Kaname had never thought that it would end like this.
War was one thing, he’d fought many and seen more, it was inevitable when one lived as long as he had. He’d even faced the Apocalypse before.
Although ‘the’ Apocalypse wasn’t appropriate anymore. What was the plural of Apocalypse anyway? Apocalypses? Apocalypsi?
What did it matter? This Apocalypse was worse than the one before, particularly because this time, it was of his own making.
And he wasn’t just saying that because of his masochistic tendencies. He was the vampire’s ruler, even if it was more de facto than de justo in recent centuries. He had a responsibility to his race. He should have seen it coming.
Why oh why had he not seen it coming?
Decades after it had begun, Kaname still didn’t have an answer to that question and it haunted him. The signs were all there. Kaname had the experience and the political savvy to know them for what they were and yet it had still come as a surprise, leaving him scrambling to keep up. That had been half the problem. It was always better to act rather than react.
First had been the Council.
Kaname had always suspected them – how could he not? He’d lived with Ichio, he’d seen the undisguised lust in the old vampire’s eyes when he’d looked at him. Yet lusting after Kaname’s blood was hardly uncommon. Kaname had always known that any sign of weakness on his part would have the vultures descending. That was just part of it was to be a Pureblood. Perhaps, Kaname acknowledged, he had under-estimated Ichio and his ilk. He wouldn’t be making that mistake again.
Second had been the Humans.
With the Council’s manipulations so widespread, and damaging, it was unsurprising that secrecy had begun to fail. The Hunters had lost sight of their original purpose long ago so almost no one had been aware that the evidence had been piling up within certain governmental organisations that said, actually, vampires exist, and yes, they are dangerous.
The fall out of that had been… ugly.
Third, well, Kaname preferred not to think about the third blow. Some things should have stayed dead.
Kaname tilted his head in acknowledgement as one of his Generals jogged briskly up the hillside trail towards him. The sound of Zero’s footsteps were unmistakable – the slightly uneven tread and beat were as familiar a sound to Kaname as his own heartbeat.
Undoubtedly someone had noticed him brooding in the ever-fading moonlight and had sent Zero up to escort him back to the camp. No one travelled alone anymore. Especially him.
“They have found us, my Lord. Scouts say two hours, max.”
Kaname barely resisted the urge to comment on the exceedingly rare use of formality; sending a knowing glance and a small smirk towards the silver hunter. Pigs had flown. Although, really, if there was ever a time for it…
“You’re supposed to bow,” he chided lightly, allowing a touch of amusement into his voice. “Or kneel at my feet.” He turned, and eyed Zero up and down, a familiar glint in his eye. “Personally, I’d prefer the latter.”
Oh, the possibilities. For all his battles, the Hunter was as exotically beautiful as ever; hair of purest silver, eyes of amethyst and flawless skin. Three scars clawing across his lower face, splitting his lips with narrow lines – lips Kaname had indulged himself in many times in recent decades.
“Oh, Piss off,” came the mechanical response, although it was markedly less heated than it would have been a century ago. Kiryuu glared, and Kaname would never admit that he found the sight adorable rather than intimidating.
The glare intensified; perhaps Kaname’s opinion was not as hidden as he would like, Zero did have the dubious honour these nights of being the vampire that knew Kaname best.
How times had changed.
Kiryuu was no longer a traumatised teenager, struggling to fight the Change, and later fighting the bloodlust. No, now he stood before Kaname, confident and proud. A truly dangerous Hunter, a stabilised level D, and a damn fine General. Perhaps his scars bothered him when it rained, perhaps his eyes were tired, but Zero had survived.
Kaname himself had come a long way. His kind had always been highly adaptable. But it had taken the near extinction of his people for Kaname to shake off his utter depression. He’d reaffirmed his will to live; he’d quit his rather vague agenda of peace with the humans and had stopped hopelessly wanting to keep Yuki innocent and safe.
In fact, once he’d shaken such notions off, it was truly difficult for Kaname – even with his perfect memory – to understand his own thoughts. Just what had he been trying to accomplish? It just didn’t make sense. His actions had been illogical – sure he’d been depressed, millennium of life and it wore you down every so often – but even low he’d never been stupid.
Whatever was to blame – reality had come back to haunt him with a vengeance.
Kaname had swiftly shaken off his mood. Duty before pleasure; he was needed so he stepped up to the plate. Once he had rallied the tattered remains of his people, he’d felt refreshed. He accepted that some parts of his nature he’d once struggled to fight didn’t need to be fought if only they were accepted. Perhaps he too, like Yuki, would have been driven insane by conflicting morals if he hadn’t had that wake up call and remembered what it was like to live and not survive. When had he even picked up human morals anyway? They were a recent fad, even amongst their creators.
Kaname exhaled silently. Zero was right. It was time. He took one last glance over the ravaged landscape, and then looked up into the sky. The stars, at least, were familiar.
Then he turned his back and headed back down the trail, Zero falling into place behind him automatically.
Without waiting, he walked confidently back to their camp with his head held high, back down the hillside to the vestiges of a vast army, projecting an aura of utmost serenity and power. His men knew something was happening tonight. Any odd behaviour from him would only fuel their superstitions.
“Will it work?” Zero asked, falling into step, eyes systematically scanning the surrounding countryside for any whisper of an attack from both without and within.
Zero appeared startled by the conviction of his tone. But Kaname didn’t have any doubts. The ritual they were about to use was old to be sure, but he’d been the one to invent it, millennia ago. He knew it would work – the only question was what price he’d have to pay this time.
And there was always a price.
“Is it true that you learned it from a lullaby?”
“Since when have you been one for the soldier’s gossip?”
“I’m not. This is pragmatism. A lullaby isn’t reliable.”
“Technically it’s a Teaching Ballad,” Kaname replied with a smirk as Zero glared at him again.
“Thank you o King,” Zero replied in a monotone as he nodded to one of his captains. “That was extremely enlightening and reassuring. Truly, no other has your gift for language.”
Kaname rolled his eyes, allowing himself to smile openly – it did the soldiers good to see their commanders relaxed and happy. “It’s what we sing to infant purebloods.”
Zero nearly walked into a tree.
“Enchantingly, or so I’m told,” Kaname agreed blithely.
Zero’s eye twitched.
“So it is a lullaby. Fantastic.”
“An instructional lullaby.”
“And that makes it any better how?”
They had to pause their bantering as another captain jogged to Zero, who gave quick instructions for the upcoming battle, and then they carried on, more and more men and women rushing past them to take their places with only quick nods in greeting and respect as their focus turned to the upcoming battle.
A long time ago, Kaname thought with no little amusement, a nod of greeting to him would have been tantamount to suicide. Disrespectful at best and a deliberate insult at worst – either would have been met with harsh reprisal. Now, it was only because the soldiers respected Kaname that they nodded at all.
There was no time for fripperies in war; besides, bowing exposed your back.
“The Ballads are designed for this situation, Zero,” Kaname replied softly. “Parenting is dangerous for a pureblood, there is a good chance that the infant will be orphaned young. If the child survives that vulnerability, they have no one to teach him or her about their powers. The Ballads are sung over and over until the infant has them memorised. When they grow, they know what they can do, and how to do it.”
“And someone thought it wise to tell a child they can travel through time?”
Zero’s tone said it all. Kaname shrugged.
“Better to know it can be done, and the price it will cost, than to attempt it and be unprepared.”
Zero eyed Kaname from the corner of his eye.
“What, exactly, is the price?”
“Something potent enough that no pureblood has tried it since the experiment was considered a success,” Kaname said lightly, waving a negligent hand as if that somehow dismissed Zero’s concerns.
“Hush. It’s my burden to bear.”
Billions were dead. It was stupid for Kaname to think it was entirely his fault, but why didn’t he see the signs? It wasn’t like him. Kaname pushed the niggling suspicion aside. He had to focus.
“Only because you’ve put it there. We all deserve a portion of the blame. You might be the one going back, but don’t keep it to yourself. Get allies or you’ll go mad.”
Kaname was silent for a few steps.
“You know,” Kaname said nonchalantly, focusing on the positive, “when this works – I could help you, the past you, I mean.”
“What are you on about, Kuran?” Zero stopped abruptly, far too used to the pureblood’s manipulations to let such an obvious ploy slip by him. Immediate confrontation was the way to go.
“I’ll have years, Zero, Years to plan and prepare – that could include you.” It would include Zero whether he agreed to it or not of course, Kaname knew he had at least that much honour left in him, and Zero was too skilled to be ignored. “You could be one such ally.”
“I don’t understand. I was a whiny little shit back then, not someone who you’d want at your back in this kind of war.”
“Think Zero. This ritual… it has endless possibilities. I don’t know how far back I can go, if I can go back far enough to stop Shizuka,” Kaname didn’t promise that he would stop Shizuka even if he could. Zero wouldn’t be Zero without facing all the trials her bite had come with. And, ruthlessly, he knew Zero made a much better fighter by being a vampire. But he would give Zero hope, here at the end, even if he knew it for lies. He’d never denied being ruthless.
“I don’t even know if I’ll be in a position to do anything. But, I swear to you. I will do all I can to help you, if you want. I’ll certainly be giving you blood, even if it’ll be back to forcing it down your throat again.”
“If I want?” Zero repeated harshly. “Don’t fucking joke about that you leech. You know exactly what I would do if I had the power to change it.”
“It’s not a joke, Zero,” he replied softly. “I wouldn’t make light of your life. If I can make it back that far, I’ll try. Know that at least. I’ll certainly be treating you better this time around,” he smiled wryly at the memories of their numerous arguments and resulting fights. Decades of failed communication later, they’d discovered make-up sex and had only argued since just so that they could keep having it.
“And what precisely would you be asking of me – my younger self or whatever – in exchange for your protection.” Zero knew damn well it wouldn’t be free or out of the goodness of Kuran’s non-existent heart. Vampire society had undergone a lot of radical changes in the last century – but the time frame Kaname suggested meant playing by the old rules of debts, favours and lies.
OK, he’d matured enough to know Kaname did have a heart - he’d even seen it once - and god had that been a horrible night trying to stuff Kaname’s guts back in with bullets and bodies flying overhead. Zero repressed that visceral memory without pause as his mind carried on desperately trying to see Kaname’s angle in all this.
Even with the physical proof burned into his retinas, Kaname had to have a benefit for him squirreled away somewhere. No doubt. That was just his nature.
Never let it be said that a hunter had lost his distrust of vampires. His instincts were -of course -spot on.
Kaname chuckled softly. “Oh I have a price in mind.”
“A price? Kaname don’t make me hurt you.” It was not an idle threat; Zero was already hefting his gun. Kaname eyed it, heat flaring in his eyes – how could he resist?
“As if you could.”
Zero launched towards the infuriating arsehole in a blur of speed. Not one solider batted an eye; they were used to their leaders bizarre form of flirting. One woman even dared to whistle as she hastened past, shouldering a bazooka and dodging the odd limb.
Kaname easily evaded the hunter’s grab, appearing behind him instantaneously only to ruffle his hair in the same infuriating fashion as Yagari once had.
“Now, now,” he wrapped his arms about Zero from behind, pressing the hunter’s body firmly into his own, whispering sultrily into his ear, “is that any way to treat your beloved master, Zero-chan.” He slid his hands up under Zero’s shirt, gliding them across delectable warm skin. Seduction was his normal method of distraction for Zero; it rarely failed.
The horrified hunter spluttered and cursed incoherently, struggling valiantly but fruitlessly. “You are not my master,” he gasped out, disgust evident at the very thought of the word. Apparently that distinction mattered more than his current molestation.
“Am I not the pureblood you are bound to?” Kaname inquired, delicately nibbling down the long expanse of pale skin, laving Zero’s tattoo.
“Yes,” Zero grudgingly admitted, as Kaname hurriedly released him when the hunter sparked the tattoo and managed to singe his questing tongue. Zero was willing to allow that he owed the pureblood that tiny, insignificant detail, “but that doesn’t make you my master. Eww.” He paused, realisation sweeping over him.
“Oh you bastard.” Kaname tried hard to hide his smirk, really, he did.
“No need to be coarse, pet.”
“You’re going to offer to save me, and bind me to you instead of Shizuka. I will not be your lackey in any timeline, you…” he couldn’t find a word coarse enough to describe the ancient vampire.
“…And your virginity.” Kaname admitted, not bothering to hide his amused pleasure at the thought. What was a little bit of manipulation between friends?
“I knew you were jealous that you weren’t my first, or fifth for that matter.” Zero focused on that thought, denial sweeping over him. The pureblood had been awful during their school days, even imagining said pureblood with knowledge of the future and intimate knowledge of his character, and, he swallowed hard, his body, was traumatising. He’d probably pass out from all the blood rushing to his face and groin at the same time.
Kaname scowled at the reminder, Zero mentally tallied himself a point.
“I’ll be your only soon enough.”
Zero sighed. Minus a point. The leech could certainly hold a grudge.
“At least I’ll never know the difference.”
Kaname didn’t answer. That was enough for Zero to pause. Kaname never missed an opportunity to needle him. He knew enough of Kaname to recognise a potential fuck up right then and there.
“I won’t know the difference, right? Kaname, Kaname! This is not the time for your usual-
Kaname shrugged, somehow making the gesture elegant. “We share a blood bond, Zero. When I go back – I’ll still have that bond within me. I only have theories…”
“You know what. I don’t care.” Zero’s tone was brusque. It was too much maybe and if for it to warrant any consideration when they were on the brink of extinction. He was a general and he had an army to organise.
“If you succeed and save us all from this hell – I’ll kiss your feet, suck you off, and beg on my knees for you to take me, master. Fuck, I’ll even do it in public.Now get going, leech. I can only buy you so much time.”
Zero was just as accomplished at distraction. The purebloods eyes had widened visibly at his pronouncement, the pupils darkening rapidly. Kinky bastard.
Kaname’s imagination was providing all the encouragement he needed, even for a plan as insane as this one.
Before Zero could storm off to rally up some morale, post scouts and bully the last few hundred of their men into order, Kaname grabbed his arm and pulled him close, lips capturing the hunter’s with ease, pressing one last comforting and familiar kiss on him, revelling in the ever-present spice of his taste, and delighting in how Zero struggled, then submitted to let him do what he wanted.
Kaname could never convey the gratitude he felt towards Zero, the hunter had been the only one with the courage and utter lack of reverence for him to have been able to barge straight into his rooms and threaten him to ‘keep his shit together’ after… well, after Yuki.
After that disaster they’d worked together plenty of times, just clicking into an unusual friendship that had utterly freaked his entire Court. He was not going to let the hunter just run off if this was the last time he’d ever see him. He was the last one alive that Kaname had known before the war. Without that link to happier times, Kaname doubted he’d be sane.
When Kaname didn’t let up immediately, Zero knew it was one of those times where the pureblood was going to be stubborn about it. Zero kissed back as briefly as he thought he could get away with, gently caressing Kaname’s tongue in warm pleasure, ignoring how addicting he found the experience with the ease of long practice. They’d made love for hours yesterday in a rare break from fighting and Zero wasn’t going to tarnish that incredibly sensuous experience with a quick desperate fuck against a tree.
It would taste too much like defeat- even if they had had the time for it.
Apparently satisfied, Kaname let him escape the kiss but leant his forehead against the hunter’s and looked deep into his lilac eyes that were wet with the tears he refused to let fall.
“That is how you are supposed to say goodbye, Zero.”
Kaname wasted no time. The others had already gathered- their presence a beacon to his senses.
As Zero continued on to oversee their last stand, Kaname stood on the lip of an enormous crater scarring the earth. After a full century of constant war, the world was a very different place.
Kaname knew they stood somewhere in old Maya, although the humans had renamed it since Kaname had last visited. Not that the surface really mattered – Kaname hadn’t seen greenery in well over a decade so countries tended to look the same. Rock here, sand there, dirt and dust everywhere. The only thing that made this spot special was the cave hidden below.
He jumped, the cool air rushing past him was almost pleasant except for the ever-present taste of chemicals and yet more dust.
Landing in an easy crouch, he nodded once in greeting towards the other three vampires who were waiting on him.
“Pushing it a bit, Kaname,” Charlotte d’Aragon commented. Kaname glanced up at the stars before eyeing the formerly-Spanish pureblood.
“Plenty of time left.”
“It will not take us long,” Freya Lancaster interrupted, eyeing the stars herself with her one remaining eye. The other was still healing.
“Even so,” Aylin Osman whispered – her throat had been almost ripped out twice and with the amount of poison on the claws that had done it she was lucky to be speaking, “There is still some way to go.”
Pragmatically, they didn’t bicker or try any vying for position with the old power games as Aylin kicked the boulder and other rubble of the old temple that had hidden the cave entrance from sight into so much blasted dust. Times had changed after all, and despite the fact that all four purebloods had once belonged to separate countries and would have rather chewed their own arm off than turn their back on one another, when Aylin headed into the cave they all followed.
Blurring into motion at half-speed, they raced through ancient caverns where mineral deposits glistened on the walls like a mural, ignoring the equally ancient cave art as they sped around the great underground lake and wriggled through a tiny opening at the end of another tunnel. It was just wide enough for a thin adult to squeeze into, assuming they were willing to commit themselves to crawling through a hole that rather looked like a mouth – with two rows of very sharp fangs top and bottom.
There was no way through that didn’t end in blood.
On the other side Kaname straightened, ruefully eyeing the remains of his last shirt that now hung in tatters about his waist and edged in blood even as the gashes healed.
This chamber was why they’d risked retaking territory they’d retreated from years ago. If anywhere was sacred to the Vampire, then it was here.
The cavern wasn’t large or deep; it was a small spherical room. The walls, floor and ceiling were rippled and coloured with the pattern of long-cold molten lava. This area had been an air bubble once in a great flow from the centre of the earth. In the heart of the room there was a small depression where a tiny spring of purest water that looked almost silver burbled for a hand span before it returned to the earth. It didn’t glow – but there was a certain luminance to it, aided by the fact that the entire chamber was studded with tiny stars of the same silver that glimmered with their own speck of light.
“This place feels strange,” Freya whispered, reaching out to touch one of the silver droplets. It flared at her touch and she quickly withdrew her hand, but nothing happened to her. She wriggled her fingers, faintly suspicious. “Is that mithril?”
“Yes,” Aylin whispered, but she staring at the spring not Freya. “Strange.”
Then the tiny deposits of silvery substance began to glow, the previously dim chamber now cast long shadows.
“Midnight on Winternight,” Kaname called it.
“Now there’s an auspicious time for a vampire,” Charlotte smiled, but it was a sad smile. Her expression abruptly hardened when she saw that Kaname had noticed it. “Let’s begin.”
She dropped her fangs, they gleamed pearly white but then Charlotte tore into her wrist with disturbing enthusiasm, turning them red as she opened every vein present. Blood spurted from the wound thick and dark, and all of the tempting offering of forbidden ambrosia splattered wetly into the well where it mixed with the spring water that was looking more and more silver and less and less like water.
The blood did not vanish into the ground water. It didn’t dilute, just pooled in the pit, headier than the oldest wine, almost smoking with waves of dangerous desire, flowing thickly until the wound healed and Charlotte stepped back, her first offering complete.
She held her wrist out to Kaname, and he obligingly licked it clean, feeling the thrum of seductive power within it, but resisting easily. It was now or never. Distraction was impossible.
In the mean time, Freya had repeated the process and now the scent of blood was heavy in the confined air. It didn’t help that none of them had fed enough lately and constantly battled a low level bloodlust that was never truly sated. Kaname cleaned her wrist too, the movements sensual and in another time and place would have led to him getting nothing else done for a few nights. As it was his eyes still flickered red with the memory of previous encounters.
When Aylin added her blood, the atmosphere changed.
Power hung thick in the air – the spring was definitely silver now – and the chamber’s luminescence had danced from charming to eerie.
Kaname stripped naked, modesty had never been his strong suit and besides everyone here had already seen it, and knelt by the well. With the blood of three purebloods in it, the well was full and the blood ran with unseen currents, swirling by its own volition, streams of silver threading through the mahogany red.
Unceremoniously, Kaname dipped in a finger and began painting his own skin in symbols that crackled with power. Some formed reluctantly, taking the strength of his other hand to complete the glyph, others swam across his skin, so gleeful to exist that the blood moved on its own, curling around his skin before imprinting into place with a hiss. Some were as small as his fingernail, but one took his entire chest to exist. He worked as quickly as possible but it was a delicate balance between care and speed.
The blood dried very quickly, looking almost black like the symbols had been branded into his skin with a poker. One that caused Kaname’s fangs to ache groaned into corporeality on his left thigh. If a human had tried it – they’d be lucky to have both eyes remaining by the final brush of blood.
Some things just weren’t for mortal eyes.
Kaname moved quickly, practiced and in a hurry though he was careful in their construction and double-checked them all but too soon it was done. Head to toe, he was covered in symbols of power that were deeply uncomfortable to look at, jarring the three ladies senses with the sixth and seventh sense that something was very very wrong.
“Are you sure those are right?” Aylin asked, checking him over but having to look away every other second.
“It feels like it shouldn’t exist,” Freya frowned. “I really want to attack you right now.”
“It’s not supposed to exist,” Kaname sighed, “So yes, if you think it’s wrong then it’s right.”
“You must have been out of your mind to invent this,” Charlotte mused. She was having no problems examining his body for any misalignment, not that she was paying attention to the runes. It was much easier to look at them and really think about what they meant and if they’d work when she only used the corner of her eyes.
Kaname whipped around, claws already out, why hadn’t he heard anything – but the sound was coming from above them.
“It’s begun,” Aylin murmured, her voice wretched even without the scarring. Kaname agreed with sentiment echoed in Freya’s tears and Charlotte’s white knuckled grip. The glyphs must have taken longer than expected, or the enemy had been faster. Either way, his people were dying.
Sure, everyone above had volunteered on this last gamble, but they were still men and women, vampire and human, that Kaname had spent the last century protecting and fighting side by side with, some of them since the very beginning.
It was incredibly difficult hearing them die.
“Don’t waste it,” Freya snarled in Kaname’s face, eyes wild and a mouth full of fangs. She wasn’t referring to just their battered army.
Kaname pressed his forehead against hers and breathed in the quiet sense of trust he had with the last remaining purebloods as Aylin gripped his hand, carefully not smudging the blood work, and tilting his head back to rest on Charlotte’s shoulder as she pressed herself gently against his back.
“I won’t,” he swore quietly, relishing their closeness. “My oath, I won’t.”
Their numbers had always been low; purebloods lived for millennia, rarely having children, frequently dying to childbirth and each other – but to be reduced to just four?
The three women stepped back at some silent signal. The screams above meshed with the sound of battle, machine guns firing specialised bullets in endless rounds, inhuman roaring from the enemy and over all of it was the screams of the dying ally and enemy alike, although Kaname could tell that it was too much of one and too few of the other.
Freya, Aylin and Charlotte stood around the well, holding each other’s hands in a circle whilst Kaname kept out of their way.
Then they spoke the Words Kaname had patiently coached them in during whatever spare time had been snatched in-between battles.
Words of Power fell from their lips, crafted in perfect harmony, hissing with energy and causing Kaname to flinch as the inherent power of each symbol jarred his senses, screaming into his mind like nails down a blackboard, making his joints ache with an unknown resonance even as they seared his eyes.
The Words dripped, tangoed and writhed into the well.
Kaname shivered as he felt something looking back from the pool of blood. It was incomprehensibly ancient – even for Kaname who often inspired that reaction in others – and so, so very familiar and missed.
The Earth was waking.
Sweating visibly, eyes fully red and pupils blown wide with ecstasy and agony, Aylin dropped to her knees first, the other two following, swaying with exhaustion.
She spoke one last Word – a sharp howl that wasn’t quite metal ripped apart and wasn’t quite the howl of a wolf – which flared into existence in green smoke before dropping into the well which now spat with power.
Barely conscious, Aylin transformed her left hand into a full set of claws and scrambled at her own chest, the claws were razor sharp and she was as strong as any pureblood. Her hand sunk into her stomach with a wet squelch, her aura flickering wildly, blood and internal juices sweeping down her stomach like a waterfall – all of it somehow directed into the well, skipping staining her clothes to give all of itself to the well.
Her arm flexed as she pushed her hand up under her ribcage, forcing it to bend, flexing again as something was gripped with a preternaturally strong grasp. Kaname refused to look away as with a howl of agony, Aylin ripped her heart from her chest. It still beat desperately in her hand as she threw it into the well with a scream that sounded like an asteroid hitting the earth.
Her heart bobbed on the surface of the blood, still beating as the whirlpool spun faster and faster. Her second sacrifice.
Aylin panted, tears pooling in her eyes.
Then it was Freya’s turn.
Duty to his people and respect for their sacrifice was what kept Kaname watching as his friends and lovers mutilated themselves to power the working. It was just like how Eve had used her heart to help him create Hunter weapons… and that was the last thing he needed to be thinking about right now.
Words of Power hung heavy in the air. They formed a silvery fog above the well. If he focused, Kaname could pick out the individual glyphs, but he tried not to. It would only give him a headache or accidently blind himself if he were particularly unlucky.
When Freya’s heart was sacrificed, her last Word the roar of the sea and the scent of moonlight, the well turned completely silver, the fog of glyphs vanishing into it and the whirlpool spun faster, somehow managing to march deosil and waltz widdershins at the same time.
With Charlotte’s sacrifice, the power in the well burst bright gold as her Word burned from her lips.
Without a whimper, Aylin, Freya and Charlotte crumbled into dust and Kaname was alone. It was their third and final sacrifice. Kaname stared at the remains – beings of infinite life and beauty and worth reduced to a handful of crystalline ash so easily. It wasn’t fair, but it wouldn’t be a sacrifice if it were fair. The Last of his kind as he had been the First he thought grimly as he stepped briskly up to the well, the stone floor hot under his bare feet.
The screams above were faltering. Kaname knew it was no sign of victory.
Gently, he used his fangs to slice the translucent skin on either wrist, tilting them downwards so the blood didn’t smudge his work. His blood trickled into the pool of gold slowly, almost reluctant however graceful.
With a groan that sounded as if it came deep from the Earth herself, a great schism coalesced. The golden pool became a golden vortex, blistering with the sheer power of Time as a schism in the fabric of reality was wrenched open beneath him.
To the naked eye the well was now a psychedelic vortex of colours and cascading arrays of light, all of it lit with gold. Kaname stared into the chasm that had opened before him – mesmerised. Lightning arced from side to side down the tunnel- A tunnel that seemed to go on for eternity where there had only been stone.
All he had to do was fall.
It was going to hurt. That was inevitable. Kaname forced his body to relax to accept the pain as his thoughts focused with an unrelenting precision. The glyphs would protect his body and mind for as long as they held out, but after that it was down to him. The longer he could endure, the further back he would go. Willpower would keep him alive once he’d taken the plunge.
Kaname took a deep breath, breathing in the hot enclosed air that still carried the memory of Freya, Aylin and Charlotte. He was a keenly honed blade of determination. He was resolute. His will would be done this night.
Kaname would save them and fix this abysmal mess. As long as his mind was obsessed with the need to protect his family, his Court and his people, then he could endure anything. Even this.
As far as he’d puzzled out – hindered by the fog lying over his memories from that time – whatever had gone wrong with him and the world had started during his second childhood. That would be his target.
Lowbloods should never have been able to attack Kuran manor. That place had been hearth and home to their family for thousands of years and every member had added some form of blood magic protection to it during their long lives. It was a fortress like no other.
Haruka and Juuri shouldn’t have died. They couldn’t have within those walls.
Yuki should never have had her memories erased. He could only wish that he knew what they’d been thinking. Yuki had had what, ten years? Before the seal had weakened irreversibly. She’d been driven mad – her vampire instincts and power that had been so thoroughly suppressed had actually formed an entirely separate personality. They hadn’t protected Yuki at all – they’d driven her mad.
Yuki had had a human side, and a vampire side. They didn’t get along – conflicting morals was the least of it. She’d needed blood and actually hated herself for it, which was too bizarre to Kaname for him to understand. Who hated themselves for eating food? Yuki could discipline her servants and then think herself a monster for giving orders and expecting them to be obeyed. She killed the assassin sent for her head and cried over it. It had taken years for Kaname to parse out that her mind couldn’t have actually matured since she’d been sealed. She had been a five year old in the body of a teenager.
After that her suicide made sense.
It had begun with Yuki – but events had continued to go wrong long after her death. All of his inner court – his friends – had died in a single decade, one after the other. Takuma had been killed by his own grandfather in a bid to weaken Kaname, Akatsuki had laid down his life to give Kaname the time to escape, Ruka had taken a mortal blow meant for Kaname from an unknown assassin, Shiki had visited his home one day and had never returned – Kaname had always suspected the uncle who had tried to groom Shiki to be Rido’s puppet but he hadn’t had the time to investigate and that family had been wiped out a few months later anyway. Rima had committed suicide, just curling up on her cot and dying. As for Hanabusa…well, some things just didn’t bear thinking about. Soon it would all be erased. Undone.
Kaname breathed out – and then felt a cold hand grip his heart, as a blood bond unravelled and he knew that Zero was dead. He gritted his fangs and forced the sensation away. He’d grieve later. Erased. Undone.
There was no more time for Kaname to strengthen his determination. Zero would have been one of the last to fall – if he was dead then so was everyone else.
Eyes burning, Kaname bowed his head and fell.
For an instant, it was almost peaceful.
The Vortex was beautiful, a never-ending tunnel of otherworldly power. Falling down it felt like swimming, all his senses were pleasantly muffled creating a very soothing sensation as he watched the walls of this cloudy schism pass him by like wisps of fog in the moonlight.
Then the first glyph peeled away from his skin – the speck of black entirely incongruous against the mystical surroundings – and turn to dust. One by one they faded, leaving only a whisper of familiar presences behind. The scent of freesia that Aylin had favoured, a brush of Freya’s lips as the wards on his right hand shivered into dust and the sound of Charlotte’s laughter echoing around him when the final glyph imploded under the pressure of the Vortex.
Agony consumed him instantly.
He was torn apart, molecule-by-molecule before being brutally fused back together with an unholy fire. It was pain beyond anything he’d endured before – and that was saying a lot. But it was worth it. It had to be. Kaname held onto that thought with all his might, letting it buffer him against the primordial power that lashed through the very essence of his being. He would survive this. He could and damn well would take far worse than this for a second chance.
What had their sacrifice been for if that doomed world couldn’t be undone? What had all the sacrifices before theirs had been for? No. That future would be erased and undone.
And he alone would remember it.
Kaname would pay his debts. He gritted his fangs and endured. It wasn’t just the pain. It was cold. Such minor concerns rarely bothered it him – it normally had to be Artic for him to even notice – but this was something else. There were no stars here – this was the absolute cold of space, the void, it was freezing enough to turn his soul to ice.
As he’d told Zero – there was a price to be paid for this power.
He was within Time. Time didn’t exist for him right now. The excruciating torment of his body disintegrating by the forces of the universe happened all at once and speck by speck – at the same time. Equally it hadn’t happened yet but had already happened. He was a consciousness with no physical shell to protect his mind from the ravages of Time and yet he was still being torn apart and so glacial that it burned only just beginning the careening excursion, backwards through the leylines of the earth.
Morbidly Kaname acknowledged that torture would be laughable after this. Then he wondered if he’d already lost his mind since he was ruminating on the equivalence of pain.
The thought terrified him. His mind would be his only weapon against that horrid future. The memories of what went wrong were too important to lose; otherwise he’d never know what he should have done instead.
Kaname forced his consciousness to latch onto the purpose of this desperate plan and holding it there with will power alone. It didn’t fix anything; he was so far beyond torture right now that an absence of pain would probably kill him with shock. But the memories of better times, before the war, before Rido, before Shizuka and even before the Academy soothed his ravaged mind enough to let him endure just a bit more.
Simple, innocent times of a second childhood, soon to be a third, when for once he had someone else to protect him for a change. No war, no death, no loss. When he could have a chance to just breathe.
He was floating, his soul bathed in golden light as he sensed his journey and torment come to an end. Kaname had no idea if he’d succeeded in his quest. Instead he was completely overwhelmed with the sensations of his battered consciousness settling into an actual physical form – it felt like an eternity had passed in the Vortex. His new but old body was so very strange and fleshy…
There was no pain. None. He gloried in that hedonistic indulgence.
But he was Thirsty, oh so thirsty.
Blood had been getting scarcer and scarcer as the war progressed into the tenth decade. Billions of humans had been eradicated, and those few hundred million that survived the bitter attrition of the first decade, slowly became poisoned to equal the state of the land.
Kaname had turned several soldiers to keep them in the fight, the extra strength of vampirism was a boon and afterwards he’d had all of them as safe sources of blood. Vampire blood was stronger and much more filling for Kaname, but there was a reason their prey was usually human.
Humans were just scrumptious. There was a certain vitality – reminiscent of sunlight – that the vampire craved and required.
Of course, they tasted a lot worse when they were starving, depressed and fighting off various diseases and chemical pollutants.
Kaname hadn’t had a choice but to round up the humans from their scattered hold outs, ranging from a survivalist family’s secret bug out base to a military outpost to lone stragglers, and organise them into something useful. Sparing precious resources to keep the human race from extinction so that when – if – it ever ended, the vampires wouldn’t starve.
Needless to say – it had been an age since Kaname had had healthy, nutritious, thick, red, delicious, salty, sugary, spicy, tangy, sharp, flavourful blood.
Blood…even thinking the word sent a pang of utter craving through him. Blood. Blood. Blood, Blood, Blood. Bloodbloodbloodblood.
Desiccated eyes cracked open, blinking required extreme effort – his eyes were unbearably dry. It was dark. Cramped. Silent.
He took his first breath, collapsed lungs heaving with the strain. With that breath he smelt musty decay. Ah. He was in a tomb. His tomb, to be precise, he’d recognise the sensation anywhere – even as mentally raw and wretched as he was from the … trip.
Yes, trip was a nice euphemism; he’d stick with that.
Kaname’s brain was sluggish, thoughts slow and disjointed unused to requiring grey matter and neurons and electrical pulses to function after so long without a body.
Tomb… there was something he was forgetting. Something important. Then it hit him like a train, he would have gasped if his mummified lungs could have performed the motion without choking him on a mouthful of his own disintegrated flesh. He knew the where, what and why, it was the when that shocked him.
He was before Rido had resurrected him. Even in his wildest hopes he hadn’t dreamed that he’d managed to survive long enough to reach this point in time. He was well over his hope of one hundred years.
This was incredible.
Kaname wanted to cackle with glee as he listened to his heart beat strongly in his rotten chest. The Blood Debt he’d owed Rido for resurrecting him had been a major thorn in his side. To be brutally honest, it had crippled his ability to do anything against Rido. He hadn’t been able to attack the vampire personally no matter how easy it would have been. Kaname couldn’t have dealt the detestable man a pinprick had Rido been lying unconscious at his feet! Oh but the memory of his helplessness made him burn with impotent fury and embarrassment. The Blood Debt hadn’t just affected Kaname physically – no, that much he could have worked around. The Debt spread to include mental effects. If Kaname knew that killing this vampire or not taking over that business would hurt Rido’s interests – Kaname had been bound from doing it.
It was their curse, Kaname knew. Purebloods could have so much strength, they could be gods amongst men, but it was balanced with moments of extreme vulnerability. The mental blocks had been what necessitated Zero. A Hunter whose nature meant Kaname couldn’t sabotage himself by influencing Zero, a hunter who he could manipulate into killing a Kuran.
Rido had absolutely nothing to resurrect this time. Kaname was already awake. Kaname smiled, lips cracking, there would be no ‘master’ anymore.
He could finally kill the bastard himself.
He was free! His eyes closed again in relief; the unexpected emotions were tiring his already exhausted stores of energy. Just a quick rest, for one minute, only a minute.
Light blinded him, as his sanctuary was wrenched open, his mind derailed completely with the overwhelming flood of sensory input. His new body was extremely sensitive. It didn’t help that as a pureblood he felt so much more in the first place. A candle could have been the sun for all the sense of it he could make.
Blood. Blood was in the air. Memory, plans, even thoughts faded in the wake of such overpowering instinct. He hadn’t had untainted blood in decades, Kaname neither knew or cared that it was his descendent being sacrificed for his ‘resurrection’ – though when the blood lust faded, his consciousness would be soothed by knowing that the babe was already dead by Rido’s hand before the blood got to him.
His throat was blazing from the thirst. He couldn’t have resisted the foulest Level E’s blood at that moment - his need was beyond feral. Everything he was demanded he drink and drink deeply. He wanted every drop of moisture he could force out. It was worse than being stranded in the Sahara desert for months alone in the scorching heat and having the last drop of water in the world offered to him on a silver platter.
Resistance was unfathomable.
Blood lust bloomed like a haze over his mind, it took every last dredge of willpower he still had to remain still and not rise up and leap at that blood, tear his fangs into that flesh and consume it right down to the soul - instead he had to wait patiently, somehow dredging up the energy to muffle the sound of his own heartbeat, lying completely still until enough of that oh so sinful life seeped into his ancient heart for it to ‘start’ beating. He twitched his chest, faking rebirth, a few drops before the blood would run out. He needed more, rivers of blood more.
Unfortunately Kaname knew exactly how much blood an infant could hold. He wouldn’t be getting any more.
It wasn’t enough for him to just sit up and climb out of his crypt, fully restored – but it was enough to provide living flesh, just not much of it.
Kaname would need to use that blood carefully to restart his body how he wanted to.
At least he had the presence of mind to guide the process, unlike before. He’d be de-aged into a baby, he’d already anticipated that, but without the Blood Debt and with the blood of a Kuran he’d have enough energy, even with his previous controlled starvation and arduous trip, to protect his mind completely from the side effects of de-aging and resurrection.
If Kaname’d been willing to sacrifice some of his mental power, his memories and developed mental abilities, he’d probably be able to age straight into a five or six year olds form – old enough to defend himself independently, but quite frankly, he’d rather suffer the indignity of being fully aware during babyhood than risk either losing information about the future or potentially not ‘growing into’ his full abilities and experience until he was old enough to have the power to support it.
Kaname was proud of who he was, losing any part of that, anything of the life he’d lived would be too much like suicide.
His body rapidly regenerated and shrunk with a few mental nudges. It was painful last time, but right now he could barely feel it. Clearly the whole time-travel business had messed with his pain threshold. Not that he was in a state to debate the pros and cons.
Flesh, warm and flawless, spread over his skeletal frame swiftly, skin was always first - to hide the scent of blood, but it was thin though, too thin. That was when he felt his spine shrinking and oh god he hadn’t imagined that pain. It was hot, burning heat as his bones shifted, groaning like an ancient oak tree as they shortened and softened, decalcifying swiftly, and reversing two decades of physical growth in minutes.
And Kaname had thought he could feel no more.
Skin rippled, muscle and sinew, arteries and veins from the aorta down to the capillaries, all completely visible beneath his translucent protection as they spun themselves out and attached, his heart never stopped beating, and once the circulatory system completed, it began to pump his precious blood around, fuelling muscle growth, tissue formation and the dreaded organs.
Skin writhed as it wrapped around his new form, twisting and shrinking from wafer thin and over stretched, swamping his new tiny form in a puddle of flesh before moving like some kind of demented monster and layering and layering and layering over a tenth of the mass it had to cover before. It darkened slightly as it settled like a congealed lump, pale flesh finally resembling something vampiric. But not one drop of blood had left his body, which was why his skin was formed like that. Even almost entirely drained of energy, his body could produce that wafer-thin layer to prevent blood spilling.
His body – which Kaname really couldn’t quite process as his yet, with his mind still reeling from time travel and relief and pain and bloodlust and mmm blood – finally stilled with only a twitch here or there as skin realigned or an organ was attached to the internal pipes or cartilage sinking into place.
Kaname was dimly aware of another presence in the room, with glowing red eyes that had not left his painful metamorphosis. He could care less despite how he resented anyone seeing him weak, unconsciousness was calling with its siren song, and he had no strength left to stop falling into its depths.
Rido watched greedily as his ancestor, the so-called Godslayer, was reduced to a mere baby. The process was incredible – just seven minutes, and a monster became a mouthful.
He could still taste the delicious blood on his tongue from his now deceased nephew.
Pity there wasn’t more, but one sip had had to do. He didn’t want the original Kuran to be too weak to complete the transformation, and clearly it had been just enough.
The new baby was asleep. And oh so tempting, but no, he had to resist, Rido reminded himself firmly. He had plans for his little toy. The Ancestor… he shivered in insane glee – the Ancestor with a Blood Debt to him – oh he couldn’t wait. Once he’d had time to grow a little, Rido could have as much of his blood as he wanted… but first, to establish the Blood Debt, with little Kuran dead there was no Debt to the infant but if he gave just a little now it would be enough to form the link.
A complete life had to be sacrificed for a resurrection - The spark of life and a certain amount of blood. His nephew had been one sip short since he’d had a little snack. A few drops of his own blood now meant the Debt would be his to collect – neatly ensuring he didn’t have to use too much of his own blood in the stronghold of his brother and sister and fatally weakening himself when they were probably already aware of his presence.
Swiftly, Rido rolled the sleeve of his designer jacket up and bit down with his own fangs, heedless of the blood that soaked into the five-figure material. He held his wrist out, letting the blood flow and drip onto Kaname’s lips, gently encouraging the throat muscles to swallow since Kaname wasn’t awake to do it himself – though Rido happily doubted he remembered how to anymore, and wasn’t that a lovely thought – so powerful and so weak, Kaname would be an excellent treat in a few years.
He let the blood trickle for several moments. Kaname would only need a mouthful but Rido wanted Kaname’s mind and body to be in no doubt of whom the Debt was held to. The baby would be desperately weak for a long while; his every scrap of energy fuelling the transformation, his blood would fill the gap left behind and create an instinctive recognition of the Debt. Rido had never cared to study the Old Ways but he vaguely remembered that it had something to do with the Balance of Life and other such whimsical nonsense. Whatever. It was useful.
Rido was wrenched from his musings as the small punctures healed over. Two furious purebloods were approaching rapidly, one considerably weakened – that would be Juuri, vulnerable from childbirth, but the other was perfectly healthy, and as wrathful as any god with about as much control as one. The building trembled slightly with their approach. Mummy and Daddy were angry.
Time to go.
Running at the highest speed he could force his body to, Rido fled, laughter echoing down the bare stone corridor behind him along with one mangled corpse of a baby, sparkling crystal already beginning to flake from the corpse, body too far gone to heal.
Juuri’s horrified scream serenaded him to freedom, outside the oppressing weight of Kuran Manor, over the fields of dust left by the corpses of his distraction and away.
He would be back.
Haruka grimaced as he ran for all he was worth to the Ancestor’s Tomb. Blood lay heavy in the air and his heart felt like lead in his chest. He already knew what he would find.
They turned the corner, side by side and in perfect step, just in time to see the last flecks of crystal float away on a non-existent breeze. They were too late. He turned as he sensed Juuri falter at the sight, the horror, shame and boundless grief on her face a reflection of his own. Haruka caught her as she fell, gently lowering her to her knees, where she hovered and cried, screaming with so much grief and pain in her voice that he was surprised the world dared to still stand unchanged as it faded, the echoes trembling down the corridor, given life by her rage and despair.
He knelt by her side as she reached towards where dust sparkled, her hands shaking so badly she couldn’t grasp anything, let alone the tiny crystals. Her face was a picture of grief, but her eyes were dry; she was in too much pain to cry.
He knew he was no better himself, shock was settling in as he tried to grasp reality. His heir was dead – after years of preparation he hadn’t even survived a night!
Juuri’s skin was cold beneath his hand, but he drew her towards him anyway, trying to give the comfort she was seeking, she pressed her face into his neck and bit down without hesitation, he let her, hoping she gained enough strength to want to live after this horrific night.
Rage flooded him, suppressing his grief with fury.
There was no word in mortal tongue to satisfy his abhorrence for that… creature.
To just leave his son in the corridor! Thrown onto to the ground, harsh cold stone like filth. No respect. What were vampires coming to?
Even as his thoughts lashed about like a wild beast, as Juuri drank from in, lost in grief enough for him to fear her suicide, his analytical mind began to tick.
Why here? Why now? How did he know Juuri was pregnant? How did he gather so many level E’s without tipping of one of his spies?
His gaze flickered down the corridor and fear filled him, potent enough to jerk Juuri from where she was latched onto his neck. He hated this corridor.
“What is it,” she murmured, eyes flickering about them, looking for danger, even as her red eyes glowed and burned with unrestrained emotion.
“We’re near the Crypts,” he replied numbly, trepidation filling him, “What if Rido…”
He didn’t need to say anything more.
They both leapt to their feet, stepping lightly around the patch of glittering and fading motes and hurried to the Tomb – not quite racing, what was done was done and there would be no changing it now. Haruka was a bit reluctant to go and check in truth.
The Crypt was bare rippled stone, but of no stone that Haruka knew except that it made him uncomfortable to look at it - occasionally appearing to have silver streaks. It was intricately carved, pictures telling a tale long since lost to history, weaving a tale of battle, it seemed, a city, victory and loss, love and despair. All around it laced characters of a language Haruka didn’t understand, or even recognised and knew of no other example of it, unless another Ancient held a similar tomb, protected by other pureblood lines.
Just another example of the chaos their oldest ancestor brought wherever he trod. Haruka scowled. He really didn’t need this right now. He had plans.
The tomb itself was open; the lid unbroken despite the strength and force Rido must have used to haul it open instead of puzzling out the locks carved into the flows of the patterns.
And inside, nestled in scraps of fabric that had long since decayed into indistinguishable wisps, lay a baby.
One look at Juuri, and he knew he’d have to raise this… thing as his own. Juuri wanted a child, if taking in this creature stopped her from trying to suicide over little Kaname’s death, his firstborn son and heir, he’d just have to swallow his bile and take it.
Give it a few years and she’d be willing to try again for a replacement, and with some persuasion Haruka was sure he could shave that time down to a few months.
Now we get into childhood shenanigans :)
Kaname groggily came to a full week later, aching with the feeling of having slept too long and yet not long enough.
He didn’t have the luxury of not knowing where he was or what had happened. He was perfectly aware of both his location and recent events, much to his irritation.
Kaname’s last memory was of falling unconscious in Rido’s presence, he remembered it with damning clarity.
Kaname wasn’t sure how he felt about that. On the one hand it had been inevitable – he’d been exhausted beyond measure in both mind and body and had just had an influx of blood, of course his body would shut down to start putting the blood to use. That’s what it did.
But he’d passed out with Rido inches away from him. That was just asking to be killed. It was stupid – and he couldn’t afford stupid mistakes.
The sustaining warmth around him shifted and Kaname blearily opened his eyes – the second time in his third childhood – in complaint, and saw Juuri peering down at him.
Huh. She looked huge.
“Finally awake my little one?” She asked, smiling in relief
Her face peered down at him, smiling cheerfully but her eyes were exhausted – and no wonder. Giving birth to a pureblooded child was no mean feat – losing him less than an hour later was horrific. Juuri had to be a mess right now no matter how well she was holding it together. Not to mention that she was also donating her energy almost constantly to him to feed him and had probably been doing so ever since he reformed into a baby.
Older children would siphon off energy with a kiss, they asked for it at regular intervals just like meal times.
Purebloods were different. Their children required enormous amounts of energy almost constantly until they hit the threshold where they could support themselves. The purest form of energy was the chemical energy that another person had already readied for consumption; Kaname needed it in vast amounts. His body was adapted to take it from every second of skin contact not just his lips. He would drink milk too – with a bit of blood mixed in – but right now he had to be draining Juuri constantly.
Kaname opened his mouth to ask if she was all right. “Hum mmm nn m?”
Juuri laughed and Kaname blushed bright red, tiny hands clapping over his mouth as he closed in his eyes in mortification – before snapping them open and peering over Juuri’s shoulder and all around them to see if anyone else had born witness to that humiliating moment.
Thank blood. They were alone.
Obviously, Kaname realised reluctantly, whilst his mind might be fully developed his body wasn’t. He knew how to speak a great many languages – even the ones that were now considered dead – but his physical brain hadn’t made the right connections yet.
Then and there he swore vehemently not to speak a single word until he sounded properly vampiric.
“Oh that was adorable! You’re embarrassed!”
Kaname was lifted and found Juuri snuggling him whilst she giggled. He tried and failed to be annoyed. Listening to her melodious voice whilst feeling her warmth and absorbing her energy was doing wonders for his state of mind. He’d succeeded. This was peace.
“Do not fret, in a few years you will be back to normal.” Juuri walked over to a carved wooden rocking chair, sitting down and sighing slightly. “But I suppose that answers my first question – you are aware in there aren’t you? Your mind wasn’t damaged at all by the rough resurrection?”
Kaname nodded to her first question and shook his head to the second, grateful that his body could do that much. How he’d hate to be stuck as a human baby – immobile for months and months. At least being a pureblood he could already move and wriggle and all of his senses were working properly.
“Do you remember what happened, Ancestor? My brother Rido, used my new-born son, Kaname to awaken you. You have regressed into the form of a child. My husband, Haruka, and I will raise you in place of our son, Kaname. I know that it won’t change my son’s death. But a few knew of my pregnancy, and it will be much safer for you if you take Kaname’s place than if we announce your return. Do you agree?”
Kaname nodded again – wishing he could speak. If he could, he’d ask why on earth had she referred to Haruka as her husband? Purebloods didn’t wed by mortal law. In the mean time it seemed like events would follow what little Kaname remembered from the first time around. Although he had called himself Kaname for a long time, it was only here and now that he was named as such. It would have been weird to have another name, or his old one, even if he had used several names over the ages.
Juuri’s aura lightened at his understanding, she seemed to lose some of the depressive cloud that hung about her and regain a spark of energy.
She smiled wickedly at him.
“You’re my son now. I hope you don’t mind but I’m determined to raise you as my cute little child,” she pinched his cheeks and bent to nuzzle his nose with her own, “you will play with all the cute baby toys I bought, and go on play dates, and be my dress up doll, and I will take photo after photo and never let you forget!” she laughed freely as she outlined all of her evil plans.
Kaname sighed – babies were very good at that. Juuri laughed louder, spinning him around and around as she twirled gracefully around the nursery. Oh good – he was in the upper nursery. The lower one would have had too many memories of Yuki for him to be truly happy there.
“A suit first, I think for a family portrait. Then a sailor, a soldier, a doctor, a girl – yes my dear Ancestor, I said a girl – and then a cat, oh this is going to be so much fun!”
Belatedly, Kaname had to acknowledge that his pseudo-mother had an excellent imagination. It was a pity that she was probably going to get her way, purebloods were good at that, and Kaname was very limited in what he could change right now.
The timeline wasn’t as fragile as some stories would have it, but neither was it entirely self-corrective. What had already happened was likely to happen again without direct interference, but once that interference had been made, ripples would spread. Some would be familiar, some wouldn’t.
Kaname wanted to meet his ‘sister’ Yuki and learn what kind of vampire she would have been without the seal. She deserved a chance to live beyond the age of five and that meant that Kaname couldn’t change too much here at home. Simply put - Haruka and Juuri had to have sex at roughly the right time for Yuki to be created.
Besides Kaname thought, as Juuri finally stopped spinning and started to make up his cradle, there was a whole host of things Kaname could get away with as a kid that he couldn’t as an adult.
And didn’t he deserve a break?
This could be so much fun.
It didn’t take many weeks before Kaname became irritated. Being an adult in the body of a baby was… intolerable. What had he been thinking? This was nothing but an excruciating trial of patience. He didn’t even have Aidou to use as stress relief.
Breast-feeding was his number one torture. How undignified could he get? How low could he fall? If it was any other woman, who he did not see as a mother he would have probably found amusement in it, as it was, it was a whole set of memories he repressed anew every time he got hungry. Stupid baby body. If he didn’t need every single calorie just to stay awake in this miserable excuse of flesh then he’d refuse the bloody milk altogether and just subsist off of pure energy until his fangs grew back.
And of course, Juuri knew.
She knew he was sexually aware in his mind, aware of the cringe worthy connotations of the act every time he sucked at her teat. The insufferable woman delighted in teasing him about it. A wet nurse. His kingdom for a wet nurse.
If only he had fangs!
Baby vampires didn’t need them since they couldn’t yet derive energy from blood and his had unfortunately been decalcified along with the rest of his adult skeleton but oh how he missed them.
Muscle control was another issue. He was an ancient vampire, he did not appreciate flopping his limbs about like a deranged penguin. The few servants trusted around him said he was cute. Cute! He gave a mental shudder. Pink fluffy unicorns he was not. He was fearsome! Powerful! Terrifying! Heck he’d even settle for average – and that was not a word often said to a pureblood.
Anything but cute.
Kaname directed his almighty wrath at the bright red ball he’d been set to play with. Red was a good colour for vampires. He glared at it, willing it to burst into flames, to fly, to burst, anything.
It smirked mockingly at him.
Kaname narrowed his eyes and threw the tiny blue triangle at it – his aura dancing with malicious glee as it flew true and struck the arrogant red ball, puncturing it mercilessly before falling to the ground.
Clapping his hands, Kaname smirked back at the defeated ball, watching with superiority as it deflated in miserable defeat.
Ha! Smirk at him would it? How did it like that?
Then Kaname flushed with embarrassment as he realised that his infant emotions had once again taken over. Holding the green square in a chubby fist, he swivelled his head like an owl – checking to see if anyone had seen.
“Really now, Young Master,” Nancy scolded lightly, “Must you be so destructive?”
Kaname clamped down on his aura. It was one thing to be humiliated – it was another for anyone to know he was feeling embarrassed.
Nancy was his… caretaker? Nanny? Governess? Companion?
Haruka and Juuri were busy vampires. Not only did they manage the businesses and investments, but also they had duties to attend to within vampire society that often necessitated their absence from home. They couldn’t alter their behaviour drastically enough for one or both of them to stay home for any longer than normal, so Kaname had Nancy.
A mild mannered level C who had probably once been Juuri’s lover to get the position of child-minder, she was utterly unafraid of his almighty wrath.
“What were you even trying to do? Oh never mind, come here, up with you now.”
Without any care for his dignity, Nancy swept him up into her arms and proceeded to march into the main wing of the house. Other servants – the bare few that Juuri kept on hand - jumped out of her way though they stayed long enough to get a glimpse of Kaname himself.
Some people still had a sense of respect; Kaname thought inconsolably, why couldn’t Nancy be one of them? He was sick of being carted around like a lump of lard.
“You must be hungry if you throwing a temper tantrum. Quiet down now, I’m taking you to your mother.”
Maliciously, Kaname slid his bare hand onto Nancy’s arm and began cheerfully draining her energy. Now who was throwing a temper tantrum?
“Oh you are a vicious little thing aren’t you?” Nancy said, hoisting him onto her hip and holding him in place with one arm whilst she used the other hand to yawn. “You might fool the others, but you don’t fool me. I know very well you’re doing that deliberately Young Master. Don’t think I don’t. You’re still going to the Mistress, the night knows I can’t feed you enough for more than a few hours.”
Nancy knocked on a carved wooden door – Juuri’s private chambers.
“Come in Nancy,” Juuri called.
Kaname peered around Nancy’s shoulder.
Juuri was ordering her photo albums.
His pseudo-mother had made good on her threats. Kaname had been dressed in every baby-uniform imaginable and photographed thoroughly. Kaname didn’t mind as much as he pretended to – Juuri’s aura was wonderful when she was happy and Kaname basked in it – but he had his image to consider.
Those photos must never see the light of the moon.
“Oh, are you hungry my love?” Juuri crooned, holding her arms out for him. Kaname was passed over like a lump of lard once more into her arms where he instantly began draining energy. Maybe he had been a little hungry. “I think it’s time for a feeding, isn’t it?” Her hands went to the laces over her breast on her corset styled top.
Kaname shut his eyes and turned his head away. If he didn’t see it, it didn’t exist.
“Oh you’re such a precious little thing, aren’t you my dear? Oh yes you are. Yes you are. Who’s the cutest little vampire in the whole world? You! Oh yes you are. Yes you are.”
If he ignored it – it would go away. Eventually.
There was sunlight on his face.
Sunlight, Kaname did not like.
He lashed out instinctively – a wave of kinetic energy pouring from him to remove the irritation. Then he turned his back on it and burrowed into his cashmere blankets. Ooh but he did like these blankets. So soft and they smelled of lavender, and –
-There was a crash of breaking glass and a scream of terror.
Kaname sat up – blinking dazedly as he found himself blinded by the sun once more. His aura rapidly froze and darkened into utter discontent as he wriggled about but to no avail. The sunlight was unavoidable. It even shone maliciously through his blankets, blasted ball of gas that it was.
“What is going on here?”
He recognised that voice. Nancy. She didn’t sleep very far away and must have come running, she was clad only in a hastily belted dressing gown and had slippers on her feet.
He felt himself being picked up by her – her scent as familiar to him as Juuri’s – and immediately felt better once he was out of the sunlight rubbing his sleepy eyes until they were no longer blinded by the sun.
Glancing around the room, he noticed that the window appeared to be broken. Huh. When had that happened?
“Help!” A faint voice called from below. “Help!”
Warily, Nancy approached the broken window, keeping her body twisted so that Kaname was behind her at all times. Kaname contended himself with curling up in her arms and trying to get back to sleep. He couldn’t sense any threat. It had to be around noon he was so exhausted – and the sun was so very bright.
“John! What are you doing down there?”
“I was thrown out the window! I’ve broken my leg!”
Nancy stepped back, hurrying to the stylish rotary phone that sat on an out-of-the-way side table.
“Suzu? Wake the Mistress, tell her –’’
There was a blur and a gust of wind until suddenly Juuri was standing right there – her aura a blaze of wrath – until she saw Kaname safe and sound. Where it settled into agitated placidity.
Temper cooling, she snatched Kaname away from Nancy and began checking him over for injuries even though she couldn’t smell blood.
“—Nevermind,” Nancy concluded weakly, sweat beading on her brow from fright, “Run to the west gardens. John’s been thrown from the window. Help him up and get him some blood from the cellar. Call the guardhouse and have someone else reassigned to finish the patrol.”
“What happened?” Juuri snapped impatiently, rocking Kaname on her hip with clawed hands – attacks on young purebloods were hardly uncommon and she was ready for a full-scale invasion.
“I don’t yet know, Juuri-sama, there appears to be no danger. I heard the window crash and felt the Young Master’s distress. When I arrived, the window was like that and the Young Master was awake in his cradle.”
“Kaname love? Can you tell mummy what happened?”
Kaname had been practicing his speech diligently, but he was still young, not to mention that it was in the middle of the day when he was always at his worst, the blast of sunlight hadn’t helped either. He was feeling grumpy with no intention of changing that any time soon.
“Sun bad,” he sighed, resting his head on her shoulder and draining energy from the contact, at least by being an adult inside he could control when he drained a vampire and when he didn’t. “Sun not move. I moved.”
“You threw John out the window?” Juuri asked with barely concealed amusement.
“Sun bad,” Kaname replied tiredly. Why wasn’t she letting him sleep? There wasn’t enough energy in the world for him to be questioned at noon. He wasn’t even six months old! He wanted to sleep. Cruel woman.
“My son’s first use of power!” Juuri crooned, nuzzling him even as he vaguely tried to fend her off. Sleep. “Nancy go and interrogate John. I need to tell Haruka. Oh what a day. Just six months old! My little prodigy!”
Realising he was moving away from his cashmere blankets Kaname groaned aloud and made empty grasping motions over her shoulder for them. Sleep.
“Oh Haruka will be so delighted! I need a photo of his expression.” In high spirits, Juuri danced out the room and despite the ever-present and ever-vexing daylight, all the way to Haruka’s solar, situated halfway up one of the larger towers on the western side of the manor.
Now fully awake and hating it, Kaname was reluctantly clinging to Juuri as she barged into Haruka’s rooms.
Haruka sprung awake in an instant – his companion was not so aware. Misery loved company so Kaname was particularly content to watch as the girl – was she the assistant chef? – Realised Juuri’s presence and scrambled up from Haruka’s bed fully naked and lunged for her clothes that were scattered all over the room and bearing more than a few claw marks.
“My Lady!” She squeaked, pulling on her trousers. “Erm, I didn’t, this isn’t- oh my blood!”
Juuri said nothing though she watched the very pretty young vampire dress with admiring eyes. The silence was affecting the woman and the longer it went on the more she flustered and fumbled with her clothing. Finally, she gave it up as a bad job with one awkward curtsy that had her wincing; she shot one uncertain glance toward Haruka before fleeing out the door as fast as she could.
The silence persisted.
Then, with a snort, Juuri snickered into Kaname’s hair, chest heaving with laughter and Haruka soon joined her, cackling into his pillow and thumping a fist onto the mussed sheets.
“Oh did you see her face?” he laughed.
“She thought I was going to kill her,” Juuri chortled, having to sit on the bed she was laughing so hard. Happily, Kaname rolled off her lap and made himself a nest with the outer blanket. Finally! And oh this was cashmere too, excellent.
“So, my darling,” Haruka rumbled, glancing at the clock mounted on the wall, “Apart from tormenting the staff, and ruining my plans for this evening, why are you here? It’s barely gone noon.”
“It’s Kaname!” Juuri squealed, wrenching Kaname from his soft and warm nest once more and thrusting him into Haruka’s face where they both eyed each other dubiously. “His first use of power! Threw someone out the window!”
“Oh really?” Haruka asked unenthusiastically, “That’s wonderful,” he replied, giving Kaname a quick pat on the head. “Was that it, my love? It is noon, you know.”
Pouting at Haruka’s lack of enthusiasm, Juuri’s lecture was cut off by a polite knock on the door.
“Enter, Nancy,” Juuri called, pulling Kaname back to her when he tried to make another escape and trying to tickle him.
“Juuri-sama, Haruka-sama,” Nancy bowed politely to each pureblood. “My lady, I have spoken to John.”
“And?” Juuri asked making funny faces at a dour-eyed Kaname.
“John was patrolling the nursery when his inspection shifted the black out curtains, causing the sunlight to strike the Young Master. The Young Master then let a wave of force which threw John out of the window and into the bushes below.” Nancy reported the matter in a very matter of fact tone though she eyed Kaname suspiciously.
Kaname huffed on Juuri’s lap. It was an accident. The idiot shouldn’t have been in the nursery anyway. The place was supposed to be warded against everyone but Nancy and his pseudo-parents. Let the servants access an infant-pureblood? Not likely.
But neither of his pseudo-parents seemed too concerned. Juuri’s eyes had wondered to Haruka’s exposed chest, and Haruka was leaning forward, the sheet slipping even further down.
“Put Kaname back to bed,” Juuri ordered Nancy, handing Kaname over to her waiting arms, “And sleep in the bedroom attached to the nursery from now on.”
Reading the mood, Nancy wasted no time in hustling Kaname out of there.
It was an exceptionally pleased Kaname that bundled himself up in his blankets fifteen minutes later, the window having been boarded over in their absence. Finally, he could sleep, and come sunset, he could finally begin practicing with his powers once more.
Patience had never been one of Kaname’s virtues.
Sure, he could wait endlessly for the perfect moment if he had to – but he’d never particularly enjoyed all of the hanging about. He was, fundamentally, a doer. When the sciences were new, Kaname had been an avid practitioner. He liked to learn new things; it was part of the joie de vivre that kept an immortal life worth living. It didn’t matter if it was science or blood magic or a combination of them both or something else altogether as long as his mind was busy.
Being an infant was so very boring that Kaname was starting to wonder if he’d deliberately blanked his own memories of these early years out of self-preservation the last time around, it was certainly one explanation for the disturbing gap.
The early activation of his powers sparked the kind of academic fervour that only the desperation of a bored-to-tears mind could appreciate. Mental powers required no physical movement whatsoever so Kaname was for the first time since his reawakening unlimited by the constraints of his current form, and it was a boon he deeply appreciated. Now he could experiment again.
The first power to activate was the very basics of his telekinesis. ‘Pushing’ that guard out of the window was one of the most elementary powers, and naturally, Kaname concluded that if ‘push’ had activated, then ‘pull’ should be within his reach too.
Nancy was very put out to discover all of Kaname’s toys to be lying on the floor about his cradle in various states of disarray. His mental ‘grip’ had taken some adjusting and his toys had paid the price, not that Kaname had been particularly upset to see Red Ball the Second perish.
A necessary sacrifice; of course he had to test the ‘range’ and ‘strength’ of his ‘reach’, which was about ten feet so far, at his peak Kaname could have ‘pulled’ anything within his line of sight so he knew that his ‘range’ would grow with his ability and age, but in the mean time it was reassuring to know he had some way of defending himself if he had to. The smoother the object, the easier it was to ‘pull’ or ‘push’ and smaller objects arrived faster than larger ones. That was gravity and air-resistance for you. Kaname could encourage the objects to move faster, naturally, but too much air-resistance meant heat, and that had led to the unfortunate death of several toys as the plastic overheated.
Such a pity.
The rest of his abilities were slow to return to him. Kaname’s power resided in his mind and in his blood. His mind was halfway between entirely developed and still developing so it was not a surprise, although bitterly disappointing, that the rest of his skills would have to wait on his physical development and mental cohesion a little longer.
The only other skill he had available was the Command.
Kaname had never been so grateful for his genetics before. As a member of the ruling race he had biological control over lesser vampires. A power that was so much a part of who and what he was that it took barely any effort to use.
The Command was everything the lesser vampires feared about purebloods- the ability to give an order that could not be refused. It was their worst nightmare, but one that had to be lived with every night and was the overarching reason that vampire culture had evolved the way it did with so much emphasis placed on reverence towards purebloods.
Nancy did not appreciate that she’d become Kaname’s main test subject, but the practice, the slow refinement of his abilities were the only thing keeping Kaname from throwing a real temper tantrum. It helped that Juuri insisted that it was a natural part of Kaname’s development so Nancy wouldn’t have to worry about being played like a puppet once he’d grown out of his current phase.
Little discoveries kept Kaname occupied. He’d always had swathes of power at his command and had never had so little to work with before but it did force him to learn how to get the maximum benefit from his tiny reserves of power. It was no earth-shattering new invention, but it was something.
“Nanny story,” Kaname ordered his beleaguered governess when he grew weary of failing to make the shadows dance. His voice was annoyingly high – too much like a clear bell and nothing like his smooth, cultured and downright sexy (if he did say so himself) baritone of his future years – but at least he’d managed the simpler words.
Anything that was longer than two syllables Kaname still refused to say. He was six months old and well ahead of the curve for his age, but his pride remained as stubborn as ever. Lisping and pureblood just didn’t go together. Nancy had enough blackmail material on him as it was.
“Very well, Kaname-sama,” Nancy said agreeably, no doubt pleased with the chance to rest. “Which story would you like this evening?”
Kaname didn’t care. He only endured so much story-time as a good excuse for his early development if he ever needed it.
“Goblin,” Kaname said. It was a fairy-tale about children who were stolen away by goblins that lived in the mountains, but like all fairy-tales there was a kernel of truth, and Kaname found it morbidly amusing that one of the earliest wars he’d ever fought was now reduced to a mere story. What would old Artorius think of it, he wondered vaguely. Artorius had hated goblins with a passion and had lost three arms, six ears and half a foot of intestine to them by the end of that particular war. Now it was just a fairy-tale, and his name hadn’t survived the passing of time.
Fearlessly, Nancy scooped him up and settled in the rocking chair, which Kaname’s baby-body and baby-instincts still like far too much, and settled Kaname on her lap, wrapping him up with a soft blanket. She propped the book up so that Kaname could see it too and read with her finger following the words to help him ‘learn’ the symbols.
“A long time ago there was a city called Eridu in the land of Akkadia, where the Vampire Lord Enki ruled. Lord Enki was wise and powerful, but his land was overrun with goblins so in his great wisdom, and hearing the cries of his people, Lord Enki…”
Kaname let his mind drift to memories of the past; times had been so very different. It wasn’t in his nature to miss them as such, because the Night knew how bloody those centuries had been, but it was certainly a very different age. Politics such as they were, were conducted via purebloods and normally at the end of a sword.
When he had enough of his vocabulary back, and after Yuki had safely been conceived, he and his ‘parents’ were going to have a very long chat about how they’d let things slide so much.
Politics now-a-nights revolved around inter-pureblood relations and alliances as well as the Council of Elders. This was a ‘nice’ and ‘peaceful’ age where purebloods were not supposed to use their ability to Command lesser vampires, it was gauche, and where said low-bloods were supposed to have more independence and power.
“Are you bored, Kaname-sama? Would you like a different story?”
“No,” Kaname sighed, settling back into Nancy’s comfortable lap. Those thoughts had to be shelved until he was in a position to act. He couldn’t wait to get started but it did his patience no good to think about everything he couldn’t do yet.
“Ah, Kaname, there you are,” Haruka said, sweeping into the nursery followed by an aristocrat that Kaname didn’t recognise.
Kaname raised an eyebrow. Where had Haruka expected him to be? He’d barely left the safety of the nursery since he’d awoken. He’d only been outside twice. Why had he brought a ‘B here? Kaname was too young to be introduced to society safely.
“Anyway,” Haruka said, a slight frown on his face, “Mina wanted to speak to you.” He waved a hand, and Mina stepped forward. She was carrying a… baby?
Kaname glanced to Haruka in confusion. This looked to be some sort of offering, but he didn’t even have fangs yet. What was Haruka up to?
“Young Master,” Mina spoke softly, reverently. She knelt on both knees, bowing her head as she placed the baby – a girl, Kaname noted automatically – onto Kaname’s blanket where he’d been trying once more to get his shadow to respond to him.
“This is Seiren,” Mina introduced quietly, “If she pleases you, we will begin training her to be your Shadow.”
Kaname blinked, staring down at the wisps of silver hair on the wrinkly baby’s head. This was Seiren? She was… tiny. Really, really, tiny. She didn’t look more than a few hours old. Kaname glanced up at Mina – and yes, there were the signs of strain, pain and exhaustion that suggested she probably had been in labour earlier in the night.
But once again, Kaname hadn’t recognised her, and he should have. Kaname forced his thoughts away from that unproductive line. Getting angry would solve nothing.
A Shadow was, well, a Shadow. Seiren had been Kaname’s bodyguard, his Master of Shadows or Spymaster, his personal assistant and his assassin. That was what Shadows were, they were intensely loyal – and Kaname should have been just as familiar with Mina and her partner who would be Juuri’s Shadow as he was with his ‘parents.’
The fact that he wasn’t – that he couldn’t even remember her face or her aura was yet another disturbing note of the last timeline. He couldn’t remember who Juuri’s Shadow was either. He hadn’t even sensed someone else in the household. Once more he forced his thoughts back on track. The more he realised he had forgotten the more it bothered him that something sinister was going on, or would be going on very shortly.
Mina was watching him carefully, and Haruka’s aura was quickly becoming impatient. Kaname needed to pay attention.
“Yes,” Kaname said, reaching out a hand to stroke Seiren’s wisp of silver hair, her eyes opened and Kaname smiled to see familiar pale violet eyes. “Yes, she is good.”
It wasn’t as eloquent as it ought to be, but Kaname was still working on speaking. Accepting her as his Shadow was a big moment, one that would be repeated when she was older and there had been a chance to see how well her training had progressed and if Kaname still found her suitable.
Which he would, Kaname knew. In a few years, Seiren would swear to serve him unto death, and Kaname had the memories to prove her true to her word. It eased the ball of repressed hurt and grief inside him a little to see this one piece of that abysmal future undone before his very eyes. Seiren was alive once more and the world seemed a little brighter for it.
“Very well, Kaname-sama,” Mina replied, smiling with relief. Timing the birth of a new Shadow was always difficult, particularly when purebloods were so contrary in the womb, developing at their own pace and unpredictably. Mina had succeeded this time though, Seiren’s master was only a few months older than her, and he’d accepted her which saved Mina the effort of having to have another child and spending that much longer away from her duties.
“Are we done here?” Haruka asked impatiently as Mina gathered Seiren up once more. “I’m supposed to be in town within the hour.”
“Yes, Haruka-sama. I am ready to continue my duties now.” Mina bowed her head in apology for the inconvenience of the past few months.
Kaname frowned as he watched the three of them depart. Haruka had been acting weird ever since Kaname remembered, and he had no idea why. In the last timeline his childhood had been fairly happy. There were always security concerns of course, but Haruka, Juuri and he had been content.
This time – something was wrong, and Kaname couldn’t pin point the cause. Had something changed? Had he changed something without meaning to? Was Yuki still fated to be born or had he ruined that too? Haruka was always… rough, almost. He never smiled to see Kaname and it was setting off all of Kaname’s instincts in a bad way.
He didn’t know what it was, yet, but something was very, very wrong in this place.
“That’s it Kaname!” Juuri cheered. “That’s it! Come to Mummy!”
Kaname gritted his too-blunt teeth, forcing his body to waddle one more step, hanging on to his crib for support. Who knew walking was so much effort? He could roll and he could crawl, but walking was still too complicated for his stupid, stupid, baby-brain to comprehend and it was slowly driving him insane.
Reaching the end of the crib, he paused for a moment to catch his breath and rally all of his mental fortitude. There was a five-foot gap between the crib and where Juuri knelt, her face all smiles as she watched him take his first steps independently.
For the love of blood, Kaname could leap twenty foot into the air with two broken legs before. Waddling five feet should not fill him with dread. It was pathetic.
“Come on Kaname!” Juuri called once more, radiating good cheer and bonhomie. She was terribly excited, Kaname knew, but fortunately her camera was nowhere in sight. Unless he wanted to wait long enough for her to run off and get it – and she would, the conniving vampire – Kaname just had to do it.
He waddled forward.
One step was fine. The second step had his balance trembling a bit, the brain was still shaky on interpreting the signals, and the third step and Kaname thought he was getting the hang of this. If he just threw his arms back and forth he could work up enough momentum to keep himself in a straight line!
He fell into Juuri’s arms on the fifth waddle. She lifted him up – spinning him around in the air and cheering victoriously, dancing from foot to foot.
“Oh I knew you could do it! Well done!”
Feeling queasy, Kaname sighed as she brought him back down to be cradled in her arms. Progress was exhausting.
“Kaname-sama?” Nancy called. “Kaname-sama, where are you?”
Kaname smirked, remaining absolutely motionless as Nancy walked under him. He was crouching in one of the many nooks in the library. Technically, he was practicing his more mundane skills. Supressing one’s aura was a vital skill for a pureblood. With effort, Kaname could pass himself off as a noble, a commoner, an ex-human or even a human depending on how much of his aura he was willing to supress.
It was uncomfortable to restrain himself so, a pureblood dominated – they didn’t hide and every inch of him preferred it that way - but there were times when the payoff would be worth it so Kaname forced himself to practice no matter how much discomfort it caused.
If Kaname wanted to stick a label on it… he could also be playing hide and seek – not that Nancy knew she was playing. But he wasn’t a child, so it was not hide and seek. It was serious business. Vital skill development. Training.
“Kaname-sama, please, come out. I am literally begging you. It will be my neck under the fang when your parents find out that I’ve lost you!”
Snickering, Kaname waited for the right moment. Nancy was walking, peering into each dim aisle with a look of exasperation on her face. The library was immense and many other rooms had been demolished over the years to make more space for the books and artefacts stored here.
With thousands of years of history, and a family trait of being packrats, there were a lot of books. The library had started off as a large room with east facing windows on the second floor. It had expanded in every direction and now included two subterranean levels, three towers, dozens of side rooms and half-levels and the odd nook and cranny. It was the perfect place to play hide and seek – not that Kaname was playing such a childish game.
Nancy walked right under the eave Kaname was perched on and he flung himself off of it with a war cry.
“Got you!” He declared loudly as he clung to her back like a monkey, pressing his lips to her neck. He didn’t have fangs yet – still – but if he had had fangs, then she’d have been prey already. Victory was sweet.
“Kaname-sama!” Nancy panted, her hand to her heart as she twisted her head around to glare at him – the glare softening instantly as she peered into his unrepentant eyes and cheeky grin. “Scare me to death why don’t you! I lost a decade you gave me such a fright.”
Kaname pouted. No, he manfully expressed his disappointment. “Only a decade?” he asked mournfully, peering up at her under thick lashes and blinking them rapidly.
“A decade is quite enough for me thank you. And don’t you go giving me that innocent look! We both know you’re the devil incarnate. I’m not falling for it! There will be absolutely no chocolate for dessert tonight, let me tell you. Not after that display of recklessness!”
Kaname froze, a look of horror overcoming his face before he controlled it. He dug his feet into Nancy’s kidney’s from where he was still clinging to her back, scampering over her shoulder using her spine as a ladder until he was cradled in her arms where his innocent look could be so much more effective.
“No chocolate?” he asked piteously, a fake tremble in his voice.
“None,” Nancy resolved, her grip becoming a vice now that she’d finally located her wayward charge, marching him from the library and back into the nursery.
“None at all?” He continued, his hands on either cheek so that she had to stare down into those woeful, doe-like, watery eyes. Why are you being so cruel to me? He seemed to ask silently. What did I do? Don’t you love me anymore?
“Did I stutter?” She parried with a will of iron, closing her eyes and continuing her march. She wouldn’t dislodge his hands from her face – that was too much like preventing him from doing as he wished – but she could refuse to be manipulated.
“But I like chocolate,” her young charge said, apparently utterly befuddled by her insistence.
Nancy sighed, keeping her eyes closed. Those deviously soft hands were still on her face, and she knew that if she looked, she’d fold and give Kaname-sama what he wanted. Honestly, raising a pureblooded child was such a pain in the rear.
She was a ‘C! How was she supposed to tell him ‘Eat your vegetables?’ if he didn’t want to? Let alone ‘Go to sleep!’ or ‘Shut up! For the love of the Night, shut up!’
Mercifully, Kaname-sama had been an extremely quiet baby, but it didn’t make her position any easier. She was a nanny, a future governess, but one who couldn’t discipline her charge. The thought of telling Kaname-sama what to do sent a shiver up her spine. It was just so wrong. It went against the natural order of things.
Well, she could, but it was up to Kaname-sama if he obeyed or not. It wasn’t like there would be any consequences from her if he wanted to stay up all day. The last thing Nancy wanted was for Kaname-sama to grow up with a grudge against her for the discipline she did manage to install in him. The ire of a pureblood was not conductive to dying of old age.
She wished, dearly, that his parents were around more but both Juuri-sama and Haruka-sama were so busy that Nancy was constantly surprised that Juuri managed to find the time she did to spend with her son.
It was unfair to Kaname-sama, really, Nancy thought. If they were not purebloods then… but that was a silly thought and bordering on disrespectful. They were and that was that.
“Nanny, why won’t you look at me? Are you angry that I hid? It was just hide-and-seek.”
His voice could lure angels to their doom, Nancy acknowledged grimly, but she would not look. Withholding things like chocolate and toys were the only power she actually had over her charge and once she’d brought that threat out she couldn’t give in or she’d weaken her position forevermore. Not even calling her Nanny so affectionately would bring her to look.
“Nanny, I’m sorry.”
Her eyes flew open. A pureblood apologising to a ‘C? It was beneath him! What had she done?
“Kaname-sama! You don’t ever need to apologise to me, I-
Her voice faltered. Her dear Young Master was wearing a grin that could only be described at shit eating, and Nancy realised with utter, utter, despair, that she had opened her eyes and looked at him.
As soon as she’d seen it, the grin vanished. His eyes widened to the size of saucers, staring at her pleadingly, the beautiful garnet eyes seeming to shiver with emotion. His face was a picture of woe, his lashes were blinking rapidly as if he were about to cry and pearl of liquid appeared in the corner of his eyes. His lips parted slightly, pushed out halfway between a pout and an expression of such utter desolation that Nancy could feel her defences shattering as her heart twisted in sympathy and empathy for the little bugger.
“I will speak to the chef,” Nancy said through gritted teeth. Defeat tasted sour. “He was talking about three-chocolate mousse last afternoon.”
The Expression of Woe vanished, and the pureblooded manipulative little shit in her arms became so smugly cheerful that his aura echoed the emotion, expanding around his tiny form so that she felt his victory in all it’s smug glory.
She would not throttle him. No matter how easy it would be… just a quick snap and it’d all be over…no one would ever know…
Yes they would. They really, really, would and besides Kaname-sama could kill her with a word the moment she expressed any genuine intent to harm him.
And, you know, his manipulation was kind of cute. So much effort for a bit of chocolate.
Nancy sighed, knowing that she was doomed. She shuddered to think of how much worse he would be when he grew up.
Somebody was moaning.
Kaname paused in his perusal of the library, looking for one particular book on blood magic that he knew Asato had stolen the last time around. Now that he’d developed enough stamina to toddle about in a fairly reliable manner, no matter how undignified, the library had become his favourite haunt.
Reading passed the time very well indeed, Kaname found, and it helped that there were many books in here that he had never read and more that would be useful to the projects Kaname had in mind. Some had been steadily burning away in the back of his brain for years, but fighting left little time for the kind of scientific research and experimentation he preferred. It did him good to have a solid block of time when he could relax and he knew it.
Nevertheless, the moaning was beginning to get annoying – how was he supposed to read when someone was clearly having such a good time hidden behind the stacks? The smell of sex was beginning to irritate his nose too. They could have at least tried to be discrete.
Kaname sighed, snapping the book closed. If servants were slacking off… well, they’d certainly be humiliated to be discovered by their master, he thought with a thrill of dark anticipation. Kaname pushed himself up to his feet, using the library shelves for a handlebar and started tracking the noise down. Misery loved company; if he had to endure puberty again then he saw no reason not to spread the joy.
His senses were developing at a steady rate. His sense of hearing and smell were accurate enough to know that two women were engaged in some pretty heavy petting behind the section on metal crafting. Hmm, that was a good idea actually, Kaname needed to brush up on his original ideas for crafting Anti-Vampire weapons. There had to be a more efficient way to forge them…he was sure he’d made some notes somewhere…
“Faster, come on,” came a breathy moan, interrupting Kaname’s train of thought.
Kaname toddled around the corner and glared at the two women, letting his aura out.
Nanny would be on him in seconds, in fact Kaname was beginning to suspect that the ‘C had a blood-talent as a sensor she was so quick to find him these nights, but it was worth if it his aura’s shock to their senses snapped them out of it. It wasn’t like he was much of an imposing sight without a stormy aura but with it he ought to extract some entertainment from them.
Kaname crossed his arms, prepared to-
“Oh, there you are Kaname,” Juuri panted, one leg wrapped around the shoulders of a lesser vampire. Her right arm was propped against the shelves for support as she held her body up whilst her left hand was pressing a head of golden hair down between her thighs. “I thought I sensed you earlier.”
Kaname averted his eyes, fast, cursing his childhood form for the millionth time.
Obviously, his senses were not as developed as he would like else he would have known that there was a pureblood behind the corner and that it was his pseudo-mother.
“Could you not have found a bedroom?” Kaname asked plaintively, pleased that he had managed a whole sentence coherently no matter the situation. The scent of sex really was distracting but that was the only detriment to the situation. Mentally, Kaname knew he ought to be feeling something, but his body didn’t have the right hormones yet. Vampires were not body-shy, their preferred food being very hands-on so the sight didn’t really bother him. However, he did want to read in peace and Juuri was just asking to be gossiped about for this. No one would disturb her, but that didn’t meant people hadn’t detected it.
There were hundreds of guest bedrooms in the manor including one in the library somewhere that Artorius had installed after Kaname had crashed one too many times in his lab and bothered him with demands for massages for his poor cramped neck every other night.
“I could have – yes, right there – but here was closer,” Juuri sighed, closing her eyes and tilting her head back, but not before Kaname caught the aroused flash of red in her eyes around heavily dilated pupils.
Her current lover was familiar, Kaname tilted his head as he tried to place the golden hair… oh, it was the assistant chef, and the same girl Haruka had had not so very long ago. The girl had stopped and Kaname could practically taste her hesitation. She knew who was watching and the thought of carrying on like nothing was happening and a child wasn’t watching…
“Did I tell you to stop?” Juuri purred, back arching. The girl went back to work and Kaname smirked, pleased that he had at least managed to vex someone tonight.
Clearly, he thought with no little amusement, Haruka and Juuri were in the middle of a tiff right now, if Juuri had seduced Haruka’s current lover, Kaname could already see how this was going to go. He sighed. This was going to be troublesome.
Purebloods were jealous lovers. They were possessive, demanding and intense no matter who they’d taken to bed or how serious a fling it was.
Juuri had not been in the bed with the two of them, so they clearly weren’t sharing this girl. Haruka had had her first but Juuri had obviously targeted her to annoy Haruka for some reason – and Haruka would be annoyed which would lead to him taking some petty revenge and the cycle would continue until they’d worked the original issue out.
They were hand fasted to each other and pledged, but that didn’t mean monogamy or that they never argued. Kaname supposed it was a relief that they were arguing through this medium rather than anything more destructive. The manor was a mishmash of different styles as it was without patchwork repairs after a hissy fit.
Still, he did need them to get this out of their system so that they could get back to normal. They needed to… oh.
Kaname walked away from the busy couple with a smirk on is face as he did some quick calculations in his head, ‘pulling’ one of the books on Anti-Vampire weapons as he left, yes, the timing was just about right.
Whatever fight the two of them were having would almost certainly lead to passionate, reckless make-up sex…
Kaname grinned, soon; soon, he’d see his sister again.
Breakfast was tense.
For the vampire, breakfast was around early evening time and it was the main time of the night that Kaname could usually find a little time to spend with his pseudo-parents assuming they hadn’t had to stay out during the day or were sleeping in the office or in another property or otherwise inundated with responsibilities.
Juuri speared a piece of mango with relish, stabbing the fruit before placing it in her mouth and plunging into it with her fangs. Her aura was restless. Normally it would extend from her body a certain amount – protecting her from other influences as well as imposing her own influence on her surroundings. Purebloods had too much power to be contained, as a human radiated heat, the level A vampire radiated power unconsciously like an invisible cloak. It would be placid, occasionally illuminated with emotion, but fairly calm overall. Juuri was at home so she didn’t need to control herself as rigidly as she would in public.
Tonight, it roiled and swarmed like waves in the ocean, during a hurricane, after an earthquake, spitting with poisonous fury. It was clear to every vampire on the estate that something was Wrong.
Haruka buttered a crumpet silently, the buttered knife utterly noiseless. He kept his eyes fixed on his cup of tea. His own aura was mild, pulled into his body a little in a poor attempt to appease Juuri subconsciously by being as passive as possible.
Nancy – who had to carry Kaname to and from the table – was staring at her shoes. Her back firmly against the wall and her hands folded submissively in front of her. She clearly wished she could be anywhere else right now.
The servants who had brought in the dishes had shivered their way through the service before vanishing as soon as physically viable, unwilling to stay in such a hazardous atmosphere for a second longer than they had to, lest they draw the wrong kind of attention to themselves.
Meanwhile, Kaname had finally dragged his way to being nine months old. It was a remarkable achievement; one he mentally patted himself on the back for managing even if he still had to sit in a high chair for meals. The fact that the high chair was mahogany, elegantly carved, extremely comfortable and probably a few centuries old did not detract from the fact that he was sitting in a high chair. With training-chopsticks.
Kaname survived by firmly reminding himself each time he caught sight of the cheerfully grinning frog at the end of his chopsticks, that he was strengthening his motor-neurone connections. This was a training exercise for hand-eye-coordination. What must be endured can be endured.
Coincidentally, he had somehow developed a burning hatred of frogs.
The teacup made a soft ‘clink’ as Haruka set it down on the saucer–
-and Juuri snapped.
Her aura boiled over, suddenly springing from foul-tempered to murderously angry, lashes of shadow whipping around her like Medusa’s hair and just as viperous. The candles spluttered and then gave up the ghosts putting themselves out with a wisp of smoke, leaving the candelabra to quiver uneasily above them.
“Must you be so irritating?” Juuri spat, glaring at the offending crockery until it obligingly turned to dust on the table, making a wet mess of dust and tealeaves.
“Really, Juuri,” Haruka said mildly, “I liked that tea set. It was the last of the Wedgewood.”
Kaname winced internally – that was the wrong approach to take. Why was he still sitting there? Juuri clearly agreed as she rose from the table thunderously, slamming her palms down – and through – the table, three of the legs cracking instantly. The table tilted on its side before surrendering with a groan of tortured wood, crashing to the floor.
Irritated, Juuri kicked it aside. It slammed into the wall, conveniently blocking the exit.
“Forget the blood crockery,” Juuri snarled. “This is about you.”
“Oh do calm down, dear.” Haruka sighed, standing up and brushing the splinters of the previously grand table off of his impeccable three-piece suit – that was no longer looking quite so impeccable. “If you want the girl - ’’
“--Calm down? Calm down! I’ll show you calm down dear,” Juuri roared, launching herself at him in a blur of speed – faster than she could normally go, Kaname noted happily – with her claws fully extended, glinting maliciously in the moonlight. Efficiently, she aimed for his eyes.
A delightfully vicious descendant, Kaname observed, calmly continuing to eat his chocolate chip pancakes, with chocolate sauce, chocolate ice-cream and chocolate sprinkles with careful movements of The Chopsticks. The advantages of a high chair, as it turned out, was that his little table hadn’t been affected by Juuri’s rampage and his breakfast continued undisturbed.
He knew Juuri wouldn’t be targeting him and that he was perfectly safe.
He also had an excellent view of the fight as Juuri succeeded in clawing one of Haruka’s ears off which slapped wetly against the window pane, whilst he wrestled with her futilely, he gave a choked off scream before he finally seemed to realise that she was serious and let his own claws out. He went on the offensive.
Juuri’s full sets of fangs were bared – upper and lower – and her face would never be mistaken for human now, no matter how beautiful she was. Her eyes were burning red, a flattering shade of crimson. Her fangs were out, glistening as was proper for an apex predator such as her, and her fingers had transformed into ten adamantine claws.
She didn’t move like a human – she moved like a vampire, all lethal grace, each writhing movement deadly but economical – the grace of a true hunter who was very, very, good at this particular game.
Juuri was not backing down. She was not ‘seeing reason’ no matter how Haruka tried to argue her down in between fighting for his life as the room around them was swiftly decimated.
Kaname wondered how long it would take for Haruka to get a clue.
The signs were obvious.
Juuri was easily irritated, irritated in particular with her pure-blooded partner, she was attacking him with intent to kill despite their good relationship and her aura was stormy and almost preternaturally violent. This was evidently the beginning of a Hunt.
Clearly, Kaname mused as he chewed on a chunk of chocolate, Juuri was pregnant.
Eventually, one of Haruka’s claws grazed Juuri’s stomach as she was straddling him, pinning him to the floor – and she screeched as she reared back, one arm protecting her womb as the other clawed at his neck instinctively trying to give it a good swipe. Haruka’s eyes widened as he noted the off defensive motion and finally put it together saying the first sensible thing he’d said all evening.
A well-timed blow and Haruka swiftly flipped their positions. He was fighting for real now that he’d realised the danger he was in – but he wasn’t fighting to win, no, he was fighting to escape.
Purebloods were very fast on their feet – it would only take a second’s pause and –
- Juuri stumbled over a broken chair leg. She slammed into the wall when Haruka shoved her with a telekinetic ‘push’ and she nearly went through it entirely. Dust rained from the ceiling as she pulled herself out of the new hole with a grunt – but Haruka had taken the opportunity and had dived out the window in a rain of glass.
Running full tilt across the lawn, he left deep scars in the earth as he pushed off from the ground to boost his speed.
He did not look back and he was out of sight two seconds later.
With a snarl, Juuri was off, tearing after him, radiating sheer unadulterated bloodlust.
Kaname patted his mouth delicately on a napkin, licking his too-blunt teeth for the last bit of chocolate, and peered around until he found Nancy who had taken cover under the side table at some point.
“Nanny?” Kaname asked, mildly concerned - green was not a natural skin tone even for a vampire, “Are you all right?”
“Oh.” She replied, slowly backing herself up until she could stand once more, resting a hand on the side table under her legs stopped trembling. “Oh my poor heart.” She was clutching at it through the fabric of her full-skirted dress as if it was going to run away on her.
“Oh Kaname-sama!” Nancy cried, seeing him sitting in his high chair, untouched amongst the utter destruction of the room. “Oh I’m so sorry you had to see that! I should have taken you away but I just couldn’t move, oh my dear, are you all right? There’s no need to be scared,” she declared, picking Kaname up out of the high chair and pressing his face into her bosom, “Nanny’s here.”
She started bobbing him up and down, rocking him almost desperately as she patted him down for injuries. “Now don’t you worry little one,” Nancy whispered, kissing his brow. “Mummy and Daddy are just a little upset right now. Everything will be better tomorrow.”
Kaname – whose face was pressing into Nancy’s pleasantly heaving chest – laughed. He pulled his head free and stared up at her until she looked down at him.
Her brown eyes were still wide with fright, and her eyes constantly roved the wrecked room, strain evident on her features. For the love of blood, even the floor had suffered with multiples gashes of claws, a hole where Haruka’s head had slammed into it, and several very clear, very deep, footprints from missed kicks. They had not been holding back their strength and the room was a disaster site.
Only Kaname’s high chair had remained untouched. The side-table where she had taken shelter was half missing and the reminder of how close a call it had been – how terrified she had been – was not helping her calm down.
Neither was the blood that was smudged and dripped everywhere.
“Don’t worry,” Kaname said, patting Nancy on the cheek. “Mummy is just a little pregnant right now.”
Nancy choked on air. Pregnant? Again?
Well that would certainly explain the temper, she thought with wry amusement, feeling happy for them. A new pureblood, how exciting! Nevertheless, how did the Young Master know? The Master certainly had not. She shouldn’t laugh – but she would never forget the look of fearful astonishment on Haruka-sama’s face.
“Are you sure Kaname-sama?” Nancy murmured, her heart calming down the longer she held on to her safe – safe! –charge. Her mind was already on the repairs. She’d have to inform the housekeeper about the state of this room, the groundskeeper would see to the window and in the mean time a great deal of bleach had to be poured on the blood before anyone smelled it…
… and got their bloodlust up whilst Kaname-sama was known to be without his main protectors.
Her charge was in danger.
Nancy did an about turn and began jogging briskly to the nursery where separate wards shielded them from the rest of the household. The household staff were a reliable sort, and most could keep their head when the bloodlust was on them, but she’d take no risks with Kaname-sama. Vampires did strange and dangerous things when pure blood was in the air.
She would hate to have to kill any of her colleagues in his defence. She would, and gladly, it wouldn’t even be the first time, but it was better to avoid a fight where possible.
“Yes, I’m sure,” Kaname-sama replied, peering around her shoulder in the direction where she could feel several minor B’s approaching, fast. They were probably a guard unit, doing their job and investigating the scent of pure blood, but…they outnumbered her six to one.
“Tap the rose on that statue,” he ordered quietly.
Nancy blinked at the strange order – she’d much rather sprint to the nursery never mind how running would draw attention she was trying to avoid– but obedience was ingrained and Kaname-sama was a clever child, he was probably aware of the danger before she was. She trusted that he wouldn’t delay them.
Nancy slapped her hand down on top of the indicated rose. She jerked when she felt it depress under her hand – for half a moment, she was worried that she’d broken a priceless artefact which was just the kind of evening she was having and the night had barely begun!
But no, in front of her very eyes, the rose well, rose, back into position without a sound, and silently a hidden door swung open – revealing a dimly lit passage.
Eyebrows both raised, Nancy entered the gloomy passage, knowing her young charge wanted to go down this way for some reason. The door swung on equally silent hinges behind her and instantly her sense of the outside hallway cut out. She could no longer sense the B’s, and she knew that they could no longer sense her either.
Nancy couldn’t smell the blood any longer either; the only thing she could scent was a faint aroma of stale air. She was a ‘C with the senses of a ‘C, but she was reasonably sure that they were safe.
She’d known there were secret passages all over the house, as well as spy holes, hidden rooms, and all manor of other things you might expect in an old castle household where no guest or servant was truly trusted and everyone could be reliably assumed to be out to kill the hosts.
This was her first time seeing one though.
“This,” Nancy muttered grimly as she strode down the passageway – there was only one way to go, “Is how you escape my sight so often isn’t it?”
The brat. How was she to watch over him when he could disappear into the walls!
“…Maybe,” Kaname-sama said slyly, and Nancy could hear the amusement in his voice. Still, it was better than fear. That scene had been ugly no matter how much her brave young one – not that she’d ever say such a thing aloud - was pretending it hadn’t affected him.
Nancy sighed. “Where do we come out?” she asked in resignation. Perhaps, she mused, if she started looking for the passages in her sparse free time – or if she just followed Kaname-sama around for long enough, she might be able to predict his movements again. That would stop him wandering off so often when it was bath time.
“We’ll end up inside the nursery,” Kaname replied absently, guiding Nancy through several sets of turns and secret crossroads.
“Is that safe?” Nancy frowned. The nursery was shielded from almost everyone – if a secret passage could bypass those protections…
“Is it safe not to have a secret way to access the nursery?” Kaname-sama replied easily and Nancy had to reluctantly accept that argument. Blood and ashes but if the house ever did come under attack then the children would always be the main target. Obviously there were ways to get in – and out – of the nursery secretly. Nancy would not be surprised to discover a passage leading all the way outside now that she was thinking about it.
“And of course,” Kaname-sama mused in a deceptively idle tone of voice, “If you had not been with me, you would have burned to a crisp the moment the door shut behind you. Or possibly transported to the dungeon. I forget how this passage is charmed.”
Nancy came to an abrupt halt.
Then again, if she was concerned over the safety of a bypass into the nursery, then surely the Kuran’s must have had similar thoughts. Of course there would be protections and protocols in place. They had probably planned for every eventuality. The Moon knew that if her children – if she had had any – were in as much danger as young Kaname-sama was and if she had the resources of a pureblood family no expense would be spared for their protection.
“Very well,” was all she said, and she started walking once more, still hurrying a little even though they were probably safe within these passages. Apparently, she wouldn’t be able to explore the hidden side of the manor – and Kaname-sama would continue to use them to escape her. Nancy sighed. It was an honour to be trusted with his care, and Kaname-sama was adorable in his own right – but really, there were times she just wanted to scream.
The nursery was just as she’d left it – pleasantly lit with candles that were easy on their sensitive eyes and safe. She did a quick patrol anyway. The windows were all shut and sealed. The crystals reported that the charms were at full strength. There were no strange scents. No auras that she could detect.
“Put me down,” her charge ordered and she watched fondly as he slowly wobbled – his toddling was so cute – over to his nest of toys. For the last few months, he’d been obsessed with the red ball. He’d worn a dozen to death already and Nancy realised that the ball in question was looking a little floppy once more and adjusted her to-do list for the night to include another order for a dozen more of his favourite toys.
Then she snapped out of her daze, stifling the little grin she wanted to grin as she watched Kaname-sama’s cute serious face as he studied the red ball with a narrow eyed look, and turned to the phone.
“Hello Mara, it’s Nancy from the Nursery.”
“Is he safe?” Mara demanded instantly.
“Yes.” Nancy assured, hearing the other woman’s sigh of relief.
“Do you know what happened?”
“The Master and the Mistress had an argument,” Nancy whispered, covering the earpiece in the hope that Kaname-sama was too distracted to hear her. She didn’t want to upset him, but she couldn’t let him out of her sight to have a truly private conversation either. “They took it off site but the Blue Dining Room is a wreck. It need’s repairs and bleach.”
“Very well. Thank you for the update. Continue your normal duties, I will increase the guard around the nursery just in case, but don’t let anyone in.”
“I won’t,” Nancy assured easily, fondling the Anti-Vampire knife that she kept in a sheath on her thigh. Juuri-sama had gifted it to her the night she’d assumed primary responsibility for Kaname-sama’s care. She was well trained in weaponry, but it was something to be entrusted with a weapon like this that could harm Kaname-sama as much as it could be used in his defence.
The door banged twice.
“Nancy? It’s John. Everything all right in there?”
“Everything’s fine, John,” Nancy replied clearly. There were other code phrases she could have used. The one she had meant that everything really was fine; that she had Kaname-sama and that he was uninjured rather than she was under threat, the number of intruders, or injuries.
“I need visual and audio confirmation from Kuran-sama, Nancy,” John said quietly.
Nancy frowned. The request wasn’t unusual, but it wasn’t to form either. Surely, John could sense the strong presence of a pureblood in here?
Glancing over her shoulder, – Kaname-sama was fine; although he’d stopped playing with the now deflated ball, so he was clearly listening – she hesitated.
Kaname-sama looked at her and nodded so she reluctantly went over to the door, opening it just a crack and hiding her body behind it. John was outside as well as five other guards she recognised, all were armed.
“I’m fine,” Kaname-sama said, he appeared behind her legs – well away from grabbing distance – and promptly returned to his game. “You can go.”
John’s eyes took in Kaname-sama presence intently for a moment, before he nodded and stepped back from the door.
“Clear,” he stated, “Next section.”
Nancy watched him go, her eyes narrowed.
Juuri was a little sheepish when she and Haruka returned but it didn’t last long. They returned arm in arm and smiling indulgently at each other.
Kaname hid a grin. The sight was too familiar. How many times had he witnessed similar scenes in the past?
Despite their skin, purebloods were not human, and they didn’t play by human rules. Once Juuri had sensed the pregnancy even if it had just been subconsciously – she’d had no choice but to follow instinct. An instinct that was decidedly vampiric.
Her partner for the child had to be strong enough to protect her in her time of extreme weakness. Before the baby could begin draining her, Juuri had received a violent boost in power from the internal blood conflict of child and mother and had begun the Hunt. The hormones had wracked up her aggression and, really, Haruka should have seen it coming. Juuri’s aura at breakfast had been an obvious sign.
Kaname certainly had certainly noted it and recognised it instantly, but then he’d been the Hunted on so many occasions that he had had no choice but to hone his ability to spot pregnant purebloods miles away.
Artorius had found it hilarious when Kaname had had to throw down whatever he was doing and make a run for it – often without the slightest explanation to whoever he was with at the time, to their offence and confusion, and followed by one furious female seconds later. Artorius had always smirked when Kaname returned, with one very contented woman on his arm but looking rather haggard himself, calling it perfect justice with a clap on the back and an aura of utter self-satisfaction.
If Kaname was going to seduce his way through life, he deserved the consequences.
Naturally, Kaname had returned the favour, gleefully tripping him up as he tried to make a run for it from dear Lilith when she’d finally gotten her claws into him. Artorius had assumed that she was coming for Kaname and it had cost him a precious thirty-second head start.
The Hunt was amusing, mainly as it was such an excellent source of gossip. If that woman was chasing that man, then they had to have done the deed, she had to be pregnant, and he had to be the father – more than a few affairs had been rather scandalously revealed via an ill-timed Hunt, but it could also be deadly.
Juuri had had to chase Haruka down. Instinct allowed for nothing else. Physically running after him like a wolf and a lamb, a Hunt in the truest meaning of the word. If she’d caught him before the rage withered, she’d have killed him. Either taking his strength for her own to allow her to survive the upcoming labour or removing the weaker pureblood from the gene pool and terminating the baby before it could form properly, reabsorbing it back into her body’s reserves.
After all, if the father was weak the baby would be weak too, and there was no point in carrying it to term if the effort could kill her. The payoff just wasn’t worth it from a survival-of-the-species point of view. It had always been their way. Weakness just wasn’t tolerated, biologically or socially.
This Hunt had clearly been successful though, Haruka’s strength had been proven by the hours that he had managed to evade Juuri and, inevitably, her rage had turned to lust.
Haruka was in a sorry state, his three-piece suit was in tatters with streaks of dried blood running down the trousers and staining the waist, the belt was missing entirely whilst his shirt had been reduced to a few strips of off-white fabric and he’d somehow lost a shoe.
Meanwhile, Juuri was glowing, radiantly happy and extremely pleased with herself. Her aura practically screamed the cat-that-got-the-canary and no one who sensed it could doubt what she’d been doing the past several hours or how good it had been for her. Her clothes were grass-stained, mud-stained and blood-stained, but she was so radiant in the moonlight that it hardly mattered. She could have been wearing a bin bag and still look enchanting she was in such a good mood.
The servants were rather bewildered at their sudden change in mood, but naturally didn’t so much as twitch an eyebrow as the two of them walked hand in hand up the driveway looking like they’d just survived a natural disaster. One night their auras were murderously angry, sending everyone into fits of echoed anger and fear that they might become a casualty, and the next night they were acting like newly hand-fasted, all lovey-dovey and disgusting, not to mention sunburned.
Kaname was just thrilled even if he could do without watching them make out like teenagers.
Yuki was here.
“~Oh, Kaname,” Juuri called, poking her head around the nursery door, “Can you keep a secret?”
Kaname shut the book he’d been reading about the artificial formation of mithril and stood – carefully- climbing up his favourite fainting chair to plop himself down at Juuri’s side with a huff.
He gave her a sidelong glance, gently prodding at her aura. Juuri was happy, worried, stressed and tired. Nevertheless, there was something… just a little flicker of something more, something foreign. He smiled, if he hadn’t already known it would have been impossible to sense, but he did know, and the reassurance of feeling tiny-Yuki’s presence was a balm to his senses.
A flashing neon light and a blaring klaxon too, mind you, but Kaname was focusing on the positives.
Now that Yuki’s existence was secured, he didn’t have any reason to delay. He had to have a long and serious talk with Haruka and Juuri – and they were not going to like what he had to say. No one liked being reprimanded, and yet Kaname had no choice.
How many of the mistakes in the future could lead back to their choices? Yuki’s insanity, Rido’s existence, the decline of the Kuran’s social power, the failing associations with other purebloods, his endlessly irritating guardianship by Asato Ichijo and all the damage the low-blood had done by rifling through the Kuran holdings, stealing whatever wasn’t nailed down and learning far too much about the past.
It was endless.
What had they been thinking? Had they been thinking at all?
They were purebloods for blood’s sake – they were supposed to be cautious, always with a plan. They should have expected to be attacked since they took the risk of children. Why hadn’t they prepared? Not even the most meagre of the manor’s defences had been activated in years. It was all very well to monitor Rido’s movements, but that was passive. The best defence was a good offence – why weren’t they doing something.
It was just too… convenient. In their most vulnerable years, they had foregone all the protections and essentials that had kept their ancestors alive throughout the most vicious of the Blood Wars. Any other pureblood took security as a matter of necessity – they flaunted their precautions it was such a natural thing for their kind.
Haruka and Juuri hadn’t.
Why hadn’t they made assurances for their children? Hidden their finances? Forged the usual human documents? There wasn’t even a will for the human assets!
It was disgraceful and alarming. Kaname knew that they knew better, if they hadn’t done so, it was a deliberate choice – and that made it all the worse.
But he would get his answers.
“Kaname? Are you listening to me?” Juuri nudged him, causing him to flop over as he lost his precarious balance. Juuri giggled a mischievous little laugh and set him on her lap instead, wrapping her arms around him to help him balance and so that she could cuddle.
“You’re pregnant,” Kaname deadpanned as he settled into her arms. “It’s a girl.”
Juuri scowled playfully above him as he tilted his head back to smirk up at her, but then smiled unable to be bad tempered for very long. Purebloods didn’t get with child easily, and she’d been extraordinarily lucky to have two heats so close together, but her body had clearly known that her first child had perished and had been ready for a second attempt whilst all of the other conditions were still favourable. It wasn’t going to be easy as her Kaname still needed energy and she was the only provider but Haruka had had a point. One of them had to be at full strength. She was just going to have to manage giving energy to two children somehow.
“Yes,” she confirmed with a broad grin – showing fang. Purebloods always knew the gender. “It’s a secret for now. I’ll maintain appearances for as long as possible, but I knew you’d want to know.”
Her pregnancy could last anywhere from six months to two years for a pureblooded child. The tell-tale bump might not appear for another twenty months if she was lucky. A few months of seclusion were much easier to arrange without suspicion than a more traditional nine-month absence.
Kaname nodded; he knew the game. “Congratulations,” he offered, genuine but distracted as his mind raced ahead to plot out consequences.
A newborn pureblood was a cause for great celebration amongst the nobility and below, but it also painted a giant target on the Kuran’s backs. It was best to keep the child a secret for as long as vamprically possible. Just three years would make all the difference. Once Kaname was three, he would no longer be so reliant on Juuri and Haruka’s strength. If worst came to worst, he could survive alone from that point onwards, but during the first three years Haruka and Juuri were his main energy sources and as a result they were weakened and vulnerable to attacks by other purebloods – like Rido.
“What are you doing about Rido?” Kaname ventured carefully. Neither Haruka nor Juuri had been willing to talk about their estranged sibling for a long time after the other Kaname’s death and Kaname had been unwilling to push for news until Yuki was safely conceived.
“Haruka is trying to keep tabs on him, but Rido knows a great deal of our network,” Juuri replied easily, the ghost of old pain in her eyes was clear but not devastating. “He is skilled at evading it.”
“He will come for her,” Kaname prodded quietly. The timelines had changed, but he could predict that much. A child was power, and Kuran manor didn’t defend itself well from other Kurans. Rido was obsessed with gaining more power; a child was a target he would not be able to resist.
Yet Kaname no longer had the advantage of foreknowledge. In the last timeline, Kaname had been able to attack Rido when Rido had awakened him from his tomb, nearly ripping his throat out and draining enough blood to severely retard his healing abilities.
The Council had then taken Rido into ‘protection’ to save him from Juuri’s wrath. Unfortunately, they had gained a lot of power when it came to ‘protecting’ purebloods and could do almost anything if they said it was for that cause.
This time around, Kaname had been in too much pain to do anything but breathe, let alone attack Rido. Rido had escaped, and yet Kaname couldn’t think that that was entirely bad. Without the rather public near-death of a Kuran, the Council had had no reason to stick their noses into the Kuran’s affairs. The Council was still their enemy, Kaname knew, and they were still allied with Rido in a bid to eliminate the last traces of the monarchy.
However, Kaname’s own existence was still a secret from the vampire public. Rido would have told the Council about a child in order to commit them to an attack, but the rest of the world was still in the light about it. That was no small advantage. It was vexing that his enemies knew, but Kaname could work with what he had. He still had the high ground; Rido would never have told Asato about a plan to awaken the Ancestor. Whatever Rido was, he wasn’t stupid.
Asato Ichijo hated the Ancestor, Al’Kyran. Kaname was everything old Ichio feared. The First Vampire and the King. No, Asato would never have committed resources to a plan that could destroy the Council of Elder’s snarled authority with the mere mention of his name.
“He will,” Juuri agreed sadly after a long moment of thought. Her eyes were glassy and distant.
Kaname bit his lip. It was time to ‘fess up and he knew it. Rido would probably wait to attack until Yuki was born, but Kaname knew better than to make assumptions. The timeline had changed, it was best to act as if he knew nothing rather than rely on anything he thought he knew.
“Juuri,” he said, drawing his shoulders back and holding his head up high. He was what he was and he’d pretend no longer. “I need to talk to you and Haruka in absolute secrecy. It’s important.”
Frowning, Juuri considered the child in her arms. She had to tell herself every night that Kaname was not her Kaname or she knew she’d get lost in the illusion to spare herself the grief. She was three thousand years old and her beloved brother had murdered her very first child.
Juuri was a pureblood; she was immortal and powerful enough to be mistaken for a god. It burned that she hadn’t been able to defend her child. It was a vile parody. How could she be so powerful and so pathetic? It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. It hurt so much she wanted to scream and scream and scream but she couldn’t even show a flicker of grief outside of her private chambers.
She bottled up enough tears to form a river in the night. In the day, she allowed herself to cry for a few minutes in the privacy of her running shower, the streams of water diluting the scent of salt and covered the sound and she turned her music on and let it blare for an extra shield of disguise only twisting the knife a little deeper each time.
Her grief shouldn’t be shaming, but if anyone knew it would become an exploitable weakness, so she had to endure. No one but their small family would ever know that she’d lost a son – and it wasn’t fair to little Kaname whose birth deserved to be known, the world should be grieving with her… but it just couldn’t be.
She was in mourning, not suicidal.
Juuri wanted Kaname to be her Kaname so much that it seemed like her heart would burst, but she felt so guilty she wanted to be sick and forced herself to note the differences. Kaname may act like a child, but he could never hide the ancient soul within. His eyes showed the millennia he had lived. He was her many time distant grandfather.
Her son was dead.
“Very well,” she said softly. “Haruka will be back from work by sunup. Come to my solar and we’ll talk.”
She set her son – not her son – down, smiled sadly as she stroked his hair and left the nursery, unable to endure it a second longer.
She needed a shower.
When Kaname sensed Haruka return, he was left with a conundrum. Juuri’s private chambers were a good distance away from the nursery. He could walk… but he’d rather not.
“Kaname-sama! I have a surprise for you,” Nancy called cheerfully, pulling a box out from behind her back.
Kaname sighed in despair at seeing a whole crate of red balls. The woman just wouldn’t take a hint.
“I’ll destroy them later,” Kaname promised. Eventually, she had to realise that he really did mean that. In the mean time, there was nothing like the wanton destruction of property to do a body good. A good, clean bit of fun. He had to indulge his infant body some of the time after all if he wanted to maintain any sort of balance.
Then Kaname eyed Nancy again and felt pleased to see her. Excellent. A vehicle had arrived.
Kaname lifted his arms in the universal gesture of children everywhere and Nancy obligingly reached down to pick him up, transferring him to one hip automatically.
“Carry me to Juuri’s rooms,” Kaname ordered lightly, feeling smug at his problem solving abilities.
Once he had mastered the shadows, he wouldn’t have to obey the waddling limits of his body, but the effort still left him a little bit tired.
He had not fainted, no matter what Nancy thought she’d seen.
“Is there a particular reason that you want to see the Mistress, Kaname-sama?” Nancy asked a few minutes later as she was busy climbing the steep steps that led to the next floor.
Normally, Kaname only left the nursery to go to the library. The house was as safe as it was going to get, but his own weakness left him very reluctant to test the self-restraint of any vampire. It was galling to be even the slightest bit wary of a ‘C, but Kaname was a survivor first. Pride had never been his vice. Still…
“Are you questioning me?”
“Of course not,” Nancy denied, the mere thought was vaguely alarming to her.
Usually, it was easy for her to draw the line between the respect she had to offer a pureblood, and the obedience she required in order to do her job. With practice she’d gotten very good at knowing when she could and should push, and when she ought to step back and bow her head.
It’s just that that line grew very blurry the longer she was around Kaname-sama.
Kaname-sama whose games of hide and seek seemed far more like escape and evade; in fact, all of his play looked so very much like training. Kaname-sama who spoke with such maturity it was hard to remember that he wasn’t even a year old. The same Kaname-sama who referred to the Mistress as ‘Juuri’ rather than ‘Mother.’
No, Nancy thought, carefully examining the…child she carried with a discreet sidelong glance. She was not questioning him.
“Kaname,” Juuri pasted on a company smile as her not-son was carried into her rooms. The ‘C set Kaname down on the chair he indicated and Juuri dismissed her with a wave of her hand to wait outside. This conversation wasn’t for her ears.
“What is this about?” Haruka asked bluntly, pouring himself a glass of wine. He looked tired and stressed. It probably wasn’t the ideal time to have this conversation, but Kaname would delay it no longer.
Kaname looked at the two of them carefully, observing. He’d had months to consider how to approach this conversation but it didn’t make the words come any easier.
“You know I’m the Ancestor.” He stated flatly. Best to start with shock tactics and gain the initiative. Kaname wanted to rant at them, but it would only get their hackles up. Now was the time for cool logic and pointed questions, not emotion. “I thought it was time that we talked about a few things,” he said carefully.
That got their immediate attention. They hadn’t talked about the night he was resurrected since it had happened.
“Things like what?” Haruka asked sharply. He walked to stand behind Juuri, resting a hand on her shoulder. Juuri glanced up at him, frowning in concern, her hand rose to rest on his and their fingers tangled together.
“The state of the family,” Kaname began simply, “current politics, alliances and so on, I would like a summary of where we stand now and what your current objectives are.”
There was much to plan for. The Kuran’s needed to start building alliances with other purebloods, reaching out to their foreign counterparts and work out where they all stood if he was to map out some sort of coordinated counterattack on the Council and their current propaganda campaign.
“You’re still a child,” Haruka shrugged, sipping from his glass. “Don’t worry about such things. I will take care of us as I have always done.”
“I’m only a child in body,” Kaname snapped. “Not in mind. Do not patronise me.”
That had been the most patronising tones he’d ever heard directed at him – and Kaname was including every conversation he’d ever had with Ichio in that tally. He didn’t appreciate it- particularly from one of the few people who knew better.
“I am concerned about Rido and the Council to begin with,” Kaname continued before he could be interrupted again. “What preparations, and with whom, are you making to counter them?” He forced his temper to cool. He would treat this like a negotiation with another Court, not a family dispute.
Haruka rolled his eyes. “We are cooperating with the Council to track down Rido. When we find him, I will deal with him. Really, there is no need for you to bother with any of this.”
Haruka stared back, one eyebrow lifted in silent question.
“Do you honestly believe the words coming out of your mouth?” Kaname asked, aghast as the silence dragged on and he realised Haruka wasn’t making some sort of terrible joke.
“Please don’t argue,” Juuri said quietly, looking at her knees.
“It is your child I am attempting to protect,” Kaname shot back at her, confused and annoyed, “I would think you would be a little more proactive about her defence.”
“Don’t talk to your mother that way,” Haruka hissed. “She lost a son! Not that I expect one of your kind to understand.”
Kaname was taken aback. That had been snappish, even vicious. What was going on here he wondered as Juuri seemed to shrink in on herself at the condemnation Haruka was hammering down on her.
“My kind?” he asked slowly, ruthlessly supressing the other feelings. She had lost a son? Not we? It was no one person’s fault. Moreover, Kaname knew far too well what it was like to lose children. However, he was not going to bring it up. It wasn’t a competition even if Haruka should be able to use the basest logic to deduce that Kaname had lost every child he’d ever had thank you very much. He was intimately familiar with that particular colour of grief. Unlike some vampires he had exacted revenge.
“Old Bloods,” Haruka sneered. Shaking Juuri’s hand off, he began pacing the room in agitation. “Violent, sadistic and promiscuous the lot of you. I’ve heard the stories,” he added darkly, frowning as he gazed out the window.
“Your point?” Kaname drawled, unconcerned. A vampire was a vampire. They were all vampires here. Kaname regretted nothing and Haruka was hardly in a position to throw stones.
“This is no longer your world,” Haruka proclaimed turning back to Kaname and attempting to stare down at him imperiously with his arms folded across his chest. “You have no place here. We are at peace and at peace we will remain.”
Kaname examined the light of conviction in Haruka’s eyes with mild alarm. Apparently, the vampire really did believe what he was saying.
“I would have thought it was clear,” Kaname parried, making sure his tone conveyed all the disdain he felt, “That the Council are your enemies. That Rido allied with the Council in order to facilitate the last attack. It was the Council that provided so many level E’s and lower vampires as a distraction. Cooperating with them in any way will only cause you further grief. They want you dead.”
Surely, he didn’t have to spell that out, Kaname thought, but going by the sheer look of disbelief on Haruka’s face, Kaname did, and that was not a pleasant thought. Was it physically possible for a pureblood to be this stupid?
“Oh don’t be so paranoid,” Haruka sighed, draining his glass of wine and pouring a whisky. “Why must you always see the worst in this world? Haven’t you had enough of warmongering?” He shook his head. “This farce has gone on long enough. You will apologise to your mother, and will return to the nursery. We will speak again only when you’ve grown up enough.”
Kaname let the words pass over his head. Haruka didn’t deserve to frustrate Kaname, not if he was going to be this obtuse. Kaname wouldn’t give the gorebellied, hedge-born gudgeon that much power over him.
“She is not my mother,” Kaname replied mildly, glancing dismissively at the pair of them, anticipating that it would aggravate Haruka enough to put him off balance. This chat seemed to have actually become a negotiation with a hostile court, it’s lord, and the comparison was not pleasing to Kaname.
Naturally, he appreciated the roles they had to play to keep up the act, but it didn’t change the fact that no matter anyone’s feelings on the matter, Kaname had known Haruka and Juuri a grand total of eight years and that was including both timelines.
That was a drop in the ocean of his life.
He’d known humans longer than that.
They were Family mind you, which meant something in their world of backstabbing politics. It meant Ally and Friend and that Kaname could allow himself to feel fondness for them without regretting it later, but it certainly didn’t meant the kind of respect or deference Haruka was demanding. Besides, his actual mother might get jealous, and no one with any sense wanted to spark that particular conflagration.
Haruka’s face was turning an interesting shade of purple. Kaname was morbidly fascinated. He wasn’t aware that purebloods could do that. Huh. You really did learn something new every night…
The lights flickered and the room chilled rapidly, Kaname breath came out as mist as Haruka’s aura flared in rage.
Kaname was unruffled by the petty display of anger. He’d pulled better auras as a child – the first time around. Haruka was truly terrible at controlling his emotions and it did not endear him to Kaname in the slightest.
“How dare you,” Haruka raged, his eyes burning red as he stalked towards Kaname. “We take you in out of the goodness of our hearts, we raise you, we –“
“Haruka, please,” Juuri mumbled, wrapping an arm around his waist to stop him moving.
“Silence, Juuri. This has gone far enough. I will not be insulted in my own house.”
Kaname couldn’t resist.
“Your house?” he asked, archly. Just who did they think had built the place?
Haruka roared. He broke free of Juuri’s weak grasp and grabbing Kaname by his shirt, bodily hauling him into the air and shaking him like a dog.
Belatedly, Kaname wondered - his surroundings blurring as his head snapped back and forth with enough force to break a human’s neck- if deliberately enraging an adult pureblood might have been a slight miscalculation on his part.
A/N Sorry for the slight delay. I'm trying to update once a week but setting the right tone for this argument took me several re-writes. Also, just a quick note on language. It occured to me that a vampire wouldn't use any saying or idiom we do that refers to the sun or daylight etc, so I've been trying to replace them with something more vampire. Don't be confused by the nocturnal slant. If anyone can come up with something for 'tomorrow' that a vampire might use, I'd appreciate it.
Extra long chapter today - lots to cover.
Kaname had said it before and he’d say it again; pride had never been his vice.
It took one second for him to realise that he’d miscalculated and start the damage control. He’d known that what he’d had to say – not that he’d actually got around to truly saying it yet – would upset his two descendants, but he’d never anticipated this level of escalation.
Child abuse was a foreign term to purebloods. Children were too rare to be deliberately hurt by their direct kin. It was anathema to them; instead they were almost universally spoiled and indulged. It was non-related purebloods you had to watch out for. The fact that Haruka was physically hurting him was the last sign that Kaname needed that something was very wrong in this house.
It was not a mistake he’d make again. Whatever was going on, it was clear Kaname could assume nothing. Even things he thought he knew were now suspect. Abuse had gone from laughable to real. The bond of family meant nothing here.
“I’m sorry, father,” Kaname murmured meekly, letting himself hang limply in Haruka’s grasp as his mind spun. “This world is just so confusing,” he continued quietly, desperately trying to portray vulnerability even as his thoughts leapfrogged ahead.
Haruka was clearly bordering on insane, and it was always best to agree with the crazy-man’s delusions.
It worked, as Haruka calmed down immediately, setting Kaname back down on the sofa and straightening his clothes for him.
“I’m sorry too, son,” Haruka murmured, kneeling down in front of him and gently hugging Kaname as Kaname did his best not to retch down the vampire’s back. He was so dizzy from being shaken that he wondered, in an alarmingly distracted way, if he had some sort of brain damage from the rough treatment. “I shouldn’t let my temper get away with me like that, but you really mustn’t provoke me.”
Oh yes, Kaname thought sourly, blame the child you utter twat.
“I’m sorry father,” Kaname echoed softly, hoping the repetition of the term father gave Haruka whatever sense of control he was looking for. “I won’t do it again.”
“Oh you boys,” Juuri sniffed, and Kaname was horrified to realise that she was actually tearing up slightly and smiling tremulously. In the name of the Night what was going on here? Whatever was affecting Haruka had Juuri in it’s grasp too; a pureblood in their right mind would not have stood aside and let a child of their line to be hurt like that. Obviously, it was effecting her emotional balance and thus could reasonable be assumed to be some mental affliction.
“Oh Juuri,” Haruka whispered, rising to embrace her. “Please don’t be upset. Everything is going to be OK now, I promise.”
Kaname was glad for the reprieve. Whilst Haruka and Juuri hugged, rocked, and whispered to each other like teenagers, he recovered. The double vision faded, clearing his mind as his body rapidly healed the damage, the sense of nausea receded for which Kaname was utterly grateful. He hated being sick. It was so undignified.
Forcing his aura to be absolutely clear and calm, Kaname thought. Haruka wasn’t reacting well to independence or to challenges, however mild so it was imperative Kaname kept his aura still so it didn’t reveal the loathing he felt. It took effort and energy to keep it placid, but Kaname knew it was better to endure the discomfort to spare the far greater harm he’d get if Haruka felt insulted by Kaname’s disgust.
Kaname gave himself five seconds to despise the fact that Haruka was a real threat to him, this body was so inconvenient, and then he made himself adapt.
He needed more information.
“Perhaps, father,” Kaname hedged cautiously, “you might explain this new world to me. It’s clear that I’m missing something.” He smiled vapidly to cement the act.
“Of course son,” Haruka smiled, and sat down on the sofa opposite Kaname, tugging Juuri down with him by their still-linked hands. “It was a good idea to meet. We do need to have a proper chat. The world has changed a great deal in the ten thousand years that you’ve slept for.”
Kaname sat up straight, leaning forward, keeping his eyes wide and attentive, his hands folded neatly on his lap. Body language was everything in selling a good lie and Kaname had always been an excellent student.
Inside, it was another story. Surprise was the least of what he felt. Kaname had not slept for ten thousand consecutive years. He couldn’t imagine a pureblood that would be stupid enough to sleep for so long, though he was beginning to believe that Haruka could be an exception to that. The vampire survived by adapting. Kaname would have gone to sleep in an era of Kings and Queens and swords and woken up in an age of computers and guns.
Horrifically out of date, Kaname would have been a sitting duck.
The most he’d ever slept for was a few centuries, and he’d only risked so long since he’d had trustworthy descendants to wake him up at an agreed time.
If you really wanted a long nap, you slept for a decade, woke up for a year, quickly rearranged your affairs to assure that you were still wealthy, influential and safe, and then slept for another decade. Rinse and repeat.
Or if you were feeling too restrained by vampire society, you went to sleep, secretly woke up and pretended to be human until you were no longer bored. Kaname had known his fellow purebloods to be everything from pirates and celebrities to tailors and tinkers. He’d spent more than a few rotations just travelling and doing odd jobs or picking up a new trade for fun. Variety kept an immortal life interesting.
The fact that Haruka obviously believed that Kaname had been asleep for that long – and his body language clearly said he did, Kaname refused to believe that Haruka was capable of the skill necessary to deceive him – said that Haruka’s own education was flawed.
Haruka had either forgotten what he’d been taught as a child, or he’d never been taught it at all. For one sentence, Haruka had given a lot away. That ignorance told Kaname that whatever the problem was with this family, it had started centuries ago, possibly even with the previous generation.
It also implied that neither Haruka nor Juuri had taken a break in the past three thousand years. Well damn. No wonder they’d lost it. Had Rido taken a break?
“Vampires are now at peace,” Haruka continued blithely, “The Council of Elders is our ruling body, made up of only vampires from the aristocracy. The old Courts of purebloods have fallen out of use. It’s now gauche to use our ability to command the lesser vampires for personal advantage. We are all working hard to make our society one of equals.”
Haruka paused to beam at Juuri who beamed back, full of pride.
Kaname felt sick.
He’d speculated that the Council’s propaganda had done more damage than he’d realised – but to have even purebloods believing it? Had he even come back far enough? No. He refused to believe that it was already too late, but he had severely underestimated the problem and Haruka’s common sense.
Fact one, vampires were not a peaceful race. It wasn’t a bad thing; humans were not a peaceful race either. Races that survived longest didn’t get to that point by being nice. Anything a species needed to thrive – ambition, the struggle, a vision – they were all competitive traits and anything goes in the race for survival. Haruka saying that vampires were at peace was either foolishly idealistic or dangerously naive.
Fact two, the Council were not out for peace. They were jealous. Not to mention conniving and greedy. Roughly speaking the Council controlled the majority of mixed blood vampires, but the existence of purebloods – a person they had to bow to despite their de justo authority grated. They had power, but they couldn’t compare.
A pureblood just was. A vampire knew a pureblood on sight if they hadn’t sensed them earlier. The itch in the back of their minds – the hindbrain in a human – triggered their instincts. Danger. Predator. Obey. Then of course, a pureblood was immortal rather than just exceptionally long-lived, ethereally beautiful, and had the power of absolute command as well as any number of other supernatural abilities.
Why wouldn’t the Council be jealous?
They did all the work – or so they liked to believe – and got a mere fraction of the respect. They practically quivered with rage any time a pureblood waltzed on by. They might resent them, but they also couldn’t remove their own instincts that told them to be reverent, making that bitterness fester all the worse. The knowledge of how completely outclassed they were didn’t ease the acrimony in the slightest.
Which explained the far subtler tactic they’d chosen in their silent war.
Purebloods generally preferred a certain amount of privacy, conveniently ensuring that very few low blood vampires ever met one, and leading to a huge amount of gossip. Naturally, the Council encouraged that gossip in certain directions until it became fear mongering and soon enough spite was accepted as common knowledge.
Purebloods didn’t care for the opinion or education of low bloods on their private matters so the errors were never corrected. Even the news that reported on purebloods just like human celebrities was never important enough to merit interference.
He didn’t like it, but Kaname was never ashamed to acknowledge when his enemies had been smart. It was a good tactic. They’d won that one.
“You don’t consider your Court a Court?” Kaname clarified with some confusion. Haruka certainly had a small circle of followers from the upper nobility that he favoured.
“They’re my friends,” Haruka smiled blandly. “A Court implies too much about the old rule.”
“You don’t give them orders? They don’t obey you? Their business or trade isn’t involved with ours? Their members are not your companions and lovers?” Kaname asked, doing his best to convey confusion rather than sheer disbelief.
A Court was a Court no matter what you called it. Purebloods attracted followers as a rose attracts admirers. It was basic biology. Mixed blood vampires always lived better with a pureblood and the urge to followed imposed civilisation on an otherwise predatory race. It was a fair trade, loyalty for protection and the only difference in it from what the humans that these two so espoused did was that it was personal.
“Well, they do,” Haruka admitted, “But as I said, it’s a changed world. It just doesn’t mean the same thing.”
“I’m sure you know best.”
The Command was considered gauche? Kaname thought it over as Haruka continued his waffling. Considering that the ability to command absolute obedience was what brought their race into civilisation and kept it hidden, calling it gauche now was faintly amusing. Not that Kaname could think of many incidents when he’d used it.
Sure it was their level’s most known ability, and most feared by the Council, but given that few vampires would ever tell a pureblood to fuck off when made a reasonable request – Kaname could think of only one – why would the Command be needed? Then again, if Kaname assumed that general knowledge of the ability had been subject to the Council’s interference…
Perhaps vampires all thought that purebloods regularly went about usurping free will for their own petty amusement? Kaname frowned slightly. Purebloods had the right to expect and enforce obedience, if the lower classes had a problem with that – nothing stopped them from moving away.
More importantly, Juuri and Haruka were aiming for a society of equals? That was the last thing they needed. Vampires didn’t do equality. They did efficiency. All rule by committee would achieve would be to diminish the level A’s power, give it to the higher level B’s and watch as they exploited the lower B’s, level C’s and D’s in turn.
Kaname knew where that led- war, ruin, plague and the end of the world.
The silence grew, so Kaname paid attention to Haruka once more. The younger vampire had come to the end of his monologue and was looking at Kaname expectantly.
Haruka reached over and patted Kaname’s head fondly.
“Right?” he asked, not expecting an answer. “I knew you’d appreciate it. After a few more decades to prepare we want to work on turning everyone human.”
Only millennia of keeping poker faces – long before poker was invented – kept Kaname from doing a spit take. Human? They wanted to become human? Everyone? Stars and stones where had that ideacome from?
“Human?” he squeaked too shocked to care about squeaking. This was… abominable.
“Yes,” Juuri confirmed, smiling widely as she finally took part in the conversation. “We decided it a while ago. It’s not right, Kaname, we’re not right.”
As Juuri blabbered on with Haruka nodding empathetically to every other word, Kaname studied the two purebloods in front of him. Supressing his emotions, he focused on clear analytical logic. He took a step back from the situation and made himself look. If they weren’t family, if he hadn’t trusted them, what did he see?
A horrible realisation clicked together in his mind. Snicker snack. It was like it had always been waiting for him to make, lying just under the surface of his conscious thought until he was ready to admit it.
“…humans can grieve without it being a sign of weakness. They feel, they grow, they love…”
It was the worst insult one could call a pureblood. To say it aloud was a declaration of war – except it wasn’t. War implied a certain level of equality- but a blood traitor was vermin. It was a declaration of extinction, extermination, and fumigation. It described a pureblood that had turned their back on their history and their duties. One who was a traitor to the very blood they carried. Unworthy.
Yet, as Kaname heard Juuri argue that because she was a vampire, she didn’t actually love Haruka, Kaname or her unborn child because she was genetically incapable of the emotion, Kaname knew no other word could fit.
“…An Academy where both will be educated together. The children will start to see how the other half live and they’ll crave it as we do…”
He was alone.
The burden of the future was once more upon his shoulders, a veritable mountain of duty. He felt more confined than Atlas. Atlas carried his burden all alone – but Kaname had had real hope that he wouldn’t have to, only for that hope to be ripped away.
He wanted to scream, to beat his fists and rage against the world. It wasn’t fair.
He didn’t. He took the storm of emotion and he folded it up, put it in a box, labelled it and put it on a mental shelf. He had to focus.
“…Working with Cross, the hunter…”
If they truly didn’t believe they could feel emotion, that a life under the sun would be better somehow, well it was no wonder everything went wrong here and now.
They were flat out insane.
Worse, they were not insane. A pureblood that went insane, well, it was obvious to anyone who looked. Corruption on the inside always reflected on the outside.
Haruka and Juuri looked fine, thus they were sane, they were just…mad?
Kaname really wanted to blame it on mental instability but the evidence said otherwise. They just hated themselves so much they now hated their whole species. Talk about depression. But it did explain why they were ignoring their political duties, ignoring invitations, letting connections wither, they were phantoms of their own lives.
“…You will attend, to attract the other children…”
They were weak. They despised themselves, afraid of their own inhuman instincts – which in retrospect explained so much. The disgust of the Hunt, the fear of the old bloods, the hypocritical accusations of promiscuity and sadism…
They didn’t think vampires deserved to live?
Vampires were a natural species. They had every right to walk this earth. So what if humans feared them? Do the lions commit genocide because the zebra fears them? No, of course they didn’t – because that would be stupid.
Why on earth did they think humans were so much better than vampires? Humans were chaotic, they killed each other for politics, for money, for resources, for skin colour, for religion, for sexual preference – it was never ending. They were a violent and filthy species that devoured the earth with no care for the consequences. They were reactionary and entirely lacked the ability to plan long term.
In comparison, vampires were prime citizens. Yes, they fed on blood, but until Kaname developed the blood tablets, there literally was no other option and it wasn’t a bad thing in the first place that needed to be defended. Vampires didn’t usually kill their meals – no one wanted that kind of attention – and they were more successful than not fitting into and contributing to society. And, they always paid their taxes. Besides, humans needed a predator.
Haruka and Juuri had no leg to stand on.
If they felt confined by never being able to share their emotions without precipitating an attack, it was their own fault for not cultivating friends they trusted and being able to spot the liars. He was pretty sure he’d never heard of humans using their own child as bait to draw in other children for an attempt at brainwashing.
In retrospect, their initial plans explained a lot of the Academy’s problems.
Vampires were diffused throughout human society, gathering in clusters only in their own family units, around a pureblood and for parties or social events.
The Academy had represented a unique opportunity to gather safely without anyone asking questions about the number of humans suddenly having very low blood pressure. Kaname had a great many plans for the Academy…
“…transform first, as an example to the rest…”
Kaname could take it no longer.
“And how long would you last as a human?” Kaname asked sharply, memories of a future-Yuki rising up with a well of grief. “You’d still be a pureblood genetically, just weak. Being an example means you can’t hide. You would be hunted for your blood and with no power to fight back. You’d be captured if they were clever, and bled and bred for as long as your human body could take it. If you were lucky they’d just drain you to death.”
“Are you not listening boy?” Haruka snarled. “Our world is at peace. Those kinds of acts no longer take place. You’ll see once it’s done, we’ll be fine.”
Kaname snorted. He’d always choose vampires over humans, but he had no illusions about his race. Look what the Council had done to Shizuka once they had the opportunity.
Yuki had lasted what, ten years? Before her powers had tried to reassert themselves, and the disassociation between her learned human behaviour and instinctive vampire side had given her a split personality disorder. She’d never actually been human only had all of her powers supressed.
“It won’t work. You will always be a vampire. Have you even considered the mental effects?”
Why did they even want to be human? So that they could show emotion? Humans hid their emotions all the time, emotional manipulation was just as much an issue for them as it was for vampires. Someone would still try to take advantage of any emotional weakness. Manipulation went hand in hand with power, human or vampire the Kuran’s were rich. Their plan was doomed to fail even if it had made sense.
“It will work!” Haruka insisted. “I’ve been researching for years!”
Kaname rolled his eyes, knowing better than to expect logic.
No wonder these two had not combatted Ichio’s perverse influence. They were barely capable of looking after themselves yet alone the thousand of vampires that depended on them for their livelihoods and safety. Kaname had assumed they’d not attended many parties lately in a bid to reduce the risk of exposing Juuri’s condition… but if Kaname assumed that they actually just didn’t care about politics anymore… then no wonder the Kuran’s social power had declined.
“How many years, exactly?”
“Two hundred since the idea first came to me,” Haruka snapped. “It’s been planned to the last detail.”
Two hundred years was plenty of time for networks and connections to degrade. Vampire society thrived on favours and debts – but one did have to be around to remind people what was owed.
“Perhaps you should study the seal you intend to use once more,” Kaname tried quietly, “And consider what it means to be vampire. Are you seriously going to sit there and tell me that you want to commit genocide on top of abandoning your duties?”
The powers they were granted had a use. To abandon what they were… it was disgusting beyond belief. Anti-everything Kaname had ever known. Purebloods had the duty to protect those that swore them loyalty, and all purebloods had a duty to keep the horrors of the ancient world exactly where they were.
Haruka went on the attack. There was no hiding that he was ruffled and feeling the pressure of reason.
“The Council approached me recently,” he began, switching subjects to keep Kaname off-balance and distracted. “They have a fiancé in mind for you. Perhaps I should accept it. A strong family unit will keep you focused on the future.”
An arranged marriage? Fuck no. Kaname would kill the girl, Haruka, and the Council before he was sold off like a pig to breed. Particularly since the Council had a long history of arranging the worst matches. If you couldn’t trust your betrothed, there was a chink in the armour, and anything that improved the Council’s chanances of getting some pure blood would be encouraged. Naturally, Haruka couldn’t think that far ahead, he was just relishing the control arranging a marriage offered.
Not that a true pureblood would ever ‘marry’ that was far, far too human. Not to mention insulting to the woman. No, a real pureblood pledged, bonded and hand fasted.
“And how exactly will you make me do anything?”
Kaname knew it was risky to provoke Haruka, but by the night, he’d had enough. Blood traitors were eliminated, not bandied with. He would not be coerced, controlled or intimidated.
“I’ve had enough of these antics.” Haruka said mildly, examining the nails on his left hand. “I’ve been lenient out of respect but this nonsense goes too far. You will forget your past. You are my son and you will act like it. Obey me in all things.”
With that sneering tirade, Haruka brought all his will power down upon Kaname, exactly as if he were enforcing his will on a level D. Oh so the Command was gauche unless it was Haruka’s? Typical.
Kaname felt the attack against his mind like a battering ram. There was no subtlety or finesse at all, just a sheer demand for obedience. Haruka’s manifestation of will rammed against his shields again and again…
… and Kaname felt his mental shields waver.
Haruka was three thousand years old; Kaname was nine months. Kaname simply didn’t have the reserves to match the offensive power.
But he hadn’t lived this long on power alone.
His eyesight blurred with the strain and Kaname felt a thrill of fear. The danger was all too real. Once a pureblood got inside your head, the possibilities were endless. Haruka didn’t like Kaname, and Kaname had a very creative imagination. The things he would do to an enemy if he had the chance…
Throwing his remaining energy into the outer shield, dredging up his deepest reserves, Kaname bought himself a few precious seconds. Seconds he used to ‘sink’ the metaphysical representation of his mind down below the surface and fudging a quick and nasty replica up on top. The multitasking cost him dearly, Kaname could feel his nose dripping with blood very distantly – his face felt numb but he could smell the blood – but he forced himself to focus with the will that had kept him alive for so very long. He’d pay the physical debt later.
His copy had what could maybe be called an expanded memory bank, if one didn’t look too closely. He just didn’t have the power or time for anything more. It was weak and blurry, but it was all he had the energy for.
His power was failing rapidly, darkness lingered and was creeping closer, on the edge of his mind, and Kaname had no choice but to let the shields fall or risk unconsciousness. He let it go and -
-Haruka’s will was there.
A foul invasion. Overriding his tattered shield and imposing itself on the ‘fake’ mind, the raw will simply erased the memory bank, chopping it into pieces and squashing it down into a messy clump a fraction of the size.
Kaname watched with forced distance, from ‘below’ the surface of his mind as Haruka withdrew his power, its task complete. Strong emotion might draw his attention. As the tail end of it left his mind, Kaname latched onto it – immersing his presence within Haruka’s own essence. They re-entered Haruka’s mind together, Kaname a shadow of a whisper – nothing as crass as a battering ram from him thank you very much.
He looked around the foreign metaphysical realm. The defensive shields were… poor. In fact, they looked like the effort of a young pureblood – untrained in any finer arts – just the brute force of their species. In took a second to realise that that was entirely accurate. Haruka had never trained his powers. Never in all his years.
Kaname shut down his emotional response before it could reveal his presence. If Haruka detected such disgust within himself that wasn’t what he was actually feeling, he might notice something off. Bad habits made dead Purebloods and besides which Kaname couldn’t afford the energy to fume. He had to act quickly. Slipping through Haruka’s shield was child’s play.
Although the process was entirely mental, visualisation always focused their powers. Haruka’s shields looked like a translucent dome. Kaname’s mental probe simply dug under the edge and he was in.
It was so simple, he almost suspected a trap.
Then he thought about the dark future and the recent conversation – Haruka had been revealed to be arrogant and incompetent, this wasn’t a trap, it really was just the defences Haruka was born with.
He didn’t have time for a thorough evaluation. He looked at everything on the surface but didn’t think on it. He’d meditate on it later and allow his memory to provide the matter. It’d be quicker that way.
Instead, Kaname slipped past the active thoughts into the memory bank. It was like a nebulous cloud, glowing with different colours and filled with thousands of stars. Emotions and memories all in a confused tangle. Sloppy.
In the few seconds it took for Haruka to regain control of his spirit and body, Kaname had reached out and ‘copied’ as much of the data he had access to, putting it into his own mind and retreating in a millisecond.
Kaname plastered on a happy smile, “What was that, Father? I blanked out for a minute,” he scuffed a toe on the chair leg, peeking up through his hair, “Sorry. I’m paying attention now,” he added brightly, adding a sheepish grin for effect.
“It was nothing son, you head off and play with Nancy. I want to talk to your mother.” Haruka smiled fondly, with a genuine affection that incensed him to the blood. “Off you trot.”
“’K,” Kaname slipped off the chair and out of the room without protest or backward glance, padding out with childish grace. He’d never admit it, but he was so glad to escape. His skin crawled when he thought of what could have happened.
“Dear – are you sure…” he heard through the closed door. No privacy seals in sight… disgusting lack of survival instinct.
“Yes, Juuri, he’s happier now – you saw that, besides we don’t need all that nonsense. He was clearly distressed and confused. We can’t blame him. Going from adult to child and into a new world can’t make him very stable. Not that he’s ever been stable, god think of the histories. Blood War after Blood War, we don’t need more pureblood infighting. No, we’re better this way. We don’t want that kind of thing about our dear baby girl now do we?”
The repulsive thing was – Kaname knew Haruka believed this. He could sense that honesty in the man’s words.
“Well, if you’re sure dear.”
Kaname had never felt so revolted in his life as he toddled away from the scene. He was exhausted, but rage kept him moving. Rage and a touch of fear. Well, actually, this was maybe third on the list. He’d had a long life.
After everything he’d sacrificed, he got for this ignorant diseased cesspit of spoilt pure blooded arrogance. The brat had the audacity to think he had the right to decide his life! He dared to erase his memories! Thirteen thousand years wiped out by that brats whim. It was sacrilege. A rape so beyond comprehension there was no description for it. A violation so extreme words failed. Then the tosser dares to say it’s for his own good?
Kaname was going to kill him. Rip him into piece and feed him to a dog. He’d been stupid to have any hope for them in the first place. He should have realised the list of their own mistakes was too long to be a coincidence. Stupidity like that just couldn’t be tolerated, Haruka’d get himself killed in a real fight, probably captured actually, and would spill whatever he knew, singing like a canary in response to a pinprick. He was beyond stupid.
Haruka was now a dangerous liability.
And Juuri? Some mother! What happened to her? Since when did a pureblood roll over and speak only when spoken to? Had Council propaganda – human copied mind you – spread so far? Sexism was human. Vampires believed only in power. The dutiful wife, the mother – the stereotypes just didn’t exist in the vampire society. Of course, the Council saw the human method as an excellent one – influence half the purebloods to be subservient to the other and you eliminated half the people who they had to bend knee to.
Anger boiled hot and fast within him. No, anger was the wrong word. There wasn’t a word for his level of utter apoplexy.
Obviously, the lack of a pureblood strong enough to take up the crown had given the low bloods ideas, Kaname thought vindictively. He’d even heard a rumour that his own grandfather-descendent had abdicated the throne and created the Council because he didn’t like the concentration of power.
Still, The brat had proven that he was willing to use force to get his way, which left Kaname in an untenable position. He would not be a blood traitor’s pet.
Arrogance was Haruka’s vice, and Kaname had a way to use it. If the brat believed he’d won – much as Kaname chewed his fangs over entertaining such a notion – then Kaname had the advantage.
He just had to play the obedient son for a little while longer. And since when did Haruka think a son had to obey the father? Bloody idiot. There was a world of difference between the trust of a family and obedience – one Haruka seemed all too gleeful to ignore. Patriarchal influence there – Kaname was going to blame the Council on principle.
Haruka had declared war – Kaname would answer.
He’d lost the fight for his body when Haruka had shaken him like a cur, and Kaname had only won the battle for his mind by the skin of his fangs but he would not be deterred.
Haruka had tried to destroy him, to make him a parody of what he was, and that desecration could not stand. Kaname wouldn’t tolerate it.
He might be the weakest he’d ever consciously been, and he’d definitely lose the stand up fight Kaname ached to give Haruka – nothing topped a good beating for stress relief - but after thirteen thousand years Kaname knew damn well how to use the power the earth had given him.
Haruka had even shown him the way.
I have so much sympathy for those authors who say that RL got in the way of writing now. I used to be like yeah right, but after having my USB corrupted - and paying for it to be professionally restored rather than lose all my work, getting flooded twice and having to move house, I completely empathise.
Neither anger nor adrenaline could keep Kaname on his feet for long.
The pain in his head was excruciating. Defending himself had taken huge amounts of energy and the hallway was swirling in front of his eyes because of it. His brain felt like it was about to explode it was so stuffed full but his body felt as drained as if all of his blood had been stolen.
It was not a good combination.
Hindsight saw furthest, and Kaname knew he’d taken too much from Haruka. The weight of those memories was suffocating. He’d taken everything he could reach instead of only what he needed. A quick smash and grab rather than a planned extraction – but he’d had to take the opportunity immediately, even if that meant overloading. He refused to regret it despite his slight discomfort. Something was better than nothing.
He stumbled on to the rhythm of the pounding of his head. He could not collapse here. It was too exposed.
The migraine only grew worse as he turned the next few corners. Where was he? Brain damage took an obnoxiously long time before Kaname could just shrug it off and it’d only be worse since the damage came from another pureblood. He didn’t recognise this corridor. He leant against the wall for a brief rest, the cool plaster a balm. Red dripped, staining the white paint.
Fucking Haruka, Kaname cursed. He was bleeding. He could smell his blood - which meant so could everyone else. Moreover, to them it would smell like the Elixir of Life not just faintly metallic. He was walking bait; talk about embarrassing. His third childhood had been nothing but a string of embarrassments one after the other. If he had a nosebleed then he was probably bleeding from eyes and ears too – Haruka hadn’t been gentle and Kaname’s system was massively overstrained.
Moreover, there was nothing he could do about it, Kaname seethed, vision blurring into a spiral of red carpet, dark wood and gold-framed paintings. He felt like he was about to actually throw up like a human and worse he could barely coordinate his feet. He wasn’t going anywhere like this, but he had to hide until he could defend himself again. If Haruka came back… if he wanted to check…
How pitiful was it, Kaname thought with a toxic mix of relief and bitterness, that he’d been reduced to relying on a ‘C for protection. Nancy hadn’t tried to bite him yet but she’d never had a chance like this and probably never would again, and she’d be an idiot not to realise that.
Yet it was still relief he felt when she swept him up into her familiar embrace, sparing him from having to put one more foot in front of the other. Her scent soothed the drumbeat inside his mind and he instinctively buried his head into her neck as she held him, the whole world spinning crazily out of control.
“Kaname-sama, you’re bleeding! What on earth –’
Her voice was too loud. It grated on his sensitive hearing and made the pain in his head spike sharply with every syllable. He tried to tell her to be quiet, wincing, but the words wouldn’t come. Up was blue, down was soft, words were aromatic and Kaname could understand nothing outside of his frantic disjointed thoughts. He really, really hated brain damage.
He was weak, vulnerable, bleeding in shark infested waters and seconds away from an undignified faint.
There really was only one thing to do.
It was too easy, but wasn’t that always the point?
Nancy hesitated, Kaname-sama was bleeding but he hadn’t been attacked. There were no bite marks or open wounds that she could see. Instead, he was bleeding from his nose, eyes and ears.
Something was wrong inside.
She baulked at the sight, trying to think it through instead of panicking but purebloods didn’t get sick like that. They didn’t have seizures, aneurysms or anything else that she could think of that resembled this. Not without Hunter weapons being involved.
What did she do?
Should she seek out the Mistress? Juuri-sama would execute her for this failure, but it was her only idea. Kaname-sama was bleeding on her watch after all, it would be perfectly justified, and Nancy was already feeling guilty for leaving. She was too busy to stand outside the door and wait for them…but now Kaname-sama was paying for it. She should track Juuri-sama’s aura and hand Kaname-sama over to someone far more qualified to deal with it and patiently wait for her punishment.
Now where was – PROTECT ME.
Of course. Purebloods healed fast. There was no need to bother Haruka or Juuri. If the pair was not already descending as wrathful as a biblical plague on the poor hapless ‘C, then they were not going to and there was no need to cause such a fuss. Or draw their attention. Why risk it?
No, she should get Kaname-sama cleaned up and put him to bed. He’d sleep better in his own room, and that would help keep this incident as quite as possible. Starting a panic wouldn’t help Kaname-sama. He needed peace and quiet. He was probably already healing from whatever it was.
Decided, Nancy turned and headed towards the nursery, just like normal. All he needed was energy and sleep, both of which she could facilitate best without a dozen other vampires fretting about.
Now, where were the guards at this hour? There wasn’t much blood, but it was unique, and their species had evolved for millennia to track it. They were rather good at that by now. The smear on the wall would dry soon, but it was blatantly obvious what it was, and Kaname-sama was leaking more. It was a trail as obvious as could be for the guards, and they were duty bound to follow up on any shedding of pure blood.
The first patrol ought to be on the grounds, the second was scheduled for the dairy right about now but the third and fourth operated on a random pattern.
She had time, but not much. Why was she trying to avoid the guards? Nancy wondered as she made her way back to the nursery, they were just doing their jobs. In fact, she probably ought to report this first - PROTECT ME.
The corridor was looking awfully shady all of a sudden. Anybody could hide down there, and the guards could arrest her before she got Kaname-sama sequestered safely in bed. Well, that was hardly proper now was it? The little lord needed his sleep. Best to avoid them and explain it all later. Much later. In fact, they didn’t really need to know did they? No need to cause such a palaver.
Thank the night that Kaname-sama had introduced her to the hidden network of passages. Nancy trotted along the Rose Corridor, a wide stone hallway that had an entire wall of floor to ceiling glass with an excellent view over the extensive and famous rose gardens. Then she ducked around the base of one of the towers, which led to an old workshop of some sort – she never had the time to explore properly. She whisked past the portrait gallery – small, since each generation lasted a few thousand years - until she was in the old armoury, still boasting a proud collection of enchanted medieval weaponry, with helpful little of plaques of who had wielded what in what battle and how many they’d killed.
She pulled the shaft of a rather brittle looking spear (Heilige Lanze: 11000 AK, CK:1)
Silently, the hidden door swung open, and Nancy stepped through into a vaguely red-lit passage about two feet wide.
As soon as the door shut behind her, Nancy knew she’d made a mistake.
In the narrow air of the tunnel, the ambrosia of Kaname-sama’s blood intensified a thousand times. Stars above but it smelt incredible. Nancy tried to ignore it, really, she did try, but it smelt so good.
It would be so easy too. Kaname-sama was unconscious. She could just lick it up, that would save her having to burn the clothes he was in wouldn’t it? She wouldn’t hurt him; she’d be doing him in a favour. He was already asleep – it wasn’t like he’d feel anything would he? He probably wouldn’t even notice.
She was so thirsty.
Her throat felt like it was on fire. Waves of sheer aching need consumed her. Every breath brought a fresh wave of heavenly intoxicating desire. Her fangs lengthened unconsciously – she only noticed when they cut into her own lip - bringing the distinctly unsatisfying bland metallic taste of her own blood instead of that gorgeous temptation.
Eyes glowing blood red, fangs unnaturally white and razor sharp, Nancy bent her head to the sleeping babe.
Just a tiny – PROTECT ME.
Nancy blinked. Huh. She was staring at Kaname-sama. Fresh blood trickled from his ear and nose, staining his tiny shirt. It was a deep, very pleasant shade of red, but all Nancy could do was sigh at the loss of yet another shirt. Burning silk smelt awful too. She’d complain that she didn’t get paid enough for this – but she did.
They reached the nursery in no time, and Nancy didn’t waste time before easing her charge into a sink full of warm water and gently washing the blood away with handfuls of warm water. No fresh trails replaced it. Good. Still, it was a little unusual that he wasn’t awake if he was healed. Normally he hated bath time; if nothing else, she expected that to wake him.
A screaming temper tantrum would be soothing right now actually; even if did mean she had to order a dozen new windows from the maintenance staff and had migraines for a week.
Perhaps she ought to ring for Juuri-sama? She’d know what was wrong and – PROTECT ME.
Nancy yawned, exhausted. It had been a busy day, and Kaname-sama was probably drawing energy from her to speed his healing. She needed to sleep. They both needed to sleep. Anything else could wait until sunset.
Placing the young master in his crib and tucking him in with his favourite cashmere blanket, Nancy started walking to her own room. She’d order a maid to clean the corridor, then sleep. She’d leave the door open just in case, but no one was getting in these rooms without raising a racket, she – PROTECT ME.
On the other hand, Nancy thought, walking back towards the crib in a daze. She shouldn’t leave Kaname-sama unattended, just in case.
An hour passed in comforting silence. Nancy went to sit down by the crib her feet were – PROTECT ME.
It would take too long to get up again if she had to defend him. Her feet didn’t hurt that much. She watched the toddler for another hour; he didn’t even shuffle in his sleep.
She was so tired, just a quick nap – PROTECT ME.
A bit longer then. He might wake up any second and need her. Time passed and the shadows slowly lengthened.
It was time for breakfast. She’d call the kitchen to send something up – PROTECT ME.
Why take the risk of inviting any vampire near when Kaname-sama was in such a state. What had she been thinking? Nancy scolded herself. Her stomach wasn’t rumbling, besides she’d eaten just, just, well, very recently. She wasn’t hungry and she didn’t need to call the kitchen.
Oh, Kaname-sama was adorable in his sleep. She could watch him forever. Nancy sighed, rubbing her forehead, as her headache grew bad enough to be painful.
Perhaps she ought to – PROTECT ME.
Nancy frowned, certain that she’d forgotten something, but oh, didn’t Kaname-sama look adorable like that? Nancy smiled as her head throbbed.
She could watch over him forever.
Kaname awoke to a ravaged mindscape.
The outer shield was utterly obliterated. Not even tattered rags remained. The mental construct he’d created to impersonate his memories was shorn like a scythe through hay. Wisps of light glittered faintly around the torn edges like will o’ the wisps.
Had that been his real mind, Haruka would have devastated him. The whole place was trying to shake itself apart his body was under so much strain.
A terrible feeling swept over him as Kaname tried to picture what could have happened, slowly spinning a web of possibilities forward in time a few years. As meticulous as ever, he plotted out his probable actions, the responses of the people he would have interacted with and the consequences that might have followed.
It did not paint a pretty picture.
It would have taken years at least for him to heal this mess into something functional.
The mind was tricky. Even with years of healing, there was almost no chance that he would have healed right. The brain was a brain – it was the connections between cells that formed memory and it was those that Haruka had targeted. Amnesia like that wasn’t a disease or a wound- it was a natural state. A blank slate wasn’t sick, just empty. There was every chance that his natural healing factor would have stopped there.
Empty was the best possible outcome he could have hoped for – and it had certainly been Haruka’s intention. A ‘real’ son to mould as he wished rather than a disapproving ancestor he felt inferior to.
At worst, Kaname could have become a true psychopath, with his emotional centre ruined for as long as Haruka’s power had held. A psychopath who would have inherited a huge financial empire that employed millions of people, also commanding enormous political influence in the human world and even more in the vampire one. A psychopath that could expect and demand the absolute obedience of every vampire who answered to him.
Healing wasn’t perfect when left to chance. It would have been decades before he’d regained the control necessary to enter his mindscape and direct his own healing. So he’d have been a mess of memory and impulse for many, many years. Haruka’s ire wasn’t weak, his power would have lasted a long time.
That was a lot of ‘ifs’ and even if luck had been with him, Kaname knew the most likely outcome would still have left him with a Frankenstein’ed brain.
Poor memory, unable to distinction from past and present, trouble with emotions, difficulty sleeping, instinct and muscle memory all tangled…
Any single symptom would be absolutely devastating for a being as hunted as Kaname.
Memory made him what he was. Without it being in perfect working order, he was hideously vulnerable. It would have been easy to take advantage of him, unable to trust his own mind and instincts but burdened with enormous responsibility.
His personality would have been whatever he’d managed to weld together again and deeply scarred for the forging.
In short, he would have been exactly like what he remembered from his second childhood.
Kaname shut his eyes and tried to breathe.
He’d cursed himself a thousand times for missing all of the signs of impending war. He’d despised himself for letting Yuki be placed under such an oppressive seal, despised himself even more when he realised how obsessed he’d become with her and finally woken up and seen the true extent of the damage.
Yuki had had a split personality – at best. How had he allowed her to be raised with human morals? Hadn’t he realised the conflict that would – and had – caused? She was a pureblood vampire, Yuki ought to have been fierce and independent. As strong as she was wise, highly intelligent, well read and very aware of the world around her. Instead she’d been a mess. Weak, stupid, well behind on her studies and so, so, human. She hadn’t been able to survive in a world that treated her as prey as much as it revered her. Kaname had blamed himself for it. He had been responsible for how she was raised, and he had let her think her own species was repulsive.
Now he knew the truth.
It wasn’t Kaname that hated himself. It was Haruka.
Even now Haruka’s will echoed through Kaname’s mindscape, poisoned with the orders he had wanted to enforce. The words became bright green weeds, growing like ivy through the ghost mind, digging thorns into his false memories and spreading, growing, and utterly parasitic.
Protect Yuki. Protect her innocence. Keep her safe. Forget the past. Seek peace. Deny your nature. To crave blood is wrong. Love the humans. Protect Yuki.
Was it any wonder, with those orders working as Kaname’s mental foundation for everything, that Kaname had fallen so far? He’d been vulnerable. Haruka had caught him at a weak moment, and like every vampire in the history of time before him, he’d taken advantage as easily as breathing.
He’d made Kaname think sealing was a good idea, to such an extent that he’d never questioned it. He’d given Yuki to a hunter. A hunter, to raise as his own. He’d let Ichio use and abuse him thinking it would somehow keep Yuki safe. He’d tried to stop the seal breaking because he thought humans were better than vampires, that Yuki would be happier as a human. He’d hated himself so much for wanting her blood that he was suicidal. He’d ignored the politics going on around him, letting pureblood families fall one by one, let the Council gain so much power until he really was prey to them.
That had been the end.
Over a century of guilt and remorse later, Kaname learned that it wasn’t even his fault.
There were no words.
He’d lost everything he cared about. He hadn’t even had the autonomy to accept the responsibility for his mistakes in the first place. He’d been a slave – as enthralled to Haruka as Juuri yet was.
He’d been a victim.
There was an entire ocean of misplaced emotion that Kaname suddenly had to square away and he didn’t like it one bit.
Kaname had been destroyed. All that he was; Thirteen thousand years of knowledge, experience and memories – they’d all been deleted for the sake of one arrogant toddler’s ego. (Alright, three thousand was fairly respectable but he wasn’t in the mood for making allowances.) For Haruka’s pride, Kaname had become a ruin. Billions had died.
That one errant order to forget his past because Haruka had deemed it unimportant had doomed their race into repeating history.
Kaname’s wrath was had always been awesome – in the traditional sense of the word – but it had never distracted him. He was too crafty for his rage to burn hot, fierce, and swift. No. Kaname’s wrath was bitter cold. Glacial, inexorable and timeless; his ire was as ruthless as it was meticulous. He absorbed the facts with enforced calm, and set about plotting revenge with cool equanimity.
Haruka was a Problem; it would be Solved. In addition, the sky is blue and water is wet. Vengeance would be wreaked because Kaname had decided so. It was as good as done already.
In the mean time, there was work to be done.
This realm was a metaphysical representation of his physical mind and body. Since it was a wreck, he had some serious healing to do. Healing which couldn’t be done whilst Haruka’s memories – currently a big ball of spiky tangled, and misty red energy – were interrupting his normal brain signals and generally being as uncooperative as possible. Purebloods were sore losers.
Technically his subconscious mind usually ran his body, the same as in a human. You didn’t need to think for cuts to heal or food to digest or to grow taller. As Kaname would heal faster if he directed the healing, he’d switched the subconscious and conscious about.
It was a good job his body was currently comatose; his subconscious was a nightmare to deal with.
Approaching the mass of stolen memories, Kaname drew upon a sliver of energy – brainwork required an extremely delicate touch – and got to work. He sliced a bit of mist away with the claw of his little finger and held it in his palm, examining. It was a memory of walking down a hall. Kaname dispersed the mist simply by waving his hand through it. Useless. Unable to hold itself together, the memory was reduced to a microscopic spark of energy, which Kaname naturally absorbed.
Waste not. Want not.
Kaname sliced off another fragment – Haruka at a computer – Kaname remembered the password Haruka used and dispersed the fragment.
And on it went. Kaname was patient and thorough, dispersing Haruka’s venomous echo with quiet care. All the energy was absorbed; Kaname repurposed that energy to disperse more memories and the cycle repeated. All interesting information was retained and added to his real memory hiding below– passwords, gossip, affairs, conversations Haruka had had with anyone Kaname recognised – and the rest erased.
Was there anything useful here? Kaname began to wonder at the four hundredth fragment – yet another party and yet another starry-eyed girl. He didn’t want to know Haruka’s life of idle pleasures. He wanted an explanation. Kaname wanted to answers. If he had to subdue Haruka to do a full read, he would. In the mean time, shredding Haruka’s memories was surprising therapeutic.
By the time the ball was half the size and density, Kaname was feeling a whole lot better. His immediate desire for revenge was sated and at half-strength and half-mass, his physical body was able to cope with the stress Haruka’s power was causing him. If he woke up he’d probably have a migraine so bad he was bed ridden, but at least he’d tipped over the threshold from spiralling into healing.
Naturally, that was when he found the crucial memory he’d been searching for in the first place.
“Have you made a decision yet, Juuri?”
The voice stopped Haruka cold in his tracks. That was their father speaking. Why had Juuri been summoned to Father’s office? She hadn’t told him that!
He had to know what they were talking about. If it was important enough that Juuri had been in here for the twenty minutes that she’d been missing from Haruka’s sight, then he deserved to know. They didn’t keep secrets from each other. Haruka was too clever to immediately supress his aura as they’d been taught. A sudden void would be too obvious to Father and Juuri that someone was listening. He had to be smarter than that. He filled his aura with a slow steady calmness. So cool and calm it was no different from the air around him
“You don’t already know?” Juuri laughed softly and Haruka smiled to hear it. He didn’t get to hear it often enough. “We haven’t been subtle.”
“Well you do have near another century to make a final decision. You need to be sure for the first child at least. Several centuries doesn’t seem like very long, I know, but believe me the time will pass all too slowly if you dislike your partner.”
Ah ha! Haruka grinned. They were talking about the upcoming marriage. Haruka couldn’t wait to be married to Juuri. Or handfasted. Technically, it was a pledging, but Haruka liked to think of them as married. The humans had such a different understanding of bonding a woman to a man and Haruka preferred their version. Then Juuri would be his, all his. Till death do they part. He could be first and last.
“I’m sure. Rido and I have been together for over a century already. You can specify Haruka in the negotiations with the Hio’s whenever you want. My mind is made up.”
Haruka froze. He had to replay Juuri’s words in his mind twice before he realised there was no other meaning.
Juuri wanted to belong to Rido? She’d been fucking Rido? For a century? But, but but! This couldn’t be happening! Haruka would know! This was all wrong. Juuri should be marrying Haruka! They were made for eachother. That old human had said so! She’d said that they argued like an old married couple already. Everyone said so! It was destiny.
“Very well. Perhaps in a millennium, you might consider a child with Haruka too. It’d be good to have both lines continuing, just in case.”
“I thought the arrangement with Hio was to be permanent if children arise from the union.”
“It will be. You don’t need to bond with Haruka, Juuri, you need only spend a single heat with him. The child can be passed off as Rido’s easily enough. It’s not like we’re contracting for monogamy.”
“I can’t see it happening. Haruka is just so… so annoying.”
Their father laughed. “He has a crush, it will fade my dear.”
“A crush? Is that why he stalks me everywhere? He killed my Gideon because he was jealous of the attention I gave him! He’s completely immature!”
“Haruka is young Juuri, give him a few centuries to mature before you judge him. I’ve already arranged a new fencing instructor for you. I promise this one is just as pretty.”
Juuri scoffed – Haruka knew her face would be scrunched up in that cute little expression he liked so much – “You’d think losing one’s fangs wouldn’t be considered foreplay, even for vampires.”
Haruka froze against the wall.
Juuri was serious. She wanted to handfast Rido. He scowled angrily. He wouldn’t allow it! Juuri was making a mistake. They were meant to be together, Haruka knew it. And if Juuri couldn’t see that, then it was down to Haruka to save her.
Kaname dispersed the memory. So, it was like that huh? Typical. It was easy to see how everything had gone so very wrong.
Haruka had never grown up. His obsession with Juuri had not faded. Either he’d murdered his own father to stall his arranged match to Shizuka Hio, or Kaname’s grandfather – Kuran Taigo – had died naturally not long after that conversation.
Kaname knew where he’d bet money.
Orphaned, so to speak- Kaname had no idea where his ‘grandmother’ was in this timeline- the vultures of their society had soon surrounded Juuri, Haruka and Rido. Rido as the eldest would have been the new head of the family and that would have only further enraged Haruka as his competition got more desirable.
At some point, the insincere flattery of the lower class had gotten to Haruka.
He began to believe in their fake obeisance and became blind to their scheming.
Kaname tore through the rest of the memories he’d stolen but he couldn’t pinpoint when the change had occurred. He’d become arrogant, he’d stopped training his powers – why did he need to train? It was so boring. He was already stronger than anyone else anyway.
The Council would have pressured them in any way possible to start bonding and having children. They liked having lots of young purebloods about.
Bonding would have been a good idea for Rido, a way to suggest that the family wasn’t weak. Juuri had been old enough once she’d passed her first millennium and willing – Haruka would have snapped.
A weak moment wasn’t too difficult to find when you all lived together and thought you could trust each other. Haruka had a preference for the coarse mental attacks, so Kaname felt it was safe to assume that Haruka had mentally compelled both Rido and Juuri.
Rido’s behaviour now made so much sense it was sickening. Kaname felt the horrible flush of shame. He hadn’t thought about Rido in years as anything more than the jealous obsessive insane one – ruining the lovey-dovey relationship of Haruka and Juuri. Now that he could think clearly, he’d pitied the wrong brother. He’d been wrong, and it stung.
It was Haruka who was the bratty insecure rapist. The lovey-dovey relationship he’d thought ideal, the one Yuki had thought ideal – was nothing more than slavery.
No wonder Rido had become fixated on Juuri afterwards, convinced she was meant for him. No wonder he’d tried to ‘kidnap’ her and take her away. When a pureblood loved…well, it wasn’t pretty but it was incredibly strong.
Haruka wouldn’t have been able to delete their love, only confuse it. Rido in his insanity still remembered that Juuri was in danger, that they were in love. Of course he tried to kidnap her, and Yuki who had looked so much like her. Kidnap meant taking her away from Haruka.
Equally Rido had made deals with the Council, he’d hunted other purebloods – to get stronger. The Council had used Rido to equalise them against the pureblood houses, and Rido had used them to get the blood.
It was exactly what Kaname had done. Subconsciously, they’d both known something was wrong. If something went wrong with a pureblood then they were weak. Getting stronger meant preying on their kin and taking their strength for their own. Rido had been the Council’s attack dog. Kaname had first hunted Shizuka – the isolated and vulnerable pureblood – and then others. War had given him the opportunity to feast and feast and feast. At some point, he’d overcome Haurka’s control and started to heal but it hadn’t been a conscious act.
If Kaname had not risked time travel, he would never have remembered.
It was sickening.
If Aylin had not asked about the Old Ways, would Kaname have died on that forsaken world? Unable to connect the right mental pathways to remember what powers he actually possessed?
It could never be allowed to happen again.
Feeling utterly ruthless, and more than a bit terrified, Kaname dismissed the last of Haruka’s memories and set about constructing the most fearsome mental defences that had ever been imagined.
He would not be vulnerable again.
“Left a bit.”
“Right a bit.”
“No, you’ve gone too far. Left a bit.”
“Are you even listening to me? Right at least another inch.”
“Yes, Kaname-sama,” Nancy replied through gritted fangs, keeping a pleasant smile on her face with a herculean effort. “As you say, Kaname-sama.”
“Left a quarter-inch.”
With a grunt of effort, the beleaguered level C shoved the far-too-ornate and far-too-heavy desk over a quarter inch.
“I said a quarter inch, not half.”
She took a deep breath then opened her eyes and examined the blasted desk once more. Hauling it up the winding stone staircase hadn’t been easy. Destroying it now would be a waste of her effort no matter how frustrated she was. Counting backwards from ten, she straightened, walked back to the other side and pushed the dratted thing a quarter inch to the right.
“Finally,” Kaname huffed, swinging his legs impatiently as he sat on yet another desk ‘supervising’.
“Will that be all, Kaname-sama?” It had bloody well better be all, went unsaid. She’d worked to the bone this week, refurnishing this one room to extremely precise specification.
“That shelf is at an angle. You’ll have to rehang it.” Kaname yawned, huddled in a blanket on his impromptu throne and steadily eating his way through a huge bowl of chocolate-dipped fruit. Why he’d insisted on renovating this tower, Nancy couldn’t fathom. Nevertheless, he had, and so she had to be here too. Even if she’d much rather -
“We do have maintenance staff, Kaname-sama. Young, fit and strong vampires who are trained to do this.”
“You’re already here.”
She didn’t risk trying to persuade him any further. Kaname-sama had already… well, he’d shown what he’d do when he didn’t get his way. Not that she minded. It was his right, of course. But… but… Nancy shut that dangerous trail of thought down the instant she thought of it. Who knew if purebloods could tell that she was thinking such treasonous thoughts?
She bent to open the toolbox, feeling the weight of Kaname-sama’s gaze on her and starting to sweat slightly with nervous tension as she located the spirit level and the screwdriver.
“I did fix you.”
Nancy hesitated, and then doggedly continued with her work. That hadn’t been a question and didn’t require an answer. The pureblood was seeing things. The spirit measure was perfectly level. Perhaps he meant one of the other shelves? There were dozens up here.
“It’s not normally like that.”
If the shelf was level, what was she supposed to do? Rehang it anyway? Would Kaname-sama know if she just messed about a bit before pronouncing it done? What did someone of his status know about DIY anyway? A week ago, she’d have just told him it was level and to stop being such a perfectionist, but a week was a long time. Did she take the risk?
There was a heavy silence behind her, but she was very good at ignoring these things.
Kaname sighed as Nancy took the shelf down and began unscrewing the fittings. He’d woken full of vim and vigour only to discover that in his delirium he’d been rather …rough in his Command.
He hadn’t meant to override her body and mind like that. He’d lifted the Command instantly, of course he had, and Nancy had immediately dropped into a healing sleep much like his own and he’d spent the next two hours carefully healing the brain damage he’d inflicted.
She’d woken up fully cognizant of what he’d done, what she’d done under his orders and, well, this was the result. Nancy was back to being a demure and meek level C, obedient, submissive, and constantly radiating an aura of absolute dread.
It was… annoying. It felt very much like he’d lost a friend. There was also the strange feeling of guilt, which Kaname really didn’t like. Guilt was a cloying, uncomfortable creeping sensation and he wasn’t used to feeling it, and he certainly wasn’t used to it being justified. He shifted awkwardly as the emotion slithered around him again. He did not like this at all.
He could make her forgive him, but that was the entirety of the problem.
It was one thing, as a lower vampire, to know intellectually that he or any other passing pureblood could Command them any which way and when. It was another to experience it. It didn’t help that Kaname had destroyed her self-preservation instinct in favour of his own. Nancy hadn’t been able to sleep, she hadn’t been able to eat or drink, let alone leave. The fact that Kaname had been able to control the way she thought was more disturbing to her than the fact it had caused her so much pain. It wouldn’t have been half so bad if Nancy had known what he’d done, but until he’d lifted it, she hadn’t, and now she was afraid her thoughts weren’t her own, even now.
Considering Haruka – Kaname could empathise, and that didn’t lessen his feelings of guilt in the slightest. It made them so much worse. He wasn’t Haruka. He wasn’t anything like that bloodtraitor.
On the other hand though, vampires were, well, vampires. Humans might trick themselves into thinking autonomy was a natural, inviolable, right they all enjoyed, but vampires couldn’t.
The fact of the matter was that Kaname had been entirely within his rights to use Nancy that way and they both knew it. She had absolutely no right to complain, and if Kaname had been another pureblood he wouldn’t have been disturbed to feel her fear of him – if anything fear normally aroused him.
“There you go, Kaname-sama, perfectly level.”
She never called him Young Master anymore either.
Kaname examined the shelf, feeling his enthusiasm for refurbishing his old workshop wane with every second of exposure to her perfectly polite demeanour and every second he had to endure scenting her dread.
“I made a mistake,” Kaname admitted, hating the weakness and her for making him admit it. “I was suffering from brain damage. It is instinct to ensure my own survival. If I’d been coherent I wouldn’t have needed you like that and I wouldn’t have shoved so much power into it.”
“Is there anything else I can help you with tonight, Kaname-sama?”
“Talk to me,” he ordered bluntly. She paled. “If you want to, I mean. That wasn’t a Command, which you should already be able to tell else you’d be talking to me already. It’s not like I use them all the time, even though I could. I have no need to when our culture revolves around obedience.”
“Of course, Kaname-sama.”
“Then why are you afraid of me?” Kaname shouted, throwing a handful of screws in frustration. “I’m not going to apologise. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
The Council could hate and fear it all they liked. It was Kaname’s right to Command those lesser to him. He protected them; they served him. That was the way it worked. The way it always had worked and the way it always would. Vampires were a predatory species; they needed a strict social hierarchy in order to survive. It was a biological imperative. The night vampires didn’t feel compelled to obey a pureblood was the night they could no longer call themselves part of the same species.
That was all she intended to say on the subject apparently. Whilst Kaname remained silent waiting more, Nancy seemed content to stare out the tower window at a passing owl.
“I can smell your dread, you know.” Kaname told her, feeling very spiteful and childish even as he wrapped himself together in his layer of blankets. It was very cold this far up, and he wasn’t back to full strength yet, damn Haruka to the sun.
Nancy shrugged, which he supposed was at least some sort of improvement. “I can’t do anything about that, Kaname-sama, and I can’t change the way I feel, although I suppose you could, if it bothers you that much.”
Now that was defensive. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one feeling horribly insecure right now.
“I’ll make you a ring.”
“Of course – wait what?”
“I’ll make you a ring.”
“I don’t need any jewellery thank you Kaname-sama.”
“It will burn when it detects any form of compulsion.”
Kaname stared out the narrow slit window himself. The moon was much more interesting than looking at Nancy’s expressive face. Emotions were so awkward.
“I, er, that would be, you can do that?” She sounded honestly surprised.
“Yes.” Kaname said shortly. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do, given proper preparation and planning.
“I’d appreciate it.” Nancy cleared her throat. “Young Master.”
Kaname whipped his head around, a broad grin breaking out when he met her eyes and realised the scent of dread had vanished.
Then he saw the shelf and his eyes narrowed. “That’s not balanced! It’s tilted the other way now.”
“Kaname! There you are.”
Kaname spun around, a wide easy grin on his face as he abandoned his fire truck.
He ran over into Haruka’s waiting arms, bubbling with laughter as he felt himself being lifted up and swung about.
“Hey there squirt,” Haruka replied, one hand ruffling Kaname’s chocolate locks. “I just popped in for a quick visit.”
“Kuran-sama,” Nancy deferred, rising much slower from the playroom’s floor and curtseying deeply as the elder pureblood entered.
Haruka glanced over her before returning most of his attention to his son. Kaname could feel Haruka’s will wash over him, and burrowing gently inside. Contact made a lot of their powers easier to use. Skin to skin wasn’t as intimate as blood, but as long as Kaname’s acting fooled Haruka, the stronger pureblood would have no need to delve any further than the false mind he had covering his own.
Kaname’s skills were hard pressed to hide the spike of alarm racing through him as Haruka’s attention turned to Nancy. He hadn’t even considered how Nancy wove into his plans to combat Haruka.
Kaname didn’t bother acting like a real child around his nanny. Until recently, he hadn’t needed to be that cautious. She had to suspect something even if she wasn’t sure what. Perhaps he could play it off as normal pureblood behaviour? Was it a feasible solution? What did C’s expect of pureblood children anyway? His thoughts were racing and they led nowhere good.
Bugger bugger bugger. If she said anything - Kaname wasn’t strong enough – they were already skin to skin – defences were lower – still not recovered – a sneak attack – pre-emptive -
“None, Kuran-sama,” Nancy replied softly. Kaname would have breathed out a sigh of relief, except that would be giving something away, so he continued hugging Haruka and babbling nonsense softly. Nothing strange here. You won. Just a mentally broken child. Whose memories you wiped. You’re lucky I’m not pissing on you right now in fact since I wouldn’t remember that thing called bladder control. Oh yippe daddy visited. How nice. Yes, what a wonderful evening. Oh I want to play more with the fire truck. Then destroy another castle. Normal child. Normal, normal normal.
“We’ve had no security breaches and no injuries. Kaname-sama’s lessons are ahead of schedule and he acquits himself excellently in every field.”
“Naturally. I’ll see you later, alright Kaname? Daddy’s got to work now.”
“Play with me!” Kaname demanded gesturing to the brightly coloured toys scattered all over the floor.
“Later,” Haruka deferred, setting Kaname down, kissing his forehead and vanishing.
Kaname hid a smirk. Once again, proper preparation won out against power. Brain over brawn always won.
Smiling again, Kaname returned to playing.
“Eee-oo, eee-ooo,” he mimicked the sounds of the siren as he raced the truck around the floor in wide sweeps of his arms. “Eee-ooo, eee-ooo.”
Five minutes later, he judged it was safe and casually threw the toy aside, not caring as it shattered into pieces.
“Idiot,” he scoffed in Haruka’s general direction, quietly but needing to fume.
Nancy coughed, abruptly reminding Kaname of her presence. He gave her a suspicious glance but she studiously avoided his gaze.
She knew many of his secrets, sometimes Kaname wondered what she must think of him; she never asked the questions he half expected, but she had to realise something was wrong.
He’d considered this problem before, but Haruka’s visit had prompted it again, for as many secrets as she knew, Kaname hadn’t taken steps to protect Nancy. Now, those steps had just shot to the top of his priority list.
He smiled; depressing as it was, at least he was no longer bored.
Kaname double-checked the nursery. The spots on the wall where he’d anchored a few basic security charms showed that he was still in the clear. If anyone approached, Kaname’s new bracelet would heat with warning. His cover as a normal child could have no room for doubt, not even to the servants who might see them leave these rooms.
“Let’s go to my workshop, nanny,” Kaname said, raising his arms to indicate he wanted his usual lift. He really should have thought of this earlier. It was a much quicker form of transport than he could manage on his own and the indignity he suffered being carried was far less than his failure to walk normally.
“Again? Very well,” Nancy said, bending to pick him up without waiting for a reply. Kaname had been in his workshop near constantly since he’d made her renovate it. If he was there, then she didn’t have to chase him all over the castle while he practiced his ‘hunting’ skills on her. Of course, when he was there he insisted on playing with a wide variety of dangerous chemicals and hazardous objects for his ‘experiments’ but she’d take what she could get. He was a pureblood; he’d probably survive.
They took one of the passages up a few levels, so that no one would see them leave the nursery, and then walked in the main corridors from there. Servants rarely came up this far, not when both Haruka and Juuri lived further below. That and neither Kaname nor his descendants had bothered making a passage to his tower.
His workshop was coming along nicely, Kaname thought, eyeing the tower room carefully. He still needed to lay in a good many raw materials, but the tiny forge had been restored, and the place was clean.
He had the entire tower to himself. It was only three floors since the rest of the tower had been built just for height and separation it gave. He needed excellent ventilation with little chance of accidently poisoning the rest of the household, and it was a safety measure. If something went disastrously wrong, better that his experiments exploded up high where the only danger would be falling debris rather than in a dungeon where he could hurt the foundations.
“What do you want doing today then Young Master?”
“The rings,” Kaname said decisively. “Did you find the vault alright?”
“Yes, it was…very well hidden.”
Kaname chuckled at her annoyed expression. The supply of mithril was much diminished in the usual caches; accessible to all of his descendants, but the secret stash he kept had been untouched; as he’d hoped for when he’d first hidden the precious ingots in the sewers. Purebloods had delicate noses.
“Thank you for fetching it,” Kaname replied sweetly. He could have gone himself – but his nose was just as delicate as his kin.
Nancy gave him a tight smile as she took her usual seat by the door, to keep watch.
Ignoring her ire, she’d forgive him eventually, she always did, Kaname gleefully turned all of his attention to his latest project. He’d always been much more of a scientist for all that he’d become a king and he liked working with blood magic far more than politicking.
Nancy’s protection would require a mithril base that much was certain. A common vampire like her had little intrinsic strength to draw upon, and her protection would have to be strong enough to withstand a pureblood’s determined, prolonged assault, and sly enough not to invite an assault in the first place. Mithril would hold the power he imbued it with, it was a metal made from blood after all so that was it’s natural property, elsewise Kaname’s blood would not be so desirable in the first place.
But how to avoid notice? Kaname frowned as he mulled the problem over, idly fiddling with one blue-silver ingot. If he had spotted anyone other than a pureblood wearing mithril, Kaname would have known that the target vampire was carrying important information and he’d have gone after him or her like a wolf hunting a three-legged lamb.
Jewellery was the usual disguise of course, a pureblood would have to look to see and most of them would never condescend to examine a low blood’s jewellery unless to dismiss it as inferior.
And yet… if Kaname made an enemy, when he mentally corrected; he knew his faults, that enemy would have reason to examine those in his Court.
Inspiration came in a flash. Humans inserted bits of metal and plastic under their skin all the time. Yes, yes that could work.
Nancy would need persuading he was sure, and Kaname would have to insert it himself. He paused. The ability of mithril to take and hold his enchantments was fairly quantifiable. The quality of the metal, the purity, the size one used, the expertise of the caster would all effect the efficiency, but nothing could alter the fact that the amount needed to defend a C from an A was going to be big.
Sub dermal implants were small. Where was he supposed to hide a huge chunk of metal in the body? The thigh? But what about clothes, even if Nancy stuck to skirts for the rest of her life there’d be no hiding it whenever the fabric pulled, and would she be able to walk with something like that in her?
So, Kaname wondered, was it possible to separate the mithril after the enchantment was set? If he inserted it in pieces… but that would weaken the protection. Blood magic was as much symbolic as it was psychics. Cut the physical side up and you cut the metaphysical too.
Multiple enchantments? A minor mental protection could be set in a nugget the size of a pea. What if he layered the enchantments, pea by pea? If one bit were discovered then its destruction wouldn’t ruin the whole piece, and at that size they’d be easier to hide too.
He could even make a few for himself now that he thought about it. Enhancing’s one strength with charms was a bit of a faux-pas for a pureblood, it made you look like you needed charms to be equal with the rest, but Kaname didn’t care about social expectations; he cared about victory.
Oh yes, Kaname thought as he set about melting a few ingots of mithril in a blood glazed and rune worked crucible made of dragon bone for strength, he was definitely no longer bored.
The assistant chef was apparently called Hilda.
Spying from his position crouched in the eaves, Kaname watched the woman carefully. She was pretty, most vampires were, and seemed a cheerful, hardworking sort.
She wasn’t very cheerful now.
The other servants were jealous of her luck in landing both their Lady and their Lord and they had no compunction with letting Hilda know it, now that Haruka and Juuri were sleeping together again and Hilda was presumably out of favour and a target.
Hunched over a stolen bottle of wine in one of the unused parlours, Hilda was sobbing her heart out and telling her tale of woe to the bottle.
“And then Mara told me to get over it! But how can I, no one is letting me forget!”
Kaname watched dispassionately. He didn’t have to wait very long. Less than a minute later, Hilda set the bottle of wine down to roll over and cry more fervently into a silk cushion.
Carefully, oh so carefully, Kaname levitated three small vials down and tipped them one by one into the bottleneck. Two liquids and one powder – all flowed easily down the neck of the bottle to mix with the stolen wine.
Silently, Kaname ‘pulled’ the vials back up to him, and then ‘picked’ the bottle up to give it a good shake. His mixtures were undetectable to him, but Kaname didn’t believe in taking chances either, who knew what low-blood might develop into a sniffer or even something new.
Silently, Kaname slipped away, leaving the vampire to cry herself out.
“New perfume, Hilda?” Haruka asked as the vampire in question brought a fresh cup of tea up to his office.
She smelled good, he thought with increasing interest as she set out the service. He had been bored of her… but one last taste before she got ideas… why not.
“New diet,” Hilda replied, an easy smile on her face. “It’s meant to cleanse the blood.”
“It’s working,” Haruka declared, tugging her down onto his lap. Paperwork could wait.
Listening to the enemy rut was not a new experience for Kaname. His plans often required blackmail or a moment of weakness and post coital was as vulnerable as most purebloods ever got.
Haruka could overpower Kaname, but he wouldn’t whilst he was confident of his success in the mind wipe. Kaname’s counterattack would be carried out with all the subtly he’d honed over many, many feuds.
Drugging a pureblood required either massive quantities or a Hunter-natured component both of which Haruka would detect, leading to Kaname’s eventual discovery.
Drugging a blood source was far, far easier. Hilda lacked the senses both external and internal to detect the drug, or its effects on her, better yet she lacked the experience to be aware of such attacks in the first place. Kaname smiled as he remembered fondly how many such attempts had faired against him. Ah, the look on their faces… but now was not the time for reminiscence, even if the memories were far more entertaining than watching Haruka’s arse clench and unclench, bouncing up and down, with each thrust.
The drug had enhanced Hilda’s appeal of course, it was essential that Haruka blood her and fuck her. Now he was distracted with sex, and contaminated with blood and sexual fluids both. When Kaname set out to destroy someone, he did it very thoroughly indeed.
Haruka would sleep very, very, deeply today.
“My lord,” Hilda gasped, shivering as she came with Haruka’s fangs buried in her neck.
Haruka grunted over her, collapsing onto the bed with a low, satisfied groan, blood speckling his chin.
“Thank you, sweetness,” he said, “you can go.”
Not even Haruka would let an untrusted vampire near them whilst they slept. Excellent, Kaname had planned for it that way, but he wouldn’t have been unsurprised if Haruka neglected that too.
The girl, dressed and left without complaint, and Kaname only had to wait another five minutes, standing calmly inside one of the shielded passageways, watching through the peephole before his descendant was unconscious.
Haruka’s body would metabolise the drugs quickly, but it would take longer asleep – just as Kaname had planned.
He double-checked his rings. Re-inventing the external aura-shield hadn’t been easy and it still wasn’t perfect. Kaname had had to compromise time with surety. His attempts might flicker in and out, or they might work perfectly for ten minutes and ten minutes only but he didn’t have long to waste. Haruka would figure out Kaname’s ruse eventually, or so Kaname had to assume.
As a compromise, Kaname wore all eighteen of his imperfect attempts.
They were working; his aura was neither present nor suspicious by its absence, the same consistency and visibility as the air. It was time.
Kaname nudged open the passage - oiled with scentless oil two nights ago in Haruka’s absence - and slipped into the room on rubber-soled shoes.
Purebloods really were ridiculously vulnerable if you caught them in the right moment, Kaname mused. He almost felt badly about compelling Haruka like this. Almost. Kaname had lived long enough to see humanities’ definition of morality change a hundred times, a thousand. It had been a long time since he truly felt ‘bad’ about anything at all by other people’s standards.
Drugged to the gills, Haruka was utterly helpless when Kaname peeled his eyelids open with gloved hands and projected his mind forward without a smidgen of regret into the eyes so like his own. The eyes were the windows to the soul, and the eye contact meant he didn’t have to waste power trying to get into Haruka’s head without a door.
The mental defences were exactly the same as before, Kaname slid under them and went to work. He’d planned his attack in detail before setting out. He knew what he was going to use and how to use it. Unlike Haruka, he wasn’t going to use the brute force approach. It might work short term, but as Kaname had proven, purebloods just didn’t work like that.
Kaname could order Haruka to perform an action – if he wanted to get killed next week. That was so obvious Haruka would feel that something was wrong. No, Kaname knew what methods worked even if he preferred not to use them.
Nevertheless, Haruka had set the standard for this enmity. If he was willing to use mind control, so would Kaname. He’d just do it better.
Haruka didn’t really understand children, Kaname saw, Haruka knew they were necessary he even felt affection for them, but they weren’t useful until they were older. Kaname examined that feeling, he pulled it up, puffed it out, and filled it, twisting the addition in and setting it back into place in the space of a second.
Ignore your children. Wait for them to grow up. Let Kaname raise them in the meantime. They are necessary though, the more the better.
Haruka was very conscious of appearances. He wanted the ‘perfect’ family. Kaname could work with that too.
Your son is the perfect heir. He’s smart and savvy. Perfect. Trust him, and protect him, protect all of your children. That is expected, that is right.
Haruka liked pretty things.
Pretty things cost money. More money means more pretty things. Start teaching Kaname about the family fortune. The perfect heir must know his economics. This is expected. Haven’t you done well? You’ve taught him all he knows. He can be trusted. He’s family.
Haruka hated anyone telling him what to do. That would be useful; he could twist anything into that with a bit of creativity.
The Council are a bothersome lot aren’t they? A dozen communiqués a night? Ridiculous! They need to know their place.
Haruka liked flattery.
Your Court are so polite aren’t they? So obedient, so kind, you like them. They have children don’t they? Kaname needs playmates. He needs people to flatter him too.
Most of all, Haruka like power, the reality or the illusion, he didn’t care.
Lots of old families, purebloods even, have fallen. Their libraries, their archives, and their artefacts – they’re out in vampire society. In shops, on the markets, the black-markets even the Council’s hands. That’s not right. They belong to you! Why should low-bloods have that power? That information? You need it, you need it all.
Haruka loved Juuri – or thought he did.
Let her do as she wishes, she can do no wrong. Kaname wound the thought in with exquisite care. She loves you too; you need never be suspicious, or jealous. Your relationship is perfect everybody says so. You love all your family. You love Kaname, who is your son. Your son. Your son.
It was done. Kaname drew back; weary in heart if not in body. Haruka wasn’t enthralled – but he was defanged, and after Kaname’s precision strike, he would never know it, not even on the night he died.
Aching, Kaname quickly checked the room for any disturbance. He’d worn gloves so that his scent wouldn’t linger on Haruka’s skin, he’d brushed his hair thoroughly before tying it back so no loose strand could give his presence away. He’d washed in Hilda’s shower gel and shampoo too, so that whatever scent he left would be dismissed as hers. He had no aura; no passing maid would remark on his presence on an inconvenient later date.
No one had seen him enter; no one would see him leave.
Haruka was still asleep, the drugs would have metabolised by the time he woke, and falling asleep after sex wasn’t suspicious either. There was no evidence and no absence of it to give him away.
With a single nod of satisfaction in a job well done, Kaname slid into the passage and was gone just as silently as he arrived.
A/N - I have passed the 40k mark! Please let me know what you think, I've really appreciated all the feedback I've gotten so far, you have no idea how inspiring it is.
“Young Master, I really must protest. This is indecent.”
“Nanny, you’re far too old and too young for me,” Kaname replied, setting the tray down to one side.
His experiment was a success, Kaname made a few quick encrypted notes in his new journal for the record. Apparently, one could mimic a higher-grade charm by layering multiple smaller ones. Now, for the real test.
“Honestly, Nancy,” Kaname said as he stored his book safely away on the highest shelf, behind a complex deflection ward. “Off with the dress.”
Thank the night he was able to get back into his experiments again, this world had so many more resources than he was used to from the future. Even better, the last time he’d been able to experiment properly was during the Enlightenment. Not all of the modern advances could apply to blood magic, but enough of them did to spark Kaname’s enthusiasm all over again. He was on his second journal already.
“You said it would be a ring!” Nancy moaned, head in her hands as she perched on the end of Kaname’s only clear desk.
“Well, yes,” Kaname admitted, and she looked up hopefully, “but then I improved it!” Kaname declared with a grin just slightly on the mad side. Nancy dropped her head back down again with a low groan.
“No, seriously,” Kaname said, lifting her head up himself so that she had to look at him. “I thought about the ring, but it’s too obvious. A pureblood can wear mithril easily; it’s normal for us. But for a ‘C to wear it – well,” Kaname shrugged, unrepentantly, “either you are truly incredible between the sheets my dear, or you know something.” He patted her commiserating on the very red cheek. “Both of which would make you a target. I’m trying to protect you, not advertise you.”
Nancy was so red she was radiating heat, and Kaname smirked to see it. True, he was ten months old, but his mind was as old as it was filthy even if his body had no idea what to do with a woman. Yet. Stars above but he missed sex.
“You aren’t helping your case much,” she muttered, hugging her chest as if that would do any good.
“I don’t exactly need to persuade you my much-beleaguered nanny,” Kaname rolled his eyes. “Take off your dress, please.”
He turned his back on her and went back to the tray. On it lay sterile gloves which he snapped on like a professional – he’d spent years in the healing tents after a battle and whilst infection wasn’t as much as a problem for vampires, getting blood out from under his fingernails would never get any less irritating.
There was a reluctant rustle from behind him and Kaname bit his cheek to keep the smile on the inside.
His nanny was too practical for modesty anyway.
Sixty-nine mithril disks sat on his tray, individually labelled, the blue-white-silver metal painstakingly engraved with tiny runes over every millimetre. By using mithril, Kaname had erased the need for any messy blood work since the power was in the metal. It would run out, eventually, but by that time, Nancy would be long since crystallised. It would also run out if she was attacked, but the whole point was to avoid that sort of attention so, hopefully, Kaname would never have to recharge them.
There was also a very sharp knife, and a box of sterile wipes.
“Now,” Kaname said briskly, “There are a total of sixty nine implants,” he ignored her whimper, “Each one is approximately the length and width of a lentil, and be grateful that I managed to refine the rune array enough otherwise they’d be a lot bigger.”
That little discovery had also been recorded. Nano technology was so useful. A pity he couldn’t order the bigger machines with Haruka still alive, but Kaname could be patient.
He turned around; Nancy was reluctantly lying down on the desk, clad only in her underwear.
“They should be thin enough now that you won’t feel them under your skin, but I’m taking no chances, so the first seven will be injected into the walls of your belly button.”
Kaname approached his subject, having to stand on a chair to reach, and set about marking his patient with a pen and a template. He could fit seven, excellent.
“The protection must extend over your entire body, these seven will make up the core which is why the closer they are to the centre of you, the better. However,” he continued his lecture, “the centre is as much mystical as it is physical, you might think that the centre of you is your brain from where consciousness extends, or perhaps your heart or even your centre of gravity. Each one is technically correct. This is why I’m using a triumvirate array. What matters most is what I think counts as the caster. Do you see?”
“I’m really uncomfortable, Young Master,” Nancy admitted, “Can you just do it and we can talk all about it when I’m dressed.”
“Nancy,” Kaname scolded, “Would you sign a contract without reading it? No, of course you wouldn’t,” he spoke over her interruptions, “this is pretty much the same. Hush now and listen.”
“So seven will go here, seven will go under your hair, and seven will go by your heart. You’ll have to take your bra off for those by the way.”
“Oh relax, will you? I’m ten months old!”
“Your mind certainly isn’t!” Nancy snapped back.
Kaname smirked, “I thought you didn’t want to know?”
“Then I’m ten months old, and a babe has no concept of desire,” Kaname smiled pleasantly, “Which one is it?”
He’d tell her if she wanted to know – it would be perfectly safe, once she wore these protections and he was really interested to know how she’d react to his true status. Scolding a child was one thing; scolding someone history saw as a God-King was something else entirely. Would she faint? Could a vampire faint?
This needed testing.
“That takes us up to twenty one. The remaining forty eight will be spread over your body. As I said, neither you nor anyone touching you ought to be able to feel them, but they’ll go in inconspicuous places anyway. Just in case. In between your toes, under your breasts, between your thighs, the cheeks of your bottom, under your arms, behind your ears… you get the idea.”
She groaned again.
“It’s not like I can benefit from my photographic memory until I’m at least eleven anyway.”
“I should slap you.”
Flinging her arm over her face, Nancy gave in to the inevitable, and tried to ignore the mad cackling above her.
“How do you feel?” Kaname asked, three hours or so later as Nancy was sipping from a large glass of fortifying blood wine to restore her nerves.
She gave him a flat look.
“The cuts have healed well. A day’s rest and no one will be able to tell anything’s there,” Kaname said comfortingly, feeling proud of his achievement. Indeed, only faint red lines had been visible before Nancy had reclaimed her dress and shoved it over her head before his inspection had quite been finished.
“Shall we test it?” he tried to hide his eagerness.
“I suppose we had better,” Nancy replied, emptying her glass with a sigh. “What are you going to do now?”
“Try to nudge your mind,” Kaname explained, sliding awkwardly off his stool and toddling over to her, hauling himself up into her lap and standing so that he could just about look her in the eye – when she bent her head. Her arms had come grudgingly around, ready to catch him if he fell though her expression said she’d rather stomp on him.
“That sounds unpleasant.”
“Hmm?” Kaname asked, staring into Nancy’s warm brown eyes, directing a tiny strand of his power forward in curiosity. Her mind was as open as he’d expect from a C, everything looked normal, but there was a slight feeling to the place. He knew what he was looking for, but it still took him some time to find the web of protection extended over and throughout her mind, ‘locking’ what she had into place and ‘reflecting’ his expectations.
Kaname did good work.
Carefully, he tried erasing the memory of one of his more embarrassing accidents that she really didn’t need to remember in quite so much detail. He extended a tendril of power and intent and wiped the spark of memory away.
“That was a very long night for me you know. I thought I was dead for sure.”
Kaname drew back, the thread between them snapping sharply.
“What did you feel?”
“I could feel… you,” Nancy said slowly, pupils blown wide, and a light sheen of sweat on her face as if she’d just run a marathon. “You are so, so, vast,” Nancy murmured, staring down at him in wary surprise. Her arms around him were far less grudging and far more reverent. She gave herself a shake and seemed to recover some of her equanimity. “It was like my mind were a book, I could feel you turn the page to when you landed arse over teakettle – “
Kaname gave a loud harrumph.
“Turn the page and try to rub the words out,” Nancy recovered quickly, a smirk shadowing the edge of her lips. “But I could still read them.”
“It’s working then,” Kaname replied, just as his legs gave out and he tripped over nothing, landing on his bottom with a soft thump.
Her arms tightened, but the smirk was growing wider. Kaname gave her a very cool look and the smirk vanished. Good. He still had it. Ten months of dedicated practice, aided by using his telekinesis on himself, and he was developing motor skills at a rapid pace, but he was still ten months old and entirely too clumsy,
He stood back up and tried a few more experiments. The modified privacy charm had done its job. If Haruka looked into Nancy’s mind – he’d see Kaname acting as a normal child. All of her real memories had been concealed, shifted behind a mirror to reflect expectation.
“You will be protected from most mental effects. It will not be strong enough to hold up under a sustained Command, so I suggest you act like any attack works. Never mention what you’re supposed to forget, obey an order and so on. Not being noticed will be your strongest defence.”
“Good,” Kaname said firmly. He clambered off her lap, and toddled over to his desk, retrieving the second prepared tray. Thirteen tiny disks of mithril sat there, individually labelled and humming with power to his senses. “My turn.”
“Kaname-sama?” Nancy rose, alarmed. “You didn’t mention –
“Of course I didn’t. Don’t worry, I don’t need you to operate on me.” Kaname added, correctly reading her concern. “I just need you to hold a few mirrors up.”
It was a statement of weakness for Kaname to wear an enchantment like the one he had prepared. Kaname knew it, and refused to be embarrassed. So what? He was weak right now. Besides, it was just good sense. It was silly to be embarrassed about it. If he could design a base protection for a ‘C, he could design something for himself too. He had to. Twice, Haruka had come too close to erasing Kaname. Twice.
Grimly, Kaname tied most of his hair up into a messy topknot, and began shaving a path around his crown bald. He’d focused on mental protection, and that meant they had to go around his head. A mithril crown. He snorted at the image – talk about irony - but kept the razor steady as he eyed his reflection carefully in the mirror.
“Have you fed recently?” Kaname asked Nancy, turning from side to side, checking he’d gotten all of the hair and that the path was perfectly even.
“Because these need to go under my skin, so I’ll be bleeding. Can you control yourself?”
If she couldn’t, he would have to Command her. Her new protections wouldn’t work against him. Kaname liked her well enough, but he wasn’t that stupid.
“I will do my best,” Nancy replied, looking queasy.
Kaname gave her an absently reassuring smile, feeling around his skull with a pen in one hand as he contorted himself to see the back of his head and mark where he’d need to cut. Twelve would be evenly spaced about his skull, and the thirteenth would go right in his forehead, over the third eye.
Kaname wasn’t nearly as careful with himself as he had been with Nancy. He didn’t need to worry about infection, or healing neatly.
With a sharp knife that was sterile only because it was just out the packet, Kaname made the first precise cut, fairly deep, and nudged the mithril disk – about the size of a sequin – inside with a nail. He healed over instantly, and Kaname wiped the blood away with a damp cloth, checking his reflection carefully. His skin would have healed as soon as he took the knife away if he wasn’t ‘pulling’ the cut apart with his mind, resisting his own healing.
The disk would lie hidden under his hair, but that was no excuse for sloppiness. A tiny imperfection was glaringly obvious on a pureblood. The disk was small however, and lay perfectly flat against his skull, with no sign of its presence, and once concealed under his skin, he couldn’t feel the hum of power either.
The next eleven were done inside ten minutes. Kaname spent longer cleaning up the blood than he did putting them in. When Nancy stopped looking so uncomfortably longing, he let his hair grow back.
The thirteenth went in just as easily, but Kaname had to go much deeper so that it wouldn’t show since everyone he met would see his forehead.
It took less than half an hour, but Kaname started to feel safe once more.
“Is it normal for babies to be this boring?” Kaname asked Nancy, idling poking Seiren. “Why is she still sleeping? It’s been hours.”
Bonding with his Shadow, Juuri had called it, but Kaname knew one of her photo op schemes when he saw it. He’d be more annoyed at having to stay in the nursery instead of his workshop, but it was clearly important to Juuri, and just as clearly of her own volition rather than Haruka-inspired. Kaname fortified her original impulses whenever they appeared.
“It’s normal, Young Master,” Nancy replied from her rocking chair, where she was knitting of all things. “For most babies anyway.”
Everyone but you Kaname heard.
Fair enough, Kaname thought, although he was certain his children hadn’t been anywhere near so dull.
“How is this bonding?” he asked her, giving his future-Shadow a poke to see if she stirred.
Seiren blinked sleepy eyes open. He smiled at her encouragingly whilst wondering if she was old enough to have developed sight yet, and if the lower vampires developed more like a human or a vampire.
“It’s all in the subconscious,” Nancy replied, the clack of her needles never faltering. “You could pick her up, if you wanted. Skin to skin contact is very important for infants.”
Kaname picked her up. They were only a few months apart in age and development, but Kaname’s genetics had a clear advantage. She wasn’t light, but she wasn’t a burden either. It was kind of nice, holding her like this. He sort of hoped Nancy had sneakily taken a photo, it was just the sort of familiarity that would have Seiren blushing like a tomato in the future.
“You could sing to her too, she’ll find it comforting.”
Kaname eyed Nancy suspiciously as Seiren made a grab for the fingers he was waggling in her face. Nancy was Juuri’s creature, no doubt about it. The camera was probably a video one.
“Do you have a camera on you somewhere?”
“No, Young Master.”
She wasn’t lying, but Kaname was still suspicious. Then again, he was bored. He was glad to see Seiren alive – but she wasn’t his Seiren, not yet and maybe not ever. Holding her like this was odd. It just emphasised the differences he was doing his best to come to terms with.
Seiren started to fuss, wriggling in his arms as he adjusted automatically. Fearing a fit of tears, Kaname began to sing a quiet lullaby. He layered power into his already excellent singing voice, and let it wash over her. She drifted back to quietude after a single verse.
“That was beautiful, Young Master,” Nancy praised after a respectful pause. “What language was it?”
“Hmm?” Kaname asked, focusing on Seiren’s calm face. “Oh, that was… Enko, you’d call it now I suppose. And I’ll want a copy of that picture.”
The knitting needles fell silent. “Yes, Kaname-sama,” Nancy said quietly.
Kaname’s smirk fell when he looked back down. “She’s asleep again.” He sighed and set Seiren down on the blankets only for her to wake and wail. Kaname hurriedly picked her up again, wincing at the noise against his sensitive ears.
“Alright, hush hush, I’m here.”
She was easily pacified, but it became quite clear that she wouldn’t be parted from him after Kaname had tried to put her down several times only to have to hold her for her to be quiet.
“Don’t you dare laugh,” Kaname eyed Nancy dubiously.
She smiled placidly, needles clacking again. “I wasn’t going to, Young Master. I’m so glad you’ve made a friend.”
Scowling, Kaname turned his back on her – difficult since he had to carry Seiren too – and sat on his blanket with Seiren in his lap. Apparently, she found his aura soothing since she wouldn’t let herself be taken away from it.
Still, she was cute.
Kaname rolled his eyes at his own thoughts. Still, there was no reason that the entire night had to be a write-off. Focusing, Kaname sent his thoughts down into his shadow and tried to coax it into moving again.
“Juuri,” Kaname smiled welcomingly as Juuri wondered into the nursery. Her baby-bump wasn’t yet noticeable thank the night. As far as he remembered, Yuki was a fast baby, which meant she’d be born within a year.
With the revelation that their security was entirely down to Kaname, news about a new baby pureblood would spread like wildfire at the first hint of it. Kaname had fixing their security on his to-do list, but it was a very long list since he had to assume he was beginning from nothing.
“Kaname,” Juuri grinned, but the sight of her happy smile sent a dagger of disgust into Kaname’s heart. “It’s story time.”
Was she actually happy? When Haruka’s compulsions died, would she still have the capacity to be happy? Or had he destroyed her emotional nexus? Kaname was one of the best healers in the world, but he barely knew where to begin.
“OK,” he smiled, letting her pick him up and settle him onto her lap as had become their usual routine in the weeks after his counterattack. Haruka must have said something to her about children, but Kaname didn’t know what. She’d been more active in his life lately though, and she wouldn’t have changed behaviour without Haruka’s orders.
Still, he could tolerate a few hours away from his other plans, and this did at least give him the time he needed to slowly map the contours of Juuri’s mind. He was loath to mess with it any further, but he needed to know if she could be healed, or if he would have to add compulsions on top of Haruka’s instead.
To heal would be extremely difficult, and to compel extremely easy as Haruka had already obliterated her defences. Kaname wouldn’t blink if he decided he had to compel her, but she was kin, and so he would try to heal her first. If it couldn’t be done, then that was that. But he would make the attempt.
“Once upon a night, dragons roamed the earth, and none were more fearsome than Old Irontooth.”
Kaname settled back into Juuri’s arms, letting the story wash over him as he got down to business.
There was enough skin contact was Kaname to lean back and let his power drift through his aura, empowering it for anyone who knew to look, and focused on her mind.
“Dragons were a vampire’s natural enemies. They breathed fire, and ate humans just as easily as they ate everything else they could get their fangs on.”
Haruka’s attack on her had been just as brutal as the one on him. Juuri’s defences were utterly gone; Kaname had no notion of what they’d been before. There was just a green sticky web over her exposed mind that pulsed with a cycle of orders. Parts of it were patched and frayed which suggested Juuri was still subconsciously fighting it, but the web had been layered over and over again. It was strong; Haruka had all the power of a Kuran even if he had none of the sense.
“Old Irontooth was the largest dragon. He was enormous, when he flapped his wings he blotted out all of the stars in the sky.”
Gingerly, Kaname focused on one glistening green tendril.
Instantly Kaname pulled back into the physical, the backlash following him, a pounding headache making itself known as he winced.
This was going to take a while.
“One night, Old Irontooth was very hungry indeed and snacked on a mortal hamlet, eating everyone and everything in sight.”
Far more cautiously, Kaname tried again, melding his consciousness with Juuri’s.
This time he didn’t attempt to touch Haruka’s compulsions. No, it was best to start from the very basics. Kaname had to map Juuri’s mind, then the damage, and then see what he could fix.
The emotional nexus was completed swamped as Kaname expected. ‘Love me’ was a rather vague order that even if it were the only compulsion, would affect the entire mind. Haruka would need to dominate Juuri’s emotions; her memories and her perception to mimic something like love.
If Kaname was going to free Juuri, it was going to be a very long struggle, and there was Yuki to consider.
Hello all! Love to hear your thoughts on this chapter :)
“Kaname,” Juuri called, stepping into the nursery with a suit bag over her arm, “Come and try this on.”
“Why do I need a new suit?” Kaname asked as he was picked up and dumped on an overstuffed chair, Juuri gesturing for Nancy to undress him as she unzipped the protective cover and pulled out a toddler-sized three-piece suit and all the trappings.
If it were not intended for him, Kaname would have called it adorable. It was dark blue-grey with silver fastenings, complete with tie and brand new shiny black oxfords. Not quite tailored as Kaname hadn’t been for any fittings, but it was undoubtedly perfect to measurements Juuri had given. She wouldn’t buy off the rack.
Kaname made a note to find out the name of the tailor. With any luck, it was Alonzo from the lower town, a bloodline that was already bound to the Kurans. The way Kaname’s luck had been going – Juuri Kuran had probably commissioned a child-sized suit from Ichio’s personal tailor – and Ichio was visiting next dark.
“We have guests arriving soon,” Juuri answered cheerfully, humming to herself as she manhandled Kaname into her latest ‘cute’ outfit. “You need to look your best.”
“Guests?” Kaname echoed dully. “Who?” He hoped she missed the accusation in the question.
At ten months old, he was vulnerable. If he had been any other Level A, he’d be walking heroin as far as vampires was concerned. This was a Bad Idea, but Kaname knew frustratingly well that there was nothing he could do about it.
Visits to Kuran Castle would have been pre-arranged months ago. Or they would have been if Kaname was in charge. With Haruka, who could tell? He probably let the postman walk right up to the door. Cancelling would draw more attention than going through with it. He could make Juuri cancel – but the intended guests would talk, and it would be a suspicious move for anyone paying attention, and it would affect the Kuran’s reputation, which Kaname needed to preserve at all costs since it was their only shield right now. He didn’t have a choice.
“Inner Court ladies only, darling, don’t pout. I wanted a ladies night.”
“A ladies night,” Kaname repeated, feeling a vague bloom of horror take root within him. The last time he’d heard those famous last words, Charlotte, Freya and Aylin had buggered off into Old Rome with two-dozen female attendants. Three long nights later, they’d breezed back in a mishmash of clothes bearing all manner of interesting rips and stains. They’d reeked of perfume, alcohol, sex, drugs and during their extended ‘ladies night’ they’d lost two and a half shoes, gained a cat, a pear of anguish, half a pound of flour and a bike chain.
He’d learned a valuable lesson that night; don’t ask questions you don’t want to hear the answer to.
“It’s going to be so much fun,” Juuri beamed.
“Yes,” Kaname said stoically as she forced his arm through the right hole. “Fun.”
Ladies night was apparently going to take place in the Rose Parlour.
The Rose Parlour was just as it sounded, a large stone room, with windows all facing towards the Rose Garden. The wall hangings were all of roses and the furniture was dark, interspersed with flowery relief. It was deep within the oldest parts of Kuran Castle, but it had been discreetly wired for electricity, and a huge television now stood to one side, tuned in to the encrypted vampire-only station, VBC.
Dressed in his new suit – the familiar stitching reassuring Kaname that it had come from Alonzo – hair brushed to a glossy sheen, Kaname was left to wait, trapped in Nancy’s arms and languishing in the antechamber until the guests arrived.
“It’ll be such a fantastic surprise for them all,” Juuri had said, as she skipped off to fetch a camera.
At least it was just Inner-Court, Kaname consoled himself. They ought to be fairly safe.
He’d never been this paranoid about security before. Of course, he’d never been this doubtful of the embedded protections of the castle before.
“Why are you so worried, Kaname-sama?”
“I’m not worried,” he said, pushing his hand against her cheek to give him the leverage to see around the door. Servants – he had to get around to scanning them for security risks sooner rather than later – were busy setting out platters of snacks and trays bearing bottles, the glasses all polished until they sparkled under a chandelier of freshly lit candles.
He wasn’t too concerned – this had probably happened the last time around without issue – but he was curious. He’d been back in the past for ten long months and he had yet to step foot outside the castle. Whoever arrived would be the first new faces he’d seen in ages.
“As you say,” Nancy mumbled, voice stifled under his hand.
Ren Akatsuki was the first to arrive, dressed neatly in a dark green top and sharp black skirt with matching heels although she’d foregone the full face of makeup and jewellery. By that, Kaname judged that this really was some sort of casual ladies night in and some of his anxiety faded.
“Juuri-sama,” Ren greeted, curtsying deeply.
“Ren!” Juuri replied lightly, pressing a glass of blood wine – the good stuff if Kaname’s highly developed nose was any judge, oh how he wanted a bottle of Gilgamesh for himself – and pulled her over to the sofas. “I’m so glad you could make it.”
“Thank you for inviting me. Is there a special occasion?”
Juuri smiled mischievously, “I’ll tell you all when the others get here. Please, make yourself at home. No formalities tonight. It’s just us.”
The talk swiftly delved into Ren’s bonded, Saburo, and the latest gossip to hit the circuit, and some rubbish pureblood-commoner drama that was playing on TV, and Kaname actually found himself listening. Before, he would have dismissed it as nonsense, now, he was wondering if ‘Passions of Blood’ was a part of the Council’s misinformation campaign.
As if Sasha would marry Mitchell. She’d never condescend to swear vows under a human institution, and would never be seduced by his terrible attempts at courting and – oh how he loathed the Council for making him give this rubbish his serious attention.
He was intensely grateful, when the other guests arrived, interrupting his spiralling thoughts.
Suzume Souen, Miki Aidou, Hana Toya and Ren Akatsuki - the future mothers of his friends and Inner Court.
They all looked so young in the soft glow of candlelight. It was a sharp kick to the fangs about what he’d done when he’d committed to defying the vortex. For better or for worse -these were not the vampires he’d known. His timeline was gone, his friends dead. Those vampires out there were new acquaintances, nothing more, nothing less.
Still at least Kaname knew why this party was happening now. It must have happened in the previous timeline too, which meant hopefully, he hadn’t written his friends out of existence before they were born. He would have born that burden if he’d had to, their lives were not worth the world and he wasn’t selfish enough to say otherwise, but it was a small relief not to have to make those choices. He had too many as it was.
Juuri didn’t waste time. Once everyone was gathered with a drink and sitting down, Juuri muted the TV, dismissed the maid in attendance, and turned to the others with a serious face.
“Ladies, whilst I’m delighted to see you all, I haven’t gathered you all here because I wanted to gossip,” she said briskly. “I have wonderful news.”
“Pregnant?” Miki asked with a sly grin. The formalities really had been tossed out the window, Kaname thought wryly. That sort of question normally got a very painful response, but everything was different in private. Of course, Juuri was pregnant with Yuki, but purebloods didn’t announce pregnancy publically. That would be like screaming on a busy street that you’d left your house unlocked with all the good jewellery on display. Obviously, Miki had babies on the brain – and no wonder, given that she must have had all three of Hanabusa’s older sisters by now.
“Better,” Juuri grinned. Then she raised her voice, “Nancy? Come in please.”
Kaname flinched away, but it was too late. Nancy handed him firmly over to Juuri, prying his fingers off of her apron with brute force, and vanished to the back of the room, abandoning him to his fate. Kaname vowed revenge on the spot. She would suffer for this.
“Friends, I’d like you to meet my son, Kaname Kuran,” Juuri proclaimed as she settled him onto her knee and stopped him from hiding behind her with a sharp dig to the ribs. Hiding a wince, he surrendered with poor grace and sat on her lap, facing the vultures. He gave his nanny a stern look from his perch, letting her know he wouldn’t be forgetting this anytime soon.
She regarded him back with cool amusement, eyes dancing in mischief. She was enjoying this.
Aggravated, he settled for glaring imperiously at the other vampires. For a brief second they stared, mouths open and glasses frozen at their lips and then with a rustle of silk and perfume, they were on their feet.
All four curtsied deeply, sweeping hair and cloth from their necks, skirts spread or hands outstretched as necessary and knees bent low. This was a momentous occasion, and they knew it. You were more likely to find a red diamond than a baby pureblood, and meeting one was the chance of the millennium.
“Kuran-sama,” they murmured respectfully, auras flickering with wonder.
Much better, Kaname thought approvingly. Dignified and reverent. He eyed their lowered and bared necks with satisfaction. This was more like it.
After a long humble moment, they rose and retook their seats, although Kaname noted that their drinks were abandoned and they were all leaning forwards with interest, no longer conversing amongst themselves or watching the TV.
“How old is he, Juuri-sama?”
“Ten months,” Juuri told Suzume proudly.
“How was the birth?” Ren ventured cautiously. “You are recovered, I hope?”
“It was typical for a pureblood,” Juuri made no attempt to disguise the non-answer and the other ladies didn’t ask again. “It will be nothing like yours, Ren. When are you due?”
Ren shook her head ruefully. “Five months, Juuri-sama. I wasn’t certain myself until recently. I was planning on telling my sisters tonight.”
The female arc of Juuri’s Inner Court was very small, blood wise. Three sisters had bonded into different families, but Miki, Ren and Suzume were all related. That meant two different families of blood when you counted Hana, but a connection to four of the Kuran’s main supporters amongst the Level B’s. It had worked out well, luckily, but Kaname’s would be far more diverse. The Court was as much about politics as it was about friends at least it was for the eldest child.
“You’re pregnant?!” Suzume gasped. “Congratulations. You should have told us earlier! Wait - is this a good thing? Are you keeping it?”
Ren laughed, “Yes, it was a surprise, and I really wasn’t sure until last night. I wasn’t keeping him a secret, I promise.”
Kaname smiled, leaning back into Juuri’s warmth, absorbing a little energy whilst he could. The Night Class had been comprised of mostly younger students – but both Kain and Ichijo were his assumed age, so they both had to be conceived by now. Zero too, for that matter.
A wave of melancholy swept through him. Zero. There was no place for grief in war. Kaname had paid his respects and moved on for everyone else – but Zero had been the very last to go, and had died in a battle he’d known they’d lose, without knowing that their plan had worked.
It was a very cruel end, for a very dear friend, but Zero had made his choice, and Kaname respected him too much to wish it otherwise.
“It’ll be very different for you,” Juuri assured Ren calmly, her voice breaking Kaname out of his memories. “Shorter, easier and with more assistance available. I will arrange to be there myself if you wish, and I can act as Matron if you your sister isn’t suited.”
“Oh would you? Thank you, yes, that would take a great deal off my mind, I know Miki’s done it before but, well.” Ren glanced over to Miki and Suzume who both smiled warmly, gazes dropping to the baby in their midst in contemplation.
“May I hold him?” Apparently Aidou would inherit his impetuousness as well as his eyes from his mother, Kaname realised as Miki held her arms out as if she honestly expected –
Kaname, eyes bulging with disbelief and indignation, was abruptly passed over like a bag of flour. He heard a cough from Nancy’s direction – he hoped she choked, wretched vampire.
Oh how he loathed infanthood. The sheer disrespect he was offered.
Then again, this was a prime opportunity to make a good, lasting first impression, and Kaname prided himself on being pragmatic above all.
Kaname stared up into Miki’s beautiful cyan blue eyes and smiled, his lips and cheeks settling into the expression he’d practiced in the mirror, tilting his head slightly and letting his hair fall across his face.
“Stars above,” Miki breathed, “He’s deific.”
Miki’s grip slackened as Kaname shifted, but she didn’t let go entirely. Either she was entranced by his aura already, or she didn’t want to be responsible for dropping him. The urge to leap off her lap just to hear her wail was incredibly powerful. Ruefully, Kaname acknowledged that he was missing his Aidou and was using his mother as a replacement. He stomped down the childish urge to play pranks and got down to business.
Kaname stood up, and reached.
“What is he – “
Curious, Miki leaned down to let him touch her and let him tilt her head as he wished until he was staring into Hanabusa’s familiar eyes.
“Pretty,” Kaname said firmly, letting her go and sitting back down. He’d learned his lesson with Nancy about how long he could balance for.
There was a flutter of gasps and pleased exclamations at this demonstration of intelligence. Nancy rolled her eyes when she thought no one was looking, but Kaname caught it and gave her a blatant smirk as the other ladies promptly fussed over him wanting to hold him in turn.
Wasn’t he gorgeous? Yes he was. Wasn’t he clever? Smarter than you. Wasn’t he well behaved? He had to have some dignity left to him. Wasn’t he powerful? You bet. Oh my, didn’t he have the classic Kuran look? Why yes, yes he did since he’d bloody well started the bloodline and where do you think you’re putting those hands. No! No! you will not pinch my cheeks you ruddy little -
He started feeding from them. He had no choice. It was a matter of survival. Clearly, they had way too much energy.
“Friends, we need to discuss your schedules for the next few years, in detail. Kaname will need a Court, and I dearly hope we’ll be able to continue tradition with the next generation. Ren will be ready, but the rest of you need to plan.”
“Which of you will have a heat this year? Or if you’ve inherited the human-cycle, I need to know now.”
They weren’t –
“I’m afraid my heat has already passed,” Hana offered instantly. “I normally have one every fourteen moons or so though. With a little effort, I am sure I can produce a playmate within two or three years.”
“Very well,” Juuri pulled out a notebook of all things and started taking notes. “Are you typical for the Toya’s gestation period? I know you were eleven months in the womb yourself and that’s rather long for a B.”
“A little faster I think. Perhaps –“
Kaname was morbidly fascinated despite himself. It was custom for every aristocratic family sworn to the Kuran Clan to provide a child for Kaname’s Court, and Kaname had had exactly that in the past, and given the frequency of vampire births, his Court had to have been planned out like this – he’d just never imagined it was all done so ruthlessly.
The details didn’t shock him; he’d had many children and assisted in a few of his mistress’s births. However, these were vampires he knew and respected – and they were tossing around words and phrases like:- induced heat; I can drug him if I have to; the cowgirl uniform always does the trick; an ambush after poker night; tie him down; the leather swing; a turkey baster will do it, just remember to hold it at forty five degrees and pepper oil.
He had perfect recall. This night could never be forgotten.
On the other hand, who knew Suzume was such a wildcat behind closed doors?
Puberty couldn’t come fast enough.
It was home to almost a hundred vampires and double that during office hours. It had had three hundred and seventy seven rooms the last time Kaname had bothered to count and corridors stretching out for over seven miles.
It wasn’t just a home. It was the centre of their power and functioned much as it had for the past few thousand years. This was a working castle governing over a hidden kingdom of the night.
The Kuran’s had ruled their lands from this very spot since Kaname had laid the first stone. It was here the Clan made law, where they sat in judgement and settled disputes.
That made for a lot of staff.
They had chefs, butlers, maids, stable boys, gardeners, guards, a maintenance crew that by necessity had to be experts in ancient building techniques. They employed secretaries, cyber-security, pilots, captains, kennel-masters, stable-masters, grooms, organisers, event-planners, tailors, beauticians, lawyers, and that was just those who lived and worked on site.
The Kurans owned serious amounts of land. There were farms, orchards, dairies, factories, mines, quarries, and all of those businesses were managed from the Castle too.
The lower town that bordered Kuran castle was full of their employees and their families and tertiary businesses, human and vampire.
Kaname threw his latest list down with a huff. How was he supposed to secure all of this? If Kaname weren’t the one making the attempt, he would have said it was impossible.
He had to break this down.
First off, only the household staff entered the Castle proper. Everyone else was relegated to the outer buildings. Everything human related went through the Tokyo office. Everything vampire related went through the Castle. Haruka employed a dozen office aids that worked in the Castle proper. The Castle had various levels of internal shielding that kept staff and guests where they were supposed to be so it wasn’t as dire as it could be, assuming those shields were properly maintained, and active, and hadn’t had too many alterations, or additions and –
His primary concern was his own safety. If he didn’t survive neither would his knowledge. Thus, the nursery had to be secured first, and that meant starting with Nancy and working his way through the list of staff who had access here and the nearby rooms.
“Nanny, I need you to swear me a blood oath.”
It was a sign; Kaname thought fondly, that his nanny had become accustomed to his particular brand of insanity that she didn’t run shrieking from the room.
Blood oaths were serious.
“Oh?” Nancy asked absently as she folded away his clothes and bent to pick up a book he’d thrown away in disgust. (The History of the Council and the Origins of Democracy.) “What oath and why.”
“Loyalty, so that you can keep my secrets, and because I want you to.”
Kaname waited patiently.
“I thought I already kept your secrets.” Ah, her pride was hurt. She’d been marvellously discreet about everything so far, and he’d insulted her.
“You do.” Kaname reassured swiftly. “I mean no offence.” He knew when honesty was the best policy. “I have entrusted you with more than any other vampire in this building. This is about doing a complete job of it rather than an expression of doubt. For my peace of mind, if you will.”
“What wording are you…requesting?”
Blood oaths couldn’t be sworn unwillingly. Not even if Kaname Commanded her as a pureblood could he make her swear one. Of course, if he issued a Command like obey me utterly he wouldn’t need to, but there was a major difference between artistry and brute force and Kaname had thousands of years to know which was superior.
Affection for her aside, if he’d thought it would serve him more efficiently – he would have already brought her mind under his enthrallment. He had no moral qualms about the practice, but it just wouldn’t be as effective as an oath, willingly offered.
“You can come up with the wording yourself,” Kaname said, because he knew she’d be more likely to swear that way, “subject to my approval,” because he wasn’t going to allow a loophole, “but something along the lines of you will never directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly, by action or inaction, share my secrets.”
Kaname paused considering the various oaths he’d demanded over the millennia, and the methods spies had found a way around them. He’d lost a Rembrandt the last time he’d missed a gap in the wording. He still hadn’t gotten it back that Fujiwara bastard either.
“My secrets being defined as anything I have in any way told you to keep secret, or anything you suspect I would want kept secret if you checked. And all communication methods including an absence of them or implication included.”
Nancy gave him a sardonic look as she prepared his bottle of pink milk.
“Just that huh?”
Kaname smiled winningly at her.
“Of course, swearing it means you’d know some of my secrets.”
“That isn’t a perk, you know. I’m one hundred per cent certain your secrets will get me into a great deal of trouble.”
“I’d rescue you?” Kaname offered dubiously, accepting the bloody milk. After he’d altered priorities in Juuri’s mind, she’d been too busy to torment him with breastfeeding, so he got most of his milk from a cup now. Thank the night. The pink milk was tasty, or it had been, ten months ago. Words could not express his craving for real blood. He’d even settled for licking a Level E’s cut he was that desperate – but in this at least it was matter over mind. His body would grow fangs when it bloody well wanted to and not a night before.
“To whom am I swearing?”
“Hmm?” he asked, sipping dubiously from his bottle. “Oh, well, To Al, I suppose.”
Names were important when it came to the old blood arts.
“Al Kuran?” Nancy asked, a faint thread of curiosity in her voice. “I haven’t seen that name in the records. Is it short for something? Albert?”
“Been searching have you?” Kaname asked, smirking. “I thought you didn’t want to know who I used to be.”
Nancy shrugged. “Curiosity overwhelmed me. Were you born in secret or cast out and disinherited?”
“Neither.” Kaname felt his eyebrows rise without his permission; Nancy was being bold this night wasn’t she? Well, Kaname only had himself to blame – his disability permitted a lot of intimacy that negated any attempt at maintain boundaries. “It was rude to write my name down, so I had others.”
Pausing in her work, Nancy glanced over, a laugh in her eyes.
Pretending to frown in concentration, Kaname watched her carefully as she drew nearer, sitting in the rocking chair to listen.
“The culture of the time was very different,” he said eventually, crossing his legs under him. “It’s difficult to translate properly when you have no frame of reference for it. Rude as in sacrilegious, or perhaps illegal is the best comparison. An action so disrespectful that it not only would not have been done, but it wouldn’t be in the mind as a possibility to be legislated against it was…unfathomable. Yes, that’s what I mean.”
“Fascinating,” Nancy said, leaning forward for the impromptu history lesson. “I’ve never heard this before. Which country was this?”
“I have absolutely no idea how history remembered us.”
“Well was it Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, what?”
“Older, but we’re getting distracted. Will you swear to me, Nancy?”
“Very well, Al Kuran-sama, I shall swear. Give me a moment to write something –“ She moved across to the desk and started penning out her oath. Kaname was grateful that she was willing to swear.
He may have misled her, slightly.
This oath had nothing to do with his peace of mind – the mithril had safeguarded that. He had many other plans, though. For Yuki, and any other siblings he might acquire. He needed to be able to trust someone here.
She handed him the paper.
I, Nancy Beatrice Orion of the Orion Clan of Japan, hereby swear to keep the secrets of Al Kuran. I will never directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly, by action or inaction, communicate in any way, shape or form or absence thereof, that which he has indicated to me as confidential directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly and by any method of communication to anyone or anything else, animate or inanimate, living or dead. If I break this oath, may I be forsworn by blood, fang and the night.
Kaname read it, read it again, and held his palm out demandingly for a pen, crossing out a single word when Nancy placed one in his hand.
Nancy glanced it over.
“No ‘Kuran’, just Al? Will the oath take with something that imprecise? There could be hundreds of others related to you enough by blood with the name Al somewhere in their names for it to trigger.”
Kaname sighed, and reached subtly behind his back for his camera.
“My name remained private,” he said mildly, “You are shaped by the culture you grow up in, and I am no different. Family names didn’t exist back then.”
He sat back, sipped his milk, and waited.
“Family names didn’t exist?” Nancy asked indulgently. “I see Young Master, well then perhaps I-
She trailed off.
Kaname watched as realisation slowly dawned, subtly taking a few photos for the Blackmail Album Volume I Mark II.
Dots connected. Little facts combining into one really haunting picture.
Kaname looked like a Kuran child. He had the blood red eyes, the mahogany hair, the creamy skin, the sharp cheekbones, the fulsome lips and lithe body.
Kaname was older than he appeared. Smarter. Wiser. Experienced. Learned. Mature.
He said his name was Al. Al, short for nothing.
Family names didn’t exist in his time. They existed after his time. Because of his time.
Would have been rude to write his name down.
Al - Al of the Kurans.
Her warm brown eyes were as wide as dinner plates, pupils dilated in shock, and her gaze dragged inexorably across the room to meet his – a faint desperate light in their depths. A joke. It must be. He enjoys toying with people – this is no different. Just a joke, a -
Kaname smiled at her, friendly and kind – then he reached for his powers and the proof, reached down deep into his core, deeper, into his heart, and deeper still, into the earth. Shadows warped around his tiny form as his eyes seared earth-blood red. Molten lava at it’s fiercest. Nancy’s very own shadow abandoned her to twirl around his feet, summoned by his existence and obedient to his will; she gaped as the laws of physics shattered around him, swaying in a non-existent breeze as her mind tried to comprehend what it was seeing – failed – and tried again.
The title reverberated between them, the darkness around him rippling as his voice was escorted through echoes of the night.
He let it go, cooled the power within him, released the essence of the Night and the Void that shaped him and was Kaname once more.
“Lord of the Constellations,” Kaname added softly. “The Sky Father, King of the Vampire and Lord of the Night Eternal. The First Vampire, the Ancestor - born of stars, beloved of the Earth and forgotten by time. Al’Kyran.”
Her heart galloping at triple-speed, Nancy very slowly slid from the chair and knelt, sweeping her hair up from the neck, she went down further into full protestation, vampire style – exposing the back of her neck to him.
Kaname let her do it. He did care for her and it was important, now that they’d come this far, now that he’d seen the dangers, that she knew exactly who and what he was – and what it meant for her that he asked this oath.
Breaking it would mean worse than death – and if the betrayal didn’t kill her, there were epics composed of what he’d done to other traitors.
There could be no going back.
Happy belated Christmas and New Year everyone :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Haruka was an idiot.
Kaname glared at the rune array, a headache that was purely psychosomatic pounding away behind his eyes.
Well, it might not be Haruka’s fault, Kaname thought eyeing the array again with reluctant admiration. A six pointed star as a bypass? Brilliant. The modifications were fairly old, but new enough that it had to be this generation of Kuran’s work. That narrowed it down to precisely three suspects.
If Kaname had had to run from the Clan, he’d want a way back into the Castle–for resources or revenge, it was just good tactical sense to have a backdoor.
But how had the anomaly gone unnoticed for so long? Surely Haruka or Juuri had carried out a security inspection after Rido had murdered the original Kaname? The buzzing of a discord had been obvious to Kaname when he’d focused, although the bypass had hidden it well. Perhaps they were not talented enough in the Blood Arts and the Old Ways? If they’d slacked their training in one area then perhaps they slacked in all? Perhaps Rido was just more talented? Perhaps they didn’t think about it, or perhaps they just didn’t care. Too many maybes. Kaname would probably never know.
He tried not to let that bother him.
Rido might be sporting some serious mind damage right now, but that didn’t make him stupid – it just made him unpredictable, which was a whole lot worse in Kaname’s very long and well thumbed book.
“Alright,” Kaname told the wall, “I’ve seen enough.”
Silently, Nancy lowered Kaname to the floor, backing three respectful paces away. The array had been placed for the convenience of a mature body, not a child, so Nancy had had to hold him up for Kaname to see into the little crystal enclave, ensconced inside the wall.
It was a bloody good thing that she was sworn to him now, because Kaname couldn’t have allowed Nancy to live after seeing this much of the Castle’s security otherwise. Besides, he couldn’t have done it without her or a stepladder- and the staff would have noticed the stepladder.
He glanced at his governess from the corner of his eye as he mused over what to do with the flaws he’d found. Did he want to block the hole or trap it?
He’d underestimated how much vampires had come to revere Al’Kyran over the millennia. He’d thought it would be funny to see her reaction – and, well alright it had been hilarious, those photos were going to entertain Kaname for years – but he’d expected things to go back to normal.
Nancy didn’t scold him. She didn’t make suggestions. She didn’t touch him without explicit and convoluted permission. Stars above she didn’t even look him in the eye anymore. There was no fond exasperation. No rolling of the eyes or deep wounded sighs when he was being a brat. If he talked directly to her, she fumbled and stumbled with a reply, and when she did finally manage a sentence it was so full of deference to him and apologies for her own behaviour that he wanted to wring her neck. Of course, she sensed his vaguely murderous irritation and just panicked more and eugh.
It was intolerable.
One night, he was going to get his hands on a history book, a shredder and a red pen, and make some poor sobbing historian publish the remains.
Yes, he’d been a god king of an enormous empire. Yes, there had been wars. It was a different age. It happens. Yes, there’d been a little bit of genocide here or there. He’d had very good reasons, and really, the world should thank him for his efforts. Yes, he’d done a wide variety of very well remembered things to traitors, spies, enemies, poor lovers and general irritants. No, he didn’t care, especially not now, thousands of years later when only his excellent mind let him recall the details. Yes, the laws had been different, harsher. What else could be expected from an earlier world? Life was hard and the people with it. It was absurd to judge his actions by modern standards.
Curse history for managing to remember the blood and the sex and none of the politics.
Nancy’s heartbeat thundered to Kaname’s ears. Oh blood and ashes. Kaname tore his eyes away from her. Was just looking going to set her off now? He focused his mind on the crystals he’d seen, the flows of power he’d sensed and the weave it made.
Was his attention really so terrifying? Was he so bad? He’d never been cruel to her, but one word of his name and suddenly he was a ravaging beast to be appeased?
“I need to go to my workshop,” Kaname announced to the air in as bland a voice as possible.
Nancy took a step away from the wall, where she’d dismissed herself to, and knelt down, arms outstretched. She didn’t pick him up anymore. She waited for him to go to her. Suppressing a sigh – night knew how she’d take that – Kaname toddled over into her embrace, legs still unreliable. She enclosed him slowly – like he hadn’t asked for this – and rose, taking him up with her.
They made their way back through the passages and up to his tower, Nancy as stiff as a statue the entire way. This couldn’t last, Kaname thought. He had to do something. He’d had no idea how much he missed normal company until she’d started treated him like a ticking bomb. It was insulting.
Was this how purebloods were regarded now?
“I built this place as a fortress,” Kaname said quietly, admiring the stone. “So long ago that the stars have changed in the sky.” He waited, carefully reaching out with his senses to see how Nancy was taking this aside. If he could just snap her out of this mind-set, make her see him…
“It took decades, you know. Everything was so different back then, every stone had to be planned months in advance, if not years, to give enough time to the quarries, the stonemasons and the wagons. Everything was done by hand, and even when we came up with what would later be called a pulley, laying as many as thirty stones was considered a very good night’s work.”
“The castle was the most ambitious project we’d ever considered,” Kaname remembered fondly. “Before that, vampires were mostly nomadic. The humans followed the deer, and we followed the humans. Once it became clear to me that farming was the future, I set down roots.”
“It took me five of your years to settle on this location. Geological studies didn’t exist in its modern form, but we knew that some rock was stronger than others and we’d seen what our powers could do the earth. The castle is built on bedrock as strong as I could find. It’s no coincidence that no earthquake touches us here. Strategically too, the hill was useful, and the land is clear for miles. The proximity of fresh water, the nearness of the old trade routes, even the hot spring beneath us was factored in.”
Nancy was interested, Kaname could tell. Her heartbeat had gentled, and the arms around him were softening as tension faded.
“I had to enchant each stone separately. My nashkir, I think the best translation for that would be head stone mason? Although she was actually something like a project manager,” Kaname mused. “Regardless, she loathed me for the time I wasted with carving runes, especially as no one else could help with it if I wanted it to be attuned to my bloodline. Not that I knew it would even work back then - there was this one time when the chisel slipped and shattered one of the foundation stones, she was furious. Made me pay so badly once the sun had risen.”
“A pureblood worked as a stonemason?”
Kaname smiled. Her incredulous question was the first she’d spoken voluntarily to him in weeks, and of course, it was about purebloods. He should have guessed that was how to spark Nancy’s curiosity. Perhaps more stories like these needed to be told. Stories that demystified their lofty rank, stories that made them seem more personable.
“No, she was my pet.”
“How could she rebuke you then?”
Kaname laughed. “By clawing my back open the next time she dragged me into her blankets. By the blood she was a wild one.”
Feeling Nancy’s surprise, Kaname shrugged. “I told you, it was a different age. There were more purebloods, and far less of the current nonsense. I worked as a common labourer once, you know. We didn’t begin as what we have become. I was faster and stronger than most of my Court, it made sense that I did the majority of the hard labour – think about it.”
Perhaps the memory would be enough to change her way of thinking, perhaps it wouldn’t. Either way, Kaname had too much work to do to spend any more time on re-educating a single vampire.
Over the last two months, Kaname had managed to survey most of the Castle. He might have started the building, but he had been asleep, or on rotation, and his descendants had just as much right to alter the place however they liked. It had always been meant to be a family home, not an untouchable masterpiece.
The fashion had changed many times over the ages, so the Castle had changed with it. Vampires were nothing if not adaptive. They had architecture from every age and civilisation represented somewhere, and Kaname loved having such a unique home with so many historical nuggets.
He just wished his descendants had been as paranoid as he was.
Warding was hard work. They were permanent, with the proper reinforcement, and required planning, preparation and power. Kaname had crafted his in parallel with and entwined with the physical building to ensure they’d last the ages.
Some of his descendants had followed his example – others hadn’t.
Discoveries had been made in his absence, and modern warding had been installed alongside, around, over or under the original work to say nothing of where it crossed paths with the electrics and the plumbing. Some of his children had been more skilled than others, and most of them had contributed some sort of crafting somewhere, even if it was just on their private quarters.
It was a vastly complicated web for Kaname to untangle, but it would be his Next Great Project – and he was looking forward to it. He’d always been a scientist at heart.
“There you are Kaname!”
Kaname turned, a wide smile on his face, as Haruka strode into the nursery. He’d been so busy with work, he’d barely had time to see his son, but Kaname looked well, and Juuri had picked a good caretaker. Everything was fine.
Kaname held up his hands – bits of red plastic stuck everywhere.
“Thatta boy!” Haruka beamed, sweeping his son up into his arms. It was good to see that the blood held true. There were enough flecks of power scattered about the floor that Haruka could guess what had happened. “You’re going to be so strong when you grow up.”
He and his siblings had been awfully hard on their toys too. Destroying them was inevitable as they started learning the lengths and breadths of their powers. Even mortal toddlers were destructive, which reassured Haruka whenever he thought about it. They were not so different after all.
“His lessons?” Haruka flicked his eyes to the ‘C to make it clear he was addressing her.
She curtsied, “Master Kaname has progressed through three years worth of math and science already. His ability to learn is extraordinary, Kuran-sama. We’re working on increasing his vocabulary and starting handwriting lessons this month. He’s also shown interest in learning a musical instrument, but I thought to ask Juuri-sama on a preference before I enquire after trusted instructors.”
“Very good.” Haruka turned to face his son, and relaxed. “I know it’s nearly Christmas, take the rest of the night off, I’ll take Kaname from here.”
Dismissing her, Haruka turned to leave.
“Where we goin’ Daddy?”
“To my office!” Haruka chuckled. “I know you want to play, but I need to start teaching you the ropes of the family business.”
“I’m guna be jus’ like Daddy!”
Haruka grinned helplessly. His son was perfect. He was young of course, but he was so smart. It was never too young to start learning about economics, or politics. Kaname would need to know these things eventually, and better for Haruka to teach in bits and pieces when he had the time rather than wait for a substandard tutor to mangle the job.
He let them into his office, and sat Kaname on the desk.
“Serious time, Kaname. I need you to pay attention. Everything important is here in this room. Remember that. You also can’t come in here without my permission. The locks are very dangerous and they hurt anyone who shouldn’t be here. I will be very angry if you try. Do you understand?”
Kaname nodded, eyes wide.
“Good lad! Now, your great-great-grandfather first founded Kuran Enterprises. Since then, we’ve dabbled everywhere. Most recently in the shipping industry, mining and factories. We are deeply interconnected with the human world, and our main focuses now are technology, pharmaceuticals, and oil although we maintain a diverse profile, just in case.”
Haruka felt pride throb in his chest as he continued Kaname’s first lesson. His son was so perfect.
Kaname shut off his blowtorch and pulled his mask off from his face, leaving his hair in tufts. Stripping his heavy-duty gloves off, ignoring the discomfiting miniature size, he gave Nancy his full attention.
They were in his workroom, Kaname had spent the last week playing around with his new toys, getting a feel for what he could do with them and making lists of what he had yet to do, in code because he knew better than to leave that sort of thing lying around, even up here in his mostly secret lab.
“I’ve been treating you differently.”
Kaname gave her his back, sliding his chair across the floor. He needed to make notes before he forgot them. Titanium was better than iron, but still far less efficient than the standard crystals for channelling vampiric powers. That completed his tests on all modern metals. Perhaps he could start on carbon fibres next. Those had been the next ‘big thing’ hadn’t they?
“I’d noticed. The whimpering and cowering routine got old a long time ago, although I suppose I ought to be grateful you didn’t start making offerings to me and constructing a temple in the gardens.”
Nancy winced. Not that Kaname was looking.
Kaname sighed, throwing his pen down and whirling around.
“I won’t apologise for being born, Nancy. I am what I am, and I’m not ashamed of it. If you’re scared of me, that’s your problem. I’ve never deliberately hurt you, and knowing the titles I never asked for doesn’t change that fact.”
“I know,” Nancy said, “And I really am sorry. I didn’t mean to treat you like a monster, and I’m sorry if I hurt you. I was just – I don’t know. You hear all these stories, and it’s scary. I have to live knowing you could do anything you liked to me. It’s not easy.”
Kaname could understand that. In truth, she wasn’t wrong. Some purebloods were cruel to their lesser subjects. It had just never been an issue before.
With a week to stew over Nancy’s disproportionate response, Kaname had made a few simple connections. He’d wondered how the Council could have gained such a strong, self-righteous following – and now he saw why.
If Nancy, solid, dependable Nancy could look at the child she’d cared for and be afraid, could think only of what Kaname might do, then there was a much bigger problem here. He’d struck the nail on the head earlier.
Purebloods, in avoiding the masses, sequestering themselves away from greedy eyes, and lusting fangs, had given the Council all the ammunition they needed. Somewhere along the way, the respect purebloods had commanded in their roles as leaders, providers and protectors had turned into fear.
Without familiarity to soothe ruffled feathers, and with a few too true tales of cruelty and spite – it must have been easy to tip the scales.
Kaname should have thought of it sooner. He’d performed character assassinations himself with far less to work with that what his peers had accidently given the Council. He hoped he hadn’t become too used to being top of the food chain. He knew where that led.
“Our society,” Kaname said coolly, “kept a pyramid structure for a reason. Believe me, if you’d been born ten thousand years ago you’d be grateful for the presence of your Lord or Lady, no matter what gossip you’d listened to about what they preferred in the bedroom.”
Nancy looked interested, but Kaname shook his head.
“I’m not going to give a history lecture. The past is the past. Learn from it but let it stay dead.” He might have said that a little too bitterly.
“If you aren’t going to faint when I talk to you, then can you run and get me at least an ounce of amethyst and two of quartz, and see if my opals have arrived yet.”
“Yes, Young Master.”
Kaname’s music teacher was a beautiful young female, and with one breath, Kaname knew that she was related to Alonzo, was sworn to Juuri, and that her powers were illusion-based and at rank D.
Not for the last time, Kaname wished that he were older. Alonzo’s family were of Roman descent, and Silvana had inherited well; caramel hair, unusually short for a vampire female, bright blue eyes and vampire-fair skin.
“Young Master,” Nancy introduced politely, “Silvana Alonzo has been chosen by your mother to instruct you in music. She’s taken the oath of secrecy and is a prodigy when it comes to the arts. She has excellent qualifications. Silvana,” his governess turned to face the female, “this is Kaname Kuran, and you may address him as Master Kuran or Kuran-sama.”
Only thirteen years to go, Kaname reassured himself as Silvana made her curtsies, thirteen years and he could have her. He would have her, as a reward to himself for finally growing up.
“I am honoured to be your instructor, Kuran-sama.”
Kaname nodded, eyeing the female closely. If she found it strange to be instructing an eleven month old, Silvana didn’t show it. If she had any suspicions, they’d be chalked up to him being a pureblood. Gossip made them out to be near mythical, so a great deal would be accepted as normal, and Silvana couldn’t tell any tales.
The music room was one of Kaname’s favourite places. Wide, built with acoustics in mind, and stocked with every sort of instrument imaginable, Kaname could always distract himself here with something new or something old.
“What instrument would you like to begin with?”
Thinking, Kaname eyed the hall as Nancy took up a guard position at his shoulder. There were few instruments he hadn’t tried a hand at over the years, and no new ones that had been invented whilst he’d been asleep.
“The piano,” Kaname decided. It was a classic, and it had been a century since he’d last played. It made sense to start ‘learning’ with it, and in order to teach, Silvana would have to sit next to him, if he wanted to reach the keys he’d have to sit on her lap…
He was so weak.
Thirteen years, Kaname reminded himself firmly, hypothetical fangs gritted. Thirteen years.
“Next time,” Nancy said tightly, hand clamped over her nose, “You could warn me when you’re about to spill blood.”
His arm slashed, blood running freely into an inkpot, Kaname gave Nancy a cheerful smile, slashing his arm again when it healed too quickly, locking eyes with her as he did so, because he was still feeling a little petty.
“Warning,” he intoned dully. “Warning. I am about to practice the Blood Arts. Shock horror, these require my blood. Warning. Warning.”
He had the distinct impression that Nancy was thinking vile gestures at him. Over the scented handkerchief she now pressed to her nose, it was hard to make out anything but the glare in her eyes, which were swiftly reddening with embarrassed hunger.
Rolling his eyes, Kaname used his unoccupied hand to make a twisting gesture in the air, a quickly shaped burst of power running through his fingers. A mild scent charm, nowhere near a full Smoker, but practiced enough that it ought to last a good hour or so.
Eyes dulling, Nancy slowly lowered the cloth and scented the air. Her nose wrinkled and she gave him a strange look as her eyes went back to the blood on his arm, still a fresh gushing red, then sniffed the air again.
“What did you do?”
“Charm,” Kaname said already distracted, wiping his arm clean with a handy antiseptic wipe and tossing it into his incinerator – just arrived yesterday and already proving useful. “Stay on that side of the room and you won’t be able to smell anything out of the ordinary.”
“Thank you,” Nancy said, watching carefully as Kaname dipped the nib of his pen – mithril tipped – and started writing. “Can all purebloods do that?”
“Any vampire can, if they put the effort in.”
“Could you teach me?” Nancy said quickly – and by the widening of her eyes, Kaname knew she hadn’t meant to say that. “I’m sorry, I know you’re busy and it’s not worth your time and – ’’
“Sure,” Kaname interrupted dryly, mind flashing ahead to spin plots upon plans. This was an excellent idea. “But I’ve been told I’m a terrible teacher. Consider yourself warned.”
Smiling Nancy took her usual seat and settled in to watch and wait. “I’ll risk it.”
Kaname smirked. She had no idea.
“Lesson one,” he intoned dramatically, forcing his governess to scramble for one of the many notebooks lying about. “The Blood Arts are a subdivision of what is colloquially known as The Old Ways and they require supernatural power to utilise. This power comes from our blood alone. It is our energy, our essence, our being. A long time ago, a genius inventor who shall remain nameless, accidentally discovered that blood could be refined into metal through a secret process. This metal is called mithril. As it is made from blood, it carries the power of blood, and is much more convenient to use in most circumstances.”
“How did you accidentally discover something like that?”
That was his story, and he was sticking to it.
Turning back to his desk, Kaname continued, “In other circumstances, blood is the only option as a medium. Exhibit A, a written contract; metal makes for poor ink. A blood contract, aptly named as you can imagine, is a way to bind any signatory party to the written word. It was obviously developed from the older blood oath, sworn directly on the blood – like the one you gave to me – in order to allow for greater accuracy. It’s always slightly weaker than a direct blood oath, but can be more practical. For example, when you don’t want to put your blood into the air, when you need to include a lot of technical details, and when you’re binding more than two parties.”
Nancy nodded, frantically writing.
“Mara?” Juuri spoke quietly into the phone, “Come to my office please.”
Kaname kept his face blank of emotion and his aura milk mild as Juuri worked, pretending to read a book as he worked on untangling her mind. He’d experimented as much as he dared, and had decided that if Haruka’s working looked like a thorny knotted vine, then he ought to treat it at such.
Working from the outside in, Kaname untangled the compulsion, easing the strain, soothing what it left behind, draining it of power and burning it where he could.
It was slow delicate work. He’d never worked with wisps of power so small before. It required a tremendous degree of fine control. Chagrined and bemused, Kaname had had to acknowledge that it was a level of skill he would have lacked before this third childhood. He was so used to his former reserves, easily comparable to an ocean, that he had no idea how to wield the trickle he now possessed.
Despite his fang-grinding frustration, Kaname mentally labelled the entire thing a learning experience, and carried on.
“My Lady? You summoned me?”
“Ah, Mara, there you are.”
Was it just paranoia, or was Juuri acting differently? Colder?
Blood and ashes! Kaname had been so sure he hadn’t made a mistake. Arrogance! Here he was praising his new control when he’d obviously gone and ruined something –
“I’m updating our employment contracts,” Juuri said mildly, barely glancing at the housekeeper as she flicked through one of the many files on her desk. “The renewal is due in January, I believe. Make the household staff aware that they ought to read it through thoroughly before signing, and that they can book an appointment with the in-house lawyers if they need any help understanding it.”
“Yes, my Lady,” Mara agreed instantly. “Anything in particular I ought to be aware of?”
“Hmm? Oh, well the current one is human based, easier to make but not exactly relevant to us. We’re going back to the old version my father preferred. The standard blood contracts, you know? Everyone will have to countersign their name to mine on a master contract, but I’ll issue powerless copies for them to read first.”
Kaname turned a page once per minute, even as he watched the housekeeper avidly. There was confusion on her face, but no wariness, no sign that she was affected much by what Juuri said.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t quite understand.”
Juuri looked up, raising an eyebrow.
“I’m switching the staff from human employment contracts to blood ones.”
“A blood contract, ma’am?”
“What is the world coming to?” Juuri asked herself, but she rose and went to a filing cabinet, rummaging through before pulling out a file.
“There you go, you should probably read through it first so you can answer any questions.” Juuri gestured for Mara to sit and read. “You must remember that although this is a home, it is also the heart of our Court. The weaker courtiers, the low bloods and the staff have always been a strategic weak point, and, well, I don’t want be here all day,” Juuri smiled wryly.
“Suffice it say that binding contracts have a long history within our clan, and we’re very good at protecting those under us. Using human contracts is all very nice and modern, but they have no power to protect Cook when a Level B tries to intimidate her into poisoning us all.”
“I see,” Mara replied hesitantly.
Juuri laughed softly, smiling kindly at the younger female and Kaname hoped that maybe he hadn’t further damaged Juuri’s mind after all if she could still smile like that.
“They’re not bad, Mara, this isn’t a fairy trick. Go look them up in our library if you really must, but do let the staff know they’re expected to sign this in January. If they can’t or won’t, I’ll need to know that too. Dismissed.”
Once Mara had taken her leave, Kaname let himself smirk. Compelling Juuri wasn’t his proudest moment, but he did so love results.
“Happy Birthnight, Kaname-sama,” Nancy congratulated as she approached his bed.
Technically, it was a crib, but Kaname repressed thoughts like those.
Grumpily Kaname rolled over and tugged his blanket up over his head. It was twilight and time for any proper vampire to get up, but sleep.
“None of that now,” Nancy chided. Unwilling to actually take away something he clearly wanted, she bribed him with tea. When the hand clutching the blanket darted out for the scalding hot cup instead, she slid the blanket out from his grasp as quick as any magician.
“You’re learning,” admired Kaname with disgust, temper evening as the tea eased him into wakefulness.
“It has been a year,” Nancy commented dryly.
“Dare I ask how old you really are?” Nancy continued, as she settled the breakfast tray down on the table, picking Kaname and his tea up to sit him at it too. Eating breakfast in the crib worked out for precisely no one and Nancy had learned that the best way to keep Kaname on a schedule was to physically move him. He was fine once he was up but getting him there was a trial and a half on a bad night.
“I have no idea,” Kaname replied, eyes still closed as he inhaled the fumes and Nancy decided whether or not his pride would allow a bib or not. One look and she decided on not.
“Ah, of course, I suppose it’s a little rude to ask, isn’t it?”
“That wasn’t a deflection, Nancy. I really have no idea.”
Nancy laughed, checking the lid on his cup before setting it before him. “Why ever not?”
“Think about it. How often do humans change how they measure time? When I was young, we didn’t bother outside of night and day. Then we had four seasons, and then moons. The Mayan calendar used three circles, but the Aztecs only had two. Greek philosophers thought they had a new way to judge time and created new units of measurement. When Rome conquered, they changed the time to reflect their politics, adding two months to the year as well as introducing foreign measurements.”
“Can you not calculate it using modern methods?”
“Modern methods? What methods are those? The ones that add an hour to the day because of a war then take it off in winter? The Chinese have a different calendar to the rest of the world, and other communities have their own cultural preferences,” Kaname continued waving a hand, “Oh, and don’t forget that even if I add it all up, the current framing of time relies on certain astronomical assumptions that aren’t stable. The national standard invented leap years for a reason you know.”
“Alright alright!” Nancy held up her hands in surrender, but Kaname wasn’t finished.
“And,” he insisted, on a roll, “I travelled extensively, and without the precise coordinates, I’d never be able to calculate the time spent in all of the different time zones that modern methods rely upon, and then there are all the times I was distracted, unconscious, or otherwise unable to track time,” he finished with a sharp nod.
“Why do I feel that you’ve debated this before?”
Sniffing disapprovingly, Kaname reached for his breakfast, consisting of soft fruit mash and yet more watery pink excuse for blood.
“The Eldest of us,” Nancy noted the slight stress on the word, “liked to complain about humanities eternal confusion, and mock each other’s supposed ages by the different counts. It’s always funny to realise someone lost a millennium in the conversion and are now younger than the rest of us.”
“I see. Well then, Young Master, happy first birthnight.”
Kaname scowled, Nancy grinned, and the night began.
Given the secrecy of his birth, there was no formal party – thank the Night.
Unfortunately, all of Juuri’s ladies knew, and they descended upon the Castle like vultures on a corpse.
“Oh my!” Miki cooed, her too-blue eyes alight with mischief and joy, “Look how much he’s grown!”
“Here you are, Kaname-sama, a present for you!”
Since when had they become so familiar?
“It’s a shame I couldn’t bring my daughters with me, I’m sure you’d be good friends.”
Huh. Kaname couldn’t decide if that was a genuine thought or if it was a prelude to politics. The benefits of a childhood friendship with a pureblood were enormous, of course, and the chance to influence one before they were wise enough to defend against it equally desirable. Still, this was Aidou’s mother… and Hanabusa had been incapable of deception. Then again, Nagamichi was a politician canny enough to stand against Ichio for centuries. He’d also tried to press a mistress onto Kaname in the other timeline during a politically sensitive party, and he’d never treated Yuki very well even before she’d gone completely insane.
“Children can’t keep a secret,” Ren interrupted her sister. “Kaname-sama’s existence must be hidden for as long as physically possible, you know that.”
Kaname’s gratitude for that spot of common sense was soon erased when Ren bent to pick him up without so much as a by your leave. Kaname tolerated it was because she was pregnant, and he’d never hurt a pregnant vampire. Except for once or twice, oh and there was that cult, and that particularly sneaky assassin and – well alright, the numbers added up over the years.
Still, he couldn’t hurt this one. It was Kain in there, and Kaname missed Kain’s steady presence and cool reason. He made a mental note to do something about the whole unrequited love business though. He wasn’t putting up with all of the angst this time around.
“Ren!” Suzume scolded. “You shouldn’t strain yourself in your condition, here, give him to me,” she held out her arms to take Kaname, but Kaname was putting his foot down.
Very deliberately, he met Suzume’s eyes and then turned his head, burying it into Ren’s neck where he could scent Kain properly, and proceeded to ignore the other vampire.
Ren chuckled, “You’ve been told, sister. Kaname-sama, would you like to open your presents?” She asked him, stretching back to look at him properly.
“No,” he said.
“Would you like some cake?”
“Want to play a game?”
“Who woke up grumpy,” Juuri laughed, and Kaname was really getting sick of being manhandled all the time. “Whose a grumpy-grumpy-goo?”
Kaname gave that the look it deserved and looked over her shoulder to search out the only sane vampire in the room.
Nancy was standing unobtrusively to one side, pouring wine into golden goblets. Apparently, his birthnight required the good crockery. She was too far away to save him.
“Seiren,” Kaname said, latching desperately onto his only hope.
Being of an age with him, and for more of Juuri’s ‘bonding’, Seiren was in attendance, though her mother was not. Mina was shadowing Haruka who was on business in Saudi Arabia all week. Haruka had become very industrious of late; Kaname tried not to be too pleased - It had to go wrong soon, no need to encourage it.
“You want to play with Seiren, honey? Alright then,” Juuri carried Kaname to the fire where Seiren lay on a colourful mat, batting at a toy over her that played awful sounds with every hit.
For a child only a few weeks younger than him, her accuracy was alarming. Kaname approved. His Shadow would be fearsome. It was only proper after all.
Kaname examined the other toys and to his delight found an obnoxious multi-coloured toy piano as well as a host of other horrendous contraptions whose only purpose seemed to be inducing headaches in the surrounding adults.
And humans called them toys, how delightfully vicious of them. Honestly, they could be so vampiric at times.
They were right too; why should he be the only one to suffer?
“Loud, isn’t he?” Ren commented weakly as the fifteenth balloon found it’s way into the young prince’s arms and was popped with childish delight.
“At least he’s stopped playing with that infernal device. Honestly Miki what possessed you to buy him a musical dog.”
“The shop assistant assured me it was suitable for a baby! It stimulates the mind,” she defended stoutly, looking away from the baby whose birth they’d come to celebrate. He was only a baby, and yet, and yet…
“He doesn’t need stimulation,” Suzume muttered dourly, “he needs pacification for blood’s sake someone hand him a teddy bear instead.”
“You can’t take away something he’s enjoying!” Miki said, scandalised.
“Oh, isn’t he precious,” Juuri commented wistfully as she approached their little group. “So talented.”
“Of course, Juuri-sama.”
They all agreed instantly, company smiles covering their winces as the youngest Kuran started slamming the buttons again, prompting tinny mechanical music to play in a discordant cacophony.
Juuri smiled, stars in her eyes.
“He’s just perfect, and look, he’s teaching Seiren how to play! Oh isn’t that sweet, Nancy darling, where did I put my camera?”
After giving her a few seconds to get clear, Ren whispered, very, very quietly. “Thank the stars they only breed once every three centuries and grow up quick.”
“Hear, hear,” came the fervent reply.
“Young master,” Nancy called, striding over the scatted bits of brightly coloured plastic and strips of wrinkled rubber like a veteran wading over the corpses of fallen comrades, “Time for a snack, sir.”
“’Kay,” Kaname replied, admiring the twitching vein above Nancy’s eye. Score one for him. Ha! That’ll teach her to abandon him to this load of females again. With insulting casualness, he rolled out from under the musical safari gym and accidently broke it with a flailing limb.
There were sighs of relief from the farthest corner.
“Why didn’t I think of that?” One female muttered resentfully.
“Whoopsie,” he lied, crushing the speaker with a well-placed foot. “I brokes it.”
“Not to worry young sir,” Nancy soothed, hastily picking him up and away from the other, louder, toys and swinging him around onto her hip. “There are other toys. Time for cake.”
“But I liked this toy,” Kaname pouted, the wicked gleam in his eyes for her alone.
“There there,” Ren said, hurrying over. “There’s plenty more where those came from, Kaname-sama. Here, I’ll take him.”
Reluctantly, Nancy handed him over, Ren being higher ranked, and Kaname idly fantasied about turning all of them into children when he had the power and making them endure this torture.
He placed a proprietary hand on her bump, feeling Kain’s aura in there, steadfast and strong. That, right there, was why he endured.
“When will he play with me?” Kaname peered up at Ren as she handed him his cake. He’d refused to move from her lap so she had to manoeuvre around him and the baby bump.
“What was that, Kaname-sama?”
“When will he play with me?” Kaname repeated, louder. His question drew the attention of the other ladies, as intended.
“He who?” Ren asked, confused.
Kaname sighed. Was she being deliberately obtuse? He patted her bump, deliberately, holding her gaze. He saw confusion – suspicion – and finally, realisation.
“I’m due in two months, Kaname-sama,” Ren said slowly, “And I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl yet, but they won’t be old enough to play with you for several years.”
Kaname huffed. “Boy,” he insisted, looking down at the swell of her belly and running his other hand over it carefully. “Fire.” Kaname nodded to himself, and then, goal achieved, used the excuse of childhood to look bored and easily distracted himself with cake.
“Kaname’s a pureblood, Ren,” Juuri replied quietly. “He’s much smarter than other children, and we learn things very differently than lower vampires. I’ve known you were carrying a boy since the beginning, but I have the tact not to mention it,” she added dryly. “He’s not a mortal child. Stop expecting him to act like one.”
“Will you not take a break?” Nancy asked, finding Kaname bent over his desk and journals once more, a pen comically oversized and clumsy in his hand. “It’s Christmas you know.”
“Nancy, Christmas is the Christian attempt to eradicate Yule. That child was actually born in July, and I’m older than him by many thousands of years. No, I don’t care to celebrate the successful persecution of the Old Ways. What did you want?”
She hesitated and Kaname could just sense her decision to step over the conversational landmine and hope it went away.
“Mara just called me, Haruka-sama is expected back in an hour. I thought you’d want to know.”
Kaname let out a long slow breath and made sure his voice was warmer when he spoke next. Alienating his only ally was stupid.
“I did, thank you.”
There was a long moment of silence that Kaname vampirically ignored, busying himself with another notation in his journal. (Must do something to rekindle socially acceptable practice of Old Ways)
Yuki would be here in six months. He was not ready, but that was no excuse to snap. He had better control than that. Damned body. At this rate, puberty would be explosive to say the least. Someone would probably die.
“Do you have the list of castle staff who have signed the contract?”
“Yes, sir,” Nancy drew out the relevant paper from the file she was carrying. “Of everyone positioned inside, fifteen refused to sign, and ten are delaying. The contract for the guards has just been finalised, and Juuri-sama called the captain to her office last night to discuss it.”
“The list of other staff on site?”
“The list of other vampires with access?”
Kaname sped through the documents, thinking.
Rido was his fiercest enemy right now, and the Council his most insidious one. Their alliance was most unfortunate. Rido would attack, that was as good as inevitable. He needed the power, and the Kuran children would be easiest to access. He could be prepared for, if not anticipated.
The Council required a subtler approach. They had spies in place already, and Kaname didn’t have the time to ferret them out, not with all of his other plans.
“Nancy, what are your feelings on counter-espionage?”
The first new moon of January rose, and Kaname was ready for it. The darkest night meant the height of power for the vampire, and Kaname would need all the help he could get.
Youth was no advantage to blood magic. The blood in his veins was old, condensed enough that there was power there even if there wasn’t much of it. Unlike another infant, his goal was achievable, but he had to supplement his strength with arcane tools and dates of importance if he wanted certainty.
That was why he’d ritually bathed in salt water. He needed absolute focus, and purity of power. He couldn’t afford to include the flecks of power and colour his aura had picked up from Nancy, Mara, Haruka, Juuri or even the castle’s heavy enchantments.
He sat in a black robe, worn only for this purpose, in a circle of silver set into the ground. The circle was an excellent mystical barrier, neatly cutting him off from the rest of the world, he could work his magic knowing it was as precise as he was going to get.
His goal: a bug.
Haruka was being Haruka. Kaname had neutered him for the moment, but Haruka still had to go out into the world where he was vulnerable and prone to making stupid decisions. In fact, Kaname’s orders meant Haruka had to go outside more and spend more time in the company of other purebloods who were his greatest threat and most likely to spot something wrong.
If, when, anything went wrong, Kaname had to know about it instantly.
There was also the fact that in the last timeline, Ichio had pretty much destroyed all of the Kuran’s traditional holdings, or integrated them so much into the Ichijo’s business that it proved impossible to separate them. By the time he’d managed even a fraction, much of the value was lost, items of note had vanished onto the black market and his political power had been scuppered. It hadn’t helped that Kaname had had so little knowledge of what was his in the first place.
The bug would correct that.
Kaname knew that Haruka swept his office for regular electronic bugs, Kaname thoroughly approved, but Haruka hadn’t either didn’t know or didn’t care about the other sort of bugs.
A shade would have been Kaname’s preference. It was easy enough to pluck out a bit of your shadow and give it orders to spy. Most purebloods did that, or borrowed the eyes of an animal. Embarrassing as it was, Kaname couldn’t do it yet. Too young, too weak, it was humiliating.
He banished the thought as it appeared. He had to focus.
A body of ink; for the memory of writing and fluidity of movement; Eyes of mithril for power and memory; Legs of mahogany splinters for strength and grace; Wings of spider web silk for speed; A drop of his blood, for loyalty and resonance.
Kaname assembled all of his reagents in his cupped hands, and raised them to his lips, gathering his energy into his mouth and breathing life out in one slow breath.
When he opened his eyes, he held a tiny creature in his hands, no bigger than his fingernail. It looked back at him with silver eyes, and Kaname grinned, feeling the connection spark to life in his mind.
“Well hello there, my dear,” Kaname crooned hoarsely.
His creation floated silently around him, lightning fast, and Kaname only had time to laugh in delight once before the energy-debt caught up to him and he passed out.
Nancy and Mara were having one of their more informal chats, idly talking about their colleagues, and what they’d been getting up to lately when The Thing interrupted them.
Mara shrieked in surprise when The Thing landed on the rim of the wine bottle.
“A fly!” She scowled. “I’ll need to have a few words with Cook if we’ve got flies about the place.”
She reached around and finally found a newspaper, swatting it with one sharp flick.
The body splattered over the table.
Nancy blinked down at the mess; black sludge splashed everywhere. As one, both she and Mara turned their eyes to the newspaper suspiciously, Mara turned it about in her hands, shrugging.
“Now, John,” she continued their earlier conversation even as she rose to find an antiseptic wipe. “Some of the girls have been muttering about him. Nothing concrete yet, but I’ll get it out of them soon.”
“The guard, I – wait, it’s moving.”
Nancy stared in bemusement as the little black entrails started rolling back to the table, and the fly re-formed, staggering upright.
Mara, no slouch, swatted it again, hard. This time bits reached the ceiling. It re-formed faster too; Black balls sluggishly heaving themselves into a ponderous trundle.
“Wait,” Nancy said, “Let’s see what it does.”
“I don’t care what it does,” Mara muttered, but she didn’t thwack it again. The Thing burst into the air, silently, and hovered about going in drunken circles until it settled on Nancy’s nose. She went cross eyed, trying to keep watching it. It staggered about on her nose and then flew to the door. It came back to her, and went to the door.
Nancy sighed, “Do you think it wants me to follow it?”
“Yes, I do,” Mara said warily. “Here, you better have the newspaper.”
The two females followed the not-a-fly out of the servants quarters, past the wine cellar and the mizuya, into the main corridor, around the base of the front tower, past the conservatory, the computer room and the gym before it headed upwards.
“Oh dear,” Nancy muttered, when she realised where it was heading. “Mara, I think I know what this is, I’ll go alone from here.”
“I’m not leaving you alone with it,” she panted as they hauled themselves up the third staircase. “It might be dangerous.”
Unable to find an excuse, it was two vampires that stumbled into the workroom, finding the not-a-fly circling Kaname, unconscious on the floor amidst a silver circle, bunches of herbs, a candle, a pot of earth and a seashell.
Nancy went to him, carefully, feeling something in the air. Nothing stopped her from picking him up however, and she instantly felt tired.
“I’ll call Juuri-sama,” Mara rushed, lifting a hand to her earpiece.
“No!” Nancy snapped. “I know what this is. There’s no need to bother her. Here, hold him for me.”
She shoved the unconscious toddler into Mara’s arms. Mara had no choice but to hold him, and thus got the full brunt of Kaname’s feeding. She went from peering reverently at the child to needing to sit down, right there, to taking a nap with her head lolling back against the wall.
Nancy ruthlessly gave it another minute to make sure the other female was well and truly out before she removed the young master from the other vampire.
“What have you done now, Kaname-sama?” she murmured, bobbing him slightly on her hip. “And how am I going to fix it?”
“What are you doing?”
“Hacking.” Kaname replied, distracted, as he copied and pasted his pre-prepared program into the command window. “Is that my tea? Excellent, six sugars.”
“Kuran-sama has returned from China, Young Master,” Nancy informed him with false pleasantness as she doled out the most passive aggressive six sugars Kaname had ever seen. “If you’d prefer to feed conventionally.”
“Juuri needs him more,” Kaname said, smirking as he gained entrance to the next level, now all he needed was an email address - a tempting subject line and… he was in.
“I’m sure – wait, did you say hacking? Hacking who, and why? And where did you learn about computers?!”
“Oh, here and there,” Kaname held out a hand until Nancy plonked his cup onto it, the other still tapping away. Whilst he adored teasing his beleaguered governess, there were some things he just wouldn’t say. I’m from the future, and you call this a computer? Wait until they’re all 3D and VR-enabled and even touchscreens vanish in favour of direct mental control. Those took acrobatics to hack.
“Don’t get caught – and don’t look at me like that. That wasn’t an insult, just a prayer.”
“Get caught,” Kaname hissed in reproof and took a deliciously sweet sip to calm himself. “Get caught. Hmpf.”
Nancy sighed and pulled a chair over.
“Do you have a hacker name then, my Lord?” She began teasing and then she actually got a look at the screen.
It was a sign of how her life had spiralled out of control since The Brat entered it that she couldn’t muster up so much as a raised eyebrow.
“That’s the Elder Council’s logo,” she said.
“And that’s John the Guard’s picture.”
She gave up.
The mighty hunter stalked his prey in absolute silence through the old stone corridors and out into the bright sunlight. No whisper of sound or scent betrayed Kaname as he slid through the world, less than a ghost.
He’d been stalking his prey for a full month, learning the vampire’s habits and routine, keeping a watchful eye on every movement. Had that nod been a signal? What about that gesture? Was he writing notes? Did he have a second mobile phone?
Kaname would have preferred six months to be thorough, but he didn’t have that sort of time, or a competent minion to set to the task, so a month it was.
John the Guard, formerly in the personal employ of one Asato Ichijo, was taking a leisurely stroll through the formal gardens. In daylight.
“What took you so long?”
Kaname recognised the voice, Hilda.
“It’s called taking precautions. What news do you have?”
“Nothing! Haruka-sama barely talks to me anymore. It’s always, ‘I’m busy darling,’ or ‘I’ll see you at dawn’ but even then we only make love before I’m kicked out again.”
There was a moment’s appalled silence.
“Is that it? For god’s sake, Hilda, I’m not your agony aunt. Do you have any idea of the risks I’m taking by being here?”
“Risks? Oh who cares how we’re earning a little extra pocket money. They get worse from the tabloids – they’re purebloods, John. They know what they’re signing up for.”
John sighed. “At least tell me you’ve heard from Red Velvet?”
“She’s fine. Said something about a bid on the whole Arkady business, but she’ll have more for me next week.”
Kaname sat in the shade of a cherry blossom tree, and felt cheated by this whole modern spying business. This wasn’t exciting at all, John could hardly be classed as an exotic beauty and the fastest motor vehicle he’d seen was the lawnmower.
Honestly, this sort of drudgery was why he had minions in the first place.
“What about the Fly-Spy, has it –
Kaname trailed off to give his wayward minder a pointed stare.
The name was admirably suited to his latest invention. She had no cause to snort like that, and besides, she looked ugly with her face all red, blotchy and screwed up something awful, and were her eyes actually watering?
He continued hastily to spare her the embarrassment of being noticed in such a state, “- learned anything useful about this Arkady contract? We’ll be in the black for a decade if Haruka can just get his arse in gear.”
The Fly-Spy may have been an unanticipated creation but it was already proving worth its weight in blood so she had no call for this disrespect to his genius.
The only thing he regretted was not being able to remember how he’d done it. He needed more.
“Mara reports little has changed there, we’re still waiting upon the Department to make the formal offer before we can submit bids. No one is showing undue interest in the office so far either.”
Kaname nodded. He’d sniffed out over a dozen spies so far, but Mara was new to the work, and their enemies would only send their best for this level of corporate espionage. She wouldn’t catch all of them – but the Fly-Spy would, and in the mean time, this contract was proving to be exceptional bait for the rats.
Times like this, Kaname loved his work.
“Any other news from her?”
Nancy smiled at the question, pleased with the reminder of her success. Mara had been hysterical to see Kaname-sama unconscious, certain they were all going to die for this. The idea of binding her tongue with a Blood Contract had been spur of the moment, but effective. She’d had them on the brain since they’d been her last lesson.
The housekeeper had access to the entire castle, and no one questioned her movements. Mara had been more than happy to ferret out spies once Nancy had explained and they’d built a solid friendship at the same time.
“Only petty things,” Nancy replied. Really, it was beneath the Young Master to have to listen to household affairs – but he did insist.
“A streak of thefts, nothing particularly valuable, aside from a tapestry out of the throne room, and I’m sure that it’s only stuck in the laundry room again.”
Kaname snorted. The laundry maids were good, but hesitant when it came to risking dry-cleaning chemicals on something so old. Not that Nancy would have minded if that ugly thing had vanished.
“As are the curtains from the art room for that matter. Hilda’s been in the wine cellar again and – yes?”
Her charge lurched upright – and his aura, usually so contained was wild with emotion. He looked almost – elated? But she was sure there was dread there too – and it was too confusing. His aura moved too quickly for her meagre talents to make sense of it, and her instincts were useless. They’d done nothing but cower in the corner of her mind ever since she’d learned of Kaname’s true identity.
“Those curtains, you mean the silk ones? Twenty foot or so?”
“Well, yes, or there abouts,” she smiled with bemusement. Juuri-sama, Nancy would have expected to know and remember the domestic details, but Kaname was always surprising her with the depths of his knowledge on utterly random topics.
“The Battle of Esh-nun-nah,” Nancy carefully sounded out the word. She’d never heard of it before – few could enter the throne room and the name was probably only remembered by that vile tangle of silk.
“Echnu’na,” Kaname corrected absently giving the word a much different pronunciation as he chewed on the chilled teething ring she’d gotten for him.
Honestly, Kaname had temper enough after a failed experiment ( or three, but she wasn’t supposed to know about the latter two) without adding teething problems to the mix. He’d loudly decried ‘this whole growing teeth business’ to be downright inhuman and then smirked proudly at his pun, looking to her for validation. She’d rolled her eyes, her charge had a truly awful sense of humour, but it had pleased him anyway going by the child-like grin.
He was a child though – except when he wasn’t, and the knowledge of who – and what – he is pressed down on her like the weight of the sky whenever he did something like that.
Echnu’na. A single word, but it was a slap to her face, her carefully constructed reality torn down at the reminder. A battle he must have fought in, except he was what he was, so he must have been in command of it – and won. She had no illusions about what the Blood Wars were like for the purebloods.
Kill or be killed, and Kaname had survived them all.
She loved him, but he was dreadful in the true and proper meaning of the word.
The grim proclamation was so harsh, so full of emotion that it took a long moment for her to parse it into Japanese, and when she did, she wished she hadn’t.
“She’s in labour?”
It had been inevitable. Of course Juuri would get around to the birth eventually. Females had been doing it since the dawn of time - but Kaname still fretted.
It was a rare time when there was absolutely nothing he could do.
For the pureblood, birth was the sole realm of females.
Like the Heat and the Hunt, Nesting was a time of incredible vulnerability and weakness for Juuri, and that made it a time of ferocious primal instinct.
She would have sought out a good location weeks ago, carefully fortifying it to the stars. Unless Haruka had interfered… no, Kaname could be confident that Haruka hadn’t stuck an unwelcome nose into the proceedings since said nose was still attached to his face.
If Juuri was now pillaging the castle for bedding – she must be well into it and deep under that primal call. Any male scent would be considered an attack, as it would have been eons ago when those instincts were formed.
“The Nest will be downstairs,” Kaname realised. Juuri would have sought out the safest place, and that meant the Bunker, that underground suite of rooms where they’d all lived last time around, warded to the stars and sunless. “You’ll need to keep everyone away from the lower floors.”
Technically, they only needed to stay away from one corner, but the Bunker was still a secret, and Kaname saw no need to tell Nancy about it. There was no accounting for suicidal curiosity. If Mara ordered everyone away from a single staircase, then at least a few people would go and see what all the fuss was about – and find Juuri.
They’d either have the best night of their life feasting – or Juuri would slaughter them all in an orgy of gore and violence.
It was already too risky for Kaname to tempt fate that way. Juuri must have no distraction.
More of their kind died to childbirth than anything else.
Juuri had survived it last time… but ripples in a pond.
If he hadn’t accidentally weakened Juuri, if raising him hadn’t taken too much of her energy, if she was strong, if she was ready, if he hadn’t altered something without even realising it… it would all go as well as could be expected for a pureblood.
If was a vile word.
“Where’s Haruka? Has she gone for his blood yet?”
One last pure feeding for an energy boost, and then Juuri would barricade herself inside her Nest. She’d emerge with a child, or she wouldn’t emerge at all and there was no telling how long it would take.
Kaname would feel a thousand times better if Juuri had a Matron or Wisdom to attend to her – but the Kuran Clan was too small, their only female was Juuri. Who was the nearest female relation to her? Kaname hastily consulted the genealogies with the ease of one whose race spanned eternity… Shizuka Hio.
She was still in her cage, Kaname mused – he really must do something about that- and regardless if she hadn’t been through this herself yet then she wouldn’t be any use, and Juuri wouldn’t stand for it without months of prior persuasion that Kaname hadn’t even attempted.
Haruka wouldn’t have permitted it. Kaname scowled. Blood traitor.
Undoubtedly the tradition was too unrefined and violent for Haruka’s new human sensibilities, never mind the fact that it might have saved the life of his so-called greatest love and child. Why did he think it had become a tradition anyway? Vampires were too pragmatic to do things without cause.
He wondered how Haruka was justifying Juuri’s current mood of feral savagery to himself.
Would he say all women got a bit angry when the time came? It was only natural to go and guard the border instead of staying to hold her hand or whatever humans did, never admitting that his dearly beloved wife wouldn’t even recognise him right now, and would cheerfully eat his heart for the boost of power if she got the chance?
Kaname smirked at the image; A better death that he deserved.
“He’s leaving,” Nancy replied, confused as she tapped her earpiece, “Should I call him back? He’ll want to be here I am sure, I can ring down to the gate – “
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Kaname cut the air with a sharp, if still pudgy, hand, “he has better things to be doing.”
“But, but,” Nancy blinked in confusion, “He’s the father,” she replied carefully, “ I’m sure it was different in your time, but it’s an important bonding moment, the connection -”
-and that was where Kaname drew the line.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” he never swore – and the impact of the curse was indulgently satisfying. The air shimmered with the intent of it, and it was lucky he hadn’t used anything more specific. “For the last bloody time, we are vampires. Not human. Vampire. Stop applying the meaningless psychological drivel of an entirely separate species to us. It does not work. They are not our cousins; they are our prey.”
Nancy was pale, and had to swallow twice before she could speak. Kaname did not feel the slightest bit guilty, only impatient.
Yuki was nearly here!
“I apologise,” Nancy murmured softly, her body language switching instinctively to meek and submissive at the realisation of his anger. “I meant no offense, Kuran-sama.”
“It is not your fault that you were not taught correctly,” Kaname allowed finally, and took a breath before explaining in vague terms – he wasn’t going to give away the secrets they’d kept so long.
“She is pureblood. This is something she must do alone. She has fed from Haruka, and now Haruka will guard the border – if he has any sense – whilst Juuri continues. The only thing you need to do is clear the lower levels, and as much of the house in general, paid leave for everyone, and inform the guards that any Level E’s who arrive are to be allowed in without any fuss.”
“I will do as you command,” Nancy ventured carefully, still woozy from the mental backlash of his anger, “but everyone will be curious about an order like that.”
Now that was good, practical, sense at last.
Kaname considered it for a moment, balancing the nature of vampires against the truth. “Allow the rumour to be spread around that, growing tired of the reports of E’s in the area, Haruka sent out a general Command for them to come to him for ease of execution. They are not to interfere, he wants to play – and imply that it’s safer if they remove themselves from the area.”
Yes, that ought to do it nicely. With luck, most of the staff would decide to take a spontaneous holiday, and a little cruelty on Haruka’s part would help boost his reputation where his internalised racism had ruined it.
“May I ask why you want those creatures to come here?”
There were a thousand ways to answer that; Kaname cast his mind around for a technical truth that wouldn’t reveal too much.
There were many reasons why Purebloods let their pets devolve into Level E’s after all and it wasn’t negligence – no matter what the Hunter Association would like to think.
An E was a fallen low blood, a vampire in their most primitive state. Their blood turned wild – and it tasted like the old times. When vampires hunted unrestrained across plain and forest, when society, civilisation, didn’t exist, and they were free to just be.
There was something particularly vital about the death blood of a being; that last gasp of life; the final spark; the last light - it had a lot of poetic names. On the right night, it satisfied the soul-deep thirst for blood just exquisitely.
Right now, that was the only blood Juuri craved. It wasn’t extravagance, or fun, it was essential.
This wasn’t going to be a human birth with all and sundry gathered around her spread legs to tell her when to push.
She had the daunting task of sparking life in a new immortal, and it would not, could not, be easy. The Mother demanded a balance and that meant sacrifice.
Birth, sex, pain, blood and death – these were the pillars of the Old Ways.
“She’ll need a lot of blood,” Kaname explained lightly, “it might as well come from vampires who were going to die anyway, Juuri won’t have much control right now, so…” he gave a careless shrug as if to say: what can you do?
Juuri’s presence vanished from Kaname’s senses an hour after the last car thundered down the drive. It was time. She was in the Bunker, and it was do or die.
Kaname performed a quick patrol to calm his nerves, Nancy carrying him, as Kaname reassured himself that all was most definitely well. They were down to a skeleton staff, and he’d caught Hilda gossiping over Haruka’s ‘urges’ so the cover story was as solid as it was going to get with only ten minutes to plan.
He wished he were tall enough to wield a sword, just in case.
Rido was still out there after all, and Juuri’s vulnerability would call to him like nothing else, not even Haruka’s still beating heart laid out fresh and bloody on a mithril platter.
He lingered at the top of the staircase that led to the lower levels, longing for the nerve to venture down. Surely, Juuri’s subconscious would recognise him as kith and kin? His blood scent was clearly that of a Kuran…
Maybe his Fly-Spy could take a peek…
Her senses would be hyper vigilant; His creation untested. She’d know, and then have to stop the feeding, the wailing, and the gnashing of fangs to come and relieve him of all his limbs to make a backrest.
“I’ve never seen you so impatient,” Nancy mused from her rocking chair, needles clacking as she knitted something pink and fluffy, because she’d learned passive-aggressiveness somewhere.
“My instincts are so confused,” Kaname admitted, flopping down onto his back. “I should be guarding the border with Haruka, yet I know I’m too young to be anything but a weakness, but I’m not and I miss my sword.” It made no sense; his body was too immature to produce the hormones behind said instincts.
“It’s been three nights,” Nancy told him, as if he hadn’t been counting the nights-days-hours-minutes-seconds. He knew Yuki’s birthday from the last time around, but that meant nothing now, even if he assumed it was accurate the first time around.
“How does sleep sound?”
“No!” Kaname snarled, jack-knifing upright instantly. “I’m not tired.”
Her needles click-clacked again, mockingly.
“I’m not.” Kaname insisted, knuckles clenching around a hilt that wasn’t there.
Kaname gritted his teeth, and his frustration only spiked. Teeth, not fangs.
“Let’s go to the archives,” he bit out, as he distantly sensed another Level E stumble onto the grounds, “I might as well get some work done.”
“As you say, Kaname-sama,” Nancy chirped agreeably.
Sometimes, he really hated her.
Haruka’s office was too protected for Kaname to enter without an explicit invitation. Every descendant had used that room, and they’d layered in ward after ward on top of Kaname’s own. Couple with the security cameras, laser grids, pressure sensors and a whole lot of devices he’d never seen before, it was too risky.
The perfect son did not go snooping. Avoiding making Haruka suspicious was too important to the agenda.
Kaname had never given up at the first setback, and it had taken him two nights to discover the existence of the archives. Every system had a weakness, and theirs was that the office was too small to store the copious amounts of paperwork that a multi-million international company generated.
The archives were not nearly so well guarded.
He’d given the rest of that week to fixing the hole in the security, so that no other enterprising vampire could hurt the Clan, and then set to reading.
File by file, Kaname flicked and scanned his way to getting a grasp on the family’s less physical assets and recent history. Haruka’s memories were incredibly useful, but rarely had the younger male thought about bond number 0z5HT7GV4E held with Silver Circle Insurance of Germany, or the strong box (7DSB309) rented out from the Royal Mint in Cardiff– and those were only the assets that came with paperwork.
Vampires were long used to navigating the human world’s complex bureaucracy, and many, many companies existed whose sole purpose was to pass assets from one century to the next, disguising that the same person had held them for the past two thousand years. Or forging paperwork to prove the history of a painting, or a stack of gold bars carrying the Rose Crest of the Kurans, into something humans would believe, and that didn’t touch on the network of false identities.
The more he read, the more he realised how thoroughly Ichio had screwed him over last time.
Kaname knew he hadn’t been in a position mentally to do much but obey Haruka’s garbled Commands for Yuki – but every time he ran up hard against evidence of his forced-negligence, the way he’d been made into a saboteur of everything he believed in – it ached with a litany of what if, what if, what if.
He was too pragmatic to blame himself for events outside of his control, but he had betrayed his creed. He’d had, and still had, responsibilities to his race, to the Old Ways, and his Clan. Haruka had made him a traitor – and that could never be forgiven.
If he’d been in his right mind, Kaname would have learned about the new currency, this strange new concept of money held in abstract form only. He’d have studied laws, and economics and business until he could swim through paperwork like a shark.
Instead, he’d been a jellyfish, drifting with the tide.
Kaname’d noticed the missing artefacts and the books; because that was the form of wealth he was used to. He hadn’t noticed the missing bonds, policies, or overseas accounts. He hadn’t looked, either. Ichio had been careful to keep him rich enough that Kaname had never needed to investigate. He had enough money for everything he wanted, so what reason did he have to get suspicious?
Ichio wasn’t a vampire to let an opportunity pass him by, and with his guardianship of Kaname, he’d managed to purloin hundreds of millions that Kaname hadn’t realised he owned. Assets had been liquidised, stocks cashed in, and a plethora of accounts hadn’t been signed over upon his majority.
Kaname had used to spend entire years contemplating where Ichio found the resources to go poking into what he shouldn’t have known existed. Squads of vampires had spent months investigating paperwork during the war. There had been forensic accountants in the dozens assigned to the task so Kaname would know where to send the saboteurs.
He should have just targeted himself.
On the twenty first of June, just as the moon was rising, Juuri prowled out of the Bunker with vicious satisfaction, her eyes glowing a gorgeous red and a babe cradled in her arms.
The re-emergence of her aura, had both Haruka and Kaname speeding towards it, and both let out heartfelt sighs of relief.
“Kaname,” Juuri purred, glowing eyes locking onto him, she bent forward slowly, “come and meet your new sister, hold her carefully now, I need a moment with your daddy.” She rotated her head to stare at Haruka without moving any other muscle.
“A girl?” Haruka muttered as Kaname toddled forth and let Juuri ‘show’ him how to hold a baby properly. He had barely a fraction of her attention; she was deep under the call of the wild, and her animalistic body language was a clear sign he needed to hurry and get out of here.
“Look after her for me,” she ordered.
“Yes, mummy,” Kaname said sweetly, as his eyes roved over her face, it was irritating to discover that a baby looked like a baby, indistinguishable from all the other babies of the world. “Mummy, what’s her name?”
“I think –“ Haruka began, but Juuri interrupted.
“Yuki,” she rumbled, giving her daughter a violently indulgent smile.
“Yuki,” Kaname breathed, a swell of relief crashing over him. Yuki, Yuki, Yuki.
“Off you go now,” Juuri waved a hand vaguely, her starving eyes now focused intently on Haruka’s throat, and Kaname blanked his face as he noted how the pulse pounded with the attention. “I’ll be up in a minute.”
“OK,” Kaname sing-songed, and hoisted Yuki up into his arms. She was incredibly heavy for his young strength, but he managed, knowing exactly what was going to happen behind him.
“Juuri – are you – “
“Hush mine own,” Juuri’s tone was dark and seductive, and Kaname toddled faster, trying to erase it from his memory as she continued behind him, “I have need of you. Come. Now.”
There was a whip-fast lashing of cloth, and the unique groan of skin surrendering to fangs – and then Haruka’s blood was in the air.
Juuri sighed, and must have pulled out to bite anew because that sound came again as Kaname started a brisk jog up the stairs, Haruka keened loudly, and Kaname gave up all pretence and started sprinting for the nearest hidden passageway.
Nancy was waiting in the nursery. She took one look at the new-born princess and beamed.
Kaname allowed Nancy to hold her, grateful that Yuki could start draining the ‘C now, and contented himself with watching.
It really was Yuki, Kaname was sure – and this time, he would not fail her.
“This is the law of the Vampire,
as old and as True as the Sky,
the Vampire that heeds it shall Live,
the Vampire that breaks it shall Die.”
“Oh,” Juuri murmured as she entered the Nursery, stopping in the doorway as she took in the sight before her: Kaname sitting on the rug, cradling Yuki is his lap before the fire as he sang the first of the Teaching Ballads to her.
Despite the fire, the room was cold – Yuki was hungry. Kaname barely had enough energy to sustain his own self, let alone another pureblood. There was a reason no pureblood was a single parent, and that their children were normally born so far apart.
“I remember that lullaby,” Juuri continued, sitting down with a soft thwump next to her children, taking Yuki into her own arms and smiling as she felt the tingle of the energy drain. Voracious hunger was a good sign. “It’s important, isn’t it?” She frowned. “I can’t – remember. How did it go again?”
She began to hum the tune to herself, staring vacantly into the fire.
“Dum duh duh duh duh dum dum. Dum duh duh duh duh dum dum.” She smiled, pleased – and then began to sing the next verse.
“As the moon, that circles the land,
the law floweth forward and back,
for the strength of the Clan is the Fang,
and the strength of the Fang is the Claw.”
Kaname felt an old worry untwist inside him as her dangerously beautiful voice entwined through the room, making the fire a little brighter, the shadows a little darker. Juuri was remembering what she should never have forgotten and under her own power too.
He was not an optimistic vampire by nature. The damage done to her mind was extraordinary, but he had been damaged just as severely once, if not with so much insidious attention to detail. It had taken him a century to recover, a long century brimming over with blood, blood, and more blood, but maybe, well, maybe. It was a good sign at least.
Kaname accepted the cup from Nancy with relief, turning his mind back to things he could control.
Juuri’s eyes followed Nancy back to the sideboard– and Kaname knew what was going to happen before it did. He recognised the look in her eye. Yuki was slid promptly onto his lap with a gurgle, then Juuri was up on her feet, shifting from walking to prowling inside a single step, and Kaname smirked into Yuki’s hair.
His pseudo-mother gave Nancy a smile full of intent – and Nancy blushed. Kaname stopped politely ignoring them immediately. He had to do something really extraordinary to get Nancy to blush, why did Juuri get easy blushes - this wasn’t fair. His grin widened when Nancy caught him looking as Juuri snagged her by the wrist and tugged her into the corner, pressing her up against the wall and pulling pointedly at the collar of her dress.
Nancy blushed harder and if Kaname had fangs, he’d be showing them as he heard a quick muffled conversation, and then a snick and the scent of Nancy’s blood drifting to him. She moaned in helpless delight from Juuri’s bite and Kaname cackled.
Providing energy to two children was no joke. Juuri would be feeding from a lot of other vampires to spread the drain, and Kaname was not blind to the few E’s who still trickled onto the grounds and never left. Haruka would be taking the brunt of it, his blood undeniably the best thing around, but even he could only provide so much without weakening.
Juuri did not stay long after her snack. She was going to the theatre tonight with the Souens. Social obligations had piled up in her absence, and now she rushed to fill the gap.
Pregnant? Oh no, silly, how could I have been? I was only gone three months. Why? Oh well, it’s so hard to keep track of time when you’re immortal. I barely noticed the weeks passing to be honest.
Kaname waited until Juuri had left the Nursery, and until his wards silently signalled via colour change that she’d left their outermost perimeter before he pounced.
“Your blood smells lovely,” Kaname told Nancy with obnoxious cheerfulness. “Primroses and grass.”
“Yes, well,” she stammered, flushing again. Blood drinking was supposed to be a fairly private affair and whilst she wouldn’t have been embarrassed in front of normal children – Kaname was no such thing, and worse, he was talking about it.
“Thank you,” she added, because it was a handsome compliment and then rushed to change the subject, “What language was that, earlier? Enko again?”
“It sounded very strange,” she continued with an air of desperation.
“Will you translate a little for me?”
“No. The Teaching Ballads are not for your ears,” Nancy looked a little upset now so Kaname continued, “They’re educational, oral history, that sort of thing. Laws, powers, the clans, you know.”
“How…practical. I thought it was a lullaby.”
“And if we’re all killed in a raid but she survives, Yuki will remember these songs and won’t lose generations of knowledge. She’ll know what powers she ought to have and how to train them, she’ll know what all of her instincts are and why, she’ll know our history, who hates us, who owes us, how much and why. She’ll be prepared.”
Nancy’s eyebrows raised and she fetched the red ball Kaname had sacrificed to his sister’s wavering aim twice before she replied.
“And being killed in a raid is likely, is it?”
Kaname scowled. Vampires liked to think they’d come a long way in civilisation since the Blood Wars, but few appreciated how fragile those ties were.
“Your bite mark is showing,” Kaname sniped maliciously.
Ignoring the fluster that caused, he returned his attention to Yuki and determinedly began the cycle again.
“This is the Law of the Vampire
as Old and as True as the Sky.”
Getting any real work done was impossible now that he had Yuki to raise. He couldn’t trust anyone else to do it properly, but Haruka and Juuri had to see her frequently in order to feed her. They came in and out of the nursery at all hours of the day and nights as they obeyed his Compulsion to both take care of her, and entrust her upbringing to Kaname.
After the first time when only the proximity ward – appropriately nicknamed the Squealer – had gotten Kaname down from his tower and into bed before Haruka strode in, Kaname’d reduced his extra curricular activities to the bare minimum.
Discovery meant extinction, but there was too much to be done for Kaname to just abandon his duties.
It was time to delegate.
“Nancy,” Kaname snapped, throwing down his research on statutory law, cleverly hidden inside a pink fluffy unicorn toy, with disgust.
“Yes, Young Master?” Nancy appeared, bouncing Yuki on her hip.
“Our in-house lawyers. Can they be trusted?”
Nancy and Mara wear becoming quite skilled at ferreting out secrets, with a few months of experience under their skirts and a host of gadgets to play with.
“It depends on the lawyer. Do you need a solicitor or a barrister, or do you need an entire firm? Which area of law do they need to specialise in?”
Kaname sighed. These were the times when he missed his own era. Back then, he hadn’t had a problem a claw, a vial of poison or a pretty vampire couldn’t solve.
“I need a corporate solicitor to dump this mess on.” Kaname paused thoughtfully. “Pretend I said delegate.”
“Yes Young Master,” Nancy said blandly.
“And whilst I’m at it,” Kaname mused, “I need someone else who specialises in wills and trusts, and possibly a third for family law, all with barristers in case any of it ends up in court.”
“Yes, Young Master.”
“Oh, and make sure their secretaries can be trusted as well. Also,” he added, on a roll, elegantly ignoring Nancy’s sigh, “find out which one of them is the most ruthless conniving bloodsucking vampire you’ve ever laid eyes on.”
“Excepting me,” Kaname acknowledged with a dignified smirk, “and then find me blackmail on them.”
“Yes, Young Master.”
“You may give me Yuki and go.”
“Such a kind and generous master I have,” Nancy smiled tightly, eyes laughing at him as Yuki reached across his lap for the fluffy pink unicorn.
Kaname ignored her and turned his attention to the bigger problem.
“This is just embarrassing,” he told his tiny, tiny, sister. “Yuki, I’m putting my foot down. You do not want photos of you holding this monstrosity to surface in a thousand years. Put that down. Here, let me introduce you to Mr Red Ball the eighty-sixth. I promise you’ll have much more fun with it.”
Yuki was the break he’d been craving ever since he’d realised his ultimate fix-it had fucked him over sideways.
She was real. Kaname only had to look at her to find a measure of peace. She wasn’t dead. She wasn’t insane. She wasn’t sealed. All of it screamed I can still fix this, and he found himself sleeping more, laughing more and eating more.
“Kaname-sama?” Nancy called, “Mina-san is here for the Young Mistress.”
“Let her in.”
Haruka’s Shadow was pale; clearly not a night out of the birthing nest herself, and Haruka was not with her. She knelt too carefully to not be in pain, in front of Yuki, on both knees, placing a bundle of red blankets in front of his sister.
Ah, this was good he thought as he recognised the situation, another move towards a better future. Kaname scrambled backwards so his own aura couldn’t interfere with the bonding process.
Yuki blinked at the offering, and crawled clumsily over. Kaname could sense her childish curiosity and smiled as she poked at the blanket as if it were a new toy brought for her amusement.
“Young Mistress,” Mina said quietly, “I present to you my daughter, Yori. If she pleases you, our Clan will begin training her to become your Shadow.”
What in the Night?
Kaname peered over Yuki’s shoulder – and yep – those eyes looked familiar. The body was still wrinkled from birth, and the hair was too pale, but the aura, Kaname recognised its foundations. It was faint, not yet enriched with a real personality or emotion but the echoes were there.
Yori – Yuki’s childhood friend. The human girl.
Yuki babbled nonsense, clapping her hands and smiling in the fashion of infants. Only Kaname could sense how her aura expanded over Yori’s, one becoming helplessly attuned to the other.
Mina saw only Yuki’s babyish pleasure, and relaxed as the new Shadow was temporarily accepted. She bowed reverently, and made as if to take Yori away.
Even Kaname flinched away from the sheer volume, throwing up a quick shield to protect the windows and hastily gestured for Mina to give Yori back. Once the newborn’s aura was within Yuki’s tiny range once more, she settled down and resumed her babbling. He ought to have expected that, really. Purebloods were possessive creatures, and Yuki had already decided that Yori belonged to her now. She’d need time to adjust.
“I’ll take care of her for a while,” Nancy promised Mina as she helped the other female up. “You go have a lie down, let them play for a bit. No, really, it’s no trouble. She can’t be worse than these two.”
Kaname ignored that to dredge the very depths of his memory. This wasn’t right. He knew his mind was screwed up from Haruka’s attacks – in both timelines – but they’d targeted his earlier memories, not his ability to form new ones. The years in the Academy were as clear as crystal to him even though he no longer understood the decisions he’d made then.
Yori had been human.
He’d kept a close eye on Yuki, naturally, and Yori had always been there – ever since that first primary school. They’d attended everything together, schools, clubs, holidays, everything. Kaname had seen her, spoken to her, heck she’d been in a relationship with Aidou for years before the world went to ruin. Kaname had walked in one them at it more than once – mainly so that he could tease Aidou – and he’d scented her blood plenty of times from it.
She’d been completely human.
Speculation was useless. He turned to logic. If Yori was a child of Mina, then she’d been a vampire in the other timeline too. She would have resided here for years. They would have bonded then as now. Yori would have been here when Rido attacked.
Ah ha. Juuri then, Kaname guessed. The seal was an advanced working which limited the number of those capable of it. Haruka had left the house as soon as he sensed Rido’s presence on the ground - They’d fought outside and neither had returned – and that left Juuri.
Trying to protect her child somehow? Ensuring her Shadow went into hiding with her? It made a twisted sort of sense, Kaname supposed, assuming you were bat-shit-insane. How had Yori gotten out of the manor? How had she been inserted into Yuki’s life?
Somebody else had to have survived – and Kaname would likely never know whom, or how, he realised with furious exasperation, despising Haruka all over again.
He hated unanswered questions.
Drop me a line to let me know your thoughts x
“Children,” Juuri beamed, bustling into the nursery, “Come and meet mummy’s best friend. He’s a Hunter, so he’ll feel strange to your senses, but you don’t need to worry.”
Kaien Cross, it had to be. No other Hunter would be welcome here.
“Yuki’s sleeping,” Kaname lied immediately and without a speck of guilt.
True, Cross had been a friend and ally once upon a time – but with his mind healed, Kaname had rethought everything he’d thought he’d knew.
Kaien had not been so neatly labelled again.
He’d taken Yuki in at great risk to himself. He’d raised her as a daughter. That took courage and compassion.
Cross had also taught Yuki to address Kaname as Kaname-sama, as if he were not her brother, her friend, but something far away, far above her and it was not a feeling she’d ever grown out of. Yuki had always been unsure and self-conscious especially around him, and Kaname knew her upbringing had given her those doubts.
The formative years were incredibly important when you’d live forever.
The question Kaname brooded over was had Cross done that to her deliberately? Had he tried to tame her like she was a thing and a project. Something Cross could use to prove his own theories about co-existence? Living proof, perhaps, that vampires weren’t all evil, here, look at my daughter, Yuki Kuran, purest of the pure and oh so demure. Isn’t she nice? Sweet? Kind? Helpful? Humble?
And maybe it would have been OK, normal even, if Yuki had truly been a young Japanese mortal girl, but she wasn’t and never could have been and now Kaname doubted. Before the Seal, Yuki had been vivacious, after it, a blank slate – and that nervous, hesitant creature had been entirely Cross’ creation.
Had he done the best he could by society’s standards of the time – a standard that just happened to be everything a pureblood shouldn’t be – or had it been nefarious?
Perhaps Cross had been scared of her potential. He’d seen some small fraction of what a pureblood could do in battle; perhaps he thought the key was to influence the children whilst they were young and mouldable to despise violence of their own accord? A trap of their own mind?
Perhaps, Kaname was being too paranoid.
It could just as easily been love. Maybe Cross’d thought that Kaname was dangerous to his human daughter – that it was better if she never forgot that he had the power to hurt her… but the power to didn’t also mean the desire to. There were other paths to take. Cross could have trained her to be a Hunter instead, taught her to protect herself – but he hadn’t. He could have told her everything he knew about vampires to prepare her – but he hadn’t. He could have sat her down and had a very serious conversation about acceptable risks – but he hadn’t.
He’d brought Zero to be her brother instead.
Kaname had had a hand in arranging that – there were no other Hunters who’d have trained an ex-human to Hunt – but adopting Zero had been Cross’ decision alone. The replacement.
Kaname loved Zero – the future version at least when he’d grown out of his brooding teenage phase, but heck, Zero would have been the first person to decry that decision. Zero hadn’t been safe around Yuki but Cross didn’t do anything about it or seem to care, until Zero had succumbed at last to Shizuka, and bitten Yuki.
Yuki would have died that night if Kaname had been a minute later.
Ex-humans’ rarely learned to control themselves. If Kaname hadn’t been enthralled to Haruka, Zero would have been dead too - dead for Kaname’s jealousy, dead for Yuki’s safety, and Cross should have expected that too.
He’s been reckless. Negligent.
Cross had suffered, Kaname had no illusions how horrible some of his kind were, the sort of scars the Hunter must bear, the things he’d seen on the job, but his coping mechanisms had been obnoxious to say the least, and his decisions questionable.
Even the Academy had been flawed.
“Nuh uh,” Juuri tapped him on the nose. “Turn that frown upside down!” Juuri singsonged with a smile, and then scooped Kaname up into her arms and ran at full speed to the parlour they were using.
Kaname sighed loudly as the corridor blurred past. He’d have to meet the man again now. At least he’d protected Yuki.
“My eldest,” Juuri beamed, holding Kaname out with both arms like a sacrifice when they arrived.
Thank fuck, Kaien seemed terrified of babies and could not be persuaded, not even by Juuri’s impressive skills, to hold him.
“A lovely child,” the newly retired Hunter muttered, keeping both hands plainly visible on his lap.
Wise. If Haruka and Juuri had been anything like they were supposed to be, they’d have never let Kaien see Kaname, nor admit to the presence of another child by using the word ‘eldest.’ It was despicable but Kaname could only fume in silence as they risked everything, too young, too weak to do anything about it.
Thankfully, they quickly forgot about him as they got down to the real reason Kaien was here: business.
“I’m willing to lend our name to the venture, of course,” Haruka said, “and that will certainly fill out the enrolment lists, but we simply cannot start building before we’ve sorted out the blood issue.”
“It’ll be much easier to research a viable blood alternative when we have the resources and influence of the students’ families to call upon,” Kaien countered. “You can’t deny your own labs have failed to come up with anything.”
“We’ve only just begun research!”
Blood tablets were more than just food, although it had started out that way in the Night Class study group.
They were a step towards a true vampiric civilisation.
In their natural state, vampires were forced to spread themselves throughout humanity, to take a sip here, a sip there, never too much – never too often. Tablets let them control that. They could gather in numbers, step out of the shadows, and build something that was their own – not humanity’s castoffs.
Tablets were discreet – no screaming humans. Tablets were not affected by pollution – no more reliance on a prey species with multiple vulnerabilities. Tablets could be stored for decades – allowing actual stockpiling.
They were going to give him a fortune, political capital, and social progression. The public relations opportunity was going to be massive. He’d be seen as freeing his people of a shackle. It would look like Kaname was taking care of his people, carrying the responsibility of his lineage with ease.
He was so stealing the patent.
He’d start with the original formula first, build up a base, and then launch the spin-off products to keep the money coming. He’d memorised everything from the earliest versions to the latest one they’d had to develop from scratch once Tokyo fell and the EMP eliminated all data records.
“There’s no reason not to start construction.” Kaien exclaimed loudly, bringing Kaname back into focus. “The Day Class can be up and running within two years. A few more years and we’ll have built up an excellent academic reputation which will significantly ease the minds of the parents, not to mention the Day Class profits will ensure the cash flow for the rest of the operation.”
Huh. Kaname had always had the impression that the Academy was Haruka’s brain child – he hadn’t realised there had ever been doubts. But he should have. Haruka was a blood traitor, not a complete lackwit. It was dangerous to underestimate him.
Haruka’s reluctance to part with serious money – and no matter how lightly Kaien was treating it, Kaname knew how risky a venture it was – might explain how Kaien’s cartel of mortal businessmen had gotten involved.
The humans had developed new, effective weapons against vampires awfully quickly…if they’d had early access – and there was a disgustingly dim memory in the back of his mind. Something about the secret of immortality in exchange for funding? Fuck it all, Kaname loathed it when his memory failed him – it could only mean the memory was too close to something else Haruka fucked with.
“How can you guarantee the safety of this Day Class? No matter how you advertise this, they are always going to look like a farm for the Night Class. Without a blood substitute that assumption alone will ruin any hope of co-operation.”
“The students will rotate. The Day and the Night will never come into contact with each other.”
“How would you enforce it? I thought the facilities were shared – you can’t confine the students to their dorms once their shift is over. They’ll want to use the library, the gym, all of it at all hours of the day and night.”
Kaname leant back against Juuri, and carefully entwined his thoughts with hers. They were familiar to him now, and them to him – it was easy to nudge.
“Where does co-existence actually begin, if the students are segregated so harshly?” She said, and Haruka actually looked thoughtful at that. It had been one of the many things Kaname had realised too late to be useful.
“Mixed events,” Kaien replied. “Very controlled settings at first, gradually phased into more regular dances and festivals as the years progress. Eventually I’d like joint study groups. All of it monitored by prefects.”
“The vampire students are always going to be more advanced, with a few exceptions,” Haruka mused. “I’m not sure if joint-study groups are a good idea. Vampires will not come to respect humanity if they feel like they are above them – and in a purely academic environment – it’s not the best idea.”
“Do you have plans from the architect yet? Which architect are you using? If you hire a vampire, it will cut down on questions about the security measures we’re going to need, and we avoid the useless paperwork.”
“Security measures?” Kaien asked blankly. “Juuri, this is a school – not a fortress.”
“Vampires are vampires.” She held up a hand to stop him talking. “I do not anticipate anything violent, but vampires from different Clans will have their own internal conflicts. It’d be wise to house the various Clans in different blocks.”
“The more customised you make the school, Juuri, the more it will cost. Architects are used to boarding schools, they can have a plan within a month if we change it too much –“
“I appreciate that, Kaien, I really do, but you have to accept that vampires of the upper classes will not attend a school that requires them to sleep in bunkbeds.”
“Economically speaking –
“We’re using our name as a standard, Kaien, and that means luxury.”
“I also want C’s and D’s to attend. This isn’t a novelty school for the nobility. It’s a serious social movement.”
“A tiered system,” Haruka compromised. “Like a hotel, is that standard enough for your architect?”
“The more you pay the better the room? Well at least that will ensure the cash flow,” Juuri smiled. “Whilst we’re at it, the facilities had better be the best too. If we want them to create a blood substitute, they’ll need laboratories.”
“Don’t the Aidou’s have a line of half-decent hotels?” Haruka asked absently. “They’ll have contacts.”
“We have to consider the politics. We’ll have students from multiple Clans, a lot of high ranking B’s, a lot of vulnerable C’s – we need to consider codes of conduct and enforcement.”
“Surely Kaname will be able to enforce order.”
“My son will attend for four years,” Haruka replied. “But what about after? This is not a short-term project. We need something sustainable.”
“A blood-contract,” Juuri offered suddenly. “A very long, very complex one, but it need only be drawn up the once – and its guard shall never waver.”
“Barbaric,” Haruka chuckled leaning back on the sofa, “But accurate, and vampires have always needed harsher laws. I approve.”
“Will students be willing to sign it?” It was a fair point, and Kaname wasn’t sure of the answer. The Old Ways were in disfavour, unfashionable and under-studied. Many vampires would know what it meant, but many wouldn’t and very few would believe.
“With it, we create proof of concept,” Juuri said, excited. “Peace between all the Clans, all the ranks. The Academy will be truly safe. Surely you can see the merit of living by example here?”
“How will anybody trust a piece of paper?”
“It’s part of our culture,” Haruka said sipping from his glass. “I could the say the same about you trusting paper contracts which lack our powers to enforce.”
Kaien huffed, but smiled. “Noted.”
A few of my thoughts on the Academy for you there. It never did seem to make much sense outside of the usual Shoujo scene-setting. Comments?
A/N - I got frustrated with this so decided to post what I had before it dragged out any longer.
Lila Hart set aside the ball she’d constructed out of rubber bands with a nonchalant air as she assumed a professional smile for the C who’d just walked through her door.
“Nancy Orion is it?” She asked, checking her diary, which was depressingly full, “Welcome, please have a seat. If you’re here to discuss the contract renewal, I can confirm that no terms have changed. A blood contract is just as legal as your previous one, just a little more traditional. About what you’d expect, working here eh?”
Nancy gave the younger female a kind smile. “Been swamped with in-house consultations, haven’t you?”
The solicitor’s smile gained a pained edge. “You have no idea.”
“Well you’ll be glad to know I’m familiar with blood contracts. I signed my name to it last week. I’m here about something a little more complicated.”
“Thank the stars,” Lila blew out a long breath. “Not that I’m complaining, living and working in the Castle means dealing with the minutiae, but I’m used to work a little more challenging.”
Lila grinned, and made a little bring it gesture.
Nancy smirked. “I’m also here on behalf of a third party, your actual client. Before we proceed…” she opened her bag and pulled out a single sheet of paper, two thirds of which was filled with neat red text.
“Familiar with blood contracts indeed,” Lila chuckled, reaching for it. It took her less than a minute to scan the document. It was brutally short. When she looked back at Nancy, her eyes were full of suspicion and a healthy dash of intrigue.
“I haven’t seen a contract this…archaic since my History of Vampire Law module.”
Nancy folded her hands in her lap and said nothing.
“And your records list you as a governess,” Lila scolded, amused.
Nancy pulled an old fashioned fountain pen out of her bag, and set it on the desk, perfectly straight.
Lila eyed it silently. “Oh why not,” she proclaimed, and snapped her fangs down, slicing the skin on the back of her hand. She dipped the pen into her blood and signed her name along the bottom. It flared with light for an instant, and then burned a darker red onto the page. “At least it won’t be boring.”
The closer they got to the Tower, the more curious Lila became. It would be hard not to when it was clear they were deliberately avoiding everyone on the way. When Nancy finally opened the door, wards parting like a curtain of silk, Lila gaped.
She curtsied deeply, spreading her hands in lieu of skirts and bowing her head.
“Come in and shut the door. We have a lot to talk about.”
Nancy shut the door behind her as she left – going to tend to Yuki and create their alibi should they need it.
“Rise,” Kaname allowed and Lila did so, slowly, clearly amazed at being left alone with him – a child – hunger flashed in her eyes for an instant and she actually took a step forward before it was consciously quieted with a little head shake to ward it off.
“Well you’re clearly not an idiot,” Kaname chuckled. “I do hope you paid attention to the penalties in my little contract.”
“Severe pain followed by a very slow death if I reveal anything discussed here, anyone present here or harm you in any fashion. A minor variation on Artorius’ Truce if I remember my history.”
“You’d be amazed at how many times we had to use it just to get a day’s sleep,” Kaname replied dryly. There was a reason so many examples had survived to enter her history textbooks. He let his words sink in for a moment, certain she’d get the point. “Doubtlessly you have already surmised that I am older than I look.”
Lila made a strangled noise, which made Kaname feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
After all these long years of constant degradation, being afforded the proper respect was quite intoxicating.
He’d have to remember that, and not let it go to his head – but for now, it was good.
“How may I assist, my Lord?” Lila rallied admirably.
“I require legal advice.”
“I assumed as much. I do need a few more details, however, if I am to help.”
Kaname eyed her warily. This was a risk. He’d minimised it as much as he could, but he was still bringing a complete stranger into the fold. He didn’t like it. The dawn take Haruka. If Kaname had had a family he wouldn’t need to do this.
“Haruka and Juuri will be dead within five years,” Kaname began ruthlessly; he’d made his choice, now he just had to live with it. “I will be orphaned and my guardianship will be fought over viciously. I wish to take steps now to preserve all assets and control.”
Lila went grey and as if in slow motion, sank to the floor, making small hitching gasps. Well, at least that proved her intelligence.
“Head between your knees,” Kaname advised wryly. “Slow breaths. In two three, out two three, there we go.”
Now this was a conspiracy, which made Kaname feel a lot better about the trust he was forced to place in her.
If it ever got out that she’d had even the faintest suspicion of what was about to happen to two purebloods and had done nothing… To reveal him would be to sign her own death warrant.
Stunned or not, Lila’s mind was working just fine.
“That was… masterfully coldblooded,” she said quietly.
“Thank you,” Kaname smiled innocently, pleased at the recognition. He’d never been vain – well, alright, maybe just a little – but this whole baby nonsense was awful for his ego. He liked a good stroke as much as the next vampire.
“You didn’t choose to trap me at random,” she stated in that same quiet voice. “Why me? The partners have been at their trade for centuries and would serve you far better.”
Kaname clambered gracelessly down from his chair and padded over to her, tumbling into a seated position in front of her. Lowering himself to her level would show that he wasn’t all cruelty.
If she was surprised at his gesture, she didn’t show it.
“I’ve heard it’s a bad idea to lie to your lawyer, so I shall be blunt,” he explained frankly. “I needed a solicitor. They had to be smart, educated, experienced and well rounded. Your interest in the Old Ways and history was also a point in your favour.”
Kaname summoned a photograph from his desk, ‘calling’ it to him – it only wobbled a bit, so his practice was paying off.
Lila accepted it silently and glanced down.
Kaname hummed in agreement.
“Leverage,” she said pointlessly. “You needed someone with a weakness.”
She laughed, and it was a mixture of resignation, sadness, and fury.
“So is this the carrot or the stick?”
Kaname smiled. “Both.”
There was a long moment of silence, which Lila was clearly not about to break first. She twisted her legs to sit properly on the ground, and crossed her arms over her chest, watching him with absolute focus, waiting for the guillotine to drop.
“You’re in love with a ‘D.”
She flinched. Kaname pressed on, taking the photo back from her numb fingers he gave it a faux-idle once over. “David, wasn’t it? If I’m any judge, he’s one of Haruka’s cast-offs. He’s always favoured blondes. Oh, and he’s got about six months left before you’re forced to put him down. Did you know?”
Lila closed her eyes briefly – the mixture of hopeless love and loss already eating her alive.
Kaname tilted his head. “That’s the stick.”
Her mouth twisted. “Your carrot?”
“I can save him.”
“How?” she asked sharply. “Do not think me so foolish as to believe you’d ever offer your blood, or that of Haruka-sama. I won’t be strung along on false promises.”
“There are other ways.”
“No there are not. Why bother to torment me with hope? You know I will do anything you want. This,” she waved the photograph, “is enough to kill my career and social standing. You need no carrot.”
Kaname pursed his lips.
“I am not cruel, Lila-chan. I do not demand your services without fair recompense. That is not my way. I am old. It is because I am old that I can save your David without the blood. You’re quite right that I’d never offer it to save a ‘D who was worthless to me, and do I will not. Yet I promise I can save him still.”
She tilted her head, a sly gleam coming to her eyes. She did not believe him.
“Would you be willing to sign a blood contract to that effect, Kuran-sama.”
Kaname made sure his answering smile was toxically sweet. “I already have one prepared.” He called it over with another ‘pull.’
The sly gleam faded, replaced with confusion as she read the document over, even going so far as to sniff the ink and scrap at the paper it was written on. The ink contained a few drops of his blood, and the paper had been washed in a special solution, left to dry in the light of a full moon.
“This is a real contract.”
Kaname didn’t deign to answer.
“This binds you as well as me.”
Kaname sighed. “Serve me honestly, and to the best of your ability and I will keep your lover sane, for as long as he is your lover.”
“What about when I say something that angers you? Will you kill him? If I physically can’t do what you ask, will you let him go mad?” She listed rapidly, already scanning the document.
They were valid concerns, and Kaname felt reassured about his choice of solicitor. He preferred it when his people had both sense and a spine.
“I am a reasonable vampire. I promise that if you ever give me genuine cause to punish you, it will be you, not him.”
“That is not written here.”
“Nor will it be. No contract is perfect and the longer they are the more complex the magic becomes. You’ll just have to take my word for it. It is the only offer you will get.”
“I need time to consider – “
“No. You will leave this room only with your signature on that contract, or your mind wiped blank of the past hour.”
Lila eyed him, cold and steady. He knew what she was thinking. He was tiny- she could take him.
It grated, but she probably could – if Kaname hadn’t chosen the battlefield and been preparing for this meeting for weeks. He was also the only person who would help her, and she knew that too.
She was also smart enough to know that just because he wiped her memory, it didn’t mean she wouldn’t be having an accident in a week’s time. Kaname hadn’t made it to his age by being soft.
“I agree,” she said simply, and promptly stuck a finger in her mouth to slice open on a discreet fang, dipping Kaname’s proffered pen into it, she signed her name on the bottom.
Kaname could have cheered, but restrained himself to a perfectly blank expression, as he took the contract back from her.
With a gesture, he cast the mild Smoker charm, twisting his power just so. He did not trust Lila enough to bleed in front of her without it.
Then he bit his thumb, and pressed it onto the paper, his Seal forming instantly – the Kuran rose. More stylised than their current crest, but recognisable all the same.
Kaname promptly rolled it up and tossed it back onto his desk.
“Now that that is finally out of the way, let’s get back to my original question. Haruka and Juuri will be dead within a few years. Let’s talk asset protection.”
“Sane from this moment forth. You can go and check on him after we’ve talked.”
“OK, am I allowed to take notes?”
Kaname looked at her and she sighed.
“Well it was worth asking. Do they have a Will and have you seen a copy?”
This was why Kaname had chosen to bring in some legal advice; he hadn’t even thought about getting them to make a Will.
“I doubt a piece of paper is going to matter when the Council stick their noses in.”
He could tell his answer frustrated her and felt a wave of anticipation – it was a character flaw, but Kaname enjoyed watching low-bloods attempts to tell him something they knew he wouldn’t like to hear. They made the funniest faces.
He hadn’t shot the messenger in ages but they didn’t know that.
“The Council’s authority is mostly assumed,” Lila explained tactfully. “True, it’s backed by some dangerous minds, a lot of money and numbers, but as long as there is a single pureblood remaining there will always be a higher power. If they start disobeying their own laws, and if that knowledge is made public, it would damage their reputation, perhaps beyond repair. I firmly believe that if Lord and Lady Kuran had a Will and enough vampires knew about it, the stipulations would have to be obeyed. Guardianship of your honoured self included.”
Why bring advisors on board if you were not going to listen to them?
Kaname considered her words carefully. This might as well be a new world and he had to treat it as such. Had he not despaired once, of how he’d failed to adapt to modern bureaucracy? This was the time to correct that.
“If they have a Will, I do not know about it. I assume they do not, as it would have been made by the Legal Department so you would be aware if they had. Also, they’re immortal.”
Which, you know, was kind of important.
Lila let out a long slow breath. She’d questioned him, and Kaname had not harmed her for it. Progress, and a good sign for her continued well-being.
“In the usual course of things, that would indeed make one negligible, but as you have suggested otherwise it would be prudent to write one. Can they be encouraged to do so? Many other vampires fake their own deaths every eighty years or so in the eyes of the human government. It is not an uncommon tactic.”
Kaname didn’t have to think about that.
“Yes. What does it need to say?”
She shifted uncomfortably, probably at the ease of his answer. ‘Persuading’ two purebloods on how to dispose of all worldly assets should probably have been a tad more difficult than his answer implied.
Oh well, she’d learn.
“The wording to appoint a guardian is textbook. They,” she took a breath and corrected herself with admirable poise, “you, only need choose a person. I must warn you,” she swallowed, “that trust will be vital. As you are already aware, guardianship over you means guardianship over your other assets. Many would find that too great a temptation.”
Kaname thought about it for an entire three seconds.
“There’s no one.”
“Given the politics involved, another pureblood would be most suited.”
“My nearest relative not them is Rido, who is outcast. After him is Shizuka Hio, who is similarly outcast. I have no other family, and no one but family could be trusted with this.”
“An aristocrat –
“Would be subject to temptation, and if another pureblood thought I was easy prey, defenceless.”
“Then you must resign yourself to Council guardianship. Unless you want to hide until you are eighteen.” She gave him an uneasy sideways look. “On paper, that is.”
“Hiding would be both difficult and unwise,” Kaname replied, although he did consider it for a moment. He shook his head. “Too many know of me. Our world would go insane trying to find me. I’m too valuable and too vulnerable to be forgotten.”
It was a nice thought though. He’d get so many books read in those blissfully empty years.
“The Council it will be then,” he grimaced. “Ichio will be such a pain.”
“Will you be…safe?”
Kaname waved her concern aside. “I’m more prepared than he is. That old snake won’t know what to do with me.”
The same couldn’t be said for Kaname of course, and there was something to be said for preserving the timeline, keeping Takuma company, and a little pro-active revenge.
“Which leaves us only with the concerns about assets,” Lila mused. “Do you have an accountant you will trust?”
“I cannot recommend bringing one on board enough. I can advise you only so much. The little I know of the Kuran finances is that they are extraordinarily complicated. You will need specialist knowledge.”
“I am running out of time. Finding an accountant I could trust and control would take at least six months. I need to have made significant progress before then. You will simply have to work with what you have.”
With that, he ‘pulled’ one of his journals over to him, one that had been oh so carefully protected, and gave it to her.
“Everything I know and suspect about our current financial position. I need as much as vampirically possible hidden, or put out of my guardian’s reach somehow. I am open to all suggestions.”
Ichio could have him, but Kaname would slaughter the entire Council and plunge his world into war before he let that parasite touch Yuki, and supporting her in the way she needed was going to cost money. Not to mention all his other plans, none of which he wanted to lead Ichio to via an obvious money trail.
At least his spying on Haruka had proven fruitful. Kaname had amassed quite the store of knowledge about where their money was coming from and what Haruka had done with it. It wasn’t everything, and Kaname would keep spying until the last night, but it was enough to be getting on with.
It was already more than he’d ‘inherited’ last time around. Fucking Ichio.
“Off the top of my head, the easiest thing to do would be to transfer it all to someone trustworthy, so it’s yours in practice but not in law.”
“There’s no one,” Kaname re-iterated impatiently.
“You could ah, make someone. A bound ‘D would be ideal for this sort of task. Any random human would do. They need only be an adult with a bank account and not someone who would draw attention from the authorities.”
There was just one problem.
“No fangs,” Kaname grumbled, “means no venom, and no pets. I probably won’t regrow them until I hit puberty again. It won’t work in time. An excellent thought for the future however, and surprisingly pragmatic. Well done.”
Whether she was happy or not to be praised for the idea others would find repellent, Lila didn’t say. She studied the information intently.
“Your main issue is that you don’t know what your parents have, and without that we can’t really plan.”
She thought for a few moments, and then groaned.
“This is so unprofessional, but if you don’t know the extent of their assets,” she gestured to the book, “then get them to spend the money. I presume you can track that?” She added with a pleasing touch of sarcasm.
Once again, Kaname found himself wishing desperately for an older body. He had a feeling that inviting Lila to his bed would be highly entertaining.
Kaname nodded, keeping his lustful thoughts from his face easily, instead giving her an angelically innocent smile just to watch her shiver.
“Well then, there you go. Problem solved. Get them to cash in the assets you don’t know about for ones you do. I suggest property because it’s highly regulated and diamonds because they’re easy to misplace. Happy?”
Before she had time to regret the snark, Kaname smirked at her. He chose to believe that he looked dangerous and dashing rather than cute.
“Very,” he replied sweetly. He let his gaze sweep her form, enjoying her unease. “I think I’ll be keeping you for a very long time.”
That night, at dinner, Haruka turned to Juuri and said, “Darling, I’ve been thinking that the Castle is looking a little worn. How to do you feel about redecorating?”
“Yes. I was wandering the Castle and noticed that some of the stonework was starting to crumble. Some of the gargoyles were made from limestone and they’ve completely worn away. I’ve also been speaking to security lately and some of the measures they’d like to install would require being built into the rooms. If you are agreeable, I’d like to speak to an architect.”
“I suppose if we’re refurbishing, then it makes sense to do it all together,” Juuri replied over her duck l’orange. “There’s one or two jobs I’d like to see done too. And I’ve thought for a while we need to move the office staff further away from our personal quarters. I don’t like sensing them moving around when I’m trying to sleep.”
“Sounds like you’re planning a complete overhaul,” Haruka laughed indulgently. “But whatever you wish, wife.”
“Leave it to me, darling,” Juuri smiled. “I know you’re busy with work, so leave the running of the house to me. I’ll get everything back in order soon enough.”
The next night, as Lila Hart sat at her desk dazed and wondering what had happened to her life, a package arrived.
She opened it warily, from a distance, her mind abuzz with conspiracy theories only to find a pair of gorgeous diamond earrings.
The accompanying note, in beautiful calligraphy simply read:
I honestly didn't realise it had been 5 months. Whoops. Hope this tides you over for a while :)
At last, I know...
The golden-black void crushed and consumed him, again and again erasing all he was until the only thing left was pain.
Weakness. Failure. Shame.
He writhed and contorted, screaming into a void that didn’t care. Helpless and alone he fell and fell and fell.
The void pressed against the shields of his mind, whispering, taunting, threatening him with utter oblivion of the soul if he weakened for even a moment.
It was endless agony, sprinkled with poisoned hope. If he just held out long enough… if he was strong now when he’d been so weak before, and still it tore him apart.
Kaname blazed awake, crackling from terror to confusion in an instant.
“Awake at last, sleep head? Well I suppose even you want a lie-in on your birth night.”
Nancy’s chattering anchored Kaname to the present. New timeline, that was right. Good. Yes. He’d survived the void, for better or for worse. It had been a dream. A dream which left his mind trembling on the edge of sanity, and his body aching, but only a dream, surely.
And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.
A few shaky breaths whilst Nancy’s back was turned, and Kaname was focused once more. Blood and ashes. He did not have time for trauma.
“Happy Birthnight, Kaname-sama.”
Nancy proffered the formal yukata he was supposed to wear, Juuri’s orders. Last year it had been a suit, this year she wanted traditional.
He supposed it was a good sign in the grand schemes of things, but still….
“Another evening wasted,” he sighed as Nancy picked him up to start stuffing him into the clothes (her embrace was disgustingly comforting after his dream. He may have made a bit of a fuss in order to prolong it, but he’d never admit it. His baby-limbs were just being more uncooperative than usual).
“What were you researching so late into the day?” Nancy asked as she brushed his hair, a sign that there would undoubtedly be more photos. “Pureblood or no, you need your sleep.”
“Charities,” Kaname leaned back into the touch.
“A surprising topic for you.”
It wasn’t a question, and yet it was – Nancy’s polite way of verifying if it was up for discussion or not.
“Juuri is going to become very interested in the environment soon.”
“Oh, and why is that?”
“Because it will make a good excuse to build a few biospheres in the eastern fields. If I have to spend millions, I might as well put them to use. A seed bank and a push for conservation will be very worthwhile in the long run. I want to expand the kitchen gardens and switch to organic farming locally. I’m also contemplating a nuclear bunker, just in case. Even if we never use it, it’s more storage space and at worse, a self-contained fall back position.”
Kaname, after all, had lived in a world where no green thing lived anymore. He was an amazingly devout environmentalist.
One of the first things Kaname (Juuri) had done when he realised how much he didn’t know, was commission a very thorough survey of their holdings, both land and property under the excuse of an audit. A team of forty professionals had spent six months inspecting every blade of grass and loose shingle that the Kurans owned both physically and on paper.
The results had been interesting, amusing and frustrating in turn.
One of the smallest discoveries was that they owned more land than Kaname remembered, which totalled several hundred acres going completely unused.
“I see. I hadn’t considered that aspect of immortality. I suppose you can’t really afford to ignore the long-term consequences when you can guarantee you’ll live to see them.”
“Exactly,” Kaname said, choosing not to go with his first response of if we make it that long. “Now what new horror is Juuri planning for me?”
“Oh I couldn’t possibly ruin the surprise.”
Baby-Akatsuki was adorable. There were tufts of orange hair sticking out his swaddling and his eyes were enormous in his little baby face.
Kaname was an ancient monster of legend, so he didn’t go awww, how cute like the ladies of Juuri’s Court.
He just thought it instead.
He was also nothing like the Akatsuki Kaname had known before, and to be honest, that was a relief. Akatsuki had always tried to protect Ruka and Aidou from him – like he was some sort of wild beast- and that personal distrust mixed with professional loyalty had been so exhausting. He was glad to start again.
“May I introduce my son to yours, Juuri-sama?”
Juuri smiled, already standing by Ren and wiggling her fingers in Akatsuki’s face.
“That depends on if you are introducing him or presenting him for entrance into his Court,” Juuri replied absently, still cooing over the newest baby.
“I wasn’t aware there was a difference.”
Juuri sighed, “I really do wonder how so much could have been forgotten. If you want Akatsuki-chan here to be in Kaname’s Court when he is older, then he needs to be presented to Kaname in a special way – the same way your mother presented you to me, centuries ago.”
“Mum did something like that? She never told me!” Miki said. “Was I presented too? Was it, you know, pagan?”
Pagan? Kaname honed in on the word, thinking, and then, continuing to be both a horrible son and a pragmatist, he reached for Juuri’s mind. He was so familiar with it now it was embarrassingly easy to plant a few words.
He’d feel guilty, but Juuri had already been feeling indignant, a little nudge wasn’t worth getting upset over.
“Well if you want to call a tradition as old as time pagan like it’s dirty and barbaric instead of a cornerstone of our society and the sole reason for your presence in this room right now...,” Juuri trailed off meaningfully, an unimpressed eyebrow aimed at the vivacious blonde.
Miki winced visibly as she apologised and if she was anything like her future-son there was going to be a lot of research in her future.
Good. If the propaganda campaign had managed to infect even the Aidous, who’d been staunch royalists since the line had begun, then Kaname had his work cut out for him.
“I would be honoured to present Kain to Kaname-sama,” Ren stepped in to save her sister, like mother like son apparently, giving Akatsuki-the-peace-offering up to Juuri.
His ‘mother’ beamed, good mood restored.
“Consent of the mother, excellent, he really ought to be dressed in red, but I suppose we can skip that until the proper ceremony,” she said, talking to herself more than them.
Juuri picked Akatsuki up, pulling her own aura into her skin and then without further ado she knelt down and plonked the redhead in front of Kaname on the offensively coloured child-appropriate blanket he was forced to sit on.
“Kaname,” Juuri said seriously, “meet Akatsuki Kain.” She looked him straight in the eye.
Kaname had been looking forward to this. He leaned over so he could put his hand firmly over Kain’s heart. It wasn’t strictly necessary, but there was always a case to be made for dramatics.
He pushed his aura out, deliberately smothering Kain with it. The infant aristocrat had no defences against him. The resonance took hold within seconds, creating a tiny spark in his mind. A spark that felt like stoic fire.
“Yours,” Juuri repeated, smiling. She’d felt the bond take.
Juuri rose. “Congratulations, Ren, your son is compatible. Well done.”
Kaname ignored her in favour of pulling Akatsuki to him. He knew he was giving both Juuri and Nancy far too many photo opportunities, but in this case, he didn’t mind.
Huh, he’d never seen Akatsuki blush before… that needed fixing!
He thanked his superior genetics that let him pick up Akatsuki and put him in his lap. That gave him access to the shock of red hair, which Kaname immediately began plaiting.
“Oh aren’t they adorable,” Juuri sighed.
Oh yes they were, Kaname silently cackled. He was already anticipating the look on Akatsuki’s face when the baby photos came out in the future.
“Juuri-sama, would you mind explaining more about the Court? I fear we don’t know as much as we should, and I would not like to cause any offence.” Suzume was almost certainly planning Ruka’s future entrance into his Court, but at least someone had asked.
“Well you already know that it’s a political structure centred around a pureblood,” Juuri hummed. “It tends to be one member from the core families and bloodlines of our territory but can also include vampires of special skills, lovers, bodyguards, a circle of trust if you like. You each represent your family’s interests in my domain and are agents of my will who have my favour. What you don’t seem to know is that you all share a bloodless bond with me. Have you never wondered how I always know if you’re in danger?”
Ren, Miki, Suzme and Hana all exchanged significant glances in the way females did.
“You are a pureblood,” Hana said with a nonchalant shrug, “we don’t question your abilities.”
The bond did more than that, but Kaname didn’t blame Juuri for not mentioning the tracking, emotional reading and heightened susceptibility to Juuri’s own powers.
Admittedly, all of those things were generally used to protect the lower class vampires from rival purebloods, but it still wasn’t easy to hear.
On the other hand, Kaname was thinking like a pureblood, he realised with amusement, the vampire hierarchy being what it was, a lower class vampire would be honoured by such a ‘deep and profound’ connection to a pureblood.
“But bonds are only formed with blood,” Miki burst out, clearly unable to stop herself.
“Um, all of my lessons from childhood? All the studies? The journals?”
“Then they are wrong,” Juuri said simply, and that was that.
The conversation drifted off into other matters, business, gossip, and the latest episode of that awful Passions of Blood show.
Kaname turned his attention to the baby he cradled, who was now sucking on Kaname’s fingers with eyes comically wide. Kaname smiled, prodding at the tiny spark he felt in his mind and feeling monstrously smug and possessive.
Thrice said and done, Akatsuki belonged to Kaname now.
“Ah, redecorating! Where do you think we should start, Kana-chan?”
Juuri beamed at him with offensive brightness.
Kaname looked up, distracted, and immediately lost his telekinetic ‘grip’ on Mr Red Ball the 95th as Yuki made her own ‘grab’ for it. She was too young to have more than a few wisps of power to spare – most of her energy consumed by the struggle to survive – but she had a good teacher, if he did say so himself. Taking what she wanted was an important life lesson for her.
“Where do you want to start?” Kaname asked instead of answering.
Juuri’s recovery was precarious, and he was wary not to stifle any independent thought whilst doing his best to encourage her mind. Never too much at once. Never too frequently. Perhaps it would be enough to offset all the time he puppeteered her. Perhaps it wouldn’t.
Plan A was still to put her down like a rabid dog though.
He was a terrible son.
“It’s a big project,” she mused eyeing the various different blueprints laid out in front of her and the binders of survey results. Some of them were fake for security purposes, and none of them showed everything. Juuri would be looking at the ‘accidental’ smudges and pinpricks rather than the careful lines. Or she would be if she remembered what they actually meant.
“I can’t decide between working from the outside in, inside out or one section at a time and no matter what I choose the wards can’t be prepared without knowing the entire plan.” She thought about it for a while. “Inside out. First thing to change will be Haruka’s offices. The study must stay of course, but it’s past time the outer offices were moved further away from the family wing and all that foot traffic has ruined that carpet.”
A Persian masterpiece. Kaname had claimed it as spoils of war after his little tiff with Cyrus back in the day. After he’d claimed the man himself on it, naturally.
Ah well, it didn’t do to get too attached to material things. They withered; Kaname did not. He’d get another one. Maybe he could raid a museum. That might be fun. Did museums even display rugs? Hmmm, something else to research. Or, no, he had a better idea, steal something from Ichio when he’d thoroughly finished his revenge.
Maybe he ought to stick to a theme and take Ichio on the rug first? Kaname did like his trophies…
“What else?” He gently tugged Mr Red Ball away from Yuki’s mouth and let Nancy take her back to Juuri. He still didn’t have enough energy to feed her for very long.
“Well if I’m moving the offices, we’ll need to rewire. Where did I put that quote? And I suppose if we’re rewiring we’ll have to factor in the wards. I’m not going to let the workers keep their access to those rooms, particularly not if I turn it into a gallery.”
Juuri smiled. “I know we have the portraits, and the small gallery upstairs, but we also have quite a few bits we don’t have anywhere to display. We’ll need plenty of wall space to hang them, there are quite a few bits on the market I have my eye on and your father has been on a real spree lately.”
“Oh has he?” Kaname hid a smile, “I suppose you ought to invest in some security then too. Shutters, lasers, CCTV cameras, pressure plates, atmospheric controls, murder holes, you know, the usual.”
Juuri laughed, “How exciting! Any other ideas, Kaname?”
“Just a few. Tell me, how do you feel about a moat?”
Takuma was born next, not that the baby blonde was presented to Kaname, oh no, not on Ichio’s watch. Instead Kaname learned of the birth through his fly-spy. Haruka was at least making some effort at staying on top of current events, which meant Kaname could too.
Keeping to the timeline meant that Takuma would still be his. Kaname would just have to go to a bit of effort to kindle a bond. Takuma was worth putting up with Ichio for a decade, although that was the side dish, not the main course. Takuma did make for a lovely pudding though.
Thinking of Takuma made Kaname think of Takuma’s parents. He couldn’t remember their names, which was a bad sign, but hadn’t they ‘died’ in an accident? Conveniently eliminating the disgraced son – to think, being an actor instead of a more respectable career – and the pretty but useless wife just in time for grandfather to have a similarly aged kid in the house when Kaname ‘needed’ adopting.
On the other hand, a disgraced son and his pointless wife were of no use to Kaname either, and there was less point letting Ichio have his way with him without Takuma there. Nor could he forget that a Takuma with parents wouldn’t be half so loyal to Kaname as the friendless orphan had been.
Unsurprisingly, Kaname was a bad friend too.
Along came Ruka, who he bonded to in short order (mine mine mine) and shortly after, Hanabusa.
“Kaname! I have another friend for you!”
Kaname abandoned another one of his ridiculously loud and offensively coloured ‘toys’ in order to eye baby-Hanabusa, cradled in Miki’s arms, Juuri at their side.
In the background, he could hear Miki whispering ‘Please like him, please, please, please,’ which only ensured Kaname would indulge his inner sadist.
Now, did he bully Miki by pretending to reject Hanabusa, or did he bully Hanabusa in the future with the inevitable photos of this moment?
A bloodied face, tired blue eyes staring earnestly even as their light faded, willing him to believe them. “It’s OK, Kaname-sama. I wanted this. Anything for you.”
Yeah no, there was no way he could even pretend to reject Hanabusa without guilt eating him alive. He had nightmares enough without adding more.
“Mine?” Kaname rose – carefully- to his feet and toddled over to Miki. Then he proceeded to scamper up her leg like she was a tree, bracing himself with one leg either side of her hip, and peered into her arms to examine Hanabusa.
His eyes were the same. They peered up at him, wide, curious, and oh so blue.
“Mine!” Kaname declared loudly, putting a touch of power into his voice. Miki stumbled slightly and Kaname used the chance to lean over her arms to whisk Hanabusa into his own, carefully cradling him as he jumped down.
“Careful!” Miki yelled, reaching out to take Hanabusa back.
“Mine.” Kaname snapped, narrowing his eyes. Did she think to take something he wanted from him? My, weren’t maternal instincts strong.
“Don’t worry Miki-chan,” Juuri soothed, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Kaname won’t hurt Hanabusa-kun. He knows to mind his strength. Be glad, this is a good sign. They’re going to have a very strong bond.”
“Mine,” Kaname agreed slightly more placidly, tightening his grip on Hanabusa.
“Do you agree to give your son to Kaname’s Court, Miki?”
Consent of the mother – a powerful force, and far more potent than consent of the father.
Miki looked unsure, and he was certain the word pagan was floating around in her mind somewhere.
“I read Babies and Bonds by Kanzawa, I know why we do this,” Miki said, almost psyching herself up then she sighed, “Yes, I do. He’s yours, Kaname-sama.”
And he was, even as she continued speaking, Kaname saw how her small aura reacted to Yes. It shrunk away from Hanabusa, leaving him exposed.
Aidou started to cry, because he was apparently a sensitive brat, but the tears abruptly cut off when Kaname extended his own far more powerful aura over him.
“Mine, mine, mine,” Kaname said softly, looking fondly down into blue eyes and gently rocking him as the baby reached up to touch his face.
He held him for hours, showing him all his toys, carrying him around like a doll, and utterly refusing to give him back until Juuri agreed to a sleepover.
They shared a cot.
Time moved on.
Yuki learned to crawl, then babble, then toddle, and then speak.
Rima was born, shortly followed by Senri.
“You seem pensive.”
“I have a cousin,” Kaname announced, setting down the newspaper (The Night Times – a vampire made and couriered paper. Secrecy was assured by the ink itself, blood-infused and therefore able to carry a small Shimmer. Interesting, that such a thing had survived when other examples of the Old Ways were derided as pagan. Was it the usefulness of the method that saved it, or the fact that it was ultimately owned by a pureblood?)
“How?” Nancy asked, rocking Yuki as she fed from a bottle of the dreaded pink milk.
“Low-born,” Kaname tapped the announcement meaningfully. “The Shiki’s. A boy – Rido’s.”
Technically, that meant he was not Kaname’s cousin because if you started counting all the half-blood’s Kaname;s family tree would start looking like an overgrown hedge.
A pureblood gifting a child to one of their supporting families wasn’t exactly rare, but neither was it common. Strengthening the bloodlines was an important duty. Juuri had at least two daughters running around the castle having found the butler an incredible lover back in the night, apparently, and Kaname hadn’t bothered speculating about Haruka’s weaker get. Suffice it to say, but Kaname intended to be a little more discerning when his body finally passed ‘go.’
It was good to have confirmation of Rido’s activities though. The timeline was still on track. He pitied Hinata Shiki for a brief moment, but he felt no guilt over something so thoroughly out of his control, besides, he’d never known if she was a traitor too.
Maybe he’d heal her one night and find out, or if he wanted Senri to really owe him. After Juuri, he doubted Hinata’s brain could be much of a challenge.
The Castle was re-vamped (which Kaname happened to think was an excellent word) from turrets to dungeons (which Kaname might have paid particular attention to). Kuran Enterprises kept a steady expansion whilst turning a reliable profit, with staff being carefully evaluated and good managers being earmarked for promotion. If there were a few goal changes, a few new projects a little outside their usual remit, no one who noticed thought it odd.
Their investments had also shifted rather dramatically. Haruka had chosen to invest heavily into renewable energy, pharmaceuticals and strange companies like ‘Google’ and ‘Apple’ but whatever, right? It was his money to lose.
“What’s the matter Yuki?” Kaname asked his pouting little sister.
They both sat in front of the fire, snacking on homemade strawberry ice cream, every ingredient organic and hailing from their own kitchen garden or farms.
If he hadn’t been a cold-hearted bastard (and if Nancy hadn’t been watching with laughter in her eyes) Kaname might have wept tears of relief when he was finally permitted to eat solid foods. It was a relief only equalled by that time when he’d been pronounced potty-trained.
“Yori has my ball.”
Kaname looked over and yes, Yuki’s little shadow was playing with Mr Red Ball the Undying.
“I want it.”
Kaname had had thousands of children. Most he’d had a small hand in raising, even the low-born ones. He liked to think of himself as a ‘good and effective’ parent, if not a particularly ‘nice’ one. After all, the point of parenthood was to teach one’s children life lessons so they didn’t fuck up like you had.
This was what he liked to call a teachable moment.
“So take it.”
Yuki blinked at that then smiled. She walked (at 3 and ¾ she’d mastered that, she’d had a good teacher) over to Yori and plucked the ball from her hands.
Yori, naturally, didn’t protest. The hindbrain was basically the whole brain when they were this young, and instincts were amazing things. There was this one particular instinct that said Pureblood, Pureblood, Pureblood.
“Play with me?”
Yuki deserved a reward for learning take what you want.
“How about kill the ball? I like that game.”
Three months later, all of Kaname’s plans were ruined when Juuri dismissed the staff at breakfast and made a gentle announcement.
“Kaname, Yuki, you’re going to have a new sibling!”