Mana nodded in response without taking his eyes off his work.
The two were quiet for a long time until finally Miya had to ask: “I’ve been wondering… what happened with Yu~ki?”
The hand that held the brush stopped for a second. “He died.”
It was another long while before Mana spoke again. “He was half-dead by the time I realised what I was doing. I held him in my arms. He was so weak. I wept and begged him to forgive me. Yu~ki smiled and wiped away my tears. With his last breath, he said he was just happy that he could finally see me again and was glad that he could give me what I needed. He wasn’t afraid of me. He didn’t see a monster, he only saw me as someone he loved.
“I think if I could have known, I would have changed him to preserve his life. But I’m sure he would have hated that.
“For a few years I wandered the countryside on my own. I knew now that only blood would sustain me. I had to learn how to be a predator. I watched cats and foxes and snakes stalking their prey. I left quite the trail of death and horror in my wake before I learned how to hunt in secret. It’s difficult when you have nobody to guide you. It was at least fifty, sixty years before I met another of my kind.”
“Was that Yoshiki?” Miya asked.
“Yes. You could say that we sniffed each other out. I was fascinated to learn that there was someone else like me. It’s a relief to know that you’re not the anomaly.”
Mana stopped to put the finishing touches on his painting. He seemed pleased with his efforts tonight. “We hunted together for a time and eventually I came to live with him here, for I was lonely, and vampire needs shelter during the day. It’s useful not to have to worry about where to hide when you are hunting close to dawn.”
Miya nodded. That wasn’t even something he had ever considered, but Mana was right. A vampire couldn’t be caught without refuge when the sun came up. He was too comfortable and spoiled here; he would have to keep that in mind if their situation should ever change. The very idea of having no permanent lodgings and needing to scramble for somewhere dark to hide before dawn was daunting; he’d never forget how hot the sun had burned.
“When were you changed?” Miya asked.
“Long, long time ago. Some three hundred and forty years.”
“Three hundred and—!” Miya marvelled. “And Yoshiki?”
Mana smiled softly. “He is of a similar vintage.”
Miya was amazed. He couldn’t fathom living for that long, being that old and still having the appearance of someone in their thirties.
Despite his rather unusual situation, Miya lived quite happily as a vampire in their curious little family for nearly thirty years. When the cat Ayu died, Hisashi buried her in the garden and came home with a new kitten, a white male with tabby markings.
“What’s this one’s name?” Miya asked, stroking its tiny ears.
“Wasn’t the old one called Ayu?”
“Yes,” Hisashi smiled. “It’s impossible to remember all the different names, so I just give them all the same name.”
As with humans, they had their own set of routines that they rarely deviated from, and this suited each of them well. Miya passed the time watching Mana paint, or reading with Hisashi and learning about history, music, poetry, philosophy, religion, mythology. He particularly enjoyed reading about their own kind. Many books spoke of vampires as vicious creatures of fantasy to be both feared and admired. Others described them as hideous, melancholy ghouls doomed to roam the earth in solitude for eternity.
Yoshiki had spent some time in Europe and procured a lovely musical instrument called a piano that brought home with him a few years before Miya had joined them. It had suffered some damage during the long journey by sea and it was a little off-key, but pianos were still quite new to Europe and nobody in Japan knew how to repair it. Nevertheless, Miya loved the quirky sound of the broken piano so much that Yoshiki taught him how to play from what he had learned in Germany, and sometimes even Mana emerged from his room to listen to their piano duets.
Inevitably, though, as with humans, Miya began to question his own creation and existence, and wonder about others of their kind. Why had his maker chosen him of all people? What was the purpose of the existence of vampires? He supposed the purpose of human life was to enjoy the time they were given in this lifetime, but is there any meaning if you are immortal? And why had they never encountered other vampires? He liked Yoshiki, Hisashi and Mana well enough, but he longed to meet others.
He kept these thoughts to himself for some time, but as the years drew on, Yoshiki’s warm, nurturing behaviour toward him began to cool. Frustrated, Miya felt compelled to ask him.
“My lord Yoshiki,” he said. “May I ask you something?”
Yoshiki looked over at him with a bored expression.
“Why did you make me?”
“I told you,” Yoshiki said with a hint of impatience. “To save your life. You didn’t want to die.”
“But you didn’t have to,” Miya blurted out. “And there were hundreds of men dying that day. Why me and not them? Or why not all of them?”
Yoshiki’s expression changed then, and his tone was cold. “Are you not grateful for what I’ve done for you?”
“I am, but—”
“Then stop asking foolish questions. You are testing my patience. Do mortals question the blessings of a god? No, they simply accept that what happens is the divine will of the gods.”
His maker turned and left, slamming the door behind him, and did not return for three nights.
Yoshiki’s words and his abrupt departure made Miya feel unsettled. He played this conversation over and over again in his head. Yoshiki had likened himself to a god. Yes, he was powerful, but to Miya, that spoke of a certain deep instability in the man.
Yet somehow, these thoughts made Miya feel guilty. He’d be dead if it weren’t for Yoshiki. He was not ungrateful at all and even though Yoshiki was rather less concerned with him as he used to be, and occasionally lost his temper, he had never mistreated Miya either, so he figured that he had no cause to be unhappy.
He did ask Hisashi about it one night, though.
“Something on your mind?” the older vampire asked. “You’ve been very quiet tonight.”
Miya hesitated. “May I ask how old you are?”
“Is that all? I was in my late twenties when I was made.” Hisashi thought about this for a second. “If I had to hazard a guess, that was probably 130 years ago.”
“Is Yoshiki your maker, too?” Miya asked.
“Yes. What of it?”
“Did the same thing happen to you?”
“What do you mean?”
When Miya hesitated uncomfortably, Hisashi looked over at him as they strolled along the dark streets.
“Oh. I see.” Hisashi chuckled a little, but not unkindly. “He’s gotten tired of you, hasn’t he?”
Miya looked at him, startled at the blunt, easy way he said this, and the way it exactly mirrored his thoughts.
Hisashi patted his shoulder. “Everyone gets over it when they’re no longer the favourite. I did, and you will, too. You’ll find your place in time.”
“Oh.” Miya bowed his head, feeling rather abashed. “It isn’t that. I don’t care about being anyone’s favourite. It’s just that he seems so cold now, compared to before.”
“Don’t trouble yourself about it. That’s just the way he is,” Hisashi explained. “There was once a young vampire that didn’t last two years before Yoshiki found someone else to play with.”
Miya found this ironically dehumanising and demeaning. It felt like Yoshiki didn’t value him as a person, and the act of changing Miya and saving his life was not one borne of compassion as he had always sort of assumed, but something that had been done on a whim. It was like a child playing with dolls, discarding the older ones when he found a newer, prettier one to play with.
“How many others has he made?” he asked.
“We have a few brothers and sisters. Perhaps a dozen, give or take.”
“What happened to them? Are they still alive?”
“Most of them leave to live their own lives. Usually Yoshiki doesn’t mind by the time he’s gotten tired of them. Are they alive? That I cannot say.”
This piqued Miya’s interest. It was something else that hadn’t occurred to him, leaving Yoshiki’s household to build his own life as a matured vampire. “Can you tell me about them?”
“Well,” Hisashi mused. “There’s Takuro, Kaoru, Michiko… like you, they grew up here and left to make their own lives when Yoshiki grew tired of them, but I can tell you about Heath and Sugizo. The came before me, made a year apart. Yoshiki took them to be his lovers but they ended up falling in love with each other. Yoshiki was so furious when they left, that he killed his newest fledgling at the time, poor thing.”
“Oh,” Miya said softly.
“I wouldn’t mention them to Yoshiki if I were you,” Hisashi said.
Miya was silent for a while. “Why haven’t you left?”
“Me?” The older vampire seemed a little surprised at this question, but only a little. “I suppose I’m comfortable here. This is my home. So long as Yoshiki doesn’t mistreat me, I don’t feel I need to leave and strike out on my own. Besides,” he added with a chuckle. “All of my books are here.”
Hisashi had told him not to ask Yoshiki about those two vampires he had mentioned, but he hadn’t said that he couldn’t ask somebody else.
“Mana, why do you stay here?”
“The time I spent alone was far too long for my liking.” Mana lowered his long lashes. “I know you will think it strange, but I cannot stand to be truly alone the way I was after I was changed. It was truly the darkest time of my life. Yoshiki has his faults, but meeting him brought me out of that darkness.”
“What about making your own family?”
“No. I have never felt the urge to create children of my own.”
“But if you’re so lonely…” Miya let the question hang in the air.
“That seems rather selfish, don’t you think? To create a life for the sole purpose of easing one’s own loneliness?” Mana blinked softly and looked away from his calligraphy. “What brought this on, Miya?”
The younger vampire hesitated. “I was speaking with Hisashi and he mentioned two that Yoshiki made. Heath and Sugizo. He said that Yoshiki was angry when they fell in love and left. Is that true?”
“Oh, yes. He very much regretted letting them go.”
“Why didn’t he go after them? I heard that he killed a young vampire because of them.”
There was a small smile on Mana’s lips. “Because he loved them too much.”
When Miya looked confused, Mana rose gracefully from the floor and retrieved a collection of his paintings and drawings that had been bound into a book, handing it to Miya and he carefully leafed through the pages.
“They were amongst his earlier creations and he had always had a soft spot for them. He put so much care into making them and in the end they were too beautiful to kill.”
“More beautiful than you?” Miya asked.
Mana just smiled and put a cold hand on Miya’s. The page he had stopped at showed two people who were indeed beautiful, but a different kind of beauty to Mana’s delicate femininity.
“Yoshiki was unhappy that they had fallen in love with each other, but I should hope that you never see him as wrathful as the night that he caught them together.” Mana reached over and turned the page to show him a single portrait of one of the pair. “Yoshiki was so enraged that he struck a blow to Heath and caused him to bleed out badly. He regretted that, afterwards.”
Miya turned the page again, and the next portrait was of the second vampire.
“Yoshiki stormed out and didn’t come back until the next turn of the moon. Meanwhile Sugizo offered Heath his own blood and saved his lover. They were both weakened, but they fled. When Yoshiki returned with his newest fledgling and heard that they’d gone, he killed the poor creature he’d just made.”
In a strange way, Sugizo’s act of giving Heath his own blood was one of the most romantic things Miya had ever heard, and he imagined that it would have been deeply intimate for both of them. “Do you know what happened to them after that?”
Mana shook his head. “Not in well over a hundred years. It’s a shame, really. Heath was such a graceful creature, and Sugizo was lust personified. It’s surprising that Heath managed to tame someone like him, but there was no question that they were very much in love.”
The more Miya heard about other vampires, the more curious he became. Where were Heath and Sugizo now? Were they still together? What about the others that Hisashi had and hadn’t named, what had happened to them? He didn’t want to ask Yoshiki in case he became angry, but he was curious about something else that he hoped Yoshiki wouldn’t mind indulging him with.
“My lord Yoshiki,” he said. “You knew your maker, did you not?”
Yoshiki had been in a rather good mood lately and looked up from the piano. “I did. Why do you ask?”
“I was just curious is all,” Miya said humbly. “Mana says he never knew his maker. I thought that was very sad.”
“It is a sad story,” Yoshiki agreed. “No, my maker took good care of me, and it’s because of him that I do the same for my children.”
It felt nice to hear Yoshiki referring to them in such a warm, affectionate manner. “I remember you mentioned that he ‘passed’...”
Yoshiki looked at Miya with a sort of gentle fondness that he hadn’t seen in the last few years. “He was very old. During his prime he had travelled to far-reaching lands and seen much, but he had lost the joy of life. I believe he was over 600 years old when he made me. By the end, he stayed locked in his room without seeing or speaking to anyone. He emerged after a year; I was still quite young as a vampire at the time and I was worried about him, so I followed him despite his warnings. He refused to tell me where he was going.”
Yoshiki’s fingers danced over the piano keys.
“Eventually I realised he was looking for his maker. He arrived under the guise of a cordial visit and, when his elder was asleep, rose early and cut his throat from ear to ear. He had become so disillusioned with his existence that he tracked down his own maker and killed him. Miya, do you remember that I told you it is a sin to harm your maker?”
“A young vampire nearby learned of this incident. One became many, and I watched my maker being torn apart by his peers. He didn’t resist them; he welcomed it.”
Miya was quiet for a while. “I should hope that none of us should lose our way.”
“Yes,” said Yoshiki. He shifted to one side and patted the piano stool. “Come. Play something with me.”
That was the last time Miya spent any quality time with his maker, and he soon found out why Yoshiki had been in such a good mood when the older vampire called to them, and he and Hisashi met him outside the house with two slender, pretty boys in his arms. They couldn’t have been more than about eighteen. They were unconscious and Miya quickly noticed the fresh bite marks on their throats.
“And whom do we have here?” Hisashi asked.
Yoshiki looked extremely pleased with himself. “Toshiya and Shinya. I’ve had my eye on these two for a while and finally decided I had to have them.” His eyes flickered to Miya. “Stay. Watch and learn. This is how you make one of us.”
Yoshiki lowered his head and took from each boy a few final mouthfuls of blood. He drew a small knife from his robe—the same knife that Miya saw on his first night—and pressed it to his wrist. A drop of blood beaded at the wound and he pressed it to the slack lips of first the taller boy, Toshiya, and then Shinya, a youth with golden hair just like Yoshiki’s.
“You must not let the heart stop before you change them,” Yoshiki murmured, almost like he were uttering a spell. “That’s how you make a real monster, and a vampire must be beautiful above all else.”
Miya didn’t have time to think about what that meant, for what he saw next was far from beautiful. The boy writhed and convulsed painfully, whimpering and crying in fear, gasping and groaning in agony. The whites of their eyes were blood red and it was frightening to see. He resented Yoshiki for making him watch something so dreadful, yet he couldn’t look away, knowing that he had endured the same. I dreamt that I was dying, he thought. This was me. Finally Miya forced himself to walk away when the boys were sick, emptying themselves onto the blanket of red and yellow autumn leaves covering the ground. He squeezed his eyes shut. The smell was terrible and the sounds were even worse. The horrors of the battlefield paled next to this.
It felt like an age before the commotion died down, and Miya returned to see Yoshiki delicately tending to both boys like they were infants, wiping at their now calm faces with a wet cloth, smoothing the creases on their brows, and he imagined his—their—maker doing the same for him. Once they were cleaned up, Yoshiki picked them up with ease to bring them inside.
“I must have the best for my boys,” he said. “Hisashi and Miya, perhaps you could find some lovely young ladies for us to feast upon and celebrate the occasion.”
Miya obediently followed Hisashi out, although he was irritated with being treated like a servant.
“Don’t think about it too much,” Hisashi said when they were some distance away from the house. “He does this all the time with new fledglings. Remember your first feed?”
“I suppose so…”
But it didn’t stop with their first feed. Yoshiki did take Shinya and Toshiya out into town the way he had with Miya, but every night for two weeks Yoshiki would request that Hisashi and Miya to fetch a young woman or two for ‘his boys’. Yoshiki would often take Shinya and Toshiya to his bed; sometimes together, sometimes separately, and more than once, Miya had to deliver their prey to Yoshiki’s very door during the throes of their lovemaking. Miya grew increasingly annoyed with this, as though Yoshiki thought that his two new fledglings were too good to go out and look for their own prey, and that he and Hisashi had to do all the legwork while they stayed at home and fucked.
“Why can’t they just go out and feed for themselves like the rest of us?” Miya blurted out one time. As soon as the words left his mouth, he knew it was a mistake.
Yoshiki gave him a long, cold look. “What is this attitude, Miya?”
“I didn’t mean—”
“All I’m asking is for a simple errand. You don’t see Hisashi complaining about it.”
Miya looked at Hisashi helplessly, who responded with an apologetic shrug.
After Miya’s objection, Yoshiki took it upon himself to bring prey back for the boys and he adored them, especially Shinya. “He reminds me of myself at that age,” he would say, looking upon the young vampire like a proud parent.
Toshiya took it in stride but Shinya appeared to become increasingly sullen and one night he wept while Yoshiki made love to him. Yoshiki was dismayed to see this delicate creature so miserable. How could he be unhappy when he was so beautiful and immortal? Yoshiki could hear it in Shinya’s heart but refused to believe or acknowledge it. He tried pleading, he tried persuasion, he tried plying Shinya with gifts of new clothes and jewels and pretty young women and men for him to feed on. Finally it came out one night when Yoshiki offered Shinya a young miko that he had stolen from the shrine of a neighbouring town.
“I don’t want to.”
Yoshiki looked puzzled, as though these words were foreign to him. “Don’t want to?”
“I don’t want to hurt her. Or anyone.” Shinya’s head was bowed.
Yoshiki became so infuriated with this admission that he threw Shinya out. In tears, the younger vampire retreated to the room that he shared with Toshiya, tugging his yukata over his naked body.
Shinya hated being a vampire. He hated it so much that he stopped feeding altogether, hoping that he would soon see the end of a life that he never asked for. Starvation took all too long, though, and all it did was weaken him so that Yoshiki—and sometimes Toshiya, fearful of losing the friend with whom he’d shared this ghastly experience—was able to force feed him while he lay on the floor, too frail to deter them, weeping pitifully while fresh blood was poured down his throat to keep him alive in this wretched existence.
Mana and Hisashi kept their distance but Miya watched this macabre tale play out with morbid curiosity. He watched Shinya’s condition worsen, watched Yoshiki’s temper fraying, watched young women and young men being brought in nearly every night and discarded like rubbish once they had been sufficiently drained, often cast aside to die slowly. Seven or eight months after the night he’d brought Toshiya and Shinya home, Yoshiki had had enough.
“Please, my lord! He’s not well! We need to help him!” Toshiya pleaded, tugging at Yoshiki’s arm.
Miya was shocked when an enraged Yoshiki backhanded the young vampire. He had never seen his maker strike anyone before, and Toshiya reeled and stumbled backwards, whimpering.
“If he wishes to be weak, leave him! I have no time for fools.” Yoshiki looked down at Shinya with disgust, the way a wealthy man might look upon a filthy beggar on the street. “I will easily find someone more deserving of the gift you’ve spurned. Even the thought of touching you makes me ill. I cannot stand to see you any longer.”
Lying prone on the floor, Shinya was gaunt and his skin was ashen, pale even for a vampire. His once-golden hair was limp and sallow, his eyes dull and ringed with dark patches, his once full cheeks sunken. He looked up at his maker beseechingly.
“Then kill me, my lord,” he whispered through thin, dry lips. “End my suffering.”
“No,” Yoshiki snarled. “I’ll not soil my hands killing filth like you. You deserve no mercy. You will come to your senses or you will die slowly.”
Yoshiki stormed away, and Shinya closed his eyes and curled up into a ball, moaning softly to himself while Toshiya tried to comfort his ailing friend for the umteenth time.
Yoshiki’s temper gradually dwindled and still Shinya refused to feed, wasting away a little more each day. When summer arrived, the young vampire stirred from his restless slumber after the rest of the household had settled down to sleep. With much effort, he pushed the sheets aside and got up on thin, fragile legs, trying to be as quiet as he could to avoid disturbing Toshiya. Leaning against the walls and door frames for support, he slowly made his way outside and sat on the grass beneath the small maple tree and waited patiently for the sun to rise.
Takuro - GLAY
Karou - Dir en grey
Michiko (aka F Chopper Koga) - Doll$boxx/Gacharic Spin
“Shinya! Where are you!”
When Miya woke and he stepped out of his room, he was greeted by a panicked Toshiya searching high and low for his friend. “What’s the matter?”
The young vampire looked at him with large, frightened eyes. “It’s Shinya. I woke up and he wasn’t there.”
Miya tried not to show his surprise and put a hand on Toshiya’s arm in an attempt to comfort him. “Perhaps he rose early to go for a walk?”
Even as he said this though, he knew it was absurd. Shinya was in no condition to go anywhere and it was unlikely that he had changed his mind and gone to feed. Even if he had, he was far too weak and inexperienced to be able to bring any prey down by himself.
“What’s all this commotion about, then?” It was Hisashi.
“Shinya’s missing,” Miya said grimly.
“Are you sure?”
Toshiya nodded, biting his bottom lip. “I’ve searched almost every room of the house.”
“Almost?” Hisashi asked.
“Well,” Toshiya hesitated. “Not Mana-sama’s room. And not Lord Yoshiki’s room. Perhaps…”
Hisashi and Miya exchanged a glance.
“I’ll ask Mana,” Miya offered.
Hisashi nodded. “I’ll go and see Yoshiki.”
“Thank you,” Toshiya whispered.
Miya tapped on Mana’s door. “Excuse me,” he said quietly. “May I come in?”
He opened the door and found Mana inside getting dressed, and quickly turned away.
“It’s all right,” Mana said gently. “Is Shinya gone?”
“Yes,” said Miya. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen him?”
Mana shook his head. His long black hair spilled about his shoulders and his eyes looked sad. “I would go outside to look.”
“Outside?” Miya was puzzled, but he felt inclined to follow Mana’s instincts and did as he was told.
The night was calm and still, with just the gentlest breeze moving through the trees and making the leaves whisper, and the occasional chirp of crickets in the grass. Far off in the distance came a scream; he turned his head toward the sound and recognised it as the cry of a vixen. His keen eyes quickly caught sight of something unusual in the garden: a large, dark shape by the small maple tree. He stepped closer and felt a chill when he realised it was somebody sitting against the tree’s trunk.
“Shinya?” he called softly.
“Shinya, is that you?” he said. “Come inside. We will take care of you. Toshiya’s worried about you.”
He took another step and froze when he heard a loud crash from inside the house, coupled with a howl of pain and terror, and then Yoshiki’s voice could be heard shouting, “I said no! How many times do I have to tell you! I don’t know where he is and I don’t care! He deserves to rot. I wish I had never made him. I wish I had never set eyes upon him!”
Miya rushed back inside and saw a stunned Hisashi kneeling beside Toshiya on the floor, just as the door to Yoshiki’s room slammed shut again.
Hisashi helped the frightened, whimpering Toshiya up. “Are you all right?”
Toshiya nodded mutely, but his bottom lip trembled.
“I…” Miya swallowed. “I think I’ve found Shinya.”
“You have?” Toshiya’s eyes lit up with hope.
Hisashi said nothing, but the look he gave Miya said that he knew what that meant. He and Toshiya followed Miya outside to the maple tree where Shinya’s emaciated form sat, leaning against the tree with his hands folded in the lap of his yukata. It was Shinya, but not as he was. This was nothing more than a desiccated corpse.
Toshiya covered his mouth and drew in a trembling breath. “That’s not Shinya. What is this? This is not Shinya. What has happened?”
“Shinya has seen the sun,” Hisashi said softly.
“No!” Toshiya whispered, horrified. Tears began to well up in his eyes and trickled down his face. “He’s not gone… how could he do this...”
“Toshiya… Toshiya.” Hisashi cupped his face with both hands. “Weep for him, but you must realise that this is what he wanted. Look at him. He no longer suffers.”
Toshiya just stared at Hisashi, his mouth slightly open in shock, tears spilling from his eyes.
Miya looked down at Shinya’s remains and knelt down before him. It was hard to make out the details of his face, but Miya liked to think that he was smiling—just a little—having finally found peace and an end to his misery. He reached out to gently touch Shinya’s hand; a small piece crumbled away and scattered into the breeze.
* * *
When Yoshiki heard about what had happened with Shinya, all he had said was that he was glad the ungrateful little wretch was dead. He was glad that Shinya had finally done something for himself, and Yoshiki would never have to look at him ever again.
“I only wish that he had had the sense to destroy himself somewhere else,” Yoshiki had growled with savage satisfaction. “I’d hate to think that he has defiled my home with his filth.”
Even the normally indifferent Hisashi was surprised at the venom in Yoshiki’s voice, and they all took care to stay out of Yoshiki’s way until he calmed down again.
Toshiya had sat beside his friend’s remains all night until Hisashi and Miya had to physically drag him back inside before first light. He had screamed and cried and struggled against them, he grabbed at Shinya in a vain attempt to hold onto him, and then wept inconsolably for hours when Shinya’s corpse collapsed into a mound of ash inside the thin cloth of his yukata.
Toshiya was never the same after that. He became a hollow husk of his former self; his eyes were dull and glassy, his once pretty face was blank and emotionless, and he no longer spoke to anyone. Yoshiki continued to call the young vampire to his bed and Toshiya obeyed his every demand, but his spirit had left him. He would arrive at Yoshiki’s room and remove his clothing for his lord’s pleasure, but he just lay there and let Yoshiki use him. When he was done, Yoshiki would order Toshiya to leave him, and Toshiya would return to his room and just sit there, always in the same corner with the door open, sometimes bruised and a little bloody from Yoshiki’s rough treatment. His yukata hung off his shoulders and barely offered him any modesty but he was far beyond caring or even knowing. Miya and Hisashi sometimes saw the bruises before they’d healed, when they helped him back to his room and brought blood for their young brother to feed. Toshiya rarely left his room; he just sat there in his corner with the curtains tightly drawn, staring listlessly at the floor. They never knew if he slept during the day, and he never fed unless someone told him to. He didn’t wash himself and the stench of rancid blood and sex clung to him. Finally Yoshiki could stand it no longer and threw Toshiya out into the pelting rain. He lay on the ground with the rain soaking into his clothes and skin until Miya and Hisashi brought him back inside and dried him off.
The rest of them went about their lives as best they could and Miya was glad for Yoshiki’s capricious nature, for he soon forgot about his concerns with Shinya, and he ignored Toshiya almost entirely and even ceased summoning him to his bed. What Miya didn’t like was that Yoshiki had begun to pay attention to him again, after having ignored him for quite some time in favour of his new playthings. Yoshiki started inviting Miya to go hunting with him again, or to play the piano with him, and Miya complied only to avoid sparking his maker’s temper.
Yoshiki smiled more and spoke to Miya warmly, and this aroused Miya’s suspicion. He had come to associate Yoshiki’s good moods with something bad.
“Don’t be so churlish!” Yoshiki had laughed when he noticed Miya’s doubtful expression one night. “Oh Miya, I know I can be temperamental sometimes but you’ve never disappointed me.”
“I should hope not, my lord,” Miya said cautiously.
He began to understand that it wasn’t just that Yoshiki liked to have new playmates and lovers every so often; it was the attention that he craved. Yoshiki needed to be needed, and once his fledglings matured and became independent, they no longer needed him, and so he repeated the cycle of making new vampires so that he could feel needed. This made Miya feel a little sad, but not enough to forgive Yoshiki for his behaviour.
Miya was no longer happy with living under Yoshiki’s roof and having to be constantly alert to his maker’s temper, worrying about when he would snap next. His concerns only grew when Yoshiki began dropping hints about how attractive he found Miya, and that he’d like to spend the night with him. When Yoshiki actually came forward and asked Miya to sleep with him, he declined as politely as he could. He’d seen what Yoshiki had done to Shinya and Toshiya and he wanted no part of it. To Yoshiki’s credit, he didn’t push the matter, but this did little to assuage the uneasy feeling that grew at the back of Miya’s mind like a sickness, especially as Yoshiki’s behaviour became increasingly strange. Miya watched him out of the corner of his eye; the older vampire would come home with a child’s toy here, or young girls’ clothing there, pretty little kimonos and hair ornaments. Then he came home with a bird, a lovely white dove in a bamboo cage. Mana made no comment on it when Miya brought it up, but Hisashi certainly found this odd and wondered what Yoshiki was planning next. He was hardly the kind of person to keep small animals as pets, but it was difficult to believe that he would be feeding upon the dove as well. After all, he was the one who had said that living on the blood of animals was a poor existence.
Miya was at the piano playing a mournful, lilting waltz when he heard Yoshiki calling his name. He felt that now-familiar sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach whenever Yoshiki spoke to him, and he stopped playing and turned toward his maker’s voice.
“Look at what I’ve found,” Yoshiki was saying. There was such joy in his voice, such a light in his eyes and it would have pleased Miya to see Yoshiki in such a good mood if only he didn’t know that this surely had to mean trouble: in one hand was the birdcage with the white dove, alive and unharmed, and over his other shoulder was a young girl of no more than ten. She was limp and unconscious. There was blood on her neck.
“Where did you find a little girl?” Miya said cautiously.
“At the river by the bridge earlier this evening,” Yoshiki said airily. “Such an adorable creature. She belongs to the pleasure house there, you know. She loves birds and she was quite taken with this one. She said she would like to be able to fly like a bird when she grows up.”
“My lord Yoshiki.” Miya slowly rose from the piano. The sick feeling of dread had crawled up his chest and began to clutch at his throat. “What do you intend to do with her?”
Yoshiki gazed down at the girl’s face. “What do you think?” The cheerful tone in his voice was gone.
“Of course I will. She’ll be my little dove. My little kobato, Miku.”
“She’s a child.”
“Yes, she will be my child.”
“She’s too young!”
“I’ll do as I wish, Miya.”
At opposite ends of the house, both Hisashi and Mana heard the rising quarrel and emerged to see Yoshiki and Miya screaming at each other, with a young girl cowering and crying in one corner. Mana hurried to the girl’s side and held her tightly in her arms, and she clutched at him and buried her face into his chest.
“Close your eyes, little one,” he whispered to her. “Cover your ears. Don’t listen to them.”
“You cannot do this to a child! That is absolute insanity,” Miya shouted. “You will doom her to an eternity of suffering. Even I can understand that she will forever be an old soul trapped in a child’s body.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Miya?” Yoshiki’s eyes glittered. “Imagine having such a young, supple body to enjoy for all of time. She could give you such pleasure. Could you imagine?”
“No!” Miya hissed. “That’s disgusting.”
Yoshiki gave him a long look and a small smile played at the corners of his lips. “No. You’re right. I won’t change her.”
Miya blinked at his maker incredulously and felt his shoulders relax a little. Was Yoshiki actually listening to him and being reasonable, instead of his usual petulant self?
“I won’t be the one to change her,” Yoshiki said coolly. “You will.”
“What…?” Miya’s mouth felt as dry as paper. He stared at Yoshiki and then at the trembling girl in Mana’s arms. “No. I will not harm her. I won’t lay a hand on her.”
Yoshiki seized him by the scruff of his neck. “You will do as I say!” His voice was so frightfully loud and commanding that Miya cringed, and the girl Miku jumped and whimpered in fear. Mana stroked her hair and whispered soothing words to her while she sobbed.
Miya would not back down. “No!”
A furious Yoshiki raised his hand against Miya but he slapped it away.
“No! You can’t frighten me the way you did Shinya and Toshiya!”
“You dare speak to me like that?” Yoshiki snarled. “I made you and I can kill you just as easily!”
But after years of being a vampire and being surrounded by death, Miya no longer feared it. “Then kill me if you must but I will not harm her!”
“Fine,” Yoshiki spat. He fairly tore the birdcage apart with his hands, grabbed the dove in one hand and Miya watched, horrified, when he squeezed. The helpless creature struggled, flapped its wings frantically and pecked at his hand, trying to escape as he crushed its little body with its fragile bones until the wings stopped beating and he threw the mangled mess of blood and feathers onto the floor. He stormed across the room and there was a high-pitched shriek and a dismayed cry of “No!” from Mana when Yoshiki snatched the little girl Miku from his arms.
“If she’s going to die all the same...” Yoshiki held her aloft by the front of her clothing bunched in his fist.
Miya, Hisashi and Mana stared as Yoshiki brought the screaming girl to his lips and tore her throat open with his teeth. Blood poured from the gaping wound and streamed down his arm, soaking into the tatami. Like the bird, Miku struggled, clawing at the hand that held her, kicking wildly, choking on her own blood until she became so weak that she could no longer fight back. Miya instinctively took a couple of steps back when Yoshiki strode across the room, blood dripping from his lips, and slammed the little girl’s body into the piano that Miya loved so much. He winced at the crash of piano keys, the crack of broken bones and splintering wood, the dissonant notes resonating inside the piano. Bright red blood slowly leaked in between the black and white keys. Glaring at Miya, Yoshiki wiped at the blood on his face with his already bloodied hand, smearing more red across his smooth, pale skin.
Miya just stood and stared at the wreckage, shaking in both rage and dismay. He then lifted his gaze and looked at Yoshiki, Hisashi and Mana in turn.
“What?” Yoshiki hissed.
Miya didn’t answer him; instead he turned to the other two and drew in a deep breath to steady himself. “Hisashi. Mana. Thank you for everything.”
Hisashi nodded understandingly and Mana offered him a small, encouraging smile.
He turned and left Yoshiki’s house forever, with his maker’s last words echoing in his ears.
“Run far, Miya. Don’t let me find you.”
Kobato Miku - Band-Maid
Miya was tired and hungry and dirty, and life as a lone vampire on the road was not easy.
He had left Yoshiki with nothing but the clothes on his back. After some time, these had gotten so dirty and rank that he could scarcely bear to live with himself, and so in the dead of night he snuck into the next village he saw and stole some clothes that had been washed and left out to dry in the warm summer air. They were made for somebody taller than he was, but at least they were clean.
He spent the next several years moving from place to place. He had no destination in mind, the only objective was to remove himself from his maker. For the first few months he never stayed in the same place for more than two nights. He knew that his best chance for survival was in densely-populated areas: prey would be plentiful, he’d be able to find shelter relatively easily, and he could blend in with the locals. He also knew that Yoshiki enjoyed visiting large towns to stalk his prey. So Miya kept away from the larger towns and main roads. It was gruelling work, especially knowing that his life depended on being able to find adequate shelter before dawn. He wasn't quite ready to be turned to dust. He fed upon small animals when he could catch them, or the occasional beggar or travelling merchant should he be lucky enough to encounter these people while he wandered across the countryside by night. As difficult as this was, he thought back on Mana and how it must have been for him, struggling to survive on his own while he barely understood what he was.
At one stage he found what appeared to be a disused stable, so he spent a week there, only to come back to his new hiding place after his evening hunt to find that the owner had apparently returned from wherever they had been. That was an especially miserable time; it was getting close to dawn and there was nothing out here except open fields and some trees, so out of desperation he dug himself a shallow hole—more like a grave, he thought glumly—beneath the biggest tree he could find, covering himself with soil until the sun set. It took some time before he found his stride, living undetected in the space beneath a young family's home for several months before he decided that he should move on. He shared this space with vermin, and he’d feed on the pigs that the family kept if he couldn’t find other prey before dawn. It was enough to quell his hunger but little else, for the pigs smelled of shit and their blood tasted like mud, and feeding upon them didn’t provide that fire that drinking from live humans did. Yoshiki was right. Subsisting on the blood of animals was a poor existence.
It was a few years later that he decided it might be safe to venture closer to Yoshiki’s old hunting grounds around Edo and Chiba Prefecture again, skirting around the area to visit his hometown in Ibaraki. His maker would have either forgotten about him or not anticipated that Miya would come back to this area for fear of retribution. He was out hunting quite late at night, and he spied a thick column of smoke not too far away. Curious, he made his way towards it, cutting a path through the trees. He had nearly reached the edge of the treeline when he noticed a little boy cowering in the bushes.
“You should be at home,” Miya said. “Didn’t your parents tell you that it’s dangerous for little children to go outside at night alone?”
The boy looked up at him with large, frightened eyes. “Papa and Mama told me to hide.”
“They said a bad man was coming.” The boy stood up and tried to take his hand, but Miya pulled away. “Can I go home now?”
“Do as you like. I’m not your mother.” Miya continued on his way and, much to his irritation, the boy followed him.
What he found was a village in ruins: some of the houses were destroyed, others had been set alight. Clearly the village had been raided—bandits, probably—and its inhabitants would have run or been slaughtered. He was surveying the damage when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye.
“Hey, wait! Stupid boy,” Miya swore under his breath and ran after him, grabbing the boy’s arm. “It’s dangerous in there. You could get hurt.”
“But Mama and Papa are in there,” the boy said in a small voice, pointing.
Miya eyed the house carefully and stepped into the doorway. This time he barely noticed when the little boy took his hand. The house wasn’t badly burnt but the doors had been torn off and one of the pillars supporting the roof had collapsed, along with part of the roof itself.
“Mama!” the boy cried, and Miya followed his gaze. Protruding from beneath the fallen roof beams was a sleeve and a hand, and on the floor was a pool of dark, sticky blood.
“Don’t look,” Miya ordered.
“I said don’t look.”
The boy shrank back beneath his glare and obeyed.
Miya moved some of the debris aside. Beneath the wreckage were two bodies, a man and a woman; the boy’s parents, he supposed. Both corpses were headless and looked as though their heads had been torn from their very necks.
“Mama? Papa?” the boy whispered.
Miya chewed on his lower lip and crouched down to the boy’s level. “What’s your name?”
The boy’s eyes welled up with tears. “Tatsurou.”
“Tatsurou, you’re going to have to be a big boy from now on, all right? Your parents are dead. You’ll have to learn to take care of yourself. Papa and Mama are gone.”
“But...” Tatsurou hiccupped. “I’m... s-sca-ared...”
Figuring there was nothing else he could do, Miya got up to leave... and stopped when the boy latched onto him and began to cry. Miya sighed but he had just thought of something else. He went through the house room by room with Tatsurou clinging to him, still wailing. Aside from the wanton murder and destruction, everything else appeared to be intact, namely the valuables. People in small villages didn’t tend to have much, but Miya took silk, jewellery, money, anything he could find. Miya went through each house meticulously, thinking that it was both odd and fortuitous that the bandits hadn’t looted the village.
Young Tatsurou was still following him around, and he was still sniffling, but he had at least stopped crying. He watched Miya carefully roll up these valuables in some old clothing. “Papa always said stealing is bad.”
“Yes, well, the dead people won’t be using these anymore,” Miya said gruffly, slinging his makeshift pack over his shoulder. He had amassed a decent collection of valuables that he was sure he could sell should the need ever arise.
Wide-eyed, Tatsurou watched Miya walking away and thought about this very deeply for a while. He sniffled and rubbed his eyes one last time, and trotted after him.
* * *
Miya was annoyed with his new travelling companion but he wasn’t sure how he could get rid of him, either. His first thought was to just leave in the middle of the night while Tatsurou was asleep, but even he thought that was cruel. He might be a vampire but that didn’t mean that he didn’t have a heart. Then they came across a small house the next evening and he summoned up his confidence to knock on their door while they were taking their evening meal. It had been a long time since Miya had had any real contact with humans.
“Begging your pardon,” Miya said when a man answered the door. “I’m sorry to have to disturb you. But there’s something that I’m hoping you’ll be able to help me with.”
“Of course,” said the man.
Miya wrestled a very squirmy and shy Tatsurou out in front of him. “I found this boy by himself. He’s an orphan. His parents are... his village was raided by bandits. I’m not able to take care of him so I wondered if you would be so kind as to take him in?”
“Oh...” the man looked surprised and knelt down to look at the boy with a smile. “Hello. What’s your name?”
“Tatsu... Tatsurou...” he mumbled, holding onto Miya’s hand tightly and trying to hide his face.
“What is it, dear?” came a woman’s voice from inside.
“This young man has brought an orphan boy,” said the man.
“Oh, the poor thing.”
The couple hesitantly agreed to take Tatsurou in and invited Miya to stay for a meal. Despite his protests, they wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“It’s a long way to the next village and you must be tired,” the man’s wife insisted.
“No, I really can’t stay…”
“Even just for a drink. It’s the least we can offer.”
“Well… perhaps just a drink,” Miya said reluctantly, and allowed himself to be ushered inside with Tatsurou in tow.
“I do apologise, we haven’t introduced ourselves. My name is Teru and this is my wife, Ami,” said the man, bowing.
“Oh, uh,” Miya stammered. He bowed back and Ami laughed when Tatsurou copied him. “I’m Miya and his name is Tatsurou.”
“Welcome to our home,” Ami said warmly. She seated Tatsurou next to their little boy and fetched a bowl of hot miso soup for him. “Tatsurou, how old are you?”
“Five.” Tatsurou fidgeted with his hands and looked at Miya anxiously from across the table.
Miya sipped at his tea and politely refused the food that was offered. The couple were very friendly and Ami took great care to make Tatsurou feel welcome, promising that he would be good friends with their four-year old son, Jiro. Miya made up a story about travelling across the country looking for work, and that that was how he had found Tatsurou.
“You should be careful around these parts,” Teru said gravely. “We’ve heard terrible stories about a village to the east, not two days’ travel away. They say that a lone demon burnt it to the ground and devoured everybody. That wasn’t the village that the boy was from, was it?”
“No,” Miya said quickly when he saw that Tatsurou’s eyes had widened.
“Dear, don’t tell such horrible stories in front of the children,” his wife scolded him gently. “You’ll give them nightmares.”
“I like ghost stories,” Jiro piped up, and Ami shushed him and busied herself trying to clean out the rice that he’d mashed into his hair.
After he’d finished his tea and made sure that Tatsurou had had a good meal, Miya thanked the couple profusely and excused himself, confident that the boy would be in good hands. Teru and Ami would take good care of him, and he would have a playmate his own age to grow up with. A vampire was no fit guardian for a child.
He had not gone far when the door flew open again. Ami’s voice called “Tatsurou! Tatsurou, come back!” and the boy was running after him as fast as his legs would go, calling Miya’s name. He tripped on a tree root and fell, grazing his hands and knees; Miya growled, picked him up and carried him back to the house but the boy clung to him and buried his face in his shoulder, sulking.
“I’m so very sorry,” said Teru. “Once you were gone he said he wanted to go with you, and we couldn’t stop him.”
“He must like you very much,” said Ami, smiling.
* * *
Hand in hand, the two trudged along the dirt path well-worn by wagon tracks. Tatsurou yawned and rubbed his eyes.
“Are you tired?” Miya asked.
Tatsurou shook his head stubbornly.
The vampire looked up at the sky. They had been walking for an hour, perhaps more. He supposed it would be well past the boy’s bedtime. “We’ll find somewhere for you to sleep.”
Tatsurou insisted that he wasn’t tired, but his yawns became more frequent and he began to stumble. When he nearly fell flat onto his face, Miya grumbled and stopped.
“I’m sorry,” said the boy, rubbing his eyes again.
Miya knelt down in front of him and patted his own shoulder. “Come on, then.”
Tatsurou obediently climbed onto his back and Miya carried the sleeping child for another couple of hours. He was big for his age and Miya was glad for the strength that his vampire blood gave him.
Presently he came across a small, abandoned shrine and settled into the darkest, most secluded corner that he could find.
“Why can’t we go to someone’s house to sleep?” Tatsurou asked.
“We did, but you didn’t want to stay with them, remember?” Miya retorted.
Tatsurou hugged his knees and turned his head to avoid Miya’s stern eyes. “I want to stay with you.”
Miya grudgingly let the boy curl up against him.
“Miya,” he whispered. “Is it true that a demon hurt everybody?”
“No. That’s just a ghost story. Go to sleep.”
He waited until the boy was sound asleep, sliding his makeshift pack of valuables beneath his head as a lumpy pillow, and quietly slipped outside to hunt for his next meal.
* * *
Miya had no idea what he was going to do with Tatsurou, and travelling with a human child made things exponentially more difficult for him, but he had to admit that he was becoming fond of the boy. That first time he had left to feed, he’d spent the entire time worrying that Tatsurou might wake up alone and terrified, thinking that Miya had abandoned him. In the end, he returned to the shrine hungry and spent the night sitting by the sleeping boy’s side, holding his hand while he cried through his nightmares.
They visited a couple of small villages in the area and Miya asked the residents if they might spare some food for the child. The people were always very charitable, offering vegetables and dried meat and fish, and some even gave Miya small sums of money to help him buy food. One elderly couple had no money or food to spare, but gave him some books that had belonged to their grandchildren. Miya tucked these into his pack and spent some time each night teaching Tatsurou to read.
He took to hunting early in the evening so that he could find something for Tatsurou to eat; a hen from a farm here and there, fruit from trees and orchards, fish from the stream, the odd rabbit that might be out after dusk. His survival skills from being a soldier certainly came in useful. He would roast some meat over a fire for Tatsurou and once he had eaten his fill, they would read for a while and the boy would settle down to sleep. During the day while Miya slept, Tatsurou would play outside, climbing trees, collecting rocks and stacking them into towers, never straying far from the shrine, or he would sit inside and quietly practise his reading.
Tatsurou was very bright; he asked a lot of questions and seemed to think about Miya’s answers very carefully as though he were turning this new information in his mind around and around until he could understand it and commit it to memory. Inevitably, an inquisitive child like Tatsurou began asking questions of Miya that he found difficult to answer. Why did he sleep all day? Why did he always walk around at night? Why were his hands so cold? There was an old woman who lived next door to Papa and Mama, she always complained about cold hands, was Miya like that, too?
What was really difficult to answer was why Miya never ate anything. He could only say “I’m not hungry” so many times before the boy began to worry, and insisted on watching Miya eat some of the charred fish that was that night’s dinner.
“No, thank you,” Miya said, leaning away from the fish that Tatsurou had shoved into his face. “I… don’t like fish.”
“Papa always says you have to eat even if you don’t like something,” Tatsurou said stubbornly.
Very reluctantly, Miya agreed and Tatsurou watched him like a hawk to make sure he ate it all, so Miya couldn’t even spit it out. Then Tatsurou offered him a misshapen apple.
“No, really, I’m very full,” Miya lied, making a show of patting his stomach. “It was a big fish.”
Apparently Mama had said that fruit is very good for you, and Tatsurou wouldn’t shut up until Miya bit into the apple.
Miya tossed the core into the dying fire. “There. Are you happy?” Already he was beginning to feel ill. Curse the boy’s parents.
“Yes,” Tatsurou said, beaming and giving Miya a hug.
The boy curled up on his little spot on the floor and, once he was sound asleep, Miya slipped out to the back of the shrine and was violently sick.
After that unpleasant experience Miya started telling Tatsurou that he would eat ‘later’. Tatsurou didn’t like this but Miya could be just as stubborn if he wanted to, and he felt an odd sense of achievement when the boy finally gave up.
Soon Miya thought it would be prudent to teach the boy to forage for food so that he could feed himself; nothing as gruesome as trapping game, but he learned where to find edible fruit and vegetation. Catching fish was tricky but the boy persevered, and Miya would clean and gut the fish for him and thread them onto sticks to dry. With Tatsurou being a little less reliant on him, Miya would go out and hunt for himself at night while his young charge slept.
The night was brightly-lit by the full moon and Tatsurou woke up feeling terribly thirsty. He rubbed his bleary eyes and looked around; he was alone, but he was used to that by now. Miya would come back. Miya always came back.
Tatsurou got to his feet and picked up the big stick that Miya had given him, saying that he could use it to scare his nightmares away. He tromped through the grass and trees down to the little stream feeling very brave and grown up and important. He cupped his hands in the cold water and slurped it up noisily, wiping his face with his sleeve.
He had almost reached the shrine on his way back when he heard a short, high-pitched scream that made his skin crawl. He turned around in a slow circle, tightly clutching his big stick for protection, peering in the shadows for scary monsters with glowing eyes and huge claws, waiting to pounce upon little boys and gobble them up, and he longed for his friend who was always there to look after him. Miya wasn’t afraid of anything.
“Miya?” he whispered nervously. He took a few steps forward, always looking around, until he spotted a familiar silhouette. He smiled and broke into a run.
Miya froze and his first instinct was to hide, but Tatsurou had already seen him: a dark stain around his mouth, a dead fox in his hands, its fur matted with blood.
Tatsurou slowed and stopped. His smile faded and Miya looked down at him coldly. “What?”
“What’s…?” Tatsurou pointed a trembling finger at the dead animal.
Miya took one last drink from the fox and tossed its limp body into the grass. “I’m a vampire, all right?”
“Yes,” Miya snapped. “A blood drinker. That’s why I don’t eat your food. That’s why I sleep all day. That’s why my hands are so fucking cold. I’m a monster.”
Miya expected the boy to run away screaming but instead he just stared with a mixture of fear and fascination.
“Aren’t you scared?” Miya asked, irritated.
Mouth open in awe, the boy nodded slightly but he still didn’t run away. They were at an impasse and stood there staring at each other stupidly until Miya shook his head and rubbed at the sticky blood drying on his face.
“Go back to sleep, Tatsurou,” he muttered.
Obediently, Tatsurou took a few steps in the direction of the shrine. “Will you come back?”
Miya turned away and began walking down to the stream.
Teru - GLAY
Ami - Puffy AmiYumi (Teru's wife)
Jiro - GLAY
“Why aren’t you afraid of me?”
The night after Miya’s secret was revealed, they moved on from the shrine with the vampire keen to find more decent lodgings for himself and his five-year old travelling companion. They passed through another village where an old widow gave them some steamed buns wrapped in cloth to keep them fresh and warm.
Holding a bun in both hands, Tatsurou looked up at Miya with a serious, thoughtful expression. After a moment he said, “Because you’re nice to me.”
Miya was stumped. It was hard to argue with that kind of infallible childish logic.
Tatsurou was a little bit afraid, but he was mostly fascinated, and he had that innocent trust that Miya would not hurt him. He’d heard about blood-sucking demons from the ghost stories that the old woman in the village would tell all the children. They were supposed to be fantastically strong and had magical powers. They could transform into cats and bats and snakes, and they could never be hurt or die. They drew their power from the moon but the sun could hurt them.
“Is that how come you always sleep in the daytime?”
“Are you going to eat me?”
“Can you show me your magic?”
“Can you turn into a bear?”
“Just a little one!”
“If I hit you, will it hurt?” Tatsurou held up his big walking stick.
“If you do that, I might hurt you,” Miya said irritably.
Miya thrust another bun into the boy’s face. “Be quiet.”
They kept walking long into the night with Miya carrying Tatsurou on his back when the boy became tired or drowsy, and to his dismay, there was nothing out here: no shelter and no food. It was open farmland with a house and a small barn where they stored some of the crops they’d harvested, but if he were to spend the daylight hours in the barn, he would surely be discovered. He scanned the countryside and spotted a small structure off to one side. Shifting Tatsurou on his back, he made his way over.
It was a stone well. Miya gently set the boy on the ground and Tatsurou woke up when he felt himself sliding off.
“Are we home?” he asked sleepily.
“No.” Miya lifted the wooden cover and peered inside. It was shallow and looked like it had been dry for a long time. Carefully he lowered the pail on its chain into the well and tugged on it. The chain seemed secure enough. “I guess this is where I’m sleeping today. Let me know when the sun has set. And stay away from other people.”
* * *
The well was cramped, it smelled damp and unpleasant, and it became quite warm and stuffy during the day, but at least it was dark. He slept restlessly, waking up every few hours, and began to wonder if Tatsurou had forgotten about him, or if he’d been hurt or kidnapped or...
He looked up when he heard somebody grunting and then there was a series of short scraping sounds. Tatsurou used all of his strength to push the heavy lid aside and he leaned over the edge, and for one panicked second Miya thought that he might topple in head-first.
“Miya!” he whispered loudly. “You can come out now!”
The sky was fully dark so Miya hauled himself out by the chain, hoping he would never have to spend another night down a well.
Tatsurou had found a few small, bruised plums and was snacking on the last of the buns. It was hard and stale and wasn’t enough to fill him up, but he didn’t complain, and Miya had to credit the boy for making the best of a poor situation. Miya, on the other hand, had nothing to eat for the second night in a row. It was too open out here. He’d managed to catch a field mouse but that was little more than a mouthful of blood at best.
On his fifth night of hunger, Tatsurou looked up at Miya worriedly. His friend was quiet and looked unhappy.
“Miya,” Tatsurou said, tugging on his sleeve. “Are you very hungry?”
Miya nodded wearily. He was too tired to bother lying, and pushed Tatsurou’s hand away when he offered him a plum. “I can’t.”
“Oh.” Tatsurou pocketed the plum again. “Can you drink my blood?”
“What?” Miya looked down at him sharply.
Tatsurou pointed at himself. “I’ve got blood too, right?”
“No, Tatsurou,” Miya frowned. “Don’t say that.”
“But you’re hungry,” Tatsurou insisted. “When I’m hungry, I feel bad inside.”
Miya had never felt more like screaming than he did now, but the boy was just trying to help and didn’t know better, didn’t understand what it meant for Miya to drink his blood, so he gritted his teeth and kept walking on doggedly. Soon he was so tired that he had to stop and rest.
Tatsurou was pointing at himself again with an earnest expression and Miya squeezed his eyes shut and buried his face in his hands. It had been too long since he’d had a proper feed and suddenly he remembered something that Yoshiki had said to him: “Your sense of smell will be sharper if you are hungry. This will help you find prey if you are starving.”
He’d been trying to ignore it all night but gods, the boy smelled so damn good to the hungry vampire and he was offering himself to Miya, and now Tatsurou was climbing into his lap and shaking his shoulders, saying his name over and over again, and generally being very annoying, and Miya lacked the willpower and strength to push him away.
Tatsurou whimpered when Miya’s teeth pierced the soft skin of his neck but he didn’t struggle. After skating by on animal blood for a while, it was the most heavenly thing Miya had ever tasted, thick and sweet like honey, and his heart lurched greedily in his chest upon receiving this gift of life. He would have kept drinking if the little hand clutching at his sleeve hadn’t gone slack. He felt a jolt of panic; the boy had turned pale but he blinked up at Miya. He was alive.
Miya hastily licked the blood off his lips. “Stupid boy,” he scolded, but he was awash with gratitude and hugged Tatsurou tightly.
Tatsurou smiled weakly. “Mama always said to help people.”
* * *
Miya felt guilty about feeding on the boy when he was meant to be looking after him. With his strength renewed, he carefully nursed Tatsurou back to health, carrying him on his back so that he wouldn’t have to walk, and going out of his way to search for food.
Weeks later, his luck finally turned when he found a small minka house in Wakayama Prefecture that, judging by the families of rats and pigeons inhabiting the place, clearly had not been used in some time. It was a little closer to the nearest town than Miya would have preferred, but it was the best lodging he’d ever seen. With Tatsurou holding his hand, the duo inspected each room. An owl peered down at them from up in the rafters. It was dirty and smelled of bird droppings, there were holes in the thatched roof, and some of the windows were broken, but the important thing was that it was uninhabited and, for the most part, enclosed. This was home now.
They quickly fell into a routine of Tatsurou spending his days playing outside or looking for food while Miya slept, and Miya would help the boy cook and read with him in the evenings before going out on a hunt. Every night or two he would venture into town to find a homeless person or a drunkard to feed on. Their blood tasted terrible but at least it kept his strength up. The same couldn’t be said for Tatsurou. He never complained but Miya knew he was struggling, and he wasn’t getting the nourishment he needed for a growing boy his age. Miya did his best to hunt for more meat for him, but nocturnal birds and animals were woefully uncommon, and he could only steal hens from nearby farms so many times without attracting attention. He did find a small patch of wild sweet potatoes which he dug up, and he hadn’t seen Tatsurou quite so happy as the first time they roasted the tubers over a fire. With a full belly, Tatsurou curled up to sleep.
He didn’t know how long he had slept, but it was raining steadily and he heard someone speaking. At first he thought it was Miya but the voice was deeper and rougher, and then he felt cold all over when a second voice spoke.
Miya always said to avoid people he didn’t know. Were they coming to take him away? Would they hurt him? Should he run away and hide?
“It’s filthy and smells like shit,” said one voice.
“When did you become such an old woman?” the second man scoffed. “Who cares, it’s somewhere dry to sleep.”
Tatsurou wished Miya were here.
The two strangers were moving around in the house and they were getting closer; Tatsurou cringed in his corner and clutched at Miya’s pack tightly when one of them poked his head into the room.
“Hey!” the man called out to his comrade. “Look, there’s a little boy in here!”
“Eh?” The second man peered inside. “What are you doing here, brat?”
“N-nothing,” Tatsurou said nervously.
“Where’s your parents?”
He didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing.
“Hey, do you have any food?” the second man asked, and then spied the little pile of sweet potatoes. “You’re not using these, right?”
“Leave them alone!” Tatsurou cried, scrambling over and trying to stop them.
“Shut up, runt,” said the first man.
“No, stop it!”
“What’s this?” the second man said.
Tatsurou turned to look and his heart sank. The man had picked up Miya’s pack; he ran over and tried to yank it out of his hands but the man shoved him aside and kicked him in the ribs.
Curled up on the floor in pain and trying not to cry, the next thing Tatsurou heard was a strangled grunt and Miya’s voice hissing, “Don’t touch him.”
It was too dark and Miya too fast for Tatsurou to see much, but the boy heard loud scuffling and screams, and a horrible gurgling sound, and when it finally went quiet, Miya was by his side.
“Are you hurt?”
The familiarity of Miya’s voice calmed him down and Tatsurou buried his face in his chest and nodded.
“Let me see.”
He felt Miya’s chilly fingers lifting up his shirt and cringed away when he touched a sore spot.
“You’ll be all right.” Miya pulled his shirt back down and gave him a pat.
Tatsurou snuffled. “Why did they do that?”
“Sometimes people do bad things.” Miya stroked his hair soothingly. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”
* * *
The men had turned out to be bandits, thieves who robbed merchants and travellers on the road. They each carried a small satchel containing an assortment of items that more than doubled the value of what Miya had: jewels, gold, copper, women’s hair ornaments, pearls, jade and even a small ivory Buddha carved in incredible detail.
Having two grown men in one night was the single biggest feed that Miya had had since becoming a vampire and it was enough to keep him going for a few days, but the five-year old needed food. He was noticeably thinner and less energetic than when Miya had met him. After four nights of unsuccessful attempts at foraging for food, Miya picked up his pack of valuables and ventured into town.
He visited a merchant and sold a few small items, using the money to buy some rice, eggs, and dried salted fish which he hoped would sustain the boy until he could think of something else for the longer term. He sat at an izakaya, eyeing the people around him, seeing who would make an easy meal; not another terrible-tasting drunkard, he hoped. Miya wondered what he would do when he would eventually run out of money and things to sell. He supposed he would have to send the boy away, he thought glumly. Tatsurou would hate that.
While he mulled upon this, he noticed that an old man in his sixties or seventies was staring at him intently. Miya quickly looked away. He felt an uneasy chill. Did this old man somehow know that he was a vampire? If that were the case, he and Tatsurou would have to leave the broken little house that they now called home. Miya looked up again; the old man was looking down into his cup of tea now, and Miya was suddenly struck with a sense of deja-vu. He knew this man. He was much older than the last time Miya had seen him, but the profile of his face still bore the same lines that he remembered.
Miya! Yaguchi Miya!
“Lovely night, isn’t it?”
Miya snapped out of his reverie. “Ah— yes.”
“I love spring. Always reminds me of my childhood.” The old man smiled and it made his eyes crinkle at the corners. “Sorry. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. You look uncommonly like an old friend of mine who died a long time ago.”
“Oh?” Miya said, trying to sound neutral.
“We fought together in the wars with the neighbouring clan. He fell in battle. I… I couldn’t help him.” He blew into his tea and took a sip. His face was solemn. “Miya was a good man.”
“I’m sure he knew that you cared,” Miya said guardedly. “He… he wouldn’t have wanted you to lose your life to save his.”
The old man looked at Miya and smiled, a sad smile this time. “That’s a very nice thing to say. Thank you… I’m sorry, may I ask your name?”
“Er— Masaaki,” Miya said quickly, scrambling for the first name that came to mind. “Iwakami Masaaki.”
“Yoshida Tooru,” said the old man. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Masaaki.”
Tooru ended up inviting Miya home for a drink and, wanting to find out how his old friend had been for the past thirty-something years, Miya accepted.
Tooru produced a bottle of shochu and poured out two cups.
“Thank you.” Miya took a sip. “It’s very good.”
The man seemed very lonely, and Miya was glad to be able to keep him company this evening. Post-war, he had started up a small shochu distillery, producing the liquor in small batches and selling it onto a couple of local izakayas.
Miya reached for the bottle and turned it around. The label read Aoi Mori. “Is this from your distillery?”
“Yes,” Tooru nodded with a humble smile. “But I’m afraid that will be our last batch.”
“I’m getting old,” he said simply. “I have nobody to keep it running when I’m gone. My dear wife died seven years ago, and my only child Daisuke died of consumption three years ago.”
Miya bowed his head. “I’m very sorry.”
“It’s all right. We were very happy together. That’s the most important thing, in the end.” Suddenly Tooru chuckled. “I don’t know what’s come over me. I didn’t bring you here to tell sad stories. I just feel like we’re very old friends already.”
They both lapsed into silence for a while. Tooru reached for the shochu bottle; Miya shook his head politely so Tooru topped up his own cup.
“I’d like to buy it,” Miya said quietly.
“Eh?” Tooru cocked his head. “Don’t be foolish, I’m more than happy to give you a bottle. My gift to you for listening to an old man going on and on, hm?”
“No, I don’t mean the shochu,” Miya said when Tooru got up to fetch another bottle. “I’d like to buy the distillery.”
The old man turned and stared down at Miya, open-mouthed.
“If you’ll permit me, I’d like to keep the distillery running for you.”
“That’s very kind of you but that’s not nec—”
“Please?” Miya’s expression was serious. “I would like to do this. As a friend. We are friends, aren’t we?”
Tooru sat back down, stunned. “I… don’t know how to… thank you.” His eyes began to fill with tears but he did his best to smile. “Masaaki, thank you. Thank you so much. This will make the workers so happy.”
Miya shrugged the pack off his shoulder and spread out its contents on the floor. “Here is your payment.”
“No!” Tooru shook his head. “Aoi Mori is only a small distillery, it isn’t worth all of this. I can’t accept it. I won’t.”
“But you must,” Miya insisted.
“No,” the old man said firmly. “If you think of me as a friend, you’ll not force me to take what isn’t due.”
“I’m not leaving unless you do. You’re to take this and tell the workers that you are not shutting down production.”
Tooru sighed and looked down at the wealth of silk and jewels and precious metals before him. “You are just as stubborn as my friend Miya, young man. I will accept half—”
“—I will accept half.” Tooru bowed to Miya and his forehead touched the floor. “That will me more than enough to cover the distillery and last me for the rest of my life.”
Why does everything I write revolve around alcohol when I pretty much don't drink lmao
Miya and Tatsurou worked very hard for the next few months cleaning up and mending their house. Miya enjoyed having a sense of purpose for the first time in decades. The rats and pigeons were evicted; Tatsurou took it upon himself to collect armfuls of wildflowers to make it smell nice; and with the warmer nights of summer coming, they left the doors and windows open to let fresh air circulate throughout the house. Miya was no carpenter but he patched up the roof and what he could of the broken windows, and it was better for him to have less light coming into the house. Everything was cleaned: the old tatami were done for so he pulled them up and polished the wooden floorboards underneath. Old bits of wood and ash were swept out from beneath the stone stove in the kitchen, and Tatsurou helped Miya carry pail after pail of water from the creek just down the slope so that they could give the little bathroom a good scrub. Miya sold some of the silk and precious metals and used the money to buy a variety of household goods, including a couple of futons, and taught Tatsurou how to cook rice and boil eggs. The night that they were able to heat up some water over the stove to wash themselves, they felt like kings. With a safe place to live and a reliable source of food, the youngster thrived.
In August, Tatsurou turned six and Miya surprised him with a sweet treat from a taiyaki vendor in town. Tatsurou was so thrilled with this that he wrote Miya an adorable thank you note, sneaking into Miya’s room during the day to leave it by his pillow. When Miya woke up that evening, he unfolded the sheet of paper and couldn’t stop smiling at the picture Tatsurou had drawn of himself eating taiyaki bigger than his head.
With the new funds from Miya’s generous donation, Aoi Mori provided them with a share of the modest profits and as production increased again, they began to sell their product to more drinking establishments within a year. Miya made sure to visit Tooru once a month to check up on the old man, always bringing Tatsurou with him. They quickly became the best of friends; Tooru would sometimes let Tatsurou have a sip of shochu with a piece of candy when they thought Miya wasn’t looking and the two, old and young, would giggle wildly when Miya asked what was so funny.
Winter crept up on them the year that Tatsurou turned eight. Miya loved winter. The cold didn’t bother him, the days were shorter and the nights were longer. Tatsurou was quickly outgrowing his clothes so Miya bought him some new winter clothing and they went for long walks or played in the snow, and he taught him how to set snares for trapping game.
After a few more years of this idyllic lifestyle, Tatsurou asked Miya a very uncomfortable question: “Would you ever turn me into a vampire?”
Miya looked up and gave Tatsurou—now twelve years old—a hard stare. He still fed upon the boy occasionally, but the idea of changing anybody was simply out of the question, especially a child. “Why do you ask?”
Tatsurou shrugged. “I thought… maybe I could find out who killed my family and avenge them.”
“Hm.” Miya turned his attention back to the rabbit he was skinning. A trickle of blood ran down his wrist and he licked it up. “It was probably just rogue ronin going around ransacking small villages. I don’t think we’ll ever find out who it was.”
Dissatisfied, Tatsurou just grunted.
That night when Miya was feeding from him, he noticed that Tatsurou’s behaviour was a little unusual. He stopped and pulled away.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
“No. Nothing,” Tatsurou sighed. He was lying across Miya’s lap with his eyes closed, head thrown back to expose his throat, and he was biting his lower lip.
“If you want me to stop feeding on you…” Miya started to say, but Tatsurou shook his head.
“No. I don’t mind. Keep going.”
Eyeing him cautiously, Miya lowered his head and resumed drinking very slowly, inhaling his scent as he did. Tatsurou’s breathing deepened, his pulse quickened, his brow furrowed. A small moan escaped from his lips and his back arched ever so slightly. He likes it, Miya thought. He’s enjoying it a lot.
And even though he didn’t quite realise it himself at the time, Miya was enjoying it, too. He enjoyed it beyond the usual satisfaction he gained from feeding on a human and his own heart beat in time with Tatsurou’s. The boy’s scent was slowly becoming increasingly alluring as he grew older. This wasn’t something that Yoshiki, in all his experience, had ever mentioned. But he probably wasn’t the type to keep an adolescent alive long enough to notice the changes, either. Miya drank slowly and pulled him close, almost purring with delight when Tatsurou’s hands crept up and tangled in his hair… and then Miya stopped, swallowed hard and let go.
Tatsurou opened his eyes and sat up, touching the wound on his neck. “Is that all?”
The vampire nodded, avoiding eye contact with him.
“Miya…” Tatsurou hesitated. “What if I asked you to change me?”
Miya gave him a long look. The boy’s face was serious. The red bite marks on his throat stood out against his skin.
Miya got up and left the house, and didn’t return until just before dawn while Tatsurou was fast asleep.
* * *
Miya avoided Tatsurou as much as he could the next night. His mind was a jumble, not only because of Tatsurou’s admission about wanting to become a vampire, but the realisation that he was growing up. The little boy who used to like holding his hand would soon become a man and Miya was ill-equipped to deal with a boy going through puberty. He barely remembered being a teenager himself or how his own parents had handled it. Not that that could have ever prepared him for a situation as unique as theirs: a vampire raising and feeding on an adolescent who was approaching sexual maturity. After all these years, Miya still relished the deep sensuality of drinking from a live human, the feeling of being so intimately connected to another, but until now, he hadn’t stopped to think about how this might affect the person from whom he fed.
It crossed Miya’s mind to ask Tooru for advice on raising an adolescent, but the old man had been unwell lately and Miya was loath to give him something else to worry about. His age was catching up with him and he was easily confused, often regressing to calling him ‘Miya’ instead of ‘Masaaki’. Miya had long since given up on correcting him for he hated to see Tooru upset. So he and Tatsurou tiptoed around each other until the youngster finally approached Miya while he sat by the open front door, watching the rain soaking the lush green grass outside.
“Are you angry with me?” Tatsurou asked softly.
Miya turned to face him. “Why do you want to be like me?”
Tatsurou sat down on the floor next to him. “Because... you’re strong and nobody can hurt you. Because somebody hurt my family and I want to find them and make them pay for it.”
“That won’t bring your family back. What’s done is done.”
“I know that. But whoever it was deserves to be punished and if I’m as strong as you are…”
“You have no idea what it’s like, Tatsurou.”
“Of course I know what it’s like. It doesn’t scare me.”
“That only shows how foolish and ignorant you are, otherwise you would be afraid.”
“I’ve lived with you for most of my life, I’ve seen what you—”
Miya felt his patience wearing thin. “Do you know why I left the one who made me? He tried to force me to change a girl against her will. She was about your age. Still just a child and he would have used her for his own pleasure. I refused and he killed her.”
“This is different, nobody’s forcing, I’m asking—!”
“Miya, please?” Tatsurou begged.
Miya took a deep breath and looked him straight in the eye. “The answer is no.”
Tatsurou wasn’t daunted though. He tried to get Miya to feed on him more frequently, but Miya refused to do it more than once a week, leaving Tatsurou feeling sexually frustrated without quite understanding why. He began staying up later into the night and sleeping more during the day, but it was difficult for him to adapt to this new sleeping pattern. He wasn’t able to break the habit of waking up with the sun, no matter how little sleep he had gotten the previous night, becoming exhausted and confused, and it filled Miya with a kind of smug satisfaction when he finally fell back into a more natural sleeping routine.
One night Tatsurou accidentally cut his finger quite badly on a kitchen knife; when Miya caught him sucking on the blood, his immediate reaction was to punish him and he cuffed the boy a little harder than he meant to. Tatsurou was so shocked that he had slunk off to bed, foregoing dinner altogether. Later that night, Miya heard him crying himself to sleep. He felt bad about that. Striking somebody out of anger was something that Yoshiki did, and Miya was better than that. He hoped he was, at any rate.
He stood outside Tatsurou’s door for a long time, trying to think of what to say. After a while he gave the door a light tap. “Tatsurou? May I come in, please?”
His reply was a soft, hiccupping sob and Miya tentatively slid the door open to find him curled up beneath the covers. He knelt down beside him and gently stroked his long black hair.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “It was wrong of me to hit you. You don’t deserve that. You have every right to be upset with me.”
The only response he got was a stony silence with the occasional little sob.
Miya sighed. “Show me your hand.”
Tatsurou stayed under the covers but his injured hand came out. He’d bandaged it up himself very clumsily with a handkerchief. Blood had soaked through the cloth so Miya carefully removed it and examined the wound. If he hadn’t already fed earlier that night, he might have found it harder to resist the smell of fresh blood. The wound looked sore but at least the bleeding had slowed. He put the handkerchief aside and bandaged the wound up again with much care, cradling Tatsurou’s hand in his.
There was a long sniffle and young Tatsurou emerged from the covers to hug Miya tightly, burying his tear-stained face into his shoulder. Miya rubbed his back soothingly.
“I’m so sorry, Tatsurou,” he whispered. He didn’t know how to tell him that he cared about him too much to put him through the deep pain that came with being a vampire. He wanted what was best for Tatsurou, and that meant protecting him from these horrors. He had spent the last seven years doing his best to raise this child and he wasn’t about to undo all of that hard work by turning him into a monster like himself. He wasn’t about to do what Yoshiki had tried to force him to do all those years back. He would not become his maker.
* * *
Tatsurou never gave up on the idea of becoming a vampire. Every year on his birthday he would ask Miya to change him. Each time, Miya would flatly refuse and walk away. They went on with their lives and Tatsurou would ask him the next year.
Miya watched the boy grow up before his very eyes; Tatsurou was as tall as his guardian by the time he was fourteen and he probably still had room to grow, Miya thought sourly. The summer that Tatsurou turned sixteen, he came home with sad news for Miya: old Yoshida Tooru had died. He handed Miya small parcel wrapped in cloth that someone at the distillery had given to him. Enclosed was a letter and a little wooden box of candy that Tatsurou had loved as a boy.
My heart is failing, and doctors tell me that I shall not live to see out the year. I am not unhappy, though. I’ll be seeing my beloved wife and son again, and I know that because of you, Aoi Mori is in very good hands. The distillery simply wouldn’t be what it is without you.
Please tell Tatsurou that Uncle Yoshida has had to go away to a far away place, but that he sends his love. I don’t want to frighten him; he’s still young, he won’t understand. I wish that he will grow up big and strong, and that you will live long and happy lives together. If I never see you again, know that I have died a richer man for having you as a friend.
“Miya, are you all right?” Tatsurou asked softly.
Miya was standing there clutching the letter in his hands. He hadn’t even realised that he was crying.
This was the first time he had really been touched by the mortality of the people around him. He looked at Tatsurou; ten years ago he was almost half the size he was now, and Miya knew that he was doomed to watch him grow up into a man, and, someday, he would die. That would hopefully be many decades away, but still…
The letter fluttered onto the floor and Miya held Tatsurou tightly.
Tatsurou hugged him back. “I’ll miss Tooru, too.”
Miya said nothing and just nodded. He couldn’t bring himself to explain that, as saddened as he was by Tooru’s passing, that wasn’t what truly worried him. He knew that it would be wrong to change Tatsurou just because he was afraid to see him die, but a tiny part of him said that maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea after all. This wouldn’t be a passing flight of fancy the way Yoshiki took his companions; Tatsurou was important to him.
Tatsurou wisely gave Miya some space for a couple of nights and in this time, Miya made his next decision. He told Tatsurou that he was going away for a little while, and he took a large sum of money with him.
“Where are you going?” Tatsurou asked anxiously. “You’re… you’re coming back, right?”
Miya gave him a small smile. “I always have, haven’t I?”
“How long will you be gone?”
“I don’t know.” Miya gave some money to Tatsurou. “Use this to buy food for yourself while I’m away.”
Tatsurou had no choice but to trust that Miya knew what he was doing; he wasn’t given to impulsive behaviour. He busied himself keeping their house tidy and he ventured into town each day for fresh food. He was used to eating alone but it seemed eerily empty without knowing where Miya was.
It was two weeks later when Miya returned and announced that he had purchased a sweet potato farm to help increase production at Aoi Mori. He was determined to turn it into a success for Tooru’s sake. Miya’s investment soon paid off and the little distillery began selling as fast as they could make the liquor, turning bigger profits than before. The two of them lived very comfortably in their little house.
Every couple of months or so Miya would leave for a few days to visit the farm with the knowledge that Tatsurou was old enough enough to look after himself. At seventeen, he was almost a head taller than Miya and was starting to grow out of his awkward, lanky phase. He enjoyed going to izakayas for a quick drink and a snack; he knew that he shouldn’t really be drinking alcohol at his age but he had learned enough from Tooru and Miya to know his limits, and he rarely had more than one or two drinks. There was something different about tonight, though. Maybe it was something in the air or in the water, but he began to notice that people—mostly women—were looking at him a lot. Was there something on his face? Was he dressed strangely? He didn’t think so, but he couldn’t help being self-conscious about it, and so when a gorgeous lady approached him with the most sultry smile he’d ever seen, all he could do was blush and stammer.
“Uhm, can I help you?” he gulped, looking around nervously.
“Well, young man, perhaps I can help you,” she countered. “What’s your name?”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tatsurou.” The lady bowed and then took his hand. “I am Ageha.”
“Ageha… like the butterfly?” he blurted out.
She laughed, and it sounded like music. “A clever one, aren’t you? Now, Tatsurou, what would you say if I offered you the best time of your life?”
“Uh…” was all Tatsurou said. He had no idea what she meant, and he was also too busy staring at her breasts peeking out provocatively from her kimono. The need to keep Miya’s secret meant that he was reluctant to open up to people and make friends. He had no experience with women; growing up, the only prominent figures in his life were Miya and Tooru, so this was new and exciting for him. He felt very hot and bothered all over when she stroked his hand lightly.
“How much money do you have on you?” Ageha asked.
“M-money?” Tatsurou fumbled for his drawstring pouch.
“Tell you what,” she went on. “If this is your first time, I can give you a discount.”
A very curious and naïve Tatsurou followed Ageha to a large house on the outskirts of town. The sign read Yuri to Tsubasa and there were a lot of men and women loitering outside, talking to each other and exchanging money. She led him down a corridor with all sorts of noises coming from behind closed doors that made him feel simultaneously uncomfortable and excited in much the same way as when Miya fed on him. Was this a secret house of beautiful female vampires feeding on male guests? No, the hand that held his was warm.
Ageha ushered him into a vacant room, slid the door closed and offered him a drink of sake to help him ‘relax’. He was so nervous that he gulped it down. She slowly undressed him, letting her fingers dance and tease along his skin, and she did the most amazing things to him with her hands, things that up until now he had only explored by himself on a very rudimentary level, and it was so, so much better. He let himself go far too early but he didn’t care or even know, he’d never felt anything quite like this and happily paid the sum of money that was requested. It was late by the time Ageha tidied him up and escorted him back outside.
“If you enjoyed that,” she whispered in his ear, making him shiver. “Come back any time. I can show you much, much more.”
Buoyed by ecstasy, Tatsurou returned to the empty house and cooked himself a simple dinner of rice and pork. He gave himself a quick wash and changed into his yukata, crawled into his futon and slipped a hand beneath the folds of cloth, trying to remember and mimic what Ageha had done to him earlier that evening. It took a little while but he finally got it right, feeling the pleasure rise and explode within him. It made him feel sort of dirty, but he liked it as well, and he fell asleep feeling very, very good.
Tatsurou returned to the pleasure house the very next night. Ageha was nowhere to be seen and the man outside the door said she was busy, but they showed him to another pretty lady who called herself Suiren. He gulped down more sake while Suiren slowly undressed herself and she let him touch her before helping him disrobe. That was almost enough to make him climax, but he managed to hold on until she settled him down on the floor and caressed him all over. She handled him skilfully, just as Ageha had, but then he felt something hot and wet over his length; his back arched, his hands clenched and his head swam with pleasure. Gasping for air, he forced himself to look down at what Suiren was doing to him. Gods, he didn’t even know that women could do that with their mouths.
He was pleased to see Ageha again on his third visit to the pleasure house. The fee would be higher this time, she said, but it would be worth it. And gods was it worth it. She pleasured him with her hands and with her mouth, just enough to bring him to the edge, and just when he thought he couldn’t handle it anymore, she sat astride him and he felt her delicate hands touching him, guiding him and oh gods he was inside her and it was so hot and tight, squeezing him so deliciously as she moved on top of him, her back arched beautifully, her eyes closed, those full, red lips slightly open while she moaned, and she took his hands and encouraged him to touch her breasts, and he echoed these moans and thrust up into her over and over. He’d never felt so good in his life. As before, she helped him get cleaned up and then he had his first kiss with a whore.
When he returned home that night, Miya was back and he felt ashamed. Somehow he felt that he couldn’t speak to him about what he’d been doing and it felt disgraceful to have to keep secrets from Miya. Even though he had already washed up at the pleasure house, he quickly slipped into the bathroom and washed himself again with scalding hot water, scrubbing himself all over, and he went to bed burning with embarrassment.
But Miya noticed. He noticed it in Tatsurou’s scent the second he stepped through the door, and when he fed on him, he could taste it in Tatsurou’s blood. He tasted richer, sweeter, stronger. Something in him had changed, just as it had when he first reached puberty. And for a long time he couldn’t figure out what had triggered this change.
Tatsurou felt that it would be wrong to visit the pleasure house while Miya was around, although he wasn’t sure if it was any better to sneak around while Miya was away. But he was a young man whose body was changing and he started feeling very restless, so after nearly a year of sneaking around behind Miya’s back, he decided to wait until the vampire had left for a hunt and slipped out of the house, heading straight for Yuri to Tsubasa.
Ageha had more sake for him this time and he let himself a little too much fun. It was getting expensive but he had the most glorious time drinking with her, kissing and touching her, fucking her. Just before he was about to reach his climax, she stopped him and let him slide out of her; then she took his length in her hand and gave him a few quick strokes and he ended up pouring himself all over her breasts in white ribbons. That was the filthiest and most erotic thing he had ever seen and he loved it.
When he realised how late it was, he got dressed in a hurry and staggered home to find Miya sitting at the entrance of their house, waiting for him with that piercing gaze of his.
“Where have you been?” he asked coldly.
“What?” Tatsurou blurted out.
“You heard me. Where have you been?” Miya looked him over critically. Tatsurou was obviously drunk and he stank of alcohol and sex.
“Nowhere. Just… out.”
“Don’t lie to me, Tatsurou.”
“I was in town, all right?” Tatsurou shouted.
“Where did you go?”
“None of your business!”
“You are my business,” Miya retorted. “I’m responsible for your well-being.”
“Why?” Tatsurou snapped. “Who are you? You’re not my mother or my father.”
“No, I’m not your parents,” Miya said scathingly. “They’re dead and I have cared for you since you were five years old, remember?”
“How long have you been visiting whorehouses behind my back?” Miya’s voice grew dangerously soft. “I raised you better than that.”
“Maybe if you had actually raised me better, I wouldn’t have to visit these whores!” Incensed, Tatsurou punctuated this with a shove to the chest and Miya pushed him right back.
“I just want to know how long you’ve been wasting our money like this.”
“Don’t touch me!” Tatsurou slapped his hands away. “Why do you care? It’s not like you need the money!”
“That’s not the point,” Miya snarled.
“You’re just jealous,” Tatsurou hissed.
Miya laughed harshly. “Why would I be jealous?”
“Because I have something that you can’t have.”
Miya gave him another shove, harder this time so that Tatsurou reeled backwards and his back slammed against the wall. The two of them glared at each other, breathing hard, and then Tatsurou advanced and grabbed Miya by the front of his shirt. Miya expected Tatsurou to hit him and was ready to retaliate, knowing that he could seriously hurt him if he did. He was not ready for Tatsurou to kiss him, but the teenager had found Miya so fiercely beautiful and irresistible and somehow the only way he could vent his frustration was to kiss him. Miya’s lips parted and he kissed him back and the most disarmingly delicate moan escaped from Tatsurou’s throat. Miya bit down on his lip, just enough to draw blood; Tatsurou whimpered a little and this seemed to wake Miya up. He pushed Tatsurou away and they stared at each other, stunned at what had just happened.
Tatsurou touched his lip and looked down at the blood smeared on his fingers. “Miya, I’m sor—”
He stopped when Miya took his hand, gently sucked the blood off his fingers, and reached up to kiss him again. Tatsurou didn’t try to stop him, not when Miya tenderly kissed his broken lip, tasting his blood, and especially not when Miya pushed him back against the wall, pressing their bodies together.
Melting into the kiss, Tatsurou threaded his fingers through Miya’s hair and this gave the vampire pause. The detached part of his mind recalled the time he’d first become aware of their mutual arousal when he fed on Tatsurou. Was this simply misplaced, pent-up sexual frustration? He was at that age, after all. And what if he hurt Tatsurou? What if this would destroy the close relationship that he’d nurtured for all these years? He’d had so much to drink that it coloured the taste of his blood; what if Tatsurou was too drunk to understand what was happening?
Tatsurou’s eyes fluttered open. “Miya,” he whined softly. “Please…”
He looked up at Tatsurou, head thrown back, a drop of red on his lip glistening in the soft light of the lanterns. Tatsurou was burning with lust and that made the smell of his blood intoxicating. Miya closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.
Tatsurou wasn’t thinking about whether vampires could do it or how they did it, all he could think was how much more he wanted, he wanted Miya, wanted Miya to touch him, use him, drink from him and make him feel good, and by the way he was holding and kissing him, Miya wanted him, too. The ladies at the pleasure house didn’t touch and kiss him like this. No, what they did there was just a performance; this was real. Tatsurou felt dizzy and his knees were weak, and if he hadn’t been so preoccupied with Miya’s delicious kisses and their short, gasping breaths and the way their bodies rubbed against each other through their clothes, he probably would have laughed at how perfect this was.
If Tatsurou thought he had experienced pleasure before, that was nothing compared to the way Miya took him. He moaned for Miya on his hands and knees, completely at his mercy, and damned if the noises Miya was making didn’t make his blood boil with excitement. They were fucking like animals, Miya’s hands digging into his hips or his shoulder, sometimes pulling his hair, and Tatsurou felt just that little bit abused but loving every moment, loving the feeling of being owned. And then Miya shifted and white hot pleasure burned in Tatsurou—oh god yes right there—and they kept going until he reached his climax and came hard, spilling himself onto the smooth wooden floorboards, Miya’s cold skin warmed up by his own, and he thought that they were done but Miya kept going, more slowly this time, more sensuously, making sure that Tatsurou could feel his every move. Tatsurou wasn’t sure that he could take much more; he was too inexperienced, he’d never been taken like this before, never gone on this long and he was too sensitive and he almost wanted Miya to stop, but all he could manage was a long moan of desire when something switched inside him and the arousal began to build again, and instead of begging Miya to stop, he found himself moaning for more. He felt a cool hand sliding around his body, holding him firmly, and then there was an intense flood of pleasure intermingled with pain as Miya thrust hard inside him and bit his neck, drinking from him, and this had Tatsurou releasing a second time.
After a brief rest, Miya got up, tugged his clothes back on and walked away, leaving Tatsurou feeling alone and rejected. He slowly dressed himself, and, not knowing what to do with himself, just sat there on the floor. His mind was whirling. He knew that his relationship with Miya had changed but he didn’t know what that meant for Miya or himself. He could hear Miya moving about between the kitchen and the bathroom, and after some time Miya returned.
He turned towards Miya’s voice.
“Go and wash up. I’ll clean up in here.”
Tatsurou blushed, too embarrassed to look at the mess he’d made on the floor. He glanced at Miya but his face bore an inscrutable expression, so he kept his gaze on the floor and slunk away to the bathroom.
He sat on the little wooden stool and washed the sweat and sex off his skin, scrubbing every inch. Presently there was a tap on the door.
“May I come in?”
Despite what they’d done, Tatsurou felt another rush of embarrassment. He hadn’t been naked in front of Miya since he was about six years old. “Y-yes.”
The door slid open. Miya was carrying a tub of steaming water, fresh from the stove, and he poured this into the big wooden tub. Tatsurou watched him going to and fro but Miya never so much as glanced in his direction. Finally the vampire sat beside the full tub and dipped a hand into the bathwater.
“I… is this warm enough?” Miya asked quietly. “I’m sorry, I don’t know how you take your bath…”
Shivering a little, Tatsurou got up and tested the water, swirling it around. “It’s good.” It was too hot, actually, but he got in anyway. “Thank you, Miya.”
“You’re welcome.” Miya got up to leave so that Tatsurou could have some privacy, but he stopped when he heard the water sloshing followed by a muffled sob. Tatsurou was sitting in the steaming bath, hugging his knees. He stared hard into the water and his jaw clenched as he struggled not to cry.
Miya frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Instead of answering, Tatsurou buried his face into the crook of his arm and he cried, his whole body racked with sobs so that he didn’t notice Miya climbing into the tub with him until he felt a pair of arms around him.
“Tatsurou?” Miya rested his forehead against the young man’s back.
“I’m s-so conf-f-fused.”
Miya closed his eyes and nodded. “You were right. I should have raised you better. You’ve… you’ve probably figured out that I have no idea how to raise a child or a teenager and… for all I know, I’ve likely ruined you for life. You should have stayed with that nice family and grown up like a normal boy.”
“No!” Tatsurou protested. “You taught me to read and write and how to take care of myself, and what’s wrong and what’s right. I’d be dead without you.”
“Yes, but you’ve grown up now,” Miya said patiently. “Your body’s changed and I should have been guiding you. Instead you had to go to a whorehouse to learn about your own body. And then I went and made things worse by taking advantage of you, exactly like they did.”
“N-no you didn't,” Tatsurou whispered.
When Miya sighed, there was a bitter note to it. "Do you know how old I am? I'm eighty-five years old. Old enough to be your great-grandfather."
Tatsurou buried his face in his arms again, this time out of embarrassment. “Miya, I… I wanted you to. I liked it. E-especially at the end when you… you…” He stopped. His face burned. He wanted to ask if Miya had liked it too, wanted to ask what this all meant for them but he didn’t know how, so he said nothing. Instead, he let Miya run his fingers through his long black hair and tie it up. It felt nice.
“You’re important to me, you know that? If it weren’t for you, I’d still be a lone monster wandering the countryside attacking people. When you leave me and have a family of your own, I hope I’ll…” Miya swallowed. “I hope I’ll still be able to see you from time to time.”
Tatsurou’s shoulders stiffened and his heart clenched in fear. What was Miya saying? Was he kicking him out?
“I don’t want to leave,” he said in a small voice. “Miya, please don’t make me leave, I’ll stop going to… I’ll be good, I promise, just please don’t...”
Miya chuckled a little but he sounded sad. “Stupid boy. I’m not making you leave. But one day you’ll find someone and fall in love and you’ll want to have a life and family of your own. I know you won’t want to stay with me forever.”
“Of course I do.”
“You’re only eighteen. I was nearly twice your age when I was changed. All I’m saying is that you never know.”
“No,” Tatsurou said stubbornly. “I do know. I’ve known since I was ten years old.”
Miya was quiet but he let his hands run over Tatsurou’s skin. He’d been too rough with him, he thought ruefully.
“Does this hurt?” He gently touched one of the bruises on his hip.
Tatsurou shook his head. “No.”
“And this?” A bruise at his shoulder.
Miya touched the bite marks on his neck, still raw. “And this?”
Tatsurou sighed. “No.”
Water sloshed out over the edge of the tub when Miya pulled Tatsurou against him, cradling his body against his own and gently mouthing at the bite marks, not biting, just teasing, encouraged by the way Tatsurou leaned into him and tilted his head to the side.
“You like this, don’t you?” he murmured.
“Yes,” Tatsurou whispered, but he didn’t like it; he loved it, and now he knew that Miya liked it too.
They usually slept apart—Miya during the day, Tatsurou at night—but tonight Miya kept him company while he slept, and Tatsurou stayed with Miya long into the morning until his stomach started growling. If they were truthful, they had no idea what they were doing. They were more than friends, not quite lovers. Whatever it was, this bond was theirs and theirs alone. This grew quite naturally into a mutually beneficial arrangement; Miya had clean, healthy blood to feed on, and Tatsurou had the physical intimacy and affection that his body craved, with somebody he cared about and who also cared for him. They needed little else besides each other.
Despite what Miya thought, Tatsurou knew that he wasn’t ever interested in leaving to find ‘a life of his own’. This was his life. He made sure to eat hearty, healthy meals with plenty of meat and vegetables. He knew he needed to keep his strength up; it wouldn’t do if he couldn’t keep up with Miya’s appetites and the last thing he needed was for Miya to tire of him and send him away. He needn’t have worried, though; Miya still refused to change him, but he never said no to a feed and a night of passion.
The year that Tatsurou turned twenty was a big year for him. On his birthday, Miya presented him with an important-looking document.
Miya tapped the bottom of the document. “If you sign here, you’ll be the new owner of Aoi Mori. If you want to be.”
“Don’t you want it anymore?” Tatsurou looked at him cautiously. The distillery was Miya’s baby and he couldn’t imagine Miya ever giving it up.
“I’m not giving it up,” Miya said as though he had read his mind. “But I think you will do a better job.”
“Oh. Why me?”
“Because you’re an adult and I know I can trust you. It will be good for the workers to have a human boss as well.”
Tatsurou thought about this for a few moments and then carefully read over the document before signing it. It reminded him of the way little Tatsurou used to think long and hard about things Miya told him, like why he mustn’t kill living creatures for fun, or where the sun went at night, or why Miya was so much shorter than Papa (that one had annoyed him more than he cared to admit). Watching this young man, Miya smiled and thought that perhaps he had raised him right, after all.
Within his first year of being the new owner, Tatsurou sank a lot of money into making the distillery a bigger success. He knew how important Aoi Mori was to Miya, as well as old Yoshida Tooru, and was determined not to let either of them down.
Under Miya’s guidance, his first step was to find a better facility. The current premises was fine for small-scale production but their drink was becoming more popular, with greater demand from drinking establishments; the workers, toiling day and night, couldn’t keep up and their stores were running low. With Miya’s help, Tatsurou sourced and purchased a building that was fed by an underground spring, making it perfect for production. A bigger facility naturally called for more staff. And the new facility was also not far from a sweet potato farm, which they also purchased to further supplement stock. Most of their shochu was shipped within a year of production but Tatsurou wanted to try setting some aside to mature for longer, three years perhaps, and branding it as a premium product.
Miya watched this all proudly, glad to see Tatsurou stepping up and taking on this new responsibility like a mature adult. To show him how much he appreciated this, Miya took him for a trip to the bustling city of Osaka. They loaned a couple of horses from the farm and rode for three nights, stopping by small inns during the day, until they reached the city. This was an eye-opener for Tatsurou; he’d spent most of his life in their little house with its little town and had never seen anything like this. It was new for Miya as well; the last time he’d been in this area was well before he met Tatsurou and it had changed significantly in that time.
They retired to a nice inn and Tatsurou enjoyed a long soak in the tub. He’d eaten well that evening and was feeling good. He dried off and slipped on a yukata, tying it loosely about his waist, and found Miya out on the balcony overlooking the garden. Tatsurou joined him, standing just close enough for their shoulders to touch.
“Miya,” he said softly. “Are you hungry?”
Miya knew that this wasn’t so much a question as an invitation. Tatsurou’s scent was rich and enticing. He looked at Tatsurou and reached up to untie his hair, letting the long, silky black locks fall about his shoulders. Tatsurou shivered beneath his touch when Miya slowly undid his yukata, his chilly fingers skimming over his skin, still warm from his bath. Miya gently pushed him onto the floor and Tatsurou tugged at his clothes impatiently. They’d been so busy with the distillery that they hadn’t done this in some time. Miya gazed down at the young man with dark eyes and began to kiss his neck. Tatsurou had missed the feeling of Miya’s body against his own and moaned softly when the vampire bit down and began to drink.
* * *
They stayed in Osaka for four nights and Miya couldn’t help smiling to see Tatsurou so happy. They put everything aside and just enjoyed their little holiday, relaxed to be away from work. Tatsurou was practically glowing with confidence and happiness and Miya found this utterly irresistible, and they would make love for hours every night.
On their final evening in the city, Miya noticed Tatsurou walking with a slight limp. He reached out and grasped his arm, frowning. “Are you all right?”
Tatsurou looked mildly surprised. “Yes, of course. Why?”
Miya’s expression softened. “Am I hurting you?”
“What? No…?” Tatsurou said, puzzled, and then laughed when he realised what he meant. “Oh… I’m just… well, you’re so… and I uhmm just sore,” he mumbled, red in the face.
Seeing him blushing and babbling like that made Miya laugh, and he made a mental note to be more gentle next time.
Miya soon wished that he hadn’t been so relaxed, though. They’d lived in peace for so long that he had completely let down his guard. Tatsurou was gleefully ordering one of everything at an izakaya when Miya suddenly grabbed his hand so hard that it hurt.
“Ow Miya, what—” He looked up and saw that Miya’s lips were pressed into a thin line, and his eyes were cold and hard. Tatsurou followed his gaze to a beautiful man with long, golden hair, sitting on the other end of the izakaya, smiling at them in a way that Tatsurou found a little unsettling.
“Who is that?” Tatsurou whispered.
Miya said nothing but he did remove his hand. The pair watched cautiously as the golden-haired man whispered a few words to his pretty female companion and got up, sauntering in their direction.
“Hello, Miya. Fancy seeing you here,” he said pleasantly.
“Yoshiki,” Miya said with a curt nod, and the mention of this name made Tatsurou cold all over.
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Let’s see…” Yoshiki started counting on his fingers.
Yoshiki looked down at Miya, surprised. “Really? That long? That makes me so sad.”
Tatsurou wisely kept quiet but he noticed the way Miya’s posture stiffened when this Yoshiki gently stroked his hair.
“It’s been too long,” Yoshiki said kindly, still stroking Miya’s hair. “Come back to us. We’ve all missed you terribly.”
“That’s nice.” Miya pushed Yoshiki’s hand away. He wasn’t paying attention to what Yoshiki was saying. He was scanning the faces in the room, trying to see who else was here.
Yoshiki sighed and set his eyes on Tatsurou. “And who do we have here?”
“Nobody,” Miya said, but his heart sank when he saw the bite marks just peeking out from the collar of Tatsurou's haori.
“Of course,” Yoshiki said softly. He had seen the bite marks, too. Anyone else might mistake it for a scratch or an insect bite, but not another vampire. He touched Tatsurou’s neck very lightly and Tatsurou managed not to cringe. “He has your scent all over him and you haven’t changed him. That’s so sweet. Is it love?”
Miya bristled at this but Yoshiki had already withdrawn his hand. “I’d really like to stay and catch up, but I have somebody waiting for me. Please consider coming back to us, Miya. You’re always welcome, you know. You can bring your ‘friend’ if you like.”
As soon as Yoshiki had returned to his female companion, Miya quickly paid for Tatsurou’s meal. “We’re leaving.”
Tatsurou nodded and they hurried away without a backwards glance. Back at the inn they packed their things and the commotion in saddling up their horses woke up the stable boy from his nap. The ride to Osaka had been a leisurely one but tonight Miya kept them at a smart pace.
“Miya,” Tatsurou called out. He worried that it was getting close to dawn, but Miya was on tenterhooks, determined to put as much distance between them and Yoshiki as quickly as possible and always looking about to see whether they were being followed.
The sky was starting to lighten. Miya glanced up and kicked his already tired horse, urging it into a faster gait. There was an inn ahead that they’d stayed at during the ride up. The first rays of the sun were beginning to rise over the treetops when they dismounted.
“Go,” Tatsurou pushed him toward the door.
Miya nodded and disappeared inside.
Tatsurou sighed and led both horses into the stable. The groom showed him to two empty stalls and Tatsurou spent some time rubbing them down and making sure they were comfortable. They deserved a good rest.
The middle-aged woman at the front of house pointed Tatsurou to a room on the upper floor and he tiptoed up the stairs to avoid waking the other patrons. When he opened the door, he was greeted by the glare of bright morning sunlight pouring in through the windows, and a pile of futons and blankets and pillows thrown on the floor.
“Miya,” he whispered.
“In here,” came his muffled voice.
Tatsurou carefully drew the shutters and opened the closet door by a few inches.
“Made it just in time,” Miya said with a wry smile.
Tatsurou squeezed into the dark, narrow space with him. “That was the one who made you, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” Miya murmured. “I honestly thought I would never see him again. Or I hoped I wouldn’t. I suppose it’s foolish to believe otherwise, though.”
“He seemed… not so bad… a little creepy, maybe…”
“That’s only because he wants me back,” Miya said darkly. “Yoshiki doesn’t want anybody unless he can use them.”
“Then why didn’t he just take you?”
“He was alone. He didn’t want to do anything in front of so many people.” Miya shifted to get comfortable and rested his forehead against Tatsurou’s chest, inhaling deeply, seeking comfort. “Besides, he already had somebody he could use. Did you see the woman he was with?”
Exhausted by the long ride, they both slept for several hours until Tatsurou quietly got up to buy some food for himself. If anything, he figured they would be safe from other vampires, dangerous or otherwise, during the day. When the sun went down, he saddled the horses and roused Miya at dusk for another long night of riding.
Tatsurou was pleased to be back at home in Wakayama, but Miya remained watchful for the next two weeks. He would go for long rides at night, watching for any activity, alert to any familiar scents, while Tatsurou slept alone. Miya finally gave up when nobody came for them. Tatsurou returned the two horses to the farm and made the long trek home on foot with no incident.
* * *
The Aoi Mori distillery continued to flourish; a couple of izakayas in Osaka carried the brand and this was slowly growing. Tatsurou decided that they had outgrown the little house they’d lived in for the past decade and a half. Inspired by what he’d seen in the big city, he purchased a much larger, European-styled house for them, fancy western-styled clothing, two horses, a pure black mare that he called Shion and a big bay gelding named Sekisou. Miya’s concerns that Tatsurou craved more human contact were realised when he hired three house staff: a cook in his late-20s named Hiro, and two 10-year olds named Satochi and Yukke. Hiro had worked for wealthy people before and took it all in stride, but the two boys were new to this so they were guided by Hiro and Tatsurou.
This all seemed very superficial to Miya, and the new clothes a little ostentatious, and he mentioned this one evening. “Why do you need servants? Can’t dress yourself?” He laughed at his own joke.
“Miya, live a little! We’re not poor anymore.”
Miya shook his head but he let Tatsurou have his way. Tatsurou still took business with the distillery seriously, and there were far worse things for him to be spending money on. In any case, it didn’t make any difference to Miya; he didn’t need to be dressed or fed.
Miya was initially wary of these strangers, but he soon relaxed when Tatsurou introduced the boys to him. They were orphans just like he was, and Miya felt a little swell of pride at Tatsurou’s thoughtfulness.
“Satochi and Yukke… unusual names,” Miya remarked once the boys had retired to the servants’ quarters.
Tatsurou chuckled. “They grew up together, you know. Their real names are Satoshi and Yusuke, but apparently Satochi couldn’t pronounce them properly when he was little. So ‘Satochi’ and ‘Yukke’ stuck.”
The older boy, Satochi, wasn’t the brightest, but he made up for this with enthusiasm, while Yukke was a little on the sensitive side but he worked hard. Both boys fit in well with the household and, with Hiro’s help, Tatsurou did his best to nurture them the way Miya had done for him.
“How come we never see Master Miya except at night?” Yukke asked Hiro one day. The two boys were in the kitchen with the cook, learning about food and cooking so that they could be more useful around the kitchen. Miya sometimes liked to join them for dinner in the evening, never having more than a glass of wine or shochu, but unlike Tatsurou, he was noticeably absent during the day.
“That’s not a question for us to ask, young man,” Hiro replied.
“How come?” Satochi asked.
“We were hired by Master Tatsurou and we do what he asks,” said the cook, ever the professional. “Anything else is not our business. Now, make sure you rub the salt all over the meat like this. Then we’ll hang it up to dry and cure, and it will keep through the winter without going bad. Would you like to try?”
Yukke said that he would, then Satochi said that he wanted to do it first and pushed Yukke out of the way and made him cry. Hiro sighed and made a mental note to have a firm word with the older boy about bullying and sharing again.
Being children, the boys quickly forgot what Hiro said and a couple of days later at breakfast, Satochi decided to ask Tatsurou.
“How come we never see Master Miya in the daytime?” the boy piped up, oblivious to the stern What did I tell you before look that Hiro shot him.
Tatsurou just laughed. “He’s a busy man and he works at night, so he has to sleep during the day.”
“What does he do?” Yukke asked. “How come he can’t work in the daytime like normal people?”
“What does he do?” Tatsurou folded his hands in his lap and gave Yukke a serious look. “He hunts ghosts.”
It became a little game between them that even Hiro joined in on. Whenever the boys asked where Miya was or what he was doing that caused him to be up at night and sleeping during the day, it was always something different: he was out hunting witches, or robbing graves, or picking up stars that fell from the sky. Of course Miya thought this was all rather silly but it was otherwise harmless and it kept everybody happy. They were so preoccupied with competing with each other in making up the most ridiculous tall tales that they largely forgot about the reason they were asking in the first place.
Later one night Tatsurou found Miya brushing down the black mare after having returned from a visit to the distillery.
“How is everything over there?” Tatsurou asked, scratching Shion behind the ears.
“Very good. There’s some very promising talk about another buyer in Osaka.”
“That is very good,” Tatsurou agreed.
“What’s the story today?” Miya asked.
“With the boys? I told them you were in the capital.”
“Taming the emperor’s pet dragon. Apparently that ferocious beast isn’t afraid of anyone except you.”
Miya chuckled. “You could just tell them I’m working at Aoi Mori overnight, you know.”
Tatsurou gave him a big, exaggerated shrug. “Miya. Please. Where’s the fun in that?”
By the time they got back to the house, the boys were helping Hiro tidy up the kitchen.
“Master Miya, how come you never eat with us?” Satochi asked. He was dripping water down his arms and all over the floor.
“Satochi, that’s not polite,” Hiro scolded him, and Yukke stuck out his tongue when the adults weren’t looking.
“It’s all right, Hiro,” Miya said, smiling at the boy. “Do you really want to know?”
Yukke and Satochi nodded vigorously.
“It’s because I’m a vampire.”
Satochi’s eyes grew wide. “Is that true?”
“Yes,” said Miya, shooting a quick look at Tatsurou who bit his lip, unsuccessfully trying to suppress a snort of laughter.
“Nooo, that’s scary!” Yukke complained.
“That’s right,” Hiro nodded. “If you two scamps don’t finish those dishes soon and go straight to bed, Master Miya is going to drink your blood!”
Yukke and Satochi shrieked with laughter with Hiro started grabbing them by the shoulders and tickling their necks, sending water and soapy foam flying everywhere.
Tatsurou sidled up to Miya and leaned in close. “Hungry?”
Miya just smiled and headed for the stairs.
“Yes, Master Tatsurou?” He gave the boys a pat on the back to tell them that play time was over for now, and they went back to washing the dishes, still giggling and flicking water at each other.
Tatsurou turned to follow Miya. “You have the house to yourselves. Miya and I are not to be disturbed.”
We finally meet Satochi and Yukke! And Hiro, MUCC's first bassist.
Time goes by and Satochi and Yukke were now adults helping Hiro around the house. Satochi also tended to the horses, and Yukke was a great help assisting Tatsurou with some of the administrative duties to do with the distillery. Life was very comfortable.
Now a young man of 21, Satochi looked up from cleaning out Sekisou’s hooves. “Yes, Master Tatsurou?”
Tatsurou smiled. “You know you don’t need to call me that.”
Satochi smiled back. “I know, but you like it, so…”
“Have you seen Miya?”
“Last I saw, he was feeding the fish.”
Miya turned his head slightly when he heard Tatsurou’s footsteps over the stone path.
Tatsurou sat down beside him and watched the sliver of the moon rippling on the water’s surface.“Do you know what it is the day after tomorrow?”
“It’s my birthday.”
Miya sighed and got up to leave, but he stopped when Tatsurou grasped his hand.
“Miya, I know what I want. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life and I have been asking for this every year since I was still a boy. I’m not a child who wants a puppy one day and a kitten the next.”
“I only wish that you were,” Miya said. “Then this wouldn’t weigh so heavily on my heart.”
“And it weighs on my heart that you continue to refuse me. It makes me feel that I’m not good enough for you.”
“You know that isn’t true,” Miya said reproachfully. “Don’t you think I see how happy you are spending time with Hiro and Satochi and Yukke? You have a wonderful life. How can I live with myself knowing that I’ve taken all of that away from you forever?”
Tatsurou took his hand away and looked down at the water. “How old were you when you were changed?”
“What has that got to do with anything?”
Miya sighed. “I was in my early thirties. Over sixty years ago.”
“I’ll be thirty. Almost as old as you were. If you could entrust Aoi Mori to me when I was twenty, why can’t you trust that I know what I’m asking for now?”
Miya broke their gaze and looked away. “Why do you want it so much?”
“When I was young, I wanted to find out who killed my parents. I do know that it would be impossible to find out who it was. It’s been too many years.” He glanced at Miya sideways. “But then after Tooru died, I… I understood why you were so sad. I realised that that’s going to happen to everyone else in your life, that will be me someday, and I don’t want to die without you. I want to stay with you forever.”
For Miya, these words were like a stab in the heart. “Forever isn’t just a word. Forever means eternity. Eternity.”
“I know that.”
“I’ve told you about what happened with Shinya, haven’t I?”
“Yes, you have. But I’m not Shinya and you’re not Yoshiki. Shinya didn’t have a choice but I do.”
Miya slowly stood and began heading back to the house.
“Miya,” Tatsurou pleaded.
“Let me think about it.”
* * *
Tatsurou was in the bathroom when there was a knock at the door.
“Tatsurou?” It was Yukke.
“You’re needed at the stable.”
“By whom?” Tatsurou frowned. He’d just started getting comfortable in the tub and was looking forward to a nice, quiet birthday dinner and a good night’s sleep after spending the day at Aoi Mori.
Tatsurou paused. “Did he say why?”
“No,” Yukke said. “I… I didn’t ask.”
“That’s all right.” Tatsurou reached for a towel. “Tell him I’ll be right down.”
“Ah, his lordship has finally arrived,” Miya said with a smile when he finally arrived with Yukke in tow.
Tatsurou stopped short. Both horses were fully saddled and bridled. “What’s going on?”
Astride the black mare, Miya looked down at Satochi and Yukke. “Tatsurou and I are going away for a few days.”
Tatsurou narrowed his eyes. “We are?”
“Any business with Aoi Mori can wait until we return.”
The two young men acknowledged Miya’s request with a short bow and watched them ride off into the night.
Tatsurou knew Miya well enough to tell when he needed some quiet, and this was one of those times. He was clearly deep in thought and Tatsurou was content enough to be riding beside him to wherever they were going. The only sounds were the horses’ hooves on the dirt road and the occasional jingle and squeak from their tack. After some time Tatsurou began to recognise certain landmarks along the way: they were headed to the house that they first lived in when he was still a boy. He glanced at Miya, who just gave him a small smile and they kept riding.
It was another hour before they finally reached their destination. The house had long since been boarded up but Miya removed these with little trouble and slid the door open.
Tatsurou stepped inside; it smelled stale but it was otherwise as they had left it. “Why did you bring me here?”
“I thought I would bring you to a place where you’d feel safe. Somewhere with warm, happy memories.” Miya looked at him gravely. “Are you serious about becoming like me?”
Tatsurou stared at him for a moment, open-mouthed, and then strode across the room to sweep Miya into a tight hug. “Yes. I’ve always been serious about it,” he murmured into Miya’s hair. “Are you really going to do it?”
Miya nodded. “Tonight.”
“Tonight. If you’re prepared to lose everything.”
“What have I got to lose?” Tatsurou laughed.
“You’ll be forced to hide during the day,” Miya said. “You’ll never be able to see the sun or enjoy food or life as you’ve known it. Your friendship with Satochi and Yukke will have to change. You’ll never be able to have a relationship with a human or have a family. Eternal life exists only in the dark. In order to gain something, you must lose something.”
“You are my family,” Tatsurou reminded him. “I’ll still have you, won’t I?”
“But is that enough? Is that a sacrifice you’re willing to make?”
“There’s a lot to lose.”
“There’s a lot to gain.”
Miya held him with a cool gaze. “It won’t be pretty, you know. You know how everybody says that dying is like going to sleep and never waking up?”
“This isn’t going to be like that.”
Tatsurou returned his gaze, calm and utterly assured. “And I know that you will be there for me, like you always have been.”
Miya was quiet then, and he sat down on the floor, leaning against the wall by the open door. It had begun to rain lightly. “Do you remember our first time together?”
A little smile twitched at the corner of Tatsurou’s mouth and he joined Miya on the floor. “How could I forget? Eighteen and fresh from a brothel, and I came home to have you yell at me and fuck my brains out.”
“If I recall, you kissed me and begged for it.”
“Only because I knew you were hard for me. Disgraceful at your age.”
“I’m not the one who was getting off on being fed on at age twelve,” Miya retorted, and they both laughed.
“Miya,” Tatsurou said. “What’s it like being with a vampire? Is it better than being with a human?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Miya said wryly. “I managed never to become Yoshiki’s lover, but that’s not for his lack of trying.”
“Oh.” Tatsurou would never say it out loud but deep down, a glimmer of pride swelled in him to know that Miya would willingly be with him, a mere human, than submitting to the charms of a beautiful and powerful vampire like Yoshiki.
Tatsurou leaned in close and they shared a chaste kiss until Miya broke away and pulled Tatsurou flush against his body. Tatsurou leaned into him, his back to Miya’s chest. Miya drew his arms around him and pressed a soft kiss to his neck.
Tatsurou swallowed. His heart was thundering in anticipation. “Do it,” he breathed.
At first Tatsurou was writhing and purring in the throes of ecstasy while Miya drank from him. No matter how many times they did this, it always felt good, but Miya kept drinking far, far beyond the point where he would have stopped and soon Tatsurou’s pleasure turned to suffering, his fingers digging into Miya’s arms as he held him, clenching, struggling, uttering short groans of pain through clenched teeth, and Miya wept while he drank.
Stop! he screamed at himself. If you care about him, stop now! You’re killing him!
But when he did stop, Tatsurou shook his head. “No, you said you would. You said!” he hissed through clenched teeth. “I’ve waited twenty years for this, don’t you dare…”
So he kept drinking until the hands that held onto Miya in an iron grip gradually loosened, pawing at him ineffectually and then went slack, falling away to the side. Miya felt that same stab of panic as he did the first time he had fed on Tatsurou as a boy. He was barely conscious and his heart was little more than an irregular lurching in his chest, trying in vain to cling to life while the rest of his body was close to dying.
Miya opened up his own wrist and a thread of thick, bright blood flowed onto Tatsurou’s dry, pale lips. He drew his tongue across his lips to lick it up and Miya held his wrist to Tatsurou’s mouth, still cradling him, and encouraged him to drink. Tatsurou drank deeply and hungrily the way a kitten suckles at its mother, gazing up at Miya through clouded eyes until he’d had what he needed and Miya took his wrist away, mouthing at the wound until it healed itself over. Tatsurou fell back, his lips and face stained red. He lay limp on the floor with his head tilted to one side, his eyes blank, not seeing or hearing or comprehending, not breathing.
Then it began.
It was painful for Miya to watch. He could still vividly recall the time when six-year old Tatsurou had eaten some sort of toxic plant, having been attracted by the bright red berries. The boy had been so violently ill that he couldn’t even drink water without bringing it back up, and Miya had felt incredibly helpless, cradling his small, limp body, terrified that he would die like this. Or the time he had fallen out of a tree and cut his leg so badly that it became inflamed, and seven-year old Tatsurou had burst into tears, thinking that they might have to cut the entire leg off. Then there was the time a dreadful fever took him; Miya had stayed by his side day and night without leaving to feed, soothing his brow with a cold, wet cloth. This was worse than all of those combined because he had done this to Tatsurou. It was worse than his own mortal death, worse than watching Shinya slowly starving himself to death out of sheer loathing for what he had become, worse than watching Yoshiki tearing that little girl to pieces while she was still alive. Miya held Tatsurou while the vampire blood consumed and poisoned him, his body contorting and spasming, writhing and groaning and thrashing, clawing at his chest and throat. Every scream tore at Miya’s heart. Why did I do this?
Tatsurou’s entire body seized up and he began to retch and choke, and Miya had to rouse himself to clarity. He pushed Tatsurou over onto his side and blinked back tears as he purged himself onto the grass just beyond the door, heaving and gagging over and over again, his hands clutching at the wooden floor in a death grip, leaving deep gouges in the wood. When the purging finally ended, Tatsurou was slumped over the doorstep, limp as a corpse. The rain soaked into his hair and clothes. Miya lay him on the floor on his back. He placed a hand on his chest: there was no heartbeat and it frightened him.
Oh gods, what have I done?
Miya was plagued with doubt. What if Tatsurou wasn’t the same person anymore? What if he hated being a vampire? Sure, he would love the novelty at first but after ten, twenty years, would he realise his mistake? Would he grow to resent Miya for what he’d done to him? There was no starting over. Tatsurou would be damned for all eternity and Miya would be forever cursed with a deep hatred from somebody that he cared for.
Tatsurou coughed and choked, gasping for breath like he was drowning. A gentle hand caressed his cheek and a voice, Miya’s comforting voice whispering his name. Tatsurou fought to steady his breathing and forced his eyes open. He looked up at the ceiling. He was on the floor with his head cradled in Miya’s lap.
“Is it… is it over?” he croaked out hoarsely. “Am I…?”
He blinked several times to clear his vision and reached up to touch Miya’s face.
“Why… crying?” He brushed away a stray tear that rolled down Miya’s cheek and along his jawline.
“I’m sorry.” Miya squeezed his eyes shut and another tear escaped. “I’m so sorry.”
“I’m so sorry Tatsurou.”
Tatsurou coughed a few times and tried to roll over onto his side to sit up, but Miya eased him back down again. “Why?” Another cough. “I asked for this, remember?”
Miya nodded mutely. Tatsurou tried to get up again and his time Miya let him. He swayed a little and sat back down, looking down at his own hands.
“How do you feel?” Miya asked.
“I’m not sure…” Tatsurou said, still staring at his hands. “I think I feel different but… I don’t know. I can’t describe it.” He glanced around the room and blinked hard several times, looking confused.
“Everything looks strange.” Tatsurou rubbed his eyes, looked around, rubbed his eyes some more. “Is there something wrong with my eyes?”
“No. They’ve just changed, like the rest of you has.” Miya grasped his shoulders lightly and turned him toward the door. “Here. Look outside.”
Outside, the rain was letting up and was now a gentle patter. With an expression of wonder, Tatsurou watched the tiny droplets falling from the sky like a shower of stars and jewels. “It’s so… beautiful,” he whispered, as though he were afraid of breaking the spell if he spoke out loud. “Does everything look so amazing when you’re a vampire?”
“It does, at first,” Miya said. “Then you get used to it.”
“If you say so…” The fledgling vampire reached out with one hand to feel the rain, smiling with the innocent awe of a child seeing something for the first time.
This made Miya smile as well, and then he remembered. “Oh… Tatsurou, I’m sorry.”
“I told you, don’t be sorry. This is what I wanted.”
“No, it’s not that,” Miya said. He looked guilty. “It’s just that I’ve already failed you as your maker. When I was changed, Yoshiki brought fresh blood to me for my first feed and I haven’t done that for you.”
“Oh,” Tatsurou blinked and then smiled. “That’s all right. We don’t have to do that right now, do we? I mean, I don’t feel hungry—”
He was cut off when Miya pulled him into his arms.
“Miya? Are you all right?”
Miya pressed an affectionate kiss to Tatsurou’s forehead. “I’m just glad that you’re still you. I hope you stay that way. I was so afraid I’d ruin you.”
“You could never.” Tatsurou let Miya hold him, breathing in his comforting scent. “You smell different. You smell… really good.”
His maker gently caressed his face. “You can feed on me if you like.”
Tatsurou’s eyes widened. “Really? You can do that?”
“I don’t see why not. I know of other vampires who have fed on each other in times of need.”
Tatsurou swallowed hard; the prospect of feeding on him was thrilling, and when Miya tilted his head up as an invitation, exposing his pale throat, Tatsurou closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Excitement rippled through him when he pressed his lips to Miya’s neck, felt him tense up a little in anticipation, and when his teeth pierced the skin, hot blood pooled into his mouth, rich and heavenly. When he swallowed it felt like liquid gold running down his throat, firing up his heart, warming his body from the inside out, and gods it made him feel closer to Miya than ever and there was no doubt in his mind that he had made the right decision—
“Stop. Stop, Tatsurou,” Miya breathed.
Tatsurou swallowed his last mouthful and reluctantly did as he was told, but not without first licking the wound clean the way Miya always did for him. It sent a shiver of pleasure running through Miya.
“That’s enough for now. You’ll need to learn when to stop.”
“Did I hurt you?” Tatsurou’s brow furrowed and he gently touched the bite marks on Miya’s neck. They were already beginning to heal.
“No.” Miya reached up and wiped away a smudge of blood from Tatsurou’s lip with his thumb. “But now I understand why you liked that so much.”
* * *
The next night Miya took his fledgling on his first hunt. Tatsurou felt a little awkward in his ‘new’ body and after Miya showed him the cracked floorboards, he was reluctant to touch anything for fear of breaking it. Miya told him what Yoshiki had taught him at the time about cats: silent predators choosing and stalking their prey with great care. Miya started him on a young man on his way to supper at a ramen shop with a friend. The two vampires befriended the pair easily and, on the way home, drank from them. It filled Tatsurou with new life and he embraced it with glee, and it brought back some of the joy for Miya as well.
“Can we try that again?” Tatsurou asked eagerly.
They found a small, quiet izakaya but the only other patron there was a heavily intoxicated elderly man.
“What about that one?” Tatsurou whispered to Miya, who shook his head.
“Too old and too drunk. Easy prey, but he’s bound to taste bad.”
Tatsurou was fascinated by this but before he could ask more, one of the staff brought some complimentary tea and edamame to their table.
As soon as Tatsurou reached for the bowl, Miya put a restraining hand on his. “Don’t eat the food.”
“You can’t eat like a human anymore. It will make you sick.”
An overconfident Tatsurou smiled blandly. “So what? It’s just a little stomach ache.”
Ten minutes later he was outside behind the izakaya, throwing everything up.
“I tried to warn you.”
“Thank you.” Tatsurou coughed and spluttered, trying to get the taste of bile and stale blood out of his mouth.
“Just think about how I felt when you forced me to eat your food.”
“When you were little, before you found out what I was, you made me eat some food because you were afraid I was hungry. You wouldn’t shut up until I gave in.”
Tatsurou laughed weakly. “Is this karma, then?”
“You could say that,” Miya grinned. “Stupid boy.”
* * *
Upon their return, Satochi, Yukke and Hiro quickly noticed that something had changed and they began to whisper amongst themselves. They couldn’t quite put their finger on it but Master Tatsurou looked… different somehow. There was something incredibly dark about him, and he was now following Master Miya’s schedule of sleeping during the day and rising at night.
“It’s not our place to question them,” Yukke insisted, remembering what Hiro often told them. “We are treated well here; all we need to do is what we are asked to do.”
Hiro agreed. “Perhaps Master Tatsurou is working the night shift at Aoi Mori,” he suggested. “The way the business is growing, I’m sure there’s a lot to oversee.”
None of them could come up with a reason why Tatsurou never took his meals anymore, though. The first morning after their return, Hiro had wondered why Tatsurou didn’t join them for breakfast and sent Yukke upstairs with a bowl of rice, some pickled daikon and a piece of grilled mackerel that he’d purchased from the wet market early that morning. Yukke had knocked on the door and called out to Tatsurou, but when he received no answer he left the food outside his door. When he returned hours later, the food had not been touched.
Miya and Tatsurou joined them at the dinner table every evening and while Tatsurou still seemed to be himself, joking and talking and discussing Aoi Mori business, he never ate anything. Once dinner was done, he and Miya would always leave together and sometimes they would hear them coming home in the wee hours of the morning.
Miya and Tatsurou were keen to try new things with Aoi Mori and suggested they expand their product line to include umeshu; with a little trial and error, this would be relatively simple given the quality of the existing shochu base that would be required, and Wakayama was well-known for its ume plums. Tatsurou thought this was an excellent idea and tasked Yukke and Satochi to lead this venture. This kept them occupied while they experimented with recipes and aged different batches for anywhere between six to twelve months, but the drastic change in their employers’ behaviour was always at the back of their minds. There was a definite tension between them and the masters of the house.
Unlike Yoshiki, Miya and Tatsurou never brought their prey home although very occasionally they would skip a night of hunting in favour of staying at home and enjoying each other. Miya no longer had to worry about hurting him or permanently marking him, although he sometimes thought that they might wake the rest of the house, for Tatsurou loved being overpowered by his smaller but much stronger maker.
“I’m worried about them.”
“Hiro and the others?”
“Mmm…” Tatsurou murmured, partly in response to Miya’s question and partly because Miya was licking the raw bite marks on his neck while they healed.
“I often wonder if we won’t be forced to tell them the truth before they become so anxious that they leave us.” Miya sat up in bed. “It would be a shame to lose them when we’ve become so fond of them, but that’s what happens to creatures like us.”
“I know, I know,” Tatsurou said quickly. He didn’t need Miya preaching about the drawbacks of being a nocturnal blood-drinker again. “But how does one even broach the subject?”
“Well.” Miya paused to think about it. “I think it’s important to stress how much we value and respect them. The very idea of harming any of them is unthinkable in every sense of the word but if they wish to leave, we will not stand in their way.”
Tatsurou nodded. “I should hope it doesn’t come to that. After all, you haven’t so much as offered an unkind word to them in the entire time they’ve been with us. Realistically, why should they have anything to fear?”
“Realistically,” Miya agreed.
They were quiet for a little while until Tatsurou began teasing at Miya’s neck, letting his teeth graze along his skin until Miya pushed him down and kissed him.
* * *
“Hurry up and finish peeling the potatoes, Hiro will be home from the market soon and he’ll want to start cooking!”
Yukke shot Satochi an irritated look. “I’m almost done. What’s the hurry? He’ll need to braise the meat for at least an hour first.”
“You know how he likes everything to be prepared just so,” Satochi said.
Yukke grumbled and his attention back to the potatoes.
“Hey,” Satochi said.
“You ever hear those noises coming from upstairs at night?”
“What noises?” Yukke reached for another potato.
“You know.” Satochi grinned and wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. “I swear Miya and Tatsurou are doing it.”
“I couldn’t sleep all last night and didn’t hear a thing.”
Satochi rolled his eyes. “Obviously not last night, with Miya in Osaka. But he should he back tonight so I think they might.”
“So what? That’s between them.” Yukke paused. “Don’t tell me you want in.”
“No, no!” Satochi said hastily.
“You want to watch?”
“No! Gods, you pervert, only you would think of that!”
Yukke shrugged. “Then who cares as long as they’re enjoying it? They’re adults, they can do what they like.”
“Hey,” Satochi said mischievously. “What if they’re both sleeping during the day because they’re up all night f—”
He was interrupted by a voice calling them from outside.
“Told you,” Satochi said, and he wiped his hands on a dishcloth and went outside to meet Hiro.
But it wasn’t Hiro calling them.
“Hello, Hizumi,” Satochi greeted him. They were well-acquainted with the man for they always bought their tea leaves from him and occasionally he would make deliveries to their house if he was in the area. “What brings you here?”
Hizumi was out of breath and frantic. “It’s Hiro! He’s been in a terrible accident, you have to come quickly!”
Inside the house, Yukke immediately dropped what he was doing and bolted outside, running after Satochi and Hizumi down to where the road ran alongside the fast-running river.
“Oh god!” Yukke cried. “What happened?”
Hiro lay on the grassy riverbank, soaked to the bone with blood all over his head and face.
“I don’t know, I got here and saw your horse without a rider, so I caught him and then I saw Hiro face-down in the water! He must have hit his head, there was so much blood when I pulled him out!”
The bay gelding was tied to a tree; his ears lay flat against his head, his eyes were wide and he was snorting and prancing skittishly, tossing his head and trying to back away even as Satochi did his best to calm the frightened animal.
Yukke rushed to Hiro’s side. His skin was pale and clammy, almost blue, and he wasn’t breathing. “Hiro! Can you hear me? Oh god…” He looked down at the blood smeared on his hands. “What should I do?!”
“I don’t know!” Still trying to hold the horse’s head steady without being hurt himself, Satochi looked around helplessly. He gritted his teeth. “Get Tatsurou!”
Yukke sprinted back up the road and burst into the house, taking the stairs two at a time and shouting Tatsurou’s name as he went. He banged on the door. “Tatsurou! Tatsurou you have to come, Hiro’s had a terrible accident, I think he’s dying! Tatsurou!”
He pounded on the door with his fist and was about to open it himself when the door cracked open.
Tatsurou looked very pale. “What’s happened?”
“It’s Hiro!” Yukke gasped. “I think he was thrown and he’s drowned, I’m scared he’s dying!”
Tatsurou followed him downstairs and Yukke ran outside, but Tatsurou stopped short at door. The sun hadn’t set completely but a blanket of dark grey clouds covered the sky. Could he…?
Yukke was shouting at him again, so he threw caution to the wind, steeled himself and ran outside.
It didn’t burn immediately, but he could still feel the stinging in his skin it as he ran down to the riverbank after Yukke. Satochi and Hizumi hovered over Hiro anxiously.
“He’s not breathing!” Satochi said in a panicky voice. “I don’t know what to do!”
Without hesitation Tatsurou gathered Hiro into his arms, lifting the man as easily as one picks up a small child. He clenched his teeth—the burning feeling was starting to get painful now—and ran for the safety of the house with Satochi and Yukke, followed closely by Hizumi leading the horse by the reins.
Hizumi quickly put the horse in his stall and left, while Tatsurou lay the unconscious Hiro on the floor in a corner away from the windows. He stood up, breathing hard not from exertion but from the panic.
“Can we get a doctor?” Satochi asked anxiously.
Yukke shook his head. “A doctor won’t be able to come in time!”
“Well we can’t just leave him like this!”
The two of them continued shouting over the top of each other and Tatsurou tried his best not to panic. Yukke was right; by the time they’d be able to ride out, find a doctor and bring him home, Hiro would be dead if he wasn’t dead already.
“We can’t just do nothing!”
“I know that, Satochi!”
“Oh gods, I can’t feel his heartbeat…”
“Quiet!” Tatsurou roared and they both shut up and stared at him. “I want you two to go to your room and close the door.”
Yukke and Satochi nodded and hurried away to the servants’ quarters adjoining the house, glancing over their shoulders as they went.
Yukke sat on his bed with his knees drawn up, and Satochi sat beside him. They each felt that they needed the other’s company and support right now. Satochi had his back against the wall and Yukke scooted closer.
“I’m scared,” he whispered.
Satochi nodded. “I’m scared too. What do you think Tatsurou’s going to do?”
Yukke shrugged sullenly. It was silent for a long time and all they could hear was each other’s breathing.
They both jumped and stared at each other when they heard the most horrible screams and moans coming from the main house. It sounded like a wild animal being tortured, but it was unlike any animal they had ever heard. At times it sounded like someone crying and wailing and it seemed to go on forever, sometimes fading away so that they thought it was over, only to start up again. Yukke cringed against Satochi and covered his ears; Satochi chewed his lip anxiously and looked out the window. The sun had almost set by now, and the rapidly darkening sky and shadowy corners of the room made it all the more frightening.
The shrieks and groans gave way to a sickeningly guttural gagging noise, like someone being very sick over and over again. Yukke whimpered and pressed both hands tightly over his mouth; he looked like he was about to be sick, too. The two sat huddled together, waiting and praying for this horror to end.
It did end, after a time, and everything went eerily quiet. Satochi and Yukke looked at each other. They started to relax a little bit and Satochi gave a tentative little smile. Whatever it was, it was over now. He got up to light an oil lamp and slumped down on his own bed, rubbing his face with both hands and sighing heavily.
“Gods, look at me.” Yukke held up one hand, palm-down, shaking.
“Hey,” said Satochi quietly. “Did you happen to see what happened to Tatsurou?”
“What do you mean?”
Satochi gestured at his face. “It was like his skin was burning. And lifted Hiro like he weighed nothing.” Satochi’s eyes flickered up to meet Yukke’s. “When you went to get Tatsurou, I tried to lift Hiro up but I could barely move him. He was so heavy, how—”
They both jumped when the screams started up again, and it was worse than before.
Miya rode back from Osaka that night to an unearthly racket. He could hear it even before he could see the house; he stopped for a moment to listen and then, fearing that perhaps Yoshiki had found his quiet little household, kicked his horse into a flat-out gallop. He pulled up by the stable, dismounted quickly and ran inside through the broken door.
The first thing he saw was Hiro, but not as he was. Their mild-mannered cook was a screaming madman; clawing at himself, throwing himself bodily at the walls, tearing at anything within reach. He’d already smashed the front door off its hinges and broken some windows; the dinner table had been upended, its chairs lay askew, some with snapped legs; bottles of wine and shochu shattered on the floor in puddles of their own contents; vases of flowers destroyed; smudged, bloody handprints everywhere. Every so often he would stop and bash his head against the walls or the floor with enough force to crush his skull, or claw at his face, drawing long, bloody gashes from his forehead to his chin, leaking blood all over his hands, blood that he smeared on everything he touched, and Miya finally realised with a sinking horror what had happened when saw that the wounds on Hiro’s face were beginning to heal.
Tatsurou was backed into a corner, terrified, and Miya had to shout his name three times before he heard him.
Tatsurou’s head snapped around to look at him with wide, frightened eyes.
“What happened?!” Miya shouted.
Tatsurou gulped visibly and just shook his head. “It wasn’t supposed… he was… I was trying to… Miya I don’t know what to do!”
Hiro had quieted down for a moment, hunched over like a wild animal, breathing heavily. Tatsurou used this opportunity to move from his corner toward Miya. This sudden movement caught Hiro’s attention; his head snapped up and he stared at Tatsurou with dead, bloodshot eyes before launching himself at him with frightening speed and ferocity, teeth bared, latching onto his shoulders. Tatsurou screamed when sharp teeth tore a gash in his neck just as Miya pulled Hiro off and fairly threw him across the room, sending him crashing into the pile of broken chairs.
Tatsurou crouched on the floor, whimpering more in fear than anything else.
“Are you all right?” Miya’s brow knitted and he gently pried Tatsurou’s hand away from the wound; it was bleeding, but not so much that he thought it might be dangerous. It would heal.
Tatsurou was too scared to speak and a stunned Hiro got back up, swaying a little with his arms hanging slack at his sides, and lurched at them again. Cursing under his breath, Miya braced himself for an attack and overpowered him, twisting his arms behind him, kicking his knees out and pinning him to the floor while Hiro struggled and kicked and roared, salivating like a rabid beast.
“Tatsurou!” Miya yelled. “We have to kill him!”
Tatsurou stared and shook his head again.
“I’m… I don’t know how…”
With his knee digging into Hiro’s back, Miya glanced around and looked out the window. It was still pitch black outside; dawn was hours away. “We can’t afford to wait until sunrise. We have to kill him.”
Miya looked at Tatsurou grimly. “Bring me a knife.”
Tatsurou gaped at him, horrified but he took a deep breath, bit his lip and nodded. He edged around Hiro’s wildly kicking legs and took a big kitchen knife from the counter. Miya grasped it by the handle and did his best to haul Hiro to his feet with one hand, grunting at the effort it took to restrain him. By all accounts Miya was far stronger than Hiro, but Hiro had all the brute strength of a feral beast with reckless disregard for anything including himself. Miya wrestled him outside, wincing every time he screamed and fought back. He shoved Hiro against a wall, pulled his head back hard by the hair and, gritting his teeth hard, drove the knife deep into Hiro’s neck. Hiro thrashed crazily while Miya sawed away at his flesh, hacking through tendons and bone, his screams and howls muted by the blood bubbling up from his mouth and spewing out of the gaping neck wound. Gods, Miya thought that he had left all of this behind the day he died on the battlefield. Given the choice, he would have preferred to slice off Hiro’s head cleanly with a sword but they had no such luxury here.
Miya let go of the head and it struck the ground with a dull thud. The empty, bloody eyes stared at nothing and the mouth was frozen into a ferocious snarl, sharp teeth bared. Miya coughed and dry-heaved a little and took a few steps back, dropping the knife. The body slowly crumpled onto the ground and the bloody stump of the neck painted a long, red smear down the wall. The arms and legs still twitched and spasmed.
Tatsurou hadn’t moved from his spot and he looked up when Miya came back inside. His maker’s face was splattered with blood and his hands were drenched in it as well. Miya gave him an inscrutable look and walked across the room to fetch a lantern and a small flask of oil from the kitchen, and then walked back outside again. Tatsurou stayed sitting on the floor, hugging his knees, until he heard the unmistakable whumf of fire and saw a strong orange glow that made the shadows dance eerily on the walls.
Outside, it smelled strongly of charred meat and something else, something dark and corrupt. Miya was a silhouette against the dazzling flames; gingerly, Tatsurou walked over to him with his arms drawn around himself. The two of them stood there for a while, watching Hiro’s remains blacken and turn to ash.
“I’m sorry, Miya,” Tatsurou whispered. He couldn’t bring himself to look his maker in the eye.
Miya said nothing for a long time and gradually the flames died down, having consumed what it could of Hiro. Then Miya sighed. “What happened?”
Still looking at the ground, Tatsurou said, “Hiro, he… he was thrown from his horse and drowned. They dragged him out of the water but he was unconscious and bleeding from his head when I saw him. I… I took him inside and sent Yukke and Satochi away. They didn’t see anything! We wouldn’t have had time to fetch a doctor so… and he wasn’t breathing and his heart wasn’t beating and… and I was so afraid that he would die…” Tatsurou swallowed hard and his voice cracked. “I didn’t want him to die. I was… I didn’t know that… i-it wasn’t supposed to be like that…”
Miya rubbed at the blood on his hands. “I know you were only trying to help. It’s unfortunate that it’s turned out the way it has, but you weren’t to know.”
“Why did that happen?” Tatsurou finally managed to look at Miya. “What did I do wrong?”
Miya hesitated for a second. “I think it was too late by the time you found him,” he said quietly and very sadly. “Making a vampire isn’t as simple as draining their blood and giving them your own. Yoshiki once said to me that you must change them before their heart stops. Otherwise you would create a real monster. And Hiro was a monster.”
“Oh god.” Tatsurou covered his face with his hands. “It’s all my fault, I’ve… I turned him into that, I killed him…”
“Tatsurou, you did what you thought was right,” Miya said. “You wanted to save him. He would have died either way.”
“But he wouldn’t have died a monster. You wouldn’t have had to…” Tatsurou gestured at the smouldering pile of ashes.
Miya just nodded.
The next time Tatsurou spoke, he sounded very small. “Miya?”
“How many have you changed?”
The older vampire took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Just you. I never intended to change anyone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful not to have died when I did before I was changed, but…”
“If you never made anyone before me, how did you know how to do it right?” Tatsurou asked. “I’m… I think I’m still myself. How did you manage to make me turn out all right?”
“I’ve seen it done before.” Miya gave him a sideways look. “Besides, I’m not sure that you did turn out right.”
Miya offered him a small smile that Tatsurou tentatively reciprocated, and they shared a nervous little laugh.
* * *
Satochi was the kind of person who never had trouble falling asleep, but Yukke lay in bed wide awake for a long time, going over the evening’s events in his head: the panic of seeing Hiro lying crumpled on the ground with his head cracked open, his face pale and bloated, Tatsurou lifting a soaking wet, grown man like he weighed nothing, the horrible noises, the fire. What was going on? Who and what were their masters? Yukke slowly fell into a fitful sleep, dreaming of monsters and ghouls.
When they awoke in the morning, they agreed it would be best to try and preserve a sense of normalcy by going about their daily duties. That was until they set foot in the main house with its broken doors and windows and saw the chaos that had been left behind: broken glass and ceramics, broken tables and chairs, blood everywhere. It looked like someone had gone on a killing spree. Yukke blanched and clutched at Satochi’s arm while they slowly tiptoed around the damage.
They fairly jumped out of their skin when they heard a voice calling their names. They shouldn’t have been so surprised—it was only Miya’s voice after all—but they were skittish after what they’d had to listen to all night, so much so that it didn’t occur to them until much later that they had never seen or spoken to Miya during the day. Yet there he was, standing in the shadows at the top of the stairs.
“I know you must have heard some terrible things last night,” Miya said in a calm voice. “I understand that you must be quite rattled. If you don’t mind waiting, Tatsurou and I can explain everything to you tonight. Afterwards, if you do decide to leave us, we will be sorry to see you go, but we won’t stop you.”
What was that supposed to mean? The two exchanged an uneasy glance and then looked back at Miya. He inclined his head in a bow to them.
“Please think about it. We would… very much like it if you could stay. And I do mean that with no ill intent whatsoever. The fact of the matter is, we don’t have much in the way of family besides you.”
Still clinging to his friend, Yukke looked at Satochi to gauge his reaction, and nodded when he saw Satochi doing the same. At the very least, they could hear what Miya and Tatsurou had to say.
Miya seemed a little relieved that they weren’t already running away. “Thank you. About this mess… Tatsurou and I will take care of it. We don’t want you to have to deal with it. Please take the day to yourselves. We’ll come and see you later tonight when we’re done.”
Miya gave them another bow, deeper this time, and he disappeared into the shadows down the corridor silently on bare feet.
Yukke and Satochi were so used to their daily duties that they didn’t really know what to do with themselves and spent the better part of the morning sitting on their beds or wandering about their quarters aimlessly poking at this and that.
“I’m scared,” Yukke admitted.
Satochi nodded. He lay in his bed with his arms folded behind his head. “Me too. But I’m glad Miya came to talk to us.”
“What do you suppose they’re hiding?”
“I don’t know. Something.” Satochi chewed on his lip. “But at the end of the day, he’s still Miya, right? And he’s always been good to us. So has Tatsurou. So…”
Yukke looked unconvinced.
“I really want to do something about that mess inside,” Satochi muttered. “Hiro would never stand for it.”
“I know, but Miya said not to,” Yukke reminded him.
Satochi sat up. “Let’s go into town and find a carpenter.”
“You saw how bad it was. We’re going to need someone to fix the door and windows and things like that.”
Yukke raised his eyebrows at him in mild surprise. “That’s probably the smartest thing you’ve ever thought of.”
* * *
After Satochi and Yukke had left, Miya retreated down the corridor, but not to his own room. He opened the door to Tatsurou’s room and made his way through the darkness and sat on the edge of the bed.
“Are you all right?”
Tatsurou didn’t speak or move for a while, and then his shoulders heaved a deep sigh. “I can’t stop hearing those noises that he was making. I can still see his face, all wild like that, and… and I did that to him.”
“What’s done is done, Tatsurou. Dwelling on it too much won’t help anybody.”
Miya slipped into bed behind him and pulled Tatsurou into his arms, resting his head into the crook of his neck. Tatsurou relaxed into him and they lay there quietly until Tatsurou’s shoulders started to tremble, and Miya held him as he quietly cried himself to sleep.
In the early evening Miya roused him, and Tatsurou managed to drag himself up to help clean up the mess that had been left behind. Miya thought it kinder to have Tatsurou remove the bits of broken glass and ceramic and wood while Miya himself set to work washing the dried blood off the floor and walls. It was unpleasant but it had to be done, and at the very least it was better for Tatsurou to be doing this than lying in bed occupying his mind with miserable thoughts.
Their next task was also unpleasant, but in a very different way. Miya had promised that they would speak with Satochi and Yukke; after everything that had happened, and after more than ten years of honest, hard work, they deserved to know the truth and make their own decisions about how this would affect them.
Miya could hear the two of them chatting in hushed tones and then he rapped on the door. It immediately went silent inside and it was a few moments before they could hear movement inside, approaching footsteps, and then the door opened a crack. The warm glow of the lantern spilled out of the room.
“Hello Satochi,” Miya said softly, trying not to alarm them. Tatsurou said nothing.
Satochi looked down at the ground. “Hello.”
“Have we come at a bad time?”
“Oh. Uh. No. Please come in. It’s your house after all.” Satochi opened the door wider and took a few steps back, closing the door behind them.
Yukke was sitting at the end of his bed, looking rather like a small, frightened animal, so Miya elected to stand by the door rather than get too close. Tatsurou did the same. The four of them just looked at each other awkwardly until Satochi cleared his throat. “Uh, so…”
“Yes,” Miya said quickly, as if he’d just remembered why they were there. He glanced at Tatsurou but he was looking at the floor pensively. “I honestly don’t know where to start.”
“You mentioned you had something to tell us?” Yukke said. “Does it have something to do with why we never see you during the day?”
Miya nodded. “Yes. The truth is…” he cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I’m not human. I’m a vampire. So is Tatsurou.”
Satochi erupted into helpless laughter, clutching his stomach. “Are… are we playing that game again?” he howled.
Yukke just stared at him incredulously, open-mouthed; Miya’s lips were pursed and even Tatsurou looked mildly annoyed.
“I’m not being funny this time,” Miya said.
“Right!” Satochi chuckled. “You always had the best straight face I’ve ever seen, Miya.”
“Satochi!” Yukke hissed.
Satochi stopped laughing then, and they turned to look at Tatsurou who had been silent until now. His lips were set in a deep frown.
“But how?” Yukke whispered. “Vampires aren’t real!”
Tatsurou crossed the room in a few long strides and grabbed Yukke’s hand. “Do you want to tell me how fucking real this is, then?” he snarled, and Yukke whimpered and shrank back, trying to pull his hand away. Tatsurou’s hand felt as cold as death and there was an unnatural ferocity in his eyes.
“Tatsurou,” Miya said sharply. “Stop that. Leave him alone.”
Tatsurou grunted and let go, returning to his maker’s side, glowering.
“You’re really real?” Satochi asked. “All of it? Drinking blood and everything?”
Yukke looked them both over carefully and his gaze settled on Tatsurou. “I thought I was going mad when I saw your skin burning, but then Satochi said he saw it as well…” He shook his head. “No, it doesn’t make any sense. You’ve been with us during the day a million times and you’ve been fine.”
Miya smiled a little. “That’s because he was human then.”
“Miya changed me a year ago,” Tatsurou said shortly. “I asked him to.”
“Why?” Yukke horrified, both at the prospect of Miya doing something so abhorrent, and at Tatsurou for having made such a request.
“That… is a long story,” Miya said, glancing at Tatsurou. “The point is, we aren’t lying to you.”
Satochi looked at Yukke, piecing all of the bits together. As ludicrous as it was, this insane explanation was the only way that any of it made sense.
“Are you just waiting to turn us into vampires, too?” Yukke asked.
Tatsurou looked offended, and Miya pressed his hands together. “Please understand that there was never any such intent. We hired you because we could use the help, especially since I— we are unable to oversee Aoi Mori business during the day. You have been a wonderful help and an invaluable part of our family, and we don’t want that to change. In fact, Tatsurou was an orphan when I found him, and it was his idea to look after orphans such as yourselves when he sought you out.”
“Oh,” Satochi said softly and he looked at Tatsurou with a new respect.
Yukke remained wary. “What happened with Hiro?”
Tatsurou turned away, so Miya stepped in. “From what I’ve heard, Hiro had a terrible accident. Tatsurou did his best to save him but it didn’t… work out the way he had hoped.”
“So you tried to make him into a vampire,” Yukke said bluntly.
“He only wanted to help him,” Miya said before Tatsurou could argue.
“What happened in the end? Where is he?”
“He… Hiro didn’t turn out right. He went… mad,” Miya said haltingly. “That’s my fault for not teaching Tatsurou. In the end I did what was necessary. Hiro couldn’t exist like that so I… put him out of his misery.”
“You killed him.”
“Yes, I killed him,” Miya agreed. “And I burned his body. What would you have done if you saw a mad beast far beyond healing? Would it be kinder to let it live and allow it to hurt itself and others?”
The four of them fell silent for a while.
Finally Miya glanced at Tatsurou, Yukke and Satochi in turn. “Well. Now that you know, what would you like to do?”
“I’m staying,” Satochi said promptly.
Miya pursed his lips and nodded, relieved. “Thank you so much.”
“Are you sure?” Yukke asked.
Satochi shrugged. “If we find someone else to work for, who’s to say if they’re going to treat us like dogs? We’ve always been treated well here. If Miya says that isn’t going to change, I believe him. If Miya says they tried to help Hiro, I believe him. They tried to do what was best for him.”
Yukke looked pensive. Miya and Tatsurou had all but admitted that they were extremely dangerous and had even killed a man or vampire or whatever the hell Hiro had been turned into. Satochi was too trusting and gullible by far, but at the same time his simple logic was solid. Just because they now knew that their employers were monsters didn’t change the fact that Miya had only ever treated them with respect, and Tatsurou treated them like close friends, speaking to them as equals and joking around even after they’d noticed something different about him.
“Yukke?” Tatsurou asked softly.
Hearing his name, Yukke glanced up. Tatsurou looked sad and fatigued and worried. Yukke had never seen him like this before, and he felt his doubts waver just a little bit.
“Come on,” Satochi prodded. “We’ve stuck together since were little. We grew up together. You wouldn’t know what to do without me.”
“I don’t know if you’ve ‘grown up’, Satochi,” Yukke muttered.
“I have so,” Satochi retorted. “I know what I want. Do you?”
“Satochi, let him make up his own mind,” Miya said reproachfully.
Yukke looked between Miya, Tatsurou and Satochi with an expression of uncertainty.
“Yes. I’ll stay.”
Tatsurou was more subdued for a time following Hiro’s gruesome death and to take his mind off it, he buried himself in distillery business where he could, otherwise he stayed in his room unless he needed to feed. By day, Satochi happily directed the carpenters on repairing the damage caused by Hiro’s mad rampage. Yukke was quieter as well; although he had elected to stay, he remained wary. It was a few weeks before he would stop jumping at the sound of Miya or Tatsurou’s voices, and it took a little longer for him to be able to look them in the eye. This saddened them somewhat, but they understood that he needed time to get used to it.
The first batch of umeshu to leave the Aoi Mori facility was well-received by their main distributors in town and this success did a great deal to raise their spirits. Yukke haltingly suggested the purchase of a second factory dedicated to brewing umeshu, an idea that Miya and Tatsurou embraced with enthusiasm. Later that night, while they were out hunting, Miya suggested that Tatsurou invite Yukke to head this venture.
“Why bother?” Tatsurou muttered. “He won’t want to talk to me. You’ve seen how it is. Half the time he’ll find an excuse to leave the room if we’re around.”
“That’s the point,” Miya said. “It will make him feel valued. You want to show him that we’re not a threat and that we trust him? Give him something important to do.”
Tatsurou mulled upon this for a few minutes and grudgingly agreed.
* * *
Yukke enjoyed cooking; Satochi less so, so it was always a chore trying to get him to help, especially now that Hiro was gone. Yukke always tried to get him to do something easy, like chopping vegetables or stirring the pot, but his friend would often lose interest and they’d end up with chunks of carrot in all different sizes, or he might just wander off absentmindedly and their meal would end up burnt at the bottom. Hiro used to say that they should put a little bell on Satochi so that they knew where he was. So Yukke was more than a little surprised when he stepped into the kitchen that evening to see that the carrots and onions were already washed, peeled and chopped into neat piles on the counter.
“Finally decided to make yourself useful eh, Sato?” Yukke called.
He shrank back when Tatsurou stood up from behind the counter, stoking the fire beneath the stove.
“Oh…” Yukke mumbled. “S-sorry. I thought…”
“It’s just me.” Tatsurou offered him a tentative smile. “I cooked for myself a lot when I was growing up with Miya. Chopping vegetables reminds me of my childhood, actually.”
“You should leave these duties to me,” Yukke said, somehow managing to look at everything except at Tatsurou.
“You’re not a slave. I… actually came to ask for your help.”
Yukke looked puzzled. “What could I possibly help you with? You’re… well, you.”
Tatsurou took a step forward and sighed inwardly when Yukke took a step back. “Miya and I were hoping you might take on the task of finding a dedicated factory for brewing umeshu.”
“But why me?” Yukke’s puzzled expression was replaced with one of mild suspicion.
“You’ve helped us with a great many business matters. It’s a big responsibility but we believe that you’re capable, and that you have enough knowledge of the business to find something suitable.” Tatsurou gave him a small, self-deprecating smile. “Gods know Miya and I aren’t capable of riding across the countryside during the day with our… handicap. And Satochi, he’s great with the horses but he can barely peel a damn carrot without getting distracted.”
Yukke pursed his lips, looked away and chuckled. It was hard not to like Satochi but he was, unquestionably, a bit daft.
Tatsurou chanced another step forward. Yukke stayed where he was.
“So… what do you say?” Tatsurou asked. “Can we leave this in your hands? It would honestly mean a great deal to Miya and me.”
Yukke was silent for a long time.
Tatsurou’s heart sank. He looked down and nodded, and turned to leave.
“Do you actually… like being a vampire?”
Now it was Tatsurou’s turn to be quiet.
“Why would you ask Miya to make you into something like that?” Yukke asked.
“Yukke, he’s not a monster. I know that you think that we’re dangerous killers but in truth, I’d be dead without Miya. I was five years old when he found me. Everyone in my village had been killed, including my parents. All I can remember is that they told me to run and hide. I can’t even remember what they looked like.
“I was nobody to Miya, yet he raised me all by himself. He could have just walked away and let me die, but he didn’t. Everything he did was for my benefit. He went out of his way to look for food for me while he went hungry. He told me he used to wander across the country, finding what shelter he could, even if it meant living in filth, but I grew up safe and happy in a house. He taught me to read and write, he taught me how to forage for food and how to cook for myself, he taught me about the business. I’d been asking him to change me ever since I was about twelve years old. I wanted to be strong like him, I wanted to be his family, and it felt… it felt so good when he fed on me.”
“He fed on you?” Yukke was appalled. “He drank your blood?”
“It was my idea,” Tatsurou added hastily. “I forced him to! He was starving and he only fed on me if he couldn’t find anything else. Miya would never lay a hand on me out of malice. You have to understand, he never wanted me to become a vampire. Each year on my birthday I would ask to be changed and each year he would refuse. He always wanted me to live as a human. He even tried asking a human family to adopt me because he didn’t think a vampire should raise a child, but instead, he stayed with me just because I didn’t want him to leave. He only gave in and changed me because I wouldn’t stop asking. I still stand by my decision.”
“But he still drinks people’s blood,” Yukke said shortly.
“And so do you.”
“Yes but we don’t… we never take more than we need from any one person. We wouldn’t kill them.” Tatsurou felt desperate. “Did you ever feel unsafe with us before?”
Yukke hesitated. “No,” he admitted.
“Then please trust us.” Tatsurou did his best to stay calm the way Miya would have been in this situation. “We’re not dangerous. We won’t hurt you. Otherwise, why would we house and employ you for ten years?"
Yukke fell quiet again. Finally he looked Tatsurou straight in the eye. “All right. But if I’m busy with Aoi Mori, I’m not sure if Satochi will be able to feed himself.”
Tatsurou’s shoulders slumped with relief and he smiled gratefully. “Bring him with you. It will do you both good to travel. Just make sure you bring him home; he’s liable to get himself lost.”
Yukke laughed, and Tatsurou left him to finish cooking dinner in peace, spending the rest of the evening in Miya’s arms, just quietly enjoying each others’ company. Things were going to be all right.
* * *
Yukke’s hard work paid off and within a couple of months they had huge barrels full of ume plums steeping in Aoi Mori shochu and sugar. A few of the izakayas they supplied kept asking and asking when they would be shipping the next batch of their deliciously sweet and tart umeshu. It made Yukke happy to see the fruits of his labour, so to speak, and he did feel valued, just as Miya had said. Hiro’s absence was still keenly felt in the household, but in time even Yukke was able to rationalise it in his head: it was unfortunate, but Hiro would have died anyway, and if there were a way to save him, perhaps it had been worth a try, even if it hadn’t worked out in the end.
“Are you going to say it?”
Miya tried not to smile. “Say what?”
Tatsurou looked down at him. “‘I told you so.’”
“I can if you want me to, but I don’t think there’s any need.” Miya nodded at a shopowner that they knew well as they walked past. “Aoi Mori continues to go from strength to strength. Satochi’s happy, Yukke’s happy, and you’re friends again.”
They walked on in silence for a little while and then Tatsurou nudged him with his shoulder. “Thank you,” he said quietly. “For everything you’ve done for me.”
Miya regarded him carefully and continued walking. “Stupid boy.”
Tatsurou smiled and was about to say something when Miya suddenly stopped. His smile faded. “What is it?”
His maker looked anxious and he turned around in a slow circle, his eyes looking this way and that. “They’re here. Someone’s here.”
“What? Who?” Tatsurou glanced around the sea of faces but he could recognise nobody.
“It’s him, it has to be him.”
Evidently he had scented them as well; through the bustle of people walking both ways came three figures and now Tatsurou could smell them, a scent that was different to that of ordinary people. He recognised the first one immediately, but the two flanking him were unfamiliar: a handsome young man, and a girl in a blue kimono who had the appearance of a maiko, pretty as a doll, her lips painted bright red against her pale skin.
When Yoshiki smiled at them, Tatsurou edged closer to Miya. Unlike the last time they’d seen him, the smile was cold and dangerous. He was much more confident; he wasn’t alone this time. Doubtless, the two beautiful creatures beside him were his.
“Miya!” Yoshiki greeted him, affecting an air of surprise, and then he looked at Tatsurou. “And… I’m ever so sorry, I don’t know your name?”
“Tatsurou,” he said coolly.
“Tatsurou,” Yoshiki said, looking at Miya. “How nice. Miya, I must say I’m delighted.”
“And why’s that?” Miya asked brusquely.
“Why wouldn’t I be? You finally had the balls to change your… pet? Lover?”
“Master Yoshiki, who is this?” asked the pretty maiko.
Yoshiki smiled at her indulgently. “Saiki, Tsukasa, I’d like you to meet Miya and Tatsurou.”
“It’s an honour to meet you,” Tsukasa said with a deep bow.
“Is it?” Miya said scathingly.
Yoshiki looked mildly offended. “Miya, don’t speak to your family like that.”
“They’re no family of mine,” he snarled. “What are you doing here?”
“Let’s find somewhere else to and talk.”
“No thank you. Not interested.”
“I wasn’t asking,” Yoshiki said coldly.
Miya felt trapped. He didn’t think that Yoshiki would dare try anything with so many people around, but either way he didn’t want to chance it, and he certainly couldn’t risk Tatsurou getting hurt on his account. If Yoshiki had made Tsukasa and Saiki, that meant that they were Miya’s equals and they outranked Tatsurou. And Yoshiki… he was stronger than them all. They were at a serious disadvantage so Miya allowed himself and Tatsurou to be herded toward bridge overlooking a stream where there were fewer people passing by. He tried desperately to keep himself calm.
“Is he your first?” Yoshiki said, and Tatsurou jerked his head away when the older vampire reached out to touch his face. “You’ve done well.”
“I could say the same for you.” Miya carefully guided Tatsurou behind him and then gestured at Saiki and Tsukasa. “You always did like to collect the pretty ones, didn’t you? Where did you steal them from?”
“I’m not a monster, Miya, and I’d appreciate it if you’d not paint me as one. I saved them, just like I saved you.”
Miya gave a short laugh. “The way you ‘saved’ that little girl? The way you saved Shinya and Toshiya, so that you could use them?”
Yoshiki chose to ignore his taunts. “Tsukasa belonged to a wealthy family in Kyoto. He was the youngest of a family of five sons and would inherit nothing. While his brothers were marrying and making more sons, Tsukasa preferred to devote himself to the arts.” Yoshiki stroked Tsukasa’s face tenderly. “He has the most lovely voice; oh you must hear him sing someday, Miya.”
Miya said nothing.
“Tsukasa’s father would not stand for his son’s talents, so Tsukasa left and joined our family instead. And my princess Saiki.” Here Yoshiki extended a hand toward her and she took it delicately. “She was a maiko, you see. She was accosted by a band of rapists on her way home one night. I took her home with me. You should have seen how broken she was that night, but I’ve given her new life; look at her! Within days she had lured her rapists out and killed them all. She’s very good at it; she has such strength beneath her beauty. Any man might fall under her spell.”
Saiki gave a modest bow, but Miya was disgusted. “You’ve created a murderer.”
Yoshiki raised his fine, arched eyebrows. “Tell me, would you suffer such wicked humans to live? There are fewer rapists and your precious humans are better for it. What if she had been soft and kind and let these depraved men go? Will you be there to rescue the next victim, and the next?”
Miya pursed his lips. “All right. You’ve told me all about how perfect they are. What are you doing here?”
“You’re careless. I told you not to let me find you, yet…” Yoshiki spread his hands, palms up. “Here we are.”
“How did you find me?”
“I told you. You’re careless. Word gets around quickly, you know. The common people spoke of a demon being burnt alive. They say that the cries were horrifying.” Yoshiki smiled but his eyes bore a cold mirth. “Did you enjoy it? Burning one of our own? Oh… you didn’t try to change someone after their heart stopped, did you?”
Tatsurou glowered and Miya said nothing, but their silence told Yoshiki what he needed to know.
“Oh Miya. How have you managed to survive so long without me?” his maker went on. “This is the third time I’ve found you since you left us. You make it too easy.”
Miya narrowed his eyes. “Second. The first time was in Osaka.”
“Osaka was a chance occurrence. The first time was near Ibaraki a few years after you left us.”
“What are you talking about?” Miya felt a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He already knew.
“Twenty-something years ago I spotted you close to a small village in Ibaraki, near the northern border of Chiba. I had hoped that Toshiya would flush you out when I asked him to burn that village to the ground.”
“You…” Miya swallowed and chanced a quick glance at Tatsurou, hoping that he would stay quiet.
“Toshiya is so good to our Master Yoshiki,” Tsukasa remarked.
“Yes,” Saiki agreed. “Such a good dog.”
Miya gritted his teeth but before he could say anything, Yoshiki grabbed a handful of his hair.
“I’ll always be able to find you, and you know that I can kill you if I want to.”
Miya seized his maker’s wrist, his fingers digging into Yoshiki’s skin. “So why don’t you? You could have done it decades ago.”
“You’re happy, I can tell. You have your pet and in time you’ll make others, and I’m going to be there to take it all away from you. You didn’t have anything to lose before. Now you do. I can smell them on you. Both of you.”
Yoshiki released Miya then, and Saiki and Tsukasa resumed their places beside him. Miya took Tatsurou’s arm and walked away into the crowd. He kept his face neutral but he was rattled, and it took all of his willpower to walk and make a few detours instead of running straight home. He couldn’t let Yoshiki and his precious prince and princess know how unnerved he was. The last thing he needed was for them to follow them home.
Tatsurou was silent the entire time but as soon as they were home he turned on Miya and locked a hand around his maker’s throat, slamming him against the wall. Miya grunted and squeezed his eyes shut. Pain shot through his body. Satochi shouted at them to stop and moved forward but Yukke tugged on his arm and shook his head, frightened.
“What are you doing?” Miya growled.
Tatsurou’s hand tightened. “Why did you lie to me?”
“When have I lied to you?”
“You were the reason my family and the people of my village were killed! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t know.”
“Liar! If you hadn’t been there, all of those innocent people would all be alive! My parents would still be alive!”
“I’m telling you the truth: I didn’t know.”
Yukke whimpered when Tatsurou lifted Miya up by the neck, but he did nothing to fight back, even knowing that he was stronger than Tatsurou.
“Well, what are you going to do?” Miya’s voice was strained through his crushed windpipe and he looked down at Tatsurou coldly. “Are you going to commit the sin of killing your maker? Remember, you were the one who begged me to change you. I don’t care if you kill me, but you’ll condemn yourself to death. What will happen to Yukke and Satochi then? If that’s really what you want, don’t let me stop you.”
“Oh god,” Yukke whispered and turned away when Tatsurou squeezed Miya’s throat harder; the older vampire grimaced and wheezed, and his hands clutched at Tatsurou’s wrist, but still he refused to fight back; then Tatsurou released him. Miya fell to his knees with a harsh gasp for air, coughing and rubbed his throat, and the two glared at each other for a moment until Tatsurou pushed past him.
Miya grabbed his arm. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m going to kill Yoshiki and Toshiya,” Tatsurou snarled.
“Have you gone completely mad?”
“This is the revenge I’ve been seeking all my life!”
“Listen to me.” Miya grasped his shoulders firmly. “You have to let this go.”
“How can I possibly let this go? You don’t und—”
“I do understand, Tatsurou. More than anyone else. I know that this was a big part of why you wanted to become a vampire and I am telling you to leave it. They will destroy you. Toshiya, Tsukasa, Saiki, they are the same blood as I am and that means that they are stronger than you. You may be able to challenge one of them, but even if you and I could overpower them, you would never be able to lay a hand on Yoshiki. Don’t do this.”
Tatsurou looked down at his maker with despair. The weight of what he had learned tonight seemed to deflate him and his eyes were full of pain. “Miya, they killed them,” he moaned. “They killed everyone.”
“I know.” Miya pulled him into his arms. “But they didn’t kill you. Don’t let them win.”
Tatsurou squeezed his eyes shut and buried his face in Miya’s shoulder while Satochi and Yukke looked on sadly.
“Tatsurou, you’ll have time to grieve later,” Miya said softly. “But we need to leave now. We can’t afford to have them find us again.”
Satochi was sent to saddle the horses while Yukke helped Miya and Tatsurou pack: a few clothes, personal effects, money, important business documents.
“Where are we going?” Yukke asked. He was nervous; he’d never seen Miya so unsettled before.
“Away,” said Miya replied gruffly.
“For how long?”
“I don’t know. But the one I’ve been trying to avoid for most of my life is in this city. I’m afraid that they will find us before long if we stay here.” He paused and looked at Yukke. “We’re leaving for your safety as well as ours. They know about you.”
“What?! Me? And Satochi too?”
“My maker knows that we’ve been living with humans and I believe that he means to harm you both. I will not let that happen.”
It was in that moment that Yukke knew, really knew that he could trust Miya and Tatsurou. He stared at Miya for a second and then set his mouth into a firm line and nodded.
When they stepped outside, Satochi was holding both horses by their bridles and hastened to help them pack the saddlebags.
“We’ll need to ride hard until we can find somewhere to stop before dawn,” Miya ordered. “The farther away we can get, the better.”
And ride hard they did, for hours, with Miya and Tatsurou riding double on the big gelding, and Satochi and Yukke on the smaller black mare. The two of them chatted quietly amongst themselves; the tension kept them both awake. They wanted to talk to the others but were deterred by Miya’s grim expression and Tatsurou’s sullen silence. Miya didn’t really have a destination in mind, he just needed to get away, heading north. They found a small, family-owned inn; there was no stable here so the horses were tied up near the outhouse and their belongings stowed in the room that the four of them shared.
The two vampires slept deeply but Satochi and Yukke were restless, unused to sleeping during the day despite how tired they felt. They rose just after midday and ate at a yakitori shop just around the corner before returning to the inn where they tried to sleep some more or talked quietly between themselves. At twilight, Miya and Tatsurou roused them and they dragged themselves up for another long night of riding.
On the third night they stopped on the outskirts of Okayama. Miya would have preferred to stay away from large cities altogether but there was a better chance of finding lodgings closer to densely-populated areas, plus Yukke and Satochi needed to eat and rest properly. It was reasonably early in the evening so after they had unsaddled the horses and had a chance to wash themselves, they quietly ventured into town. Miya was alert to every sound and smell, constantly on the lookout. They quickly settled on a little udon shop and took a table at the very back, where Satochi and Yukke were able to enjoy a hot meal. They were so full and content that they were all but falling asleep at the table, so Miya and Tatsurou helped them up and paid for their meal. As soon as they set foot outside, Miya froze.
Tatsurou noticed this immediately. “What’s wrong? Is it them?”
“No. Someone, but not them. They’ve been following us all night.” Miya glanced around. “Keep moving.”
Yukke and Satochi looked at each other anxiously but said nothing.
It was a mile or so back to the inn and during this time even Tatsurou could feel that they were being followed, and he could smell them. Miya swore under his breath. He couldn’t see anybody who looked dangerous but it was beginning to feel like they were surrounded on all sides, and there were a lot of them, so if they were caught—
“Good evening,” said a chilly voice, and the four of them stopped short when an unfamiliar vampire stepped out in front of them. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“Begging your pardon,” Miya said with forced politeness. “My friends and I are just passing through town.”
“Oh. Anywhere in particular? My friends and I would be happy to show you around if you like.” A slow smile spread across his face. “Is something wrong? You smell of fear.”
Four more of them lurched out from the darkness, all looking at them hungrily. Miya’s heart sank.
“You were right, Karyu,” said one of them.
“Of course I was,” said the tall, lanky one with pale eyes, leaning in close to Miya, trying to intimidate him. “Couple of vampires travelling with humans. Not something you see every day, eh, Takeo?”
The one called Takeo reached out and pinched Yukke’s cheek. “How old are you? Eighteen? Nineteen?”
Satochi slapped his hand away. “Don’t touch him.”
“What are a couple of humans doing travelling with two vampires?” asked the first vampire who was clearly the ringleader.
“None of your business,” Tatsurou snapped rudely.
“Look at them,” said another, ignoring him. “The humans know that they’re vampires. Anyone who knows about our kind is putting us in danger.”
“Like I said, we’re just passing through,” Miya said, eyeing all five of them warily. “We don’t intend to stay long so if you have any objection to us being here, we’ll be gone early tomorrow night.”
He moved to shoulder past, but Kirito stepped in front of him and placed a hand on his shoulder in a vice-like grip.
“You’re free to pass through,” said Kirito in a low voice. “But Giru is right. We can’t let these two go. Don’t take it personally. We’ve lived here peacefully for over ten years. Before that, we’ve seen too many instances of humans knowing too much. Trust me, if you haven’t seen our kind being hunted, it isn’t pretty. We just can’t take the risk. I’m sure you understand.”
“No,” Miya said shortly. “They come with us.”
“We can’t let them go, Kirito,” said Giru.
Their leader nodded but Miya growled, “You aren’t laying a hand on them. We have no quarrel with you. Let us go. Our friends aren’t a threat; they just need to rest.”
The hand on Miya’s shoulder tightened until it became a crushing pain. Kirito tilted his head in Tatsurou’s direction and bared his teeth slightly as a threat. “Kohta, Takeo, take the humans. Leave the short one and his maker.”
Miya smiled just a little before seizing Kirito by the throat. “I’m his maker.”
He hit Kirito across the face so hard that blood spurted from his mouth and nose and he hit him again, only stopping because of the sharp pain in his neck. Kohta sank his teeth in deeper but Tatsurou grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and threw him off before he could rip Miya’s throat open, but Kirito saw his chance and dealt a hard blow to Miya while Kohta set upon Tatsurou. Giru and Takeo hastened to their friends’ aid but the tall one called Karyu hung back and turned his attention to Yukke and Satochi who stood off to one side, completely vulnerable. Yukke whimpered and Karyu fixed his gaze on him with a slow smile spreading across his face and advanced upon them.
“Leave him alone!” Satochi shouted, pushing Yukke behind him.
It had to have been just a few moments but to Miya it felt like time had slowed. He and Tatsurou were trying to fend off the four of them in a flurry of blood and sharp teeth and claws with feral screams from all sides for the blood lust was upon them, and hot blood filled his mouth when he attacked one of them and he hoped that he had seriously wounded them, and someone was shrieking his name and he looked around wildly, his opponent’s blood dripping from his mouth as well as his own from a ragged gash at his shoulder and now Tatsurou was screaming something and he rammed his elbow into Kohta’s face trying to get away, but he was held tight by Takeo and in the blink of an eye Miya saw Karyu looking up, his pale eyes staring straight at him with his head bent over Satochi’s neck and Miya looked down to see that Satochi’s arms hung down limply by his sides before Giru yanked a handful of Miya’s hair and he squeezed his eyes shut and braced himself for another blow.
It never came, though.
Miya heard a muffled grunt and the hand clutching at his hair abruptly let go, and when he opened his eyes he saw that two unfamiliar vampires fending off their attackers. One with auburn hair held a wounded Kirito aloft by his neck; Karyu snarled and dropped Satochi to defend his leader, but a tall, slender one with long, black hair swiftly intercepted him and smashed his face into a wall with the sound of cracking stone and bone. With their leader apprehended and Karyu incapacitated for now, Takeo, Kohta and Giru were reluctant to make a move; the two new strangers were strong.
“Why are you helping them? They’ve got humans!” Kohta hissed.
“And what of it?” the dark-haired one said, helping a stunned Miya to his feet.
“They’ll bring trouble to us all!”
“And I’m sure you won’t attract any attention by attacking a couple of strangers and their human friends where anyone might see,” the other one said dryly.
Giru pointed at Miya. “He attacked us first.”
“They’ve done nothing but mind their own business yet you’ve been stalking them all night.” He lowered Kirito to the ground and released him.
Kirito looked a little like a kicked dog; casting a glance around, he could see that although they weren’t quite outnumbered, they were outclassed. The short one called Miya and the other one were strong, and the way he looked at the two new vampires indicated that they had met before and was unwilling to take them on. With a baleful glare at Miya, Kirito spat a mouthful of blood on the ground and limped away to lick his wounds. Giru helped Karyu up and the four of them staggered after their leader and slipped into the shadows.
“Thank you so much for helping us,” Miya said, bowing deeply.
“You can thank us later,” said the auburn-haired vampire. His companion held a lifeless Satochi cradled in his arms. “If you want to save your friend, we have to do it quickly.”
They were brought to a small house in a quiet area just outside of town and that was when Miya finally got a good look at their two new friends. They were tall and beautiful; by the way they spoke and looked at each other, it was clear that they were very close, and it dawned upon Miya that he knew who they were.
The taller one with dark hair was eyeing at him curiously. “You have the look of someone who has seen Yoshiki.”
“You’re Heath and Sugizo, aren't you?” Miya said, unable to keep the awe out of his voice.
“Your friend is dying,” Sugizo said pointedly. “He’s lost a lot of blood.”
Lying on the floor, Satochi let out a weak groan and his eyelids fluttered. Yukke hovered over him, stricken with worry, and Tatsurou and Miya knelt by his side.
“If you want to save him, one of you will have to change him,” Heath said. “You need to decide quickly.”
Miya and Tatsurou exchanged a look; Tatsurou averted his gaze and walked away with his head down. Miya watched him go, looked back down at his ailing friend on the floor, looked at Yukke beside him in tears, anxiously touching Satochi’s hair, his face, his hand, seeking reassurance and finding none, looking up at Miya with large, red-rimmed eyes. “Miya, what’s happening?”
“He’s dying,” Miya said in a quiet voice. “If you want him to live, I have to change him.”
The unspoken question hung heavily between them. Yukke drew in a trembling breath and his hands hovered uselessly over Satochi. A sob caught in his throat. Tears ran down his cheeks and dripped off his chin.
“I— I don’t— I don’t know!”
“He’s dying,” Miya said again. He gently reached for Yukke’s hand and pressed it to Satochi’s chest. “If I’m going to do it, I need to do it before his heart stops.”
Yukke gasped and snatched his hand away. The idea of Satochi’s heart stopping, the finality of it, spurred him into a decision: “Do it.”
He jumped when someone slipped an arm around his shoulders, but it was only Sugizo. “Come. You should leave.”
“Leave?” Yukke looked back at Satochi. “But I can’t— he— I have to— I have to stay…”
Sugizo smiled at him gently. “You don’t want to see this.”
“He’s right,” said Miya. “It’s better if you’re not here for this. Sugizo will ensure that no harm will come to you, won’t he?” Miya looked straight at Sugizo when he said this. It was a plea more than anything else.
Sugizo nodded. “Of course I’ll look after him. Come now. He’ll be fine. We’ll come back after he wakes up.” He coaxed Yukke up and the young man reluctantly got to his feet, his eyes never leaving his friend’s face.
Heath gave his lover a grateful smile as they departed.
Tatsurou watched from across the room. In a strange way, it was cathartic for him to watch Miya feeding Satochi his own blood. The young man resisted at first, turning his head this way and that and staining his face red, until the blood dripped into his mouth and down his throat and he tasted it, and they could see the dark lust in his eyes as he drank and drank as though he instinctively knew that his life depended on it, clutching Miya’s wrist to his lips with the last of his strength, and he would have kept drinking if Heath hadn’t been there to restrain him. When he fell back and slowly died, his face was one of peace. Tatsurou hung back when the change took over Satochi and at the back of his mind, Tatsurou wondered if it would get any less distressing to watch. With any luck it would be something that they wouldn’t have to see very often. The way his body contorted looked painful and unnatural; it was unnatural, he supposed.
“How did you know who we were?” Heath asked.
Miya shot him a look. It seemed an odd thing to strike up conversation while something so awful was happening right before them, but then he realised that Heath was trying to take their minds off it.
“I recognised you,” Miya said haltingly. “From the paintings. Mana’s paintings. You both looked so beautiful.”
“Ah. Mana has a rare talent for making things look much more beautiful than they are.”
Miya studied his face carefully: dark, elegant eyes that spoke of a quiet thoughtfulness in him, high cheek bones framed by long, black hair, looking every bit the graceful creature Mana had painted. “I’m glad to see that you and Sugizo are still together after so long. I always wondered about that.”
Heath smiled modestly. “I believe that we have been very lucky. Make no mistake, Sugizo is a lustful devil and he’ll tell you that himself, but our love is true. In all of our years together, Sugizo has never strayed, and I simply couldn’t imagine loving another.”
“What happened when you left?” Miya asked. “Mana said that Yoshiki flew into a rage when he caught you together…?”
The question hung in the air and Heath laughed when he realised what Miya meant. “Oh, no. It wasn’t anything untoward. It was actually very sweet.”
“Oh,” Miya said, embarrassed at having misunderstood.
“I was made a year after Sugizo. Being that we were so similar in age, we became quite close and developed feelings for one another. We both knew to keep this secret from Yoshiki and we would spend our time together when he wasn’t around. He can be quite fickle and quick to anger, as I’m sure you know.”
Miya nodded ruefully.
“One night Sugizo and I were sitting by the maple tree, looking up at the full moon—he loves the moon—and he asked if I’d ever thought of leaving that place. I said I would only leave if I could be with him. That was when we had our first kiss. Of course we weren’t paying much attention to anything else, but Yoshiki was. He attacked Sugizo first, and then he set upon me and tore me open from throat to chest, and he left. I believe he his intention was for Sugizo to watch me die.”
“But then Sugizo…”
“Yes.” Heath lowered his eyes. “He gave me his own blood and it weakened him, but it was enough for us to flee. It took me a week to recover fully; every night Sugizo would go out and drink his fill and come back to wherever we were hiding, and I would feed from him. I think that is why our bond is so strong.”
Miya glanced over at Tatsurou. Their bond was strong, too.
Heath followed his gaze. Tatsurou had crossed the room to rest Satochi’s head in his lap even as he screamed and thrashed. He was only half-listening to their conversation with a frown on his face, trying to soothe his friend even though he knew that it was pointless.
“I take it that Tatsurou is yours as well?” Heath asked gently.
“He is.” Miya briefly told Heath about his own story, what Yoshiki had done to Shinya and Toshiya, and how the little girl Miku had been the breaking point that compelled Miya to leave; how he had found a little orphan boy and raised him, and eventually changed him at his request.
Their conversation was interrupted when Satochi began heaving and retching, and the three of them hastened to help him outside.
“I hope he’ll be all right,” Tatsurou murmured.
Heath placed a reassuring hand on his. “He will. Your Miya knows what he’s doing.”
Tatsurou responded with only a thin smile.
Heath politely excused himself, leaving Miya and Tatsurou with Satochi.
“Are you all right?” Miya asked Tatsurou.
He nodded. “I just keep thinking about Hiro and…”
“It’s not going to be like that,” Miya said firmly.
Tatsurou was about to say something but then Heath returned with a small basin of water and a soft cloth with which to clean the sweat and sick from Satochi’s face. Miya thanked him profusely for their kindness, and Heath merely smiled and bowed his head in acknowledgement.
Satochi was still unconscious when they heard footsteps coming up the path, and Heath looked up when Sugizo called his name. “Is he all right?”
“He hasn’t woken up yet,” Heath said. “You can come in, Yukke. It’s fine.”
Yukke’s face peered out from behind Sugizo and he looked around at the circle of faces before sinking to his knees beside Satochi. His friend didn’t look too different at all; a little paler than usual, perhaps, but he wasn’t in pain and he wasn’t bleeding, he wasn’t even wounded. Had a stranger walked in at that moment, they would have never guessed that he had been mauled earlier that evening if it weren’t for his bloodstained clothes. He looked like he was only sleeping.
Sugizo carried Satochi to the spare bedroom and gently lay him on the tatami. “You can stay with him if you like,” he said to Yukke. “So few of us get to wake up to a familiar face after we are changed.”
“R-really? Is it safe? Won’t he…?”
“Attack you? Of course not. You’ll find that he’ll still be himself.”
“You mean he’ll still be stupid?” Yukke blurted out.
Sugizo looked at him in surprise and laughed.
“Are they all right?” Tatsurou asked anxiously upon Sugizo’s return.
“Yes,” the older vampire assured him. “Poor Yukke was quite afraid that he’ll wake up and attack him, though.”
“Ah,” said Miya. “That did happen, in a manner of speaking. A good friend of ours had a dreadful accident and was mortally wounded.”
“I tried to save him but I was too late,” Tatsurou mumbled.
“Oh,” Heath said softly. “That’s unfortunate. I’m so sorry.”
“Nevertheless, Satoshi will be fine once he wakes up,” said Sugizo.
“Satochi,” Miya corrected.
Sugizo frowned, puzzled. “I can’t say that I’ve heard of this name before. Is it a common name where you’re from?”
Miya had to hide a smile. “Their real names are Satoshi and Yusuke, but he had some… trouble with pronunciation when he was a small child. They’ve been Satochi and Yukke ever since.”
It was Miya and Tatsurou’s turn to look confused when Sugizo burst out laughing.
“When I assured Yukke that Satochi would still be himself, Yukke mentioned something about him being ‘stupid,’” Sugizo chuckled. “Now I understand.”
“He has a good heart, though.” Sugizo wasn’t being mean but Miya still felt obliged to support Satochi.
“Of course he does,” Heath said kindly. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have gone to such lengths to save him.”
They all looked up sharply when they heard Yukke’s voice calling them urgently, “Miya! Tatsurou!”
Kirito, Kohta, Karyu, Takeo & Giru - Angelo
Heath & Sugizo - far be it from me to exclude my favourite boys ;)