Chapter One: "Homecoming"
"Sennn-ri!" Midori Shiki sung her son's name happily as he entered the house. It was obviously one of her good days, since she was lucid enough to register his presence immediately. Senri slid his travel bag off his shoulder and hugged her as she came running to greet him. Her hair was a wild, graceful mass of tangles, hanging around her face and Shiki brushed his fingers across the locks. He would have to help her brush it out later. She had live-in help who took care of her, but she rarely let them touch her hair. That had always been Senri's job and she would often throw a fit if anyone else touched her.
"Hey, Mom..." Senri murmured in greeting as his mother continued to cling to him, deeply inhaling his scent happily. Senri kept his arms around her. Maybe he should have been embarrassed, but he loved it when she was affectionate like this. Her body still held the outward appearance of youth and beauty, but it seemed sometimes like each time he held her she felt weaker and more delicate in his arms. His mother nuzzled him for a moment, and then looked up with a suddenly curious, hesitant, hopeful expression on her face. "Rido?" she murmured. "Did you come back for me?"
Senri froze, ice flowing through his veins. It was the first time he'd ever heard his mother use that name with him – the name that he now knew had belonged to his now departed pureblood father. Why? She'd mistaken him for his father before of course. For as long as he could remember he'd had to live with knowing that he reminded her of him – of that which had destroyed her. But never had the delusion been so that she actually called him by name and Senri was suddenly afraid. This was the first time he'd seen his mother since Rido had possessed his body. Was there still something there? Some change in him that his mother recognized? The thought terrified him.
The soft sound of a polite cough from behind him shook Senri out of his momentary paralysis. He forced his pounding heart to slow. His mother often got the past and the present confused. That was all it was...
"No, Mom. It's me, Senri," he whispered softly, trying and mostly succeeding to keep pain out of his voice. "I um, I brought a guest..." he ventured a little louder, but hesitantly, not sure how she would respond. Senri was nervous as hell as he nodded back towards the other vampire who was standing quietly in the doorway behind him.
Midori smiled and peeked over Senri's shoulder. She caught sight of the person in the doorway and ducked down quickly again, hiding against her son's chest. "Guests? Are we having a party? You didn't tell me Senri! I'm not dressed..."
"No, no Mom, not a party. Just a friend of mine, Takuma Ichijo. I invited him to stay with us over the holiday, that's okay, isn't it?" Senri was silently sweating bullets. This was such a bad idea. He should never have brought Takuma here. He never had people over to his house. He'd tried to talk Takuma out of coming multiple times, but his lover just wouldn't listen.
"I hope I'm no imposition, Shiki-san," Takuma bowed politely to Midori. "It was very kind of your son to invite me." Invite... more like Takuma had practically twisted his arm, cajoling and wheedling for weeks. Any kind of illness was rare among vampires, including mental illness and there was a very deep stigma attached to it as a result. Takuma knew Shiki was embarrassed to let other people see his mother, but he also knew that she was deeply important to his lover. Senri had been worried sick when he'd heard that she was feeling poorly. Takuma was well aware of Midori Shiki's mental circumstances, and was not put off by that. He wanted Senri to know that he was there for him, and he'd be there for his mother too, if Senri would let him. He wanted to help his friend carry some of the burden that he tried to carry alone.
Midori peeked cautiously around Senri's shoulder again. No one ever visited her except for family, and those only occasionally. She wasn't used to having strangers in the house. "Akio?" she inquired curiously with a faint hint of recognition in her gaze. "Akio I haven't seen you in forever, where have you been?" She pulled away from Shiki and waltzed lightly over to Takuma, an almost flirtatious smile now on her face.
Takuma, still standing holding his travel bag over one shoulder, blinked in surprise at hearing the name. He smiled quietly, swallowing the small, unintentional lump that rose in his throat. He gave his head a little shake. "No, ma'am. Akio was my father. I'm Takuma Ichijo. My father and mother both died some years ago."
Midori blinked slowly, trying to process that. "Oh... that's right. They were in that horrible plane wreck, weren't they? Such a pity, Akio was a fine actor. We did some pictures together, you know. He was a delight to do love scenes with..." Midori's surprisingly innocent eyes twinkled with girlish amusement that was out of place for her years, even if not for her looks, considering perpetual vampire youth.
Takuma could see that although it appeared Senri had gotten most of his features from his father, he had definitely inherited his mother's beauty. Midori Shiki must have been truly stunning once. Even around the messy hair, disheveled clothes and slightly vacant expression, that much was still obvious as Takuma regarded her. Because vampires aged so slowly, and remained looking perpetually young for so long, she could easily have passed for Senri's sister instead of his mother.
"Mom!" Senri protested in mortification, color rising in his cheeks. She had a habit of saying everything that went through her mind, regardless of how incredibly inappropriate it might be.
His mother ignored him, still smiling coquettishly at Takuma. "We had such good times the parties and the Premieres. He was such a dear, that woman he married too... what was her name? Are they coming too?" Midori inquired, already seeming to have forgotten where her train of thought had started.
Shiki grimaced painfully, shooting Takuma a deeply apologetic look. He was mortified that his mother was going on like that about Takuma's deceased parents.
"No, Mom, they're not, okay? Come on... let's let get Takuma settled and I'll help you with your hair..." Senri came over and took her shoulders gently, trying to steer her away from Takuma. "He can stay in my room with me. I've got plenty of room in there." One good thing about his mother's mental state, Shiki was fairly certain that she'd think nothing of the idea of Takuma staying in Shiki's room with him – since they were both boys.
"Of course darling," Midori agreed, patting Shiki's cheek as she let her lead him. "You can have a sleep over. I'll make you hot coca." She was treating him like he was ten again now, but Shiki was used to the swings.
"Senri never brings his friends over, I'm so glad you came," she prattled on to Takuma as Shiki showed him the way to his room.
Senri stopped by the doorway with his mother. "Takuma, go ahead and unpack your stuff anywhere you like," he gestured vaguely. "I'll be back soon..." Senri started when his mother, leaning over his shoulder, started to lathe his neck with her tongue. He knew she was a few seconds away from biting him and jerked his head away quickly.
"Yeah, I'm, uh, I'm coming, let's go..." he tried to walk her away swiftly before Takuma realized what she was trying to do. His face was flushing hotly. He knew she'd want blood right away, but had hoped to get her away from Takuma before she started acting on it.
Midori was startled; Senri never denied her his blood. She refused to be led away, starting to go for him again, but Senri quickly caught her shoulders. His heart was hammering in his ears. This was what he feared most. He could not let Takuma know what he... what he shared with his mother. Takuma had accepted and forgiven a lot about him, but this... he was afraid of seeing disgust in his lover's eyes.
"Mom!" he hissed sharply. "Not right now!"
Midori dissolved into tears, crumpling to the floor in a heap at Senri's feet. Senri was shocked and horrified and dropped quickly to his knees beside her.
"Mom, Mom... I'm sorry... it's okay... shh... please don't cry..." he begged as he scooped her limp, sobbing frame up in his arms. He felt wretched.
Takuma was standing by, not sure what was going on and wanting to help, but awkwardly unsure what to do. He hoped he hadn't accidentally caused a problem, the last thing he wanted to do was hurt Senri, or his mother.
"I-I'm sorry, Senri, did I do something wrong?" Takuma asked, flustered and concerned.
Senri swallowed painfully. This was exactly what he wanted to avoid. He shook his head quickly. "No, no, this isn't your fault, she just gets like this. She's not used to having guests..." it was a lame excuse, but Senri desperately hoped Takuma would buy it.
Midori was still sobbing against Senri's shoulder like a little girl who'd had her favorite doll taken away. It was a soft, pitiful sound that tugged at both boys hearts. "Takuma, I'm really, really sorry about all this, but I've got to..."
"Go," Takuma assured quickly, cutting off the apology. Last thing he wanted to do was make Senri feel awkward about caring for his mother or make him feel like he somehow had to choose between them. That was not why he was here. "Go take care of her; I'll wait for you here."
Senri gave Takuma a deeply grateful look for his easy understanding. "Thanks," he murmured softly before he turned and quickly carried his mother away with him.
Takuma watched him go before retreating into the bedroom with a small sigh. He knew Senri was uncomfortable with his being here. He'd hoped this visit might help alleviate that discomfort and bring them closer, but thus far he feared he was only making things more difficult for the younger vampire.
Takuma shrugged the bag off his shoulder and set it on the bed, casting a glance around the spacious room. It was fashionably put together in a chaotic, jumbled sort of way, with the same feeling of controlled chaos that dominated Senri's half of the dorm room at school. There were magazines sprawled on the desk and clothes hanging over a chair as if Senri had just left it, yet the room had the faintly stale and dusty atmosphere of an area that had not been lived in for some time. So this was where Senri grew up...
Takuma walked slowly around the room, letting his gaze take everything in. You could tell it was a room that someone had grown up in because of the small touches of bygone stages of life stashed here and there. Trophies decorated with dancing children shoved to the end of a shelf and pushed into service as bookends, a jar of multi-colored marbles gathering dust next to an empty aquarium, the vintage gaming consol peeking out from the jumble of electronics under the television.
Posters and signed photos cluttered one wall while freehand landscape artwork dominated another. Senri was apparently not the type to hang his own promotional pieces, so the posters and pinups were all of other models and actors, probably mostly people he knew, as the majority of them were signed. Takuma recognized a younger, obviously still sane Midori Shiki in a couple of the older looking posters, advertising what must have been some of her films. Absently, Takuma realized he'd never seen one of her movies and wondered if Senri would find it sweet or embarrassing if he asked if they had any on DVD. Then he remembered what she'd said about his father and quickly decided maybe he'd just skip that idea for now. He'd never seen any of his father's films. His grandfather had not approved of his late son's career choices. Asato Ichijo had been very old-school and thought that acting was a disgraceful and vulgar profession, so he had never allowed those movies in the house. Now, Takuma was afraid it would just feel weird, although there was a hint of morbid curiosity that he couldn't deny swirling around in the back of his mind.
Takuma shifted his attention to the montage of smaller, more candid photos plastering the lower part of the wall. Some were obviously portfolio vanity shots, signed by the people in them, but many were group shots. Some formally posed, others spontaneous. As Takuma made a slow inspection of them he saw that Senri popped up in many of these – arm wrapped with casual familiarity around the waist of a beautiful blonde girl in one, embraced from behind by a gorgeous looking older man in another, playfully twined with Rima in yet another.
It was like watching a skilled chameleon as Takuma's gaze drifted from one group shot to the next, watching Senri's clothes, hair and complete manner shift and change, sometimes dramatically. Here he was dressed Goth along with a bunch of other teen models – spiky collar, gloves, chains, dark eye makeup and frosted purple hair looking both stylish and rebellious as he gave the camera attitude. Next photo he was dressed hip-hop style with baggy pants, backwards ball cap and bling, laughing and giving hand signs to the camera with three other similarly dressed youths. Below that, a photo printed in sepia tones on old style photography paper showed Senri done up in complete Victorian attire, including tails and top hat, looking aristocratic and sexy at the same time as he stood a little too close to the female model posing with him, looking at the camera with intense eyes.
The huge variety was fascinating to Takuma. He had few photos documenting his life. Grandpa Ichijo hadn't exactly been the shutterbug type, and most of his childhood pictures were formal photos taken by professional photographers. At first alone, then usually with Kaname after the pureblood had come to live with him. When he was fourteen, Takuma had gotten a camera of his own and proceeded to take scads of hideous pictures of everything around him, including his long suffering pureblood friend who, to his credit, only threatened to crush the infernal camera about once a week. Takuma had eventually lost interest in photography and moved onto other things, although he still had a secret collection of amusing candid shots of a certain young pureblood that he was smart enough to never let Kaname know he had kept.
Senri actually made him want to pull his forgotten interest in photography back out of mothballs, except that he would be far too embarrassed to do so. Senri worked with professionals, after all. He'd surely find Takuma's amateur attempts nothing but ridiculous. Takuma's fingertips ghosted lightly over the younger vampire's picture. He couldn't imagine ever being as comfortable or alive in front of a camera as Senri was. The camera just loved him... and so did Takuma.
The blonde vampire realized he was caressing the image of Senri's smiling face with his finger and he pulled his hand back with a rueful smile. Takuma loved seeing this montage of Senri's life... even if it did make him feel a little insecure. Senri had told him before that he treasured their relationship because Takuma was so different from all the other people he knew. But Takuma knew that despite that, they were very different people and sometimes Senri found him a little boring and traditional, even if he never said so.
There was a faint, throbbing sensation at the base of his neck and Takuma rubbed at it out of reflex, even though he knew he couldn't make it go away. He sighed softly. It had been a couple weeks since Kaname had taken his blood, but he still felt twinges more often than he admitted. Takuma had only been bitten a few times in his life. This reminder was lingering longer than it had in any of the other instances, but that was to be expected since a pureblood vampire was involved. Especially since Kaname had fed from him twice in only a few days span, and fairly deeply both times.
Zero had fed from him not too long before that either, although he had drunk from Takuma's wrist, and the noble no longer felt the soft tug of his bite as he had initially. Both of the other vampires had been hurting and in need for different reasons and he had shared himself with them out of friendship and compassion only, but he still... he couldn't help feeling a little guilty.
Senri hadn't appeared to mind when he'd given to Zero, but his lover had seemed tense when Takuma told him about Kaname. Senri had assured Takuma it was fine – after all, what was the noble supposed to do? Kuran was not only his childhood friend, he was a pureblood. No one could deny him anything. But somehow... Takuma had this feeling, perhaps irrationally, that his lover had been a bit different with him ever since. The thought hurt more than he wanted to admit. He felt guilty that he'd let others bite him, when Senri had yet to do so.
Senri had tasted his blood often enough, but not through biting. Both of them knew that whoever was the first to cross that line would be the only one who could continue to do so unless they were ready to commit to the blood bond that would be formed from mutual biting and blood drinking. It was not the same life-altering union that it was for a pureblood vampire, but for nobles like them, it was still a very deep commitment that was not entered into lightly and usually discouraged outside of the formal ties of marriage.
Takuma flopped onto his back on Shiki's large bed, deciding he didn't want to be thinking about those things right now and looking around the room again to distract himself. He couldn't help smiling wryly as he found himself staring up at a large, poster sized image of Rima modeling underwear that was hung in direct line of eyesight from the bed. It wasn't an overtly sexualized ad, despite the nature of the product. The underwear was being marketed for comfort and softness, so Rima was done up like an innocent angel with wings, posed amid clouds wearing only the small white panties and a matching bra. The look she gave the camera was both sweet and sensual. It was a lovely effect, and if Takuma hadn't known Rima, and what a good friend of Senri's she was, he might have been inclined to feel jealous at the picture's obviously prominent placement. Instead he felt amused. He wondered if Rima was aware that Senri probably did see her that way, whether or not they'd ever admitted to or acted upon the attraction.
Takuma frowned curiously as something else caught at his senses. He turned his head a little and sniffed the bedspread he was lying upon. His keen vampire sense of smell told him that the bed had been used more recently than the rest of the room. There was a faint, perfumed smell that instantly reminded Takuma of Midori Shiki's scent. He turned his gaze back up to the ceiling, lacing his hands behind his head.
Did she come in here sometimes and lie on her son's bed when she missed him? Maybe sleep there so she could feel close to him? The thought touched him and Takuma felt a soft, compassionate sadness. He'd never had a mother to miss him, and it must be harder, given Midori's child-like mental state. He hoped he could be a help to Senri over the holiday, rather than a hindrance. This time together would be good, he told himself. Would help them put behind them the nagging issues that seemed to have arisen lately.
Pushing up to sit, Takuma slid off the bed and made his way over to the dresser. All the drawers were full, but most of them only partially so, and he set about re-organizing them sensibly and consolidating so that one drawer would be free for his things. Senri wouldn't mind, he was always very laid back about Takuma moving his things around. Bringing his bag over, Takuma began to unpack.