Chapter 1: Impatience
Asato Ichijo was not a patient man, and detested being kept waiting.
He shuffled the papers on his large mahogany desk for the umpteenth time, his temper as frayed as the edges of the documents. The representative was supposed to have been there a half hour ago, and his tardiness was inexcusable. Asato planned to ensure heads rolled over this matter; after all, he was a well-respected businessman and an esteemed member of the Vampire Council.
When it became evident that the representative would not arrive, Asato's mood darkened even further, making him long to kill something.
Of course, he could no longer openly kill humans in the house - not since Kaname had come to live there anyway. It wasn't as if he really cared that his ward had an aversion to killing prey, but the majority of the Council seemed to be in league with Kaname's pacifist ideals for now, and it suited Asato to play along. Besides - he could not afford to give the adolescent pureblood substantial, concrete evidence to make a bid for freedom from Asato's guardianship, as that would mean he would lose any chance he might have of convincing Kaname to gift him with his pure blood.
That delightful, darkly enticing, alluring, seductive pure blood. The very essence of the vampiric race, condensed and distilled. Dear God, just smelling the boy could drive him to distraction… he could only imagine the taste… it was the one thing he wanted more than anything else in the world.
It was a delicate situation though, an intricate dance. Asato could not ask Kaname for his blood directly - to do so would be political suicide. He also could not take it by force - that would mean life imprisonment under the laws protecting purebloods. So instead, all he could do was drop veiled hints and make vague suggestions, hoping that one day he would catch his ward in a moment of weakness, and Kaname would give in.
There were, of course, other means of… persuasion… which he was exasperated enough to try at times. He could only employ those methods with a legitimate reason though, so he was constantly on the lookout for misbehaviour in his ward, and similarly, Kaname was constantly on the lookout for ways to evade punishment.
This battle of wills raged back and forth, parry and thrust, attack and defend. After all this time, the score was still tied.
Having nothing better to do, he sent a servant to fetch Kaname, wanting to spar verbally with him as a distraction.
When the servant returned, though, he did not have the dark-haired pureblood with him.
"Apologies, Ichijo-sama. Kuran-sama's guard detail say they thought he was in the meeting with you. It seems he is nowhere on the premises…"
Asato's composure snapped and he brought his fist down on his desk almost hard enough to splinter it. As it was, it creaked dangerously in protest, but held firm. The servant watched in trepidation - it was known that Ichijo-sama sometimes took out his rage on the hired help - but that thankfully did not seem to be his intention today.
"Very well. I suspect he will turn up in a few hours, as if out of thin air. You will await him in his quarters, and escort him directly to me, understood?"
The servant bowed low, backing quietly out of the study.
Asato smoothed one hand over his beard. It seemed he would have a better outlet for his frustration soon enough.
Kaname got out of the luxuriously appointed limousine, followed by Takuma. The young pureblood was in a good mood. The visit with Yuuki had been brief, but it had been filled with pleasant conversation and Yuuki's warm hugs.
His happiness, however, was short lived. The moment he got back to his room, a nervous-looking servant was awaiting him - and that did not bode well.
Takuma, who had been walking slightly behind him, paused as the pureblood froze in the doorway. Kaname was blocking his view of the interior, so he couldn't see why he was hesitating.
"Kaname? What is it?"
Kaname ignored Takuma's question, focusing instead on the servant, as if hoping he could stare him out of existence. The man quailed under the pureblood's fierce gaze, bowing low before speaking in a tremulous voice.
"K-K-Kuran-sama… Ichijo-sama requests your presence in his study at once."
Icy fear seemed to flood Kaname's veins in a tidal wave.
If Ichiou had sent the servant to wait here, then his guardian already knew Kaname had evaded the guards and slipped out - and if he knew that, then there could only be one reason for him to want to see Kaname. Forcing his rapidly-accelerating heartbeat to calm, he regulated his breathing so that his voice came out evenly.
"Inform Ichiou that I will be there shortly."
The servant winced slightly at these words. "Er… he… he has requested that I accompany you. I apologize for any inconvenience, Kuran-sama, but he will not take kindly to me disobeying his orders…"
He trailed off, but Kaname knew what was on the man's mind - Please do as Ichijo-sama says, or I will be punished for it…
The pureblood wanted to grind his teeth, but restrained the urge.
"Very well. I shall go with you."
He turned back towards the passage, not meeting Takuma's curious gaze. However, when he realized the green-eyed vampire fully intended to follow them, he spoke.
"Do not trouble yourself, Takuma. I am sure that your grandfather merely wants to see me regarding some small, unimportant matter. Go on to your room, we will speak later."
The faint dismissal in those words did not go unnoticed by Takuma. There was something ever so slightly off about his friend's tone, and it made small sparks of anxious worry kindle in his stomach. Nevertheless, he turned around and began walking towards his room, deep in thought.
This was not the first time Kaname had been summoned to grandfather's study and insisted on going alone, so Takuma often wondered what they spoke of. It was a known fact that there was no love lost between them - Kaname regarded his guardian with barely-concealed contempt, and Ichiou saw him in turn as if he was a heavy burden merely meant to be endured - thus Takuma doubted their conversations were about friendly topics.
Perhaps they spoke of politics, although that too was unlikely; grandfather always made a point of highlighting Kaname's relative inexperience in that area, and delighted in having a weakness to exploit in his ward.
It had not always been this way - a few years ago, when Takuma and Kaname were younger, and Kaname had first moved in, grandfather only ever spoke to Kaname in an official capacity. He seemed to be of the opinion that the less he saw of the pureblood, the better. That arrangement had suited Kaname just fine of course, so guardian and ward had avoided each other to a great extent.
Then, everything had changed in a matter of hours.
Kaname had reached the age of his transition, the point where a vampire's abilities reached their adult strength. It was also the age, for purebloods, where the scent and taste of their blood became vastly more potent, its full power unleashed. Young purebloods had almost no discernible scent, and their blood was bland and tasteless - a kind of biological camouflage to protect them from attacks by their non-pureblood peers who were all starting to need blood to survive.
Takuma had indeed noticed that since that day Kaname's scent had become incredibly compelling, but other than that, his friend was still the same; so Takuma accepted the change with his usual casual charm.
His grandfather though, had very suddenly begun to take a vested interest in Kaname, and that interest had only grown with time.
Lately, Kaname had been called to see grandfather more and more often, and afterwards, the pureblood would act strangely, locking himself in his room for hours on end and refusing to see anyone. When Takuma would knock and enquire, Kaname would reply in his usual unruffled tone that everything was fine; he just had some correspondence to take care of.
Of course, Takuma knew Kaname had always been a very good liar.
Something was going on, and Takuma was determined to find out what.
Since Kaname had come to live with them, he and the pureblood had developed a camaraderie, a friendship between kindred souls who both had to grow up before their time under the stifling political pressures of a highly demanding society - Kaname as the Kuran heir, and Takuma himself as his grandfather's protégé.
They had long since dispensed with formalities in private; Kaname insisted on being treated as an equal, not a pureblood, and Takuma had obliged him, although it had been strange at first. Takuma had been raised as most vampire nobles were - to see purebloods as something akin to gods made flesh. It had taken a while, but eventually he had come to realise Kaname was not that different from any other vampire his age. They had been inseparable since that revelation. Takuma would even help Kaname escape his guards once every few months, then use his own allowance to hire a car so that Kaname could meet with that adorable little girl - Yuuki.
Takuma did this - at the risk of being caught and scolded severely by grandfather - because he knew those visits made Kaname happy, and his friend's joy was a rare, wonderful thing to behold; even from afar.
The knowledge that something might be threatening that happiness decided him.
Risking a quick backward glance, he saw that Kaname and the servant were already out of sight. Turning back the way he had come, he padded quietly across the thick multi-hued carpeting that covered the hallway floor, heading for his grandfather's study.
Chapter 2: Behind Closed Doors
Kaname arrived at Ichiou's study door.
It was an imposing creation of the finest red teak and exotic hardwood, inlaid with marble and gold leaf in the form of the Ichijo family crest - no expense had been spared. After all, it was the gateway to the inner sanctum of the head of one of the largest, most prosperous vampire families. It was a door made to impress upon one the importance of the man sitting behind it. To Kaname, it was a symbol of everything he hated; an empire built on the blood and suffering of others.
At times, he wished he could tear into it with his claws, even if it would be a poor substitute for what he really wanted to get his claws into.
The servant opened the accursed thing, and it swung inwards on whisper-quiet hinges. Kaname entered, steeling himself for what lay ahead.
Ichiou sat behind the massive desk, his hands folded under his chin. His face betrayed no emotion, but there was a dark eagerness in his eyes that made Kaname feel ill. The servant was promptly dismissed, leaving the pureblood alone with his guardian.
Seconds ticked by in silence, an invisible battle raging between the two figures in the room. Eventually, Ichiou smiled lazily.
"Kaname. I'm so delighted you could find the time in your busy schedule to come and see me."
Each word was laced with venomous sarcasm, but such barbs had long since ceased to irk the pureblood. A small frown formed on Kaname's brow.
"We both know that I'm not here by choice. Just get it over with."
"Ah, but that would ruin the… anticipation my dear ward. Still, as you prefer."
Ichiou rose, walking over to the intricately carved bookcase that lined one entire wall of the room. He reached out and triggered a hidden switch, a section of the shelf receding and then sliding sideways, exposing a doorway and the darkness beyond.
Kaname had been through that door many times, but it never failed to fill him with cold dread. Ichiou turned his head towards Kaname, gesturing to the shadowy entrance with one hand.
Folding his arms across his chest in what appeared to be a motion of bored indifference - but was actually an effort to disguise the fact that his hands were shaking - Kaname followed Ichiou into the gloom.
Takuma rounded the corner at speed, and was promptly bowled over by the servant who had recently been escorting Kaname. They fell to the ground in an unceremonious heap, Takuma's attempts to extricate himself severely hampered by the fact that the servant was trying to get up and bow at the same time, all the while stuttering incoherent apologies.
Unable to help himself, Takuma laughed. The servant stared at him in wide-eyed shock, and the momentary stillness allowed the younger vampire to find his feet. He assured the terrified man that he had taken no offence to the incident, and that it had been his fault for taking the corner so sharply.
A full ten minutes and many justifications later, Takuma was finally able to resume his task.
Pausing outside grandfather's door, he listened intently. As far as even his enhanced vampire hearing could tell, nobody was speaking inside, which piqued his curiosity. If grandfather didn't wish to talk to Kaname, what else would he have summoned him for?
Gathering his courage, he rapped sharply on the door, but there was no reply. Reasoning that grandfather would have told him to go away if he had not wished to be disturbed, Takuma took hold of the handle, opening the door a fraction so that he could peek inside, but grandfather did not appear to be at his desk. Pushing the door wider, he saw that the study was deserted.
'How strange. Perhaps they've stepped out for a bit?'
Closing the door behind him, he gave the rest of the house and part of the grounds a cursory search, but found no sign of them.
He knew there was probably a perfectly rational, innocent explanation, but he couldn't quite chase away the nagging feeling that something was deeply, horribly wrong.
Determined to force answers out of his friend as soon as he got back, Takuma retired to Kaname's room to await his return.
Thirty-five steps away from freedom; but it might as well have been thirty-five thousand.
In the dimly-lit, soundproofed room, guardian and ward regarded each other. The former with ill-concealed sadistic glee, the latter with slightly better-hidden fear.
Ichiou's voice was like the rasp of cobra scales on cold stone.
"You know what to do."
Kaname suppressed a shudder as he walked to stand between the posts at the centre of the room. He began to unbutton his shirt, his every move watched by Ichiou with predatory attention. Removing the black silk, he folded it with precise care, hoping to delay the inevitable. Suddenly Ichiou was right there, close enough that the older vampire's usual scent of tobacco and stale blood overflowed Kaname's senses, making him want to gag.
How Kaname hated this. It was a vile, forced surrender to degradation of the basest kind, but there was not much the pureblood could do to prevent it. His accelerated healing abilities meant he never bore any physical evidence of mistreatment.
If he told anyone about what his guardian was doing, there would be a cursory enquiry, but it would come down to the word of Asato Ichijo, high-ranking Council member and esteemed community leader, against the claims of an adolescent orphan - pureblood or not. The Council would easily be convinced it was a plot to discredit Ichiou, after all, it was common knowledge that he did not want to remain in Ichiou's care - Kaname had unsuccessfully appealed the guardianship verdict several times.
So he bit down his rage, buried his revulsion, in the hope that someday he would escape this man's foul clutches and take his vengeance.
Someday, perhaps - but not right now. Ichiou's cold, hard hand closed on Kaname's wrist, lifting his arm towards one of the iron posts he stood between, locking it into a padded shackle with exaggerated gentleness. The other hand received the same treatment, so that Kaname was now held in place between the pegs, unable to move.
Ichiou walked over to the north wall, where a frightening array of implements were arranged on various hooks, shelves and nails. He perused them for a while, deciding which would be best for this session. Eventually, he selected one of his favourites - the long whip. It had been specially designed to have no sharp edges or thin surfaces which might cut flesh. Ichiou was always ultra-careful not to draw any of his ward's blood; not that anyone would be able to smell it from down here, but Ichiou doubted he would be able to control his vicious lust for Kaname's pure essence if it was spilled right in front of him.
Stroking the whip's long handle almost lovingly, he moved in behind his ward, standing well clear to give the whip room to manoeuvre. He knew that the sensation of an enemy at his back always drove Kaname's ingrained impulses wild, and he enjoyed immensely watching the pureblood try to restrain the urge to thrash around in a futile attempt to turn and face his attacker.
The waiting was always the worst. Once the pain started, it was quantifiable and Kaname could deal with it, but knowing Ichiou was behind him, ready to strike at any time, kept his senses on high alert - denying him the ability to detach himself. He tried to prevent it, but he couldn't stop the small, spontaneous shudders which ran through his whole frame. His heart rate and breathing had accelerated too; part of the fight-or-flight response coming into play as adrenalin flooded his system. Of course, bound as he was, he could neither fight nor flee - and this knowledge edged him slowly towards all-out panic.
A near-silent hiss behind him was the only warning he had before the lash was applied cruelly to his back. He hadn't had time to brace himself fully, and he despised the way the sudden flare of agony made his knees go weak.
Ichiou knew exactly how to apply the whip to maximum effect. Each stroke of the broad, well-weighted tip left a deep purple-black bruise, and each subsequent blow overlapped the last one slightly, always just before the pureblood's rapid healing could erase the previous mark, intensifying the pain.
Slipping his eyes shut, Kaname reached for the memories of his visit with Yuuki, the recollections of her warm smiles and heartfelt embraces almost able to drown out the searing, throbbing ache in his body as well as in his heart.
Almost - but not quite.
Chapter 3: Not Oblivious
Takuma paced restlessly across the sumptuous carpet in Kaname's room, deep in thought.
He wanted to believe that there was a perfectly innocent, rational explanation for the absence of both Kaname and his grandfather earlier; wanted to accept that Ichiou had merely taken Kaname out into the grounds, perhaps to show him something, but an incessant, troubling voice in the back of his mind seemed to keep refuting that idea.
Looking back over the last while, examining Kaname's strange, reclusive behaviour each time after these "meetings", it was becoming clear that something sinister was happening. Takuma hadn't really taken the time to put two and two together on those previous occasions, thinking the pureblood was just tired after talking business with his guardian, or perhaps the discussion had gone badly and turned into an argument, making Kaname crave some time alone afterwards…
Takuma knew his grandfather had displayed what could be described as an intense fixation when it came to pureblood for a while now, but the young noble had always dismissed it, thinking his grandfather was only after the political power that would come of having Kaname supporting his faction in the Council meetings… but what if his assumptions had been wrong? What if his grandfather wasn't after political advancement at all, but something more tangible, more physical? Asato Ichijo had always been the kind of vampire who took what he wanted, when he wanted it… would his greed for power drive him to extremes? Would his grandfather really dare to lay a hand on Kaname despite the laws? Takuma had to admit that it was a possibility, and that disturbed him greatly. He had been so blind… and now suddenly everything was falling into place before him, creating a grim picture, one he desperately wished was false.
There was only one way to find out though, he would have to confront Kaname - and right now, he wasn't sure he would be able to do that. How did one go about asking a friend something like that? Especially when it might have been happening only moments before?
Oh God. Is he… hurt, right now?
Takuma froze mid-stride as the doorknob began to turn. He was still unsure what to say, but whatever happened, he would face it head-on.
Kaname walked slowly towards his room. His whole body ached from the exertion of having to heal itself repeatedly, and he was beginning to thirst for blood. He hoped he wouldn't run into anyone in the corridors, as it was difficult right now to walk with usual calm grace and someone might notice the stiffness of his gait, or the way he had to fight to keep walking instead of collapsing right there on the floor to take the rest he so desperately needed. Fortune was kind though, and he made it all the way to his quarters with no interruptions.
Sighing, he turned the knob, pushing the door open and walking in. It was a mark of how utterly exhausted he was that he didn't notice the other presence in his room immediately, almost walking right past it, but at the last second his pureblood reflexes kicked in and he had the intruder by the throat, pinned to the wall, before there was time to blink. Ignoring the way the effort made the overtaxed muscles in his back sting, he was halfway to choking the life from his prey before he realized it was only Takuma. The young noble's eyes were wide with shock, and he trembled under Kaname's firm grip.
Kaname released him at once, and Takuma set about rubbing over his throat where the bruises left by Kaname's rough handling were already starting to fade. Kaname looked at the floor, somewhat ashamed to have hurt his best friend.
"I apologize, Takuma. You surprised me - that's all."
Takuma's reply was slightly shaky, he had been terrified when Kaname turned on him that way.
"I should know better than to startle a pureblood like that, the fault is mine."
What Takuma did not say, but that both of them already knew, was that it should have been near impossible to surprise a pureblood. To cover the uncomfortable silence, Takuma went on.
"So, what did grandfather have to say?"
Kaname maintained his well-schooled composure, but his voice had a hint of ice in it which implied that further questioning on that subject would not be tolerated.
"It was just business. Nothing to concern yourself with."
Takuma frowned slightly. Kaname was definitely acting strangely. There was a vast tension in the pureblood's face and stance, as if he was holding some immense wave of emotion back, but whether it was agony, rage or sorrow Takuma couldn't tell. He pressed on, knowing the danger but accepting it as necessary.
"Kaname, I don't mean to pry, but…"
The words came out in a much sharper tone than he had intended, but Kaname had reached the end of his tether. He was hungry, tired, and a throbbing pain had started in his temples. He would not stand here like some kind of witness being cross-examined! The temperature in the room began to fluctuate wildly as the air responded to his powerful aura, a sudden wind setting the chandelier to swaying. Takuma's alarmed expression soon made him regret his violent reaction though, so he reined in his rage, gentling his voice.
"Takuma, please. I wish to be alone."
Another wave of fatigue washed over Kaname, exacerbated by the unintentional escape of his powers. All his anger swiftly ebbed, replaced by bone-deep weariness.
Takuma did not miss his friend's slightly hunched posture. It seemed like Kaname was indeed in pain, and the very thought made flames of worry lick along Takuma's spine. He could not ignore the pureblood's dismissal though, so he stood to leave.
Kaname held the door open for him, grateful for the opportunity to support himself on something.
Takuma couldn't resist asking one more time, despite knowing it was futile.
"Are you sure you're okay Kaname?"
The pureblood's answer was given in a neutral tone, but it inspired no confidence in Takuma. He knew Kaname well enough to recognize when his friend was lying.
As Takuma drew level with him, he met the pureblood's eyes, and an unspoken understanding seemed to pass between them.
Kaname realized Takuma knew more about the situation than he was letting on - and Takuma realized Kaname wasn't prepared to talk about it just yet.
They remained in silence for a moment before Takuma took another step towards the door. Turning back, he regarded Kaname once more, his expression solemnly sincere.
"You know that you can trust me. If you're afraid of where my loyalties lie, don't be. I will not betray you - no matter what he does to me."
Takuma hoped that the emphasis he'd placed on those words would convey how strongly he meant them. Deciding he'd said enough, he left the room.
Kaname's eyes widened slightly at Takuma's choice of phrase. Did he really know everything? Had Kaname's secret shame been discovered so easily? The pureblood fought down the urge to lash out at Takuma's retreating back, even as his instincts screamed at him to do it. Eliminate the threat. He knows your weakness… Kaname gripped the door so tightly that it began to splinter. He would not hurt his friend - that would make him no better than Ichiou. Once he was certain he was in control of his nature, he slowly shut the door, making sure to lock it. He knew it was a pathetic and ineffectual gesture, really, but somehow it always gave him a small measure of comfort.
He made it to the bed at last, only just managing to collapse inelegantly onto it before unconsciousness claimed him in an unstoppable wave.
Asato sat in the drawing room, waiting for the butler to finish pouring his tea while he contemplated the deeply satisfying hour he'd spent with his ward earlier. He liked to think the pureblood would be feeling this particular session for a while, in spite of how disappointingly quickly the boy always appeared to heal. Idly, he wondered how soon he would be able to find the time for another "meeting" with Kaname. After all, was it not said that it was best to strike while the iron was hot? Instantly, several scenarios involving his ward and hot iron played themselves out in Asato's mind…
His musings were interrupted by the butler handing him his tea. He sipped it slowly, savouring his favourite blend, although he wished for something… stronger. His lips curled in a half-sneer as he realized that despite his efforts, he was still no closer to breaking Kaname to his will.
The butler cleared his throat nervously, not sure that it was the best time to broach the subject, but having been taught by experience that when it came to Ichiou, there was never really a best time for anything.
The old vampire fixed him with a steely glare, and the butler took this as permission to continue. He handed a heavily-gilded envelope to Asato, who snatched it impatiently.
"An invitation, Ichijo-sama, from Takagawa-sama," the butler said, rather unnecessarily, as Asato was already perusing the contents of the envelope. "He is holding an informal soiree at his home later this evening and requests your attendance."
Informal soiree. Of course, that meant a no-expense-spared banquet with seven courses, much entertainment, and the cream of the vampire elite in attendance. Asato's sneer became more pronounced. Takagawa was a simpering fool, a lesser noble forever trying to rise above his station by clinging to the coat tails of his betters, and Asato was about to decline the invitation on principle, but then something near the bottom caught his eye.
"Of course, you are most welcome to bring your grandson, and your ward. I look forward to meeting them both!"
It was a poorly disguised attempt to ensure that the great Kaname Kuran would be in attendance. Takuma had been mentioned only as a ploy to conceal the true target of the request - Takagawa would be taken a lot more seriously by his peers if he could claim acquaintance with a pureblood after all.
Asato usually made sure that Kaname's social contact was limited to strictly necessary occasions only, but right now, the pureblood was probably not feeling his best - wouldn't it be exceptionally cruel to expose him to society in his weakened state, and watch him suffer? Indeed…
Asato kept his tone indifferent as he addressed the butler.
"Very well, I shall attend. Send word at once since the party starts in two hours. Also, inform my grandson as well as my ward that their presence will be required. I shall brook no opposition on this point, mark you, so heaven help the man that tries to tell me either of them do not wish to appease me in this. Now go!"
Takuma had been quite surprised when the servant had informed him he was to prepare for dinner at the Takagawa's.
As far as he knew, grandfather did not get on well at all with that family, often remarking on their political ineptitude and lack of business acumen. Perhaps there was some other, more subtle motivation behind this event? However obscure the reason may be, Takuma knew better than to defy his grandfather, especially now - any unusual behaviour might seem suspicious, and Takuma was determined to keep his recent discoveries a secret. He put on his usual dazzling smile and addressed the servant.
"Yes, of course. I shall make ready at once. Could you perhaps fetch me that new suit hanging in the airing cupboard?"
The servant fidgeted nervously, obviously distressed, but unwilling to say why.
"Oh, I'm sorry - was there something else you were supposed to be doing?" Takuma prompted.
Encouraged by his kindly tone, the servant finally spoke.
"It's just that I still have to inform Kuran-sama of the dinner, and then I have to alert the chauffeur to prepare the limo…"
Shards of ice seemed to lodge themselves in his heart. So, that was what grandfather had in mind. It had only been an hour since Kaname had returned from whatever horrors had befallen him at Ichiou's mercy, and now he was going to be forced to attend some stupid party. Mistaking the sudden narrowing of his eyes, the servant paled and began apologizing. Takuma held up a hand for quiet.
"Please - it's not your fault. Is there any chance you could inform my grandfather that Kaname-sama won't be attending? I don't think he'll be able to find the time tonight, he's rather busy…"
The servant's horrified reaction told Takuma all he needed to know - grandfather was insisting.
"Very well. In that case, why don't you run on down to the chauffeur? I'll go by Kaname-sama's quarters and tell him myself."
Relieved, the servant hurried off. Takuma headed for Kaname's room, hoping the pureblood was feeling better.
Kaname awoke to a persistent knocking.
His headache had reached epic proportions, and he was still so tired. He tried ignoring the sound, but it didn't go away, the incessant noise exacerbating the pain in his skull. He managed to find his voice, and at least it was steady, although it was slightly less vehement than he would have liked.
The soft answer made him freeze.
"It's me - Takuma. Please, Kaname. I know you're not… I mean, you just… um, I didn't want to disturb you, but grandfather's adamant…"
No. Please, no. Not again…
Kaname got to his feet and made his way to the door, dreading every step. Surely Ichiou wouldn't send for him again this soon? Weeks usually went by between beatings, weeks for which Kaname was profoundly grateful. He opened the door to find his friend outside, looking distraught, and the sight made his heart sink. He was expecting the worst, and as such, he thought he'd misheard what Takuma said.
"I'm sorry, what?"
Takuma repeated himself. Relief flooded through Kaname, although it was tempered by a spark of annoyance at his friend for making him worry so much.
"He's insisting I go to a dinner party?"
Takuma nodded; his expression apologetic.
Kaname considered this. Yes, it had evidently been done with the worst intentions - Ichiou knew Kaname was still recovering, and as such the evening would be an exercise in slow torment, but compared to what Kaname had feared might be coming, it was nothing. If this was indeed the game the old man wanted to play, then so be it.
"Fine. Give me a few minutes."
Takuma stared at him in open disbelief, but something in the pureblood's cool gaze must have kept him from speaking. The young noble turned to leave, shaking his head slightly.
Kaname looked at his own reflection in the mirror above the ornate marble basin after he'd splashed cool water on his face. The visage which greeted him was serenely composed, not a trace of strain in it.
Ichiou had issued a challenge - one from which Kaname would not back down. The pureblood would attend the party, make conversation, smile and be effortlessly polite - and each of these things would be a small barb of defiance in the face of his oppressor.
To the outside world, it was an innocent party - but for Kaname, it was war.
Chapter 4: Strong On The Surface
As Kaname slid smoothly into the back of the limousine, Asato smiled from the seat opposite.
What fun it will be to watch him suffer.
The pureblood fixed him with a malevolent glare, which only made Asato chuckle.
"It's no use, dear ward. I've grown immune to that tactic…" he dropped his voice before continuing, "…especially since I see weakness and fear in those same eyes so often."
Kaname suppressed the desire to growl at his guardian as they were joined by Takuma. The green-eyed noble seemed his usual cheerful self, but Kaname could see a slight strain in his friend's face which was not normally there. He hoped that if Ichiou noticed anything amiss in his grandson's composure, he would put it down to overexcitement. After all, Takuma rarely attended social events, being naturally rather quiet and reserved.
The car trip was relatively uneventful considering the circumstances, but Ichiou watched Kaname's every gesture like a hawk, no doubt searching for some sign that the pureblood was indeed suffering. Kaname took great delight in giving absolutely nothing away - even though his back still ached and his head still throbbed. He made sure to keep a small, knowing smile in place; a silent taunt to irk his guardian even more.
Takuma sat quietly, observing the interaction between his grandfather and Kaname, searching for any clues it might offer about his suspicions. There was definitely an atmosphere of tension, and it only seemed to grow thicker with each passing minute. Grandfather was scrutinizing the pureblood in a most frighteningly intense way, and Takuma didn't like the look in those hard, cold eyes one bit. Clenching his jaw, he resisted the urge to shuffle closer to Kaname in a protective gesture.
After what seemed like hours, they finally arrived at Takagawa Manor.
The gravelled drive was already full of people and cars, and the lively chatter was a welcome change from the oppressive silence in the limousine. They disembarked, and were promptly greeted by servants, offering to show them inside and introduce them.
The party was scheduled to continue almost until daybreak, and the night was young, so to start with there were cocktails and light musical entertainment in the parlour. Ichiou was immediately taken aside by a somewhat rotund, red-faced vampire who was now animatedly discussing the future of stocks in a recently discovered diamond mine. Ichiou looked less than pleased, and Kaname took the opportunity to move into the crowd. Takuma followed him gratefully, glad to get away.
Inevitably though, the arrival of the pureblood was already causing a stir. Whispers and turned heads marked their path through the throng, and they had soon collected a following. Due to the Takagawa's low social station, most of the vampires in attendance had never even seen a pureblood up close, let alone spoken to one, and they were all eager to change that tonight.
Asato smirked as he noticed that Kaname was quickly being surrounded by a mob of hopeful admirers. They would surely keep the pureblood occupied for a while, at the very least until the banquet began in the dining hall, and each moment that passed would take its toll. Already he caught several small signs of his ward's discomfort. The pureblood's arms were held stiffly at his sides, his stance tense even as he pretended otherwise. The onlookers were crowding all around him, invading his space, and Ichiou knew that alone was enough to drive Kaname to distraction. For obvious reasons, his ward detested not being able to keep everyone within sight… his hyped-up pureblood senses must be screaming by now, especially since the memory of his whipping was still so fresh… Asato was brought out of his reverie by the constant droning of the annoying vampire before him.
"So then, I managed to convince him to invest all his capital in the mine…"
Kaname felt physically ill. It was too crowded; there were too many unknown people around him. He fought down rising panic, trying to regulate his breathing. His head was pounding, and all the voices seemed to bleed into one as he was assailed by questions, offers and introductions. It was difficult to stand still, the strain beginning to tug at the recently abused muscles in his back. Across the room, Kaname caught sight of Ichiou, who smiled and raised his glass. Kaname returned the gesture - not wanting Ichiou to have the satisfaction of seeing how miserable he was - although the pureblood was aware that his guardian probably already knew. Damn him. He tried to keep his composure, but he knew it was a losing battle. He needed to get away from here, now… but escape was impossible, there were simply too many people.
Takuma picked up on his friend's anxiety, and wondered what he could do to ease it. He had been steadily edged away from Kaname by the crowd, and now found himself at quite some distance, unable to help. Unless… he looked around at his current position, and an idea came to him. Discreetly, he placed his foot in the path of a passing waiter. So preoccupied with balancing the tray full of glasses without spilling their contents, the man never stood a chance. His foot caught Takuma's ankle, and he gave a sudden lurch forward. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion - the waiter scrabbling for his footing, the tray eventually tipping... a cascade of blood-laced wine launched into the air, sparkling droplets catching the light like strewn rubies, hovering for an impossibly extended moment before coming to rest with almost vindictive glee upon the pearl-coloured satin of a visiting noblewoman's gown. Her screech and the ensuing clatter of shattering crystal as the glasses hit the floor echoed across the entire room, causing a ripple of distraction as everyone turned towards this new source of entertainment, drifting closer the better to hear how the lady's husband was now berating the waiter and demanding recompense for his incompetence. Seizing his chance, Takuma made his way rapidly towards the fast-clearing space around Kaname.
The pureblood had breathed a soft sigh of relief as the crowd began to dissipate, silently thankful for whatever benevolent circumstance had caused the commotion at the other end of the room.
Takuma was coming towards him now, smiling widely as if enjoying some private joke, but his smile faded once he caught sight of the strain in Kaname's face.
Hurrying to his friend's side, Takuma hesitated. It would be extremely indecorous to offer a pureblood his arm for support, but he could tell that Kaname's strength was wavering. Thinking quickly, he motioned his friend to follow him, and they left the room, unnoticed.
Takuma led the way upstairs, having been at the Takagawa's estate once before as a young boy, when they had hosted a Council function. He had become acquainted with the daughter of the household, Akemi, as she was only a little younger than he, and they had spent the evening keeping out of the adults' way. She had shown him around, they had been getting along quite well, but then it had been time to leave and of course, he hadn't seen her since.
Drawing on this previous knowledge, he showed Kaname to one of the drawing rooms off the main hall. It was secluded enough to be out of the way of the party guests, yet close enough to the party that it would not seem like snooping for them to have found it. Kaname made his way immediately to one of the armchairs, sitting down to relieve the strain in his back. Takuma took the chair opposite, and they sat in companionable silence for a while, Takuma pleased to have saved his friend, and Kaname grateful to be out of that nest of buzzing, maddening social hornets.
Light footsteps sounded out in the corridor, the door opening to admit a slender girl in a lilac ball gown. She was not excessively beautiful, but her features were delicate and feminine, her auburn hair swept up into a graceful bun, interwoven with pale purple flowers and silver threads. She had clear, deep blue eyes, and with these she regarded the pair of vampires upon whom she had intruded. She froze, startled, one hand on the doorknob and the other grasping what looked like a bottle. Her cheeks flushed instantly, and she attempted to hide the bottle while stuttering an apology.
"Oh! I had no idea there was anyone in here, I'm so sorry…"
Takuma had risen, his usual cheery smile in place as he walked towards the girl confidently.
"Akemi! It's good to see you again - and you look lovely tonight. Please, come in - join us. It is your house after all!"
Akemi looked moderately taken aback at this warm greeting before she realised she had seen the striking green-eyed noble before.
"Takuma Ichijo? Oh, I didn't realize it was you - you've grown! How have you been?"
Kaname remained seated, watching this exchange with a mixture of amusement and annoyance. He would have preferred to be alone, although he had to admit that Akemi seemed like an interesting and warm-hearted girl. Already, the animated conversation between her and Takuma was making the pureblood relax, the cheerful sound of their voices soothing him. He realized he would be quite content just to sit here and listen while they spoke.
The initial greetings out of the way, Takuma turned to Kaname.
"Kaname, this is Akemi Takagawa. Akemi, this is…" but Akemi was already waving a hand to quiet him. "Everyone knows who he is!" She gave a neat bow. "Kuran-sama, it is an honour to finally meet you. The last time Takuma was here, he told me many good things about you…" she added a wink in Takuma's direction, making the noble blush a little.
Normally edgy around strangers, Kaname was surprised to find he was fast becoming comfortable in the presence of Akemi Takagawa. She was talking to him like he was a person, not some kind of royalty, and especially tonight, that was a refreshing change. Soon, they were all settled on the various chairs. Akemi had retrieved some glasses from a cabinet nearby, and was now pouring them each a glass of the wine she had appropriated from an unguarded table during the earlier uproar. They were still a little too young for drinking to be considered socially acceptable, and Akemi fairly glowed with defiant pride as she told of her exploits while stealing the bottle. Soon all three of them were talking and laughing like old friends. Time passed quickly, as did the wine, but for those precious moments, Kaname could forget about the horrors which stalked him constantly. For a little while, he almost felt… normal.
Asato had finally managed to rid himself of the irritating businessman who hadn't let up since they'd arrived. He would have been downright rude to the man, but he knew him by reputation - he provided funding for many Council ventures and as such Asato was forced to be courteous.
Eventually, feigning that he'd recognized someone else he urgently needed to speak to, Asato made his apologies and wandered into the crowd. It had settled down somewhat after the earlier furore over the spilled wine and the ruined dress, so he had no trouble making his way through the throng; however, he could find no sign of either Kaname or Takuma, and this vexed him greatly.
Of course, it would be just like his ward to seek sanctuary the moment his back was turned. The whole point of this evening had been to watch the pureblood suffer, and Asato would be damned if he'd let the boy forget that. Cursing under his breath, he left the room to seek out the object of his wrath.
He was some way along the main first-floor corridor when he heard talking and laughter issuing from behind one of the many doors.
Ah… there you are.
All three young vampires were still deeply engaged in pleasant discourse, now telling amusing tales of events from their childhood.
Both Takuma and Kaname had removed their dinner jackets earlier, discarding their bowties and unbuttoning the collars of their shirts, the wine and lively conversation combining to make the room feel rather stiflingly warm. One sleeve of Akemi's dress had slipped off, exposing her shoulder, and she hadn't yet replaced it - they were youthful, naive, unused to alcohol, and the effects had somewhat smothered their inhibitions.
Perhaps, had they not been slightly drunk and so engrossed in conversation, they would have heard and recognized the heavy tread of the approaching footsteps, but as it was, the door swinging open was their only warning - and it had come much too late.
Ichiou's cold, flint-hard gaze swept the scene, instantly taking in the empty glasses and wine bottle as well as the disarrayed states of both his grandson and his ward. The presence of the girl was the last straw. Who knew what rumours she would start regarding the males in the Ichijo household? Rage seethed within the depths of Asato's soul as he drew breath to speak. His voice was not loud, but it carried the threat of imminent discipline. Ignoring Takuma, he addressed Kaname directly.
"You disgrace my house! Fraternizing with this… common harlot! "
Kaname's usual composure had been lost to the alcohol, and he got to his feet at once.
"You disgrace yourself by speaking of a lady that way!"
An icy silence chilled the atmosphere in the room. On some deep level, Kaname realized he'd probably gone too far. He would be severely punished for this - but it was no good to regret his words now.
Takuma could only watch in shocked silence as guardian and ward glared at each other in undisguised hatred. Akemi too was quiet, keeping her gaze on the floor.
"What did you say to me?"
Fear began to wind through Kaname's gut, the too-fresh memories of being whipped surfacing, but he tried his best to force them away, remaining defiantly silent even as his heart began to race.
Ichiou's voice became louder as his anger grew.
"Insolent whelp! Get up - both of you - we're leaving now!"
Takuma gave Kaname a sidelong glance as they shrugged back into their jackets, but the pureblood's mask of stoic indifference was firmly in place, and he offered no acknowledgement.
They were marched quickly down the hall, Ichiou's shadow looming over them all the way. Once among the guests though, they were forced to bid farewell to everyone they met cordially - Ichiou did not wish for the exact circumstances to leak out earlier than necessary, and thus he took his leave under the pretence that he had another pressing engagement.
Ichiou grabbed the pureblood's arm roughly as soon as they arrived at the Ichijo mansion, shoving his ward ahead of him towards the house. There were a few servants about, but they scattered as soon as they saw the murderous expression on Ichiou's face - they knew better than to get in his way when he was in a rage. Kaname said nothing, and did not try to struggle out of his guardian's firm grip. He knew it would do no good, and it would only enrage the older vampire further. Normally he would not have missed the chance to defy him, but he was much weaker than usual tonight and worried that pushing Ichiou any further would have dire consequences. Takuma trailed along behind them, still trying to convince Ichiou of Kaname's innocence. More than once during the tension-fraught drive home the young noble had beseeched his grandfather to punish him instead - saying it was his fault for not attempting to control the situation - but Takuma might as well have been talking to a wall for all the notice that was paid him.
They reached the dreaded office, and Ichiou threw the door wide open, all but throwing Kaname inside. Takuma had made as if to follow, but his grandfather slammed the door shut before he could enter. Kaname had turned to face the doorway at the last moment, trying to convey with a look that Takuma shouldn't worry, that he should just drop this and leave it alone, but he had no way of knowing whether the green-eyed noble had caught the hint.
Once inside, Kaname had been pushed forcefully down the stairs that led to the hidden chamber, only his pureblood reflexes saving him from falling, while his guardian watched him with sadistic zeal from the top step. Ichiou hadn't even bothered to take off his cloak first, obviously wanting to punish Kaname as soon as possible for his impertinence. Still fixing his ward with a foreboding stare, he pulled the door shut inattentively and started down the steps, so focused on what lay ahead that he failed to notice the edge of his cloak catching in the doorframe for an instant, preventing the door to the soundproof chamber from closing completely.
Numbly, Takuma slid to the floor outside the office, resolving to wait until Kaname came back out so that he could offer him whatever assistance he needed. The look of resigned acceptance on the pureblood's face just before the door had closed still haunted him… it was so unfair that grandfather was only going to discipline Kaname for something Takuma was just as responsible for, and he ached for his friend's pain. Any moment now he expected to hear the sound of Kaname's punishment, and he just wished he could trade places with the pureblood. However, it had gone completely and eerily silent on the other side of the door, and Takuma couldn't help but wonder why. Placing his ear to the thick wood, he strained his hearing, listening intently, but there was nothing.
How strange. If grandfather was that angry, surely there would be some noise?
Hesitantly, he regarded the knob. If grandfather punished him for his interruption, it wouldn't matter anyway, and that knowledge made him brave.
Gathering his resolve, he stood, and opened the door.
When Takuma found the office empty, he thought he was going mad. For a second of stunned silence, he merely stared at his grandfather's desk, wondering if perhaps he had dreamed the whole thing. That was when a muffled sound began to intrude upon his consciousness. It was a measured, repetitive sound, and at first he couldn't place it. Scanning the walls, his curious gaze caught one section of the bookshelf that wasn't completely flush with its neighbour - and the sound appeared to be coming from behind it. Walking over to it, the sounds became clearer, and he began to wish he was dreaming… because if this was reality, his entire life had been built on a lie.
A deep baritone, unmistakably his grandfather's, issued from the depths.
"Are you going to try something like that again, Kaname?"
That other rhythmic sound again, repeating ten times… a… whip?
"I asked you a question, boy!"
The whipping again, twenty lashes this time. A pained almost-whimper.
"I can't hear you."
Thirty lashes, then a resounding slap. Finally, a voice he knew must be Kaname's - but carrying an inflection of humiliation and pain so great it broke his heart to hear it.
Unable to stay a moment longer, Takuma fled.
Chapter 5: Heart Full Of Pain
Takuma did not get very far before his emotions caught up with him. Halfway to his room, his breath began hitching, his hands shaking so badly he could barely lift them to swipe at the silent tears of anger, shock and betrayal which were starting to well in his eyes. His grandfather… the man he had respected and looked up to since a young age was… was… but Takuma couldn't think of anything that seemed to accurately describe something so despicably wrong.
Despite his suspicions before, having them confirmed was a hundred times worse. His mind reeled from his discovery. He had no idea how he would be able to hide this knowledge from his grandfather, or how to tell Kaname what he knew...
Kaname… oh God, poor Kaname had been hurt so many times, always hiding the extent of his pain, pretending that everything was fine and he was just tired, locking himself behind closed doors. How often did it happen? What had Kaname thought about in those lonely hours?
Kaname… I've failed you as a friend. How can you ever forgive me for my ignorance?
Takuma couldn't begin to imagine how he could make up for his blindness, but he knew he was going to try. From now on, Kaname would not have to face these horrors on his own. Drawing strength from the steely determination within him that was the trademark of all the males in the Ichijo bloodline, Takuma turned around and headed back the way he'd come.
Every cell in Kaname's body seemed to ache, as if his entire nervous system had been overloaded by the pain he'd been forced to endure. He hadn't expected it to hurt quite this badly… but then, Ichiou rarely whipped him this hard, and it had never happened twice in one day before either. His guardian unlocked the shackles roughly, gripping Kaname's wrists with unnecessary force as he did so, delighting in further damaging the already pained skin from where the pureblood had fought against the manacles during the whipping. Usually, he could keep still during a beating, but this time he had been unable to stop himself from trying to pull away. The agony was too persistent, too raw.
Ichiou grabbed the pureblood's chin in one large hand, forcing Kaname to meet his gaze for a moment, asserting his dominance over the young vampire before releasing him and heading back up the stairs. Hesitantly, Kaname retrieved his shirt from the corner where Ichiou had flung it earlier. Even though the material was soft, the slight friction of it on his back caused him some discomfort. He picked up his jacket as well, and despite the fact that half his shirt buttons were missing thanks to Ichiou's haste to remove the garment, he didn't put it on - his skin was too sensitive to bear its weight. Slowly, very slowly, he began walking up the steps, one by one.
Takuma heard his grandfather's footsteps coming up the corridor, and he hastily ducked into one of the rooms, hiding himself behind the door. Peeking out through the crack between the door and the frame, he saw Ichiou come into view. There was such dark, cruel satisfaction in those cold eyes - and now that Takuma knew the cause of it, it made him feel ill.
He waited until he was sure the coast was clear, and then went back into the corridor to seek out Kaname. The pureblood was walking slowly, shakily, one hand lightly skimming the wall for support, his hunched posture in such stark contrast to his usual lithe grace that it had Takuma hurrying to his side.
The effect was immediate. Kaname straightened up, his hand leaving the wall. His steps became measured and slightly more fluid, although Takuma could see that it caused him considerable pain to achieve this veneer of control. The green-eyed noble couldn't believe that after everything Kaname would still attempt to hide his anguish. An uncharacteristic spike of temper welled in him. 'Fine then. I'll give him one last chance to come clean, before I have to resort to more drastic measures.' Falling into step beside his friend, he asked the question on his mind.
"Kaname, what happened in there?"
The pureblood's voice was low and steady.
Hoping fervently that Kaname would one day forgive him for what he was about to do, he reached out a hand, resting it on the top of his friend's shoulder. When there was no reaction, Takuma quickly slid his fingers a little lower, skimming Kaname's shoulder blade lightly. The sharp gasp and the way the pureblood's body stiffened under his touch told Takuma everything he needed to know. Stepping around so that he was blocking the pureblood's path, he spoke.
"That's not nothing. I… I heard him… hitting you."
For a brief second, panic flitted across Kaname's features, but they smoothed almost instantly.
"He is my guardian, he has the right to punish me."
Takuma was stunned that Kaname would trust him so little, and frustration crept into his voice.
"Like that? He's never even raised a hand to me. What I heard in there… that wasn't discipline, Kaname. It was torture."
Kaname couldn't do this any more. The lying, the pretences. He felt so weak right now, and he just wanted to get out of this situation. He couldn't think straight, didn't want to argue.
"Takuma. I consider you a friend... which is why I'm warning you - stay out of this. It's not your concern."
Takuma kept his voice low, an almost-whisper.
"Why do you put up with it?"
The pureblood's eyes narrowed, small streaks of fiery scarlet appearing in them as he tried and failed to control his temper.
"I have no obligation to answer you. Get out of my way - now!"
Takuma shrugged, but moved out of the way, walking beside Kaname once more. He didn't take his friend's anger personally - he knew it was rage born of extreme circumstances, and it was further evidenced in the fact that Kaname didn't send him away, but tolerated his presence as they covered the last stretch of corridor to the pureblood's quarters.
Kaname walked straight in, attempting to shut the door immediately so that Takuma couldn't follow… but the young noble was quick, and arrested the door's progress. Kaname fixed him with a glare, but it was a lot less vehement than Takuma had been expecting. The pureblood spoke, his voice weary rather than enraged.
"Why? Why are you doing this when I've asked you to stay away?"
Takuma looked at him, his expression openly surprised as if he thought the answer was obvious.
"Because you shouldn't have to bear this alone."
Words failed Kaname. He still wasn't entirely sure he could take Takuma's words at face value, especially when he'd long since learned that faith in people was a weakness and only led to getting hurt, but it would be so good to be able to believe that Takuma's concern was genuine.
Perhaps… perhaps just this once. Kaname released the door, allowing Takuma to enter.
The young noble did so, closing and locking the door behind him although the pureblood had not told him to. Once that was done, he turned to face the room.
Kaname had already walked over to the bed, obviously exhausted by the evening's events. Takuma looked over at him, his heart constricting at how lost his friend seemed, perched on the end of the sumptuous king-sized silk comforter.
Slowly, Takuma walked over to join him. Kaname did not move or speak as Takuma sat down as well, carefully choosing a spot close enough to not seem afraid, yet far enough that he didn't intrude upon the pureblood's personal space.
Kaname waited for the questioning to begin, but the young noble remained silent. It was a strange feeling, having someone else in the room with him when he was in this condition, but somehow it was almost… soothing to know that he no longer had to hide. He very much wanted to crawl up the bed and sleep, but even though Takuma was his friend, the pureblood couldn't bring himself to trust the other vampire enough yet for such a vulnerable gesture, so he merely remained sitting as he was.
At length though, as the silence stretched on, exhaustion began to take its toll. Kaname's eyelids grew heavy, and he found it difficult to fight off sleep.
Takuma soon noticed this.
"Kaname – if you don't want to sleep because I'm here, I'll go..."
Kaname was unsure what to say, not quite clear on what he wanted right now. Part of him desperately longed to confide completely in Takuma, to end the silent torment of his mistreatment... to finally be able to trust someone. Another, more instinctual part was telling him it would be tantamount to suicide to allow anyone that close to him in such a defenceless state, let alone the grandson of his oppressor. He decide to compromise. If he just pretended to be going to sleep, he would get to lie down, which he really, really wanted to do right now, while still being able to keep an eye on Takuma, just in case.
"Stay... I don't mind."
Takuma nodded then walked back towards the door, settling himself in one of the plush armchairs near the fireplace to keep watch over his friend.
Kaname removed his shoes, making his way carefully onto the bed. He lay down on his side, his back still hurting too much to take his weight. He let his eyes slide shut, revelling in the softness of the bed beneath him and the way it cradled his aching body. Allowing his breathing to deepen in order to feign sleep, he listened intently for any indication that Takuma was making a move towards him in his vulnerable state. Nothing was forthcoming though... and after a while Kaname's consciousness began to slip, thoughts drifting vaguely in and out of his mind like elusive butterflies. Soon, sleep had tugged his weary body into its embrace, and everything was forgotten.
Takuma had lost track of how long he'd been sitting in Kaname's room. Every time he thought he might fall asleep himself, he would get up and take a turn around the room to keep himself awake. He was determined not to fail his friend – he would show him that he could be trusted, and then, maybe, the pureblood would take him into his confidence. The most important thing right now was to show Kaname that he would support him no matter what happened, and that he could keep everything a secret.
The pureblood stirred in his sleep, moving restlessly on the silk coverlet. His hand came up to his face suddenly as if to swipe at something, then moved back to its original position. Taking a closer look, Takuma was shocked to see tears streaking down Kaname's pale cheeks. It seemed the pureblood only let down his emotional guards when he was asleep... and seeing this had Takuma feeling both saddened and enraged. It made him so ill to think that his own grandfather, the man he had respected and idolized all his life, was doing vicious, unspeakably cruel things to the orphaned pureblood right under the Council's nose, and yet nobody even suspected what was going on.
He knew there must be a reason Kaname hadn't told the Council anything about his abuse, but still Takuma hoped that one day soon Kaname would speak out publicly about what Ichiou was doing behind closed doors. If that day came, Takuma resolved that he would support his friend even if it meant severing all family ties and incurring Ichiou's wrath.
Small shivers were now running through the pureblood's frame, his breathing uneven. Fetching a spare blanket from the linen chest, Takuma gently covered Kaname, then sat down on the bed near his friend.
Grandf- Ichiou – was truly a monster.
Seeing the young pureblood - kind, strong and so full of ideas for a peaceful future - reduced to such a helpless position was terrible. A deep, fierce wave of protective loyalty rose up within Takuma. People often remarked that he was very gentle for a vampire, having a jovial and easygoing nature... however, he had Ichijo blood in his veins, and deep within, at his very core, he was strong as steel. If anyone underestimated him, they would be making a mistake. He may have to keep everything hidden, and help Kaname from the shadows right now... but one day, he vowed to make Ichiou pay for his crimes.
Takuma quite suddenly recalled a conversation he had been having with Kaname a while ago over a game of chess. Takuma was learning the intricacies of the game from his friend, but was no match for the pureblood's skill yet - Kaname had always showed an innate talent for the game, and within hours of learning the rules had defeated Ichiou in a record number of moves – in any event, they had been in the middle of a game last week when talk had turned to the significance of the rook. Takuma had been puzzled when Kaname missed an opportunity to take his queen just because to do so would leave his rook open to attack from Takuma's bishop. Kaname picked up on his confused expression, and asked what was wrong.
"I was just wondering why you didn't take that opportunity. I mean, taking my queen would surely be worth giving up your rook?"
Kaname had smiled and shook his head.
"You underestimate the importance of the rook in chess, Takuma."
Takuma had said he found that hard to believe, especially since the rook was limited to straight moves, and in his estimation, it's starting position in the corner made it a sitting duck. Kaname had then proceeded to explain.
"The point of the game is to protect the king - and the rook is the best piece to achieve that goal. The rook enables one to castle, essentially placing itself in danger to move the king to a more secure square."
Thinking back now, he realized the implications of that conversation. Indeed, he wanted to be Kaname's rook… he would do everything possible to get Kaname away from here to someplace the young pureblood could be safe.
The only question was - where?
Elsewhere in the mansion, Asato sat in his favourite armchair, enjoying a glass of the finest cognac. He had that powerful, invincible feeling which always came after one of his sessions with Kaname, enhanced this time by the fact that he had finally managed to wring a pained concession from the pureblood's lips, and the thought made him smile grimly.
He had been researching purebloods lately - especially in regard to their abilities and limitations. Literature on the subject was sketchy at best and devilishly hard to come by, but of course, Asato paid well and had numerous contacts. Thus far, he had discovered several interesting articles, including one particularly enlightening one about pureblood healing. It was a forbidden manuscript, written by a leading vampire surgeon who had once worked extensively with purebloods. It had been seized by the Council some time ago and was meant to be incinerated… but Asato had pulled some strings and managed to save it from annihilation.
The most interesting detail he had gleaned from it, was that due to its accelerated nature, pureblood healing hurt. In fact, it was often more painful than the wound itself as already distressed cells were rebuilt and renewed at an alarming rate. The deeper you wounded them, the more pain you caused them to heal those wounds; indeed, you actually hurt them twice with each injury - and he took dark, sadistic delight in that information.
He was particularly pleased that Kaname had given him an excuse to test the theories in the article… so far everything was proving to be correct. Just as the document suggested, the external signs of damage vanished near-instantly - but this was just a ruse. Unlike nobles or normal-class vampires, who healed at a slower overall rate but healed evenly, pureblood healing was a two-step process. Internal damages took longer to repair as the healing energy was always concentrated on the surface wounds first - nature's way of ensuring purebloods looked invulnerable at all times.
As he had proved tonight though, it was possible to turn this to advantage… although the lash-marks and bruises had already faded, the simple slap he had dealt the pureblood afterwards had been sufficient to force the boy's surrender.
Vindicating as it was though, surrender was not enough.
Next time, he planned to make Kaname beg.
Chapter 6: These Stifling Chains
Kaname woke in a sudden panic. His senses told him he wasn't alone, and before his brain could really process that fact, he was on his feet, ready to fight. Eventually his mind caught up and he remembered about Takuma. He couldn't see the noble anywhere, but he could sense his presence in the room, near the fireplace. He walked over to investigate, and found the blond vampire curled cat-like in one of the armchairs, his head pillowed on his hands, fast asleep. Kaname allowed a soft smile to tug at one corner of his mouth as he watched Takuma sleep. There were faint circles under his eyes that told of exhaustion, and Kaname was rather touched that Takuma had obviously made a valiant attempt to stay awake while he slept.
A soft knock sounded on the door. Kaname could tell by the faint aura that it was a servant. He went to open it, and was greeted by none other than Ichiou's butler.
"Kuran-sama, the evening meal will be served in ten minutes…"
Kaname waved a hand, unwilling to put up with such trivialities at present.
"Send my apologies, I'm not hungry."
The butler's look told Kaname that wasn't an option.
"I'm afraid we have guests this evening, and Ichijo-sama expects…"
Kaname's temper flared. Every aspect of his life lately seemed to be controlled by Ichiou's whims, and he hated that fact as well as what it represented. He therefore didn't hesitate before slamming the door shut, cutting off the rest of the butler's diatribe.
The noise woke Takuma, who sat up suddenly, blinking away the last vestiges of sleep.
He turned to face the green-eyed vampire.
"I'm sorry I woke you, Takuma. Thank you for staying, but you should probably go now."
Takuma looked at him questioningly before curiosity suddenly became concern.
"What happened? Is he calling for you again?"
Kaname found the situation highly awkward. He had let Takuma in yesterday in a moment of weakness, when he was injured and alone. Now that he was once more in control, with his well-guarded walls firmly in place, he did not find it easy to display the same level of trust as before, so he didn't answer.
Takuma rose from the chair, taking a few steps closer and holding Kaname's gaze.
"Kaname, I know. I know what he's doing to you, and I also know that yesterday wasn't the first time. There's no use hiding it from me anymore. Can't you see I just want to help you?"
Despite his iron grip on his emotions, Kaname knew his eyes were betraying his feelings right now, so he turned away slightly before answering.
"I… I can see that. But you need to understand that it is difficult for me. For years I have confided in nobody, trusted nobody. It is a hard habit to break."
Takuma came closer, reaching out his hand to touch Kaname's shoulder, but then thinking better of it and dropping it back to his side. The pureblood remained silent, and Takuma reasoned it would probably be best to leave Kaname for a while, let him work through things on his own rather than pushing him to accept them, so he left the room.
Once Takuma was gone, Kaname began to ready himself for what lay ahead. He harboured no illusions as to why Ichiou was insisting he take the meal downstairs - the guests the butler had referred to were obviously Ichiou's Council acquaintances. As usual, the old vampire wanted to parade Kaname in front of them like some kind of status symbol.
Kaname took a deep, steadying breath. He was going to have to behave impeccably, and give Ichiou absolutely no reason to be displeased with him. He would forgo the slightly snide remarks he would usually be able to get away with on the grounds of "young, high spirits", and make sure that he was flawlessly polite.
As he shrugged into his dinner jacket and straightened his tie, he looked at himself in the full-length, gilt-framed mirror. As was the case with all purebloods, he was physically perfect. Nothing marred his porcelain skin or aristocratic features. Illness and failing health could not touch him, injury was but a momentary setback.
No, all his scars were carried on the inside. At times, it felt as if his accelerated healing was actually a curse. He often wished he could find an outward expression for his inner turmoil, but was denied that outlet by his pureblood nature.
Checking his reflection one more time, making sure his appearance was faultless, he left the room to face his tormentor.
Asato stood in the reception room, chatting with a few of the Council members who were exclusively loyal to him. He often invited them here for dinner, using the opportunity to keep his ear to the ground and ensure all of them were still acting in accordance with his wishes.
His arrangement with them was simple - favours in exchange for loyalty. If they all voted as he told them to, he would make sure their families were recognized as honourable, and that they always received preference when it came to sending emissaries to represent their interests in exotic locations abroad. Well-hidden money also exchanged hands, and a blind eye was turned whenever there were rumours of violence or trouble.
In this way, he had made himself the most influential man on the vampire senate. It had taken years, but now Ichiou was finally secure in the knowledge that the Council was a mere figurehead - a collection of puppets who danced to his tune. The power and control was intoxicating… yet, despite all his money, all his authority… he was still no closer to obtaining the one thing he wanted more than anything in the world - to feast on the blood of the strongest, purest line in the vampire race. He had thought that Kaname's guardianship being ceded to him would bring that dream within reach, but it still remained frustratingly elusive.
Granted, whipping the boy was its own reward - but it was a hollow kind of satisfaction. Remembering that forced concession though…the broken, raw whisper he had wrung from those arrogant lips… that was a defining moment. It showed that there was yet hope to break the pureblood's damnable will.
As if summoned by his thoughts, Kaname appeared in the doorway, impassive as always. Determined to rattle the young vampire, Asato drew immediate attention to Kaname's presence, walking over to stand beside him. All eyes turned to his ward, and everyone in the room inclined their heads respectfully. As Kaname's guardian, Asato was not forced to participate in the display. He laid his hand on the boy's shoulder instead. To everyone, it looked like a sign of the affection he had for his ward… but of course, Asato's motives were anything but fond.
Kaname did his best not to flinch when Ichiou's hand was placed on his shoulder in a supposedly fatherly gesture, but his body stiffened at the hated touch. The older vampire's grip was slightly firmer than necessary, as if daring Kaname to try and shake it off. Trying not to rise to the bait, Kaname offered everyone in the room a soft smile instead, greeting them politely and bidding them welcome. Ichiou's grip intensified, trying to evoke a reaction, but Kaname ignored it.
Asato decided to change tactics, releasing Kaname's shoulder, but slipping his hand down to rest on Kaname's back instead, reminding the pureblood of what had happened in the soundproofed room.
Kaname was finding it increasingly difficult to maintain his seemingly casual stance as flashes of the earlier torment played in his mind. He had to do something to get away, or he would lose this façade of control. Carefully modulating his voice to be warm and friendly, he looked Ichiou straight in the eye, steely grey meeting rich wine.
"Where is Takuma? It's not like him to be late."
The almost imperceptible narrowing of Ichiou's eyes told Kaname he knew he was being outmanoeuvred. Inwardly triumphant, Kaname continued.
"I'll go find him, and see you all at table."
Asato resisted the urge to grind his teeth in frustration. Curse the boy! He was using the presence of the guests to his advantage, knowing his politely-worded excuse would have to be accepted. Of course, what Kaname didn't know was that a handful of those present were actually aware of Ichiou's ambitions, as well as the means he used in their pursuit. For the sake of the other… less enlightened… guests though, Asato addressed him neutrally.
It was unspoken, but understood that this respite was only temporary.
Takuma fussed with his tie pin, unsuccessfully. A knock sounded at the door, but he was too busy to go over and open it, so he merely called distractedly to whoever it was to come in.
He was rather surprised when Kaname entered.
"Kaname? Is everything all right?"
Kaname smiled gently. Takuma worried too much.
"Yes, I merely came to find you, that's all."
Takuma was puzzled at first as to why he hadn't simply sent someone to ask after him, then realized that it was probably because Kaname had needed to get away for a while. The blond nodded at his friend.
"I'll be ready in a second, just let me fix this pin."
Undoing the offending item for the second time, Takuma proceeded to straighten it before attempting to refasten it. His haste made him careless, however, and his finger slipped, the sharp end of the pin piercing it deeply.
He pulled it free, examining it as a bead of blood formed on the wound.
The scent crossed the room in seconds, and Kaname stiffened. He had been thirsty for a while now, but his hunger had been pushed to the back of his mind by everything else he had to worry about. Now, however, it was instantly called to the fore, tempted beyond measure by the fresh, rich scent of Takuma's noble blood. The green-eyed vampire was oblivious to Kaname's internal struggle though, merely continuing his examination of the small injury. Kaname's jaw ached as his fangs lengthened, and small tremors of predatory anticipation began to ripple through his frame. When Takuma brought the wound to his mouth to clean it, the soft suckling noise almost broke the last of Kaname's resistance… but he managed to reign himself in.
Takuma looked up sheepishly at Kaname, wanting to lighten the mood by joking about being clumsy for a vampire, but that was when he noticed Kaname's intent stare, vivid, glowing scarlet saturating the pureblood's gaze.
He wasn't quite sure how to handle this. Drawing attention to Kaname's condition when he was obviously fighting it was perhaps not the best idea, but he couldn't just ignore it either… so he addressed his friend softly.
"Kaname, if you need to…"
His voice seemed to snap Kaname out of his dark haze, his eyes returning to their usual burgundy shade as the pureblood shook his head.
"No, I'm fine. Come, they're expecting us downstairs."
Takuma looked doubtful, but followed Kaname nonetheless.
They went straight to the dining hall, all the guests having been ushered there a few moments before. To Kaname's dismay, there were only two seats available, and they were on either side of Ichiou. No doubt it was intentional. Kaname swallowed his apprehension and took the chair on Ichiou's right while Takuma sat down on his grandfather's left.
Ichiou took the opportunity to place a hand on Kaname's leg under the table, gripping just above his knee and making him extremely uncomfortable. It was clearly an intimidation tactic, but Kaname made no sign that he'd noticed. The entrée was served, and Kaname was heartily relived when Ichiou had to apply both hands to the task of eating it.
The meal wore on, Ichiou using every spare moment between courses to touch Kaname. On his shoulder, on his arm… even brushing across the back of his neck at vampire speed when nobody was looking. It was a constant struggle not to flinch, struggle or push away, and Kaname was sure he couldn't take much more. He was beginning to feel physically ill, and toyed momentarily with the thought of excusing himself from the table, but he knew that would be an admission of defeat, so he dismissed the idea. He would just have to endure it for a while longer.
The plate sat virtually untouched in front of Takuma as he pushed the food around with his fork. He had been casting surreptitious glances in Kaname's direction whenever he judged Ichiou to be preoccupied enough not to notice, and what he was seeing worried him greatly. As the meal progressed, Kaname was looking more and more haunted. There was rigid tension in the pureblood's jaw, and if he looked closely, he could see a slight tremble in Kaname's elegant fingers as they handled the cutlery. Takuma couldn't see a reason for his friend's discomfort at first, and thought perhaps it was just the strain of sitting next to the man who had beaten him so cruelly. Then he'd happened to catch sight of Ichiou's hand snaking around the back of Kaname's chair, and brushing roughly over the pureblood's lower spine where the gap in the chair back exposed it… Takuma was furious. It was a blatant disregard of the etiquette involving purebloods, but grandfather was doing it in a room full of guests, so certain that nobody would say anything even if they saw.
Takuma's lively green eyes grew more and more cold. At one point, his grandfather had turned to him, and asked him if he was feeling well. As if nothing was wrong. As if moments before Takuma hadn't seen his hand catch the pureblood's arm under the table yet again, squeezing the delicate wrist in a vice-like grip. The touches would only last for a split second, but the malicious cruelty behind them was obvious. It was too much to bear! But bear it he would, for Kaname's sake. So he had smiled, although it felt like a fake, detached gesture, and assured his grandfather that he was fine, just not very hungry.
Once the hellish meal was over, Kaname finally managed to escape his guardian's clutches. The guests all retired to one of the drawing rooms to discuss Council business, while Kaname and Takuma headed upstairs. Kaname noticed that Takuma was unusually quiet, not even attempting to make conversation as he walked sullenly at Kaname's side. He had almost never seen the blond noble in a bad mood.
"Takuma… what's wrong?"
Green eyes lifted to meet burgundy, surprise evident in the verdant depths.
"I… I saw what happened at dinner."
Understanding dawned on Kaname, and he felt a spike of shame that his friend had witnessed Ichiou's display. He schooled his voice carefully.
"I'm sorry you had to see that."
Takuma shook his head in disbelief.
"You have nothing to apologize for, Kaname. I just wish there was more I could do to help."
Kaname looked at him carefully, wondering whether to voice what he'd had on his mind all night. He knew it would put both of them at risk… but his whole being yearned for just one more day with Yuuki. A few more memories to cling onto to evade the pain. It was unprecedented to attempt two visits in such a short time, but he had overheard Ichiou talking to one of his Council lackeys about attending a conference in two days time. The old noble would be out for the whole day, so if they were cautious in their planning there would be very little chance of getting caught. His desperation to see the girl who was his whole world decided him.
"There is one thing…"
Takuma looked at him expectantly.
"Of course, name it."
Kaname cast cautious glances up and down the corridor before leaning in close so he could whisper.
"Help me sneak out again - the day after tomorrow. You don't have to come with me. In fact, it's probably best if you don't… that way you will not be implicated if I'm caught. I just… I need to see Yuuki."
The earnest request tugged at Takuma's heart, but at the same time it filled him with cold dread. Last time, grandfather had found out and Kaname had been severely punished. Why would the pureblood take such a risk so soon? Was it really that important to him? Takuma voiced his uncertainty.
"Kaname, I don't think it's a good idea. There is too much left to chance. If grandfather finds out, you know what will happen and…"
"I'm well aware of the stakes, Takuma. I wouldn't ask this of you if I could do it alone, but you know all the restrictions I'm under."
Hesitantly, Takuma agreed.
"Okay. I'll make the arrangements as soon as possible… but please, if it even looks like grandfather might find out what we're doing, let's stop."
"I won't let you go alone. We're in this together."
Kaname regarded his friend warmly for a moment, an unspoken gesture of thanks.
Takuma was inclined to think that the life finally returning to Kaname's eyes after the last few days of dark torment was thanks enough.
The following evening, Takuma woke early, using the time when the house was still reasonably quiet to call and coordinate the various aspects of their trip. He had to make use of the downstairs telephone, which was in a small alcove off the main hallway. He didn't like that it was so exposed, which was why he took advantage of the early hour.
Once everything had been confirmed, he left the alcove and headed upstairs. He would go back to his room until later, so that everyone would assume he'd been asleep all this time. With grandfather's conference keeping him out of the house tomorrow, the timing for their excursion were looking good. He would just ask Kaname later how he planned to evade his guards, and then everything would be in place.
He couldn't have known, but at that moment, a sandy-haired vampire dressed in an immaculate black suit emblazoned with the Ichijo family crest stepped out from behind one of the many verdant plants decorating the main downstairs hallway. He had been on his way to relieve the guard currently posted outside Kaname's door when he had heard the soft yet unmistakable voice of Takuma Ichijo from the alcove a little way down the hall. The early hour and quiet way the boy was speaking could only mean he was up to something illicit… perhaps the young heir had a forbidden relationship with a lower-class vampire? Smiling at the thought, he moved closer, hiding behind a plant to listen. What he heard though, was far more than just juicy crumbs of gossip to entertain the other guards with. As soon as the green-eyed vampire was out of sight, the guard slipped into the alcove and made a call of his own. The head of Kaname's guard detail was definitely going to be interested in this…
Kaname had also risen early, his sleep being broken and fitful. His need for blood had become too insistent to deny, so he used the time to seek out and wake a servant. It would not do for him to be thirsty while he was visiting Yuuki; she was innocent and precious, and as such she had to be protected at all costs from the monster within him… the part of him that craved her blood above all others. Although he knew it had to be done in order to keep her safe, it didn't make it any easier for him to bear, and he now sat near the fireplace in his room, trying to ignore the feelings of despondency which always accompanied a feeding. He hated that he was forced to rely on Ichiou's staff for blood. It was yet another way in which his guardian shackled his freedom, another piece of free will denied him - and because of it, every mouthful had tasted bitter and tainted. As he gazed idly into the flames, he finally heard the knock he had been waiting for. Takuma had arrived to discuss the finer details of their planned excursion.
As Takuma went inside, he noticed that Kaname was looking a lot better than he had been in the past few days. He seemed less gaunt, and there was a faint flush of colour to his alabaster-pale skin. Takuma guessed that his friend had fed recently, which would also explain the pureblood's sullen mood. Kaname disliked taking blood from the servants. He always said it made him feel like he was somehow in their debt. Takuma, who had been raised differently, couldn't really understand why. Any of the staff, being of lower station, would gladly give themselves to a pureblood, so it wasn't as if Kaname had to force any of them… and in Takuma's view, taking something that was freely offered did not equate to creating a debt. Although he did not share his friend's opinion on the matter, he knew feeding always upset Kaname, so he endeavoured not to mention it. Instead, he went over the particulars for their trip in a low whisper, very glad when the topic seemed to buoy his friend's spirits slightly.
Asato sat behind his stately desk, taking care of all the urgent affairs that needed to be concluded before tomorrow's conference. It felt like he had been sitting here for ages, each letter he had to reply to and each document he had to sign more tedious than the last. It made his temper even shorter than usual. When an insistent knocking invaded the silence, therefore, he stabbed the point of the pen into the page in irritation, snapping the nib and causing ink to run gleefully across the pristine paper. His eyes narrowed. Whoever saw fit to interrupt him had better have a very good explanation.
He barked out a command to enter, and was very surprised when the head of the guard detail assigned to watch Kaname came in. He had handpicked every one of the vampires overseeing the pureblood, and knew they were completely loyal and trustworthy. His anger quickly evaporated. If one of Kaname's guards had come to see him, there must be some urgent news regarding his ward… and the only news that could be important enough to warrant this kind of interruption was news of some sort of misdemeanour. Hiding his inner triumph at the prospect of a third beating in as many days, he put a scowl on his face and kept his tone clipped.
"What is it?"
The guard bowed.
"Ichijo-sama, I apologise for the interruption, but I thought you would want to know…"
Asato remained silent, but raised an eyebrow in question, which the guard took as permission to continue.
"I have reason to believe Kuran-sama is planning another unsupervised excursion."
This was far better than Asato had hoped for… but he needed to play his cards right.
"I see. Tell me everything you know."
The guard began explaining how he'd come by the information. When he was done, he asked what action they should take to prevent the pureblood's escape. Asato had dismissed that option, because another, far more satisfying choice had come to mind instead.
"Do nothing to stop him. Continue as normal, I will take care of this matter personally."
The guard bowed again.
"It shall be as you say, Ichijo-sama."
It did not come as a surprise to Asato that Takuma was helping Kaname. He would not punish his grandson, though. After all, if it hadn't been for Takuma, he might have had to wait much longer for another chance to see pain, fear and humiliation on his ward's face. Takuma thought he was being a good friend, but in reality he was already unwittingly betraying Kaname.
Asato smiled. Good. He might as well get used to that.
The correspondence soon lay forgotten as Asato turned his attention to preparing his trap. When one's quarry was a pureblood, it was best not to leave anything to chance.
Chapter 7: Fractured Hope
A word of warning… things start to get even darker in this chapter - there is torture involving nudity, humiliation and hints of non-con sexual situations.
Dawn broke over the Ichijo mansion, a time when most vampires would go to seek their rest. This day, however, was different.
Asato Ichijo was still awake because, as far as everyone knew, he had an important conference to attend. The Council often held summits like this one during the daylight hours. It was the quietest time for most of them - who managed estate, social and corporate business by night - and since the actual talks were conducted in the Council's underground conference area, sunlight was not a concern.
Kaname Kuran was not sleeping either. He would be seeing Yuuki in only a few hours, and he whiled away the time by absently playing with one of the tassels on the chair arm, thinking of things to talk about with her. He wondered if, despite asking Cross not to let anything slip to Yuuki, she would perhaps find out about his surprise visit and be waiting for him on the doorstep. A small, wistful smile tugged at the corners of the young pureblood's mouth as he imagined her clear, beautiful voice calling his name, seconds before her warm arms would surround him and make him feel truly loved. He sighed almost inaudibly, gazing at the elegant mahogany long case clock in the corner, wishing the intricate, mother-of-pearl-inlaid hands would move a little faster.
Sunrise found Takuma Ichijo pacing slowly around his room as he assessed and re-assessed every aspect of the day's schedule. He still felt uneasy about Kaname's impulsive decision to visit Yuuki so soon after the last time, and worry wound through his mind. Seven thirty, grandfather will leave for the summit. What if he was delayed though? Eight fifteen, the car will be at the gates. Or if the car came too early? If they were caught… if Kaname was caught…
- The sound of a whip, slicing through the air before finding flesh. A slap. A broken, pleading voice… -
Coming to a halt next to the window, Takuma ran a hand through his hair, shaking his head to dispel the memories. It will be fine. There's no way grandfather could have found out. I was careful. The reassurances did little to ease his mind though, and he resumed his restless trek across the sumptuous carpet.
A while later, Ichiou left the house, getting into his chauffeur-driven car and departing the estate.
The dark-haired pureblood watched from one of the many windows, his soul seeming to grow lighter the instant his guardian disappeared from sight. Now, he just had to slip away from the guards at the appointed time, and meet Takuma at the gates. Soon, he would be free, even if it was only for the day.
It was nearly time to leave, and Takuma was already on his way to the door when one of the servants hastily approached him.
"Young Master, there is an urgent phone call for you."
Takuma considered brushing it off, but perhaps it had something to do with their trip. Reluctantly, he followed the servant and took the call.
It was the car company, letting him know that due to unforeseen circumstances, there would be a thirty minute delay.
The usually gentle, green-eyed vampire clenched his jaw in frustration. This was bad – very bad. Hastily, Takuma checked his watch. They were supposed to have left in five minutes, which meant Kaname must be on the verge of escaping. He would have to hurry and inform his friend, lest Kaname was spotted standing at the gates before the car arrived. Quickly, he set off upstairs, reaching Kaname's quarters in under a minute. The guard at the door let him in eventually, but not before he had wasted precious time arguing that Kuran-sama was busy and wanted no interruptions. Takuma could tell from the guard's expression that Kaname had probably made that point abundantly clear, and it increased the noble's fear that he was too late. Sure enough, when he finally managed to talk the guard into letting him slip inside, Kaname was nowhere to be found.
Cursing this ill-timed complication, Takuma left Kaname's quarters sedately, calmly telling the guard that he had been right all along, Kaname did not wish to be disturbed. It took all his willpower, but he forced himself to walk casually until he was out of sight. As soon as he turned the corner though, he broke into a run, not caring that it was a terrible breach of decorum for a high-ranking noble to be tearing around the place like a man possessed. Brushing servants aside on his way, he made straight for the gates, but there was no sign of the pureblood.
Icy foreboding froze him in place. If Kaname wasn't in his room, and he wasn't out here, then where was he?
When it had been time to make good his escape, Kaname had opened his door and addressed the guards in the corridor.
"Please see that I'm not disturbed for a while, I'm in no mood for company."
The guards acknowledged his command, and Kaname shut the door once more, heading for the window. Due to the sanctity of purebloods, Ichiou couldn't place guards permanently inside Kaname's quarters. He also couldn't keep Kaname in a room where it might even remotely look like the pureblood was being held prisoner, for to imprison a pureblood was only allowed in the most extreme circumstances. It had therefore always been relatively simple to evade his guard detail… until, of course, Ichiou had taken to stationing two guards in the grounds of the mansion, beneath Kaname's window. This was supposedly to keep "malicious threats" from reaching the Kuran heir, but of course was really only to catch the pureblood in the act of absconding. They couldn't stop him from going anywhere he wished, but one of them would always follow him while the other ran straight to Ichiou to report Kaname's delinquency, giving his guardian ample time to plot how to punish him upon his return.
Last time, he had used his telekinetic powers to create a diversion, rustling some bushes quite some distance away and pelting the guards with rocks. Muttering about a possible security breach, the vampires had left their posts, giving Kaname the moments he needed to get clear of the mansion. They had been severely reprimanded for the incident though, and he doubted they would fall for the same ruse again.
Discreetly, he leaned out of the window, pretending to just be getting some fresh air, but secretly searching for any sign of the guards. Usually, they would be standing in the shade of the mansion, directly under the window, not wanting to be out in the bright sun. This morning though, there was nobody there. Although a shadow of suspicious doubt crept into the young pureblood's mind, he forced himself to be rational. There could be any number of reasons for the temporary absence of the guards… and when he thought about it, it didn't really matter. All that did matter was that he now had a clear run to get to the gates before the car arrived, and Yuuki was waiting.
Leaping gracefully from the window, he landed in absolute silence on the manicured lawns below, the sound of impact completely absorbed by the cushion of air molecules he'd created for that purpose. Straightening up, he headed stealthily towards the gates.
The gatekeeper was easy to get around; he only really bothered to do his job when Ichiou might be watching. The rest of the time, he preferred drinking and gambling with the off-duty guards. As expected, the gate-house was deserted, and Kaname reached the gates without incident. He was just in time too; the shiny, black car was already waiting, tinted windows gleaming in the sun. The driver stood next to the open door, and greeted him politely.
"Ah, good morning Kuran-sama. Your travelling companion is already inside; we are ready to depart if you are."
Kaname walked hurriedly to the car, sliding into the plush leather seat without a second thought. It was only once the door had been closed that he came to notice the slight difference in the scent and aura of the person sitting across from him in the spacious interior. Heavy dread settled in his stomach like a leaden weight as he brought his eyes up to meet not the warm, friendly green gaze he had been expecting, but a vicious, steely grey stare instead.
The car began to move, and Kaname knew he had made a grave mistake.
Asato watched the growing horror in his ward's eyes with cruel relish. The plan had gone flawlessly, leaving Takuma none the wiser and Kaname in his grasp. Today, he planned to make good on his promise. He would force Kaname to beg… and he would enjoy every minute of it. He did not have much time, as he had to put in an appearance at the Council summit, but he would use the time he did have to good effect.
As the car made its way through the back roads leading to the private woods surrounding the Ichijo estate, Asato's anticipation reached new heights. He made sure to catalogue each expression flitting through the pureblood's garnet eyes. Kaname's face never gave anything away – it was always a mask of perfect composure – but if you knew what to look for, there were subtle signs of distress, and these were the clues the older vampire focused on.
Hatred. Anger. Despair. Hope – just for a second, perhaps as he thought of escaping, but that was soon quelled by Asato's favourite - fear.
The chauffeur reached the appointed place; a dead-end road sheltered by trees. He parked the car, leaving it immediately and wandering off into the trees. He was being well-paid not to ask questions or stick around. His orders had been clear; Drive the car into the woods, leave for thirty minutes, and then come back.
A half hour may be all he had, but a good businessman like Asato knew how to get maximum results in a minimal amount of time. Reaching for his elegant, gold-handled cane, he looked meaningfully at Kaname.
Yes, this time he was going to teach the impudent pureblood a lesson he would never forget.
With the engine off, the silence was deafening.
Kaname's eyes searched fruitlessly for a way out, but running now would only worsen the punishment later.
A sharp chill of horror traced up his spine as Ichiou's hand closed around the smooth wood of his cane, and the pureblood's fear was realized when his guardian looked at him in the way he usually did when he expected Kaname to prepare himself for a beating. Swallowing his dread, Kaname detached himself from the situation, his hands almost automatically taking off his jacket before sliding to his shirt buttons.
Once his shirt had been removed, he looked at Ichiou for further instruction. He could guess what his guardian would ask of him, but Ichiou was very particular about being in control during these sessions, and would punish Kaname harshly for daring to assume anything, so the pureblood waited. It wasn't long before Ichiou's gruff voice broke the silence.
"Turn around, and kneel on the floor."
Aware that there was nothing to gain by refusing, Kaname numbly complied, bracing his hands on the car seat and closing his eyes against the pain he knew would come.
Asato looked over the as yet unmarred expanse of the pureblood's back, seeking the best point of assault. He soon realised though that it would be risky to cane Kaname there – his whips were specially designed not to cut flesh, but the cane might well result in his ward's blood being spilled. For a moment Asato was at a loss… until his gaze wandered lower, to Kaname's buttocks and thighs. The chances of inflicting cuts there would be significantly reduced, and it would disconcert his ward to be beaten there, which was an added bonus.
Grimly, he swung the cane, landing the first blow across Kaname's rear. The sudden gasp betrayed both pain and surprise, and the pureblood swung to face him.
"I'm not done, Kaname. Turn back around."
His ward glared at him, defiance clear in the seething burgundy eyes. Much as Asato enjoyed watching Kaname's attempts at rebelliousness, time was wasting, and there were objectives to achieve… so the old vampire played his trump card.
"Ah, still planning to fight me I see. Perhaps you fail to realize that when I called the car company to… rearrange… your schedule, I also found out exactly where they were going to take you originally. I doubt you would have been careless enough to go to the precise address of whatever it is that fascinates you so in the outside world, but I'm sure that some dedicated surveillance and a little investigation in the general vicinity would yield results. I would so enjoy finding out where you spend your time…or perhaps I should ask, with whom?"
In actual fact, the company had not told him any such thing. Takuma had obviously chosen them for that exact reason. They specialized in transporting high-profile nobles and purebloods to clandestine meetings and prized discretion above all else. Although they had been willing to delay the real rental car for a while - only because of Asato's relation to Takuma, and a substantial bribe - they had completely refused to divulge any details of the original destination. His ward didn't know that though, and Asato was counting on using that ignorance against him.
Kaname's heart plummeted at Ichiou's words.
I've betrayed her. After all I've done to keep her safe… and if he finds her, finds out what she means to me… whatever happens will be my fault. My life is nothing without her…
It was difficult, but he forced himself to calm. It would not do to show the true depth of his despair, lest he give Ichiou even more weapons to use against him.
Fixing his guardian with a carefully composed look, he tried to speak casually.
"You would be wasting your time. I leave the estate merely to escape the tedious restrictions you place upon me. The location differs each time, and they are all just quiet spots where I go to contemplate."
"Really? Then why is it that you're shaking, Kaname?"
The pureblood was at a loss for words, merely dropping his gaze to his traitorous fingers, hating the slight tremor that had given him away. He realized Yuuki was in danger; and Takuma too. He knew Ichiou wouldn't hesitate to try forcing information out of his grandson if he thought it could be useful. Resisting this cruel fate was not going to accomplish anything except provoking Ichiou's wrath and vengeance, and if there was even a slight chance that capitulation would protect Yuuki, Kaname was willing to endure the pain a thousand times over.
Asato's mouth curled into a mirthless smirk as Kaname turned away from him again, presenting his back in a gesture of submission.
"You will pay for your defiance. Bend over."
Gritting his teeth in frustrated rage, Kaname complied.
Asato drew back the cane, but then paused. Not being able to see the marks on the pureblood's pale, perfect skin was detracting from his satisfaction… but of course, there was a way he could remedy that. He spoke slowly, clearly; his tone filled with malicious zeal.
"Take off your pants, Kaname."
His ward's voice was suddenly flustered and unsure, poise overridden by surprise.
Evidently, a more direct method was necessary. Asato grabbed Kaname's hips, pulling the young vampire towards him roughly, trapping him between his knees as his hands slid round to find the pureblood's belt buckle. Kaname was too shocked to resist at first, but soon regained himself, struggling against the older vampire's firm grasp.
"Cease this foolishness at once, boy, or you will regret your actions."
Ichiou's voice hissing in his ear reminded Kaname of what was at stake. Yuuki, Takuma, even Cross… all of them were in danger should Ichiou's depraved whims ever turn in their direction. The best hope was to keep his guardian distracted, and if he had to sacrifice his pride and body to do that, then so be it. No price was too high. Conceding defeat, he halted his struggles immediately, but remained tense and rigid in his guardians grip. Ichiou undid the belt, yanking Kaname's pants and underwear sharply down to pool around his knees before shoving him forward, unbalancing him until he fell and was once more bent over the seat.
The hated feeling of vulnerability increased tenfold as Kaname knelt there, exposed to his hated guardian's evil gaze.
As Ichiou brought the cane down again, this time on naked flesh, Kaname's cheeks grew hot with a mixture of humiliation and the heat of his anger. His fingers curled into the plush leather of the seat and his eyes burned with unshed tears. The pain was considerable; the cane was sturdy and the welts it left in its wake blazed with a fierce inner fire even as the marks faded, but Kaname was determined not to make a sound. Last time, he had been unforgivably weak to express his anguish, but that was a mistake he was not planning to repeat.
Time was growing short, and Asato's temper was rising. Each blow of the cane was harder than the last, leaving bruises now along with the weals. Every bit of flesh exposed to him had been subjected to the cane, and he could tell his ward was in agony by the way tremors were shuddering through the lithe body, ribs fairly heaving with pained breaths… but the stubborn pureblood refused to make a sound. Not a whimper, not a gasp could be wrung from that mouth, regardless of how vicious or well-placed the strike. Losing patience, Asato decided to try the same tactic that had brought him results before. Laying the cane down, he began slapping Kaname sharply, making sure his hand made contact with the still-healing welts over the boy's backside and upper thighs.
Kaname's fingers were becoming claws, slicing into the seat, but he refused to give in. He repeated the names of the people who meant most to him in this world over and over like a mantra in his mind, reminding himself of their warmth and kindness as the pain swept over him in a tidal wave. Silently, he suffered.
This really was too much. Asato Ichijo did not lose, and especially not to a young, overconfident vampire like Kaname. It was obvious that pain alone was no longer enough to elicit a reaction, and that thought vexed Asato greatly. The driver would be back soon, and all the planning that had gone in to today's excursion would have been a waste. In fact, the only time he'd managed to get any kind of decent response from the accursed boy was when he'd forced his pants down… the old vampire's eyes acquired a sadistic gleam as he caught sight of the gold head of the cane on the floor at his side, an idea forming.
Placing one hand firmly on Kaname's back to hold him down; he picked up the cane, and began tracing the cool metal of the handle softly across the pureblood's thigh, watching keenly for a reaction.
The second Ichiou's large hand had splayed across his spine to keep him in place, Kaname had tensed. Whatever was coming was bound to be worse than the day's other horrors, and the pureblood tried to prepare himself for it. He was completely caught off guard when cold, smooth metal began snaking over his painfully hot skin, the motions almost soothing in their subtlety. It did not fool him, however. A terrible feeling of foreboding settled over him - Ichiou never touched him gently unless it was as a precursor to pain, a method of contrasting and accentuating the agony.
The object - which Kaname now realized was Ichiou's cane handle - traced up his thigh, then over his left buttock, pausing when it reached the cleft. Horrified comprehension began to form; then solidified when the metal knob was pressed between his pert cheeks.
No…please! Anything but that…
A light sheen of nervous sweat broke out all over Kaname's body, chilling him instantly. He had known Ichiou took great pleasure in his humiliation and pain, but he had never thought the old vampire would take things this far. His survival instincts were urging him to scream, to fight, to plead… to just do something to prevent this from happening, but his rational mind overrode it. He could not let Ichiou win. No price is too high to keep her safe. No price is too high. No… price…
His internal monologue broke off when the bulbous knob was placed at his entrance, not pushing yet - but making it clear that he was completely at Ichiou's mercy. He couldn't help it, the cloying fear was too much, and he let slip a small whimper. His tormentor spoke in a venomous, steely voice, the combination of the rasping words and his current situation sending a shiver up Kaname's spine.
"Beg me to stop, Kaname."
It was a faint whisper, a last bastion of defiance in the face of overwhelming fear. In answer, Ichiou began pressing the cane a little harder; forcing Kaname's body to stretch, and the sensation was raw agony. Kaname didn't think he'd ever felt a pain so intense. It was like being torn apart slowly, with unbearable cruelty. The physical ache paled in comparison to the shame of being violated this way though, and Kaname was sure he was going to lose his mind. He had been so confident he would be able to endure this, to not let it get under his skin, but the feeling of being utterly helpless and hopeless was twining around his heart like poison ivy, tainting him and making him feel so pathetically weak and dirty. Another little sound escaped him, his once-firm resolve crumbling under the steadily increasing, torturous pressure of the cane.
Asato knew that what he was doing was likely to make Kaname bleed soon, but he was too close to victory to care. A red haze of twisted lust had settled over him, and he would not stop until he got what he wanted. His voice took on a dangerous, ragged edge.
"I said beg me. Now!"
Ichiou gave the cane a rough little jerk, making bolts of razor-sharp pain radiate through Kaname's whole body.
Kaname knew he couldn't hold out much longer. Futilely, he tried to pull away, but there was no room to move, and the inexorable progress of the cane continued. It was happening again, the treacherous words were threatening to spill from his lips unbidden. It was so unfair… a single tear of pain and disgrace tracked down his cheek as he opened his mouth to voice his defeat.
The sudden, sharp snap of leaves and twigs intruded upon Asato's impending triumph, making the old vampire curse under his breath. The driver was returning, which meant their time was up.
He had paid the man well to keep silent, but he was still an unreliable third party, and Ichiou could not risk anyone finding out about the abuse of his pureblood ward.
Looking over Kaname's perspiration-slicked back, he decided he was satisfied regardless. He may not have succeeded in his original objective, but seeing the proud pureblood reduced to this quivering, whimpering mess was one of the most intoxicating things he'd ever beheld. He had a new weapon in his arsenal now, and he wouldn't hesitate to use it. Savagely, he pulled the cane back, throwing it aside before leaning over Kaname, grasping the young vampire's heaving, sweating sides possessively, loving the shudder of revulsion running through the lithe frame under his touch. Sibilantly, he delivered a dark promise into the pureblood's ear.
"This is just the beginning…"
Sitting back on the seat, Asato smoothed out his clothes, while watching Kaname with a vindictive eye as the pureblood gathered himself and began to dress as quickly as possible with shaking fingers, still kneeling on the floor.
Kaname's face was burning with deep shame, but he held his guardian's gaze. To look away was a sign of submission, and despite everything, he still refused to give Ichiou that additional satisfaction. He tried his best not to wince either as he returned to his seat, breathing through the excruciating pain of sitting down on raw, traumatized flesh.
The car door opening and closing was followed by the engine roaring to life, and soon they were moving again.
Anxiety churned in Kaname's stomach as Ichiou's threat played over and over in his mind. Evidently, the old vampire had only just begun to scratch the surface of his depraved lusts. The pureblood had always thought things couldn't get any worse, but it seemed his guardian was determined to prove him wrong.
Their game had been moved to the next level, and for the first time in his life Kaname felt like he may be losing his grip on the pieces.
Chapter 8: The Fragility Of Trust
The car pulled up to the gates of the estate and Kaname moved to get out, but Asato arrested his progress by holding the cane in his way. Unable to resist causing the pureblood emotional torment on top of the physical, he spoke.
"Send Takuma my thanks. He did an excellent job of delivering you to me."
A dark shadow passed momentarily over Kaname's face, but he said nothing. The cane was lowered, and Kaname disembarked, heartily pleased when the car had disappeared into the distance.
The pureblood walked slowly up the drive, still pained somewhat by his injuries, but pained a thousand times more by Ichiou's parting words. It was not entirely unexpected; after all, Kaname had always known that trusting Takuma was a risk. What was unexpected was that it actually hurt him to even think of it.
It's my own fault for allowing myself to care.
Resisting the urge to put his arms around himself to ease the ache in his chest, he walked on, holding himself tall and proud. He was not even halfway to the house when Takuma came towards him in a rush.
"Kaname! Are you all right? What happened?"
As if he didn't know.
Shutting all emotion deep inside, Kaname let his eyes become cold and glazed, ignoring Takuma's expressions of concern and continuing to walk towards the door.
Takuma was afraid of – not to mention greatly confused by – the pureblood's lack of response. Perhaps it was only because they were in public view? Takuma supposed he shouldn't have come running out here in such haste. He should have waited until Kaname was in a more secluded area, but he'd been so terribly worried for his friend, and when he'd seen him through the window... Silently, he fell into step at Kaname's side.
Every second with Takuma next to him was torture. Kaname longed to confront the noble, to show him the folly of crossing a pureblood and a Kuran no less, but he knew that acting on his urge for vengeance would bring him nowhere.
Takuma became aware that Kaname was exuding a very hostile aura right now, and it made the hairs on his neck rise in instinctive response. He looked around for something that might be causing the pureblood's aggression, but there was nothing. Surely… surely it wasn't directed at him? If only Kaname would speak, say something to relieve his concern.
The silence grew, as did Takuma's discomfort. By the time they reached Kaname's room, Takuma's fears were spiralling exponentially. Ignoring the startled guards who still thought the pureblood was inside, Kaname retreated into his room. Takuma was unsure whether he should follow, but Kaname had made no move to prevent him from doing that, so he went inside, closing the door softly. The pureblood had walked over to the window, and was gazing at some point on the horizon, tension visible in every line of his body. Takuma's voice was soft, almost pleading.
"Kaname, please… tell me what's wrong."
"I suppose you take me for a fool."
Takuma's eyes widened; both at the pureblood's tone – which was hard and cold as frozen steel – and at the sudden accusation.
"N-no! Of course not!"
It was not the most eloquent defence, but Takuma had been taken by surprise, and his mind was reeling. Kaname whipped around to face him, eyes beginning to blaze with brilliant carmine rage.
"Your grandfather asked me to thank you. He must be so proud to have you as his protégé. You executed his plans perfectly, delivered me to him, and now you stand here - lying to my face - and still manage to make it sound almost convincing."
An iron fist seemed to punch through Takuma's chest at Kaname's words. The noble realized at once what was happening. Somehow, no doubt through Takuma's own carelessness, Ichiou had found out about the trip, intercepted Kaname, and to top it all off, set his grandson up to take the fall.
"Kaname, I-I never… please, you must believe me, I didn't know!"
"I grow tired of your lies, Ichijo. Get out."
Kaname suddenly emphasising his family name – associating him with his grandfather – made Takuma's heart ache, as did the pureblood's cruel dismissal. He was determined not to take it personally though; he knew Kaname was only lashing out at what he perceived to be the cause of his pain. What happened today? Was he beaten again? Was…was he perhaps still hurting, even now? Takuma longed to ask all those questions, yearned to tell the pureblood that he would protect him, watch over him again if he wanted to sleep… but he knew it was impossible in the current situation.
He decided it would be best to leave the pureblood to calm down somewhat before attempting to convince him of his innocence, but not before he'd laid out the facts. He kept his eyes on Kaname's, hoping they would convey the truth of his words.
"It… it probably was I who betrayed you Kaname; and I can only hope that one day you'll forgive me for my negligence - but I promise you, I did it unknowingly. You must see what grandfather is trying to do! He's not satisfied with hurting your body; he wants to break your spirit as well! I swear to you, I was not involved!"
A small flame of hope dared to flicker briefly in his heart, but Kaname smothered it at once. This was too much - too much pain, too many deceptions; far too tempting to believe this enemy wearing the face of a friend. He just wanted to be left alone; so he put as much ice into his tone as he could, needing to drive Takuma away.
"The oath of a traitor means nothing to me."
Each word fell between them like the blow of an axe, and Takuma had to fight back tears. He knew there was no point in staying now; Kaname's pain was obviously still too fresh, the memories too raw. He turned to go, but just before he opened the door, he delivered a final, anguished entreaty.
"Please… don't let him win."
Once he was sure Takuma was gone, Kaname let the pain take him. He could not make a sound lest the guards come to investigate… so he just sank to the floor, ignoring the stabbing pains shooting up his spine from the areas where he was still tender due to Ichiou's cane. He hugged his knees as if hoping to hold himself together and keep the looming tears at bay.
He hated how weak he was, how easily he set himself up to get hurt. He should never, ever have been fool enough to trust Takuma Ichijo. It was his own fault… his heart - so empty and cold since the death of his parents and the loss of his sister - had been aching for a friend. The visits to Yuuki were always too sparse, too short… and of course he could never really confide in her; never speak of the horrors that befell him daily in this lavishly decorated hell. It had been so easy, so comforting to believe he had a confidant, someone he could speak freely to, another soul to share the burden of his secret shame. In the end, it had been nothing more than an illusion, a cruel, teasing mirage conjured up by wishful thinking. He was alone once more. Always alone.
Silent sobs tore through his frame and despite his best efforts, incriminating tears began painting glittering tracks down his cheeks, accentuating his hopelessness. Every time his hated guardian had him cornered, he swore he would not allow Ichiou to get to him, and yet somehow, the old vampire always did. His hands clenched into fists as he tried to rein in his emotion. He managed, but barely. Stiffly, he got to his feet and stumbled over to the bathroom.
It was hours before he felt he'd even begun to remove the taint Ichiou's touch had placed upon him.
He curled up on the bed eventually, on top of the covers, his raw-scrubbed skin still flushed and sensitive beneath the fine silk of his pyjamas. Even though the slight friction of the soft fabric on his skin was painful, the very thought of removing the clothes and sleeping naked fairly terrified him. He lay there, breath hitching quietly in distress.
His final thoughts before sleep rose mercifully to claim him were of Yuuki. He wasn't quite sure when he crossed the line between wakefulness and slumber, but he dreamed she stood in a field of flowers, calling to him. He wanted to go to her, but she got further and further away until he could see her no longer.
I'm sorry Yuuki…I tried.
The conference had been long and unproductive. The talks had reached a deadlock, and even with his extensive influence, Asato Ichijo had been unable to sway enough opinions to resolve the issue. As a result, they would have to reconvene in a few weeks time – an annoying inconvenience that was bound to cost both time and money.
Slamming the car door as he got into the back, Asato scowled. Today, things kept going from bad to worse. It had started with the driver's untimely interruption of his session with Kaname, and everything had gone downhill from there.
Since then, his body had been restless and tense… the sight of the pureblood so naked and vulnerable in front of him had awakened dormant urges within him. He ached to get hold of the boy again and continue where they left off...
His mind drifted through an inventory of the whips and implements he had in the soundproof room, contemplating their possible uses on the pureblood's lithe, beautiful body. As more fevered imaginings took hold, he realised it might be time to acquire some new items specially for this new, more satisfying game he'd discovered.
Closing off the partition between himself and the chauffeur, he reached for the in-car phone. While he waited for his contact to answer the call, a sadistic smirk spread across his lips.
He hoped Kaname was resting well, re-energizing that stubborn, iron-clad determination of his.
After all, half the fun of the hunt lay in the chase.
Chapter 9: Broken Wings
In this chapter, extra warnings apply for graphic non-consensual yaoi as well as the usual torture/blood aspects.
The week following the car incident was one of the worst weeks in Kaname's life. There was nobody to trust, no haven safe enough to hide in and nowhere to run that was out of Ichiou's grasp. His guardian would often give him long, lecherous looks laced with sadistic intent, making the young pureblood's heart race in fear. He avoided Ichiou as much as possible, but of course, the old vampire made sure that any respite was fleeting.
During the daylight hours, Kaname frequently couldn't get to sleep, and spent the day perched nervously atop the satin-quilted bed instead. He knew well that it was only a matter of time before Ichiou came for him. He knew with equal certainty that the only reason his guardian hadn't done so yet was that Ichiou enjoyed toying with him, prolonging the inevitable so that he could feed off Kaname's dread and paranoia in the way he longed to feast on his blood.
These things Kaname knew – but the knowledge did little to ease his mind or calm his fears.
He told himself he was being unforgivably weak and pathetic, locking himself up in his room like a prisoner. He was a pureblood, a prince among vampires. Purebloods did not run from anything. Purebloods feared nothing – yet here he was, living in terror like a cowed mortal.
On top of everything else, there was the younger Ichijo. Takuma seemed determined to make Kaname believe that he had not been involved in Ichiou's plans, and muttered quiet apologies and denials every evening throughout dinner, watching Kaname with sad longing while the pureblood picked listlessly through the food in front of him, eating almost nothing. Kaname did his best to ignore his erstwhile friend's attempts, placing a cold, disinterested mask over his features whenever Takuma launched another salvo of lies, but couldn't deny the deep ache within him that wished the blonde noble was telling the truth.
Tonight had been no different. Kaname was so tired of it all. He felt like he'd been stretched so thin that he was going to snap any day now, but at the same time he knew he had to hold himself together for the one person who still meant the world to him. The only one who would not betray him. His life was not just his own; his life belonged to her. If he was not around in the future to shield her, who would be? Despite his once-fearsome reputation, Cross was human, ageing. He may not still be there when Yuuki would need protection the most.
As he readied himself for bed – mostly out of habit since he wasn't planning on sleeping anyway – he rubbed agitatedly at his eyes, trying to force the burning ache of unshed tears to subside through sheer effort of will.
Asato sat at his desk, turning the parcel in his hands over thoughtfully. He had sent for this about a week ago, and it had finally arrived. He was delaying opening it though, the better to appreciate it when he did.
He watched the sun rising steadily through the window, squinting a little at the intensity of the light, but valuing it nonetheless. In an hour or so, all the servants would be in bed… and then Ichiou would finally be able to corner Kaname as he'd been itching to do since the car trip. In fact, Asato had been having trouble holding his newly discovered urges back for the whole week. Every time he closed his eyes, he'd seen that intoxicating picture of Kaname on his knees before him, those broken whimpers and gasps and the way the pureblood's naturally seductive scent intensified when he was afraid…
Licking his lips, Ichiou decided he would wait no longer. With careless impatience, he shredded the innocuous brown wrapping and removed the contents. A crop… much shorter and easier to control at close range than any of his existing whips, a leather leash, and lastly, a black leather collar of the finest craftsmanship, about two and a half inches wide, with loops on the back for fingers to fit through and the Ichijou crest emblazoned on the front just as he had asked. He smiled grimly. Yes… these were the items which he'd use when he claimed the boy. Each of them spoke of possession and ownership, and after today, Ichiou planned to make sure Kaname knew that if he did not surrender his blood, his body would pay the price.
The light flooded the room a little further, and Ichiou judged that the time had arrived. Rising, he crossed to the bookshelf, opening the hidden door and placing the crop and leash on a small ledge just inside the door. The collar, however, he tucked into the inside pocket of his coat. Just in case Kaname was planning on being difficult.
In his room, Takuma paused his agitated pacing to gaze out of the window at the sunlight spreading across the sprawling lawns of the Ichijou estate. He'd always liked the sun, unlike most of his strictly nocturnal species. The few friends of a similar age he had among other noble houses often teased him, saying that he was very un-vampire like. Takuma smiled sadly, but the wan gesture did not reach his haunted eyes, and soon withered.
The young noble felt guilt and anger overwhelm him once more.
Guilt for not realizing something was wrong when the car company called, for not anticipating what Grandfather would do to the pureblood, for failing utterly as both a confidant and a friend.
Anger at himself for not being able to express his loyalty to Kaname adequately, at his grandfather for being a loathsome, cruel, manipulative man, and at Kaname for not even listening to him when he tried to apologize and explain that he wasn't a traitor.
His fists clenched involuntarily. Beneath his sunny exterior, Takuma still possessed the iron-and-fire heart of an Ichijou, and right now, he really wanted to hit something. He hadn't been eating properly this last week, unable to force food into his mouth when he caught sight of the pureblood's untouched plate. He hadn't been able to sleep well either, his mind refusing to switch off, constantly tormenting him by replaying Kaname's damning words, or coming up with lists of things he should have done differently. He was irritable and off-kilter, feeling like a ship tossed about in a storm with no hope of escape.
He began walking again, until he stopped suddenly, facing the door. His heart told him to go to Kaname, to plead for forgiveness, to sleep outside the pureblood's door if he had to. His head told him he was being an idiot, thinking that Kaname could ever forgive him after what he thought Takuma had done, and besides, Ichijous did not beg for anything - it was undignified.
Caught between reason and compassion, Takuma paced once more, hoping that one side or the other would win out and tell him what to do, or at the very least that he'd exhaust himself in the process and finally find some rest.
Kaname jolted awake, eyes darting around the shadows of the shutter-darkened room, as yet unsure what had woken him. He had fallen asleep without meaning to, and due to his body's extreme exhaustion, he was much groggier now than he would normally have been upon waking. As a result, he failed to notice the presence behind him until it was too late. A large, ungentle hand clamped firmly over his mouth, stifling his shocked yell, while an equally rough, strong arm pinned him to the bed. He struggled against his captor, but the angle was awkward with him half-pressed into the mattress. The voice which came next sent rivers of ice down his spine.
"Be still, boy!"
So, the time had come. Kaname stopped fighting. He told himself he wasn't admitting defeat – merely biding his time until he could strike back more effectively – but he knew as well as Ichiou that resistance was not really an option, considering everything Kaname had to lose.
Ichiou released his hold on Kaname's mouth, gripping the pureblood's arm instead and yanking him harshly into a sitting position.
"Get up," Ichiou hissed harshly. Kaname complied, finally facing his guardian. There was pure malice dancing in those flinty eyes, and the young pureblood almost visibly shuddered. "Come with me. If you try to draw attention or escape, you know you will only be making things more difficult for yourself."
Kaname could see how much Ichiou was enjoying having power over him. Again, the pureblood considered merely killing Ichiou where he stood, running from this place and hiding somewhere… but that would only make him a fugitive, and he would lose everything anyway. One day though… one day I swear I will make him pay. The vengeful thoughts helped to distract Kaname from the fear and revulsion he felt as he pulled a long coat over his silk nightclothes, unable to ignore the way Ichiou's eyes were sliding possessively over his body as he did so.
That day would evidently not be today, though.
Asato led him to the door, not touching him yet, but rather forcing him to walk forward by advancing on his back. The pureblood reined in his aura, not wanting Ichiou to know how it made his hackles rise having his guardian behind him this way. They left Kaname's room, Ichiou merely nodding to the guards outside the door. They were two of Ichiou's most loyal followers, and Kaname knew they would say nothing of anything they saw. The halls of the manor were starkly silent, all the staff being abed at this time of day. Taking advantage of the lack of witnesses, Ichiou placed a hand on Kaname's shoulder, steering the pureblood through the corridors domineeringly. How Kaname hated this man and his vile, possessive touch. He ached to shrug off the hand, to struggle, even to turn around with his superior pureblood speed and just bite the bastard… but of course, his vicious fantasies went unfulfilled, and they reached Ichiou's study. His guardian opened the impressively carved door, pushing Kaname inside as usual.
"You know where to go," Ichiou's baritone declared. Kaname glared at his tormentor, but it had no effect. Ichiou could see the small trembles now running through the pureblood's frame as he headed towards the secret entrance to the underground chamber.
Ah, so that's today's game. Kaname mused. He's determined to make me complicit in my own punishment. Kaname tried to keep his breathing steady as he activated the mechanism. As usual, the door swung silently, revealing the darkness within. Feigning nonchalance, Kaname descended the stairs with practiced ease, his pureblood eyes adjusting quickly to the gloom.
Asato followed his ward, pausing to retrieve the crop and light the wall sconces as he passed. He had foregone having more modern lighting installed down here as there was something about flickering firelight on sweat-slicked skin that he'd always found particularly appealing. He smiled darkly, eyeing the young, ethereally beautiful pureblood waiting below. It was finally time to play.
Kaname's heart was thudding painfully hard against his ribs as he watched Ichiou lighting the torches with exaggerated care, as if preparing for some grand ceremony. Briefly, he considered resisting. Although Ichiou held the age and experience advantage, Kaname was still a pureblood… he could use his powers to kill the older vampire as quickly and easily as crushing a bug. Much as the thought appealed, it would not work. Ichiou was all but invulnerable. If Kaname did him any harm, the Council would find out and imprison him for the remainder of eternity. All the plans Kaname had made for the future would shatter, and he knew Ichiou's mocking face would taunt him from beyond the grave.
Ichiou's gruff voice interrupted his musings. The elder vampire had reached the bottom of the stairs, and was now removing something from the inside pocket of his coat with his left hand. Kaname was hesitant, but he approached, judging that it would be best not to provoke Ichiou's wrath too early. Perhaps he would just whip Kaname again and get it over with - the young pureblood had already noted that Ichiou didn't have his cane with him… surely that was a good sign? As he came within his guardian's reach though, and saw the item in that large hand, his heart sank.
It was a black leather collar. A collar… with the Ichijou family crest picked out on the front in delicate mother-of-pearl and silver. "If you think I'm going to…" Kaname began, disgust evident in his tone, but he was silenced by Ichiou giving him a sharp blow across the face with a short crop which seemed to have materialized in his other hand. An angry red welt grew on the pureblood's cheek, fading as it healed, but leaving behind the stinging burn.
"Turn around!" Ichiou's voice was a steely command, but held a breathy undertone of barely-disguised impatience.
Gritting his teeth, Kaname complied. He almost squirmed when the cool leather was placed around his throat, and the side buckle cinched painfully tight, but he held himself still. The collar didn't quite inhibit his airway, but it made its presence known with every breath.
Ichiou leaned in close, breathing into his ear even as one hand slid down Kaname's back to caress his hip and the other went to grasp the back of the collar, fingers slipping into the leather loops and making it impossible for Kaname to jerk away without choking himself. "Now," Ichiou murmured darkly, letting go of the collar and giving the pureblood a small shove in the direction of the posts, "undress."
Kaname tried taking as long as possible to unbutton his jacket, but Ichiou thwacked the crop across the palm of his hand threateningly. Reluctantly, Kaname shrugged out of the overcoat and reached for the hem of his silk sleepshirt, very aware of the way Ichiou's eyes seemed to burn through him, tainting him inside and out as he removed the garment as slowly as was safe, wishing he'd been wearing more layers. Cool air brushed across his warm skin, raising gooseflesh on his naked arms. Kaname dropped the shirt, his fingers feeling shaky and numb at the thought of what would happen next.
Asato had watched greedily as inch after inch of his ward's pale, perfect flesh was exposed. When the pureblood finally pulled the shirt off over his head, the silver crest on the collar caught the dim light from the torches, and Ichiou felt a warm tingle of anticipation stir in his blood. This was going to be glorious, a defining conquest in Asato's long lifetime. Every other victory was fickle; nothing in comparison to actually having this gorgeous, powerful being to force into submission... just the thought was enough to make lazy coils of lust pool in his groin. He could feel himself hardening, and it made him impatient. Kaname had paused after removing the shirt, and was now watching him warily, obviously hoping it would be enough. Asato smirked inwardly. Let the boy think that was all – for now.
He approached the pureblood, shackling him to the posts as usual, but running his hands over that smooth, enticing skin far more than was necessary to secure Kaname's wrists, delighting in the way the contact made his ward's breathing hitch and frame tremble. As soon as the pureblood was bound, Asato moved around behind his prisoner, placing his hands on Kaname's slender hips. Gently, he hooked his thumbs into the waist of the pureblood's wine red pyjama bottoms, waiting for a reaction.
Kaname closed his eyes tightly, gritting his teeth and pleased that Ichiou was unable to see his face. He knew the older vampire was hoping to pull a response from him, a whimper, a plea… but he wouldn't give in. Not this time. Last time he had been so horribly, unforgivably weak. The thumbs tugged at his waistband, pushing it down to just below his stomach, but he ignored it.
"This is what I enjoy most about our little… sessions, Kaname," Ichiou stated smoothly, sliding the pants down a little lower. "You are always so appealingly resistant, until I find the right key, and then you break so beautifully... so completely. What will it take to shatter you today, hmm?" The thumbs were tracking steadily down the sides of Kaname's thighs now, nearing the curve of his buttocks, but the pureblood remained stoically silent. "Never mind," Ichiou continued, "I think I know." In a sudden blur of movement, Ichiou yanked the material down the rest of the way, wringing a soft gasp from Kaname as he was fully exposed to the chilly air in the chamber.
Ichiou had followed the downward path of the silky cloth with his hands until he was half-crouched behind Kaname, admiring the smooth curve of the young vampire's spine. Purebloods truly were perfect… at least on the outside.
Kaname felt Ichiou's hands near his ankles, slowly stroking up his calves, making him freeze in trepidation. When they brushed over the sensitive flesh behind his knees, Kaname couldn't help but shudder lightly, a response which only made Ichiou's touches grow bolder and less gentle. The pureblood's heart began to race with as the caresses neared the top of his thighs, then traced over his naked rear.
Now standing behind his ward once more, Ichiou stepped forward until his body was against the pureblood's, his larger frame completely dwarfing Kaname's slighter build. Grinning with malicious satisfaction, he grabbed the boy's hips once more, pulling them back… pressing the pureblood's vulnerably exposed buttocks into his still clothed but unmistakably hard manhood in a cruel foreshadowing of what was to come.
Panic began to set in, and Kaname struggled, trying to move forward, away from the insistent pressure of Ichiou's groin against his rear, but Ichiou tightened his grip on the pureblood's bare hips, hard enough to bruise and making escape difficult.
Kaname's fear was becoming tangible now, a light sheen of sweat breaking out over his body. The salty moisture made Ichiou's purchase on Kaname's slim hips become precarious, and the pureblood finally succeeded in slipping away partially. Ichiou growled at the loss of friction against his throbbing erection, thinking only of a way to get Kaname to press against him once more. The noble's nails grew longer, sharper, almost becoming short talons as he reached for his ward. Flesh gave satisfyingly under his claws, blood starting to seep freely from the scratches he was inflicted on the pureblood's sides. Ichiou hissed in pleasure as the rich scent of Kaname's blood filled the air.
Kaname cried out as Ichiou drove his nails deeper, digging fiery, scarlet gouges into the pale skin and dragging the pureblood inexorably backwards. The pureblood's thoughts were scattered, reeling. Blood… my blood… oh God, he's going to bite me! His struggles intensified, blind panic racing through him and making him thrash violently against both Ichiou and the restraints, tearing free from his guardian's sharp clutches once more.
Growing tired of the boy's incessant writhing, Ichiou put a stop to it by simply kicking the pureblood's feet out from under him, making Kaname fall harshly to his knees and hiss in pain. To drive the point home, he seized the leather crop, laying several sharp, wickedly accurate lashes across his ward's naked back, not caring this time that the leather still had rough edges which cut into Kaname's skin, releasing more of that sinful, scarlet enticement.
Ichiou was indeed tempted to taste that forbidden nectar, but to a lesser extent than he'd imagined he would be. Yes, the boy's blood smelled like honeyed ambrosia, alluringly seductive, and yes, it was tantalizingly close… but this was no longer about blood alone. It was about power and domination. Breaking a spirited young stallion's will, taming him, teaching him to obey. There would be time for more sanguinary pursuits later, once Kaname had learned the price of his continued defiance – a price Ichiou was more than ready to exact right now, his member hard and heavy, straining against the fabric of his tailored, grey wool pants.
He changed position, sliding one hand up Kaname's blood-streaked back, reveling in the sensation, then into the loops of the collar, limiting the young vampire's range of movement even further by making it difficult for him to breathe. Unzipping his pants, Ichiou freed himself, but did not remove any clothing. To be naked was to be vulnerable, and he wanted Kaname to feel doubly exposed.
Kaname was now half-suspended from the posts, kneeling awkwardly where he'd fallen on the flagstone floor, his arms stretched painfully by the restraining cuffs as Ichiou held him prone using the collar. Effectively immobilized, he could do nothing as he felt Ichiou crouch down behind him, nudging his legs open wider by slipping a clothed thigh between them. Please… please don't… but it was too late. Ichiou's free hand was already exploring his buttocks, tracing over the cleft before dipping into it. The pureblood felt a single tear gather in the corner of his eye, running unchecked down his face as Ichiou nudged at his entrance with a thick finger. Somehow, it was all becoming real now. Kaname knew he was about to be violated, and he knew equally well that there was no chance of escape, no hope of rescue. He could only gather his remaining strength, wait for the worst to be over, and pray that he would be able to keep his sanity intact.
Ichiou teasingly slid one finger around the outside of the pureblood's tight ring before pushing inside it. Kaname was tense, dry and unprepared for the penetration, but Ichiou merely forced his way in, adding a second finger without hesitation, stretching Kaname harshly and loving the flinches and hitching breaths indicating the pureblood's distress
"Does it hurt, Kaname?" He was not expecting a response, so he was not disappointed by the pureblood's silence. "I'll take that as a no," Ichiou continued, removing his fingers from the pureblood's velvet heat. "Evidently you can handle more." He swiped his hand across the blood on Kaname's back, rubbing the slick, tempting liquid onto his erection one-handed while keeping a firm grip on Kaname via the collar. He had fully intended to take the boy completely dry, but seeing all that seductive crimson smeared across pale flesh had changed his mind - just having that taboo substance touch his skin was arousing, and using it as lubrication was nothing short of a sinfully erotic pleasure. He leaned over his ward, lining himself up before pushing into the pureblood's tense, unwilling passage, letting out a gasping breath at the delightful friction the motion created against his weeping tip. So hot… so tight! God, I should have done this ages ago…
Kaname shuddered, unable to prevent a strangled cry escaping his lips as Ichiou pierced his most intimate depths. The pain was excruciating, but Kaname was accustomed to physical hurt. What made his breath catch in involuntary sobs and mortifying tears paint crystalline tracks down his face was not the raw agony of Ichiou's possession, but rather the shame, the sheer terrifying humiliation that Kaname had allowed himself to be used like this, to be dominated this way.
Ichiou, now buried to the hilt in Kaname's tight heat, leaned in towards the young vampire's throat to whisper darkly in his ear. "Now does it hurt? Hmm? I know it does, I can feel you trembling."
Kaname snarled in defiant anger, but the sound turned into a scream as Ichiou began moving, pulling out almost completely before plunging back in, firmly. Kaname's nails dug into his own palms hard enough to draw blood as his vision flickered and swam in the wake of his guardian's brutal, bruising thrusts.
Ichiou let go of the collar, no longer needing it to hold Kaname still now that he had him completely at his mercy. He gripped Kaname's hips instead, throwing his head back in ecstasy as he plowed the pureblood's perfect body. This was even better than he had imagined, and he was fast building up to his peak. Just the thought of spending himself inside this gorgeous, helpless, sweat-slicked body was enough to send him over the edge. Claws digging into Kaname's sides once more, Ichiou cried out hoarsely as he found blissful release.
In mortified disgust, Kaname felt Ichiou's climax. Liquid warmth flooded him, making him feel sick to his stomach as the old vampire marked him inside.
Incongruously, Yuuki's face flashed into Kaname's mind at that moment, but rather than being a comforting escape from the pain, it seared his heart with flames of guilt and regret. I'm so, so sorry Yuuki… I did this for you, but now… now I'm tainted, filthy, ruined. I'll never be worthy of you again.
Still panting harshly from pleasured exertion, Ichiou pulled slowly out of Kaname's moist heat, making sure the boy could feel every inch as it left him. He leaned back a little, admiring his handiwork. He had torn the pureblood when he'd claimed him – blood was still seeping sluggishly down the inside of Kaname's legs, mingling with the evidence of Ichiou's possession. It was an enticing picture, and for a moment Ichiou was transfixed, feeling faint traces of arousal start to wind their way through him once again… but he pushed aside such thoughts, reminding himself that there was a reason he'd gone to these lengths in the first place, and he couldn't afford to lose sight of the ultimate goal.
"Give me your blood, Kaname," Ichiou murmured, "Grant it to me officially, in front of the Council, and this never needs to happen again…"
"I will give you nothing!" Kaname hissed. Asato made a noise of disbelief. "Really?" A large hand slid down Kaname's side, cupping his buttocks before moving lower, trailing through the sticky, cooling mess of blood and fluids streaking Kaname's inner thighs. "Then I shall have to continue possessing you in other ways…"
Kaname fought down the waves of revulsion heaving up from his stomach, trying to make his voice as steady as possible.
"Do what you like with my body, Ichiou… but you will never taste my blood… my power."
The words had been chosen well, and Asato couldn't stop the seething rage tearing through his being. How dare this whelp deny him still? He would take the brat and use him until he could no longer walk for such insolence! It would have to wait though - the house would soon begin to stir, and in Kaname's current bloodied condition, Asato couldn't risk having him run into any of the staff. He grabbed a fistful of Kaname's hair, yanking his head back and taking great satisfaction in the barely concealed pain on the pureblood's face.
"You say that now, but your stubborn pride cannot last forever. You have years left under this roof, and I have only just begun to break you. Mark my words boy, you will yet beg for my bite."
Kaname remained silent after Ichiou let him go, but he couldn't deny that deep down, he feared the old vampire was right.
Soon after, Ichiou fixed his rumpled clothing and left abruptly, putting out the torches and leaving Kaname in near-complete darkness, released from the collar and the posts, but still naked and covered in filth. He could not find the strength to move yet, so he remained there, half-crouched, half-huddled on the floor. He ached in a myriad of places, but the worst was the unchecked agony radiating from his lower half, where Ichiou's hard, violent thrusts had torn through the last vestiges of his dignity. The chill seeping into the pureblood's bones from the bare flagstones was becoming more noticeable now – especially since he was drenched in both blood and sweat - and he shivered.
Without warning, icy, primal fear clutched at his stomach, sudden snatches of memory assaulting him. This would sometimes happen when he was tired or hurt and his resistance was low… flashbacks of the time his ancestral spirit was invoked and bound to this body. He tried shutting his eyes against the terrifying images, but of course, it made no difference. Splitting pain seared through his skull as the memories surged to the fore.
Alone in cold, silent darkness for what seemed eternities, until he was snatched out of the emptiness by blinding agony… so much red, raw hurt as the words of the invocation tore at him, rending his soul from the void and forcing it into the waiting vessel. Blood poured down upon him like rain, never enough to satiate his ancient hunger, but enough to tether him once more to this mortal plane as his summoner gazed at him with cruel, acquisitive eyes, one red as the blood which continued to flow, the other a vivid, haunting blue. Chains rattled, threatening to snap beneath his power, but the intangible bonds of the ritual forbade his escape, rendering him motionless and defenseless, predator made prey, forced to endure the piercing fangs and savage possession as his summoner sealed the pact, forever binding them in blood, master and slave... making sure that despite his ancient strength he would never be able to deliver a killing blow to the vile being with the mismatched eyes, no matter how much he may want to…
Lost in feverish visions, Kaname didn't notice the door swinging inwards on its well-oiled hinges.
A hand touched his shoulder, and the pureblood bit back a scream. His eyes snapped open, glowing blood red in the darkness, and he let out a sound somewhere between a hiss and a growl, fright and pain making him almost feral. The hand was snatched back immediately, but then its owner spoke in a gentle murmur.
"Shh… it's okay Kaname. It's me. I won't hurt you."
Chapter 10: A Soul Worth Saving
This chapter contains a scene that is similar to one in Blackened Wing's amazing fic Secrets In The Dark (it seems a few of us have similar ideas when it comes to poor, tortured Kaname XD). I asked her if she minded me having such a scene in this fic too, and she was kind enough to say it wasn't a problem. Thanks Vani, much appreciated!
Managing a stab of self-reproach even through the pain, Kaname ruthlessly quashed the immediate sense of relief at seeing the young blonde noble. He sternly reminded himself that Takuma was not to be trusted, and that he was probably only here at Ichiou's command. The hateful old leech most likely wanted to give Kaname hope, to exploit his weakness, and then exact even more punishment afterwards. Well, he'd be damned if he gave his guardian that satisfaction. It took him to the limits of his remaining strength to do it, but Kaname straightened up, stoically ignoring the pain and weariness that weighted his movements. Crimson faded instantly from guarded eyes as hurt and hunger were hastily suppressed. He crossed his arms defensively over his chest, fixing Takuma with a piercing gaze, as if daring him to say something.
Even naked and covered in blood, the young pureblood cut an imposing figure. His aura had turned dark and dangerous – a tangible warning to the lower ranking vampire to back off – but Takuma ignored it. Kaname may have managed to hide his pain, but Takuma would not be forgetting the hunched, broken figure the pureblood had been just moments before. In fact, the noble was certain it was an image that would haunt him for years to come. It was so wrong to see a pureblood – especially this pureblood, who was also Takuma's best friend, injured and vulnerable.
Reaching a hesitant hand forward, Takuma tried to keep his voice reassuringly steady as he spoke to the impassive-looking pureblood.
"Let me help you, Kaname. I promise not to tell anyone about this, but I know you're hurt. Allow me to take care of you."
The brunette did not answer, but Takuma noticed the tight line of the pureblood's shoulders sagging slightly, no longer as frighteningly tense. His aura had subsided as well, although whether that was deliberate or merely a result of impending exhaustion, Takuma couldn't tell. Deciding to risk it, he turned to the side, exposing his back to Kaname in a gesture of trust while simultaneously retrieving the pureblood's clothes from where they lay bundled near his feet. He then moved in behind his friend, wanting to make a start on dressing him, but while doing so, he finally caught sight of the bloody mess that was the pureblood's back and sides. He almost gasped out loud, but reined it in at the last minute. Of course, there were no wounds on Kaname's skin anymore, but the sheer quantity of sticky crimson still gleaming wetly even in the near darkness left Takuma in no doubt as to how harshly Kaname had been beaten. The golden, glorious scent of pure vampire blood was everywhere, but Takuma paid it no mind. His friend was weak, and he would never take advantage of that.
Carefully, he helped Kaname into the discarded shirt and pants, thankful that the material was soft and yielding and was thus less uncomfortable against Kaname's skin. The pureblood seemed to have reached the end of his strength, moving almost mechanically when necessary but staring fixedly at the floor and not saying anything.
Due to the limited light and the smell of Kaname's blood drowning out all other scents, Takuma did not realize the full extent of what had happened. He thought Ichiou had merely whipped Kaname, and gone a little too far this time by actually spilling blood. It was sacrilege to do such a thing to a pureblood, and Takuma hadn't thought grandfather would have dared. No wonder the brunette looked so helpless and lost. A surge of fierce anger tore through him at the thought of Kaname on his knees, the whip slicing through the air and flaying that perfect skin. Grandfather had a lot to answer for. Gingerly, the young noble helped Kaname put on the overcoat, the thicker fabric hiding the now bloodstained pajama shirt. Taking his friend gently and unthreateningly by the hand, Takuma started leading him up the stairs.
Kaname allowed himself to be guided through the hallways. The young pureblood was drained both mentally and physically, and everything had taken on a surreal, dream-like quality. He was vaguely aware of being taken to Takuma's room instead of his own, but at this point, he was beyond caring – even if it turned out to be a trap and Takuma was betraying him again.
The noble led him straight into the en-suite bathroom, gently coaxing him towards the tub before letting go of his hand. Concerned green eyes found his desolate stare and held it for a moment.
"Um… if you want to wash, I can get you some clean clothes, and then wait for you outside," Takuma told him in a subdued voice. It didn't seem like Kaname was in a fit state to take care of himself at the moment, but the noble was afraid that if he insisted on staying it might be taken the wrong way, as an implication that Kaname was weak. It may be the truth right now, but purebloods usually took a dim view of being considered anything less than perfect and strong.
Kaname nodded slowly. He was still rather dazed from shock and lingering pain, but being clean again sounded very good.
Encouraged by Kaname's response, Takuma left him alone. Numbly, Kaname started removing his clothes once more. They fell in a bloody tangle at his feet, and he stepped clear of them immediately, sickened by the very sight of them. He wanted to burn them; to make sure he would never lay eyes on them or the loss of innocence they represented again, but now was not the time. He was filthy, and he ached. His surface wounds may have healed, but the deeper bruising left by Ichiou's thrusts and the savage whip would take longer to subside.
The bathtub was a large, corner affair, made from the finest marble and set above floor level. There was a gold-plated shower head mounted on the wall over the tub, and elegantly frosted sliding glass screens provided privacy as well as preventing splashes should the tub be used as a shower. Five shallow steps led up to the bath, and Kaname climbed them gingerly before stepping into the tub, wincing slightly when the sudden movement jarred his still-tender inner injuries. Wearily, he closed the glass partition and turned the taps, breathing in sharply when the cascade of cold water hit him before it started getting warmer. He brought his hands up to his temples, applying pressure, hoping it would provide some relief for the headache that was starting to gnaw hungrily behind his eyes.
How had he allowed this to happen? Surely there must have been something he could have done to stop Ichiou… after what had taken place in the car, he should have known the older vampire would no longer be satisfied with just beating him.
Catching his lower lip between his teeth, Kaname shook his head vigorously, uncaring of the pain that flared within his skull. There were deep, debilitating feelings of bitterness and self-recrimination welling up inside him, emotions he felt far too raw to face. He tried to summon his usual mask of calm, but he was far too worn out for that. He realized with a sudden flash of embarrassment that he was going to cry, and there was nothing he could do at this point to prevent that from happening. Tears began tracking unbidden down his cheeks, mingling with the water. Defeated, he slid slowly down the wall, coming to rest on his side in the bottom of the tub when sitting down proved to be too painful. He curled his arms around his knees as if he could fold in on himself, breathing harshly through his teeth as he wept.
It could have been minutes or hours later when Takuma found him still huddled in the bathtub, no longer shedding tears but still racked by shuddering, involuntary sobs. The noble shut off the water, deeply troubled by the pureblood's look of utter defeat. The shower had removed most of the blood clinging to Kaname's skin, but there were still a few stubborn spots that had not come clean, and he looked to be in shock. Takuma tried to speak soothingly to Kaname, telling the pureblood that he was going to run a bath; that it would help relax him. The blonde started the water again, flicking the switch so that it poured from the golden taps instead of the showerhead. He made sure it was warm enough, rolling up his sleeves and grabbing a washcloth from a nearby rail before kneeling on the top step that ran around the bath. To hell with society and manners – there was no way he would leave his friend alone again, especially not when he looked so utterly broken and desperate.
When Takuma lightly touched the washcloth to the pureblood's shoulder though, Kaname snarled and jerked away, the same feral look in his eyes that Takuma had seen earlier. Realizing that this was not going to work, he apologized, leaving the washcloth on the side of the bath and closing the open partition. This way, Kaname could have his privacy while Takuma would still be able to be there for him.
The young noble turned to sit on the top step instead, facing away from the bath and leaning his back against the panel for comfort, continuing to offer soft reassurances that everything would be all right. It was deeply unsettling to see Kaname in such a state, and the quiet platitudes were as much to calm his own worry as to soothe the pureblood. For a while, there was absolute silence behind the partition, until faint splashes finally began issuing from beyond the glass.
Kaname had picked up the cloth and started scrubbing desperately at his skin. He did not stop, even when there was no longer any blood to be seen. He felt the need to remove some fouler, deeper taint. He was shivering now, although the water was warm, but he ignored the tremors as he forced his hands to move the cloth back and forth, over and over again. Dizzy and somewhat out of breath, the pureblood leaned his head to one side against the smooth tile of the wall, swallowing with difficulty. His throat felt like sandpaper, and now that the adrenaline was fading from his system, he was starting to feel the true intensity of his thirst. He would have kept on scouring for as long as it took to feel clean again, but the constant drag of the damp washcloth across his sensitized skin was causing him discomfort.
Gradually, his obsessive movements slowed, the warm water soothing him, making him feel drowsy. He just wanted to rest for a while… Giving in to exhaustion, his eyes fluttered closed, his breathing starting to slow and even out. He slumped further against the wall, and gradually slid sideways. His head slipped under the water for a moment until he inhaled a lungful of liquid and broke the surface spluttering and coughing. Suddenly, Takuma was there, helping him to stand and looking at him with frightened concern.
"Kaname! Are you all right?"
Kaname gave a small nod, not able to speak yet after his coughing fit. He was still trembling all over, which was shamefully pathetic, but he couldn't seem to control it.
As far as Takuma could see, Kaname was clean now. The blonde noble kept one eye on his friend while reaching over to get a towel. He draped it over the pureblood's shoulders, unsure whether he should offer further assistance or just leave Kaname to take care of it. When the shivering brunette made no move to dry himself however, Takuma reached out and gently began rubbing the fluffy cloth over Kaname's head, shoulders and arms.
This time, the pureblood allowed the contact, seeming to have lost the will to fight. Takuma's heart ached anew at the defeated picture his friend made. It kindled a fierce protectiveness deep within him that had nothing to do with Kaname's pureblood status. Before the quiet brunette had come to live with them, Takuma had not had any close friends. As heir to the Ichijo family name, he had been discouraged from befriending other nobles his own age. His grandfather always told him that to survive in the ruthless world of vampire nobility, you needed to have connections and associates in high places, but nothing deep enough to be classified as friendship. Such sentimental attachments were to be avoided at all costs.
You're wrong Grandfather, he thought. Friendship is a strength, not a weakness.
After he'd finished drying Kaname off, he helped the pureblood dress and ushered him out of the bathroom.
Once Kaname walked into the cooler, fresher air of the bedroom, the dazed state he'd been in seemed to lift. He walked over to the bed on his own, and perched gingerly on the edge. It still hurt, but at least it was bearable. Takuma was standing nearby, and Kaname regarded him with an almost assessing stare, as if to ask Well? What do you intend to do now?
The blonde seemed unfazed, however, just smiling slightly and asking if Kaname was comfortable. The pureblood hesitated, still wary of deception, but a small voice in his head told him that Takuma didn't have to help him. In fact, he would probably incur Ichiou's wrath for doing so. He decided that on balance, Takuma's actions seemed to be genuine.
"I'm fine, Takuma. Thank you," Kaname said quietly. He intentionally left the statement ambiguous because he didn't want to appear too vulnerable, but he meant the thanks to include everything Takuma had done for him, not just for enquiring about his comfort.
These were the first words Kaname had spoken since Takuma had found him in the basement, and hearing them warmed the young noble's heart. He knew the words were a lie though – Kaname was still a long way from being okay. The stiff way he held himself as he sat, and the way he was now rubbing absently at his chest with one hand told Takuma all he needed to know. His friend was still in pain, and had lost a lot blood.
Takuma cursed his grandfather's cruelty. To hurt Kaname this way, and then leave him down in that awful darkness… it was inexcusable. There may nothing the young noble could do to stop Ichiou's sadistic machinations, but there was something he could do for Kaname - and he intended to do it, no matter the risk. He had rolled his shirtsleeves down again after helping Kaname in the bathroom earlier, but now he unbuttoned his cuff once more, all the while aware of Kaname's wary gaze.
Once his forearm was bared, Takuma locked eyes with Kaname before going down on one knee, placing his exposed arm palm up on his other knee while holding his free hand to his heart, an ancient pose steeped in tradition. It was an offer not just of blood, but also of absolute loyalty - the donor pledging their life to the service and protection of the recipient.
Kaname was shocked, tempted and deeply touched all at the same time. Takuma would pledge himself this like this? Despite the threat of Ichiou's fury? The pureblood's throat was suddenly tight with more than just thirst, his voice rough with conflicted feelings.
"Takuma… get up. Stop this, please."
"No," Takuma's voice was soft, yet defiant. "This way, you can't question my allegiance any more. Don't you see Kaname? I'm not doing this out of pity, or coercion, or respect for a pureblood. This is something I want to do - for my best friend."
Fairly shaking now with suppressed emotion and intense hunger, Kaname slid off the bed, coming to rest on his knees in front of Takuma, taking the noble's outstretched hand. Takuma smiled encouragingly, but still Kaname hesitated. He had to make sure.
"Are you certain about this, Takuma? If your grandfather finds out..." The pureblood left that part hanging. They both knew Ichiou would see it as a betrayal, and not even the fact that Takuma was his grandson would stay his rage.
There was nothing but determination in Takuma's voice, however.
"Yes, I'm sure."
Kaname could hold back no longer, sinking his fangs smoothly into Takuma's wrist. Blood began to well from the wound, and Kaname drank it greedily. Any doubts he may have had about Takuma's offer, or his loyalties before were assuaged now. Blood didn't lie - and all he could taste in Takuma's was fierce devotion, unswerving trust in him, and a desire to shield the pureblood from harm. Kaname realized he'd been such a fool not to see the treasure he had in Takuma Ichijo. Here was a true friend who was quite literally willing to lay down his life, and Kaname had taken him for granted. Fervently, he swore he would not make such a mistake again.
Takuma watched Kaname feed, hoping the pureblood would feel better afterwards. He had expected the bite to be painful, considering Kaname's severe need, but after the initial sting of the strike, and despite how deeply he was drinking, the pureblood had been very gentle. Takuma smiled. It was just like Kaname to put the comfort of others before his own. The noble placed his free hand on Kaname's shoulder in a reassuring way, voicing his thoughts in a whisper.
"Kaname, I will always protect you."
The soft words and the caring gesture were just too much. Kaname could feel tears pricking his eyes for the second time in as many hours and he struggled valiantly to rein them in as he withdrew his fangs from Takuma's wrist. As he stalled for time by carefully urging the wounds to close with his tongue, he managed to blink back the treacherous tears.
When it was over, Takuma rose, pulling Kaname smoothly to his feet. The green-eyed vampire was smiling; trying to make it seem like what they'd just done was no big deal. A small hint of an answering smile tugged at Kaname's lips as Takuma coaxed him to get into the large bed before fussing with the covers in a way that would have been almost comical if not for its earnestness.
"You should get some rest," Takuma said, stepping back. When it looked like the pureblood might protest, he brushed it off with his usual brightness. "Don't worry, I'm not tired yet, and I was planning on staying up to read my new manga anyway."
The words "I'll watch over you" were not spoken, but Kaname knew they were implied, and he appreciated it profoundly. He may still be trapped here, in this gilded cage with monsters who wanted only to torment and use him, but now he had someone he knew he could rely on. He may not be able to tell Takuma the full extent of the horrors Ichiou subjected him to, but just the thought of not having to hide all his suffering anymore was like a balm.
Kaname had always known that no matter what, he needed to remain strong enough to break free of this place one day. Yuuki needed his protection, and that gave him something to hold on to during the hard times. These past few weeks though, he'd come very close to breaking completely. Takuma's supposed betrayal and Ichiou's constant haranguing had been slowly driving him to the edge. In that basement earlier, alone in the frigid darkness, beaten, bloodied, and stripped of his innocence, he'd almost lost himself to the beast within.
In a way, although Takuma had no way of knowing it, the cheerful noble had saved his life. As Kaname watched the other vampire curl up in an armchair with a book retrieved from the nearby coffee table, a warm, reassuring feeling blossomed in his chest. He closed his eyes and burrowed a little deeper under the covers, slipping into a comfortable drowsiness.
Just before sleep dragged him under, the thought occurred to Kaname that perhaps Takuma was right.
Maybe he didn't have to do everything alone.