Yui Komori died.
She drifted among the clouds as a lost spirit, abandoned by heaven. Around her, a merry-go-round of mauve brick and stained glass windows rotated to the tinkling of chimes, like Yui’s soul was trapped in a music box held in the palm of God.
While alive, Yui sought the truth. In death, what did Yui seek?
This wasn't her bedroom. Or, at least, this was not the bed she was used to sleeping in, which had dark pink covers and a canopy. This bed was an unfamiliar shade of light pink. She glanced around, frowning at strange and sour yellow walls, brown wood paneling, and forbidding green windows wreathed in purple curtains. The decor had all the colors of a bruise.
Her hands twisted the silky sheets into shapes.
On day three of her kidnapping, this was not the first time Yui thought: if only she’d gone to sleep that morning, or if only she’d stayed awake in her bedroom, instead of venturing out into the rose garden... It wasn’t as though she made wonderful memories in the garden, but it was also no worse than the rest of the Sakamaki manor, where Yui had surely been bitten in every room. The rose garden was cool, misty, and peaceful, which seemed alluring to her sleepless mind, at the time.
That night, Yui felt agitated and strange, full of premonition. Some deeply unsettled part of her could feel the precipice of change. The car crash on the way to school had been terrifying, but more than that…
Yui climbed out of her bed and dressed as one question rolled through her mind: why, why, why?
After fixing her hair, she fiddled with her rosary, kept in a tray on the vanity. Ayato once gave it back to her. She wondered where he was now. Was he looking for her? Or did he not care enough about her to hunt down his prey? For all his insistence that she belonged to him, Ayato could be quite careless of her well-being...
Yui moved to the window, looking out at the front drive. Part of her still expected a redheaded figure to appear in the distance, but the horizon line was dark.
“Eve?” A pale face appeared in the window glass, surprising her again.
Yui whirled to face her new ghost—no, her new guard—Azusa, who was standing just a little too close.
“Uh, my name’s not Eve,” Yui corrected, clasping her hands in front of her.
It disturbed her that Azusa had snuck up behind her for the fourth time in their brief acquaintance.
First, in the rose garden, commenting, “You smell like me.”
Second, in the hall, taking her hand with a, “Do you...like pain?”
Third, at this same window, when he asked her to come to his room…
Breaking though her thoughts, Azusa said, “Yui-san is Eve… I know it...”
“Oh?” She’d never introduced herself, so somehow it surprised her to hear that he knew her real name. No one else used it. His brothers just called her a masochist, a promiscuous woman, and an animal; not a big change from the other vampires she knew. Hearing her name almost felt like an olive branch.
Yui tried to smile. “Um. Okay. What, what brings you to my room?”
“I wanted to talk...”
“Sure,” she chirped.
“Hmm…” Azusa didn’t start a conversation, and his pale eyes flickered over her. Perhaps he really wanted to look at her?
If so, Yui took the moment to study her odd guest in return, because last night she’d been too alarmed for clear thinking.
Azusa Mukami was the first vampire Yui saw that actually looked undead. Every other vampire Yui encountered had been both extraordinarily good-looking and distinctly supernatural, drawing the eye in with inhuman pallor and fangs that flashed when they spoke. Azusa was no exception, but… there was something unusually off about this particular vampire. His tousled hair and hollow eyes gave him an air of vulnerability, an aura that was strangely melancholy and lifeless.
He was beautiful, but more than that he was haunting. Azusa was more like a ghost than a vampire, and the way he behaved was frightening...
Azusa's dead eyes were glazed as he spoke. "You're lonely… right? Aren't you?"
“Wh, what?” Yui’s hands found a lock of her hair, and she combed her fingers through it.
“I know how you feel.” Azusa leaned forward, and the shadows in his face deepened. “You don’t know if you’re alive or dead, do you? We’re...the same...”
Horrified by the realization that those lifeless eyes were seeing her, Yui’s back hit the cold window. The green metal bars caged her into this room.
Somehow, this undead vampire could see through her facade and recognized a kindred spirit. Somehow, Azusa saw the truth Yui was desperate to shut out: Yui Komori died. She drove a knife through her own heart—the heart that wasn’t really hers—the inhuman heart given to her as a baby, salvaged from a dead vampire queen whose spirit returned to possess Yui’s body.
When she killed herself, Yui thought everyone’s suffering would end. Yui wanted to destroy herself, Cordelia’s curse, and the dark ending predicted by Richter, who threatened that Yui’s tainted blood would drive the Sakamaki brothers into madness and murder in their desire to possess her. They brought her back to life, but Yui didn’t feel alive. She felt exhausted, like part of her soul got lost on the other side. Perhaps that’s why the brothers she once tried to protect... abandoned her to these new masters.
Yui’s hands clutched the heart-shaped necklace she always wore; it was one of her last trinkets from her old life. Her first life? With her mouth trembling, she asked, “How did you know that?”
Azusa spoke like an ancient oracle. “Eyes full of despair… I’ve seen them before… back then...”
Despair… Her eyebrows drew together. Was that what was wrong with her? She lost her life and her hope? Yui didn’t think of herself as hopeless, but… she felt so tired…
Azusa stepped forward. “You’re so sad, Yui-san... Let me… help you.” He stretched out a hand to her.
Hearing her own name again made her gasp, but more than that—“Help me…?”
Could Azusa help her?
No, wait, did Azusa mean to help her with a knife, again?
Yui grasped the purple curtains wafting against her arms and held one in each hand like a pair of security blankets. Hoping to avoid another painful incident, Yui tried to let him down. “I don’t need help. And, I don’t want to hurt you...”
“Why not?” Azusa lowered his eyes.
Yui shivered. She’d rather be bitten than be forced to hurt someone… though, of course, she’d prefer it if neither happened! She clutched the purple curtains tighter and pressed back harder against the window panes, burrowing into the split of cold and warm.
“It’s alright…” He soothed, stepping close and running a finger along the edge of the thin fabric, her only shield.
“Umm...” Yui faltered. She desperately shouted the first thing that came to mind: “Library!”
“Huh?” Azusa blinked and tilted his head like a dog.
Yui straightened her twitching shoulders and pasted on a smile. “Will you help me find the library in this mansion? I’d love to see it.”
“Yes...” Azusa’s brows drew together in anxiety. For a moment, he did and said nothing, and made Yui wonder if she could ever escape his ghoulish plans for her…but Azusa’s cool fingers darted through the curtains and grabbed her hand. He tugged her forward a step. “Come on…”
Shocked, Yui blushed. Holding hands with a boy… even if he was a vampire…
“After all… you are my precious Eve.”
Ah, no, Yui couldn’t think about that. Precious how, anyway? Precious enough to bite? Precious enough to drop on the floor like an unwanted toy?
The agitation in her skin didn’t disappear.
Following her quiet guide, Yui took in the various closed doors and large windows. When she’d made her first escape attempt, the hallways were labyrinth of dark paneling and nightmare bright wallpaper. She supposed there had to be a way to memorize the intricate layout of the mansion, though. Looking closer, Yui could see the hallways weren’t entirely identical, even if the wood paneling was all the same. There were a lot of inside plants and fresh flower pots scattered around, and large paintings of fruit, pastoral scenes, and yet more flower bouquets. Maybe she could use them as landmarks?
Last night, Yui only made it to Azusa’s room by chance, and what a strange affair that chance led her into...
Somehow, Yui escaped being cut by one of Azusa’s glittering, jeweled “treasures,” and even imagined for a second that Azusa had shown her mercy… but when the blade reflected Yui’s horrified face back at her, she saw this was another kind of trap, where Azusa both bit her and forced Yui to hurt him, too.
His response to his own blood had been… strange and sad. The memory of Azusa’s eyes fogging over as he smiled at the blood dripping from his wound filled Yui’s chest with an ache she couldn’t explain.
Azusa said, “When I bleed, everyone is happy...”
He rambled, staring off into space, “More… Give me more. Hit me more...”
His low voice grew softer. “Please, give me a reason to live… proof that I’m alive…”
Yui eyed him now, but there was no sign of that delirious behavior—Azusa simply looked tired as he pulled her along.
She also couldn’t help but notice that Azusa’s hand didn’t feel smooth. She thought all vampires had flawless, cold skin, almost like stone. Looking down, she saw Azusa’s hands were flicked with little translucent bumps of scar tissue. She could feel a particularly long scar on his palm, too.
“Here,” Azusa’s vague voice announced.
Their library was a room full of dark wood bookshelves set against the same brilliant emerald wallpaper as Ruki’s bedroom.
Pulling free, Yui browsed the shelves. At least some of the books were in Japanese. The Sakamaki manor had a library, too, but the titles were all in foreign languages. The most Yui could do in there was look at the pictures, to Reiji’s disdain. There were foreign titles mixed within this collection as well, and they appeared to be all one language—a latin-based script of some kind.
Her fingers danced over a variety of shapes and sizes: slim children’s books, large tomes of philosophy, and a lot of awkwardly shaped history books. Yui wouldn’t be bored, even if she did have to be trapped in this mansion.
“What are you looking for…?” Azusa’s voice sounded farther away than he actually stood.
Looking up, Yui smiled weakly. “Oh, nothing in particular... I just wanted something to read…” She pulled Frankenstein off a shelf. This had an Adam in it, didn’t it? Maybe she could find a clue…?
“So, you like to read...? I see.” Azusa chuckled in an eerie way. His hands slid over the bookshelf, wiping away invisible dust. Then he almost floated across the room and pushed open another door.
Curious, Yui peeked inside and found more emerald wallpaper, dark wood, and jewel-toned accessories. She froze as she recognized the dark green chairs. “This is Ruki-kun’s room!”
She’d fallen against that chair after Ruki took her blood. And that was the carpet he’d thrown her down onto, she was sure!
“Yes,” Azusa blinked at her. “Ruki has... more books...”
“I-I...can’t…” Yui retreated. The pleasant surprise in her system was doused in ice water, because this lovely library was connected to Ruki’s room, where… Yui closed her eyes against the memory of cold words tearing into her.
“Are you trying to make me feel bad for you? Unfortunately, that doesn’t work on vampires.”
“Are you okay, Eve…?”
She shuddered at the strange name.
“Since they kept you as their pet, even your heart began to believe it was livestock.”
Her eyes opened when she backed into one of the bookshelves and rattled it’s contents. Desperate to leave this place and the spectre of piercing disgust, Yui clutched Frankenstein to her chest. “Can I take this to my room? Ruki-kun won't get angry, will he?”
Azusa shook his head. “I'll tell him.”
When he brought her back to her room, Azusa let her off with a simple goodbye. Yui didn’t think much of it; she felt glad Azusa didn’t demand her blood or make her hurt him again.
Later, Yui found a stack of novels on her vanity. Some of them were unusually battered, with cracked spines, faded covers, and dog-eared pages. She recognized some of the titles as classics, like Carmilla and Dracula. She flipped through other titles like The Vampyre and Interview with a Vampire, and wondered if someone thought they were being funny.
Nevertheless, Yui decided to treat them as a serious opportunity. She flipped through the novels looking for clues--anything, anything at all about “Eve,” “Adam,” or awakening blood. Nothing jumped out. Even though she half-remembered that the monster in Frankenstein declared, "I ought to be thy Adam"... Well, Yui couldn’t be sure if anything she found was relevant or not. Any secret to these books had to be hidden deep.
Yui decided to read through them all, one by one. From the top of the stack, she picked a paperback with a deeply concerned woman gazing at a shadowy house behind her. Yui curled up on her bed (but not her bed) and propped up the pillows so she could lean against the headboard (itself engraved with a tree, she noticed, thinking of her dreams). The book’s plot was silly and the heroine made some ridiculously bad choices, but it was a page turner with a rapid pace.
Finishing a chapter, Yui stopped and held the thin book in open with both hands. She felt the strangest sensation…
Once upon a time, Yui loved to read. Growing up, her home didn't have a television or a computer. She tried to speak with Father about that once, and received a stern lecture about how he wanted to raise her right, as separate from worldly influences as possible. Even if that meant she'd always be sort of an odd girl out, even in a Catholic girl's school, because Yui never knew a thing about idols or shows or movies. She was allowed her books, however, and the exciting worlds within could sweep her away from her normal life. She used to check out piles of fantasy and romance novels from her old school's library.
Yui hugged the paperback to her chest, tight enough to hurt. She’d been so consumed with what was happening to her—with pain and fear and survival and death—that she almost forgot how much fun it could be to get caught up in a story.
Her pain had eclipsed the memories of the small things she once loved.
I’ll be polishing up and posting this fic in the upcoming weeks~ (If you'd be interested in helping as a beta, I'd love to hear from you!)
Fair warning that this really is a hurt/comfort story, and there will be both misery and sweetness ahead. I hope you enjoy it! ❤️
Chapter 2: Strange Friends
The entire family knew about Yui's attempt to borrow books, apparently, and Yuma thought she needed something better to do with her time. When Yuma roped her into helping him in the garden, and she couldn't say she minded too much? The garden itself had been a delightful surprise. It was vibrantly colored and full of life. If only he'd let her off easy...
Yuma bit her in the end, and it was was scary to be held down by someone so much bigger than herself.
Still. Some good came out of the experience. Even if Yuma was temperamental, his honesty was sort of refreshing, like a sugar cube on the tongue. Yui felt some hope that he'd be willing to drop more clues about Eve, or about themselves.
She wanted to know how the Mukami brothers used to be human. Yuma didn't seem to think it was a big deal, but Yui was deeply shaken by this reveal. After all, she put aside everything she knew about vampires after meeting the Sakamaki brothers. They laughed at her rosary and mocked God. They sneered at the "fairy tale written by a mortal" that claimed that vampires were weak to holy crosses, garlic, and sunlight.
Yui had also seen, in her dream, that the brothers used to be vampire children--they were born as vampires, not turned. She didn't know what to think about a human becoming one. Ruki told her vampires had no empathy, but would your mind change so much, even if you lost your humanity?
When Yuma asked-- well, demanded-- Yui was happy to help with his garden again. This time, she would be more careful to not set off his vampire side.
The mansion had a lawn and it's own rose garden, but most of the grounds had been divided up into vegetable beds split by brick walls and vines. The area Yuma showed her yesterday had been dedicated to entirely to tomatoes, and the biggest rows of tomato plants were taller than Yui. However, Yuma simply passed by the tomatoes and led her to the next set of plots, where cucumbers and eggplants were growing among pretty spiraling vines.
Yui couldn't help but pause to admire the growing plants.
Yuma rubbed his neck. "Don't stare too long, pig, we're here to work, not sniff flowers."
"...What about me?"
Yui nearly screamed at the sudden eerie presence. When she looked over her shoulder, she saw... "Azusa-kun?"
His sneakiness total was now up to five, and Yui still didn't know if he was doing it on purpose!
Azusa tilted his head at her, looking curious in a dull sort of way. Maybe he really wasn't trying to scare her. Maybe Azusa was a natural ghost.
Below his lifeless face was a perceptive vampire who knew the truth about her, and that was more frightening than any sneak attacks. Still, Yui thought of the books in her room and chided herself for being rude. Maybe... they could work things out?
"Hah? Azusa?" Yuma raised his eyebrows and grinned. "You're helping? Bout time you got out of your room. You're too fucking pale." He slapped Azusa on the shoulder, jerking Azusa's thin body with the force.
Azusa's strange little grin made Yui's hair stand on end.
Yuma sent them straight to pulling the weeds from a large row that Yuma intended to plant watermelons in, once summer got into full swing. The plants would explode in the heat, and they'd have thick melons in no time, Yuma said, but they needed the weeds out so they could cover the ground with black tarp to kill off anything still kicking and help the soil get hot. He'd tried killing weeds with just tarp, and it worked okay, but some weeds were persistent, so either way they'd be pulling.
Donning a too-large pair of gloves, Yui knelt on the bricks beside the messy row and yanked up her first weed. The root was thick and almost carrot-like. It came loose in a rush.
Azusa chose the spot directly across from her. Yui could feel his eyes on her, but she never caught him staring when she looked.
She built up quite a pile before the bricks got hot. Yui's shorts weren't much protection against the sun or the heat rising from the ground. She wiped her sweat with her forearm and winced against the grit of dirt on her face.
A strange groan made her lift her eyes.
Azusa no longer sat across from her; he'd lagged behind as she moved down the row. His face was very red.
Yui's brows drew together. "Are you okay?"
He wobbled and slumped forward abruptly, panting. "Are you worried...about me? That's... kind of you. I'm okay, but... I'm not... very good with heat." Azusa wiped his brow and stared at the sweat on his gloved fingertips. "Maybe... I'm melting..."
"You are not melting!" Yuma shouted from the tomato area. "This'll be good for you. You need the exercise!" Yuma strode over. He dusted the dirt off his pants as he walked.
Yui wanted to tell Yuma that Azusa looked sick, but Yuma pulled Azusa away from their bed and smacked his head with a water bottle. Then he thrust some shears into Azusa's hands and pointed him in the direction of the rose bushes, instructing him to clip a nice bouquet. "You like that kind of thing, don't you?"
Azusa nodded eagerly.
Feeling better, Yui couldn't help but giggle. They really weren't very vampire-like at all, were they?
Four days ago, Ruki told her that they were different from the Sakamaki vampires, that they were more humane... and civilized, perhaps. Instead of hunters of prey, they kept Yui as livestock. She saw no difference... well, until she did.
Their nightly family dinners were slowly changing Yui's perception of her new captors. Every meal was chaotic and loud, but... funny, and kind of nice. The tone of the room was noticeably more upbeat than the silent, hate-filled dinners she'd experienced at the Sakamaki mansion. When the Mukami brothers argued, there was no real heat; Kou and Yuma bickered affectionately, and Yuma fussed over Azusa's plate because he cared. When Ruki scolded them, Kou made grumpy faces but everyone listened to their eldest brother.
The Sakamaki dinners made Yui wonder if they were really brothers; the Mukami dinners made Yui realize they were a family. Still. It didn't mean Yui could trust them... after all, Ruki also said not to expect any sympathy. Yui would need to learn new rules to survive, just like before.
Yui finished most of the bed and dusted her gloved hands. She called out, "Yuma-kun, where do you want me to put these weeds?"
"We're gonna burn 'em," Yuma shouted back.
"Burning... ahaha..." Azusa sounded far away, but when she looked, she saw Azusa snip his shears. He'd gathered a lovely bouquet of orange roses at his feet. "Maybe... it's too hot... for me." Azusa tipped into the rosebush.
"Azusa-kun, are you okay?" Yui rushed over and pushed the thorny branches back.
Azusa's face bore several red scratches from the thorns, and he smiled at her. His eyes were glazed and when he opened his lips, some nonsense fell out.
"Fuck!" Yuma pushed Yui aside. He picked up Azusa by the scruff and shook him. "Damn, his stamina shouldn't be that bad... Oy, Azusa!" Yuma shook Azusa again, and Azusa's thin limbs flopped like a ragdoll in an animal's mouth. He grumbled, "Guess I'll just take him inside. Follow me, piglet."
Yuma dropped Azusa off in their living room and let him flop onto a blue couch. He jerked his thumb at Azusa's half-melted form. "Watch him, will you? I gotta get the chores finished."
Yui wrung her hands and nodded.
The air conditioning enhanced her nervous energy, and the blue walls of this room were kind of soothing... so, surely Azusa would be able to recover in here? She peered over the couch to see where Azusa lay flushed on the fabric.
Azusa opened one eye and looked directly at her.
Yui stumbled back. "I-I'll get you some water!"
"Don't go..." His quiet, slow voice suddenly sounded oddly... scared. "Please?" Azusa wobbled as he sat up and stretched out a hand.
Yui moved to his side and braced his shoulder. "Are you okay? You need to rest, please lay down."
He was surprisingly light. "I will, but..." One of his hands brushed across the brocade fabric. "Won't you sit... by me?" Azusa was still softly panting with exertion, and his face...
Yui bit her lip, unable to say no.
The couch was plush and clean, and Yui realized how dirty her bare legs were immediately after she sat down.
Azusa plopped his head in her lap. His hair tickled her, and Yui's knees bounced his head in surprise. He smiled up at her.
Strangely, his flushed cheeks and innocent smile made him look boyish and young. Yui had seen Azusa smile in creepy ways, but she wasn't used to seeing this sweet of a smile from him-- this smile changed his usual countenance so dramatically that Yui found herself staring.
Azusa giggled. "This is nice... if my head is in your lap, I can look up at Yui-san's face..." he reached up and touched her cheek. His fingertips were surprisingly cool.
Blood rushed to Yui's face. What could she say?
"Ah..." Azusa's head shifted as he stretched out an arm to the coffee table in front of the couch, dragging something over with his fingertips. "Here, I...found another book. Don't worry... It's not Ruki's."
"T-thank you." Yui accepted a battered hardcover with rounded corners and flaking gold. She turned it over in her hands.
"Hey... your book... will you read it out loud?"
"Huh?" Yui held the book aside so it didn't block his face anymore.
Azusa smiled again, looking oddly angelic and sleepy. "Ruki used to read to us... before bed, or... when I was sick..." Azusa's hand brushed his mouth, not quite a yawn.
Yui tried not to kick him again when she jumped, crying, "Your arm!" There were red spots forming on the arm of one sweater... Azusa was bleeding through his bandages and clothes. "Please... let me get a first aid kit, this time?"
Azusa closed his eyes for a moment, but he said, "Okay, right... I'll show you..." Azusa stumbled in his attempt to stand. "Bathroom..."
Looping an arm around him again, Yui helped Azusa walk into the bathroom and got him perched on the marble countertop. With his directions, she found the first aid kit in one of the drawers and rooted through it for gauze.
Azusa peeled back the thick, blood-soaked bandages and revealed large gashes carved up and down his arm.
Yui covered her mouth as she gasped. "What happened? Who did this to you?"
Rivulets of blood pooled at his elbow and dripped onto his clothes, the countertop, the tiles...
"I did. With my knife... These are my friends... " Azusa smiled serenely. "Justin... say hello to Yui-san."
Yui gulped. "Justin..." The wound had a name...? Azusa's interest in pain confused her, but this was something else...
Azusa's hand danced over each cut, and it was a strangely elegant gesture for all that was grotesque below it. "Christina... Melissa... and, you too." Azusa turned his pale eyes on her. "Won't you greet them?"
Helplessly confused, Yui whispered, "H-hello... nice to meet you..."
Azusa's face lit up with joy, or maybe something brighter, stronger, the elation of a fanatic--his voice was louder than usual as he sighed and happily declared, "Ah, see, Justin... you and I have made a new friend... No one... has ever said hello to my precious friends before, so... Yui-san really is special." He broke off with a strangely slow and creepy laugh.
"I... I see." Yui's mind reeled, unable to process this strange situation. "Can I...treat them, then?"
"Treat them? You don't mean..." Azusa's gaze turned morose and dark, and he gripped his wounded arm and dug his fingers into his open flesh. "...take my friends... away from me?"
Yui held up her hands. "N-no, I just want to give you another bandage!"
Azusa stopped mutilating himself in front of her. "Yes... they need to be... wrapped up all cozy..."
Yui nervously wrapped Azusa's wounded arm. She didn't want do it too tight, but the gauze ended up slipping down his arm after her first attempt, so she had to try her best to make it secure.
When she was done, Azusa's smile was soft again. "Thank you, Eve."
Yui's brows pushed together. "You're welcome?"
Azusa hurt himself... to make "friends" with a knife... and he named his wounds...
Something about this situation confused and itched at her, and she couldn't put her finger on what exactly bothered her. Azusa's injuries were disturbing, of course, and she didn't want him to be in pain, but there was something else... when Azusa tried to cut her with a knife... what was he thinking?
"Pure white stained with red... Say, aren't the bandages pretty...?" Azusa wound a piece of bloody gauze round and round, then he presented her with the red and white "rose".
A little numb, Yui took the gift. It would've been sweet if it weren't so morbid.
Chapter 3: Sleeping Princess
Warning: In this part of the story, the inside of Azusa's head is not a nice place to be. His mind is full of blood and darkness, and it taints his longing.
This is also the shortest chapter in the story, so I'm updating twice this week. ^^
Azusa found himself following the trail of Eve's scent around the house, lingering in the places where she stood, the aftershadow of her emotions and activities.
There was something strange about Eve. She seemed at times both innocent and ancient, as if she possessed secret knowledge and endured the suffering of centuries... And Eve was frightened by him. Their first real meeting in the rose garden--the wonder of her scent, and realizing she's like him, and looking into her pink eyes for the first time... he wanted to tell her so many things.
Don't worry. I won't be cruel to you.
We're here to rescue you.
Her smiles were so small... fragile things, but Azusa longed for her to give one to him. Eve smiled when she saw the dinner Ruki made... She smiled in Yuma's garden... but so far nothing he did worked...
Unable to help himself, Azusa worked his way up the spiral staircase and entered her room.
Her bedroom was dark with the fading blue light of late afternoon, turning lemon walls into pale green. Eve lay on the floor, surrounded by scattered rose petals. She looked beautiful in her sleep, like a doll or a princess... Sleeping Beauty waiting for a vampire's kiss to awaken from her curse?
Azusa ran his fingers through her silky hair and gently parted it to look at her neck. The fresh bite marks looked like jewels, and the smell of her blood lingered in the room like perfume. Lovely, lovely. Chasing the shadow of her scent was addictive, but the real girl was almost intoxicatingly sweet to his senses. He breathed deep.
Hm. Pretty as this tableau was, she shouldn't sleep on the floor. Didn't humans get colds that way?
Azusa slid his arms under her back and knees, lifting her like a princess. Eve began to wake in his arms, squirming slightly and making a cute whine.
"Azusa-kun..." She rubbed her eyes with tiny fists.
He caught a glimpse of her curling pink tongue and it gave him the strangest urge to...touch it.
In a sleepy voice, she asked, "Where...?"
The bed dipped under his knees as he placed her down on her bed. "You were on the floor..." Shoes... she couldn't sleep in them, either. Azusa started tugging them off.
"You dropped me." Her heavy eyes closed as she sighed, her cheek pressing into her pillow.
He finished one boot. What a delicate ankle... "No, I just found you..." Finished with her other boot. He grabbed the rose pink blanket folded at the end of her bed and used it to tuck her in.
She shook her head, tossing her blonde curls. Her heavy eyes opened and vaguely focused on him. "No, no... Before..." She grabbed his sweater. "It was mean!"
Azusa paused and tried to remember if he ever dropped her... "Oh... With Yuma? I... I'm sorry." He leaned over again and pushed her hair back from her forehead. "I won't drop you again, Yui-san." It was a serious promise.
He will treasure her...
"Okay," she sighed, and fell back to her pillow.
He knelt on the carpet beside her bed, unable to take his eyes off of Eve as her breathing evened out in sleep. The sight of her creamy curls against the white cotton, her soft breaths escaping her petal lips...
Eve... Yui-san... she looked lovely, with fragile bones and soft skin... hiding a sad soul that he wanted to touch, to cradle to him and whisper to...
Whenever Azusa looked at her, he wanted more...
Oh, Azusa wanted to tear her open and find her soul, feel her inside, down where it's warm red soft--Crack open her ribs and slip his fingers under her beating heart. Feel it throbbing against his hand. Her lungs, exposed and pink. He could watch her breathe from the inside. Place his cheek against the rising flesh and feel it move, and listen to her pretty little heartbeat.
Azusa didn't want her to die. He just wanted to fit inside her, where it was warm. He wished she would smile at him and wrap her arms and ribs around him, holding him closer than skin, the hot gush of blood, soft and slick and slippery.. The pale tips of her hair... stained and dripping red...
Of course, that was just a fantasy... If he tore her open, Eve would turn pale and cold and never smile again. He would never do that to her, and he would never get as close as he wanted to be-- not ever.
No, Azusa will never be close to her, will he? He shivered. Even while kneeling at her bedside, Eve felt elusive to him.
When Yui opened her eyes, she saw teal blue walls. This was still not her bedroom. She pushed back the golden coverlet of Kou’s bed and found a fluffy whirl of hair and pair of eyes peeking over the edge of it. She blinked. “Azusa-kun, what…are you doing?”
Azusa was crouched so low that only his eyes were visible above the coverlet. “Watching you… I’m always, always watching you…”
“Oh.” Should Yui say...thank you? How should you reply, when someone announced they were stalking you? There didn’t seem to be a good answer.
To busy herself, Yui got up and began to make the bed. Kou didn’t have a top sheet, so Yui only needed to toss the shiny gold coverlet high and try to settle it with as few wrinkles as possible on the surface.
Azusa stood off to the side, by Kou’s dresser collection of jewelry and trinkets. Azusa’s shoulders were hunched and his lower lip was pushed out...
This vampire was pouting.
In a low, sulky voice, Azusa asked, “Why were you in Kou’s room, when you have your own room…?”
Well, Kou demanded Yui sleep in his room after telling her that sad story, but… she wasn’t sure if Azusa would accept that answer. “I… I don’t know.” Yui averted her eyes. She heard a soft sigh, and flinched against his disappointment.
“Did you want to...sleep with someone? We’re the same…” His voice was...warm? Yui checked, and Azusa wasn’t even pounting anymore. Azusa’s hand was covering his mouth, and above it his face looked…confused, and shaded with melancholy, as always. ”I don’t understand it, either. Isn’t sleeping with someone else...better? You have less nightmares...”
Oh, he said it again, she realized belatedly. “We’re the same...” Yui gazed at his lifeless face and wondered if she looked the same way to other people.
“Mm, me too…” Azusa lifted the covers and pulled them back. “I want to sleep with Eve, too…” He pressed his knee against the bed. Did he want to get in?
Yui’s brows furrowed. “But I just woke up? I can’t sleep right now...”
“Oh.” Azusa deflated.
Feeling a bit sorry for how crushed he looked, Yui asked, “Can you take me to the library again, Azusa-kun? I want to do some research.”
The library was connected to Ruki’s room, and she didn’t want to be alone in there if Ruki came in. She could take her chances with Azusa… maybe?
Kou’s “fairy tale” was still fresh in her mind: A little boy living in a dirty sewer. An organization that brought him to the outside. An corrupt orphanage that provided children as playthings for wealthy sadists. He spoke cheerfully about horrific things, but his nightmare showed Yui how much it damaged him to dig into the past. She couldn’t shake the memory of Kou’s expression as he cried for someone to, "Stop... Stop it!”
Yui knew that feeling intimately: No, please, let me go, stop it, I’m sorry...
Wading into the darkness was not a good idea, but, perhaps, if she could find context about the time period or the country, it would help her understand everyone a bit more. The Mukami brothers were once human children who banded together in a dark place… and now they imprisoned her. Why?
Azusa looked happy to sit side by side on a couch with her as Yui flipped through their history books. She tried to ignore his stare--he studied her as Yui studied the books. She wasn’t finding much about specific towns or organizations that hurt children specifically, only dates of battles, political movements... There were a surprisingly large number of books on war, both historical events and strategic theories.
As it was in her search for information on Adam and Eve, it frustrated Yui that she kept getting individual puzzle pieces, but not the whole picture. Yuma spoke of slums. Kou spoke of an orphanage. And Ruki’s searing condemnation of her as “those vampires’ plaything” made more sense, now. But she could feel more secrets hiding, even if she couldn’t grasp the shape.
Yui shut the tome and set it aside. “Azusa-kun, can I ask you something?”
Azusa jumped and his eyes widened. “...Yes.”
She debated and finally decided upon: “Did Kou-kun ever tell you what happened to him, in the past?”
Azusa also contemplated before speaking. His voice rose to an odd pitch. “Hey... hey, Azusa-kuuun~” He placed a finger on his lips and winked at her. “Don’t you think… we all deserve our privacy~? Or...do you want to make me angry...? Heh heh...” Azusa’s face was bright with... excitement?
It took her a moment. “Are you doing an impression of Kou-kun?”
How cute! Yui hid a smile behind her hand.
Azusa looked dreamy. “His scars are very pretty… I don’t know why he won’t tell me...where he got them...”
“Oh.” Yui felt as if she’d been stabbed in the heart with an icicle. She gripped the front of her sweater, and did not cry out in pain.
Kou didn’t tell his secrets to Azusa, because… Azusa would envy him.
Azusa peered into her face. “What’s wrong...?”
“It’s nothing.” She closed her eyes for a moment.
Azusa had shown the most interest in helping her. She had assumed the direct approach wouldn’t work, but she could still try it...
“Actually, I’m worried…”
Azusa grew alert.
“Can you… tell me who Adam is? How are you going to use my blood to find him…?”
His shoulders drooped, and he looked away, his posture full of awkward tension. “...I can’t… tell you. If I could… I would tell you… But, our orders...” Azusa poked the armrest of the couch, worrying at the fabric pattern.
Yui had prepared for that answer, but it still hurt to hear. “Thanks anyway, Azusa-kun.” Her heart heavy, Yui hastily took up her book. Too hasty.
Her finger got a papercut.
“No…” she whispered in horror, watching blood well up on her thumb.
Blood in the water.
She met Azusa’s eyes and watched him hone in on her hand.
He caught her before she barely had a chance to run, and held up her bleeding hand and to examine it.
Up close, Yui suddenly noticed that his eyes were lavender, not gray as she expected, and fringed with thick lashes. Even with the dark circles, they were pretty. However, his usual hazy gaze had disappeared; instead, his eyes were bright and clear like glass shards.
“I see… if not a book then… is this what you want?”
“No, it's not!” She tried to pull her arm away without luck. Azusa’s frame was delicate, and Yui couldn’t get used to his strength, the way he could hold her arm in place so easily with elegant fingers and thin arms. Until moments like these, she forgot that he could dig into her skin and rip her open like she was made of bread.
The first time he bit her, she couldn't really see most of his face over her shoulder. Now, she watched with a terrified fascination as he licked her thumb like a puppy.
“How tiny…” He smiled at her minor injury. “Can I…?” He didn’t finish before he bit her wrist.
Yui flinched against the pain. She watched his lips fasten to her wound and observed the way blood put color into his face.
Being torn open and sucked on by a cruel, cold mouth…
She didn’t want to be familiar with this.
Ayato used to leave big, wet rings of pink all over her, marking her as his even as he sucked her blood.
Kanato would scratch her with his fangs and bite so hard, and so deep, that he tore her flesh. He made her viscerally aware of how much damage their fangs, sharp as knives, could inflict on her.
Laito liked to moan and slurp as loudly as possible, ensuring Yui felt and heard every action and every cruel word he spoke.
Yui’s skin was covered in dirty fingerprints. Some vampires were neat and precise, some were messy and dribbled blood all over. All of them were incapable of silence while they dined. How often had she heard groans of pleasure while they were using her?
Azusa-kun was tidy and slow. He lapped up her blood, savoring the way her blood trickled down before sweeping the line up with his cool tongue. He moaned, and his breath was heavy as he took in her scent as well as her blood.
Humiliated and getting dizzy, Yui uselessly attempted again to pull her hand back.
“Eve...” His voice was husky. His tongue licked the blood dripping from his lips. “...Are you mad?”
Yui looked down at her wrist and watched blood drip onto her hand. What could she say? “No, I… I’m not mad...”
She didn’t say, I’m tired. Keeping a constant guard up against vampires was exhausting, especially because she always lost in the end, with anger and fangs dragging her down. Azusa's temper held longer than any of the other vampires she'd met, but it was still dangerous to speak her mind.
“Do you… want to hit me?”
Yui’s head jerked up. “What?”
Not this again…?
“If you do, you’ll feel better…” Azusa smiled. “If you hit me, you’ll be able to laugh…right? You’ll have fun...”
Foreboding coursed through her as she remembered last time--the eerie way he murmured, “When I bleed, everyone is happy...” Strange and disturbing, but also… what a sad way to think. Did he really believe that was true?
“I wouldn't be happy if I hurt you,” she attempted to explain. “I don't want to hurt you, Azusa-kun.”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying…” Azusa’s eyes darted away. “Eve is… unfair…” He sighed. “Everyone bites you...”
Kou’s scars... Getting bitten again and again… what kind of life had Azusa-kun lived, if he thought their suffering was worth envying? Ruki's secrets were guarded, but Kou and Yuma had been upfront with her. What of Azusa's secrets?
She didn't know anything, and... would she ever? Nothing she did seemed to work.
Yui closed her eyes. She longed to sleep, maybe forever--she was too exhausted to pursue the truth anymore.
The next morning, Yui kept sneezing. She was either getting sick, or someone was talking about her…
Hearing a commotion in the front hallway, she tried to be quiet as she peeked around the corner, but they saw her immediately. She should get sneakiness tips from Azusa, really. Or maybe her fatigue was getting worse?
Kou waved her over. “M-neko-chaaaan, Azusa-kun and I have been defending your honor~”
“Your beauty... or lack thereof.” Kou snickered, and tattled, “Yuma-kun called you ugly~”
Her brows drew together. Yui already knew that about Yuma--he’d punched the window and called her an ugly bitch to her face just after she’d been kidnapped. Perhaps she was missing some of the context of their argument?
Azusa looked more solemn than was warranted by this situation. “Yui-san is pretty… I don’t understand...why Yuma is lying…?” Azusa glared up at Yuma.
Kou placed his hands on his hips in an affected pose. “Yup, M neko-chan is totally cute~!”
Yui hesitated. Since when did vampires give compliments?
Yuma scowled. “Tch. I just don’t understand the appeal of that scrawny body or those big googly eyes.”
“That brainless look is what makes her so adorable!”
Yui’s shock drained away. Of course… Oh, of course…
“Anyway, you should reward us, M neko-chan, for being so nice to you.”
Reward. She felt a chill. If Kou wasn’t rewarded, he might get angry again. Helpless, Yui looked to Azusa.
His eyes were large and glittering. “Mm… a reward… I want one, too… please give me a reward…”
Between the demanding gazes of these two vampires, Yui shrunk back. She was trapped. Her mind desperately grabbed an idea: they liked to eat human food, right?
As the child of a single father, Yui had to learn how to cook for herself. There simply was no other choice; her father couldn’t take care of her all the time. However, Yui loved to cook! Checking out cookbooks and trying new recipes became a hobby, one that had been thoroughly rewarded by her father’s praise. It made her happy to cook for her father, and for her friends, on a few occasions.
One of the more minor sorrows she’d experienced after moving in with the Sakamaki family was the loss of this hobby. She was no longer allowed to care for her own meals, nor was she given a say in what she ate. Ayato once dragged her out of class to force her to make takoyaki for him, but access to the kitchen in the manor was tight, even though they only used it for their monthly family dinners.
The Mukamis’ kitchen was used more than once a month, but though they ate more regularly, Ruki only cooked dinner. So far all of Yui’s meals had been provided, but the brother’s other meals were taken on their own time.
Perhaps that’s why, at her suggestion, three pairs of eyes turned bright-eyed with delight. They grinned like little boys.
Dragging her by the arm, Yuma led Yui into the pantry with large and fast strides. Yui stumbled when Yuma shoved her through the door, and her eyes widened as she lifted her head.
Thick braids of garlic and dried herbs hung from the walls and gave the room a delicious perfume as she stepped inside, drawn in with wonder.
Their pantry was overflowing with bagged flours and grains, and colorful jars of home-canned vegetables and fruits that included more varieties of preserves, jellies, and jams than Yui had known existed. She made a mental note to test out flavors like strawberries and cream, bourbon cherry vanilla, and hot pepper jelly, as her eyes moved over the spiced apple sauces to the blends of vegetables packed in vinegar and oil.
With a curious amusement bubbling up inside her, she saw that every jar had been meticulously label by hand with tape. Even the style of handwriting was distinct to their personalities: rough and big, small and agonized, large and loopy, and crisp and elegant.
Within the pantry was another door leading to a cool, dark larder with baskets overflowing with apples and sacks of potatoes and onions. On the shelves were dried fruit and nuts and more root vegetables like carrots, turnips, radishes and rutabaga. There were large glass jugs of cider and a wall of dark green glass bottles of wine. Further in were large wooden barrels of a brewery.
Yui’s fingertips tingled. She had a feeling if she checked the refrigerator upstairs, almost anything she could possibly want was available. She inhaled a large breath and as she released it, Yui found herself grinning. She raised one fist in a power pose, ready to show off her skills! She wasn’t at the professional level of Ruki-kun, but she was a good cook! She really was!
(She might not be able to find out much about the situation she was trapped in, but she had this, at least…)
Yui found a few plain white aprons tucked a corner and selected the smallest one, then pushed up her sleeves. Taking a bet on the general atmosphere in the mansion, Yui decided upon a Western-style breakfast. Playing a little into Yuma’s pride in his garden, there would be for freshly squeezed orange juice and sweet blueberries paired with tart lemon pancakes...or maybe waffles if she could find an iron…
She looked through one of the cabinets. There were so many. Maybe no iron? She needed pans, though, for bacon and sausage on the side, and fluffy scrambled eggs… no, thick omelettes with chopped peppers and mushrooms inside would be better, probably. She also wanted to do blackberry muffins with a streusel topping, just in case they were extra hungry.
“Eve?” Azusa clutched his arm and peered at her. “Can I help...?”
Yui hesitated. Azusa-kun was… err, but, could she say no…? Probably not. “Um, if you want to…”
Surprisingly, Azusa knew his way around the kitchen, pulling out bowls and pans and even a waffle iron per Yui’s requests. He tugged on the apron she wore. “This is mine, but… you can wear it, because it’s the smallest...” Azusa pulled a slightly bigger one over his head.
She blinked, not sure what to make of his shy smile.
Yuma stuck his head in the doorway. “Make sure they’re plenty sweet, Sow.” He paused. “And don’t let Azusa add anything spicy.”
They got to work, and their next interruption was from Kou. “Did Yuma tell you to make it sweet? Don’t, he always makes things taste disgusting. Besides, it’s not his reward!” He glanced at Azusa and frowned. “Uh, don’t let the food get too spicy, either.”
She looked at Azusa, who was spacing out in front of a frying pan with thick strips of bacon, snapping and bubbling with grease.
Yuma wanted something very sweet.
Kou wanted something lightly sweet.
Azusa, perhaps, wanted something spicy.
… She would be making multiple batches, so it would seem.
“Um… I’m done, I think…” Azusa brought her a bowl of lemony batter, which glistened with extra chocolate chips for Yuma.
“Yes, you’ve mixed it very well!” She beamed at his work.
When she looked up, Azusa was… blushing? He seemed flustered as he tried to reply. “Oh. Um. I’m glad. I...”
He didn’t seem to have a problem with dishing it out, but maybe he wasn’t good with praise? Azusa clutched the bowl awkwardly and even the smudge on his cheek was cute to her, suddenly.
“You smiled…” His voice was hushed, like he was talking about something rare and precious. Azusa slowly smiled too, soft and strikingly cute. “I’m glad.”
Her fingertips brushed her cheek. Curiously, Yui asked: “Were you worried about me?”
Yui was abruptly aware of her heart pounding. Like a string of lights switching on, she connected: The books. The garden. Azusa had done some strange things, but he really was… trying to help... He hadn’t lied to her.
Pleasant surprise fluttered in her stomach and her smile curled her lips again. “...thank you.”
Azusa’s smile slipped away as his eyes unfocused. “… Why? What did I do...?”
Suddenly flustered for a reason she couldn’t place, Yui turned to the cooling rack. “Um, well… We were able to make such nice muffins because of you, Azusa-kun.”
“Because of me?” He paused. “That smile, it’s because of me… I see.” Azusa's hand clamped down on her arm. “I’ll give you another... reason to smile, alright?”
“U-um, no thanks...” Yui tried to step away, getting a bad vibe from the pale hand locking her down.
Azusa didn’t seem to hear her, opening a drawer with his free hand. “Look at this knife…” He slipped it from its case. “The serrated edge...isn’t it pretty?”
Yui shivered and tried again to pull free, but Azusa-kun was as strong as ever. Trying not to look, she mumbled something like, “It’s very shiny.”
He giggled and nodded, grabbing more from a knife block. “This one is...the biggest and, this one is the sharpest... Which one do you like best?”
Yui glanced down at the three knives laid out on the counter-- they were all pretty long strips of silver -- and her skin prickled with warnings. She tried to excuse herself with, “Azusa-kun, I need to finish cooking.”
“Not yet… Mm.” He looked thoughtful. “Let’s try them all.”
“No!” Yui jerked backwards, but Azusa didn’t let go, of course.
He caught her against the cabinets, trapping within his knees, and leaned very close. “Do you… hate knives, so much? Have you tried them…? They burn… nice and full, it’s very satisfying... but… mm.” He rolled her forearm over and touched her bare skin. “Wow, it’s so pretty and white…”
“Azusa-kun, no, I don’t like knives, they’re scary--” She was babbling.
“Alright, no knife. You must… like fangs best, I guess… Haha.” He dipped his head.
Yui whimpered as his fangs pierced and dragged through her skin, giving her two identical burning “cuts” up her forearm. “It hurts…”
“Isn’t that good?” He didn’t seem to hear her correctly, acting as though-- “Pain, it feels good… We’re the same, so… I know.” His smile was dazzling but strangely distant. He wasn’t listening or even really seeing her anymore… “You’ll be happy… if it hurts, more and more...”
Happy? Azusa was truly off in his own world… Yui began to tremble. What could she do? Even if she screamed, he probably wouldn’t stop. Who would come to her rescue?
Now Azusa was blushing! “You’re so cute...when you heat up...”
“What?” Heat… well, it was true, but the way he said it sounded so… Yui frowned. It reminded her of the way Laito used to talk.
“Here, me too...” Azusa talked slow and moved fast, pushing the serrated knife into her hand and holding blade against his bare collarbone. “I want one, too...”
But he had a scar there already, Yui thought wildly. She couldn’t move away--Azusa’s fingers were wrapped around her hand, forcing her to hold the knife. His other hand was locked down on her elbow, and he began to push. “No, I don’t want to!”
“Don’t be scared… I’ll support you,” he promised, dragging their hands down and giving himself horrifying scrape. The serrated edge made six or seven lines, mimicking and multiplying the scratches he’d given to Yui.
Seeing the blood well up made her gasp. “Please, let me--” Go. Help you. Yui didn’t get to finish her sentence.
“Jeez, you two. No more of that!” Yuma jumped in, appearing suddenly in the kitchen. He pinched Azusa on the back of his neck and dragged him away like a vampire puppy. Shaking him, Yuma’s voice dropped into a growl, “Don’t mix blood in the food. That’s disrespectful. ”
“No. Bloody. Shit. In. The. Kitchen!” Yuma rapped Azusa on the head to emphasize each word. “We cook with these knives, you idiot! Use your own! Where is your brain, Azusa, she can’t cook if she’s woozy, either!”
“Yuma hit me…” Azusa beamed, and then caught himself: “Oh...sorry, Eve.”
“Um. It’s okay.” Yui squeaked.
Yuma left, and Azusa located the first aid kit. He bandaged their cuts, and, with a tight little thank you, Yui threw herself back into her work. She couldn’t exactly kick Azusa out of the kitchen, but she did keep her distance from him.
Azusa sent her confused and sorrowful looks every time she darted away from him.
Yui refused to meet his eyes. She hurt him… Azusa made her, but, still, she hurt him… If he had only bitten her, she might’ve been able to accept this incident, but hurting him … no, vampires didn’t need pain like they needed blood...
Of course, Yui also felt a bit shocked that she’d let down her guard… again. She really must be tired, if she was forgetting to keep her guard up against danger. Weariness clung to her bones, slowing her movements as she cooked.
In the early days, Ayato had lured her into a false sense of security, too. He’d pulled her out of class and all but forced her to make takoyaki for him, and she’d been charmed, for a moment, by his enthusiasm--and then she slipped up and asked him to help her clean the dishes. Yui treated Ayato like a normal classmate and not someone she should submissively obey... So Ayato pushed her down and took her, as he promised he would.
Nothing about Azusa’s behavior felt like that time, though. It wasn’t punishment, or claiming …
Yui shook her head. Perhaps this endless fatigue was eroding her sanity. How many times would she have to learn this lesson? He bit her! He forced her to hurt him! As curious as she felt about Azusa, she couldn't let him close.
Yui plated and arranged the entire meal into beautiful white bowls and trays, and finished off the waffle plate with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. With Azusa’s help, the breakfast feast was piled onto their grand dining table.
As they ate, she half-expected Azusa to start cackling and stab his food like another vampire she knew, but instead he ate very neatly. And slowly.
Instead, it was Kou who had surprisingly terrible manners, shoving syrupy waffles into his mouth with his fingers and talking with his mouth full, “Thish ish aweshome!” Without even swallowing, he bit off half a muffin with another hand.
“Yeah, good job, pig.” Yuma inspected his brother’s plate. “Hey, Azusa. Isn’t that too much for you?”
Azusa slowly sliced a very small bite. “I’m fine…”
Yuma clicked his tongue. “Gimme some.”
Azusa’s arms protectively circled his plate. “It’s mine… Eve gave this plate to me...”
Nervously, Yui added, “I made Azusa-kun’s waffles spicy.” Lemon and cayenne pepper waffles… she’d heard the combination was supposed to be good for you, anyway.
“Thank you… it’s delicious…” Azusa sprinkled on more shichimi togarashi like salt.
Yuma rolled his eyes, but his fork stopped threatening Azusa’s plate.
They continued to praised her as they ate, and some more loudly than others. Yui crossed her feet in delight. Even if she felt sick and tired, her arm ached, and her heart was unsettled by hurting Azusa, some part of her could relish in the genuine pleasure of being recognized.
Yet another part of Yui was relieved to have gotten everything right. Kanato once knocked hot coffee out of her hands for making the wrong drink, after all.
Having proven herself just a tiny bit useful, she could rest easier, too.
Azusa is trying to be nice, but... well, he's not there yet, is he? ;;;
Next week, he might get it right~ :3c
Chapter 5: Fever Pitch
Eve didn’t come out for dinner.
After she made them breakfast, she excused herself, saying she needed to lie down. She didn't come back.
At the table, Ruki informed them that she was not dead – the familiars were keeping watch – so it didn’t matter what else she was doing. She could starve in there if she wanted…or so Ruki said. In response, Yuma threatened to break down the door and force feed that fucking sow if she didn’t come out tomorrow. Kou laughed.
Azusa offered to stay home with her again. The others were better at observing the Sakamakis than he was.
After they left, he found himself in her room.
Eve’s skin-- Yui’s skin-- had changed. She ought to be warm and sweet in his hands, but now she was hot and her scent had a strangely bitter undercurrent. Her face was pale and her bangs were plastered to her face with sweat, so he pushed them back to settle a hand against her forehead. There were purpled shadows below her lovely eyes, which fluttered at his touch.
“...nice.” Yui’s pink eyes opened halfway, but they didn’t quite focus as she gave him a sleepy smile. “Your hands are cool. It’s nice.”
Azusa obligingly cupped her cheeks, and was rewarded with a happy sigh.
Azusa’s face warmed up, too. It was a strange and ticklish feeling, and he wasn’t sure whether or not he wanted to smile. He’d felt this around her before, in the kitchen... was this what blushing felt like? When he was a child, his face used to get hot sometimes when he felt bad and --
stupid useless good-for-nothing abandoned piece of shit
-- sad, but this wasn’t like that. This was unsettling, but…
“It’s nice,” he echoed.
Yui noded and settled in to her pillow again, closing her eyes.
He… should probably…alert Ruki… but…
Azusa didn’t want to.
A childish feeling gripped his heart as he looked closely at Yui’s pale cheeks and closed eyes. Even her delicate eyelashes were slightly damp.
Azusa didn’t want anyone else to see her.
He was left in charge, so it was okay, right?
He stroked her forehead again as he whispered, “I’ll take care of you, Eve.”
Azusa quickly gathered supplies. He pulled on his memories of the time when they were human, and Kou got sick. Once he had dressed properly - he borrowed a nurse’s outfit from Kou’s closet - he returned to her bedroom.
What should he do first…? “Ah. Check your temperature…” Azusa’s knees hit the edge of the bed and he bent down to check by pressing their foreheads together. “Very warm... yeah...”
Yui stared up at him with bleary eyes. Her pale skin was getting flushed. She must be really, really hot.
He pulled Yui up, but she flopped like a doll. She ended up propped against him, unable to stay upright on her own. Her head lolled against his chest, and something in his stomach flipped at the charmingly weak movement.
Her pale neck… was beautiful. Shimmering lightly with sweat, soft and fragrant, decorated with half-healed wounds…
Oh, no… He had to focus...
“Medicine…” Azusa gave her the fever-reducing tablets and tipped back the glass of water to help her swallow when she didn’t take the glass. He did his best, but water spilled down the front of her nightdress, plastering it to the curves of her chest. Not good. Her mint-colored nightgown was sticky against her back, and he thought that looked pretty uncomfortable, too. And it was wet against his arm.
“I’m going to… change you, okay?” He glanced at her face.
Hm. She was asleep again...
He unbuttoned the front of her gown, revealing two small and lovely breasts and a few scars, still pink and cute. When he started pushing the sleeves over her arms, Eve made a distressed sound and started squirming.
“You’re sticky, Yui-san. You need to get cleaned up.” The bedside table wasn’t so far away, but it was a little tricky to pull over the tin of water and cloth without letting her go.
She began to shiver as the damp cloth swiped over her pale skin, but when he finished, she dazedly mumbled, “No, I'm on fire… come back…”
“Shh, shh. It’s okay… I won't leave you.” He helped her into a pale yellow nightdress with tiny blue flowers and ruffled sleeves, and then bundled her up with a fluffy blanket and put her in one of the chairs by the window.
He needed to change the sheets on her bed, and...oh, maybe another blanket? When he was satisfied that her bed was clean and dry, he moved her back.
She looked quite small on that giant bed.
Azusa let her sleep for a while, changing the cool cloth on her head often, but his impatience overtook his other instincts. He propped her up with pillows.
He held up a forkful. “It’s meat. It’s good for you... It has nutrients.” Azusa promised, despite being only vaguely familiar with the concept of nutrition. He hadn’t needed to worry about it in over a hundred years, so he hadn’t always...well... paid attention during their lessons… But Yuma said meat was best for sick people, so he believed it.
“No, no,” she batted at his hand. “Porridge…”
“Oh.” Come to think of it… He’d heard of that, too. Hmm. Should he make some?
Azusa returned with a bowl of porridge on a tray. Yui fell asleep again even while propped up, so he had to press his hands to her shoulders and the back of her neck to shake her lightly and wake her up. (Her skin really was soft, even when it was moist and hot...)
“Eh? Why is it red?”
“It’s bland, so… I made it spicy...” Azusa tested it to make sure the simple dish tasted delicious for his precious Eve. It was steaming hot, though, so he blew on it… once… twice… and shoved the spoonful into Yui’s mouth.
She coughed and endearing tears slipped down her flushing cheeks.
Azusa tried to resist tasting them, but he couldn't. Salty... Even sweet Eve didn’t have sugary tears, he supposed. Azusa patted her back. “Swallow, Eve… come on…”
Yui whimpered, but she was a good patient and he praised her for it. She sneezed after that, so Azusa gave her a tissue and waited to feed her the rest of her meal.
Unfortunately, Kou chose that moment to burst into the room and ask, “Hey, hey, Azusa-kun, did you take my sexy nurse costume? Did you get M-neko-chan to wear it for ya?”
Azusa set the spoon down on the tray. “...Eve is sick, so... I’m nursing her… back to health.”
“Wow.” Kou’s shoulders slumped. “I should've known better.”
Azusa didn’t know what say to make Kou leave. He fussed about Azusa’s outfit-- “That’s not for you, it’s mine, and you can’t just take my stuff!”-- and stole Azusa’s homemade porridge. Kou also told Ruki about her condition, even though Azusa said it was okay, really.
He helped Eve lay down again, and just in time--all three of his brothers crowded into her bedroom, folding their arms and wrinkling their brows as they discussed her condition and whether or not they needed a human doctor.
Azusa sat in one of the chairs by her window and watched them touch her forehead from across the room. Eve didn’t praise their cold hands like she did his, but… she didn’t say anything at all. He clenched the white fabric of his skirt in his hands.
Sleeping Beauty slept through the touch of other vampires. He liked that part, at least. Azusa wanted her to come back to life… but only for him.
Chapter 6: The Investigation
In the morning, Yui felt much better. The fog had lifted from her mind and her limbs felt looser and less exhausted... But she also felt much worse, because she clearly recalled every embarrassing moment from the day before. She sat in bed, her face in her hands.
Azusa saw her naked body. He didn’t make any comments, at least, but he had also run that thin cloth all over her! The sudden relief from the unbearable damp heat that was smothering her had made her moan indecently in front of him, and sensations like cool hands and his gentle voice saying, “shh, shh, it’s okay…” still haunted her memories.
At the time, there had been an unreal quality to the world, some dreamlike filter that blurred with the unexpected feeling of being handled with care. Such tranquility felt so distant now, and instead her face burned with excruciating clarity.
She’d whined and cried like a child! She’d sneezed on him and drooled and sweated and all sorts of other terrible, terrible things!
(Azusa had really nice legs, and Yui was determined to never think of them again.)
The embarrassment surged through her in waves.
There was one moment in particular that stood out as a sharp point of clarity. In her mind, she could vividly picture that one surprising moment when Azusa leaned in, his intense stare holding hers captive, as his face grew close and closer... and touched his cool forehead against her own, delicate hair curling against her face and his dreamy eyes falling shut… She wanted to forget how her heartbeat quickened and how her mouth had puckered, because she’d been convinced that he was about to kiss her.
Yui vigorously shook her head as if she could shake away her own thoughts. She needed to thank Azusa for taking care of her… but she wasn’t sure she could bear to show her face in front of him.
Her eyes drifted to the precarious stack of novels on her bedside table. No clues so far… maybe they really were just novels? Even if they weren’t clues, the entertainment she’d gotten from them had been...nice.
Once again, he’d been kind to her...
There was no mistaking it now.
Azusa-kun had a strange innocence to him. He wasn’t quite amoral, but there was something... missing.
An uncanny valley type of kindness. Twisted. Wrong.
Even when he bit her, he wasn’t cruel to her. There was nothing malicious lurking in Azusa’s eyes, and that made him so much harder for her to understand. Why did he hurt himself? What on earth made him think that pain is a good thing, something to share with her?
He wasn’t cruel, but he wanted her to be. He sincerely wanted her to vent on him, to use him as her punching bag.
Yuma set her to picking cherry tomatoes. When she asked, Yuma didn’t even blink. “Yeah, he does that. Don’t pay him any attention when he gets like that, it only makes him worse.”
She rolled the red fruit between her fingers for a moment. “But why? I mean, why is Azusa so...?” She dropped the tomato into the basket on her knees and pushed through the leaves again to find the clusters of ripe fruit.
“Fuck if I know.” Near the bigger type of tomatoes, Yuma shrugged. “Been like that as long as I can remember. Pretty sure that’s just his personality or whatever.”
Yui pursed her lips. If even Yuma couldn’t remember a time where Azusa was different...
Yuma sent her an annoyed look and clicked his tongue. “Look, I don’t know what goes on in his weird little head, so if you gotta know-- go ask Ruki. Azusa used to follow him around like a little chirp when we were little.”
“Oh.” The image of Azusa as a child was surprisingly easy to picture: smaller, but with the same wild fluff of hair and large, thoughtful eyes. However, she couldn’t imagine Ruki as a boy.
Ruki’s room was still as frighteningly luminescent as before. Her eyes darted over poison apple green wallpaper and gleaming jewel-colored glass on the mantel, surrounding that portrait she wasn’t supposed to see…
Swallowing her fear, Yui marched into what could very well be a trap. She had so many questions. She wanted to ask about the dreams of blossoming apple trees, chimes, a glass ceiling showing the cloudy blue sky--
You have Eve’s blood. With that, we will definitely be able to find… Adam.
--Adam and Eve were God’s first creations, but she suspected they were referring to someone else. If Yui was supposed to be Eve… But none of those questions would be answered, she guessed. Ruki all but said that “livestock” should be grateful and obey without explanation. Still, if it was about Azusa and not their top secret plan...
“Azusa’s behavior is not something you should be concerned about.” Ruki sat with his back to her in his reading chair by the fireplace. The rustling of him turning a page was loud.
Yui stared at her boots. “I want to know. He showed me his, um, friends...”
“He’s delusional and obsessed with the past.”
Yui’s head jerked up. He had a past. Oh, of course he did, but…
Slowly, still feeling the net of a trap tightening around her and longing to bolt, Yui could only walk forward for now. She had to try.
“I know why you haven’t asked him about the past directly.” Ruki smirked at her when she startled. “Of the four of us, Azusa is the most fragile. His sanity hangs by a thread.”
She opened her mouth but couldn’t formulate a reply. Was it true?
“I encourage you to not to get too close with him.” Ruki snapped the book shut.
“But…” Something in her balked at the command.
“If you hurt him…” Ruki stood. He captured her wrist when she flinched back and growled, “you will be punished.”
Her eyes widened with horror. “No!”
“He’s persistent.” Ruki’s dark eyes were sharp and cool chips of glass. “And clumsily manipulative, like a small child with a sweet. Which could be enough to trick a dimwitted woman.”
“I didn’t--” Yui twisted against the grip on her arm and relented, gasping, “--do it on purpose. It was against my will!” She glared at Ruki.
He held her gaze. “I understand that.”
Yui broke first, shrinking back.
“There’s nothing something you can learn about him that would make him stop.” Ruki’s voice sunk lower, dripping icy contempt. “Do you think I haven’t tried?” He dragged her, her heels scraping the carpet and kicking uselessly as she tried to avoid it. “Azusa can’t move on, no matter how much I tell him to. Nothing you or I can do will change him.”
He threw her on his bed.
“Pick.” His voice was clipped in fury, blizzard winds in his eyes. “Where do you want your punishment, livestock?”
Ruki jerked up her pink shirt up with a snap of his wrist, revealing her stomach and her bra. His cold fingertips slid over her exposed skin, making her flinch, and stopped at her breastbone. Ruki’s voice was vicious: “Would you like it here? Your wrist? Your nape?”
Yui swallowed. He wouldn’t let her off with a warning, that much was clear. But choosing her own punishment…?
Dread filled her stomach like water on a sinking ship. She’d never thought she’d prefer to have fangs sprung on her, but this was worse.
“I-I don’t know--” Her voice wavered pathetically.
“Don’t make me wait.” He didn’t elaborate on what he’d do to her if she kept hesitating.
“My… my…” Her mind raced to a blank, rushing through the options with no answers, nothing she’d prefer. Where had she not been bitten yet? What would hurt the least? She didn’t know. She really didn’t know! Yui suppressed a scream; it wouldn’t do any good.
“I am waiting.” Ruki pressed down on her ribcage.
Yui squeezed her eyes shut. “...f-foot?”
Weird! That was a weird place to bite! Yui couldn’t bear look at his face, certain she’d see his face twist further in monstrous anger for picking such a stupid place.
Only… He didn’t yell, or do anything to her. His hand moved off of her, and Yui heard a very strange, rumbling sound. Almost like short bursts of thunder. She cracked one eye--afraid to look and too scared not to check.
Harsh laughter escaped his lips. That sound was Ruki laughing at her… It tapered off with a sigh, and his words cut her through like a blade of ice: “I remain amazed at what a simpleton you are. You have to walk, you know.”
Yui’s eyes widened. Suppressing another scream, she kicked instinctively and Ruki caught her by each ankle.
Then he placed one hand on her knee. “Don’t move again.” He squeezed her knee in silent threat.
Yui nodded numbly and laid back onto the bed. As she stared at the ceiling, she thought again about how much better it was to have fangs dropped on her suddenly--the anticipation was torture as his cold hands tore off her boots and her socks one by one and arranged her limp legs so her thighs dangled off the edge of the bed. Her bare feet touched the floor.
Kneeling at the end of his bed, Ruki’s fingers pinched her ankle and lifted one foot. He rotated it, looking it over.
Would Ruki bite the top of her foot, and spare her the pain of walking directly on an injury? Or…
His fangs plunged into the tender skin at the curve of her foot.
She didn’t scream or cry. This was punishment, Yui told herself, explaining to herself that she knew better than to hope for mercy , trying to rationalize the vicious pain tearing through her leg.
Oh, but wasn’t enough to hurt her… Ruki’s cold lips closed around one of the two holes and sucked on her injury, stealing her blood and making her feel miserable and dizzy. Her lips trembled, and a small whimper escaped.
Yui walked with a limp for a long time after that.
Chapter 7: The Cusp of Dawn
I was working on this chapter and pressed post instead of edit, so I guess this one's coming out early!
The pain in her foot had become almost manageable. Really, her limp was barely noticeable, she thought. Or...at least… none of the Mukami brothers said anything to her about it, although she caught Azusa glance at her and then at Ruki a few times…
Azusa didn't say anything, so neither did she. The punished livestock obeyed her master's command... But what else could she do? Ruki’s anger subsided after she paid for it in blood, but Yui was still nervous about him.
She’d shrunk back when he’d entered her room, interrupting her reading, to toss a school uniform onto the small sofa by the window.
The change in routine surprised her. She accepted that she was trapped (for now) and had tried to adjust to their pace, their rules... and now the rules were changing again.
...Well, this was a good opportunity, wasn't it?
Her grades had suffered since her transfer, of course, but her classes were one of the few shreds of normalcy she could cling to. School allowed her to get out and see something different. As contradictory as it sounded, if Yui had to be a vampire’s captive, she at least wanted the freedom to see various places. She’d go crazy being locked up in the same rooms all the time.
“Are you ready, M neko-chan?” Kou yawned. He wore the same stylish uniform she’d met him in.
“Maybe...” Fidgeting in the main hall, Yui’s limbs thrummed with anxious energy. She might be able to save her grades, but… Yui felt a tug on her skirt. When she looked down, she saw Azusa kneeling beside her. She didn’t jump at his ghostly sudden appearances anymore.
He touched the white ruffle. “It’s pretty...” Azusa wore an intense expression on his face.
Yui raised her eyebrows.
Yuma flipped her skirt. “Yeah, s’alright.”
Yui squealed and pushed her skirt down, inciting a guffaw from Yuma. She shrunk back from the group as Kou clamored to ask Yuma and Azusa if they saw “it” and “what color was it?”
She couldn’t shake the skin-tearing-anticipation feeling of premonition. School would put her in the path of the Sakamaki brothers… would they hunt their lost prey?
(Was she abandoned? Did she want to be?)
Unable to take the suspense, Yui glanced around. “Azusa-kun!” She turned on him. “Um. I like your beret. It’s cute.”
Azusa pulled the hat from his head and held it in both hands to consider it.
She ducked instinctively as he placed it on her head. She could feel his fingers tug the band, then smooth over her hair. His hand lightly brushed her cheek as he pushed a long strand back from her face.
When she looked up, Azusa was smiling. “Yes, very cute...”
Confused and flustered, Yui touched the hat. It was soft... With a jolt, she quickly took it off and shoved the hat back in his hands. Her head was too hot.
Yui was a second year, and the Mukami brothers were third years; they left her alone with a bizarre casualness. Her mind whirled with uneasy questions. Why leave her? What would happen if one of the Sakamaki brothers took her back? Didn’t they care?
But it didn’t matter, in the end.
When they got home, Azusa quietly but not so softly pulled her aside, brought her to his room, and told her to sit on his bed.
Yui hadn’t seen Azusa’s room since the night he showed off his “treasures,” and it was as overwhelmingly blue and melancholy as she remembered it. Even the dark paneling, everywhere in this mansion, took on a purple hue under the pale light.
They sat side by side on his plush bedspread covered in blue roses, their knees bumping. Azusa pushed into the roses with one arm as he leaned close and inhaled her scent.
Yui barely flinched. Somehow, he’d done it so often that she was getting used to it. She ought to run, knowing what was about to happen... But she didn’t move.
The place inside her where fear ought to be was empty.
Yui felt so numb.
Losing blood had drained of her soul. Every part of her body hurt. Her foot, her neck... her muscles ached... and her heart, too...
Azusa moved her hair. "Kou again...so angry..." His fingers skittered over her broken skin. "...but... who? There’s another scent… I don’t know."
Yui swallowed. "That was... Subaru-kun." Yui looked up at the pale ceiling so she wouldn’t have to watch Azusa stare at the deep marks Kou had promised would make her forget Subaru.
Yui never did understand Subaru well; he kept his distance. She thought he tried to be kind to her, once upon a time. A deadly kindness with a silver knife, but she used that salvation anyway, didn’t she? That even death didn’t last was something she still tried to block from her thoughts.
Meeting Laito, Reiji, and Kanato at school left her mixed her up--Reiji and Kanato were clearly displeased, but disappeared quickly, too. Did they care, or not? The meeting hadn’t prepared her for Subaru’s wrath.
When he caged her against the fence… reflecting on it, Yui was surprised he didn’t bend the bars as he demanded to know, “Is this what you want? Are you with them because you want to be?”
When Yui opened her mouth, nothing came out.
Somehow, she couldn’t tell Subaru that she didn’t want to be at the Mukami brothers’ mansion, and she couldn’t say if she wanted to stay, either. Maybe Ruki was right? Maybe she really was livestock now, deep inside… she was used to mistreatment, to shame, to misery and fear. She couldn’t want anything.
Subaru-kun and Kou-kun jerked her between their teeth. They could tear her apart in a tug-of-war because she wasn’t any more real to them than she was to herself.
Her tangled thoughts dropped when Azusa softly pressed his lips to the bite marks. "Were you scared...?" Only his eyes moved to watch her expression from the angle.
Something stirred in her chest. He kissed her… and… "Yeah. I was frightened." Half of her mouth turned up. It was strange to have someone care about her feelings. Azusa did that a lot, too, and it was a bit funny how Yui couldn’t get used to his concern as easily as she could accept being sniffed over, or his sudden appearances.
Azusa’s laugh was dark and low, and reminded her: he was a vampire who enjoyed it when she was scared. Even so, he promised, "It's okay... because... we'll protect you, Eve." He kissed her bitten skin again. “I’ll protect you...”
Yui squirmed, still sore and raw. “Don’t.”
Azusa persisted. “Ruki might not like it, but I’ll... protect you... outside of class...”
“Oh.” Something fluttered inside her chest, and she felt sort of strange. “Th-thanks.”
Azusa’s arms drew her limp body into an embrace. “They were rough, right? I’ll be gentle… I'll heal it for you, okay? Don't resist...” His sleepy voice lulled her.
Yui closed her eyes and told herself: Don’t resist. This is inevitable.
With a quiet “mm,” Azusa's tongue flicked over the bite marks, making them sting... but almost tickling her, too?
She shivered. Her wounds started to bleed again as Azusa lapped at them, and when he moaned, the vibration felt odd against her skin. Strangely, even as he licked up her blood, it didn't feel like… feeding on her. Or punishment. She wasn’t being held down and torn open.
A haze slipped into her mind, like the lucid dream edge of a sunrise.
In the past, Yui used to stay awake to watch the lightening sky, the dreamy midpoint of darkness and light... The quiet, drowsy hour when vampires and their prey were meant to fall asleep was pale, misty, and ephemeral. Soon would come hues of red and purple and pink to wound and scar the sky, but until it did, she...
In the bleary morning, Yui would force herself to peel back the warm fingers of sleepiness curling around her mind, fighting the hands dragging down her thoughts, making her body slow and heavy. Her vision would blur, but she kept looking for…
No, she didn’t know what she wanted. She couldn’t answer Subaru because she didn’t know.
The barred window made the sky look like a painting: a beautiful piece of fiction.
She waited for the dream of “healing” to end, and for the nightmare to begin. She waited for fangs. She waited for the drop, to be thrown away like an unwanted carcass.
Azusa gave her a final lick and stroked her back. His arms rested loosely around her in a light hold.
Yui waited and waited, the anticipation edge almost cutting her, but Azusa did nothing else.
Yui slowly lifted her hand and brushed some of his unruly hair back from his face. It felt impossibly silky to the touch, and she couldn’t resist twining the thick dark strands around her fingers. A few curls remained clinging to his cheek, but his face looked bare and delicately pretty, up close.
His sleepy eyes grew wide. The expression would’ve been almost comical if he hadn’t looked so scared.
“It’s strange…” Something about the way he looked at her and spoke to her was raw, like his usual calm had been skinned off. “It doesn’t hurt, but… I like it?”
With a nod, Yui smoothed back his feathery curls once more. She may not know his secrets, but maybe they were the same, after all.
They were both so used to pain that a gentle touch could surprise them.
Chapter 8: Magic Trick
After breakfast--well, the morning meal Yui cooked when they came home from school--Azusa tugged on her sleeve. “Yui-san, will you... come back to my room?”
A ‘yes’ almost tripped from her lips, but Yui caught herself. Azusa spared her from pain once, but… it was possible she only avoided his more macabre behavior because they’d parted for breakfast…
“She can’t.” Kou cut in, tossing his hair and making his earing jingle. “Sleep in my room tonight, instead.”
“Huh? But…” Azusa’s voice dropped to an mumble.
“You had her earlier. She doesn't need you clinging to her all the time.” Kou’s grin was dazzling and mischievous. “Besides, I want her to sleep in my room so if she meets that shitty rich boy again, he'll be able to smell me.”
Azusa grabbed her hand and glared at Kou. “If you want to annoy him... go sleep in his bed.”
“Excuse me?” His bracelets clinked as Kou grabbed Yui’s other arm and purred, “M neko-chan, you would prefer to be with me, right? I’m way nicer than he is.” This close, she could see both of his sapphire blue eyes through his golden hair, and they sparkled with irritation.
A danger signal trailed down her spine. A vampire tug-of-war with Yui’s arms would be bad . “I, uh...” She glanced at helplessly at Azusa.
Azusa gripped her hand tighter and refused to meet her eyes.
One of Kou’s eyes flashed red… and his temper hit boiling point. “What, you like Azusa more than me ?”
Ruki returned to the dining room abruptly and said Kou’s name as a warning.
“Ruki-kun,” Kou said in the same tone other people yell for their parents.
“Let her go.” Ruki’s eyes turned on them, and the icy anger in them chilled her, even if his real target was... “Azusa. You have no more right to her than Kou, so stop acting like a child. ”
Azusa's face crumpled with sadness.
Something about the bleak expression he wore pinched the inside of her stomach, so Yui said, “I'll see you tomorrow, okay?” Azusa said he’d protect her during their lunch break, so...
Azusa's eyes widened and he looked up at her with eyes that glittered with something bright, something she didn’t understand… but he nodded and, with a slight bit of hesitance, relaxed his fingers.
Kou clapped. “Great show, M-neko-chan~”
In his room, Kou flopped onto his golden bed and kicked his feet. “That was weird.” His single visible blue eye bore into hers. “Normally, when Azusa-kun sets his mind on something, making him to let go is extremely troublesome, you know. Even for Ruki-kun.”
Yui's eyes widened. Even Ruki had trouble with Azusa’s stubbornness?
“I've never seen Azusa-kun be so interested in another person before, either.” Kou added. “He’s usually off by himself, stabbing himself or whatever. It’s gross, right?” The way he bared sharp fangs wasn’t quite a smile.
He held out a hand. “Come here.”
Sleeping in Kou’s room... obviously meant Kou would have a “snack” before bed. He pressed her into the bedding, holding her down.
Golden hair, marble skin, sapphire eyes, ivory fangs… The glamourous idol whose lips covered her bleeding wound was gorgeous, even by vampire standards, but Yui tried to mentally block out as much as she could of the body on top of hers. It's not as if Azusa's cool blue room would've been different - actually, it would've been worse if Azusa made her hurt him again. But the gentle way he’d comforted her after she’d been attacked by Subaru was a bit...hard to forget...
Her traitorous body grew weak and a warm feeling pooled in her stomach as Kou moaned against her neck. His cool tongue on her hot skin made Yui shift her legs uncomfortably.
“Excited, are we?” Kou’s voice had dropped the fake cheer and he laughed, low and cruel.
Yui’s hands curled against the shimmering fabric. To distract herself, Yui forced out, “Why does Azusa-kun love pain so much...?”
“Huh? That topic is over! Read the mood. Don’t talk about other guys in my room.” Kou growled, but he reared up on his elbows and thought about it. “If you ask him about it, he’ll tell you allll about how awesome it is to get kicked around.” The disgust in his eyes was palpable.
Yui stiffened, a bit put out.
Kou made a face. “The way he is… I’ve always wondered if we should do something about him, but he seems happy. Kinda. Do you really want to take away the only thing keeping him stable?”
Yui frowned. Was that how it was? Pain and isolation… his only friends were the wounds on his body…and yet the alternative could be even worse?
“Stop thinking about him.” One of Kou’s eyes flashed red, again. “Aren’t you focusing on Azusa-kun’s problems because you don’t want to think about yourself?”
“No--” Yui gasped as he plunged his fangs into her, deeper and harder.
Kou began viciously sucking her like he could drain her thoughts from her head. “That’s not concern, that’s selfishness.” He accused, but then covered his anger in something coy, “But I understand. You want to forget...”
Yui shook her head--about what, though, she wasn’t sure.
“Keep your eyes on me,” this magnificent idol commanded. “I’ll make you forget everything.”
Though less gentle than Azusa, his treatment worked. Kou drained her until she fainted.
Sliding back into a school routine hadn’t been as hard as she’d thought, and now it was Yui’s turn to clean the classroom. The other girls had… well, abandoned the job to her, and Yui preferred not to think too hard about why. Working alone dragged the task out longer than it should, and when she was almost done, she realized she had company.
Azusa peered at her from the doorway, then moved into her classroom. “Is this your desk?” He stood directly in front of it.
“Yes. How did you know?”
Azusa smiled and touched the flat surface. He didn’t answer.
Yui finished her last task of cleaning the blackboard. “Where are the others?”
“They left… Let’s walk home together, okay?” He turned up smiling eyes at her. “I...want more time with you, all to myself…heh heh...”
Yui wrung her hands, but… “Let me put the cleaning supplies away, and then we’ll go.”
At this time of night, no one saw them leave the school together. They passed by the park where the river flowed through, sparkling at night. The tall grasses sounded nice as they were ruffled by the breeze, and Yui leaned slightly to listen. Layered within the soft rustling was the whine of an animal.
“Hold on…” Yui stepped away from Azusa. “Let me check something, okay?”
“Um...what is it?”
Yui held up her hand. “Let me check first…” She hurried off without permission, throwing herself through the grass, alert for that sound, that sad, little whine--and what she found was a mundane tragedy in motion. she bit her lip, looking down into the garbage tucked below the bridge.
She heard the shifting grass behind her. Yui stood quickly and spread her hands. “It’s okay, Azusa-kun. I...” She had to protect--
“What is it?” Azusa drifted through the tallest grasses and grabbed one stalk for a moment, before letting it slip through his fingers. “Are you hiding something… because you don’t like me…?” He stepped forward.
Yui stepped to block him. “No, no… ” She fiddled with the hem of her skirt. “I found... something, but I don’t know what to do...”
Azusa tried to peer over her, but she stepped sideways to block his view again. “I won’t do anything mean...”
I know you won’t, Yui couldn’t say. But only from your perspective.
Still, she was backed into a corner. She revealed a female puppy curled up in a dirty box. “She’s hurt.”
Azusa didn’t say anything.
Please don’t, she thought. Please don’t hurt her.
“She’s different.” Yui searched for a way to explain it so that Azusa could understand. Her eyes fell down to how her hands were torturing her skirt again. “This animal doesn’t... understand pain.”
Azusa’s eyes flickered between the puppy and Yui’s face. “Eve.” He looked solemn. “Most people...don’t understand. They think I’m… creepy… disfigured... ”
Azusa slumped as his right hand clutched the bandages on his left arm. “My friends…” He mumbled something, and a sad smile edged at his mouth. “But, I don’t mind, even if I’m... disgusting… or hated … as long as I’m needed…” His little laugh was painfully thin.
He looked… lonely.
“I’ve always wondered if we should do something about him, but he seems happy. Kinda.”
Nothing about Azusa looked happy. He always looked so very lonely, and empty, and sad…
She’d somehow imagined that Azusa lived entirely in his own personal wonderland of pain, where the rules made sense to him alone. Yui hadn’t realized Azusa had this level of self-awareness about how people saw him, even as he said such horrifying and sad things about himself.
As his head fell, the chaotic swirls of his hair obscured one sorrowful eye, and he added, “That’s why... you’re special. We’re the same, so… you...only you can understand me.”
Softly, she whispered, “I’m starting to.”
He tipped his head, smooth curls falling back, and smiled at her, a little lighter.
Yui knelt down beside the puppy and gazed at the dog. Belatedly, she realized she never saw Azusa try to hurt anyone but her or himself. Never. She was... special , for whatever it meant. It was as if she’d been holding a puzzle piece and didn’t notice until now, and putting it into place gave her a tentative picture of the tilted way Azusa saw the world.
Maybe… I misjudged you a little, she almost said aloud, her eyes locked on the wounded animal. She thought of the strange early morning with lips on her wound, so gentle she thought it was a dream...
Something soft tapped her arm. She looked up to see Azusa holding out a roll of gauze. He must have kept it in his pocket.
Azusa crouched down on the wet grass, too. He drew his thin legs to his chest and rested his chin on his knees. “Once, when I was smaller, I brought home… a puppy, too... It was lost, and fluffy... Yuma wanted to keep it… Kou wanted a cat… and... Ruki got angry.”
The way his voice suddenly dropped into a dark tone at the end sent a chill up her spine. She’d seen Ruki with dark ice in his eyes, and she knew his strong hands. “What did he do?”
“Mm?” Azusa had moved to press his cheek to his knees. He looked sleepy.
Maybe Yui didn’t want to know. She smiled wryly. “So, um, can we take her to the vet, or a shelter…”
Azusa nodded, but then shook his head. “Yui-san… it’s three in the morning.”
“Oh!” Yui blushed. She’d admired the night, but she’d briefly forgotten that the entire world didn’t follow the same schedule as their school.
Azusa brushed his chin with elegant fingers. “We can’t take it home, because of Ruki… but… I know of a place, okay?”
“Okay!” Yui started pulling open the gauze. “For now, at least we can clean it and wrap the wound. I’m not sure she won’t bite it off, but…”
He made a little noise of approval. “I’ll wrap it...firmly.” Azusa flushed the cut with a water bottle and patted it dry. “It bit me… how cute.” He giggled softly and brought his hand up for a moment to admire it.
Yui winced, but in the end she was kind of glad Azusa volunteered to do it, because little whimpers the puppy made were too much for her.
Azusa lifted the dirty box. “Until the sun rises… come with me.”
They walked until they were within the mansion’s grounds. This area dilapidated, full of half-crumbled structures aching with mold, but Azusa walked forward with purpose, edging past overgrown vines and jumping over broken stone. Finally, he stopped in front of a wall of ivy and handed the puppy’s box to Yui.
He dug through the vines until he found and opened a hidden door. “This is my secret place…”
Yui peered between the vines. It was dark, but she was pretty impressed. “How did you find this?”
He lifted one shoulder. “I… wander around...”
Another puzzle piece dropped into a hidden space: Kou worked as an idol, Yuma tended his garden, Ruki studied… and Azusa explored. Yui smiled, charmed by this harmless secret.
He fetched a candle and matches from just inside the door, and down the stone steps they went.
Inside the first room, Yui’s eyes drifted over… Chains. There were chains hanging down the wall of his secret place? Was...was that a saw, too? She picked up her pace.
They moved through several rooms with some rather frightening shadows inside, until they reached a bare hall of some kind. She felt glad it was empty, but nervous about being so far inside. “Will you come see if the bandages need to be changed?”
Azusa knelt beside her.
She leaned over the puppy and pushed her hair behind her ears to keep it out of her face.
Another hand touched her hair, slid through the strands and touched the shell of her ear. Her skin prickled with goosebumps as she realized her mistake: she revealed her neck to a vampire .
Azusa’s fingers slid through her hair, pulling her loose waves out. He looked calm, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t pounce in an instant. “Your hair is softer than this puppy’s fur, Yui-san.”
Yui laughed from the tension. “Well...I think our puppy needs a bath...”
“ Our puppy...” His gaze swung back to the sleeping furry lump and he smiled. “I want to... get some supplies.” Azusa stood up and patted his knees. “Wait here, okay...?”
Yui frowned, but before she could reply-- Azusa was gone.
The pool of cooling wax at the base of the candle grew thicker before her eyes. Azusa-kun did say… he was watching her closely. All the time. Maybe he was watching her right now, in the dark part of the room.
Her voice came out timid, hobbled by how foolish she felt: “Azusa-kun, are you there?”
No reply but the sad breaths of the wounded puppy’s bad dreams. She petted her back to soothe her.
Yui lifted the candle to the room, but it was so vast that she couldn’t make out much. Hard stone floors, soft darkness for walls. Her hand shook, and the flame trembled dangerously--if she dropped it… if it blew out… She set down the candle again.
Should she get up? She could explore these rooms, but… if she got lost, or dropped the candle… Anxiety was paralyzing, but the wait was growing painful. Both options were risks.
Yui’s voice was painfully tight as she spoke: “I don’t want to be alone, please!”
“Oh, okay… I’m back...” Azusa appeared over her shoulder.
Yui nearly hugged him and wept.
He lifted a plastic bag. “At the store, I saw Kanato-san... He was making a mess, but... Mm... I told him the dog food was for you, and he seemed pleased... Do you think he wants a dog...?”
Yui pursed her lips. No, she wasn’t going to address that. She sighed. “You were gone so long… I was worried.”
“… Did you think I wouldn't come back?”
She swallowed. “I thought you might be trying to scare me.”
“Scare you? I see…” He blew out the candle and the room immediately plunged into darkness.
Oh, Yui, you fool!
“You’re afraid of the dark?”
What could she say? She just hoped he wouldn’t disappear again.
“Mm, you’re holding onto me so so tightly… You must be really scared, after all… But… It’s okay.” He spoke close to one ear. “Yui-san… look, I’m still here with you…” Azusa’s hand gripped her hip.
When he blew the candle out, the darkness had almost blinded her. As she cast her eyes around, she now noticed -- the ceiling had cracks in it that let in a small amount of orange light. She could make out the edges of his face and the glow of his pale eyes, too.
“Your eyes are… starting to adjust, right…?” He sounded oddly fond. She wondered if he was smiling as he spoke. “It’s not all darkness... there’s also a bit of light…”
Her heart in her throat, Yui could only nod.
In the end, Yui thought it better not to feed her until they spoke with a vet, so they wiped the puppy down. They used iodine on the wound and wrapped her up, then laid her out on the small blanket with little bones and a pillowed dog bed purchased by Azusa. He also bought a squeaky toy and a collar, for some reason.
Yui stroked the small back. I wish I could keep you, but you’d be in danger... and I’m not strong enough to protect you.
Chapter 9: Traitor
The puppy needed stitches. The vet had to shave her leg, and the jagged line across the bare patch looked sad, but otherwise the dog was in decent health, if a bit underweight. They’d spoken to the vet about it, but finding a shelter… Well, for now they were keeping her in the secret place.
Not being under anyone’s watch, Azusa ended up taking on most of the responsibility of the temporary schedule they worked out: he would feed her three times a day and clean up her messes, with small periodic check-ins as well. He could only bring Yui out once a day.
Writing the timetable down into her notebook made Yui’s pencil stop several times, overwhelmed with guilt. She’d wanted to help the poor animal, but she hadn’t realized how much work she was signing Azusa up for.
When she asked how he felt, his brows rose in surprise. “Oh, I want to… she’s little and weak, so… she needs help,” he said, and it didn’t sound like a lie.
Determined to redeem herself during lunch breaks, Yui and Azusa used a computer in the library to look up the names and numbers of some shelters.
Azusa had a smartphone, but unfortunately he didn’t know how to use it. He barely knew how to make calls and use the Twitter app that Kou had set up for him. In the library, all Azusa could do was lean over her chair, watch her type, and ask the occasional question. He didn’t appear to be watching her to make sure she didn’t get help, however-- the expression on his face was too nervous.
He became distressed when Yui rejected one place for being a kill shelter, confessing that he didn’t know such things existed.
“They take them in...and then kill them... if no one wants them?” His voice was very small. The way he clasped his arm in front of him looked like he was giving himself a hug.
Feeling a pang of sympathy, Yui pushed forward a smile. “We’re going to find the best one, okay?”
He nodded, but didn’t meet her eyes.
In the end, Yui printed out two copies of the results of their research. She filed her copy away in her school bag, while Azusa folded his into a very small square and tucked it into his jacket’s pocket. They would make some calls in the morning, when the rest of the world came to life.
On their way back to class, Azusa asked, “Will she... be okay… Our… little friend?”
Yui didn’t get to reassure him. Without warning, she felt a hard shove and the world jerked sideways, dropping her towards the stairs. She caught herself against the railing, with half of her body down the stairs and one foot dangling in the air. The backs of her legs were stinging with scrapes.
Azusa pulled her up by her sides and… curiously, didn’t let go. He wrapped his hands around her middle and spoke over his shoulder. “That was… mean.”
“Like I care,” came the sharp reply. “Don’t talk to me now, you filthy thief.”
Her eyes widened. “Kanato-kun…” She slipped free of Azusa’s grip and faced the vampire across the hallway, his back framed by large windows.
Outshone by the electric lights above, only a trace of moonlight streamed through and reflected off of his purple hair. His wide, wide eyes were full of tears. “I’m thirsty.” Kanato clutched his beloved Teddy and tucked his chin on top of the bear’s head. His voice dropped into a sad whimper, “Why haven’t you come to us, already? You know we’re here...”
Called out on her inaction once again, Yui still couldn’t answer. She’d only tried to escape once before getting caught up in new mysteries, of Eve and of… Yui glanced at the vampire beside her.
The expression on Azusa’s face was… annoyed, in a way she’d never seen before.
“Say something! You’re being very rude, ignoring me even though you’re just an insect...” Kanato turned on a dime, going from tears to grumbling in rage. “Or maybe you can’t speak because you feel guilty?”
Her head jerked back in surprise. “I--”
“Shut up! I knew you were guilty!" He cut her off with a new tirade: " I don’t want to hear your lies! Just come back with me and everything will be fine again.” Kanato stepped forward, his expression one of hateful fury, of bites that rip the skin.
Yui faltered and “I can’t,” slipped out of her mouth without thinking. The scrapes on her thighs stretched painfully when she moved.
“Traitor!” He seethed. His eyes grew wider, his pupils contracting with rage. “How dare you decide that on your own!” His expression contorted into violent disgust and the contempt in his voice could scald skin off. “I knew you’d betray us. You’ll obey anyone who treats you a little nicely.”
Yui froze, feeling the knife of his accusation pierce her heart. Was that… true?
“Sorry, but… Eve is with us, now.” Azusa’s arm slid across her back and the other scooped Yui’s legs up into a bridal carry. She looked up at him in shock, and he said, “Let’s go… okay?”
A tiny squeak escaped Yui’s lips as he took off running down the hall with her.
Kanato’s scream was loud.
The windows flying by blurred into bars as Yui held on tight.
“It’s okay…” He flashed her a fanged grin. “I won’t drop you…”
He ducked into a classroom and pushed the door shut with his back.
The pungent scent of chemicals tickled her nose, and she glanced over to see the rows of bookshelves and empty tables of the laboratory.
“He didn’t chase us…” Azusa carried her over to one of the long lab tables and laid her out flat. Almost like… she was going to be dissected.
Alarm bells ringing, Yui tried to sit up, but Azusa already began to climb on top of her.
His bangs swayed in front of his serious face as he crouched over her thighs. He slipped a hand under her leg and pulled one knee up. “You were hurt, right?” Azusa’s cool fingertips glided along the back of her thigh, up her skirt.
“Wh-what are you doing?” Frantically, she tried to push down her skirt, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“It’s nice, right? This pain…” He chuckled, and touched her scrapes. His smile was gentle even when she winced. “Your painful face is... great. The scent of your blood is wonderful, too...” He leaned closer and inhaled.
Yui tried her best to scoot away from him, but there was nowhere to go. “Azusa-kun, I don’t really… uum...” Even her mouth was shaking, twisting up painfully. Her throat closed. What could she say?
Azusa didn’t seem to hear her. He stared between her legs. “Fangs… bit here, too…?”
Every muscle in Yui’s body seized up. Not now. Bad memories bubbled threateningly below the surface. No, no. ..
Blue and green light, cruel laughter-- no, no...
Azusa slipped between her legs, a parody of the horrific memory threatening her. His hand still spread painfully over her scrapes, he kissed the scars on her legs - one, twice, feather light on her skin.
Yui slammed her legs shut and closed her eyes. “No, no, no--”
She could almost hear that distinct giggle .
“Who are you thinking about?”
Her eyes snapped open. She met his eyes again.
“Ah… good, you’re looking at me…” He smiled, soft and sweet. “I’ll... make you feel better…”
Her shoulders began to sink in relief, but--
“...and… more painful.” He punctuated his terrifying statement by dragging his nails through her scraped skin.
The wreckage path from his nails burned worse than the initial scrape. Yui winced, and her voice betrayed her agony, “Stop, don’t--!!”
He licked a fingertip. “Why not? Won’t you feel better...if it hurts? It’ll distract you… if I drink your blood...”
Yui began to tremble. It always came back to this. She futilely pushed against him. It was like trying to move a wall. “No, no-- please... not there…” She squeezed out her pleas through a sore throat.
Azusa grabbed one of her shaking hands and held it still. His nails were dirty with blood. He watched her quiver with an unreadable expression.
Abruptly, he pushed off of the table. “Sorry, I… I… was I wrong?” She heard him mutter. Louder, he added, “Let’s go home… We need to… call, later…” His voice seemed unusually dazed.
The severed tension left her with a strangely floaty feeling. The undersides of her thighs burned and Yui stumbled when she tried to walk. She leaned against a table to get her bearings.
Azusa didn’t help her this time. His eyes were downcast as he clutched his left arm, digging his dirty fingernails into the gauze.
He sent Yui home by herself and went to check on the puppy.
Cleaned up and bandaged, Yui looked into the mirror of her vanity. Her face looked tired. She was glad Azusa had let her go, but... Kanato’s words echoed in her mind. Was she really fickle and weak for wanting to be treated gently? It didn’t sound right, but a warped form of guilt kicked at her all the same.
Chapter 10: Belle
Azusa took her to the secret place the next day.
The puppy was more active now, wiggling around and trying to play by nipping and tugging on sleeves and fingers and shoes. She gobbled up her meal and licked the bowl after.
They brought a lantern down and hung it on a large hook hanging from a chain from the ceiling. (Yui tried not to imagine the hook’s original purpose, or discern the nature of the rusty residue coating the metal.) The lantern was brighter than the candle, and gave the empty stone room a warm glow, but it was still hard to see the puppy. She was a wiggly, shiny shadow prancing around, except for the one white spot of her shaved fur.
Azusa knelt down and let the little shadow climb on him. He giggled quietly as the puppy started to chew his hand with her very white back teeth.
Oh, Yui ought to stop him from teaching the dog bad habits, probably, but truthfully… the puppy wouldn't be with them much longer, and Azusa’s smile was… nice, and didn’t make her think about yesterday, unlike the subdued, diverted eyes he’d shown her earlier.
Had Yui ever seen Azusa smile this much? He never laughed very loud, but his mirth was infectious.
Yui couldn't sit down with her bandaged legs, unfortunately, but when the shadow puppy ran circles around her ankles, she spun around and giggled a little herself.
The darkness barked indignantly at her.
“She really is small… our puppy…” Azusa picked her up and held her close to his face to examine her with serious eyes. “She’s so soft...and warm.” A tiny pink tongue licked his nose… and Azusa blinked twice as the puppy tried to chew there, too.
Yui giggled again, unable to suppress it. She reached down, despite the stretch of scrapes below her thighs. “Let me see her.”
Azusa stood up with the dog and transferred her to Yui's hands.
Her warm little body wiggled and her shiny skin slid strangely under Yui's fingertips. Her puppy face was smooth and round, and her dark eyes were serious, like Azusa’s were.
Azusa kept his distance from Yui, but… that was in Azusa-measurements, not normal distance; he was still pretty close as he peered at her face. “What...should we name her?”
Yui gave in and let the puppy lick her fingers, too. “Oh, I thought we probably shouldn't… it might make it harder to give her up.”
“Why? Everyone… needs a name.” Azusa frowned. “I've been thinking… Belle.”
Belle didn't acknowledge her new name, too concerned with important nomming on Yui's hair.
Holding Azusa's cell phone felt… weird... A foreign country of smooth black buttons and a screen Yui had to poke around to navigate. Blue casing, not crushed pink.
The first shelter call was the hardest. Yui dialed the shelter number and waited as the phone rang… rang… rang…
Yui held her breath to cut off the anticipation of a trap, of the endgame of a cloying voice cooing, “Bitch-chan.”
The voicemail made her jump and panic. She mumbled her name and her purpose, realizing too late that she should've got Azusa's number beforehand. Her heartbeat choked her out, and she hung up with a hasty goodbye.
Azusa pushed Belle’s face against hers with one arm. With the other hand, he pulled the phone out of Yui’s...shaking? ...hands.
She looked up at him, her heart in disarray. A tiny tongue lapped at her cheek.
“My turn now, okay?” He forced the warm dog into her arms again--no longer wiggling, but still full of nom lick nom nom--and picked her sheet of shelter numbers off the ground.
Belle had already gutted the squeaky from her toy, so Yui played a quiet tugging game with her while Azusa spoke to a woman at a shelter.
Azusa ended the call on a soft sigh. “Umm. No luck… she says, it will take a week for a vacancy... Do you want to try calling the next one?”
Yui clutched the warm squirmy body to her chest. “Y-yes.”
She couldn't stay afraid forever.
This time, Yui wrote down Azusa’s number on a pad of paper. She dialed the number with shaky fingers and waited through the ringing... Each trill of the ringer seemed to echo through her chest, making her heartbeat feel out of step.
Voicemail again, but the purpose of her call flowed from her lips. After she hung up, Yui took a ragged breath and held it, letting the burn of air gather and tangle with her stress before she blew them both away.
Azusa and Belle watched her with identical expressions of study. In the low light, their eyes appeared to glow, both eerie… and cute?
Yui smiled. She checked the phone’s clock and decided, “Let’s call again tomorrow, and play with Belle today.”
“Heh heh, okay… Let’s have fun.”
The next day, Yui had more luck.
She ended the call and turned to Azusa with a triumphant grin. “The lady said they could take her! Belle will be able to find a home!”
Azusa sat with Belle under the lantern again, his legs crossed as the black puppy crawled all over his dark uniform… He pulled up the wiggly shadow and held her to his chest. “What's wrong with this home?”
Yui froze. “W-Well. It's dark, and she could get out and eat something bad.” Something sharp, and covered in bacteria from who knows what it was used for, Yui didn’t, she didn’t think about it at all...
“That's not so bad...” Azusa looked down at Belle, who wiggled and chewed the ribbon of his uniform. “Yui-san, let's… keep her...”
“No.” The forcefulness in her own voice surprised her.
“Why?” Azusa looked bewildered, like a child. He clutched the dog tighter. “I don't want her to go… I don't want to abandon her...”
Yui crushed her skirt in her hands. “We're not abandoning her. We’re going to help her find a family.”
“Why can’t we be her family...?”
Yui faltered. “I-I wish we could be… if we could take her home, it would be so nice.”
It really would be nice to have a pet… They could take Belle out into the gardens and grounds, and let her sniff around Yuma’s garden. They’d feed her carrots and yummy baked treats. Belle could sleep in Yui’s bed.
But Yui knew someone might get angry and snap the dog’s neck to punish her, or force her to do degrading things by holding the dog’s safety hostage. She couldn’t bear the risk.
“Ruki would kill her,” Azusa said with broken honesty.
Yui wrung her hands. “Yes...and this is no place for a dog to live. If she stays trapped in here… well, we can't give her the care she needs.”
“We can,” Azusa insisted stubbornly.
“We can't-- even you can't stay down here too long.” It hurt to be this realistic, to watch Azusa’s face fall when Yui didn’t even want to disagree with him. But she had to do it. “Belle needs sunlight, and space to run around, and she needs to be around people and other dogs.”
Belle chewed his ribbon again, and Azusa stroked her fur. “She's lonely…?”
“Even though we love her?”
Azusa’s eyes lowered. “But... I want her...”
“Me too. I want to keep her.” Yui faltered and bit her lip. “But she's alive. She's not a toy. We have to think about Belle, and what she would want, and what would make her happy.”
Azusa whispered, “Happy…”
Yui knelt down beside him. The skin of her thighs hated the stretch, but she ignored her pain and focused on her hand. Together they both petted Belle’s soft fur, who sweetly licked their fingers back, warm and wet. Yui’s hands got sticky and stray dog hairs began to cling to her, but she didn’t care.
If only they could stop time when the lantern flickered brightest in this shadowy stone hall, and stay here forever, clinging to this small bit of warmth. No pain. No hunger. Like dream.
“Alright…” Azusa mumbled, dipping his head to kiss Belle’s warm skin. He nuzzled the puppy fur, and his voice was choked, “Alright… for Belle’s happiness…”
He kept his head down, shadows protecting his face so she couldn’t see, but Yui suspected Azusa was fighting tears.
Tentatively, Yui touched Azusa’s hand. “Thank you… Thank you, Azusa-kun.”
The puppy sniffed and lapped at Azusa’s cheeks.
One of Azusa’s hands was supporting Belle’s weight, but Yui clasped the other one and held it. Part of of her was vaguely embarrassed by touching a boy, even a vampire boy, but she...she needed to comfort Azusa somehow, if only a little! There had to be something she could say, too. She tried, “Um, I'm glad we helped her.”
Azusa didn’t reply, but… he nodded.
Chapter 11: Given Away
I've decided to change my posting schedule!
Azusa wasn’t lonely. He had his friends beside him always, after all. Yui didn't need to bother with him, or worry about him…
Even if Azusa lost Belle… Even if Belle wasn’t waiting for him anymore, Azusa would be okay, but...would Belle okay?
Yui thought the shelter was very nice, but there were so many smells of humans and animals that it overwhelmed Azusa’s nose. He worried about Belle getting lonely. The other dogs barked angrily at her from their crates; would she be able to make friends…?
Belle’s own crate was pretty big, and they used her bed. But it had newspaper on the bottom, and Belle liked to chew newspaper. And there were a dozen dogs in the building - would the volunteers be able to clean her messes in time, before her little paws stepped in it and smeared waste everywhere?
The lady Yui spoke to on his phone was a tall woman who shouted happily when she saw them and spread her hands out to touch their puppy. She ran her hands over Belle’s dark fur, coating over the scent of Yui and himself, and cooed sadly over the puppy’s stitches.
In the end Azusa had to let go… and Yui had to help him by transitioning their precious little girl into her own arms for a quiet goodbye before she gave Belle up.
Azusa’s hands and arms felt empty after they left.
At home, he made himself a hot water pad and crawled into bed. He sandwiched his head between two pillows and threw on two extra blankets, but none of it helped… he was still cold. He couldn’t make his own body heat, after all, and he’d left all the warmth in a small bundle of blankets and fur hidden inside his secret place.
Yui didn’t visit him.
There was no reason to see him.
He’d lost the assignment to be her guard after she began attending school. Now that their precious puppy was safely placed into a warm, light home, Azusa had no reason at all to take Yui outside and hide her away from prying eyes and other fangs.
Taking care of Belle together had been their secret, and, for short time, Yui looked at him with trust, but… somehow, he lost it again... Yui’s small hands had pulled herself from his arms with Belle, and gave both of them away to another.
In the garden, Yuma dominated her time with his harvest and his chores. The garden was important, useful… But Azusa wasn’t allowed to help. Yuma and Ruki had banned him from entering the garden again, after his last attempt ended with him smashing a rosebush.
He could only watch Yui move through the garden behind the glass and bars of the manor windows.
Had the scrapes on her legs healed? He supposed so, because she no longer winced while she walked up and down the rows, or knelt and dug between the leaves.
Azusa pressed his hand against the glass and watched Yui between his fingers.
Eve was like him... He’d never imagined the special Eve, the chosen woman they sought, would be so much like him.
The first time he saw her scars, Azusa felt a rush of delight. Proof, precious proof -- proof that they were the same – potential for something special they could share together.
He gave her gentle pain, and Yui grew soft, drowsy, and fragrant with blood and sweetness… her cheeks flushed pink and pretty, and she leaned heavily against him. The gentle pressure of her body felt like the shadow of a lover’s embrace.
Azusa wanted more, more, more-- of her sighs, her soft gaze… her small hands touching his hair, making him feel very warm and fluttery so deep in his belly.
Recently, however, the sight of her scars made his stomach churn. Lovely red bite marks were proof that other hands and fangs touched her, made her gasp and cry out prettily.
There were too many… Ruki. Kou. Yuma. Subaru-san. Others he didn’t know.
Strangely, Yui looked sad when he touched her scars, too.
Curiosity nipped at him. Did she not like her scars, too? But why… They were beautiful… Azusa was the one who was wrong, not her. Azusa was the jealous one, the bad one. Yui wasn’t his, like Ruki said. Had never been his.
He just… wanted more…
He was still… unsatisfied…
Azusa wished he could be the only one to see the soft and pliant side of her, the only one who could touch her skin, taste her blood… and more, more…
He wanted Yui’s smile, and the expressions Yui made when she was immersed in her books. The pride sparkling in her eyes as she stood in front of a meal she’d cooked. The gentle way she’d held the small furry body in her arms and called Belle “our puppy,” and then looked up at him as if she liked the sight of his face.
Ruki gathered Azusa and Kou in the parlor for a report. He flipped through his book while the two of them found spaces on the couch.
On the coffee table between them stood another vase of roses. Azusa leaned forward and pushed his finger against a thorn, like a tiny knife. The prick of pain wasn’t very satisfying, but he put his finger in his mouth anyway.
His own blood was…okay. Not as delicious as Eve’s blood.
Ruki sent him a suspicious look. “Azusa...”
“Mmm,” he hummed with his finger still between his lips. He ran the tiny wound over his teeth and pulled it loose. “Yes?”
“Any signs of it’s awakening?” He snapped his book shut and set it aside, then knitted his fingers together in a listening pose .
Azusa looked away from Ruki’s expectant stare.
“I haven’t seen any,” Kou piped up from his spot. “We’re always drinking her blood, but I guess it’s not enough yet, huh?”
Azusa stared down at his finger, where a single droplet of red was welling up. Belle may not be here anymore to tie them together, but blood… they could still be together in blood. “Me neither, but… I’ll take more…”
Ruki’s face twisted. He was never impatient, but… He sighed, and his voice carried tension: “We won’t be able to live up to his expectations at this rate."
Kou’s eyes met Azusa’s, and he looked… worried.
For all that Azusa loved to think of Eve, he hadn’t spared much thought to the plan’s success, because… truthfully, Azusa didn’t expect to be chosen. One of his brothers would surely be more useful and worthy, but... so far, none of them were awakening, either.
What would happen if none of them became Adam?
Ruki never mentioned that possibility before.
Azusa licked his fingertip again.
Azusa wanted to find Yui right away after the meeting, but Kou took him aside and asked him to run an errand. Azusa couldn’t say no when he saw how Kou frowned and shifted on his feet.
“Take care of this for me, please? C’mon, I’ve gotta handle something with Ruki-kun...” Kou’s mouth fell into a tight line.
If Ruki and Kou needed him first, then… With a short shopping list, Azusa left the mansion. Yuma’s garden provided almost all the food they needed, but there were still things they couldn’t grow, and had to buy at grocery and convenience stores. Kou wanted specific magazines, two of which had his own interviews inside.
Azusa plodded through the aisles, feeling a bit lost among the boxes, bags, and cans. Where… would those magazines be...
“You again.” That voice, drenched in contempt, was familiar to him. “You’re… Azusa, I believe?”
Chapter 12: Shattered
Even after starting school, Yuma continued to pull Yui into the garden for chores. Yuma could do two or three times as much work as she could in the same time, but she was still useful! After harvesting, the next step was to sort it all. Ruki would organize the pantry and make the final decisions about what would be canned or jellied or simply stored away, so all Yui had to do was make piles in the kitchen and larder.
She’d just finished bringing in an entire basket of snap peas when she heard Yuma roar:
“Those fucking assholes!”
The sound made her stomach drop in premonition. She hurried through the hallways and peered around the corner.
In the foyer, Yuma ran his hands through his sweaty hair. Ruki held his hand to his face in a similar gesture.
“Sow! C’mere!” Yuma spotted her and motioned her over with a jerk of his hand. “Now!”
Timidly, Yui entered. “Is something wrong..?” She pulled off her work gloves.
“One of the Sakamaki bastards got Azusa.” Yuma spat. “He looks like shit. He probably didn’t fight back, damn him!” Yuma vented his fury by punching one of the hallway walls.
Her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh no… Is he okay?”
Yuma snarled at her. “Did you hear me? NO, I said he looks like shit. They got his fucking face!”
Yui shrunk back. His face…?
Ruki turned on her and spoke seriously. “Azusa habitually resists treatment. You will fix him up.”
The bathroom door was open, spilling fluorescent light into the hallway. Yui approached slowly.
The tiles were sprinkled with dark liquid, and she stepped around the spray of drops.
She found Azusa curled up in the corner with a black eye and hasty bandages on his face. The sloppy gauze was printed with bloody fingers and not enough to cover the colorful bruising and the ribbons carved into his cheeks.
She knelt down beside him. “Are you okay?”
He smiled, but it was strangely lifeless. “Of course…” He laughed. “It hurts… It’s wonderful...” His knees were pulled up to his chest, so he unfolded them. “It’s pretty, right?” He peeled back the bloodied gauze covering the mess.
They said she was a masochist. Ruki said she’d grown accustomed to suffering, like a trained animal. Azusa said, “we’re the same.” Sometimes, she wondered if they might be right about her, but…
Wasn’t this too sad?
“Yui-san, are you crying…?” He leaned in, entirely forgetting about his face full of gore.
She shook her head. She ought to be frightened… but all she could feel was sorrow.
She quietly explained that Ruki sent her in to treat him. She didn’t say Ruki once told her to stay away from him, and that he’d probably weighed the costs in his mind before sending her in. He was fighting Azusa’s fixation on pain with his… strange kindness to her...
Azusa didn’t argue. Perhaps he understood that he couldn’t keep “friends” on his face? He pulled off his bloody shirt for her, revealing more bruised and scratched skin stretched thin over a ribcage and hip bones. Suddenly, Yui understood why Yuma fussed over Azusa’s meals so often.
“Aren’t they pretty? These bruises… like berries...” He rambled. “Yours, are too...” At her confused look, he reached out and moved her hair aside. “The wounds… on your neck. You have so many… from so many fangs...”
Yui covered them with her hands.
He paused, and squinted as if trying to see through fog. “Or...are you jealous...? Does it make you feel...strange, to see wounds on me… that aren’t yours?”
Yui shook her head and got to work, pulling out supplies. She threw a towel on the bloodstained floor. It would need to be scrubbed and the blood stains might be hard to remove, but this would work for now.
“Ah. I wanted to tell you… Belle has a new family.” Azusa leaned against the mirror, pressing the gauze against his cheeks. “A mother, a father, and a little girl...”
Her hands stilled inside the first aid kit. “The shelter contacted you?”
“No… but… They seem...nice. Big house. Belle has a yard to play in… ah…” Azusa revealed his bloody face again. He clutched the gauze like a security blanket. “Do you think she'll forget about us... if she has her new family…?” His pale eyes cast down.
“O-oh… I don’t think so...” Yui worried her lip. “If the shelter didn’t contact you--how did you find out?”
His answer was the one she didn’t want to hear: “I... watched the shelter, and followed them...”
Yui winced. “Azusa-kun, you can’t do that anymore, okay? Please trust that Belle is going to be alright.”
“They re-named her Kuro. Isn’t that… a boring name?” Azusa pouted.
“It’s not as pretty as Belle,” Yui soothed. “Promise you won’t spy on them anymore?”
“Alright, but… If you change your mind… we could get her back...”
“I think Belle would be happy with a little girl.” It was an idyllic image, but Yui didn’t like the shadow in the background of a vampire stalking their house. She hoped Azusa would keep his promise.
“A family… in a big house... is better than us?” Azusa’s hands played with the gauze, tearing it apart. “I wouldn’t know… ah.” He looked up, and the paleness of his eyes startled her. “What about you?”
“I-I never had a family in a big house, either?”
“Ah, I see.”
On the tip of her tongue was a story she knew by rote: Yui was the only child of a single parent. Her mother died when Yui was little, and her father joined the clergy after her death. But that story wasn’t true. In her mind flashed a photo of a priest holding a blonde baby in a pink blanket.
Yui began to dab iodine on the cuts. “So, um. Who… did this to you?”
“Oh.” Azusa blinked. “Kanato-san.”
Ice filled her heart. “He cut you?”
“No… He hit me lots, though.” Azusa sighed, and a smile unfurled across his face. “I gave him the knife, but… he refused, so… I showed him... how to do it.”
Yui recoiled. She dropped the brown and orange cotton ball on the floor and it rolled near her foot.
These cuts… were self-inflicted …?
“What’s wrong...?” Azusa grabbed her wrist. “Where are you going…?”
Yui yanked on her arm. “I-I… I need… something.”
“What is it...?”Air. She couldn’t breathe. Yui’s free hand fluttered weakly around her face. “Oh, I don’t know…” She sat down.
She knew he hurt himself… She knew that, but Yui wanted to understand Azusa. He’d been kind to her. He’d shown compassion for Belle. Yui wanted to be understanding… of his strange ways… the odd rules he followed… But she couldn’t accept this.
The violent gashes painted a picture in blood: wrong. This was wrong. Self-inflicted or not, this was wrong .
Something is wrong with Azusa-kun.
In a week, Azusa’s face was completely healed.
He looked at her pleadingly, silently saying what he did was… over. Perhaps to Azusa, what happened meant as much as the evidence it left behind, but Yui couldn’t forget.
Azusa wanted people to hurt him. Azusa hurt himself, too. Would this happen again?
She focused on the scar crossing Azusa’s nose.
“What is it...?” Azusa leaned in, putting them on eye level.
She brushed her fingertips across the scar. With both hands, she traced the smaller ones on his cheeks, too. “These scars don’t heal.” When she noticed his wide-eyed look, she quickly withdrew her hands. Her face burned.
This kind of mistake…!! She was too used to touching his face!
Azusa leaned forward and grabbed her hand and placed it back on his cool cheek, leaning into the way her fingers instinctively cupped his face. He watched her growing blush with thoughtful eyes scanning her face. “… These are old…from before… when I was human.”
She saw Azusa’s thin rib cage and scarred chest and arms. She’d felt the unexpected roughness of his palms and the little cuts on his fingers that never faded...
…from when he was human.
She withdrew her hand from Azusa’s loose grasp, and reached out to the scar on his nose once more. Firm to the touch. Just a small, discolored bridge from one cheek to another that split the skin in two.
He blinked at her.
If the scars from when Azusa was human will never fade, but his new wounds will heal-- that could mean Azusa was covered in invisible scars. Was there an inch of his skin that hadn’t been subjected to some form of mutilation or torture?
Chapter 13: Bitten
“It’s my turn, again… to watch you,” Azusa spoke and suddenly appeared when she exited the classroom for their “lunch” break. “Because Yuma… made you faint.”
Wearily, Yui nodded. Yuma had rescued her from a fall due to her anemia and even carried her in his arms… but then he sucked her blood until she fainted, anyway. Something about Shu had set him off, made him want to prove something to the aristocratic vampire, but…
She pressed her hand to her temple. Her thoughts were foggy and vague.
Azusa peered at her, but she didn’t meet his eyes. Any kind of conversation she could make dried and became sand in her throat at the memory of his face, covered in bloody stripes of red…
Wanting to get away from the crowds, she chose the roof even though it was an unforgiving climb. She pounded the steps one by one, and her temples started up a dissimilar rhythim.
Her anemia was getting worse, and she was under a strict guard again, even at school-- even though they were upperclassmen and left her alone during classes. She still hadn’t figured out what Ruki was up to there.
Azusa watched her lean against the bars of the fence. “Do you have a headache...? Is it painful…?”
“How nice… you can’t think of anything. I... wish I didn’t have to think.” He paused. “Every time I look, you’re in the arms of another, Yui-san…”
“That’s… unfair.” She bit her lip.
It chagrined Yui to think she had experience with men. She hadn’t given her permission, and her feelings hadn’t mattered at all, but… she knew bites and kisses, fangs and lips. The feel of a vampire’s skin: cold and unnaturally smooth. And strong, always too strong to push away...
Azusa’s eyes widened. “I see... You’re not happy?”
Yui couldn’t bring herself to answer.
“What about me? Do I make you...unhappy?”
“I…” She couldn’t find the right words.
Suddenly, his eyes glittered. “Hey… do you like me? Are you sure… you’re not happy with anyone else but… me?”
Her feelings for Azusa were confusing. She couldn’t hate him, didn’t dislike him… but did she like this morbid vampire who haunted her footsteps? Did it even matter how Yui felt, if she couldn’t accept his obsession with pain?
Azusa slid closer. “I… can’t complain, if it’s my brothers… but don’t choose one of them … They’re… not good for you. You looked so unhappy when you came with us. Your smile used to hide away… so…” He almost drifted off, but then sharply finished: “Don’t let them drink your blood, Yui-san.”
Ashamed and confused, Yui admitted, “Um, I… don’t really have a choice, with what happens to me...”
“No. You’re the one who… makes the important choice… Surely, everyone... is trying to make you pick them in their own way.”
“Are you talking about the... plan?”
Azusa made an affirmative noise. “And, me too… It’d be good if you picked me, Yui-san.”
She didn’t know what he was talking about exactly, but… She leaned in curiously. “What would happen if I picked you?”
Azusa blushed. “If you picked me, we could stay together… forever...”
“My, how sweet.” purred a honeyed voice.
Yui's heart jolted with a familiar terror.
Azusa furrowed his eyebrows, and then leaned around Yui to look at their unwanted guest. Yui looked over her shoulder, too.
Backlit by the cresenting moon, Laito tipped his fedora. “Hello, Bitch-chan. Did you miss me?” Unholy green eyes shifted to Azusa. “I overheard your conversation, and I thought it sounded unfair to us. I know Bitch-chan pretty well, you know.”
“Azusa-kun, can we… please go?” She stepped closer to him, feeling those eyes prowling over her. “Please, let’s go.”
“She’s a liar, you know.”
Azusa frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You...and I both know what she’s really like, don’t we?” In a second, Laito stood behind Yui, pulling down her shirt and exposing bite marks. “See? Don’t you want to make her happy?”
“No!” She pushed away from him and tried to run, but Laito grabbed her arm. She looked over to Azusa.
Azusa’s features were pensive and tense. “Happy...”
“That’s right. I know how to make her happy. Don’t you?” Laito’s voice dripped with false concern. “Or maybe you don’t…”
Azusa’s eyes dropped in shame.
“If you really want to know, I’ll tell you the secret.”
Azusa gripped the arm with his friends very tightly. “...what’s the secret?”
“No, he’s lying--!” Yui choked out in fear, but it was too late.
Laito’s fingers slipped across her shoulders. One hand gripped her neck in a threatening way while the other started to undo the bows of her uniform. “Right now, isn’t her scent telling you the truth? It’s driving you crazy, isn’t it?”
Azusa’s mouth trembled, but he didn’t move.
“Azusa-kun, please don’t listen-”
Laito jerked her hair. “Shh. It’s okay. You don’t need to say anything.” He pulled her hair again and his voice deepened in a silent threat. “Your body is very honest, even if you’re pretending to be a good girl.” With a laugh, he began unbuttoning her shirt.
Honestly scared, she couldn’t say out loud. A scream was threatening to bubble out of her throat, but she had to stand there, trembling, with Laito’s hand threatening to snap her neck. She prayed that Azusa would see through him.
Believe in her.
Believe her instead of another vampire.
Azusa gripped his shirt, twisting it in his hands. “When I...see you with others, I feel a strange pain in my chest… I hate it. I never thought I could hate pain...” His eyes were red and glossy. He was about to cry.
Laito’s voice dipped into a tone more thoughtful and quiet than she’d ever heard from him. “That feeling...is the greatest thing in the world. It’s how you know you’re alive.”
Azusa nodded sharply. He reached out to touch her cheek. His voice was soft and miserable. “I...want you to be happy… so I… will get used to the pain...”
Laito jerked her out of Azusa’s reach. “You seem to be the most reasonable member of your family. Why don’t we share her right now? Bitch-chan loves to have as many fangs in her as possible, the greedy girl~”
“Really...?” Azusa examined the bite marks littering her neck.
Yui whimpered and didn’t take her eyes off of Azusa, begging him silently.
The shadows of his face looked darker and more resigned than ever, but he leaned in and kissed one of her scars.
His kiss was as soft and sweet as his comfort in the past, and yet it hurt more than anything.
Azusa jerked back, frightened. “…are you crying?”
A hot tear slid down her cheek. Desperately, she mouthed, “Believe me.”
Azusa was silent for a long moment, before his eyes narrowed and his face darkened.
Behind her, Yui felt Laito shift. “Hmm?”
For the first time, Yui heard Azusa raise his voice: “Let go of her!”
Yui stumbled forward as Laito vanished almost instantly. Behind her, Azusa’s knife hit the ground with a clatter… and his arms caught her and cradled her to him.
Laito now stood in the stairway. “Eehh…that was scary! I don’t want to get stabbed... by a man, anyway.” Laito sighed and shrugged theatrically. “I guess he’s not so reasonable, fufu.”
The look in Azusa’s eyes was quietly murderous and full of knives. “Go away.”
Laito lifted a brow. “Poor Bitch-chan... You’ll never make her happy now.” He smiled, flashing fangs. “See you later, Bitch-chan~”
Yui buried her face in Azusa’s chest. One breath. Two. Three...
For a while, Azusa said nothing.
At last, Yui began to button up her shirt. Her bows were lost for now, blown halfway across the roof.
Yui shook her head.
“It’s my fault… I didn’t… protect you. I let something bad happen to you…”
“Azusa-kun,” she laughed, feeling strange and sad and joyful. “I didn’t get bitten.”
“This doesn’t happen to me. I always get bitten...” Yui pressed the balls of her palms against her eyes for a moment, before explaining, “I thought he was going to bite me and make you watch. I thought you both were going to bite me.”
Azusa tilted his head, looking bewildered. “Did you want him to-”
“No. I didn’t want that to happen, but I was so scared it would.”
Azusa nodded tiny little nods, and scooped Yui up again in his arms.
She didn’t cry, but she clung to him. He had no heartbeat, but it was pleasant to listen to him breathe, even though he didn’t need air any more than he needed human food. Soft and comforting enough that she could almost forget he wasn't human - and that she was only prey.
She was prey, but… Azusa hadn’t bitten her. Again.
They remained up there on the rooftop for a very long time.
His cheek pressed to the crown of her head. “I think… we should go home…”
“Okay, but…” She paused. “Later, will you take me somewhere?”
Chapter 14: Prayer of Light
They jumped past the knotty wrought iron curls of the gate and entered the church courtyard, a somber space with no grass that was rimmed in spikes like a cage of briars. The ornate gate had fascinated Yui as a child, and her budding imagination imbued it with supernatural origin.
Moments like this made her new reality more surreal, as she now returned home in the arms of a vampire.
Azusa set her down gently, and she thanked him.
The rising sun striped the sky in orange and purple, and according to Azusa’s phone - Yui gazed enviously at it - it was around four in the morning.
Azusa picked the lock on the church door for her, and Yui swallowed a deep breath and her fears as she stepped past the dark wooden doors.
The main place of worship, the pews and altar, were old friends in the sunrise. But the last time she’d seen this place, the whole church had been swathed in blue-green moonlight...
Looking up at the dimly lit stained glass, she expected to hear the wind chimes of those dreams she’d been having. The apple tree in the mist had begun to flower, and it left her with a strange amount of… hope...
Yui walked up the row, passing familiar worn pews. She’d changed before coming, so her favorite brown boots thumped against the carpet.
She glanced over her shoulder and explained, “Father was a priest at this church.”
“Your father...” Azusa trailed behind her. “For how long…?”
“My entire life. When I was a little girl, I used to sit in the front row while Father led the mass.”
“Um... was that nice?” Azusa looked around with curious eyes.
Back then, her greatest joy was to spend time with her father here - at mass, absorbing his every word, singing the hymns, and after, when she helped him clean the small church. From the altar and sacristy to the pews and restrooms, everything deserved care - no matter how great or how humble its purpose. Even as a child, Yui liked that.
Her father was a busy man, and she was only one small girl, after all. Yui was always waiting for him - she waited patiently, she waited quietly, she waited like a good girl… she tried so hard to be a good girl with good behavior and good grades and good cooking and housekeeping to make her father’s life easier...
She sat in the front pew, and Azusa quietly followed suit.
Once upon a time, her rosary used to come with her everywhere, instead of hiding away on her vanity table. It felt heavy in her pocket now. Gazing upon the cross hanging high at the front of the church, Yui held her breath for a moment and released it.
She glanced at the vampire beside her and smiled. “There’s an orphanage down the street that’s associated with this church, too. You might like it.” She missed everyone. Her friends. The kids.
She wanted to see their faces, so badly. But… like the puppy she couldn’t keep, she wasn’t sure what would happen if she did.
Azusa jumped at the word “orphanage.” “Oh.” He swallowed. “Can you… tell me… more about the orphanage?” His voice came out strangled.
What little she knew about the orphanage where Azusa and his brothers lived as humans was so terribly sad.
Yui pulled the sleeve of her pink sweater over her fingertips. In a gentle voice, Yui told him about the children she loved, about helping out after school: playing outside on the swingset, reading to them under the big oak tree, and helping them get ready for baths and bedtime.
In her heart, it was her turn to say what he’d told her once: “It’s not all darkness… there’s also a bit of light…”
Azusa hung off of every word with wide eyes, and sat in silence after she finished. His hand curled over his mouth. “If Yui-san had been in charge, then… I think...that place... would have been nice...”
Yui smiled in reply.
She stretched her arms and stood up, walking up to the altar and placing her fingertips on the edge.
Once, in a nightmare of blue light and cruelty, Laito laid her down here. He spread her legs on this altar and took her blood in sacrifice. Back then, she’d gazed upon stained glass and holy artifacts as Laito taunted her with the truth - she truly was a sacrificial bride, a gift from her own church.
No matter how painful life becomes, I will still believe...
Man is weak... So... I still believe…
Yui closed her eyes and pressed her palms together in prayer. If God tested her with trials--let her no longer despair, but rise to meet them. If not mercy, then give her strength.
She denied Laito then, but after Yui killed herself, she forgot what she said. She forgot how to live with faith, and how it felt to have hope… until Azusa showed her a tiny bit of light.
She opened her eyes and gazed upon the altar, observing the color. The light coming through the stained glass was warm and almost pink, not green. There were still bouquets of roses around, and while the scent made her feel a little uneasy, the lack of dust and sight of the fresh blooms assured her that the place was still being cared for.
“Thank you for bringing me here.” She turned on her heel and spread her arms in a hollow flourish. “This church is… part of me.” She dropped her arms. “I thought I would never come back here… Or... maybe I’ve been too afraid to come back until now.”
Azusa hunched on the pew, gazing up at her with eyes that looked a little wild. “Why?”
Quietly, she confessed, “The last time I was here, something bad happened to me. I’ve never been able to forget it.”
Something cold tickled her palm. Yui looked down and saw Azusa’s fingers slide to interlock with her own.
“Yeah…” Her heartbeat drummed in her ears.
Better … Oh, Yui knew better. She knew better than to hope a vampire would be different... For a vampire to treat her like anything but food. She’d been wrong before. Azusa may be gentle, but he was also dangerous.
...No, it was the other way around: all vampires were dangerous, but this one was gentle, too.
Azusa stopped and believed her--and that meant something to Yui.
“Thank you, too,” he said quietly.
She raised her eyebrows.
With downcast eyes, he fumbled with his next sentence. “You… your home… this is special, right? And… you let me see it…” He blushed. “I... want to know more… more, more about you…”
“Oh.” It was Yui’s turn for her face to prickle with embarrassed heat.
This light was real, wasn’t it?
Gathering a spark of courage to her heart, Yui tried to explain herself as delicately as possible. “You’re right... This is a very precious, important place of worship… and it’s my home, too. And a vampire bit me in here.”
Bit her and touched her in places she’d rather forget and tortured her with the truth: the Church she loved was responsible for her suffering.
“Azusa-kun, it’s true that I’ve been bitten a lot… But, even if I thought it felt, um, good…” She wanted to side-step an argument about pain and pleasure, moving to the heart of her violation: “It wasn’t what I wanted. No one asked me if I wanted it, either.” Her voice dropped to a murmur. “What I wanted didn’t matter.”
“Really…” His hand in hers began to tremble. “I'm sorry… I didn't know…”
She squeezed his fingers. “I believe you.”
His brows furrowed and his pale eyes met hers. “But I don’t understand… why... Why would you feel good if… doesn't that mean… you want it?” He let go of her hand and stepped back.
Her heart ached for him. His confusion was so genuine. “Even if something feels… um, good… what your heart truly wants might be different.”
“Your heart...” Azusa's eyes grew unfocused.
She hadn't seen this expression since the night he first drank her blood, and it frightened her.
His sudden laugh was a thin blade piercing the silent church. “I don't understand… how can something like that...exist? How can it feel... good... but be bad? There’s only one...” He shuddered, and his lavender eyes fogged over. “Justin… Christina…” He grabbed his forearm in a familiar comforting gesture.
Was he seeing someone in the past?
“Melissa…” He teetered. “When I bleed...everyone is happy, so… it’s a good thing… what I want ...”
She felt another spike of terror. Had she said the wrong thing, pushed him too far? “I’m sorry, it’s okay...”
His entire body was shaking now. “What I want… I want everyone to smile...” He took in a loud, choking breath and fell silent, head down.
Yui called his name again and again, but he didn’t respond as she approached him and peered through his bangs, into his pained face. “Azusa-kun, please...”
He fell forward and leaned against her, and his hair tickled her shoulder. Azusa could pin her down in an instant with supernatural strength, but he felt surprisingly delicate.
Her hands touched his back.
Finally, Azusa whispered. “I...want to go home...” She pushed his hair behind an ear and, looking closely at his face, Azusa didn’t seem entirely in a fog anymore… just withdrawn, frightened. The shadows below his eyes stood out in sharp relief against his pale skin, more pale than before, if possible.
“Okay. Home. We’ll go home…” Yui took his hand again and Azusa stepped forward obediently. She took him home like this, hand in hand, step by step.
In the mansion foyer, Azusa’s grip abruptly tightened and he grew frantically animate, his eyes and hands shaking as he pulled on her and begged, ”Please… I don’t want you to go… don’t leave me, please…”
“I won’t go, I promise.” Yui spoke softly, and her soothing voice masked her guilt for dragging out his past.
Justin. Christina. Melissa. Those were the names of real people, Yui was sure of it. Whoever they were... they hurt him.
She still didn’t have every puzzle piece, but what happened in her church was implicit confirmation of her worst fears and suspicions: Azusa had been hurt. He hadn’t been born wrong; he’d been made into what he was. To survive and cope with whatever happened to him, Azusa started believing he wanted the pain.
To Azusa, pain could be what he mentioned once, back when she knew so little about him: “...a reason to live… proof that I’m alive…”
Long ago, Azusa was right about her: Yui lost sight of her faith, her hope, her own life… but Azusa found her. Yui would find him, too.
Chapter 15: Dream of Respite
In Azusa’s aquamarine room, Yui drew the blackout curtains closed and prepared the bed for sleep.
The vampire himself leaned against his cabinet of “treasures” and watched Yui move around his room with haunted eyes.
Gently, Yui curled her fingers into his and lifted his hands, pulling him step by step until he reached the bed and, with a prompting nudge, slumped into it.
“Don't leave me,” he mumbled into his pillow. His delicate hair fell against his cheek and into his eyes, and he didn’t shake it off.
Her heart pinched to see him looking so... devastated.
Azusa-kun, with his ghoulish requests and his kind eyes, got under her skin the way no one else ever did.
Azusa-kun, who carried his pain around with him as fresh wounds, forever bleeding.
She climbed into the bed with him.
After a long look at her, those beautiful, sleepy eyes fell shut. His eyelashes were stark against the gray shadows below his eyes.
She didn't know how long she'd drifted off, but Yui woke to a sob, “No, no…”
Azusa was sitting up in bed, holding himself in a hug. His shoulders were shaking as he cried. With hiccupping sobs and clumsy fingers, he tore at the gauze wrapping the arm with his “precious friends” until he found them. With blunt fingernails, he scratched at the congealed blood - not even scars - until rivulets began to slide down his elbow.
Yui watched in agonized silence, unsure about what to do.
Dipping his fingers into the blood seemed to help, and he licked his own blood off of his fingertips. His eyes were focused only on his wounds.
“Azusa-kun?” Yui reached out and gently touched his shoulder.
He dove at her and flipped her onto her back, pinning her to the bed with bloody hands. Azusa’s wild eyes darted around the room. “...Yui… san?”
“That's right. It’s me. Yui.” She stroked his cool cheek the way he once did to her. “We're in your room, and we're safe, okay?” She murmured soft things like that until he began to relax and the tension left him in tiny drops.
Azusa nodded slowly. “Safe…” With a shudder, Azusa dropped his weight onto her (“Oof!”) and his hands burrowed beneath her to embrace her… cling to her, really. He seemed to be reeling, and rubbed his face against her pink blouse a few times.
Giving in to the urge, she stroked his feathery hair. His wild curls were limp with cold sweat, but she didn’t mind as his breathing evened out.
Before she could wonder if he’d fallen asleep again, Azusa mumbled, “Did I... scare you again…?”
… no answer seemed right, so instead she asked: “Can I wrap you a new bandage, Azusa-kun?”
He made a “mmh” sound and pushed himself up on one elbow, using the other arm to rustle through the bedside table drawer. Slim fingers found a roll of gauze and the bat-shaped pins he favored and presented them to Yui.
He sat up just long enough for Yui to snugly wrap up his bleeding arm, then threw his arms around her again, dragging her back down to the blood-spotted sheets. His hair tickled her collarbone.
She moved a clump of hair aside. “How are you feeling?”
“Cold...” His shoulders hopped, but he didn’t cry again. “Thirsty…” Pressing his face to her chest, he whispered, “I want you…”
Yui looked down at the crown of curls. “Huh? But, Azusa-kun--”
“I remember. If you don't want me to...I won't, but…” Pale eyes gazed up at her with painful sincerity. “...Can I try again?”
Azusa usually looked so dazed, and she often wondered what he really ever saw with those beautiful but hollow eyes. Now his lavender eyes were clear and wet and focused entirely on her with that pleading look...
Oh. She couldn’t resist those eyes, could she? Yui chewed her lip. “Can you promise… to only take a little? Only one bite?”
Softly, he whispered, “Believe in me, too.”
Yui’s heart clenched with something warm, blood rushing to her cheeks. “Okay…”
“Thank you.” With a little smile, Azusa moved on top of her and spoke into her ear. “I’ll be gentle.”
His lips ghosted over her skin. “I’ll suck your blood… very gently… I'll show you… something nice.”
A kiss with a sting.
How it felt to give, instead of having her blood stolen.
True to his word, this was the softest bite she’d ever experienced. Yui was used to being viciously stabbed with fangs, but he’d barely pierced her skin as he scratched her and soothed her immediately with his lips.
Still, some physical responses were automatic, like a trained reaction... Being bitten came with a rush that made her weak, and a flush of heat that always embarrassed her. It was so ugly, this unseemly excitement reverberating throughout in her body. She could almost hear the echo of Ruki’s words of so long ago: “... even your heart began to believe it was livestock.”
Yui closed her eyes and trembled.
Azusa licked her skin and kissed the wound, sucking her blood as if… as if this ugly display of inhumanity was somehow lovely...
Her skin lit up with a tingling feeling as he left a gentle mark on her. Under his lips, this cursed blood flowed sweetly, drowning out any remnants of the fear that accompanied being so close to a vampire.
“You’re so soft... warm…” He mumbled with bloody lips. “Feels like... I’m really alive…”
Unable to help it, a sigh escaped her lips.
With one last flick of the tongue, Azusa rolled off of her with a soft groan. He put his face in his hands.
Yui hesitated. The only thing vampires ever praised about her was the taste of her blood - her blood, which pumped through the heart of a vampire queen - and how it could drive a vampire mad.
Azusa embraced her again, and her heart lurched, but his eyes were locked on her face. He looked her over as they lay side by side on the blue rose bedspread. “Did you hate it?”
Yui’s face burned anew, but she shook her head. “That felt like a kiss.”
Startled, Azusa’s eyes dropped to her lips.
The terror in his eyes had receded, but she couldn’t forget the sight of his fragile shoulders shaking, the desperation in his voice... Under that pale sweater was a delicate body covered in terrible scars and bandaged wounds, and inside him a heart that was severely broken.
They were both wounded...but Yui didn’t want to give up hope.
For both of them.
Azusa toyed with her hair. “I still don’t understand... what you meant… But… Sucking your blood… makes me feel close to you. I’ve never--” he cut off whatever he wanted to say and bit his thumb. “Ah... I don’t want to do anything you dislike… ever again.” He frowned, and a rosy tint creeped across his face. “You're the girl I like, so… I don't want you to hate me…”
“Huh?” Yui’s eyes grew wide.
Azusa tilted his head, but when she didn’t--couldn’t!--reply, he simply snuggled closer. “Will you stay with me… a little longer?”
Her heart was beating against her ribs like a flustered bird, but... the rest of Yui was too warm to say no.
Curled up inside a vampire’s arms, she probably couldn't escape… and the strangest shiver rolled up her spine. Yui was trapped, but also safe.
Chapter 16: A Warm Touch
Even as a human, he'd never been this warm…
When he was a child, Azusa used to sleep side by side with his friends for warmth and protection against the bitter winter winds. Later, with his brothers, they would sleep with their backs pressed together and two thin blankets spread on top. The orphanage was drafty at night. Ruki said this was the most efficient way to counter it.
Azusa had been disappointed that no one wanted share beds after they all got their own rooms in Eden. Everyone wanted...space... and Azusa was the only one with this strange hunger for closeness.
Curled up with Yui's arms around him and his arms around her, the feeling was somehow different from his memories-better, stronger, more… warm.
Warmth that penetrates deep into icy veins and a heart that no longer beats.
The setting sun peeked through the curtains. Soon they would have to get up and go to school, on Ruki's orders… following Karlheinz-sama's orders…
It seemed… pointless, really. School was empty and full of artificial light and dark windows that brought the chill into every classroom. The humans breathing hot air around him never seemed to help. It was cold, and it was boring, and he couldn't see Yui-san.
Not for the first time, Azusa wondered why Ruki arranged for them to all be upperclassmen. Surely he and Kou could've passed as a lower grade… it wasn't as if it really mattered what class they were in, since Azusa never paid attention to the teacher anyway, and like this, there was no one watching Yui...
This was a test, Ruki said. A controlled environment where she could face temptation… or something like that… But all school ever did was make her sad and tired.
Yui never answered whether or not she was happy with him, and what she said...about not wanting… He didn't know what to think. Eve was Eve, after all. She was chosen for it… but...
Cocooned in her arms and the blankets, Azusa could still feel the phantom of Yui's little hands touching him and her soft voice promising, "We're safe."
Her pure eyes told the truth.
This room was safe, wasn't it? Yui said so. If he...locked the door… If he kept her in his room, away from the others, away from their fangs and the words that made her so sad… He'd bring her books and blankets and anything she'd like to eat, as long as she promised to stay safe in here with him.
Azusa shivered and burrowed closer to her, and her throbbing heartbeat. Just like this. This was what he wanted - to keep her arms around him, nice and warm. He didn't need to carve open her chest, like he once imagined, to get to the heart of her warmth.
...It was strange, really. Not at all what he imagined.
No one ever touched him as gently as Yui did.
This was the strangest feeling he'd ever experienced - gentle, soft touches that unwound something inside him.
Yui moved in her sleep, and his arms tightened around her.
Don't leave me.
Not yet, not until we have to...
He thought he wouldn't get his wish when she woke up, but she didn't move away at all. Her beautiful eyes watched him thoughtfully.
Her silence frightened him. Azusa wanted to tear her head open and read her thoughts so he could know for sure if he'd made her angry, if he'd made her hate him… if he was too close and she didn't want him.
"I want to ask," she whispered. "But I'm not sure if I should..."
He blinked twice. What was this?
She still hadn't pulled away from him, and he could see her luminous pink eyes shimmer with some emotion. "Azusa-kun, will you please tell me… about your friends?" She reached out slowly and placed her hand on his wounded arm. "I… want to know more about you, too."
His mouth fell open.
Never, never, never… Azusa never thought she would care about this… about him, and his precious friends…!
"You don't have to answer, if it's hard."
"No, I'm so happy…" He breathed. "Yui-san!" Azusa tapped his fingers against her back and savored the way her reaction rippled across her arms and shoulders and face. He smiled. "They were nice… always kicking me, hitting me…"
Her expression changed… and grew more sad?
Perhaps she was thinking about that... strange thing... they talked about in the church?
About the body and the heart…
Maybe she misunderstood... The gift his friends gave to him was completely different than what Yui had stolen from her.
He thought about how to explain it. More quietly, he tried to paint a picture...
Azusa was once a child who was not alive. He had no reason to be alive, all alone and unwanted by anyone.
He who was dead but not dead was taken in by some travellers and kept from starving to forever death, even though the boy was clumsy, weak, and useless. But he found friendship with their children, and the children helped him know he was alive. They would beat him, and laugh at him… and the pain was a relief from his living death.
Alive, he was alive...
When he saw their smiles, he felt a sense of purpose.
"Until… they..." Azusa shifted his wounded arm. His friends were bleeding their happy greetings to Yui through the gauze, still with him even though…
Azusa swallowed, and the details rushed into to him-craning his neck at the crowd milling among the dirty snow-their low murmurs in his ears, strange and horrified-the occasional glance at him that made his heart race-pushing and climbing through the legs of adults to get to the front-the fermented smell of the molding fruit and bread clutched in his hands-the pounding of his heart a premonition as he heard, "poor things, this isn't right" and "made an example out of them"-
Azusa gasped for breath as the dirty street and the crowd cut out, dropping him back into his room with two arms holding him tight. His head was no longer next to Yui's, and he blinked at the pale pink fabric touching his face as he got his bearings: his head was crushed to her chest.
Above him, Yui whispered, "Azusa-kun, Azusa-kun..." as she stroked his hair.
"Hmm..." If he didn't finish his story, would she keep going? He was content like this.
Perhaps that wasn't fair. She sounded... scared.
"I'm okay," he confessed.
To his sorrow, she let him go and sat up, and he reluctantly did the same.
Yui grabbed the roll of gauze off of the bedside table again and began to unwind the fresh white cloth without a word.
Azusa sighed happily as little fingers began to touch his arm.
He hoped Yui could understand… things like wanting, or not wanting… he didn't get it. Azusa loved those who hurt him, because they saved him, too.
Azusa expected her to run away from him. It was time for school, time for the thumps of socked feet across the rug and the slam of a door… but she surprised him again.
Yui pinched his sweater and lowered her head. "Can you...take me out again, after school? I would like to buy some supplies." She peeked at him.
Azusa tilted his head at her. "Where would you like to go?"
"Craft store." Her lips turned up in a cute smile that made his chest feel fluffy. "It's for a gift."
"Okay…" He nodded for emphasis, and was rewarded by the sight of her smile broadening. That reminded him… Last night, Yui said his bite felt like a kiss. Could a kiss really feel as good as drinking blood? Her lips did look very soft...
Yui thanked him and turned away before he could contemplate further.
Even after she left him, Azusa felt pleased: Yui asked him, not one of his brothers, and this was after their adventure to the church turned so strange, too...
Oh. Perhaps she didn't know that the others were also allowed to take her out? Azusa could tell her it doesn't need to be him, but… he didn't want to tell her. When he imagined Yui walking hand in hand down a street with Yuma or Kou… Azusa felt unsettled, like an empty space had opened up inside him. All the warmth he'd hoarded from her touch fled through the invisible hole.
Better keep this a secret...
The craft store Yui liked was located in a fancy tourist district that Azusa hadn't explored very much. It was… very clean. Curated flowers and trees broke up the sidewalks, and all the buildings had polished glass that glinted without flaw or smear in the sun. Smooth and perfect.
The people were the same way- they passed by on these streets wearing very nice clothes and leisurely walked arm in arm, smooth faces laughing and ignoring everyone else in the bright morning.
Azusa felt unsettled by the way their eyes looked right through him. He stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to look at his hands - they were thin and scarred, as ever, and visible to him, but…
Yui noticed and stopped, too. She turned back, and her pink eyes met his. Seeing him. Azusa was visible to her, too.
She asked, "Are you okay, Azusa-kun?"
That's right. Hearing his name on her lips always felt very nice, didn't it? Kou called him "Azusa-kun" too, but the way Yui said his name with her clear voice… made him want to shiver, for some reason. Eve was special, huh.
Azusa stepped forward and grasped Yui's hand, and felt the vacuum seal surrounding him crack.
Yui let him touch her, and it made her cheeks an alluring rosy pink.
Inside the craft store, the lady at the counter waved at Yui, who smiled in response and shook off his hand.
His skin felt very prickly after that.
With Azusa trailing a few steps behind her, Yui walked with purpose through the tall shelves, finding a row of only yarn, floor to ceiling stuffed full of colors.
Yui browsed through them slowly, lingering over a sign with SALE on it. "Which color do you like, Azusa-kun?"
Azusa looked around. There were too many colors and sizes of these yarn bundles.
"I'm not very good at knitting, to be honest," She rubbed her chin. "...but a scarf isn't hard to make. Maybe a simple blanket? I don't have much money, though, so I might not be able to get enough skeins. I'll need to buy needles, too."
"Needles?" Azusa perked up. He hadn't played with any in ages… pricky-pain wasn't as fun as slice-stingy-pain or throbbing-bruise-pain, but it had some charms. Maybe Yui would like it, too…a row of silver along the soft insides of her arms could be quite pretty...
Yui's head whipped around. "Knitting needles. Actually, I-I think I'll crochet instead. Hooks...would be safer, right?" Her brows pushed together.
What a shame.
Feeling twitchy again, Azusa peered at the prices. They weren't too bad, but the only money Yui had was in that little coin purse she brought from that other house, right? Ruki didn't give… livestock... an allowance.
"Umm… If you need money, I have some, too." Ruki did give Azusa an allotted amount for knives, bandages, and things he needed, but… if Yui needed it more… He'd already spent a lot on Belle, but it didn't matter. He paused, as something else occurred to him: "Ah. Wait... why are you making a scarf? ...It's almost summer."
"It's for you." She smiled up at him again and gently said, "You get cold a lot, don't you?"
Ah. She'd…noticed that, too? He rubbed his forearm awkwardly. "...I do. But it's okay..."
Yui looked back at the wall of yarn and made a squished expression. She huffed. "I can do basic amigurumi shapes. Would you like a bunny? This yarn is very soft and fluffy." She touched one of the white ones. "What do you think?"
He copied her hand, and… "Oh. It is… it's nice." Distracted by the soft texture, Azusa petted the yarn, and then tried one from the next row, with floaty longer hairs. Eyelash yarn? It wasn't as thick and fluffy as the first one. He pointed to it. "This one... I like it."
Yui clapped her hands in delight and beamed at him like he'd done something special.
The crochet hook was blunt-Azusa tried one on his hand, and it tugged his skin but didn't pierce it. They also bought these shiny black eyes that looked like screws, a bag of fluffy white stuff, black thread, and a pack of blunt, thick needles. Azusa glanced longingly at the sewing section, but Yui didn't notice. Or… maybe she pulled on his hand on purpose?
Azusa had to give her some change to cover the sale, and they left. Yui protested, but she did let Azusa carry her bag in the end.
On the way home, Azusa recognized the area and swung their joined hands. "The park… Mm. Let's go... the long route, okay?"
Again, Azusa was pleased by the way Yui allowed him to take her through the big gates.
Like Red Riding Hood, he pulled her off the right path home… did that make him the wolf? Heh heh. He wouldn't eat her up, though… not today...
He brought them around the curving stone path that followed the lake, to a shaded cutaway with a bench and small fountain under the trees. Azusa waited until Yui perched on the pale wood - her legs crossed at the ankles, hands folded neatly - to ask: "Why… are you making a present for me, anyway…?"
Yui's eyes met his and flicked away.
The bubbling water acted as a conversation while Azusa waited for Yui to gather her thoughts.
The shade lay dappled across her solemn expression, and he wondered yet again what it'd be like to smash her head open and look inside. Would he see her brain move and literally twist over her thoughts?
When she turned to face him again, her voice came out in a passionate rush: "Azusa-kun, you've been so kind to me. It made me want to do something for you, too." Yui reached out and clasped both of his hands in hers. "I didn't really know what you would like that wasn't, um… but I had to try…"
Azusa blinked. It was one thing for him to take her hand, to see her blush and feel the solidness of her skin… it was another thing for her to touch his hands… somehow. The sensation of her fingers curled around his made him feel jumpy and very, very… warm. Touched. He almost wanted to kiss every single one her precious fingertips.
Ah… no… what did she say?
Something for him?
Azusa nodded. "Me too… I want to make something for you, too..."
Her mouth curved down. "Azusa-kun, that's not necessary..."
He smiled and leaned closer, telling a secret, "Oh, but. This is… different. You see... I need a favor...from you. I want to draw you. You will have to give me...lots and lots of your time." He laughed, feeling tickled by the thought.
Yui's large eyes seemed to glisten, even in the shade. "Alright. Drawing doesn't sound bad at all!"
How wonderful. He would have her all to himself again.
Chapter 17: Storm
Sorry that this chapter is a bit late AND a bit short ;;;
Laito was sitting in Yui's class.
Laito was not part of Yui's class.
Kanato and Ayato were the only brothers she shared a class with, and neither had attended class once since she'd returned to school.
(Yui wondered if Ayato was still looking for her. Maybe his brothers hadn't mentioned seeing her and were laughing at Ayato behind his back? The idea felt... sadly plausible.)
The teacher said nothing about the extra student sitting in Kanato's seat, and Yui wasn't sure if she should, either-they seemed to have free roam around the school, so she had no faith that the teacher would act even if she did speak up.
Laito was there to frighten her, to taste her fear.
He got what he wanted.
Halfway through the night, a storm started.
Flinching, Yui focused on her textbook and tried to remember that thunder was simply the vibration of discharged electricity and the sound caused by hot air expanding.
A coy voice breathed in her ear, "Fufu, are you scared of thunder?" But when Yui whipped her head around to look, Laito was in his seat.
He smiled and blinked at her like a happy cat.
The thunderous roar got worse, followed by rain that pounded the windows in sheets. Lightning flashed and lit up the windows.
Yui bolted from the room during break. Unable to go to the rooftop, she sprinted to the library and shut the door behind her.
The library was, if not a safe place, a pleasant one. The first time Yui saw the amount of books their very well-funded school had available, she'd run through the aisles, unable to decide what to read first. There was not a single book on vampires in the entire collection, by the way, nor a single copy of the Bible. Yui always thought that was a bit suspicious.
She drifted through them now, occasionally pulling out interesting titles and reading the back blurb. She had a book in her hands when the power went out, plunging the room into darkness.
Yui fumbled to put the book away by feeling without seeing the solid bookshelf against her hand, and willed for her eyes to adjust. The pounding of her heart and the choke of her breath made it hard to think.
What should she do? Wait for the power?
She was close enough a window, and occasionally the lightning would streak across the sky and illuminate the area. Good enough. She decided to find a window seat and wait.
The lightning flashes played with her ability to move forward, like a pendulum swinging between light and dark, punctuated by loud cracks of thunder. More distantly was a rolling rumble, like the anger of a great beast.
Suddenly, Yui heard... breathing.
Yui froze, hoping she wasn't hearing what she was definitely hearing.
Ready to flee, she glanced over her shoulder.
"Eve!" Azusa stepped forward, illuminated by the flash of light. "I thought so… The roof wasn't safe, so… I knew it. You came here."
The return of his gentle smile made the ball of tension in Yui unravel. Pressing her hand to her beating heart, Yui smiled back at him. "Azusa-kun, I'm glad…"
Thunder cracked through their reunion, and a small scream slipped free of her lips.
Yui's eyes remained on the lightning flashes outside. There was no such thing as lightning that charged through glass and attacked people like an electric snake, of course, but the real danger of lightning strikes and her imagination-
Her back suddenly slammed against a bookshelf. She looked up to Azusa, whose smile was no longer so innocent. He loomed over her, and she'd almost forgotten how much taller he was than her.
"...Can I… kiss you?" Azusa placed one hand on the bookshelf behind Yui. His loose hair drifted across his cheeks as he leaned in.
"W-what are you saying?" The bookshelf bit into her back as she retreated. Bloodsucking was one thing, but… a kiss…
Thunder crashed outside, but somehow, his slow, gentle voice overwhelmed the storm. "I've been thinking about it… I wanted to know how it felt…" His thumb brushed over her bottom lip. It felt nice.
"Yeah. It's dark… and we're alone, so…"
Yui pressed her lips together, flustered as always by his curious logic.
Those soft, beseeching eyes were truly hard to resist…
Azusa looked at her the same way he did when they spent the night together.
That night, Azusa showed her… his body was stronger than hers, but his heart was broken glass, sharp and cutting him up from the inside, and it was a wonder, really, that he kept it after everything he'd been through. She imagined Azusa's scarred fingers pushing in that broken glass heart, holding it inside and bleeding and not giving up—and it filled her with an unbearable tenderness.
"Alright..." She mumbled, ducking her head-only for her hot face to be tilted up by a slender hand. A pair of lips covered hers. It was a dry kiss, with no fangs threatening her lips and no cold tongue probing her mouth… soft and sweet.
A strange sort of excitement pooled in her stomach.
Azusa gave her one soft kiss, and another, even more gentle… a little more wet.
He pulled back and—even though she was the one who got kissed so suddenly—touched his mouth in surprise. "It's not painful, but..."
He turned his curious eyes onto Yui. "Like...when you patted my head... and, you hugged me... It was warm…"
A little smile curled her lips. "There are a lot of nice things like that."
"Really?" Azusa's face brightened like an excited little boy. "...Like what?"
Before she could answer, the power flicked on. Yui gasped, suddenly aware of the bookshelves around them. Outside the window, the rain continued to pour and thunder rumbled gently in the distance, although lightning no longer lit the sky and cracked the air.
Azusa's kiss actually made her forget the storm.
Chapter 18: Softly Captured
When Azusa said "drawing," Yui pictured a pencil and sketchbook, but instead Azusa set up an easel and a massive drawing pad in her yellow room. He had a small tin of...conte crayon, he explained, in various sizes and shades of black, grey, and brown. Some were almost reddish.
He chose a block of black and it smeared on his fingers like soot while he worked.
Azusa said it was fine to lie on the bed and crochet. She didn't need to look at him to be his model.
Working on a craft proved useful for keeping her mind off of other things, like… libraries… and, umm, the stormy weather, which still hadn't let up outside! The thunder was still rumbling ominously outside of her window (ehhh, go away), but as long as she wasn't alone, and as long as the sound didn't get as loud as it had been during school, when Azusa-kun pressed his lips against hers, soft and-
Oh, no, she'd crocheted twice in the same stitch, hadn't she?
The stretchy, fuzzy yarn Azusa chose was not the easiest to work with. She had a safety pin to help mark her row as she crocheted round and round to make the head, but she wouldn't be able to tell at a glance where her crochet stitches were. But the result would be a fairly fluffy surface, and it would hide almost any mistakes she made anyway.
Yui decided to make two small bunnies, not one. She just had this feeling that Azusa would think only one bunny was lonely.
He frightened her once, asking her about that, but now she understood: Azusa knew loneliness from the inside. Loneliness so deep that wounding the surface of his body felt like relief in comparison.
His bunny should have a friend. Someone just like him, to understand him.
Being watched while she worked felt very odd, though. Without even looking, she could feel his pale eyes sweeping over her, almost a phantom touch… tender and strange... B-but Yui couldn't check and risk ruining his drawing… so she did her best to concentrate on the little shapes she was building stitch by stitch.
"You're… so pretty," Azusa interrupted her with a sigh.
"Eh?" Picture or not - what, what was this…!?
"Even your small frown... is so cute…" Azusa smiled sweetly. He stood a few feet back from the easel, for some reason? Wasn't he drawing?
She unwound the yarn from her tension finger and mumbled, "So suddenly… Gosh, what are you saying?"
"Your eyes… your lips, your hair... the soft curve of your rosy cheek…"
Yui jolted again, blushing harder now that he'd pointed it out. The hook slipped from her hands and rolled onto the bed.
"...when you're so concentrated on that... stuff, it's cute… I know… I watch you a lot, but... Do you mind… me looking at you so much…?"
"I-It's fine," she lied with her voice a high-pitched squeak. She scrambled to grab her lost hook, accidently sending the skein of yarn unravelling in the process.
Pretty and cute. Her catholic girls' school education had not prepared her at all for mean vampire boys who called her names like, "Titless," "Fool," or "Bitch-chan..." but even though her classmates had talked about dates and boyfriends, they hadn't really prepared her for hearing compliments from not-so-mean vampire boys, either!
To change the subject, Yui forced herself to ask: "Can I see your drawing now?"
Looking at his paper, Azusa touched his cheek with a dirty hand, leaving a back smudge. "Mmm. Okay… I guess it's done."
When she made it to his side, Yui's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, you're very good!"
"Ah… do you think so…?"
Azusa's drawing focused on her face and framed her with the curtains hanging from her bed, with her eyelashes downcast as she stared at the crochet in her lap. The amount of delicate detail he'd included was surprising-the curls of her hair and the light on her hairpin looked more lovely on his page than they ever did in the mirror.
He'd rendered it all in soft strokes of charcoal. Instead of drawing her with lots of lines, like a pencil, it seemed like he mostly used the flat edge to outline the light spaces. The overall effect was soft and foamy, almost painterly.
More hushed, she said, "This is amazing..." The Yui on the page looked as if she might dissolve into ash if the real girl breathed on her too hard.
Azusa glanced away, and held his arm in that familiar gesture of comfort. "Mm... Thank you, but I don't think so. I couldn't capture you… the way I wanted."
"Capture…" She repeated, and the word almost left an odd taste on her tongue. He meant "capture your likeness," didn't he?
Azusa gave her a sideways look. "Whatever I draw...becomes mine, in a small way… I wanted it... to be perfect."
Azusa wanted to capture her and make her belong to him… Well, he was a vampire. That wasn't surprising. Ayato often said she belonged to him, and the others sometimes said similar things, too… It wasn't surprising, not at all.
Still, Yui felt strange. She felt like someone flipped on a little light inside her. It was warm and kind of...
Her heartbeat and face in a fluster, she stumbled back. "W-well, I think it's nice."
"Can I see... your work, too?"
"Um, sure! It's not done, but it's coming along, and I finished a few shapes." Yui darted to the bed and started spreading out her shapes and materials: the two finished heads, a few arms, the crochet hook, the scissors, and the yarn.
Azusa picked up the white fluffy yarn and looped it around his fingers. "It's nice… White. Looks like bandages." He wiggled his wrapped fingers at her.
She laughed a little and reached out. "Let me help you with that."
Together, they began to unravel the white yarn, and… wait, why was he winding it around…
With vampiric speed, Azusa bound both of her wrists in the white yarn. It wasn't a particularly strong yarn, and Yui could break an individual strand with her hands if she tried, but Azusa had used enough of it that she was trapped.
"Ah, I've caught you~" He giggled, and his fingers slid around her wrists. They were still dirty from the charcoal, and left smudges on her hands and the white yarn. "Mm. Your pretty wrists. Don't you feel... comfortable?"
… no, no, she couldn't answer that. Curling her hands into twin fists, Yui pleaded, "Azusa-kun, please let me go."
He smiled mischievously. "What will you give me... to be free?"
Ever since Yui came to the Mukami mansion, she'd experienced a harsh uptick in how much blood she'd lost, fainting again and again. She'd gotten some relief over the last few days, and her skin was starting to heal up, so she supposed it was inevitable.
He said he wouldn't bite her if she didn't want him to, but… Yui wasn't quite ready to to test his promise.
Azusa surprised her, his eyes dropping to her lips. "A kiss. I want another one…"
"Oh, okay," slipped out, and a blush bloomed over her face as she caught herself.
He tugged her wrists to his chest, and dipped his head closer to hers. His voice was low and velvet soft. "I want you...to kiss me."
Yui's eyes widened. It was one thing to be kissed-to allow it to happen to her. Receiving fangs and receiving kisses were things she could bear, even if they were painful and forced upon her.
Initiating was a step beyond that.
All the blood in her body rushed to her cheeks. "It's embarrassing…"
Azusa lowered his eyelids, looking a little sad. "Do you… not want to?"
Her heart pinched. "I want…" Yui nibbled her lip. "I want you to close your eyes."
Azusa grinned, flashing fangs, and amusement glittered in his pale eyes before he shut them. The smile continued to twitch his closed lips.
Goodness, Azusa-kun… Kou-kun was right. You're a troublemaker, Yui thought as she gazed at those lips.
Standing so close together, Yui could see every delicate detail of Azusa's pretty face. He didn't look much older than her, although his real age was a mystery. Really, only the shadows below his eyelashes made him look melancholy and somber… and he ruined it by cracking an eye.
"Oh! No peeking!" She frowned at him.
Azusa shut his eyes again and straightened his shoulders, snapping to attention.
Feeling a lump of stress gathering in her throat, she pressed onward and gave him the tiniest peck.
"Huh?" Azusa touched his cheek. "You missed…" Before she could protest that he hadn't asked for a kiss on the lips, he pulled her closer by her bound wrists and locked an arm around her back. "Look, like this…" His mouth covered hers firmly.
Yui gasped and melted against him, captivated entirely by his lips.
When Yui finished her bunnies, she went to Azusa's room just before they gathered to leave for school. It was a strategic move, so they couldn't be alone together for very long. He hadn't bitten her again, but the thirst was sure to return soon enough.
If he thought it was odd receive a pair of plush rabbits as a boy, Azusa didn't say anything. She didn't expect him to, really; this was why she made them for Azusa, and not another vampire, who might mock her. (Kanato-kun might even tear them apart for insulting Teddy somehow.)
Looking at them with wide-eyed wonder, Azusa squished one of the amigurumi rabbits in his hand. "It's fluffy. Oh, the smell…?" He sniffed the foamy white yarn.
Yui grinned. "I put a sachet of dried lavender in with the fiberfill. It should smell nice for a while!"
Azusa's brows lifted in surprise as he smiled and inhaled it again. "It's good... very good... Thank you."
Yui smiled in reply.
It wasn't warm, but the toy was soft and smelled good. That was two out of three.
See, Azusa had a one-track mind for pain; if Yui asked him directly what he wanted as a gift, she was sure he'd produce a beautiful knife and say, "Stab me in the heart right now!" or something else that was absurd and painful. Yui couldn't hurt him again. She couldn't.
What Yui could give him was:
Soft. Warm. Smells good.
Azusa had let these details slip often enough that Yui was sure it was a recipe for something he'd like. Because Azusa slept in a warm, fluffy bed with pretty blue roses on his coverlet and sheets that smelled like fresh soap, and his sweaters were big and soft. He was lonely, and surrounded himself with bits of comfort, even while being so obsessed with hurting himself.
Yui promised him there were other nice things in this world, even if they weren't bloody or painful— and she truly wanted Azusa to see them, too.
Chapter 19: The Secret of Kisses
In her bruise-colored bedroom, Yui closed her book on the adventures of poor, tormented Emily and her beloved Valancourt… and a small noise of surprise escaped her lips. A familiar ghost was sleeping at the edge of her bed, his face cradled by his arms.
Being haunted wasn't so bad, she thought, and her fingers pushed a delicate strand of his hair out of his eyes. When he twitched, she muffled a laugh.
Her eyes drifted up to find a beautiful teacup with steam rising on her bedside table, near a short pile of books.
She'd moved the majority of her stack of books to the table between the two chairs at the window. Her room had a lot of furniture, and the dark wooden chairs and the nearby lavender chaise lounge were all lovely to look at, but the cushions were stiff. Yui preferred to kept a few near her bed, where it was softer. It was pleasant to read with her legs stretched out on the plush surface, too. She'd already finished about two thirds of the collection of novels that had "mysteriously" appeared in her bedroom, but new ones kept sneaking in.
There was something almost indulgent about these books—most of them were mysteries mixed with romance, with thrilling storylines where the heroine was unsure who to trust and suspected the hero had sinister, possibly murderous intentions. Yui's real world no longer had that ambiguity, or the promise of a happy ending, but it was fun to immerse herself in them.
Yui picked up the delicate cup, admiring the ornate pink and gold floral patterns, and inhaled the scent of the amber liquid within. Ginger tea! Yui often made ginger tea for herself when she curled up with a book. Still, she hesitated as a bad memory of being called arrogant drifting to mind. This was her room, though, and Azusa-kun clearly brought it for her…
She took a sip, and the tangy flavor bloomed on her tongue. It was delicious, and not poisoned.
Yui returned to her novel, but she was more aware of her surroundings. Beyond the glass and purple curtains, rain continued to fall through the dark sky. The wind occasionally buffeted against the mansion, spattering it with raindrops and making the roof creak and groan. No more thunder or lightning, though.
Azusa woke very slowly, in stages of shifting arms and fluttering lashes. His eyes were dark, almost liquid, when they opened.
She held the cup close, letting the warmth sink into her hands. "Good morning, Azusa-kun." Her mouth quirked. "Did you need something?"
"Mm." He closed his eyes, but softly asked, "Are you alright?"
"Yes, of course?"
"I... had a bad feeling…" He covered a yawn with the back of his hand and blinked his eyes open. He looked directly outside the window...
Yui looked at the rain pattering against the glass. Had Azusa come to check on her because of the bad weather? As long as there was no loud thunder, she was okay, but… Her lips curved in a fond grin.
"Oh… you saw. How is it...?" He now gazed at the teacup.
"It's lovely," she promised with a small sip.
"I'm glad..." Azusa blushed and looked away. "I… really wanted to see you." He paused, and looked wistful. "I always...always want to see you…"
Yui wetted her lips nervously- and the wind outside rattled the windows, startling her out of a reverie. She quickly selected a slim novel with a woman running away from a castle on the cover. "This one is a ghost story. Would you like to hear it?"
He mentioned wanting to hear her read aloud once, didn't he?
This could be another nice experience for Azusa, if she could keep his mind from wandering down dark alleyways painted with blood. Or from other dangerous places.
"Heh heh… of course." He smiled dreamily. "Eve's voice… I want to hear it…"
"Okay!" Yui settled in and waited as Azusa climbed over her legs and leaned against the carved headboard with her. She opened the book and felt a spark of anxiety. "I'll do my best, but I'm not…great."
Azusa looked at her calmly. "I… am not great at reading aloud, either…"
Yui giggled. Right, right. No need to worry.
She started the story. Azusa was still tired, the dark shadows heavy under his eyes, but he seemed to come awake as he studied her. His side pressed against hers, and Yui didn't move away, but she stumbled and stuttered because… Wasn't this too close?!
His head fell onto her shoulder, his hair tickling her skin.
Embarrassed, Yui snapped the book shut. "Let's take a break!"
"Oh, okay?" Azusa sat up, but didn't quite move away like she expected. Instead, he studied her for a moment. Lately, his gaze had grown strangely intense.
After the night they shared a bed, Azusa seemed enamored with hugs and kisses that didn't hurt. If only she could keep him distracted forever and ever…
"Hey, have you… been kissed before... me?"
She wasn't surprised by the question, but Yui still flinched around the, "Y-yes. Yes..."
There was a blurry memory of dark water and soft lips pressing against hers and filling her up with bubbles, but Yui couldn't be quite sure if that counted. It was hard for her to feel confident about that one, because she had nearly passed out underwater at the time. Still, her answer was yes.
Yes, she's been kissed - in a graveyard, surrounded by scattered rose petals, her knees roughed up by the hard soil and stray thorns - with Kanato-kun whispering, "You women are such a pain."
Kanato gave her something gentle as a palliative, because he wanted her to be obedient.
Her first kiss was a demand: Don't resist. Don't be annoying. Don't make me angry.
Yui cast down her eyes, preferring to look at the comforter instead of trying to explain how many precious experiences had been stolen from her.
"...I see." Azusa tipped her head up with a delicate touch. "Can I kiss you again?" His eyes were a very clear and light purple.
Her face grew painfully hot, and she barely nodded.
Azusa cupped her cheeks and gave her ice cream kisses, soft and cool and sweet. It left her shivering and breathless, and hopelessly confused.
"Kissing is nice... I didn't know that, so…" His lips lightly brushed her jawline, and one hand slid behind her neck. "I want you...to think so, too..." He drew her closer, into his arms.
"Oh…" Oh, no, Yui didn't know how to feel.
Azusa pressed his forehead to hers and his voice was quietly intense. "I want to… erase the bad kisses for you… I'll… make you forget them... so you won't be so sad..."
Yui jolted in surprise. Azusa was perceptive...
Her throat tight, she explained, "A first kiss is precious. Kissing is supposed to be a special thing you do with someone you love, so..."
So allowing Azusa to kiss her was… dangerous.
"I understand… I never realized that before, but… I understand, now." He nodded, and there was something painful about his sincerity as he asked: "Is that why... it feels good, even though it doesn't hurt?"
Yui's heart ached for him.
"No, no sad face..." He murmured and kissed her again.
His cool tongue tickled her lips, and she parted them. Letting him slip into her mouth felt cold but pleasant, an ice cube in the middle of summer. She was so hot, burning inside and out, and the contrast felt strangely captivating, made her tremble—
Yui gasped, feeling vaguely scandalized when Azusa's hand slid under the back of her shirt. His hand was cool on her skin, too, and if he could feel any scars, he didn't say anything about it. She wriggled a little, accidentally pressing her body closer, and he sighed happily.
"You're so warm." He rubbed his cheek against hers. "I want to be closer to you…"
Embarrassed, Yui curled her hands into the front of his sweater. "We're already close." At this rate, he would swallow her up...
His mouth slid against hers, just barely brushing her lips as if experimenting with pressure. His next kiss was harder, almost biting, leaving her mouth throbbing and warm—
Yui jolted at Ruki's harsh voice, but Azusa didn't seem to hear him and hummed against her plump mouth. Desperately, Yui turned her head and whispered, "Azusa-kun-"
Soft lips nuzzled her neck and kissed behind her ear. "What's wrong…?"
"Um, it's… Ruki-kun…"
"Huh?" He glanced over his shoulder. "Oh… Hello, Ruki…"
"It's time for dinner." There was a pause, and his voice lowered as he said: "You don't smell like her blood, Azusa."
Azusa didn't reply, or let go of her.
Ruki's eyes narrowed. "Come down soon." He was gone in a blink.
Azusa kissed her again, but the spell was broken. Yui gently pushed her way free and straightened her clothes. She avoided Azusa's sorrowful stare.
"Maybe," Yui grabbed the two novels she'd finished and climbed across the bed. She made her way to the table by the window and began gathering the ones she'd finished. "We should put these back."
She tapped the books against the table to even the pile. "We should put them back in the library. I don't want Ruki-kun to get angry." Yui pressed her hands together. She would need a bag or a box to carry them all.
"Oh… Those…don't belong to Ruki." Yui spun around and watched Azusa stand up. His hair tumbled across his cheek until he pushed it back with a smooth gesture. "I... put Ruki's book back for you, already… I bought those for you."
"Really..." She'd known it was him putting books in her room, but... At the very top of her pile was a novel she'd read twice because she'd liked it so much. The spine was peeling off and the pages were browned inside.
"Ah. That's right…" Azusa tapped his mouth with his fingertips. "Would you... like to go to a bookstore? With me?"
She would be delighted, but… Yui glanced at the rain outside her window.
Chapter 20: Hidden Treasure
When the sun came out, Azusa didn't take her to a proper bookstore. It was a small shop wedged between a taiyaki stand and a bar on a dirty back-end street. The door had a pentacle decal on it that made Yui uneasy, but Azusa looked excited.
The sign said "antiques and other treasures" but it was basically an odd little flea market. The shelves were crowded inside to the point of having to walk down the aisles single file and all stuffed with peculiar objects: skulls, crystals, broken porcelain dolls, bat and coffin-shaped bags, ratty black t-shirts with holes, candles, and tons of colored glass bottles... Yui's eyes darted around to take it all in, finding too much to look at. Even the walls were heavily papered with maps, old monster movie posters, and a few hanging display cases for glittering jewelry.
Azusa wound his way through the crowded shop with ease. "This shop… is my favorite." He confided. "I find treasures here."
Treasures… His knives?
Yui scooted around a large skull on top of a globe. She wouldn't have worn her puffy brown skirt if she'd known how tight it'd be.
Azusa paused at the edge of the front room and peered inside a case decked out in bandages and red crosses. The display had a straightjacket on a black mannequin crowded between the case and adjacent bookshelf, and beyond the slightly warped glass appeared to be at lot of old-fashioned medical equipment - antique stethoscopes and old blood-pressure cuffs were mixed with frightening metal tongs and pointed equipment.
Azusa's hand touched the glass above some padded cuffs, and Yui felt a strange chill from the intense way Azusa was staring at them. She cleared her throat.
He glanced at her and smiled secretively.
Finally, Azusa pushed past a string of beads acting as a door and led her into a small room in the back. Inside, there were only books on all four sides.
Yui browsed through the packed shelves. They mostly had a lot of older science fiction and fantasy books, and of course plenty of the gothic thrillers that Azusa bought for her. The only pure romances she could find were historical novels set in London or the taisho period. It was hard for Yui to decide which ones to get!
With a bit of light coaxing, Yui picked out a bunch of titles she thought sounded interesting and handed them to Azusa to carry, who kept insisting it was okay, really. He wanted to do this for her… it made him feel nice...
There was a black stuffed chair set in the middle of the room, and beside it a basket with a lot of magazines. One cover caught her eye because- "Look, Kou-kun!"
"Mm..." Azusa peered over her shoulder and his chest pressed against her back. "That's an old one… Kou has it, I think…"
He kept doing that, getting so close-Yui's pulse couldn't take it. "O-oh…" she stepped away and fled to the next bookshelf. Her hand paused over the flaky spine of a paperback. She'd almost forgot! She'd started reading while looking for clues about Adam, after all. So… she should be able to ask… shouldn't she?
Yui tilted her head up. "Do you think they have a Bible?"
Azusa shifted the pile of books he was carrying and looked thoughtful. "I don't know... Maybe? I will ask Hana-san…"
Azusa led her to a woman—saleswoman? —in black, flowing clothes and cross jewelry lounged behind another display case that served as the desk. She had dark makeup and black lipstick that made her teeth pop when she grinned. "Hey, Azusa-kun. Who's this?" Azusa set down the books on the glass countertop, and she slapped the top of the pile. "Here to raid us again, I see. So is this the girlfriend?" She glanced at Yui and began sorting the books into hardcovers and paperbacks.
"No… she's not my girlfriend yet..." He shrugged and smiled.
Hana raised her two pencil-thin brows at his nonchalance, but didn't comment.
Embarrassed, Yui looked down at her feet. Azusa had...confessed, in a way, but… she didn't know what to say back. If they'd met under normal circumstances, maybe it'd be different… But Yui couldn't really imagine what normal circumstances would look like with Azusa-kun's... peculiarities...
Hana held up one book that Azusa had chosen in front of Yui. "My, my, you look just like this girl. All you need is the nightgown and candlestick."
"Oh!" Yui blinked at the battered cover. "I do have a nightgown like that."
"Wow, that's awesome!" She gushed, and it seemed genuine. "I could totally see you in it. Perfect."
Azusa studied the cover. "White ruffles… Um, I've never seen it..."
"It's in my trunk. At the...other house…"
"Oh." Azusa pouted. He shook his head. "Ah… I was going to ask... Do you sell the Bible, Hana-san?"
"The actual book, the Bible, or-?" (He nodded, and Yui privately wondered what other bibles would they sell?) "Yeah, I think so. It wouldn't be on the bookshelves, though, so let me check."
Hana disappeared into the shelves and brought back several Bibles with elegant, ornate covers. Black with red crosses, white with black stripes and dangling jewelry probably meant to imitate a rosary…
Yui selected a slightly more subtle black one with gold embossing. She cradled it to her chest and thanked them both sincerely.
Azusa tipped his head and smiled angelically in reply.
Feeling the blood rushing to her face, she gazed at the holy book. She really would have to find a special way to thank Azusa, again.
In the kitchen, Yui rolled up her sleeves and got to work cooking up something that would, hopefully, make everyone feel a little better.
Because... ever since he caught Azusa kissing her, Ruki hadn't come down for dinner once.
The family seemed adrift during their meals. They ate quietly, with frequent glances to Ruki's empty seat. No one asked for second helpings, and Azusa in particular only picked at his food. Times like these truly let Yui see how deeply this family cared about each other.
Yui poured herself into the meal. She knew she wanted pasta for Kou, and fried shrimp, because it seemed to be popular with everyone in the house.
She flipped through Ruki's recipes, looking for sides and trying to find a good pairing for seafood: grilled carrots with lemon and dill? Or maybe cauliflower with tahini? Spanish-style potatoes would be good, too, and she could make a portion of them extra peppery for Azusa-kun!
"Yo, sow. Need an assistant?" Yuma's voice was tired, and when she turned around, he seemed a little wilted, leaning against the countertop.
"O-oh... Sure, if you want to," Yui chirped. "I don't mind..."
Unlike Azusa, who knew where every knife and bowl was, Yuma didn't seem too familiar with the kitchen. She set him to chopping potatoes, and he simply hit them with the knife, slicing them into huge chunks that were a bit too big to eat or bake. She'd have to fix them discreetly.
Yuma jumped up and stormed into the pantry. "I want tomatoes!" he demanded, coming out with about six of them in his hands. He'd cut them so they were still on the vine.
Yui scrambled to find a recipe for stuffed tomatoes.
Halfway through coring a tomato, Yuma stopped. "Ruki is... not eating tonight. He says he's not hungry."
As a vampire, Ruki didn't actually need human food… but she understood a little bit about how Yuma felt. Even if something isn't strictly necessary for living, your soul can still need it.
"If he doesn't want to eat… is there something else we can do for him?" Yui thought about the ginger tea that Azusa had brought her. Ruki often drank tea or coffee out of his ornate blue cups. Perhaps he had a favorite flavor or blend? She turned to Yuma with those ideas on her tongue, but he cut her off.
"...Yeah. Gimme your blood."
Yui recoiled against the countertop. "But, but I have to make dinner..."
Yuma snarled. "Doesn't matter anymore."
"No! Stop it-"
"Dammit, you stupid slut, stop fussing every single time. You gotta be used to this by now!" He shook her. His eyes were wild. "Every time, every time you act like it's a shock! Do you just forget that we're fucking vampires!?"
No, almost every time was too abrupt-she could never predict when they'd turn on her. They were cooking dinner! That was all!
Yui shrieked as his fangs pierced her, whimpering. "No, no... I don't want this…" She tried to shove Yuma's huge body. "Azusa-kun!" His name slipped her lips by accident.
Yuma growled against her. "He ain't even home. On an errand for Ruki."
Yui began to collapse in Yuma's arms, held up only by the steel grip. Her thoughts felt like cobwebs.
Wasn't that... too convenient? ...Did Ruki-kun send Azusa-kun away on purpose?
Drained and feeling sick, Yui slowly made her way upstairs. Fainting was such a miserable experience; she couldn't get used to it, no matter how often it happened to her.
In her bedroom, Yui found white scraps of paper scattered across the floor like bits of snow.
Against the dark window, the table where she kept her books was empty. Yui ran forward and, to her relief, found the books themselves had been thrown across the chairs and the floor. The vase full of flowers was shattered and the water spilled on a few pages. Others were bent at odd angles, but the books were intact… except for one.
The Bible's pages were torn out and shredded.
Chapter 21: Nightmare
Back when she first began living with the Sakamaki brothers, Yui used to dream of her father. He'd race in and explain it was all a misunderstanding—she wasn't the prospective bride, she simply had the wrong address! When she was safe, she'd show him the empty diary and the photo and he'd declare everything about them a lie. Something those vampires came up with just to break her—she didn't believe any of it, did she? Of course he was her real father!
Other dreams were more idyllic — dreams where nothing ever disrupted their happy life together. In their modest kitchen, Yui would cook french toast for her father in a familiar old pan and her favorite apron. He would smile indulgently while reading his morning scriptures and tell her she was a blessing.
After being abducted by the Mukami brothers, however, most of her dreams were about that misty room with the apple tree. It sprouted and grew. It flowered. It withered.
Tonight, her father stood in her bedroom. The putrid bedroom walls were cast with deep green shadows that resembled mold. Even her father's skintone was sallow in the green light, and he had no expression on his face.
Yui stretched out her hands, feeling herself about to cry. "Father, you came back..."
"Yes, Yui. But I was too late…" He shook his head. "You let them take you."
The shadows danced across the room, obscuring the edges of her vision as she gazed into her father's face, twisted with hate. "You let them sully you and drag you down into sin."
"No!" She screamed.
The saints and martyrs she'd grown up cherishing would've died before allowing vampires to treat them this way.
She should've fought back and let them kill her.
She should've run and let them kill her.
"You're a monster wearing my daughter's skin!"
She awoke from her nightmare and stumbled out of bed, panting.
The Bible had been torn apart. The fangs that pierced her. Wasn't this an evil place? She needed to get out, get out, get out-
She could run. She could get dressed, run down the stairs and through the hallways she knew by heart now. She knew the gardens and the surrounding area well enough to walk home from school. She could find her way into the city, hide somewhere...
Instead, Yui fell to her knees, the carpet rough with the reality that burned her.
If she ran at all... it would be to a room with turquoise walls and blue roses on the bedding, to a soft, sleepy voice and gentle arms to hold her tight.
On uneasy, wobbling legs, Yui made her way down the spiral staircase, thumping step after step.
She drifted through the empty halls with their tortured layout and the lights dimmed for night but never turned off. She wondered why that was, when vampires didn't seem to need the light to see… maybe the light shared the same symbolic role as their meals, or their beds. None of the Mukami brothers slept in coffins or iron maidens, after all.
It wasn't necessary, but it was important… these little things made being alive more than just existence and survival.
Feeling lightheaded, she leaned against a wall. Yuma had drained her pretty bad. She wanted Azusa's cool mouth against her wounds again, soothing the red skin like a soft ice pack, and murmurs of I'll make it better, I'll erase it… everything you don't like...
"Ruki-kun?" She lifted her head and met Ruki's wide eyes.
He stood in the middle of the hall, looking almost… frightened?
Then his face twisted with rage.
She stumbled back, but it was too late—he grabbed her by the wrist and yanked her forward.
He snarled. "Come."
Ruki dragged her through the dim halls and a door she'd never noticed before.
The lighting in the basement was not as warm as upstairs. Orbs of pale blue lit the area dimly and reflected off of polished cement walls. They hurried under identical arches and blue lamps, and the effect was disorienting, like an optical illusion. The basement was a labyrinth of turns, and Ruki pulled her around each corner as if he'd rip her arm out.
"Ruki-kun, wait! Where are we going…?"
The hall stopped abruptly with a single door.
Ruki threw her inside, pushing her past him.
Yui's back crashed against the wall, and the sudden stop made her feel sick. Her back felt bruised, and her chin was pulled up and pinned by Ruki's unforgiving hand.
He glared down at her. "Stay here."
This room was darker than the hallway and very cramped. It had a bed and a desk and nothing else… like a cell? "Here?" Her brows drew together. "Why? What's going on, Ruki-kun?"
Ruki's expression twitched with another surge of rage. He looked both frightened and frightening…
Yui opened her mouth again, but a pair of fangs bit the words from her throat.
Ruki's jaw held her pinned at the neck, like a prey animal. The cold arms crushed her to him and her feet barely touched the ground, skittering against the smooth floor as he sucked her blood. Her scalp tingled with warning pain as her hair was held back by a tight grip that threatened to rip it out if she moved.
Her eyes opened wide as his fangs dug deeper and deeper into her neck. Ruki sucked her blood like he wanted to tear her apart.
The fade of blood loss began to pull her under. The dim room grew darker, the dull blue lamp above them blurring and spreading out copies of itself. Her body drooped, limp and heavy.
Ruki dropped her and stood by silently as she curled up on the floor.
Even without his fangs, she felt trapped and pinned down.
Like livestock in a pen, Yui was imprisoned in a dark room.
The chandelier overhead was dim. Nothing to do and not much to look at. Gray walls. Small bed. A chair and a desk that held a bronze bowl and a towel-to refresh herself, she supposed, but she had no water to clean herself with.
No way to tell time, either.
In the far corner, this room had chamber pot with a porcelain toilet seat and a lid. Yui's brows drew together as she gazed at it, and wondered how long Ruki planned to keep her in here.
She couldn't tell if time was passing slowly or quickly-the seconds felt elusive to her, like a broken hourglass pouring sand between her fingers. She couldn't catch the grains with her dull, heavy hands.
Being bitten and drained into a swoon twice in fairly quick succession had left Yui with an aching body and a stomach that felt dried and twisted, like she might puke or faint at any moment.
Worse than her flesh were her thoughts: Why did Ruki tear away the last remnants of her freedom?
What was happening?
Where was Azusa-kun?
When he returned, Ruki brought a bottle of water, a change of clothes, and a meal on a tray. He set both on the desk and faced her. His elegant face was not the remote iceberg she remembered. He looked as though he were the one being caged as she begged him to tell her what was happening and explain himself.
In vain, Yui searched for explanations: "Is...something going on outside?"
Was he hiding her for a reason?
Ruki remained silent. Perhaps he knew the truth: Yui might be able to forgive him if there were a reason, and he refused to give her that small comfort.
Still feeling ill, Yui couldn't stand up to face him. She'd pulled on the blanket spread across the cell's bed - a thin, brown, scratchy thing that Azusa wouldn't have liked, surely - and made her foggy mind concentrate. She couldn't let distress take over her.
"Alright…" If he wouldn't respond to her questions about her imprisonment, she could try another tactic. Frowning and doing her best to glare, she tried: "Why did you destroy my Bible?"
She didn't even have time to read it!
He didn't deny it. "Azusa told me you stole a book from my library."
"I didn't steal-"
"Therefore, as your master, it was essential to check over your collection of trash for any other stolen objects and dispose of anything unnecessary."
"In fact, I have determined that the freedom you enjoyed previously is also unnecessary. Livestock doesn't need to roam, or sit at the master's table."
The rebuke in his words surprised her; he sounded condescending, but… strange. Who was that frostbite for?
Ruki cut off her next question with a hand on each wrist, forcing her down onto the bed and climbed over her.
She read his intentions clearly and felt a chill. "Wait, not so soon-I haven't recovered yet!" She twisted futilely in his grip.
"Be still and silent. As livestock, you can only submit to be used. We are going to be taking much more of your blood from now on."
More blood…? Yui's eyes widened. But, but the taste would go thin and weak if they took too much, too often-that was what the Sakamaki brothers said, why they paced themselves even as they passed her around… Surely Ruki knew that?
"You have no choice, so accept your fate with dignity." Ruki spoke as if he were choking down blood, and his hands were cold iron as he held her down.
No. No, she couldn't-the pain would consume her!
Ruki didn't care. He tore open the buttons on her nightgown and pierced her chest just below the collar.
The crown of Ruki's head lie just below her chin, and her terrified mind brought forth another image, just for a second: Azusa wrapping his arms around her, and stroking his hair in reply. Azusa's grip had been very tight, too, but...
The pain radiating from the wound dissolved the memory quickly.
Ruki had always been cold to her, a man of ice, but now it seemed as if Ruki was melting down, his grip slipping wet on his icy control. Even as he held her down and drank her blood, he hissed, "Why, why…"
"Stop this…" She tried to say, but Ruki gave no sign if he heard her.
Kou came after Ruki.
Yuma came after Kou.
Azusa came after Yuma.
Chapter 22: A Gentle Death
Azusa looked more washed out than usual in the low light of the basement. He locked the door behind him and leaned against it. "It's… my turn, for now. No one else… will come in." His eyes were haunted, the shadows darker than ever in the dim light.
Yui looked up at him, her heart full of doubt and confusion. Turns. They were taking turns. If that was what they were doing, then Azusa was only here to drink her blood.
"Aren't you in pain?"
Yui closed her eyes.
She felt it when Azusa's knees met the edge of the bed, and he braced one hand against the wall behind her as he leaned in to inhale. "Mm...You've been sucked so much, and you're in pain, but… you look sad."
Her eyes snapped open.
His expression was thoughtful as Azusa reasoned aloud: "So…it's true... it's not what you wanted."
A sad smile curled her lips.
He touched her arm. "Eve..."
Hearing that name made Yui shudder and retreat as much as she could into the corner of her small prison, huddling in her brown blanket. Her voice came out in a painful whisper. "I'm not Eve… I'm Yui. Yui Komori."
The bed creaked under his shifting knees. Azusa's shoulder met the wall beside him, and he curled into himself a bit. "I'm sorry…" Azusa's voice wavered. "Yui-san…" He clutched his sweater, right above his chest. "What can I do…?"
Yui's heart ached for him. She wanted to stretch out her arms and touch him, comfort them both, but… but… drawing her blanket tighter, she spoke in a very small voice: "Please don't bite me." Her hand gently touched her neck, where the marks of his brothers were still sore and open. "I feel sick. I can't give you any blood right now… please."
Yui prayed that Azusa could feel her sincerity; she'd lost so much blood that her muscles ached with every movement she made. She was tired, bone-deep, and if he bit her now she would surely faint.
Azusa's mouth poised to speak, and she could almost hear Ruki's name on his lips… but he shook his head. "Okay. I won't…"
Yui sagged like a puppet with clipped strings, the tension rushing out of her skin. She slid a little out of the corner, and her blanket fell loose from her shoulders.
Azusa-kun wouldn't bite her… without her permission.
Her voice was still small and choked as she whispered, "Thank you."
Azusa half-smiled. He slowly lifted his hands out to her, careful not to touch her even as he begged, "Yui-san… come here. Let me hold you..."
Yui broke. She abandoned her blanket and dove into his arms. Even if it hurt to move, she was no longer able to resist burying into that gentle embrace, the thin arms that wrapped around her and held her safe.
His hands slid up and down her back as he murmured soft reassurances, "It's okay, it's okay..."
Being stroked felt good on her aching skin… but it was little embarrassing, too. Yui pressed her hot face into his sweater and concentrated on not crying for a while.
She took deep breaths.
The world slowed down enough for her to think again.
Okay, Ruki would never give her answers, but Azusa... might. He'd told her once before he wanted to, but there were orders. But that was a long time ago, right? Before she knew him, and before he knew her…
She swallowed; hope had gathered like cobwebs in her throat. Tentatively, she asked, "Are we… under attack right now?"
Azusa's hands stopped. "Huh?"
This close, she felt his voice vibrate through her. "I mean, what's going on outside?"
"Umm. I don't think… anything has happened?"
Yui closed her eyes for a moment.
Ruki wasn't hiding her in here for safety reasons. The way Ruki had acted around her was bitter and self-loathing.
Yui shifted and pressed both arms in between their chests, curling her hands in the sweater. "Azusa-kun… Why am I in here?" She mumbled into the soft white fabric. "Please tell me… please?" Yui looked up and pleaded directly into his sorrowful eyes. "I know you're not supposed to, but Ruki is hurting-" wrong phrase-"no, he's breaking himself and... me, with this."
Azusa didn't speak, but… he nodded. Azusa cared about feelings-maybe more than their mysterious plans.
She took a deep breath. "I… I don't want to be in the dark anymore, either. I'm scared." She looked away and, in a whisper, repeated, "Please. I'm so scared."
Azusa was silent for such a long time that Yui began to feel hopeless, but at last he spoke: "Alright. I'll...try..."
Yui tried to detangle herself, but Azusa wouldn't let go all the way. He kept his hands on her upper arms, stroking her and making muscle tension she hadn't noticed before now dissolve from her shoulders.
Azusa's expression looked miserable, and his voice came out slow: "Ruki... is trying to awaken 'Adam'... One of us... is supposed to become Adam... by drinking your blood." Azusa's piercing lavender eyes watched her closely.
Yui nodded. She'd gathered something like that; Ruki told said her blood would be used to find Adam, and Kou had let slip his desire to become Adam.
"But… the awakening hasn't happened." Azusa's mouth wrinkled in a frown. "Ruki thought… we've been 'too lenient'... with Eve."
Yui shuddered. So he'd turned her into livestock locked in a cage... Still, she prompted, "What does it mean to awaken 'Adam'? What were you trying to do?"
Azusa hummed. "Adam will transform, and get stronger... but more, more thirsty, too. Eve's blood creates the awakening… but it's a test…" He paused, and begin to speak in bursts: "Adam will thirst for her, but… he must not devour Eve! With this… Adam will change the world."
Yui tried to parse what Azusa was telling her. Through Eve's blood, the Mukami brothers were seeking strength and power... "And what about Eve?"
His hand smoothed the back of her hair. "I don't know if you will change or not… To be the bride of Adam…" He curled his fingers against her neck as he spoke. "Adam and Eve… will make the seed of a new race. Your children will be stronger than purebreds or the first bloods… Um… I don't know all the details..."
Oh. The truth was always in plain sight, wasn't it? The difference between prey and livestock... livestock were bred as well as eaten.
Yui smiled weakly and pressed her face against Azusa's sweater again. There was something painfully innocent about the way Azusa spoke of brides and marriage, as if everyone who took her blood had been trying to court her… Still smiling a little, she thought: Maybe that was true for Azusa-kun.
Azusa's voice grew quieter. "I think… we...can't become Adam… so we'll abandoned by that person... Failed experiments."
Her head jerked up. "Who will abandon...?"
"The person...who made us into vampires. We owe our lives to him." Azusa's face was drawn in pain, his pale eyes not quite seeing her.
Her eyes grew wide. Yui knew they used to be human… but, somehow, she hadn't thought about how they became vampires, and if someone was responsible for turning them.
As always, unravelling one secret led to another secret.
The bed was quite small, so Azusa gathered Yui into his lap - she tried not to blush - and spread the brown blanket over both of their shoulders, wrapping them up together. The fabric was thin, but… she felt warm. Azusa's chest rose and fell as he breathed, rocking her slightly. Yui had always thought of Azusa as someone cool, like sweet mints or ice cream, but somehow… she could finally feel his warmth.
It made her yawn. The pain and stress of captivity had made her sleep restless.
"I'm glad… you let me close again." He chuckled, and his chest shook with the sound. "In the past, I thought… you were shy, but now… I don't like it, when you flinch away from me."
Yui made a small noise to show she was listening. She already knew… Azusa-kun liked to be close, and he liked to hold her very tight…
A harsh rapping on the door broke through the soft tranquility of the room.
"Azusa." Ruki's deep voice penetrated the wooden door. "Your time is up."
Yui stiffened, and her hands reflexively tightened on Azusa's sweater.
Azusa snuggled closer to Yui, and his reply was almost nonchalant. "No."
"No?" Ruki repeated, his voice lowering in a dark way. "Azusa, come out."
"I'm...not done." He pressed closer to her, hugging her tighter.
Ruki made a frustrated sound. "...You have ten minutes."
Yui waited for the sound of Ruki's footsteps to retreat before whispering, "How can we convince Ruki-kun that his plan isn't going to work…?"
"Hmm." Azusa's upper lip covered his lower one as he thought about it. "Ruki isn't...the type to give up easily. His pride and his sense of... responsibility... won't let him."
Ruki always looked like he'd swallowed something cold and slimy, but she'd never seen him look so… miserable… before his recent behavior. Perhaps that immense pride of his was punishing him with his failures, and blinding him to the truth?
"Don't worry..." Azusa grinned mischievously and dug into his pocket to produce several thin metal keys. His eyes crinkled happily. "I'm going to stay here...with you... forever. If I have to."
"F-forever…?" Yui's eyes widened.
"Even if none of us... can become Adam..." He shook his head. "I... don't want to give you up..."
"Oh…" Feeling a little shy, Yui hid her face against his sweater again. Clearly, Yui was trapped between Ruki's stubbornness...and Azusa's.
When Ruki returned, his muted voice sounded strained as he demanded Azusa open the door. Then he said something chilling: "Azusa, tell me you haven't killed her."
From where she was dozing against Azusa's shoulder, Yui's eyes snapped open wide.
"I haven't. Yui-san," Azusa shook her lightly. "Ruki is asking about you."
"I can't sense much beyond this door. The safe room is enchanted," Ruki explained. "He's not hurting you?"
"Oh, no, of course not!" Her protest sprang forth immediately, and only after did she remember the strange look on Ruki's face when he caught them in her room and said: You don't smell like her blood, Azusa.
Ah. Right. Azusa-kun was only here to take her blood.
"... 'of course not'." Ruki repeated dryly. "Talk him out of this. This door is hard to break, and I'd rather not try. I don't think I could save you in time if Azusa decided on a lover's double suicide..."
Yui blinked, shocked at the sudden tack Ruki had taken. Was it simply manipulation, or…? She looked to Azusa.
Azusa tipped his head back against the wall, looking sleepy. "Ruki, it's fine…. I'm going to...stay with Yui-san for… a little longer. Just a little longer," He soothed.
In response, Ruki hit the door and stormed off.
Azusa contemplated. "It would be nice… if the bed was bigger and softer, and we had your books, and your tea… But this isn't bad. I wouldn't mind… giving up the sky… if I get you all to myself." He laughed slowly.
Yui couldn't think of anything to say.
"Don't you think so, too...?" His brows drew in, and he gazed at her. "No one else will come… no one else… will bite you or hurt you. I'll be... the only one."
Yui looked into those brilliant lavender eyes and felt like she was being sucked in. She could give up everything, and, God help her, it would be so nice to do so-she wouldn't have to worry about keeping the others from being angry with her. She wouldn't have to worry about her immortal soul.
To be with Azusa-kun… and only Azusa-kun… would be calming.
Even if he killed her, it would be gentle.
"B-but…" Yui squirmed, trying to push free of his grip, his dark seduction. "I don't want to be here forever. Because I want to… be free," she mumbled, ashamed of how tiny and vague her hopes and dreams sounded.
"Free…" Azusa's eyes widened. "Do you want it, too? The blue sky…?"
Yui's brows drew together; she didn't know why he was talking about the sky, but the way he spoke was imbued with some intense meaning.
His hands cupped her face and he stared deeply into her eyes, searching them for something… "I understand… Mm. Okay. I know… I know how to ask Ruki to let you out."
She gasped. "Really?"
"Yes. I promise… I'll free you." His arms slid around her, and he held her close again, his chin resting on her shoulder.
A little spark of hope began to burn inside her, filling her with light and making her smile. Yui relaxed into his arms once more.
"Ah! I almost...forgot. You see, I wanted to bring you a book, but… Ruki caught me..." He untangled himself from her and, curiously... crooked his knee, fingers curling into the back edge of his tall boot. "So…I brought you another present." He smiled and withdrew something hidden in his boot.
Yui's eyes met silver and widened.
Azusa's smile was sweet as he turned it in his hand, letting the light hit the blade. "See? This is the knife… you cut me with... back when we first met." He laughed quietly. "It's nostalgic, right?"
Her heart pounded in her chest. "No…" She scrambled backwards, and the blanket fell from her shoulders onto the bed between them, like a little brown border.
"No? Why not?" Azusa's brows drew together and his mouth pinched. "It's pretty... Don't you like...the cross shape? Look, the blade..." Her reflection in the glinting mirrored surface showed a horrified expression. "I sharpened it again, for you…"
"Y-you said you wouldn't take my blood-"
Azusa tilted his head. "I know. This is for me. If I can't see you, then… I want you to mark me. That way, I'll always be sure… you are real."
Yui's lips parted, but she couldn't find her words. No. No, not this…
All the sweet kisses in the world couldn't make Yui forget who Azusa was… but the visceral horror she felt towards this request surprised her. Because Azusa was covered in scars and wounds and he was always, always in pain, inside and out... Yui didn't want to add any more pain! Not to his wounded body, and not to the suffering of his delicate heart.
Oh, no, bite me, make me faint-but don't make me hurt you...
The bed was the battleground of a losing war. Azusa grabbed her wrist and his vampiric strength easily dragged her close to him again. He showed her his other hand, pale and almost spider-like in the dim light. "The wound you gave me before is already gone, so…" He looked deep into her eyes, his gaze hypnotizingly intense. "If I have to be without you…"
"No!" She pushed against his hand on her wrist. He tried to force the blade into her hand again, but her fingers trembled and flinched away from the dangerous blade.
"It's alright," he soothed. "All I want is more proof…" He forced her hand to close around the handle with his larger hand wrapped around hers.
"No, I don't want to!" Her voice came out in a thin scream. "I don't want to hurt you, Azusa-kun!"
"You… don't want to…?" His expression cleared of all emotion. He let her go.
She scrambled off the bed, running to the desk crowded at the other side of the room and making the chair a thin wooden blockade between her body and his.
"Why… Why?" Azusa's eyes grew watery. "Why are you saying that?! You don't want to… You don't want me to bite you… you don't want to hurt me… You don't want..."
She covered her face, and tried not to cry, too. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry…"
There was no way to avoid hurting him. She'd been naive.
"...Is your heart…in pain? Because of me?" She heard him take a ragged breath. "It is, right? It's my fault…"
She swallowed a cry, just swallowed it up, with tight lips and stiff arms.
"I need to go." Azusa's low voice sounded so final. He went to the door and the grating sound of the lock was loud in the silent room. "Goodbye, Eve…"
He left her locked away in that dim little room, with only a light promise to free her that Yui couldn't be sure he'd keep, now.
Azusa didn't come back.
Chapter 23: Rescued
After Azusa came Ruki, cold and silent.
After Ruki came Yuma.
When Yui asked about Azusa—if he was okay—Yuma silently shoved her down and treated her more roughly than usual, battering her like a chew toy.
She wondered if Azusa had hurt himself again, after he left.
Kou also said nothing beyond, "This is useless…" and drank so much that she fainted.
After Kou came...not Azusa, but Ruki again.
"Is… Azusa-kun okay?" Her voice was weakened from all the blood that had been taken from her. She could barely sit up, the blanket tucked around her for what little warmth she could get. She was cold, so cold, like her body was empty of warm blood.
"That's none of your concern. You will never see him again."
Yui flinched. "Why?"
"I will not allow you to sink your claws into him any further." Ruki's eyes narrowed. "How astute of you to prey upon the most naive member of our group."
Yui trembled and whispered, "… I didn't prey on him."
"Oh? What did you think you were doing to him, then?" Ruki shook his head. "He's become your servant."
Her throat was dry… She swallowed. "We're not like that, we're…" She paused, unable to finish the sentence. Even when her mind wasn't so sluggish and foggy, their relationship was like a tangled thread—she felt connected to Azusa, bound to him even, but unable to define the shape.
"...I know. I allowed your little dalliance because I thought it might help our plan. But it doesn't seem to matter. None of us were ever true candidates."
She looked up.
Ruki's eyes were no longer focused on her. In fact, he looked strangely… hollow? "Someone is here to collect you."
Ruki left the room. Curiously, he didn't shut the basement door behind him.
Yui stared at the open door, the empty gray hallway and the pale blue lights, and wondered why. She was too tired to run… but why?
Within a moment, the questions turning in her mind were all answered: a man now stood in the middle of her tiny room. Yui didn't see him walk in, because he didn't; he was a vampire who moved faster than her eyes could track.
"I finally found you, Titless."
"Ayato-kun!" Her eyes widened. "Why are you here?!"
Ayato looked exactly the way she remembered him: wearing his messy school uniform, with his tie in a knot, and one pant leg rolled up. And his scowl was the same as ever, too.
"Jeez, you've been such a pain in my ass!" he snapped, and grabbed her arm. "C'mon, we're going home."
Home? But… she still didn't know if Azusa-kun was alright… She needed to check on him, make sure he hadn't hurt himself after their fight-
Ayato jerked her forward, and Yui fell, overwhelmed by nausea at the sudden motion. "Wait, Ayato-kun..." Her vision blurred, and her head rioted with agony.
"Did you say 'wait'?" Even with the blur, Yui could see how Ayato's pupils dilated with rage, and his voice promised dangerous, painful things. "Did you get used to being their pet or something?! You're my food!"
...pet... The word stung her ears, and her dizzy mind recalled the memory an injured puppy curled up in a dirty box.
Yui was an abandoned pet.
When Yui woke up, she didn't recognize the room. White walls and warm oak wood, not yellow and dark brown. Dark pink bedding, not light rose. Sitting up, Yui looked into the mirror across the room. Her white nightgown, these frilly pink canopy curtains… this room in the Sakamaki mansion felt familiar and strange, like a lullaby in a foreign language.
Yui touched her throat, feeling the sting of new wounds layered over old ones.
Ayato finally stole her from that dark room, and he bit her in the woods because he couldn't wait to have her again. Somewhere along the line, Ayato's possessiveness smothered her into unconsciousness.
When he exposed her shameful body, Ayato demanded to know, "How much of you have you let them have?!"
Almost all of me... She didn't tell him. Yui was covered in more bruises and open wounds than ever before, and she'd lost so, so much blood… and, among the ruby drops, some of herself, too.
"Welcome back, Bitch-chan," purred that familiar honey-trap-sweet voice. "I was so lonely without you."
Sprawled across her bed and smiling like a Cheshire cat was Laito. He looked delighted by how unhappy Yui was to see him. "Just imagining what they were doing to you over there," He blushed, and finished, "got me so riled up." His eyes narrowed.
She froze, because what sprang to mind wasn't the pain of being bitten over and over, but pale eyes and a soft kiss.
"Huh? Did I make you remember?" Laito faked innocence, pretending he hadn't provoked her. He climbed forward suddenly, on hands and knees, and pulled back the pink covers. "Fufufu, I have to check~"
Yui instinctively pulled back her legs—and that was a mistake Laito wanted her to make, she realized too late, as the hem of her white nightgown slid back, revealing her legs.
Laito's hands were on her bare knees and calves instantly, and he theatrically gushed, "Ahh, Bitch-chan's skin and Bitch-chan's smell, soo good~" Leaning far too close for comfort, Laito inhaled and swooned… and nibbled her calf, licking just a bit of blood from a scratch. Laito's eyes widened, "Ah? What's this? You've changed..."
Could her scent and her blood change from prolonged contact with the Mukami?
He licked her again and rolled her blood around his mouth. "Mm… I'm getting notes of all four, but the strongest might be from the naughty one who wouldn't share. What did you let him do to you that was so different from the others, hmm?" Laito smiled knowingly.
With Azusa's soft mouth, he had tainted her…? Her face burned and ached, giving her away. The stubborn part of her didn't want to give Laito any satisfaction, but it was too late.
His grin widened. "...Too bad he's not here to save you this time, huh?" Laito's hands slipped lower, and he invaded her space…
"Let go of her!"
Spread her legs...
"I'm sorry… I didn't know..."
Pushed her nightdress higher...
"Ah... I don't want to do anything you dislike… ever again. You're the girl I like, so… I don't want you to hate me…"
"S-sto—" Yui's ineffective plea was cut short, and she cried out in humiliated pain against the fangs thrust into her upper thigh.
Laito behaved in a particularly messy and depraved manner, slurping and moaning openly. His tongue caressed her thigh, darting terrifyingly close to her panties - the only barrier left between them. She trembled as she hoped Laito wouldn't make her take them off.
To cope, her thoughts wandered to safer places.
Those quiet moments in Azusa's room. Sunset filtering through the gauzy curtains. Curling up in bed with warm ginger tea and the smell of old paperbacks...
Those times felt unreal to her now. Like a dream.
Perhaps she merely imagined a vampire with kind eyes and a lost soul, to comfort herself?
Ruki let her go. He didn't stop Ayato from taking her away, and she knew they weren't coming for her. She saw her future in Ruki's despair: the Mukami brothers wouldn't rescue her... because they had no reason to keep her, if she couldn't awaken one of them as Adam.
Even if Yui had stayed in that basement cell, Ruki said she would never see Azusa again, anyway. Perhaps he'd done something to Azusa after the incident with the locked door… Or perhaps it was Yui's fault that he never returned. Maybe Azusa didn't need her if she wouldn't give him the pain he craved.
Yui had been returned to her "rightful" owners like a lost livestock—a walking piece of meat, stolen back and forth and slowly consumed.
If she wanted freedom, Yui would have to save herself.
Nothing had changed; this was where she started. She knew the layout of this mansion rather well, and the brothers within it: their tempers, their quirks, the sore spots she'd already suffered to find... They still had their own mysteries. Visions she hadn't deciphered.
In the end, her time with the Mukami brothers had no effect on her reality…
It didn't matter.
It didn't matter that Yui would never again see Azusa's sleeping face, with his long eyelashes fanned over the shadows below his eyes. Crying out in his sleep and clinging to her. Eyes wide and dreamy voice hushed as he tells her it's so strange when she touches him gently.
His softest smile, happy and sweet. His darkest grin, wicked and mischievous.
Azusa, shaking, in the church.
Azusa, holding her in the dark.
This wasn't what she wanted at all.
Chapter 24: The Burning Moon
Within one of the Sakamaki mansion's many drawing rooms, Yui gazed out at the window. Her view of the outside was the same as always—the silhouettes of trees cut a ragged edge into the bottom of the navy sky.
Yui used to gaze at the same dark horizon from the Mukami mansion, back when they first abducted her and she had little else to occupy her time. She would scan the darkness and hope to see a figure out there. Better the devils she knew, right? She felt a sort of loyalty to the Sakamaki family, too— even if they were far from nice, they'd saved her several times. She owed them her life, in a way.
She felt tainted now. Like Laito, they could all smell something was wrong with her, and had no interest in letting her recover, re-marking their territory despite her protests.
Reiji said, "Did you just let them suck your blood as often as they desired it? You are truly a fool."
Shu said, "You don't care who sucks your blood, do you? You slut."
Every one of the Sakamaki brothers had looked at her with anger and suspicion, snapping insults and punching walls, tearing into her and relentlessly interrogating her about her time with the Mukami family. There was little she could say to defend herself; Yui hadn't sorted out her own feelings about what happened yet.
When she thought of Azusa, of the sorrow in his eyes as he told her those secrets... Yui tried to feign ignorance as much as possible, asking questions in return like, "Why did they call me 'Eve'?"
Ayato, at least, was determined not to hear their names anymore. He told her to keep her mouth shut, so she did. If only everyone was as easy to appease as Ayato.
Yui pressed her hand to the cool glass. Outside, the moon was slowly coming forth like a sympathetic friend that followed her wherever she went.
Oh, Yui knew to be wary of the phases of the moon for the effect it had on vampires and their urges, but... she still loved it's pale little face, it's mysterious smile. The way it lit the darkness cheered her on.
Reiji warned everyone about the upcoming lunar eclipse on the next full moon. He said vampires would be weakened during that period.
If she wanted to escape…
"What are you thinking?"
Yui turned around quickly, surprised to be caught in the middle of some kind of thought crime. She stuttered, "K-Kanato-kun? W-what's wrong?"
Kanato's wide, wide eyes stabbed her with accusations. Standing before her with Teddy in hand, Kanato almost appeared to be an adorable youth with purple cotton candy hair and a soft round face… but he wasn't a boy, and his seething eyes always told the truth.
"You traitor!" He leaned forward, inches from her face. "I thought you were mine, so…" He grabbed her shoulder and shook her for emphasis as he hissed, "So, why did you go with that filthy thief?"
"I'm sorry!" Yui said before she even understood the question. Thief…?
… The hallway incident. Azusa saved her from Kanato, too, hadn't he? He carried her to safety when Kanato tried to demand her return. Of course, Azusa had also hurt her afterwards, trying to make her feel better… and anyway, like Laito said, he wasn't coming this time.
Yui swallowed, feeling trapped by that hand on her shoulder, and gazing into the gaping maw of Kanato's fury. His rage had teeth and she feared being consumed.
Kanato's hand slid down her face and smiled. "These fat cheeks are so smooth… I bet if I bit them off, they'd be sweet and juicy." His frown snapped back into place and his nails dug into her cheek. "Hey, tell me why I shouldn't tear you into pieces right now."
Beg me, he meant. Beg me, cry, and I still won't forgive you. But I want to see you try.
She was destined to fail, but what else could Yui do? Things would only get worse if she tried to protest or run away… if she gave in, he might have mercy; if she didn't, his punishment might kill her.
Kanato stepped back. He put Teddy on the mantel and flicked his eyes downward meaningfully.
Her fear devoured her humiliation. Yui knelt before him and whispered, "Please forgive me..."
She didn't dare lift her head, but his laughter was probably a good sign.
"That's a good look... but I need something else, don't I?" His voice sounded more gentle, now.
This was...also a good sign, for a certain flavor of good.
Yui kept her eyes on the floor as she pulled the black straps down and pushed her hair back from her shoulders, baring her neck completely to Kanato's gaze. She recited her line, "Please drink my blood and forgive me."
Kanato's fingers slid under her chin and tilted her head back. "Do you see now? You are my toy." He smiled, childish but never a child. "Now you know your place, don't you? Just stay here. Never run away again." Kanato laughed.
His laughter had sharp fangs, too. Yui trembled as she gazed up at him. No matter what she did, this vampire not-a-child would break her or eat her, wouldn't he…?
The door clicked.
"Umm…" A low, eerie voice stretched out the syllable like the moan of a ghost. "Umm… am I… interrupting…?"
Yui's eyes widened.
It...couldn't be, right?
She'd lost her mind, right?
She'd imagined her way out of Laito's torment earlier and now her desperate mind imagined up a rescue from Kanato's jaws, right?
"You! How dare you come in here?!" Kanato's scream— his horrible scream that could peel strips off your back and chew you up alive, that scream of rage—was real. Kanato's scream was as real and as chilling as the day she escaped him in the hallway, carried away by two arms as a soft voice that promised he wouldn't drop her, don't worry.
Standing in the doorway, Azusa made a poor illusion of a prince on a white horse. He panted for breath. His school uniform looked torn up and blood seeped through his bandage. His other hand was pressed against his ribs, holding an injury of some kind.
In short, her hero was a wreck.
Yui wouldn't hurt him, even in her imagination, and that meant Azusa had to be real.
Forgetting where she was, Yui scrambled to her feet. "What happened? Are you okay?"
Azusa nodded quickly. "It's Ruki. He's hurt..."
"Oh no-" Yui started to say, started to run forward—and choked in place.
Kanato dragged her to him… by the neck. "Why? Why are you trying to go to him?" His hand nearly circled her neck like a collar. "You really are a traitor."
Even if her throat wasn't being crushed, even if she could deny it... would she be able to?
Maybe I am a traitor... Yui thought wildly.
She met Kanato's eyes again, expecting twisted rage with teeth, but his face was odd and smooth instead. The pupils of his eyes had dilated, giving him a hollow look; now more than ever, Kanato looked like a doll.
"You don't know your place… you won't stay with me…" Kanato's voice was as empty as his expression. "I should just kill you." He gripped her with both hands and began to strangle her.
The pressure on her throat was immediate and paralyzing, broking no response. The lack of air made her panic. Her head felt like it was filled with fizzy soda. Yui tried to pull on his wrists, or dig her fingers between his and her neck, but Kanato was too strong for her.
Her vision began to blur, darkness edging in at the corners.
What happened next, she didn't see right away.
She heard Azusa's low voice declare, "I... won't let you... get in my way!"
She felt Kanato's grip slacken.
"Sorry, Kanato-san," Azusa said.
Kanato dropped her and screamed Azusa's name.
Yui coughed and staggered, taking large gulps of air as she got her bearings. The darkness faded from the edge of her vision, and the bubbles dissolved in her mind. Her hand massaging her sore throat, Yui looked around, seeing Azusa walking toward her and Kanato kneeling beside the fireplace. She looked closer.
Yui's eyes widened at the sight of what Azusa sacrificed to save her: inside the fire, Teddy burned.
Howling, Kanato grabbed at his hair and repeated in a froth, "Teddy! Teddy!"
Yui called his name weakly. She thought he might tear his hair out. He may have just tried to kill her, but Teddy was his only friend...
Azusa grabbed her and shook her out of her daze. His eyes were serious. "Let's go."
Her lips parted, but she couldn't speak. Why are you here, she didn't ask. I missed you, she didn't say.
Kanato's screams were chilling, but Azusa pulled her hand through her fear-weak legs and her painful heart palpitations.
Above them, the laughing moon danced between the clouds.
Chapter 25: Heart to Heart
Azusa finally let her catch her breath against a dark tree. "Let me carry you… We're still pretty far…"
Yui shook her head. Her hands gripped the bark hard enough for the rough surface to sting. The dark forest outside of the Sakamaki mansion surrounded her like black bars, and she wanted to keep running from this cage—but she couldn't breathe.
Azusa shifted his weight. "What were you... doing with Kanato-san?"
"Trying not to die." Yui couldn't gulp down air fast enough, and her throat was so tight—!
"...Yui-san?" Azusa's voice was quiet, but it hit her like a brick. Yui felt like she hadn't heard his low voice say her name in years. He stepped closer, tilting his head to peer at her in that hauntingly familiar way. "Are you...going to cry?"
Oh no… please don't ask that...
"I thought," she swallowed, and her voice was small and squeaky, "I thought you weren't going to come get me!"
Azusa's pale eyes drifted nervously, and he confessed, "Ruki… said we shouldn't."
"Why?" Yui sank down, into the grass and roots, back against the hard bark now. Her breath kept coming in harsh drags in and short puffs out.
"I don't know. Maybe… because we're not worthy…? I... we..." Azusa's expression crumbled. "Ruki got hurt, so... our family needs to be together…"
Yui shuddered. "You came for me because of Ruki?"
"No, that's… an excuse…" His expression contorted with anxiety as he whispered, "I wanted to see you."
The quiet admission left her gasping. Even if she couldn't give him the pain he craved... even if she wasn't useful to their plan… even if she wasn't trustworthy in anyone else's eyes… Azusa wanted to see her.
Azusa's voice came out strangled as he continued, "Did you… not want to come back? Were you happy there?"
Azusa fell to his knees with a thump.
Her eyes burned hot. "No, I wasn't happy."
Azusa leaned in and pressed cool hands against her hot, hot face.
Her vision blurred. "I wanted you to come get me…" Her words came out in an ugly, pained whine, and for once she didn't care. She felt the tremor of sobs in her shoulders before they poured from her lips.
"Yui-san!" He pulled her into his arms.
She gripped his uniform. "I thought… I thought you wouldn't come!" She hiccupped and sobbed. Fat, hot tears rolled down her cheeks. "I thought… no one cared about me anymore..."
Her father wasn't coming to rescue her.
Ayato only came for her because he wanted to own her.
Yui wanted to rescue herself! She wanted to be free and live on her own terms... But the truth was… it was painful to be alone. It was so, so painful to fight for herself when she was all alone, and it was hard to care about herself when no one else did. If she broke down, it wouldn't matter at all.
The heroines in her books sometimes made it look easy… but it was not easy to be strong and brave and know you can't trust anyone at all. To know that no one loves you.
"I wanted to come for you… I wanted to..." He murmured, stroking her hair. "I had to..." Azusa's hand felt soothing and cool against her hot, miserable tears. "I missed you…"
Yui believed him, and somehow this made her cry harder.
Ever since she'd come to the Sakamaki manor, Yui had to keep herself together. She tried to run, she tried to say no, she tried to avoid setting them off… but even when she cried out in pain, she shed no tears for vampires who would enjoy it. Of the brothers, only Laito successfully forced her to tears with the truth about her father.
Her eyes would burn and water, her throat would tighten—but Yui chose to focus on the deeper meaning behind her suffering, so her situation wouldn't break her.
Even when Ruki locked her away, Yui didn't cry.
Even when she was terrified for her life, Yui didn't cry.
Even when she plunged a knife into her own heart, Yui didn't cry.
Curled up in Azusa's arms, Yui was safe… and she wept.
"I understand you now… I know, I know, how you felt…" He murmured. "You thought… you were unwanted…"
She wiped her face on her sleeves, sticky and hot. Her head was beginning to ache.
More quietly, he added, "That's...how I, too..."
Yui lifted her head to meet a piercing pale gaze.
He whispered, "I didn't realize it... I thought… I needed you more than you needed me. "
"That's not true!" She sobbed again. "I need you. I want you. But…"
And there was a 'but', wasn't there? There was one rift between them, one gaping chasm that Yui couldn't cross. As badly as she wanted to be with him, as much as it hurt that she couldn't give in—Yui couldn't compromise on that.
Azusa's eyes were bright in the dark woods, almost glowing. He looked lost.
"...But I don't want to hurt you."
"I know." His mouth trembled, too. "I don't understand… how that works, if you need me...?"
What else could anyone need him for, Azusa silently said.
Because Azusa couldn't see anything else that he was good for, anything else about himself that had any value, and that was so painful and so sad that she couldn't bear it.
Yui choked on invisible blood. Her heart ached like a hole had been gouged into her chest and part of her heart was pulled out of her; she was gutted by Azusa's confusion, his utter conviction that he had no worth except as a punching bag.
What happens when a blood bag loves a punching bag? Can they reconcile their different natures?
Yui ought to be used to it—being confused by vampires, and being misunderstood and misinterpreted in return… these tragedies were part of her daily life now, weren't they?
But Azusa was different. He wanted to understand… but he couldn't, because the rules he lived by would never let him see her side, not all the way.
Yui didn't know how to explain her anguish, and she sobbed uselessly.
"I love you," she mumbled.
Azusa's eyes widened. "What?"
"I love you. It's because I love you. I don't want to hurt you because I love you," she wept.
"But… how? I haven't… I haven't done anything to earn you..."
"Azusa-kun, that's not how it works. Not for me."
Love wasn't about earning or deserving…
Love wasn't even about books or tea or remembering all the things she liked...
Yui loved Azusa for who he was: a little strange, a little hurt, but gentle and compassionate, fragile and innocent and impossibly, unusually kind. This tender, sweet, tragic person couldn't see himself, but Yui could, and she loved him so much.
She tried to tell him that. She tried to say, her voice breaking a little, "I know why you don't see what's good about you, but to me, you're...you mean the world."
Azusa didn't say anything.
"You're so important to me, I mean it," she wasn't sure why she was repeating this, what she wanted him to say—it wasn't "I love you" back, it was something else—
"I believe you," Azusa said quietly.
Someone pushed part of her heart back into her chest, and Yui gasped as it revived, beating fast.
He looked away, eyes locked on some point above her shoulder. "You're right, um, I don't really see, or understand why... but I believe you. I know… you're not lying…"
Azusa couldn't change his worldview in a day, but if he could accept the existence of hers… that would be enough for now. Satisfied at last, Yui dissolved under a last wave of tears and shaking sobs.
Azusa held her through it all.
...Clarity returned with a pounding headache. They needed to keep running. If the Sakamakis came after them and tore them apart… Yui shivered. But she didn't want to move yet. She felt drained from the emotional turmoil.
"Yui-san... You are… the strangest person I've ever met."
The tension broke inside her, and Yui laughed.
Azusa smiled at her. "Ah, your smile… it is the best. I've made you so sad until now, so… I'm glad." He held her tight. "As long as you say, I'm the one you want… I'll never… let go again, okay?"
"I believe you, too," Yui whispered, and closed her eyes.
Chapter 26: Manor of Destruction
The moon was high as Azusa and Yui reached the grounds. Azusa didn't take her through the front gates, the way they came home from school, but instead carried her through a secret side entrance that brought them into a parlor with amethyst wallpaper. The room was as nightmare bright as ever, but the destruction inside was hard to reconcile with the pristine manor of her memories. Broken windows, torn curtains, ripped furniture… and, worst of all, messy blood streaks and puddles that still shined wet in the moonlight.
Azusa set her down in a dry place and cautioned her about the broken glass.
Yui stumbled a little, her limbs tired from running and from crying, but she shook her head and promised she felt better when Azusa offered to pick her up again.
She did feel better.
It was a pity that the manor didn't share her uplifted mood. As she followed Azusa through the halls, the blood made it easy to trace the battle around the house, like footprints. The blood would scrape along for a while and abruptly splatter everywhere, near a broken picture frame, a bit of glass, a hole in a wall...
Most of the blood wasn't theirs. The wolves left blood but no carcasses behind, because they were someone's familiars, Azusa explained. This attack was magical.
Yui shivered and wrapped her arms around herself as she edged past a bloody, shattered window. She didn't want to see bodies, but knowing a supernatural entity had it out for the Mukamis made her uneasy, too.
In the large main hall, Yui stood before the wall of windows and took in the sight of the moon. The glowing light was not sunset orange, but it made her feel oddly nostalgic for the night they first kidnapped her. Back then, Azusa knelt and took her hand, but she'd been frightened by him…
Azusa peered at her. "What is it...?"
Yui, smiling, shook her head. She reached out and tangled her fingers with Azusa's.
"Ahh, I see Azusa-kun brought M-neko-chan back..." Kou appeared. He looked healthy, but he was missing a few of his bracelets and his stylish jacket had a large tear in it.
"You're bleedin', sow." Yuma appeared beside him. His jaw was set in a tense frown. "You were only gone three days. How many times did they bite you?"
Four times, but Yui didn't want to say it. She looked to Azusa, and he gripped her hand tighter in support.
Kou laughed, and his earring made a clear ringing sound with the motion of his head. "Given how much blood we took, I'm surprised you're okay, though."
"I think Reiji-san gave me something to heal up," she confessed.
Azusa leaned against her, and his touch was comforting.
Yui stared into the night through the large window in Ruki's room. The night breeze ruffled her hair. The moon was playing peek-a-boo with the clouds, plunging the room into darkness and filling it with light.
She could still hear the pain and sorrow in Azusa's voice as he declared it was his fault, that Ruki got hurt because of him.
After Kou and Yuma showed her the room where Ruki was recovering, the four of them stepped out again to talk about what to do when he woke up. Ruki was their leader. If he said Yui had to go… well, her future was uncertain.
That's why… though it hurt to part with Azusa, and it had been embarrassing to do this in front of Kou and Yuma's leering grins—she clasped both of his hands and promised she'd be alright.
This was something Yui had to do alone.
Ruki used to frighten her. He was cold and brutal, like an ice storm, whenever they crossed paths. He bit her and mistreated her. He punished her for accidentally hurting Azusa. He imprisoned her in that dark room. He ordered Yui not to get any closer to Azusa...and later forbid them from meeting at all.
Once, Yui thought Ruki was so enraged by failure that he refused to see reason, but now she understood that Ruki wasn't blind to the truth—even if he wanted to ignore it, he couldn't. The truth burned him up, and he was not a man of ice at all.
In slow, quiet voices, the three brothers shared their true feelings with Yui:
"...because Ruki was here… we… "
"We had a lot of bad times…"
"...but when we were all together…"
"We had a lot of good times, too."
… No, Ruki was not just their cold, aloof leader… Ruki was their older brother.
He was the stern eldest brother who read to them at night, who watched over them and broke up their fights, who made sure they were fed and cared for to the best of his abilities.
Ruki didn't hug or cuddle, Yui was pretty sure. He kept to himself and could be sharp-tongued. But he was there for them, like a monument.
Even after they stopped being those poor children scrambling to survive, Ruki thought he had to stay strong to keep their little family together. The tragedy of his pretend strength was that Ruki hid his weakness by withdrawing from the family he wanted to protect.
Unlike Azusa who bled and suffered to keep his heart, Ruki tried to encase his heart in ice to live. But even Ruki couldn't be as cold as he was determined to be… because if he did, he would never throw himself before the open jaws of a wolf to protect Azusa from more pain.
Now more than ever, Yui understood Ruki.
Her waiting was interrupted by a noise, and she gasped, "Ruki-kun!"
To her left was Ruki's large bed. In his injured and weakened state, he no longer appeared to be carved ice, but crushed and melted snow. And he was awake. Barely.
"Why are you here?" His voice dripped exhaustion and disdain.
Unable to explain what Azusa had done for her, Yui spoke around the truth: "I heard you got hurt, and I was worried, so—"
He scoffed. "What are you doing, worrying about me?"
What a thing to say when there was blood seeping through the bandages on his chest!
Yui shook her head. She pressed her palms to the open windosill. "I heard about the plan… The Apple of Adam Plan. Everyone told me the truth, Ruki-kun."
The moon ran and hid from this conversation, and the room grew darker.
"Was it 'everyone'? Or was it Azusa who told you?" On the bed, Ruki was swathed in darkness, and Yui could barely make out his white hands on top of the bedspread. They twitched. "Shut up. Don't speak to me."
Yui took a deep breath. "I'm not trying to manipulate you. I'm worried about you." Yui paused, and decided to fess up to the other big reason: "And… I also want your permission to stay here again."
"My permission?" He sneered. "Would you like to go back to that room? Azusa can stay in there with you until you're both dead, like he wanted."
Ruki's anger was just an frozen covering for his real concerns. Aware she was stepping onto thin ice, Yui persisted: "Ruki-kun, I know you're worried about him. You're worried about everyone, but you shouldn't keep everything to yourself. At least talk to everyone…"
"What good would it do to talk to them?"
Her eyes widened. Something about his voice sounded so... cut off and remote, so resigned, that Yui couldn't help but feel sad for his cold isolation.
"Nothing would have changed." Ruki's voice was threatening—normally, this would be where he silenced her, bit her or jerked her around so she couldn't protest. Instead this strong vampire lay in bed, flattened by his pain and his grief. Only his voice remained powerful in the darkness: "Nothing would have changed at all. They told you the truth, you said? They couldn't have, because they don't know everything."
The truth he couldn't tell his brothers—the painful, heavy truth he bore like a cross—perhaps Ruki could share this burden with mere livestock?
Ruki's cold eyes closed and his fists clenched. "We can't be Adam. It's impossible. No matter how much of your blood we drink, nothing changes. We will never awaken. We can't fulfill his dream..."
A dream… So it was their creator's dream to make a new Adam and Eve and change the world with a new race? Azusa hadn't mentioned who created the plan in the first place.
Yui couldn't see Ruki's self-loathing and desperation as being all about power, either.
He had enough melted strength left to force himself to sit up and push back the covers. "This is the conclusion I've come to: Because we aren't pure-blooded vampires… we cannot become Adam." He slid to the edge in order to look up at the fireplace mantelpiece to the right of his bed. "Only pure-blooded vampires have the right to become Adam."
Yui's eyes followed his gaze and found, among the glass bottles, the portrait he'd hidden from her, back when they first met. It was an old-fashioned black and white photo of an aristocratic-looking family: the mother sitting in a chair, the father standing proud behind their young son. This forbidden image of Ruki's human parents told part of a story she would probably never hear. Whatever tragedy Ruki faced as a child, it had made him into someone who needed an ice wall to be safe.
Even with the heat he'd been suffering through, that ice was still there. If nothing else, Yui hoped Ruki's wall of ice could stand to have a hole chipped through it, just big enough so his family could reach in and touch him...
Ruki faced away from her. "Funny, isn't it? We've been trying to carry out a plan we could never accomplish." He paused, and his voice was wretched as he asked, "How am I supposed to tell them that?"
Yui frowned, turning the question over in her mind.
The tragedy wasn't that Ruki was a proud man, and his pride was torturing him because he thought he wasn't good enough… Even if Ruki could accept that for himself… he couldn't bear to tell his brothers that they were not good enough, either.
Oh, Ruki… Her heart ached for him. He'd tried so hard, hadn't he?
"Well… maybe… they've already realized it themselves," she meekly suggested.
The moon came out to support her.
Ruki's head lifted.
Yes, she couldn't be timid now. Feeling bolder in the light of the moon, Yui pressed onward: "They knew, Ruki-kun… but they followed you, anyway, because they believed in you. Not the plan, or the promise of power—it was you. They wanted to support you. They all talked about how worried they've been about you…" She hesitated. "Everyone mentioned… that you'd always thought of everyone as brothers."
Ruki's mouth moved silently, but she thought she caught him repeating, "brothers…"
"Even, even if you won't let me stay… please let them in, Ruki-kun." She prayed he would listen to her.
He said nothing.
Yui prayed in the silence.
Not for her sake. Not only for the sake of the family he was trying to push away, either… but also for the sake of his own frozen heart.
Finally, he spoke: "Whether I let you stay, and what I'll do with my family… I'll consider it." Ruki's voice wasn't warm, but it wasn't cold, either.
Happiness and relief rushed into her lungs, and Yui almost laughed as she breathed out and had to cover her mouth with her hands. This was what she'd hoped for!
He let out a soft puff of air. "You know, I thought you would break us. That you would break Azusa… and me." He gazed at her calmly. "Maybe…we needed to break. Maybe breaking is the only way to get us to heal right. Did you know that all along? If so, I truly underestimated you."
Yui's shoulders dropped. "You're not broken, Ruki-kun."
"You're very strong," she promised.
"You think so?" Another almost-laugh escaped his mouth. "How? Haven't I shown you how pathetic I am?"
She shook her head. "You're strong, because… you're not just one person. You're a family."
Yui knew how deeply painful it was to be alone… just one person, locking your heart away so if nothing else, it wouldn't be hurt. Azusa, in his strange way, had coaxed her free. She wasn't alone anymore. Neither was Ruki, and Yui hoped he could see that, if only a little.
"… How sentimental." Ruki said, but he didn't sound disgusted.
Yui found herself smiling at him.
Ruki didn't smile back. He watched her with serious eyes, as if taking in everything very carefully. His look reminded her of the quiet way Azusa would study her, sometimes. (Well, they were brothers…)
The tap on the door broke the reverie, followed by, "Ya-ho~ You okay in there, M-neko-chan?"
Yui was dismissed so Ruki and Kou could talk alone.
As she shut the door, she heard Kou say, "Yuma-kun's totally oblivious, but Azusa-kun…"
Even if Yui wanted to, she was unable to eavesdrop with the heavy door shut.
She wandered back through the unlit hallways. The power was down in the mansion, and she had to tread carefully around bits of broken glass and rubble from their battle. The idea of magic wolves attacking the mansion was still odd, but perhaps no less odd than vampires being real…?
A soft voice called to her from the darkness, "Did you make up...with Ruki?" Azusa leaned against the edge of a window, just beyond the reach of the moonlight. Only the supernatural glow of his pale eyes gave him away.
"Yes, I think we had a good chat."
"Is he... mad at me…?" Azusa's posture folded in, making him look small and sad.
"No." She smiled, and stretched out her hand to him.
He stepped into the moonlight with her, but instead of taking her hand, Azusa brought her fingers to his lips and kissed them. Smooth lips pressed to each fingertip, one by one, making tiny sounds.
Speechless, Yui's cheeks burned as she watched him work her hand over.
Finishing on her pinkie, he slowly raised his eyes up, revealing lavender with just a touch of brilliant blue. The moon illuminated the wild tips of his hair and cast a lovely glow on his face.
"You're blushing…" He laughed sweetly. "Ah, you're so cute, Yui-san." He said her name with a little spring between the syllables.
Surely that made him was the cute one, not her!
Yui shook her head. "Wh-what was that for?"
He threaded his fingers through hers and took her hand at last, standing beside her. "I wanted to…?" Azusa hummed and he looked down at her with a small smile. "Mm, maybe… I wanted to prove that… you're mine... right?"
Oh. Her face burned harder. Yui nodded and stepped forward meaningfully.
"You're mine"... How many times had she heard that from Ayato, or Kanato, or the others? But hearing those words in Azusa's dreamy voice felt different; it was enough to scorch her ears off, and she couldn't figure out why. He'd told her from the start that she was his "precious Eve."
Chapter 27: Purification
Until the reconstruction, they were all staying in Ruki's wing, because it sustained the least damage during the fight, and the close proximity would increase security… or so Azusa said.
Azusa brought her to one of the extra sitting rooms. The moon peeked through the windows, helping the flickering candles paint the room in blue and orange.
Two beds were made out of the sofas. One of them had the blankets from her room, and a familiar pile of books stood beside her pillows. (Yui smiled.) The other bed was an unfamiliar purple damask bedspread, but on the blue pillowcase sat two white lumps.
The crochet bunnies! Yui bounced over to have a look. Even in the dimmed light, she could see that Azusa tied ribbons around each of their fluffy necks, and one bunny had a barrette pinned below the ear.
Yui touched her own hairstyle thoughtfully.
"Albert...and Victoria..." Azusa crept up behind her and straightened one of the ribbons. "Those are the names I picked… What do you think?"
"Very regal! I like what you've done to them."
"Hehe. Thank you. They're so soft... I'm glad you made two."
"Only one would be lonely," she confessed.
"Lonely…" Azusa ducked his head, casting a shadow onto his expression. "If I'm not with you… I get very lonely, too."
"We'll be together from now on, remember?"
Azusa shook his head. "I know, but… I get scared... I didn't even want you to talk to Ruki alone." He clutched his one of his wrists before him and tucked it close to his chest. "My Eve... Everyone's...precious Eve…" His slow voice sounded wistful. "You're the chosen one, and I'm… me, but… I can't share you."
He clenched his wrist tighter and lowered his head before her, almost apologizing to her. "I want to be...the only one. The only one who can have you... If the others bit you, now, I don't know what I'd do…"
Yui slipped her fingers below his tight grip, and Azusa allowed her human strength to pull his hand loose and open his palm. She traced the jagged scar crossing his skin with one finger as she tried to find the right words to say. Yui settled upon: "I don't want to be bitten by anyone else, either. So, we'll find a way."
Azusa's eyes widened—scared and curious. "Really? You also want...only me?"
"Of course I do." The quiet room made her passionate declarations feel a bit different—and more embarrassing —than ones she'd made when Azusa had embraced her in the woods. Still, Yui made herself say what she could…Because, Azusa-kun had to understand, she meant what she said: he meant the world to her.
"Then, if I can have you… if I'm the only one… can I ask for more?" His hand caught hers again.
"What do you mean?"
Azusa shifted, and moonlight cast a blue glow on his winsome face. "It's your blood… when you're bitten, it changes." He turned her hand over and revealed the fang marks where Shu bit her finger.
Yui's heart began a painful drum beat against her ribcage. She could cover up the marks, the scars and wounds, but her blood…? Laito knew she'd done something special with Azusa from the taste of her blood… She knew her blood seduced vampires, but it was mortifying to realize that her history and her pain were all written into her body this way, for any vampire to read.
Yui felt so dirty.
Her skin was dirty. Her blood was filthy. Even on the inside, there was no escape from being touched by fangs and hands and tainted.
Azusa's eyes widened. "Yui-san? What's wrong?" He peered into her face. "I didn't mean to make you sad… I just wanted you to give them to me." He kissed the mark left by Shu and let her hand go.
Oh, Yui didn't want to cry for the second time in a day, but the heat and pain rushing to her face gave her struggle away. She tried to swallow the feelings back and whispered, "Give you what?"
"Scars. Wounds. It doesn't matter… I want all of you..."
"Give yourself to me. I'll erase it." Azusa said that once before. So did Kou, when he wanted to erase Subaru.
Was that literal?
Yui's eyes widened. "You can change my blood?"
"Of course..." Azusa's gaze was bewildered. "Do you hate it so much…?"
"N-no. I misunderstood…"
She imagined corruption accumulating inside her veins and darkness poisoning her soul. Dirty fingerprints staining her skin, forever unable to be washed away, even if she scrubbed herself raw pink and stinging.
Azusa was talking about colors. About painting over the other colors left inside her body with his color. He wanted her to be one pure color...
It sounded wonderful.
Yui grabbed Azusa's jacket and begged, "Please take everyone else out of my blood, Azusa-kun!"
"Ah, really? Are you sure? Then..." With a smile pulling his mouth, Azusa's arms embraced her and he kissed her softly on the lips. "Thank you, Eve..."
She let him kiss her again, soft and enchanting. His hand pushed gently on her lower back, and she shyly snuggled closer.
Azusa finished too quickly with a hum. "But, what did you misunderstand…?"
Yui wet her lips. Those feelings were hard to share, but... If it was Azusa-kun… she confessed, "Um, sometimes I feel dirty...because of all the times I was bitten-" and touched, she didn't say, "when I didn't want to be."
"Dirty…" Azusa repeated, his expression serious.
Perhaps he wouldn't understand. The chasm between their experiences was still there, gaping and dark and separating them, despite their outstretched hands. He'd learned to love and crave what happened to him. While Yui had touched that type of despair, too, she didn't like thinking about it... Yui still felt shame.
Did Azusa remember shame?
Azusa took a candelabra with him and led her out of their temporary bedroom, saying he had an idea. He plunged into a dark hallway, away from the windows' light, and Yui followed with a racing pulse and a fervent trust that Azusa wouldn't lead her astray in the darkness.
The dark hallway seemed to stretch in all directions beyond of the ring of the candle's light, but they turned quickly and entered a door… and found a mirror?
In the reflection, she could see her hands clutching the formless blackness of Azusa's jacket.
Below the mirror was a glinting sink that winked at her. Oh, a bathroom.
This bathroom was probably lavishly decorated in the brilliant green and purple hues of Ruki's wing, the way her own bathroom had been mostly yellow and brown, but everything visible looked warm grey and black in the light of three shaking candle flames.
Azusa gave the cold iron candelabra to Yui while he rummaged through the drawer below the sink. He emerged with two candles that he carefully lit. The warm light on Azusa's face made him look almost human as he sniffed it curiously.
Fondness welled up and swallowed the edges of her nerves. "Does it smell good?"
"Mm-hm." He held one candle out to her.
Yui leaned in. She mostly smelled the freshly burnt scent of the wick, but underneath was a growing scent of eucalyptus and...mint, perhaps? Very relaxing. The candles were brand new, too; it was a pity that Ruki had never used them.
With three points of light in the dark bathroom now, it was easier to tell where the toilet hid behind a small door and the bath sat like a great black cauldron at the end of the room.
Azusa knelt down beside it. Even with the power out, the pipes were still fine, and water began to rush out of the faucet, filling the tub.
It took Yui a moment to catch on to his plan—"I'm not physically unclean, Azusa-kun…."
Azusa set both of the aromatic candles on each side of the tub, so now it looked more like a bowl of soup than a cauldron. "I know, but… won't you feel better?" He touched the water. "Here… it's nice."
She bit her lip. Maybe Azusa couldn't understand…
Abruptly, Azusa's hands pulled the candelabra from her and pressed her forward, one palm tucked against her lower back as he led her towards the great rushing waterfall sound. He placed the candelabra on the other side of the tub. Three points of light flickered around the bath, but the water still rushed out dark.
Yui looked down into the shimmering, stormy waves.
Standing just behind her now, Azusa's mouth touched her ear and he whispered, "Come on…" Both of Azusa's hands grasped her hips.
The shock of being touched was too much, and Yui stuttered, "N-no thank you!" She tried to escape, but he pinned her in place, and Yui's hands tugged uselessly on his. "I'm okay, really!"
"Mm. Are you? Will you show me, now…?" He spared a hand to tip one black strap off her shoulder.
"S-show you what?" Yui pressed her hands to her chest, protectively clutching her blouse.
"Show me… wherever you're still healing. Where they bit you." Azusa's mouth found one of the healing wounds on her neck and pressed a sweet kiss.
Yui's knees nearly collapsed—out of fright, or...something else... She shivered. Her senses felt overloaded by all these points of contact… by Azusa's back pressing against hers, his mouth against her neck, his hair brushing her skin... one hand gripping her hip tight, the other hand pulling loose each of the ribbon bows above her breasts, letting her pink blouse slip down… Yui felt electrified by every little touch.
"…I want to see." Azusa's low, low voice was gentle, coaxing, "Everything... Every part of you, I want... all of it..." Both of Azusa's hands slipped up her sides, over her arms, and captured both her wrists.
Everything. Even the dirty parts of herself that she didn't like… Azusa wanted it all. He wanted to paint her inside and out with his color.
She wanted that, too, but how would he do that? Trembling, Yui begged, "Azusa-kun, please…" Please do what? Oh, she didn't know. Whatever he wanted. Yui wished he wasn't standing behind her. When she looked into the water below, Yui felt like she was standing on a precipice.
Azusa's arms remained entwined around her in a capturing embrace, and he spoke while touching her ear again, so that each word made his lips brush her sensitive skin. "I want to bite every wound, every scar… but, if I do them all at once... you might die." He nipped her earlobe to punctuate this sentence. "This way, won't it make you feel like… you've been reborn?"
She shivered again. Reborn. Repainted. Every speck of shame washed away… Yui surrendered to his sweet seductive promises, and whispered, "Alright, please…" take me, she couldn't make herself say, so Yui fumbled out, "Do, do what you want to me."
He giggled and hugged her tighter. "Cute Yui-san, don't be scared..." He twirled her around and met her with a smile. Even in the low light, Yui knew this smile: the sweet one, the adorable one that could charm Yui into giving him anything.
Gazing up at him, Yui curled her hands into his black jacket; again, she noticed it looked almost like she was grabbing the night itself.
"Ahh, Yui-san is tense… but I know... how to help you," he said playfully. Azusa's hands circled her wrists again, and his mouth caught hers in a kiss.
He was right: Yui's senses were intoxicated by Azusa's kisses. Warmth spread through her, almost like being bitten without pain, making her limbs loose and weak. Her knees wobbled. With her wrists locked down, the only way she could lean was forward, pressing herself against Azusa's body. Yui was trapped on a cliff with the sound of rushing water behind her, and she clung to him in a silent plea not to sacrifice her to the waves.
Azusa's lips leeched warmth from hers and grew less cool the more they kissed, open mouthed as if trading promises of safety and words of devotion back and forth.
He broke the last kiss with a sly, cute grin. "Fufu, your face is blissful…"
Panting for breath, Yui couldn't reply. Too much bliss.
He slid a hand around her back, holding her up even as he reached out and silenced the water faucet. The void of sound enhanced the volume of her gasping breath and the drum of her heart, and added a note of power to Azusa's dreamy voice.
"I want you to stay still. Don't move... Let me take care of you..." He compelled her with half command and half sweet promise.
Yui swayed on her feet, but she remained standing as he knelt before her and pulled off her boots and socks. His hands slid up her legs and undid the button on her shorts, making Yui gasp. Azusa's gentle fingers were unwrapping her body and unravelling something inside her. She wanted to cry, and it wasn't even sadness—Yui simply felt overwhelmed.
She couldn't see her bare body very well in the darkness, but Azusa's flashing eyes could. Every scar and every open wound was exposed to now. She wanted to cover herself, and yet…
Take everything… if you want me as I am...
Azusa coaxed her to sit on the edge of the tub—mindful of the candle—and took a wet washcloth to her skin. He started at Yui's feet and his fingers found the scar where Ruki once punished her.
Yui shivered as the moist cloth rolled over her sensitive scar. Her body was cooling down from those kisses, her head less drowsy now, but the water was almost too hot. The thick cloth transferred immense heat.
Foamy soap followed, and water dripped onto the floor as Azusa slowly took care of her. Under his gentle hands and the warm cloth, Yui could almost imagine her scars melting away.
Parting her legs, Azusa reached the worst of her thighs.
A spike of fear made her voice slip out. "Nn—"
"Shh. Watch… focus on me…" Azusa coaxed. The candlelight fell on his face. His expression was smooth, and his eyes… those clear eyes, lavender even in the flickering light, were tender as they captured her.
Yui tried to focus on who he was, and who he wasn't.
The marks on her arms, her waist, her breasts, her chest, her neck, her back… Yui began to tremble as memories poured in—Shu here, Ayato there, Reiji-san's whip, Kanato-kun's fork… Yui forced herself to breathe slow.
As the candles burned lower, the slightly medicinal smell of eucalyptus and mint began to intensify. Healing and rebirth lingered in the humid air.
Azusa soothed Yui's shaking with tiny kisses on her shattered skin as he washed her clean.
Some intense feeling was bubbling up again, making her heart throb and threatening to spill from her eyes.
Azusa wiped the only tear that fell. "...Where shall I bite you first?"
Yui swallowed around her answer. It had to be there, but her voice… Yui silently touched the wound on her thigh.
Of the many vampires who attacked her, Laito's sadism had been uniquely degrading. He'd taunted her about Azusa, too. Yui desperately wanted him out of her body, but the process frightened her.
Azusa's eyes held hers as he asked, "...Are you sure?"
"Please," she begged, unable to elaborate. Please. Please.
"I'll be gentle…" Azusa promised, sliding between her legs.
Doing this while she was nude left her excruciatingly vulnerable, but, Yui remembered, Azusa had seen everything already and never made lewd comments… Azusa was almost innocent as he found her latest injury and licked it like a puppy with a cold tongue.
Then he bit her. His fangs fit perfectly over the existing holes, digging into an area that was already sore. Yui cried out—she couldn't stop herself. It was painful, as Azusa sucked like drawing out poison.
Delicious poison, Yui had to amend; Azusa enjoyed her blood with a soft moan. She couldn't see him well with her body blocking the candle's light, but immersing herself in the sounds and feeling of Azusa's quiet pleasure helped Yui.
This wasn't some horrible violation; this was giving to the one she loved.
Azusa pulled away with a sweet sigh and rested his head against her knee. His white, fanged smile glinted in the darkness.
Azusa let Yui finish cleaning herself before he helped her into the bathtub. The water was still very hot, and even bracing herself didn't help—it felt like she was being boiled and sterilized. (Well, except Yui had to keep the fresh wound on her thigh up out of the water to reduce the risk of infection, of course.)
Azusa held her hand, again finding the wound where Shu bit her. "In the past… I didn't understand, body and heart... I did cruel things to you."
"You didn't know it." He was trying to be kind. She knew that.
"No…" He smiled again. "I'm sorry. I'm going to… be better, so you'll love me more, and more…"
Oh, Azusa... Her heart was so full already; any more might make her burst.
Chapter 28: The Choice
After her bath, Azusa took Yui back to their room. Until the power got fixed, there wasn't much to do in the dark manor except try to rest, despite the contrast with their normal nocturnal schedule. With her pale pink sheets pulled up to her cheeks, Yui mulled over the new problem at hand.
Would Azusa's brothers accept that Yui's blood could only be given to Azusa alone? There had to be some way to persuade them, before Azusa got hurt… or before his unhappiness caused a rift between him and his family.
The entire group gathered in Ruki's emerald room the next morning.
No longer bed-ridden, Ruki was up and about… but his bandages still peeked out from the collar of his white shirt. He looked strange and casual without his formal blazers.
...Well, Ruki was the vampire equivalent of a human teenager, eighteen or nineteen at the most, like the others. He simply behaved as if he were the only adult in the room.
He did not address Yui's presence beyond a glance. "Today, we're going to begin repairs and look into who attacked us," he said, and his deep voice added to the illusion of being significantly older. "Kou, did you call the power company?"
Kou, with his hands knitted behind his head, agreed. "Yep, first thing this morning. I can't live without aircon, so I might go hang out with some friends at work later."
"Yeah... the heat…" Azusa pinched his sweater and held it away from himself.
Yuma shrugged. "You won't die. Take a cold bath."
Yui jolted. Yuma didn't direct that comment at her, but… she wondered what exactly their superior senses could pick up, and if she was already coated in Azusa's scent. Ahh, that wasn't something to blush about, was it? Yui pressed her hands to her cheeks.
Still, she felt a out of place—Ruki hadn't decided if she could stay, so to be helpful, Yui offered, "I-I'll go get some drinks for your meeting. Would you like iced tea?"
Azusa smiled at her. "Yes, thank you, Eve…"
Eve… she was getting used to that nickname, but as a title or a position, it felt odd, especially with Ruki in the room. Her blood was special, but she wasn't...
"Tomato juice in the fridge," Yuma demanded. "I made it while you were missing."
"Lemonade for me, thanks!"
Ruki didn't request anything. When Yui touched the door, Ruki abruptly turned his head and said, "You."
She startled. "Y-yes?"
Yui wasn't who Ruki was looking at, though, and behind her came a voice: "Damn, Titless, you sure have shit luck." Yui turned around to find Ayato leaning against the door, his arms crossed as he glared at her.
"Good timing coming over to this place, though," Ayato spoke as if he'd given her permission to leave. "Our place got attacked. Wolves."
Looking closer, Yui saw that Ayato had blood on his collar and gasped. "Are you okay?"
"Of course, it's the Great Me after all," Ayato boasted with a smirk.
"I'm glad..." Yui realized belatedly that all four of the Mukami brothers were stiff, poised to jump between them. She tried to subtly move away from Ayato.
Ruki's dark eyes were unreadable. "Do you know who was behind the attack?"
"Founders. Two of those ancient bastards are still kicking around, I guess." Ayato wrinkled his nose, forever unimpressed by his elders. He shoved his way past Yui to enter the room. "They got out because the old man's shitty barrier got weak. You know there's an eclipse coming, right?"
Yui had no idea what "founders" were, but Kou and Yuma exchanged worried glances.
Azusa touched Yui's arm. His sudden presence would've made her scream, once, but now she felt a surge of relief.
Ruki remained by his window, and his face was smooth. "Do you think they seek revenge?"
"I think they want Titless."
"A-Ayato-kun…" She spared a glance at Azusa, who tried to comfort her with a strained smile. Feeling the tension gathering in the air, Yui tried to clear it. "But, um, why do they want me? I..." She didn't even know who the "founders" were, really!
"Hell if I know!" Ayato crossed his arms again.
"If…" Ruki pulled their attention towards him again. "…the founders are truly going after your blood, they'll be coming here soon, when they reach the height of their power."
Oh. Her chest panged as she thought about the damage from the familiars, the injury Ruki still bore… of course he wouldn't want her around, if she were going to cause more trouble. Yui clasped her hands to her chest.
Maybe, maybe she could escape here with Azusa… go on the run...
"During a lunar eclipse, a vampire's power weakens. You purebloods should be especially affected," Ruki continued speaking to Ayato.
"We have to work together, to protect Eve from the founders."
"...Guess we don't have a choice."
Yui blinked. Wait… protect? She looked at Ruki, but his eyes were still on Ayato. The uneasy truce forming made Yui feel like she was in the middle of a trap, even with Azusa beside her.
"But just so you know… I'm not letting you guys have Titless." Ayato abruptly dragged Yui back to him by her wrist, making her cry out.
Azusa surged forward, but Yuma jerked him back by the upper arm, and Kou braced his other side, one hand on his arm and another hand on his shoulder in silent warning.
Yui's blood rushed cold.
Ayato jerked her again, forcing her to look into his bright green eyes. "You're mine. You belong to our family… Got it?" Ayato didn't wait for a reply before he bit her.
Her eyes widened in horror as unwanted fangs pierced her throat. Why… after she'd just gotten clean…
She heard a cry and from the corner of her eye, Azusa bent forward—did they hurt him?!—
"I'd say the same. You're our Eve," Ruki blocked Yui's eyes with his hand. "Feel only my fangs."
"No…" Yui didn't want the fangs in her neck or the fangs piercing her nape—she tried to thrash free, but Ruki held her tightly to him, locking her up again with his arms. Yui was trapped between two vampires, unable to even look upon the one she loved.
The pain wasn't as frightening as the darkness. Time stretched as they both drank her blood, and Yui's consciousness began to break down with waves of dizziness.
Ruki released her first, and Ayato followed... after he was sure to be "the winner" in his mind, Yui groggily understood.
Her knees collapsed under her, but she caught herself before she crumpled completely.
Above her, Ayato licked his lips. "Alright. I'll be back with the others. You guys are on guard duty for now." He looked around the room and arched an eyebrow at whatever he saw.
Yuma stood in front of Azusa, blocking him from view. He tipped his head back and gave Ayato an insolent stare.
Ruki answered, "We'll be prepared."
"Sure." Ayato left without saying goodbye.
Yui raised a shaky hand to her neck. The blood smeared on her fingers revealed the truth. She'd been bitten again, without her permission.
The legs that hit the ground before her were clad in familiar loose black trousers and tall brown boots. Yui looked up into Azusa's face.
His expression was sorrowful and his eyes were cloudy, but otherwise Azusa didn't look hurt. Of course, Azusa's reaction to pain was pretty dull, and he wouldn't show much sign of it if Yuma did punch him in the stomach to stop him from breaking up their negotiation, like she suspected.
Azusa's hand pushed back her hair and drifted from one bite mark to the other without touching her skin. His pale eyes bore into hers. "Did you... want this?"
"Of course not, but..." Yui wasn't sure else she should say. She glanced at Ruki and wondered: was this necessary?
"Ruki, why… Why did you and Ayato-san drink her blood?" Azusa placed one hand on her back and pulled her close, as if protecting and shielding her from Ruki…
Her heart skipped a beat. She was almost sitting in Azusa's lap.
Yuma folded his arms and watched silently beside Kou.
Instead of responding to Azusa, Ruki leaned against the windowsill and studied Yui. "Does this mean you've chosen Azusa, who can't be Adam? What about Ayato Sakamaki? Do you not have a bond with him?"
Yui gasped at the suddenness of his question, and pressed closer to Azusa, winding her hands into his white sweater. A bond with Ayato would've meant Yui felt rescued when he pulled her out of that dark room, but instead Yui felt more trapped and alone than ever.
"Does Ayato Sakamaki have a chance? Could he win your love?"
Embarrassed, she whispered, "No..."
Maybe once, in the time before she'd met the vampire holding her close—but not anymore. That chance had slipped away.
"Understand, I'm not opposed to either option. But I do need to know your choice," Ruki clarified.
Yui's heart sped up. "…Azusa-kun. I want Azusa-kun."
"Yui-san!" Azusa sounded touched, and maybe a little surprised.
"…Very well." Ruki closed his eyes. "If you are my brother's lover… I recommend you do not disclose this to Ayato."
Ayato said she belonged to him and him alone.
"For this battle, we need his strength, and the strength of his brothers. I said that pure-bloods will be weakened by the eclipse more than we will, and that is true. But his mother had founder's blood, too—it's hard to predict what will happen."
Yui pressed her face into Azusa's sweater. She may not understand who the founders were, but she understood they were powerful, ancient beings. If they were enhanced during a time when everyone else was weakened… Yui didn't want anyone to get hurt for her sake.
"I understand that this will be a challenge for you, but you will have to hide your true feelings. You must submit to Ayato's demands and accept his fangs."
"No. I don't want her to..." Azusa's hands tightened around her.
"Azusa." Ruki scolded him with only his name. "If you want to keep her safe, she can't be yours only. Not yet. You must be patient and wait until the end of this eclipse. We must move strategically, for the best outcome—and we cannot repel them and fight the founders at the same time."
She felt Azusa's body stiffen as Ruki spoke, and his voice came out small and quiet. "Ruki… why? Why are you… helping me? I thought… you'd take his side." Azusa paused to take in a ragged breath, his hands sliding over Yui to comfort her and himself. "I'm being selfish… I'm taking Yui-san for myself... without the Apple of Adam Plan…"
"We're… your family, Azusa." Ruki paused. "Our strength is your strength. If you are determined to take this path..."
Yui lifted her head, and Azusa pressed his forehead to hers. His cheeks were turning red. "Yes...!"
"I will accept that resolve. You'll need it for the coming fight. But if we're together, we'll be strong enough to take her soon. Don't forget that."
"Okay," Azusa whispered, his eyes locked onto Yui.
Kou broke the tension with a large sigh. "Ahhhh, Azusa-kun, Ruki-kun~ You two are so intense. I thought you were going to eat each other or something." He laughed.
The other two brothers stepped out of their corner and joined the conversation.
"So, the sow has joined the family, huh?" Yuma cracked his neck. "Alright. Guess I can't take your blood anymore, but don't expect me to go easy on ya because you're Azusa's girl, either! You're still gonna earn your keep!"
Azusa's girl... Yui blushed. It suddenly sounded so real.
"Ahh, I'm jealous…" Kou cocked his hips. "Are you sure you don't want to pick me instead? Last chance~"
Yui blinked at him.
He flashed a quick grin. "Just kidding! If you did that now, you'd be worse than dead." He wiggled his eyebrows as he spoke. "Troublesome or not, Azusa-kun is the baby of the family, yanno~ We're all a bit protective in our own ways… If you ever betray him, we'll rip your arms and legs off and make you wish we'd kill you."
Jealousy made Kou rather scary, but… Yui picked up on what he was hiding under his vicious words. She smiled up at Azusa. "Azusa-kun, you're very loved."
"Hahaha, M-neko-chan is so optimistic!"
She shrugged, still holding Azusa's curious gaze. "I'm happy you're loved, Azusa-kun."
Maybe Azusa didn't realize how many people loved the person he thought was worthless, because Azusa stared at her silently for a moment. His eyes filled with tears. "...yeah. I… I love everyone, too."
"Aw, jeez, I can't take this gushy shit!" Yuma spoke as if he were about gag. "Can we get a move on or what?"
"Haha, Yuma-kun, you're blushing~"
"For now, we begin repairs," Ruki finally spoke again. He'd bowed his head while Kou and Yuma chatted with them, and now lifted his eyes with intent. "But we will move to Eden after Ayato returns with his brothers, so arrange your things."
"Kay! I gotta pack," Kou said before he disappeared.
Yuma left, too.
Yui blinked again. It was hard for her to keep pace with new information being tossed around. "Eden?"
"It's our home…!" Azusa excitedly explained, helping her stand on her wobbling feet.
"It's special territory, so we'll be safe once we make it there." Ruki gripped the windowsill and looked outside. "But getting there will be the challenge."
Chapter 29: Escape to Eden
Sorry this chapter is late! RL is getting in the way... ^^;;
By nightfall, Yui finished packing away all of her belongings into a trunk. She had accumulated a lot of books and odds and ends-a crochet hook, some leftover yarn, extra safety eyes, a collar for a puppy who would never wear it, a pressed rose she didn't put between two books (but she knew who did)...
As Yui packed her clothes, the sight of her pink blouse nestled beside her new blue cardigan made her feel strange and almost... ticklish?
She wore new clothes to meet her old captors.
All of Ayato's brothers, except for Kanato, showed up. They stood apart, giving each other and the Mukamis skeptical glares.
In contrast, the Mukami brothers formed a tight circle around Yui, their shoulders blocking her view of the forest area.
As the sun set, Reiji and Ruki began to briefly discuss their plan.
Reaching Eden would require travelling through a tunnel. The entrance was set deep in the woods surrounding the two manors (and, not for the first time, Yui wondered if this place really was Japan).
They could've left for Eden during the day, but Ruki said he expected to be waylaid either way. He wanted the extra numbers.
There was a limited window where the purebloods could move with strength: sensitive to the sun but the full eclipse would depower them.
"Who carries Titless." Ayato jutted out his chin and his question was more challenge than query.
"Do you want the honor?" Ruki met his glare with unblinking black eyes.
Yui found Azusa off to the side, but his stare was diverted. He was squeezing his bandaged arm again; he hadn't done that in a while.
Yui pressed her lips together.
Laito laughed as Ayato picked her up. "Ahh, I would've volunteered, if only I'd known I'd get to touch Bitch-chan's cute butt!"
Ayato rolled his eyes, but Yui winced. Being carried by Ayato felt like less of a bridal carry and more like...being an armful of laundry. Her legs dangled awkwardly.
Vampire speed made the world rush by faster than she could see, and the wind whipped her hair around her face. They plunged into the woods, and the sunset smeared orange onto the dark trees.
She heard the howls shortly before she saw them...
They shimmered red in the darkness and their eyes glowed gold. The supernatural wolves easily kept pace with vampires, charging and snapping viciously.
Kou and Subaru broke off to fight the first wave.
The eclipse wasn't locked into place yet, maybe, and the ancient ancestors possibly wanted to slow them down. That, or they were picking off people from the group… with a spike of fear, Yui prayed they could all stay together. She looked around for Azusa among the modern art passing by.
Suddenly, Ayato jerked to a stop, and Yui felt the slam of inertia. Everyone else had stopped too, and formed a circle. The wolves prowled around but didn't attack again.
Two shadowy figures appeared below the trees ahead. Strangely, only three eyes glowed golden light, like the wolves they controlled.
One of them laughed and stepped forward, revealing an eyepatch on his face. "Well, well, is that the woman? She looks like a child. Is she even old enough to give birth yet?" Was his hair pink, or was it a trick of the last remnants of sunset? "What do you think, elder brother?"
Yui couldn't see the horizon among the trees, but it was getting darker every second.
The other founder wore a scarf around his face, but his voice came out penetratingly deep. "Filthy vampires, I offer you the chance to surrender only once."
"Fuck off," Ayato snarled.
The elder of the pair closed his eyes and raised a hand, blasting some kind of magical attack.
In front, Shu and Yuma snarled and braced themselves. Yuma started cursing.
The younger founder began to laugh again, charging their circle with his growling wolves.
Ruki turned to Ayato. "We're going to break you through, so take her and my youngest brother on ahead."
Ayato's brows furrowed. "Tch. He gonna be any use?"
Yui frowned, but held her tongue.
Azusa shifted closer to Yui, but with his black to her, she couldn't tell what he was thinking now.
"Shit!" Ayato jerked left, but no luck.
Yui felt the blast of sparkling energy and shrieked against the sudden pain jolting her skin. The electrical shock wasn't hot, but the aftermath ache was burning.
"Hahaha, like we'll let you escape!" The younger founder jumped into their circle. This close, his only eye glittered behind a pair of glasses; the other was covered with an eyepatch.
Ruki swiped at him. "Don't underestimate us."
Yuma threw a wolf at the founder, who dodged easily, and swung wide another wolf by the neck.
Azusa and Ayato snapped up the gap.
Yui heard a frustrated roar, but five vampires might be able to hold two founders and their familiars until Kou and Subaru caught up...
A few wolves followed, snapping at their heels. Their pace grew erratic as they ducked and jerked around trees now, making the wolves behind them snarl and howl.
Yui barely saw the cave before they ducked inside. Pure darkness folded around them.
She closed her eyes, because it made no difference. Dark. Wind rushing past. Ayato's grip was cold and pinching… but Azusa was still with her. She focused on this to drown her senses: Azusa hadn't left her side.
They stopped again, and Ayato said, "Shit, the gate!"
Yui looked up at ancient carved stone doors, bracketed by torches, and recognized the design. This tree was also on her bed's headboard.
"I have the key." Azusa reached out to the keyhole.
Yui's heart sped up. Ruki planned ahead...
Ayato jerked to dodge the jaws of a wolf.
Looking around Ayato, Yui saw several pairs of glowing eyes beyond the ring of torch light.
They jumped again, and Ayato kicked a dark body away. "Hurry it up, will ya!"
The door began to slide open, just a little. "It's okay…" Azusa said, and was immediately made into a liar as a wolf tore into his bandaged arm.
Yui screamed as Azusa slammed into the door and wrestled the animal. She was punished with a rough shake and a "shut up" from Ayato, but she barely noticed, her eyes locked on the animal tearing her beloved apart.
Azusa got the wolf into a chokehold, but another one grabbed his leg. He gritted his teeth as a shout of pain escaped his throat
Yui started to thrash in Ayato's grip. "Let me go, Azusa-kun, Azusa-"
"Whoa, what are you gonna do? Fight a wolf yourself?"
Hissing with pain, Azusa's only free leg hooked around the edge of the grand door and cracked it open. "Go…"
"No," Yui cried as Ayato said, "Finally!"
Ayato shoved them both through the crack.
Yui gasped as the door slammed shut behind them. She kicked frantically and shoved at Ayato, scratching him, desperation making her violent-
"What the fuck, you bit me!" Ayato dropped dropped her and rubbed his arm.
Dimly, Yui was aware she'd never fought this hard before; not because she didn't want to, but because she feared retaliation and prioritized long-term safety. Now, she didn't care about punishment. Whip her, bite her back, kill her... nothing would matter if Azusa died.
Yui scratched at the door, but there were no handles. "Azusa-kun!"
She heard his voice through the stone, and he sounded very far away: "It's okay… I'll catch up."
Yui didn't get to say no, let's stay together! Ayato dragged her back by her hair and smashed her head against the stone, knocking her out for a few seconds.
Her head felt heavy, her tongue thick. She couldn't say anything as Ayato carried her away.
Ayato brought her through the tunnel of torches and emerged in some grand hall with large pillars marking the entrance. He took her up gleaming white stone stairs, each step jostling her aching head.
Finally, he entered a fancy parlor. He dumped her on a settee, held her down, and took her blood, but Yui barely noticed.
She felt numb to the fangs digging into her body, her emotions leveled as she quietly thought about how Azusa had to catch up. If he didn't…
With her blood also drained her consciousness.
Chapter 30: Knowledge of Evil
In her dreamscape of unmoving stone and blank blue sky, Yui found Azusa.
Yui rushed forward on bare feet and said, "Are you okay? Are you hurt?"
Where are you, outside of my dreams?
Azusa stood in the place where the apple tree had dissolved into dust. He smiled at her with his softest smile, but his hand dripped blood onto the smooth white floor. Looking closer, his entire bandaged arm was bent at an unnatural angle.
"Oh, no! Azusa-kun, we need to get this treated." Yui's hands fluttered over his injuries. So many... How could she help him?
"Hehe… it's been like that since I fell…" His good hand lifted an apple. "It was for you, but…" Azusa's face grew weary and sad. "It's not any good…The apple is rotten here, see?" His fingers tapped part of the apple. It was caved in with mold and dark rot.
"That's… okay. I don't mind. It's from Azusa-kun." She forced a smile.
"Do you want it...? Are you...sure?" His pale eyes were dull, the saddest she'd ever seen. "You can't… take it back..."
The knowledge of good and evil.
Yui took a deep breath. "If it's about Azusa-kun, I want to know."
His eyes crinkled. "That's right… you're Eve…" He held out the apple.
The mauve brick and stained glass ring in the sky groaned as it began to turn once more. Her fingers touched the rotten skin of the fruit and it started to glow...
The first thing Yui noticed was the pungent smell. There was trash everywhere in this dingy alley of dark brick and dirt road.
A little boy in a ratty cloak dug through the garbage tins.
Looking closer, Yui recognized that hair; matted and greasy as it was, it still had that wild curl to it.
The boy turned, but not for her: another boy approached and said, "Hey, you useless piece of shit! Get over here!"
Azusa's eyes were still bright when he turned around and smiled at the three children who approached him.
Yui looked the trio over: their tattered clothes and bruised, dirty faces were very unlike the flawless and sophisticated vampires who hurt her… Justin, Christina, and Melissa were really just children, like he was. No wonder Azusa thought of them as his friends.
Azusa held out some bread for Justin to snatch.
Justin turned the bread over in his hand and scowled at the mold he found on it. "Ugh, this sucks… can't you do anything right?"
Azusa flinched and withdrew into himself. His little voice came out with a waver, "I, I'm sorry…"
Yui clutched her hands to her chest. This scene was far from unexpected, but hearing about it and seeing it for herself were very different experiences.
Justin passed the bread off to one of the girls and shoved him. "You should be grateful we come around and help you at all."
"Yes… yes… thank you, Justin." As a child, Azusa's voice was high and clear.
Justin sneered. "You're disgusting." He gave Azusa a hard kick, throwing him against a trash can.
Yui accidentally shouted, "Stop it!" before she remembered they couldn't hear her.
The can toppled over and dumped slop over Azusa. His hands slipped on the slime as he tried to sit up amongst the filth. He mostly succeeded in smearing it around.
One of the girls tittered to the other, "Gross!"
Azusa's eyes flickered to them and he smiled again. They laughed at him, and he liked it.
Yui's heart clenched painfully. She wanted to scream, but she wasn't really in this alley, so she trembled with suppressed emotion.
"Look what you did!" Justin slammed his back, shoving Azusa's face into the wet garbage. "Why don't you climb back into the trash bin where you belong?" He didn't let Azusa reply: he started kicking his sides and his back.
One of the girls jumped in eagerly. "Let me help, Justin!" She gave Azusa a swift kick, too.
Between gasping breaths, Azusa giggled.
Watching them break Azusa down was so painful, but Yui wouldn't look away. She wanted to know, after all.
The other girl joined in the beating; she snickered as Azusa slid and slipped from the force of their kicks against the slimy ground.
Azusa rolled onto his back, revealing a brownish residue costing his thin chest and face...and a very large smile. "Hit me more… more…"
"There you go again, you stupid freak!" The bolder girl made a face. "Justin, let's get out of here before someone makes us clean up."
Justin kicked Azusa's head once more. "Alright. Let's go." He took the bread back and began picking out the moldy spots.
Azusa coughed. "Wait… please wait…" He couldn't stand right away. "Come back… hit me more…"
Yui tried her best not to cry as she watched him beg for more; more attention, more violence.
Azusa crawled up and started running, and Yui followed after him. He changed; less dirty again, his arms full of rotten fruit and bread. So did the world around them, as grass changed to muddy snow on the ground of this poor, dirty town. The gray skies above threatened to flurry.
He led her towards a large area that was probably the village square. Gathered inside was a crowd of people, murmuring anxiously. Azusa began climbing his way through.
Yui didn't need to push; she simply walked through people like the illusions they were.
The faces around her were tired and worn, and the snippets she caught warned her of what she'd find in the middle of this crowd:
"Isn't this too cruel…?"
"Well, they were caught thieving, but…"
Reaching the front, Yui found Azusa again. He'd dropped his food and stared straight ahead with a blank expression.
Justin, Christina, and Melissa were hanged for stealing food from the wrong person.
A man leaned over to talk to Azusa. "Those kids used to bully you, right? Don't worry; no one's going to hurt you anymore."
Azusa's eyes widened. Yui could see every horrifying thought in his head. He didn't want to be saved: he needed his "friends" to survive. Azusa was an abandoned child who needed something to cling to, even if it hurt.
He screamed and screamed. He clutched his head, tearing at his hair as his horrible wail poured from him. In the real world, the sound probably went on and on.
Yui could guess what happened next: with a knife, Azusa brought them back to life on his body. Their deaths pushed him over the edge of madness and sparked Azusa's obsession with pain into a firestorm of self-mutilation.
Even as he aged, Azusa's clock stopped here—he used his body to rewind time so he could live forever in the moments where his friends beat him and gave him purpose.
This was her dream, though, and Yui couldn't bear to see this tiny, precious person in pain anymore. Yui threw her arms around Azusa's child self.
The sudden touch startled him out of his screaming. "Miss…? What, what are you doing?"
This close, his child voice carried the same tremor of fear and wonder she'd heard from his older self, when he was confused about why he liked it when she didn't hurt him.
"I love you."
The little body in her arms jolted and his mouth dropped open in shock.
She continued, "I want to protect you."
"Protect…?" Even as a child, the way he buried his face against her chest and clung to her was familiar. He mumbled, "No one... has ever protected me..."
She stroked his dirty hair and promised, "Someday, you will have brothers to help you… and together, you'll find me."
He peeked up at her. "...That sounds nice. Um, miss… are you an angel?"
She smiled and shook her head. "Azusa-kun, you protected me...and I want to protect you, too. I'm not very strong, so I don't know how I'll do it, yet, but... I'll find a way."
"I promise." Yui held him tighter and begged, "So, please… come back to me..."
The child Azusa nodded. "I will…" His voice changed into the low, soothing voice she loved: "It's time to wake up..."
When Yui opened her eyes, her head was in someone's lap. Fingers brushed her hair. This room of red and white was not her bedroom, but the person she was looking at was exactly who she wanted to see.
Azusa smiled down at her, and his bangs swayed in front of his face. "...Good morning, Yui-san."
"Oh, Azusa-kun…" Yui knew he was really here because her head still ached. The pounding came from a bump on her temple that Azusa's fingers occasionally grazed, but even that pain felt a bit nice in comparison. It was grounding, like a promise: this was not a dream.
Azusa had returned to her in bad shape again. One arm was bandaged all the way up to his shoulder in a sleeve of white gauze that met the ragged edge of his shirt. His face bore more scratches than usual, and belatedly Yui remembered the wolf who got his thigh. Her head wasn't resting on that injury, was it?
She tried to sit up, but Azusa stopped her with a hand on her collar. "What... were you dreaming about...? You cried… in your sleep."
"I'm fine. I had a bad dream." Yui lied and scrubbed her tired eyes.
"...Was I in your dream?" His voice sounded quiet and far away. "… Did I… do something bad?"
Her heart clenched. Desperately, Yui said, "You didn't do anything wrong!"
You were innocent. You were a child. You didn't do anything wrong, I promise...
"I-I was worried about you. Please tell me, how are your injuries? What about the wolves and the founders? Are you okay? Azusa-kun!" He wouldn't let her up, so she frantically pulled on his elbow.
"Don't get up." He whispered. "Let me...take care of you." His hand slid through her hair again.
Yui frowned. Shouldn't she be the one to take care of him? But Azusa liked it when she relied upon him, so perhaps… this could be okay. Yui wanted to trust that Azusa wouldn't hide something horrible from her.
Azusa's fingers brushed over cheeks and played with her bangs. It did feel good. The dark memories Yui uncovered still pulled at her thoughts, but Azusa's touch was grounding. Even if Yui couldn't help the fragile child he used to be, she could still find ways to help him now, maybe… If she could lure him away from the past, somehow, there might be a way to restart his stopped clock.
"Mm. So. The founders…" Azusa tilted his head back. "We retreated... I think they knew you were lost when I showed up… and they let us go."
"Oh… a few of us got hurt, but... we're all recovering...slowly." Azusa looked away.
Yui craned her neck to follow his eyes and looked out of the window: the moon was still red.
"In the Underworld... time is different… the eclipse is still happening. Injuries will take longer to heal…" Azusa's fingers avoided the bump on her head, now.
Yui felt concerned about the damage, but at least everyone was safe. Still, he hadn't answered the most important question: "What about you? How is your leg, Azusa-kun?"
Azusa patted the thigh behind Yui's head and said, "It hurts, but it's not that deep. Ruki... stitched it. And you…?"
"I'm fine, really!" Yui lied again.
"Can't you tell me…?" Azusa's eyes were sad.
She forgot for a moment that Azusa could smell her blood, couldn't he? Yui worried her lip and admitted, "Ayato hit my head and...bit me, again…" The leftover ache in her muscles might be from the founder's attack she caught, as well.
Azusa didn't say anything, but he leaned over and his curls batted gently against her cheeks. He parted her hair and turned her head to rest her cheek on his thigh while he licked the dried blood on her neck.
The cool tongue was sweet… Yui sighed. Azusa licked her like an affectionate puppy, but Yui didn't mind at all. For now, everyone was safe, and she wanted to enjoy this scrap of peace.
Chapter 31: Pure White
Reiji sent her suitcase to Eden with the familiars, and Yui was losing her mind.
When the Mukami brothers abducted her, she lost the suitcase she brought from her father's house, and her things: her books, notepads, jewelry, mementos…. and, of course, her old clothes.
She could show him…
Azusa-kun wanted to see it...
The day Azusa brought her to that shop of oddities downtown and bought her books, the clerk made a comment about her needing a white nightgown to look like a heroine. Yui mentioned she did own one, and Azusa had pouted slightly when she said it was at the Sakamaki mansion.
Yui held it in her hands now. It was a very ruffled nightgown that always made her feel kind of pretty when she wore it. The fabric floated softly around her hips and legs when she moved and it was silky and light on her skin... Her father hadn't entirely approved of it, because the neckline was a bit low and the hemline a bit short, but Yui loved it.
And Azusa-kun… might like it, too…
There wasn't much for Yui to do in this castle. They were playing a waiting game with the founders. More importantly, Yui could do very little for Azusa.
Azusa said he was fine, but he avoided her eyes and acted unusually reluctant when she offered to help him change the bandages for his wounds.
But… maybe he would want to see her in white ruffles…?
Yui pressed the cloth to her face. She wanted Azusa to say her favorite nightgown was cute, and smile again. Or, better, that Yui looked cute wearing it.
What would that even be like?
"Yui-san," her imaginary Azusa used his loveliest, dreamiest voice and said, "You look so cute. You always… always look cute, but today you are very cute. Marry me… in a pretty white dress like this… okay?"
No, no, too ridiculous. Yui slapped her cheeks with one hand. She needed to think about something other than Azusa-kun…
...Kneeling on the ground and touching her hemline. "White ruffles…mm, I like them. You look lovely… my precious Eve…" He took her hand and kissed it. "May I escort you… to your bed?"
Jeez, what was she thinking? After all, the last time she'd slept in it, she had a bad experience with Laito...
Azusa pinned her to the bed and gazed at her with sorrowful eyes. "Laito-san bit you? Touched you? I… I'm sorry I wasn't there... I didn't protect you. Forgive me?" He smiled and kissed her softly. Toying with the neckline, Azusa whispered, "I'll make it better… Show me. I'll use my fangs… remake every scar that's not mine yet…" His other hand slid the dress up up up—
Yui threw the nightgown onto the floor.
Perhaps… it was possessed… Possessed by the spirit of Laito-kun. Or a sex demon. Or both.
Indulging her imagination with these scenarios comforted her, but what would they do for Azusa? She glared at the nightgown like it deliberately tempted her.
"...Yui-san, what are you doing… to your pretty dress?" Azusa picked up her nightgown with his bandaged hand; his other hand held a white tin.
Yui blinked at the first aid kit, and at Azusa, who pinched the nightgown's silky fabric between his thumb and fingers and felt the texture. Her face grew hot.
Oh, no, this wasn't imaginary—this was the real Azusa, back with the supplies she'd requested despite his new shyness about his wounds.
Earlier, Azusa had dropped her off and locked her inside their shared bedroom in the Mukami's wing of Eden's castle. The room was Ruki's gift to them in exchange for not fighting with Ayato-san, Azusa said, and Yui didn't have the heart to protest.
Azusa set down the tin on their bed and held the dress up with both hands. "Is this...the night dress you mentioned before…?'
Yui wrung her hands. "Y-you remember that?"
"I remember everything about you, Eve," Azusa said, pale eyes glittering. "Will you...try it on?"
Even though it was endless night, Yui protested: "I-It's not time for bed yet."
Azusa frowned, but he began folding it for her.
"Actually… Actually, let me change into it," Yui changed her mind, still flustered by his sudden appearance.
Azusa nodded and his eyes fell upon the first aid kit. "Mm… let's take a nap together…"
Yui wasn't the least bit tired, but she hastily agreed and rushed behind the antique screen she assumed was meant for changing. Behind it was a mirror, basin, and towel set out on a small table for freshening up that confirmed her thoughts. It reminded her of her time in Ruki's prison, too, but at least it was the only part of the room that did.
Their bedroom was the most opulent room she'd seen yet—full of gold and thick red fabrics everywhere. It looked like a vampire king's castle ought to look, really. Yui fretted that her favorite nightgown might look plain among the splendor, but… she marched out anyway.
Azusa changed, too, into blue pajamas with white polka dots and fluffy yellow trim. He also wore a matching nightcap, and held a teddy bear with... bandages?!
Yui felt immediately relieved. He looked fearlessly cozy, in a royal vampire castle no less.
"Oh… cute..." Azusa's eyes widened. He touched her arms, her waist, coaxing her to spin in a circle so her gown would float.
Yui smiled and spread her arms, letting the ruffled sleeves flutter, too.
"You, you look lovely. Like… a princess, or..." Azusa looked down at himself. "I look… Hm. Not sexy." He tossed the bear and cap onto a nearby golden settee.
"Azusa-kun?!" Yui had no words as he stripped off his shirt, revealing his scarred chest and bandaged arm.
Azusa grabbed the first aid kit from the bedside table, for some reason. "Sorry, I… thought we were going to cuddle…"
"Are we not…?" Yui's hands twisted the white fabric of her dress. "Um, what are you doing?"
Azusa pulled out a roll of bandages from the kit and took her hand. "You look so pretty in white... it gave me a better idea..."
Cute. Lovely. So pretty. Well, Azusa didn't smile, but that intense look he was giving her made her toes curl and her cheeks burn...
Azusa helped her climb upon the high bed with both hands. He climbed after her, rustling the canopy of red drapes as he went. His knees bracketed her thighs as he straddled her.
He didn't move in a way that suggested his injuries, but Azusa's pain tolerance was remarkably high.
Yui's back pressed against puffy cream-colored pillows. For a moment, Yui remembered Laito in her old room… but this was Azusa on red sheets, wearing polka dotted pajama pants and watching her with thoughtful eyes. Yui didn't want to escape from him.
He touched the ends of her hair. "Let me pretend that you belong to me and me alone…"
Yui flinched at that word: pretend. She didn't want to belong to Ayato, or anyone else, but… her hands fiddled with her ruffled neckline as she whispered, "My heart is yours."
Finally, Azusa's mouth shifted into something like a smile. "My precious Eve… My Yui-san…" His hands pulled the rolls of gauze into loose loops, sliding them through his fingers. "I want to… tie you up."
Shifting her legs—her hemline inching up dangerously—Yui's mouth parted in surprise.
He tilted his head, eyes tracing over her like he was drawing her in his mind. "You look beautiful in white… so I thought, you would look even better... with pretty bandages tied around your wrists, like a captive princess."
Her eyes widened. This wasn't a reaction she imagined, but Yui didn't mind. She wet her lips. "Alright… but..."
Azusa leaned in, balancing on his good arm to put his face close to hers to hear her faltering to speak.
Yui's hand grabbed the corner of her pillow. She had to ask, had to, embarrassing or not: "Will you… k-kiss me?" Yui turned her red cheek and stared at the red bedspread. They hadn't kissed since Ayato re-asserted his claim on her back in the manor.
"Ah." She heard Azusa laugh, low and fond. "I love you, Yui-san."
Yui's hair whirled around her face as her head snapped back into place. Her wide eyes met his happy ones.
His smile had a hint of fang before it pressed against her.
Suddenly, Azusa was on her at once, his wounded hand dragging her hips forward, prying her mouth open with his firm lips and sucking in her breath, her tongue. No slow kisses to coax and seduce her now; this kiss swept her up in a rush.
The intensity was different, but the effect was the same: sweeping her off and making her awareness of the world narrow down to the feelings on her lips, her body under his.
Azusa pushed her against the bed, and—oh, no, Yui liked it? She wanted to be crushed under him, because the pressure felt good—even better when he pulled her wrists above her head and forced her back to arch against him, and her chest to his—
He bit her tongue gently and sucked it better as she squirmed in pain and pleasure.
"I want you." He breathed, and looped the gauze around her wrist. "I want to take you… with my fangs." The white bandage tightened with a snap.
Yui gasped and shivered as a strange energy coursed through her body, making her limbs feel so very...warm and tense, stretched taut by her captured wrists. Embarrassing heat rolled through her, pooling in her waist, her breasts. This...this wasn't the kiss she expected, she wanted to gasp. This was more than she thought he'd do to her! But heaven help her, she didn't want him to stop; some part of her yearned for… tighter, hold me tighter…
Azusa pulled the bandage tighter and bound both her wrists together, tying both to the golden curves of the headboard. More than the restraints, his pale eyes held her trapped. "Do you want me to let you go...?"
Her face burned to do so, but she shook her head. Yui didn't trust her voice.
Azusa leaned back on his haunches and surveyed her with a satisfied grin and sharp fangs. One of his hands crept below the nightgown—again, for a second, Yui thought of Laito and focused on Azusa, Azusa's scarred palm on her thigh.
"So pretty." Azusa admired and touched the ruffles, the silky fabric, like she knew he would. "Better...than I imagined… You look like an angel, Yui-san."
Oh. Their feelings were the same, weren't they? Her face grew hotter, but a smile curled her lips.
Azusa lowered his body over hers, flexing his bare shoulders, and Yui heard him inhale before his fangs penetrated her neck.
Yui jerked at the sharp piercing and twisted her wrists, and felt a strange thrill shiver through her when she was unable to escape, tied and pinned like a butterfly on a card.
The holes where Azusa pierced her sweetly stung and grew hot as his tongue rolled cool over it. His mouth picked up warmth from her skin, lapping and sucking the bite. Her blood gushed freely below him as if giving away her excitement.
Azusa pulled her neckline wider with his thumb as he worked on her wounded skin. "So good…" Azusa moaned, enjoying her blood with the unholy fervor of a vampire. He pressed his lips to her bloody skin as he spoke, unable to part from her. "How…your blood is more delicious than before…?"
The tightness on her wrists and taut arms made the contrasting delicate brush of his lips feel even softer on the stinging bite, and Yui's lips quivered as she suppressed her desire to cry out.
Azusa caressed her mercilessly with his mouth, sucking lover's marks above his bite. Then he moved his head, pulled her neckline down dangerously low, and plunged his fangs into her again, just above one aching breast.
This time she did let out a cry; she couldn't help it. Yui felt like her body was about to burst.
He licked her chest and smiled sweetly. "Yui-san… your voice is so cute. Why don't you… cry out more and more, so I'll know... you're not thinking of anyone but me, alright?"
After Azusa let Yui out of his gentle trap, they lay side by side in bed. Azusa massaged her wrists and treated her to kisses for being so good to him, and Yui felt more flustered by the praise than the actual blood-sucking.
"Even though, I'm... like this… you're very kind to me," Azusa noted. Still shirtless, Azusa played with the bandages he used on Yui. "I'm surprised… you let me tie you up."
Yui blushed. "I don't want to be locked up forever, but…" She closed her mouth.
"Temporary… is okay? Hm." Azusa sighed. "I don't really get it. More of something nice... is always better. I think."
Yui pictured shichimi piled up like a bowl of rice and smiled fondly. Azusa-kun could be greedy, but he accepted her wishes…
He slid the long bandage around her wrist and tied it with a bow. He tied the other end to his own wrist, linking them together. "To be honest… I... want more. I want more proof we're connected… completely..."
Yui touched his scarred wrist.
"I won't fight yet…but," Azusa's hand threaded with hers. "I don't like it. But… I'll accept it. For you." His pale eyes met hers.
He leaned in to kiss her again.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
"Ya-hoo~ You better not be doing something naughty in there! I'll get jealous, you know?" Kou cheerfully threatened them through the shut door.
"Huh…" Azusa blinked slowly. "I'm gonna lock it…"
"A-Azusa-kun. You can't..." Yui tried to get up, but Azusa tugged on her sleeve and made her hesitate with his pleading eyes.
"I'm coming in~" Kou stepped inside and sniffed. "Ah. I'm too late. Azusa-kun, you need to show more restraint." He locked the door behind him.
Azusa looked down at the bandage, dangling between their wrists.
Kou looked them both up and down, but he held back a comment about their attire (or lack thereof). Instead, he put his hands on his hips and leaned over. "Listen, we gotta talk. Do you know why Ruki-kun took M-neko-chan's blood with Ayato-kun? He wants to…" Kou paused, phrasing his words carefully, "To fight that guy with you, so Ruki-kun was throwing him off your scent. Don't undo his work anymore. You can't bite her again, okay?"
Yui winced. The dream of being only Azusa's color would have to wait...
Tilting his head and making his earring jingle, Kou said, "Let me have her blood, too."
"Azusa-kun. There's too much of you around her! We're letting you sleep together so you can still be close, but you can't monopolize her blood."
She understood what Kou didn't say: they wanted to protect Azusa. Even if Azusa hadn't been who he was, his fight with the wolves showed how much he prioritized Yui's safety over his own well-being. As if that wasn't enough, there was still the image of a tiny child being kicked into garbage lurking in her memories.
Kou rubbed his neck. "M-neko-chan, work your magic, will you?"
Azusa wouldn't prioritize his own safety, so Yui had to do it for him.
She looked into Azusa's eyes.
Azusa's mouth wobbled. "Yui-san, do you...want this?"
Yui couldn't say yes or no, but: "It's not forever," she promised, "Only once..." She hoped she wasn't lying to him, and that her blood wouldn't be taken too many more times by other fangs. Of course, as scary as that would be… Yui would do anything in her power to protect Azusa.
I don't have strength. All I have is this blood.
She faced him with resolve and added, "Please. I want to."
Azusa nodded quickly and his arms circled her. He kissed her neck, right where Ayato bit her, and whispered, "I don't want to… but..." Without letting go of her, Azusa grasped her wrist—still tied to his—and held that wrist out to Kou.
Kou raised an eyebrow at the bandage, but shrugged. "You two are so weird, but whatever."
Yui wanted to say: I don't want you to see this, but Azusa's grip was tight and he had that wild look in his eyes. Azusa continued to hold Yui to his chest as Kou's fangs pierced her forearm. Yui flinched as Azusa soothed her, and kissed her neck again as Kou began to drink her blood. His embrace felt like a parody of what ought to be.
Blood dripped on the gauze connecting them.
Azusa's lips met hers when she sighed, and he tried to steal her mind away from Kou. Yui focused on the gentle pressure of lips, the soft wetness that melted her, even with the pain in her arm. She could endure this for Azusa.
Note: Sorry for the delay. I'm honestly not feeling well right now so I'll be uploading the rest of the fic within the next week or so.
The next "morning" (the eclipse felt endless), Yui knew she had to set the pace for the day. Azusa might be willing to stay in bedroom for the entire duration of their stay in Eden, but Yui's heart could only take so much excitement...
When Kou left last night, he licked his lips and said, "You're more possessive than I thought, Azusa-kun."
Azusa said nothing then, and he was still quiet when Yui got up. He didn't let her leave the bed immediately— Azusa caught her wrist when she sat up and lightly bit the back of her hand. He didn't pierce her skin, but the pinch surprised her. He did it again on the back of her wrist, before he turned her arm over and gazed at the bandage hiding Kou's bite.
Perhaps it was silly, but Yui didn't want Azusa to see the wound. She wondered if this was the same impulse that led Azusa to hide the wounds from the wolves from her.
Azusa nipped the inside of her arm again and again, making a wet path for the bandage...and leaping over it, gently biting the inside of her elbow.
Yui squirmed, but she allowed him to bite her, only asking, "What are you doing?" Each bite stung slightly, like a scrape traveling up her arm.
Azusa pushed back her fluttering sleeve and bit his way up the inside of her upper arm a few times, too. The only sound he made were little huffs right before each bite.
"A-ah, are you imitating Belle?" Yui guessed.
Azusa seemed almost puppyish with each nip, the crown of his head bobbing over her.
Yui began to tremble as Azusa pulled her neckline over her shoulder and bit her there, too. He hadn't broken the skin with all these little nips, so maybe Azusa was defying Kou's order—he couldn't take her blood, but Azusa could still bite her as much as he wanted.
If so, Yui wished he'd explain himself. "Won't you please say something…?"
Azusa shook his head and nipped her again at the juncture of her throat. This time, Azusa sucked and nibbled in the same spot.
The sting felt strangely delightful, and Yui's shoulders bunched up. Azusa's bandaged arm wrapped around her and stroked between her shoulder blades, making her release the tension with a sigh.
Yui ached and moaned, but Azusa didn't stop until he left an entire necklace of red marks around her neck, like rubies peeking out of the white ruffles of her nightgown.
Still silent, Azusa got up, watched her pick out her clothes—white button-up to cover the marks, blue cardigan, brown skirt—and even followed her behind the changing screen.
Yui squeaked, but... well, she couldn't resist as Azusa dressed her himself. Azusa even helped her put on her black tights, kneeling in front of her and stretching the fabric up each leg with thoughtful eyes.
...Yes, Yui's heard would surely give out if she didn't get them out of this room.
The world outside was also exciting in a different way. The minute Yui stepped outside their sanctuary, she had a vision of being jumped. They couldn't hold hands as they walked through the glimmering hallways to Eden's library, because Ayato might come looking for her.
Azusa trailed slightly behind her. He didn't walk with a limp, but Yui was still curious about the hidden stitches on his thigh… and his silent moodiness, which continued to hang in the air like a cloud of miasma. Whenever Yui looked over her shoulder, Azusa's eyes were cast down.
Stopping behind her, Azusa pointed his hand to a large door breaking up the endless golden framed photos and white walls. Again, Yui recognized the carved design of a tree, but when the doors opened, her mind was swept up by wonder.
The library of Eden was an enormous hall with a wall of giant windows. Goodness, Yui thought there were a lot of books in their school, but this was… breathtaking... Unnerving, even. A human could read a book a day for their entire life and die here before they finished.
There were six balconies, accessible by spiral staircases. The biggest wall of shelves were accessible only by ladder, and Yui had to crane her neck to see the top. Part of her wanted to run around and look at everything for hours, but what if she got lost…?
She turned to Azusa, who was preoccupied with his bandaged arm again, and bit her lip. Yui wanted this nonverbal streak to end, but she didn't want to press him too much…
Close to the center of the room, there were an awful lot of books on love, both fiction and non-fiction. Yui grinned at the paperback romance novels from various eras mixed among the elegantly bound books on anatomy, science, and literature she expected to find in a vampire king's library. She pulled a random one off the shelf with a flowery cover.
Azusa brought her into a small reading room full of heavy couches with red brocade, and yet more books on the shelves. They were all history books, like Ruki's library.
Yui ran her hands over the shelves and decided to set aside the... incident with Kou; instead, she asked, "Has Ruki-kun talked to you about the Apple of Adam plan...?" She'd urged Ruki to tell the truth to his brothers, but she'd been fairly wrapped up in Azusa since then.
Azusa blinked and nodded. His voice creaked, as if exhausted and out of practice: "While you were sleeping… Ruki said… Eve's choice… cannot be forced. He wants to wait."
Yui paused. "So, he's not giving up on the plan?" Ruki was so sure about their impure blood being an impossible obstacle before… what changed?
"I don't know…"
"What about you? I thought…" I would be yours, plan or no plan. She couldn't quite bear to voice the sentence.
"Yui-san, I... don't care about the plan anymore..."
"Ah." Yui clutched her book to her chest. "Azusa-kun… Are you, um, angry?" Yui regretted her choice of words immediately. Of course he was… he'd gone along with her and Kou, but… he'd changed, hadn't he? Azusa once called her lucky for having blood that tempted vampires, but now he felt jealous and couldn't share…
I want to be...the only one. The only one who can have you... If the others bit you, now, I don't know what I'd do, Azusa had said.
Yui looked away. She wanted that too, but she couldn't say so yet—it would do Azusa no good to encourage his possessiveness.
Azusa's eyes were penetrating. He stepped forward until he was crowding her against the shelves. "...I keep thinking…" He swept up a lock of her hair and surprised her by pressing her hair to his lips in a kiss. Yui grew even more flustered as he continued: "When this is over...I'm going to lock you up. I'm going to keep you to myself until...everyone else's marks are gone…"
Yui pressed a hand to her cheek. "Oh."
"For a long, long time...but not forever." Azusa nodded to himself. "Temporarily."
Yui's eyes darted around the room. "Um. Like a vacation?"
His face brushed her hair. "Vacation… hmm… a deserted island might be fun…"
Azusa's arms looped around her, pulling her away from the books. "Maybe… I am angry...but, I'm only mad at myself for being weak."
Yui's brows furrowed. "I think you're strong, Azusa-kun."
He survived so much...and he lived with that painful past for decades...
Azusa's reply was a noncommittal "hmm." Still, Azusa half-smiled and tipped her head up with his slender fingers. He intently ran a finger over her lips, and when she opened them in surprise, he leaned in, almost brushing his mouth against hers, and whispered: "This time, no tricks… kiss me?"
"Azusa-kun…" He gazed at her with such painful longing that her stomach flipped. Twisting her hands around the book, she mumbled, "This isn't a good place..."
"I know, but… I want to..." Azusa's voice grew softer and quieter. "I want all of you, more... and more and more… If I can't take your blood, then I want… some other proof, that I'm the one you chose, right?"
Yui smiled weakly. Azusa said he believed in her feelings, but it seemed unquestioned faith was too much to ask from him; he couldn't immediately overcome a lifetime of fear and doubt, even for her sake. She felt a bit sad, but… Well, Yui was prepared to prove herself, wasn't she?
Blushing, Yui mumbled, "… okay."
Azusa closed his eyes and waited.
She didn't give herself much time to think and pressed her lips to his.
His mouth opened under hers, drawing her in as his hand gripped the back of her neck. Overwhelmed, Yui could only cling to him, warmth curling in her belly as the question of who kissed who became useless…
A sudden wave of fear and premonition swept over her, followed by a low voice: "Hey, you."
Azusa, oblivious to the dangerous aura around them, broke the kiss to sigh happily. His expression was blissful as he leaned in again to just barely brush her tingling lips with his.
In spite of how tempted she felt, Yui pushed against his shoulders. "Wait..."
He lifted his head. "What's wrong?" Dreamily, he noted, "You were so soft and warm before…why are you scared?" He kissed her cheek, kissed behind her ear, tickling her and making her want to laugh, but-
A familiar giggling voice cut her off: "Oh, don't mind us! We're enjoying the show."
Azusa stiffened, then tucked Yui into his side, her cheek pressed against his chest.
Laito stepped around a bookshelf, blocking the red moonlight from streaming in through the window.
Behind him, in the shadow of the library wall… Ayato's lips twisted in a snarl as he spat, "Disgusting."
"Hey… What do you want…?" Azusa coldly held his gaze and shifted his stance so he further blocked Yui from their view, and vice versa.
Heart pounding, Yui watched the side of Azusa's face for reaction.
"Tch. I don't wanna talk to you." With a sudden burst of vampiric speed and strength, Ayato shoved Azusa into a wall of books, making them scatter onto the floor as he hit the shelves, and grabbed Yui's arm. "Titless. Come here."
With a shriek, Yui twisted to see Azusa. "Azusa-kun, are you okay?"
"I'm…" Azusa didn't finish his sentence, because Laito abruptly appeared between them and he froze. They seemed to be having a silent exchange with Azusa's expression darkening rapidly. His posture looked like he was about to dive forward.
Ayato's grip tightened and jerked her so she looked up at him instead. There was a threatening intensity growing in Ayato's eyes. "You're mine. Did you forget?"
"My name is Yui Komori, if you forgot." Yui snapped, and immediately regretted it. That was rather foolish; Ayato was to be pacified, not antagonized!
There was something very chilling about the way Ayato, with no expression at all, said, "Yui."
She should calm Ayato down, she should avoid a fuss, she should be careful, she should— beg. "I'm sorry… Please, let me go." Yui took a deep breath. "Ayato-kun, you... saved me, and I'm grateful to you, but I don't need to be saved again, okay?"
"Oh, well, in that case—Yours Truly does not care what you think! You're just fucking food!" Ayato tore her collar open and his eyes contracted with rage.
Azusa's "necklace" had only one explanation.
Yui panicked and pushed against him, but it was no use. As always, she was just too weak…
Ayato punished her with his fangs.
The sharp, cold intrusion in her throat made her skin crawl, and Yui whimpered. This wasn't the usual drinking and revelling in her pain. Ayato was drinking deep, thick gulps of blood that drained her strength more than any other vampire had done.
Maybe she'd die.
Gasping for breath, Yui whispered, "I...don't want to…"
"Stop!" Azusa grabbed Ayato. "You can't, she's my—" Ayato whirled and slammed his fist into Azusa's cheek, snapping his face left with supernatural force.
Yui almost collapsed as Ayato let go of her, but managed to hold herself up on a shelf with some effort. Feeling far from her own body was a thought: I didn't faint. I'm glad… Her head was a heavy weight on her shoulders. Dizzy, she tried to block the sounds out with her hands.
Azusa's shirt was bleeding, why? Azusa tried to block Ayato's punches, but Ayato was faster and stronger, raining hits down on Azusa's front and back, targeting the growing patch of blood on his sweater until Azusa cried out and fell to his knees.
Her head was a riot of pain, but…Yui stumbled forward and latched onto Ayato's arm. "Wait!"
Ayato looked down on her in...surprise?
"Don't hurt him, please." Her throat closed on her and her words came out choked as she tried not to cry. "Please don't hurt Azusa-kun. He's..."
He's suffered enough.
He's important to me.
"Shut up, Titless." Ayato knocked her away.
Latio grabbed Yui's wrists and pulled her back as she cried, "No! Let go of me!"
Azusa had fallen onto his back now and was futilely blocking with his arms. His face grew puffy and his nose gushed blood. He started to cough under the strikes.
Horrified, she screamed, "Stop it, stop it, you'll kill him!"
Laito twisted Yui's arms behind her, forcing her to her knees in a motion that made her almost vomit. "I could tear them off, you know, so be a good girl." Laito giggled.
Laito meant it, but Azusa—"Let me go, please, Azusa-kun— Azusa-kun!" She sobbed and begged, twisting uselessly against the pain in her arms. "I'll go with you, I'll do whatever you want, please don't—"
Laito clicked his tongue. "Bitch-chan, you're prey. Prey doesn't get to bargain, you just get eaten, you know?" He giggled.
Terror curled around her heart. "No…"
Azusa was going to die, beaten to death among a sea of novels.
Dear God, please… She prayed, squeezing her eyes shut with tears, feeling useless, feeling hopeless...
Until she heard a roar: "You BASTARD!"
Like an avenging angel, Yuma ripped Ayato off of Azusa and punched him in the face. Ayato and Yuma began to grapple, but Yui's attention was fixed on Azusa, who rolled onto his side and spat blood on the tile floor.
"Azusa-kun, are you alright?" She watched him pant and groan, unable to rise.
"Noisy," came a tired voice.
Shu stood where Laito and Ayato once had, near the window—now opened to night—and the garden, if the rose bushes behind him were indication. Shu looked bored and annoyed, as always. "Ayato, you're not allowed to fight in Eden." Shu's lazy blue gaze drifted to Yuma. "Same goes for you."
Yuma cocked his head insolently and glared. "Yeah? What're you gonna do about it, slacker?"
Laito licked Yui's bleeding neck and his voice was almost amused, "They've taken our Bitch-chan and we're just getting her back~"
Shu calmly replied, "We're leaving her with them for now."
The tension dissolved under Shu's strange authority. Yuma left the library with Azusa slung over one shoulder and Yui over the other. She swayed a little as Yuma walked and blinked at Azusa. His hair swung in front of his face.
Azusa looked sad and broken.