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Sacred Rituals

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Four Months Before

The town was bustling with the crowds gathering in the main square. An auction of slaves was taking place. The thought of people being sold to other people disgusted Gaara. Yet, there it was, taking place right in front of him—all around him. He sat next to his father—or rather the man that everyone knew as his father. Gaara knew him as merely half the reason he was born. Rasa was nothing to him. Just like he was nothing to Rasa.

They watched the people being sold for slavery, all on a stage, in the middle of the crowd. One by one, being sold off to noble and rich families. Gaara sighed, hating that he was forced to attend this due to being 'the governor's son.' The auction was happening due to a tax needing to be paid. He thought it was horrible that this was the solution to such an issue. One by one, people were auctioned off and sold. When it was down to the last person, Rasa decided to acknowledge Gaara's existence for a moment. "You should consider yourself lucky," he started. "I opted not to make you part of the auction."

"Why would I be part of the auction?" Gaara asked. "You wish to sell me as a slave?"

"I already have." Rasa's demeanor did not change.

Gaara's eyes widened. "What do you mean?"

"I sold you as a slave." It took Gaara a moment to comprehend this. It honestly did not surprise him, because he knew Rasa was shitty. However, as much as he had heard his father suggesting such bullshit, he never thought he would actually go through with it.

"To who?"

Rasa gave him a menacing smirk. "You'll find out later tonight when you arrive at their home." A rage built up inside Gaara. There had been no mention of this to him, not even from his siblings. Though, he was sure Rasa would not tell them something like that. "You leave immediately after this auction is over." Gaara looked up to see that the last person had just been sold. "You leave now." Had Gaara actually enjoyed his home life and considered Rasa a father, he would have protested against this immediately. However, he thought about how living away from Rasa would be good for him. All of the sold slaves were being escorted to the carts that would take them to their new masters' homes. There was one more cart than there were slaves, which only meant that one was meant for Gaara. "Your chariot awaits," Rasa smirked.

A pair of guards approached Gaara, ready to escort him to his cart—with force, if necessary. Gaara stood up, calmly walking to the cart with the guards. He promised himself to exact his revenge on Rasa. And it will be glorious.

Gaara entered the cart, sitting down quietly and taking a look around the square. All of the other slaves were shackled. He was at least grateful that he did not have to endure that. All of the carts began to move, heading in the directions of the respectful homes of the slave owners. Gaara's was the only one that left the town, heading straight for the hills. This meant that he was being sent to one of the families that no one knew anything about. There were several noble families in the hills, and virtually nothing was known about any of them. This made him nervous. Being sent to a family of such nobility usually meant being treated like less than dirt by said family. He endured enough of that in his life, he knew he did not want to endure it anymore.

The ride took a couple of hours. By the time he arrived at his new home, the sun had set and the pitch darkness of night was upon him. He was escorted out of the cart, noticing he was brought to a castle. He knew the families that lived up in the hills resided in castles and the ones that lived in the town just had large estates. It was too dark to take in his surroundings, so he could not tell exactly where he was. He was escorted through the front door, being left alone in the foyer of the castle. Upon entering the castle, he took in the interior of it. The foyer was dimly lit, but seeing was relatively easy. Straight ahead was a dark hallway, surrounded on either side by curving staircases. He was greeted by a man with grey hair who appeared from the almost pitch-black hallway straight ahead. It was obvious this man's hair was not grey from old age considering the man was fairly young.

"Ah, you must be Rasa's boy," the man said. "Gaara, right?" Gaara seethed and it took all of his willpower not to speak out of turn. He would not even consider Rasa a real man, let alone his father. "We heard you were arriving today." He motioned for Gaara to follow him further into the castle. Slowly, Gaara followed. He took a look at his surroundings, trying to get a feel for what this family he knows nothing about might be like. He noticed the candle sconces on the walls down the long corridor were all shaped like snakes. That did not give him much of a hint if he was honest with himself. He followed the man to a library deep in the castle. He watched as the man opened the door and immediately noticed the large handles were also snakes. "Lord Orochimaru," the man said.

"What is it, Kabuto?" a voice somewhere in the library replied. There was a hiss to it that Gaara could only associate with a snake, and suddenly a lot of the décor started to make sense. The library looked like any other library, the walls were bookshelves, a staircase led to a second level where the walls were also bookshelves. There was a sitting area in one corner, a desk in another.

"The boy is here."

"What boy?" A part of the bookshelf by the staircase opened up and another man walked out. Almost a stark contrast to the first man he saw, this one had long black hair. And his eyes were gold with a slit pupil—much like a snake's. Gaara nodded to himself in realization. It all made sense now. But the man's eyes seemed familiar...like he had seen them somewhere before. Orochimaru stepped closer, taking a long look at Gaara. "The governor's son?" There was that feeling Gaara felt again at the thought of being considered Rasa's son. Orochimaru smirked at the look on Gaara's face. "Not too fond of him, I see. Well, that is understandable, considering he just gave you away."

"Gave me away?" Gaara asked. "Was I not sold?"

"I have no use for you," Orochimaru said. "I did not buy you." All Gaara could process from this information was that Rasa was desperate to get rid of him. "I do not like the idea of having a slave, to be quite honest." Orochimaru sighed. "But I cannot just let you go. Even though there was no money involved, there was a contract."

"What kind of contract?" Gaara's feelings about the situation began to shift. He was not sold, he was just given away. Like some sort of animal.

Orochimaru looked around before moving to the desk in the corner to search for a document. After a couple of seconds, he found what he was looking for. "Ah," he said as he scanned it. "It was a contract created by Rasa—or rather his lawyers, giving you to me to do as I please. The word 'slave' is somewhere here but we do not need to head in that direction. Yet, I have enough servants in this place. And you come from a known family, so I cannot make you a lab rat. It will seem too suspicious. I do not know what to do with you."

"If I may make a suggestion, my Lord," Kabuto interjected, "he can be a personal servant to your daughter."

"Kabuto, you and I both know she does not want a personal servant."

"Yes, I know, but I'm sure you would appreciate someone to keep an eye on her. To make sure she stays out of trouble."

"Kabuto, I—" He stopped himself. As if he remembered something, he mulled the idea over a bit. "After what happened with the Senju, it would not be such a bad idea. She does need to be looked after. But is someone so young a good idea?"

"He is still out there looking for her, my Lord. Is there really room for such consideration?"

"I suppose you are right. I doubt she would agree to such a thing, but it is worth a try. Tell her she has no choice in the matter. Whether she wants a personal servant or not, she has one." He looked to Gaara. "What I need you to do is make sure she never leaves the property, at least never alone. She has a bad habit of sneaking out, thinking I am unaware of it. It has gotten her into more trouble than a father wants to deal with." He looked back to Kabuto. "Take him to her."

"Yes, my Lord." Kabuto looked to Gaara. "Follow me."

They both exited the library and walked back up the long hallway. "How different from a slave is a personal servant?" Gaara asked.

"As a personal servant, you are still seen as human and maintain human rights. Which I'm sure is more than what you're used to, given what kind of person Rasa is." Gaara had to agree silently. They emerged from the dark hallway back into the foyer and took the curving staircase to their left up to another large hall with more snake sconces. Down the hall, they approached yet another door. This one did not have snake handles. They were just normal gold handles. Something about that gave Gaara a sense of relief. "Just a couple of things to know before you meet her," Kabuto said quietly. "You must address her by 'Lady' and try not to make direct eye contact with her for too long. She has a bad habit of coercing people into doing what she wants by looking them in the eye." Kabuto knocked on the door. "My Lady, do you have a minute?" he asked, cracking the door open a little.

"What is it, Kabuto?" the girl in the room asked. Without even seeing her, Gaara could recognize the resemblance between her and her father from just her question.

"She's busy," Kabuto said quietly to Gaara. "We'll make this quick." He pushed the door open wider and entered the room. Gaara followed slowly, stopping closer to the door than Kabuto, ready to leave if necessary. Growing up with an older sister gave him the knowledge that women do not like men in their rooms. In the farthest corner of the room, behind a desk and two small piles of documents was the daughter. She seemed immersed in her work. Like her father, she had long black hair, but she had the front part pulled back out of her face. The second she looked up, Gaara noticed her eyes, also gold with the pupils of a snake, but hidden behind glasses. "Lady Azumi," Kabuto started, "your father has signed a contract with the governor."

'Azumi?' Gaara thought. 'That name sounds so familiar...'

Azumi looked at Gaara and his heart jumped at the immediate eye contact. He looked away, remembering what Kabuto said about eye contact with her. But he did not catch himself in time when he looked back. He barely even knew her yet and he was already captivated. She smirked at him and in that moment, he swore he met her before. "He looks too young to be a governor," she said.

"This is his son, Gaara. He is going to live here now."

She put her papers down on her desk and sat back in her chair, crossing her arms. "Oh?"

"The contract included him being brought here as a slave."

"We do not do slaves in this castle."

"So, I made the suggestion that he could be...your personal servant?"

"Personal servant?" She scoffed and removed her glasses, tossing them onto the desk. "Kabuto—"

"Your father is giving you no choice, my Lady."

She groaned, rubbing her hands down her face. "Fine," she sighed.

Kabuto nodded, backing out of the room. "I will leave you two to get acquainted."

Gaara turned to the door as Kabuto backed out and watched the door close, leaving him in the room with the daughter of a man he was given to. He sighed. He did not ask for any of this. Turning back around, he was startled by her standing directly in front of him. He had not expected her to be there, and he was confused about how fast she had moved. He still could not shake the feeling of knowing her.

"Don't be scared," she smirked, "it'll interfere with the scented candles." He caught himself staring at her eyes, despite what Kabuto had said. He had seen them in a dream. He remembered again what Kabuto said, but he just could not look away this time. "So, Gaara, seeing as I really do not want a personal servant, yet my father is giving me no choice in having you around," she took a step back from him, "would you like to be friends?"

"Friends?"

"I don't really have many of those."

He was not sure how to answer. After a moment, he finally did. "I suppose being friends would be fine."

"Great! Since we're now friends, I can bring you with me and trust you not to tell my father." Her eyes lit up and she grabbed his hands and he could immediately feel how cold hers were. "Let's go."

"Go? Where?" They did not even know each other, this seemed so abrupt. He was taken aback by how comfortable she seemed to instantly be with him.

"We need to be fast and quiet. Just stay close and I must emphasize again, be quiet." She led him down the hall and down the stairs. In the foyer, she stopped for a moment, looking around to make sure the coast was clear. Once she confirmed it was, she headed down another hall towards the kitchen. In the kitchen, she made her way to a rug on the floor, kicking it to the side to reveal a trap door. Pulling it open, she urged him to hurry. When he hesitated, she scoffed. "I don't have all night, Gaara, I need to be back before the sun rises." Gaara finally went through the trap door and Azumi followed immediately after.

They ended up in a tunnel, lit by torches on the walls. He realized she was sneaking out which was exactly what Orochimaru was trying to prevent. "Uh...Lady Azumi, I'm not sure this is such a great idea."

Azumi laughed and caressed his face. "Call me Azumi." She grabbed his hand again and led him through the tunnel. It was a couple of minutes of silence and moving quickly before they finally reached the exit. Upon entering the night, Gaara looked to see where they were in relevance to the castle. They had traveled down the hill—through the hill—and ended up right outside of the forest.

"You're late," a voice said. They turned around to see a dark-haired young man step out of the darkness and into the moonlight. "I was beginning to think you weren't coming."

"The one time you get here before me and you think I'm standing you up." Azumi hugged the man and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "It's been a while, Sasuke. You're looking...awake."

"It's a full moon." He looked at Gaara. "You brought a friend. I wish I knew. I would have brought one, too. I would have brought Naruto."

"It was sort of a last-minute thing. This is Gaara. He lives with us now."

"Well, any friend of Azumi's is a friend of mine." He put his hand out for a handshake. "I'm Sasuke, Azumi's partner in existential dread." Gaara shook his hand and was immediately met with a grin from Sasuke. "Oh...he's a mortal."

'Mortal?' Gaara thought. His heart began to race at that moment. What were they?

"Easy," Azumi smirked. "We like Gaara. He's a friend. We're not going to kill him." She leaned closer to Gaara. "You can relax," she said softly to him, gently rubbing his back.

"I know, I know." The three of them walked a while through the trees towards a cliff that overlooked the town below, as well as the ocean beyond it. The full moon gave the scene a nice glow. They sat down in the grass. There was very minimal noise coming from the town and given the time of night it was, there was not much movement going on nor were there many lights. Gaara took in the sight. It was almost serene. This was the most peaceful moment he had experienced in a while. "I brought the pouches. Which type do you like?"

"AB," Azumi answered.

"I only have two of those. They're so rare. You would like the rare ones." He pulled two small silver pouches out of his bag and tossed them to her. "And you?" he asked Gaara.

"Give him the wine ones."

"Luckily for you, I just came from Naruto's, so I have a couple of those with me." He took another silver pouch out of the bag and handed it to Gaara. "I hope you like Cabernet Sauvignon." He pulled one more pouch out for himself. Azumi and Sasuke laid down, in the grass, staring up at the sky and Gaara sat down next to Azumi, staring ahead at the scene. The three of them sat in silence for a few moments and drank out of their pouches. Considering Azumi's answer to the question of what type she likes, Gaara was almost certain they were drinking blood. But he most definitely had wine. "So..." Sasuke said, "are you two...dating?"

"Sasuke." Even in the darkness, Gaara could see how strong her glare was. He was sort of glad it was not directed at him. He was pretty sure his soul would leave his body.

"I'm just making conversation," Sasuke laughed.

"Talk about your family."

"Nothing too interesting to report. Itachi finally got a bride."

"About time."

"Yeah, that's what everyone is saying. She hasn't exactly taken to him just yet but the announcement and celebration of their engagement is in two months. Are you coming?"

"Was my father invited?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"Then I'm coming. Everywhere he goes, I must go," she sighed.

"I cared for a few moments about the engagement, then I realized it doesn't matter to me. I already have wives."

"And Naruto."

"Yeah. I don't really care much for the wives." A small moment of silence went by. "Hey, you two should get married." Gaara choked on his wine pouch and Sasuke laughed a little.

"We just met tonight," Gaara said. He realized he had just finished the wine and he needed more.

Azumi put a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry. He's joking. I wouldn't subject you to a lifetime of being married to me."

"You'd need a lifetime supply of these in that case," Sasuke said, giving Gaara another wine pouch. "But in all seriousness, when are you going to get married? Your father is going to start matching you up again really soon."

She let out a sad sigh. "I don't know," she pouted.

Gaara zoned out of their conversation as he began to piece everything together and he tried not to get himself worked up. He realized that the wine was a good way to help him cope. He quietly came to the conclusion that they were vampires. It did not seem like they were trying to hide that fact from him anyway. This was something he did not think he would have to deal with in his life, yet there he was, next to two young vampires who casually sat under the stars and drank blood out of small pouches. They were not attacking him so he was able to relax a little.

He knew vampires lived among the people in the town and he was pretty sure he had not come across them. He figured Sasuke was from one of the other families that lived in the hills and that brought him to the conclusion that the other families were vampires, which would be why no one knew much about them. Halfway through the second pouch, he realized he was getting a little dizzy. Somewhere in the midst of conversation, Sasuke handed Gaara a couple more pouches. He drank them quietly, mulling over his new situation.

What he could not piece together, however, was why this girl seemed so familiar. He felt like he met her before but he could not remember where or when. It had to be in a dream.

By the end of what Gaara figured to be his fourth or fifth pouch of wine, he knew he was drunk. He sat there, looking ahead at the moonlit horizon. He was sitting there with vampires. This was his life now. He was going to be living with a vampire and her vampire father. He was pretty sure he would be seeing a lot of her vampire friend, too. He was not sure he could cope with all of this. It was a lot to take in at once. He had zoned out of their conversation and lost himself in his own thoughts. Eventually, he felt really tired. He closed his eyes and…

* * * * * * * *

Azumi and Sasuke heard the soft thud of Gaara passing out in the grass. "Is your human okay?" Sasuke smirked.

"He's probably just drunk," Azumi sighed, running her hand through Gaara's hair. "Poor thing. He's had a rough life. Maybe we should go. The sun is going to be up soon."

"I'll help you take him home." Sasuke moved over to Gaara, sitting him upright and maneuvering him onto his back. He swiftly stood up, picking up the other man. "Ready?" Azumi nodded and they started heading back. "So, who is he?"

"The governor's son. Kabuto mentioned that my father signed a contract. I don't know what kind of contract it was, but he was made my personal servant by my father." She thought for a moment. "I want to say the word 'slave' was somewhere in the contract. And I'm pretty sure there was no money involved. This poor boy was just given away." She knew her father would not spend money on a human. All of the humans in her home either sought Orochimaru out or he found them at a young age and provided them with a home until they felt they wanted to leave. None of them left, though, and decided to remain servants in the castle.

"Personal servant? For you?" Sasuke tried his hardest not to laugh too hard.

"I know, right? It's insane." They walked in silence for a moment until they approached the tunnels that led back to Azumi's home. "We actually met before...a while ago, but I don't think he remembers me. He was drunk then, too."

"He seems nervous," Sasuke hummed. "Maybe when he gets over that, he'll remember you. And it would be in his best interest to get over it soon."

"He just has to get used to his new life."

"Maybe he can come with us to the festival next week. Then you won't feel like a third wheel."

Azumi feigned a laugh. "Very funny. I was going to bring him anyway."

They approached the trap door in the kitchen. Azumi opened it, making sure the coast was clear. Once she verified it was, she helped Sasuke through. They made their way up to her room, avoiding the couple of servants that had woken up early to start the day. "Where do you want to take him?"

"I don't know if he has his own room yet. Just put him in my bed. I'll just work until he wakes up." Sasuke nodded and set Gaara down on Azumi's bed. "Thank you, Sasuke. Same time next week?"

"I'm looking forward to it."

"Get home before the sun rises." They gave each other a kiss goodbye and Sasuke left, quickly heading home. Azumi looked Gaara over, running her hand through his hair. "You poor thing," she said quietly. He groaned and moved a little in his sleep. 'He's pretty cute,' she thought with a smile. She got up and closed all of the curtains in the windows of her room before she went to her desk to finish the work she had been doing before she met Gaara.

As she tried to do her work, she caught herself staring at him every now and then. She was sure he did not remember her. It did not bother her. He was drunk that night and going through a rough time. She sighed heavily and decided maybe a bath would take her mind off of it. She stood up and made her way into her bathroom, turning the faucet on and letting the water warm up. She heard a knock on her door and went to answer it. Slowly, she opened the door.

"Good morning, my Lady," Kimimaro said.

"Good morning, Kimimaro," she smiled.

"I brought you some new towels." He handed her a couple of towels.

"Thank you. Your timing is perfect, I was just about to take a bath."

Unable to help himself, he glanced at her bed and noticed there was someone in it. Someone who looked a little familiar. "Did you...enjoy your night?" he smirked.

Azumi knew what he was looking at. "I worked on the research documents all night. I just finished. Now I'm going to relax and take a bath." She knew she did nothing with the man in her bed, but whether or not Kimimaro would believe her was another thing. He was with her the night she met Gaara in the bar and he watched her leave with him so he could easily get other ideas.

"Right. Well, enjoy it. I'll see you downstairs."

Azumi nodded politely as Kimimaro backed away and closed the door. She went back to her bathroom to undress and take her bath. She knew the next person to bother her was going to be her father. She just hoped that in the time between her closing the door and her father coming up to check on her, she could actually enjoy her bath.

Much to her expectation, she only got to relax for about twenty minutes. She was nodding off in the water when she heard Orochimaru at the door. "Azumi," he said.

Azumi rolled her eyes. The last thing she wanted to see this early was her prison warden of a father. Wrapping a towel around herself, she left her bathroom. Before she could even approach the door to answer it, her father walked in. "You know, most of the other men in this castle knock before entering," she said.

"Well, the other men are not your father who worries about you." He looked around her room, stopping his gaze on her bed, immediately noticing someone was in it. "What is going on?"

"What do you mean?" Orochimaru pointed to Gaara, still asleep. "He's sleeping."

"In your bed." His point shifted to her, standing there in her towel.

"What do you take me for?"

"I take you for a reckless young woman who has gotten into too much trouble to be trusted alone. I have caught you enough times with that Sasuke boy in your bed to worry this much."

"Wow, tell me how you really feel."

"I just did. Wake him up."

Azumi sighed deeply, stepping towards her bed to wake Gaara up. Gently, she nudged him. "Hey," she said quietly.

Slowly, Gaara opened his eyes and the first thing he saw was the woman he just met in nothing but a towel right next to him. He gasped, sitting up and backing away. He blinked a couple of times and saw Orochimaru behind her, causing him to gasp louder. "Ow," he groaned, putting his hand to his head. She figured he was hungover.

Azumi turned to Orochimaru. "See? Does that look like the reaction of a man who slept with me?"

"I what?"

"Relax. Remember? The scented candles? The interference?"

Orochimaru cleared his throat to remind his daughter of his presence for a moment. "If you do not mind," he said to Gaara, "I would like to speak with you downstairs." Gaara nodded and got off of the bed, following Orochimaru out the door. Orochimaru turned to Azumi, giving her a glare that she was all too familiar with. "I will deal with you later," he told her. Azumi scoffed, rolling her eyes again and getting back into her bath.