“Heath is no longer involved in our lives; he’s shown his true colors to me and I’ve sent him away.” Yusuke told Aoi as they stood together in Sakurai’s office, Aoi had just arrived.
Aoi’s brow furrowed, “Is that permanent? Are there no options now for Heath?”
“Heath wanted to possess me completely, take me away from my blood spouse. You saw how he reacted when you first came to tell us that Inoran was with Morrie, after that we had words, and I told him to leave us. What happens when Inoran is cured, is up to him. But right now, we do not need the distraction of Heath in our lives.”
Aoi didn’t like what he was hearing. The fact that Heath was forced out of his clan by Yusuke, without the knowledge of Inoran, was disturbing.
“I hope that doesn’t upset Inoran, though the herbs seem to be helping his condition, he’s much less agitated and has some clear thoughts. He’s expressed how upset he is over his threats to both you and Heath, he wants to see you both, so he can apologize and make things right.”
“Have you truly noticed a difference?”
Aoi nodded, “He is no longer prone to bouts of anger, or severe depression. He interacts mostly with Tatsu and Shinya, though he has been joining us for dinner. He does not hunt, it’s as if he’s afraid of leaving the house.”
“I don’t believe he’s hunted in some time, though I can’t be sure. In the past, he’s been gone for weeks, only to come home and shut himself away. The last argument we had was the worst, that’s when the violence started.” Yusuke wanted to believe that his lover was being helped by the herbs, but he had his doubts.
Aoi reached out and put his hand on Yusuke’s shoulder, “All I can tell you is what I know. Inoran doesn’t interact with the rest of the clan much, including the newest members, but I believe Tatsu and Shinya when they say the herbs are helping.”
“We will be leaving as soon as I see both Sakura-san and Kai.” Aoi bowed and left the room, going to the kitchen to speak with Kai, leaving Yusuke to ready himself for the trip to Edo.
Kai filled the last bag with herbs, handing it to Aoi. “Here is a list of the herbs that are used, and what the amount is for the blend. I’m sure if Inoran and Yusuke go back to Fuji, all of these herbs are common and easy to find.”
“Thank you, Kai-san, I’ll make sure to explain it all to Yusuke,” Aoi shifted uncomfortably, “Do you believe that Heath will not return to Inoran? That Yusuke will keep him away?” Kai smiled faintly, “Let’s go speak with Acchan.”
“I worry that once Inoran finds out Heath is not with Yusuke, that he may react violently, and Yusuke gave me the impression that he just doesn’t care about Heath.” Aoi said anxiously.
“He gave me that impression as well, though I tend to believe it is a temporary anger. I can not predict what will happen when Inoran finds out that Yusuke has sent Heath away.” Sakurai hated being in the middle of the problems between Inoran and his family, but as the most senior clan leader among the immortals, he felt obligated to help.
“The note that Heath left gave no indication on where he would go, but I will assume it will be as far away as he can get. It may take some time before we see him again.”
With the instructions and herbs in a bag, Aoi and Yusuke walked out of Sakurai’s estate, headed back to the city. Before they left, Sakurai made one last attempt to speak to Yusuke about Heath.
“Please remember, it is not you who is the head of the clan, it is Inoran. It may be his wishes to have Heath rejoin your family, and if that is what he chooses, then you must allow it.”
Yusuke bowed low, “Thank you for your hospitality, Sakurai-san. I will take what you have said and think about it. But remember this, my first loyalty is to Inoran, not Heath.”
Kai and Sakurai stood on the engawa and watched the two men leave, “I’m afraid that this will be an internal battle for them, Acchan.”
Tatsu was sitting in the garden with Inoran, it had become a nightly ritual for the two men; Inoran drinking the herbal tea, Tatsu listening to the man carefully. “Yusuke will be here later this evening, are you excited to be reunited with him?”
“What about Heath? I need to apologize to him as well, will he be coming with Yusuke?” Inoran’s voice trembled.
Tatsu had to be cautious with his answer, “If he doesn’t come with Yusuke tonight, perhaps he will join us in a few days.” Inoran seemed satisfied with the answer, changing topics to the newest members of Morrie’s clan.
“I like You, she’s beautiful and seems kind, though I think she’s afraid of me, she only smiles and greets me.” He confided in Tatsu.
“No, I don’t think she’s afraid of you,” he said calmly, “I believe they don’t want to impose on you, they know you’ve been ill. I’m sure as soon as Yusuke arrives, they will gladly come out and introduce themselves properly.”
“Konbanwa, Inoran-san,” Shinya stepped on to the engawa, a tray in his hands, “would you like some udon? I also have pickled radish and some onigiri.” Stepping down into the garden, Shinya placed the tray on the bench between Tatsu and Inoran.
“Thank you, Shin-chan,” he bowed his head, “do you know if Heath is coming with Yusuke tonight?” Shinya looked up at Tatsu, who shook his head.
“I’m not sure, Inoran-san, I haven’t spoken to Sakurai-san about Yusuke’s return.” He tried to deflect the question. “But I’m sure Yusuke will be here soon.” Shinya excused himself and went back into the house.
“How is he?” Morrie intercepted Shinya in the hallway, “He’s asking about Heath, if he’s returning with Yusuke. I tried to be as vague as possible, and he seemed satisfied with the answer, but what happens if Heath isn’t with Yusuke?” Morrie had no answer.
Aoi stopped just outside the new house, “I know Inoran is your blood spouse, but I beg you, do nothing to aggravate him. He has gained back a bit of his old self, be gentle in whatever you say.”
Yusuke resented the remarks by Aoi, but said nothing. He knew Inoran better than anyone, and to have an outsider tell him how to behave with his own blood spouse, was more than just a little demeaning. “I understand.”
Walking through the gates, Morrie was standing on the engawa waiting for Aoi and Yusuke, “I’m happy to see you Yusuke-san, Inoran has been waiting.”
Yusuke bowed low, “Thank you for all your help with Inoran,” he looked up at Morrie, “How has he been these last few days?” Yusuke wanted to believe Aoi, but he had to hear it from the clan leader.
“Amiable for the most part. The herbs are definitely helping with his anger, there have been no outbursts since he arrived. He is anxious to see you and Heath, though I understand that Heath is no longer with you.” Yusuke offered no explanation, “May I see him now please?”
Tatsu sensed that Yusuke had arrived, and excused himself so that the men could have a private reunion, but with several clan members surreptitiously watching in case there was any violence.
Yusuke stood on the engawa, looking down into the garden where his lover sat on a bench, “Inoran?” he stepped down into the garden, walking to the bench and standing in front of his blood spouse, “Tadaima,”
“Yusuke, you came back to me…” Inoran started to cry, then stared down at his hands, “I’m so sorry I said those awful things to you. I’m sure you hate me now and I don’t blame you, but it wasn’t true, none of it. I would never kill you; I love you too much to live without you. It’s this illness, it causes such turmoil in my mind, I don’t know what’s real anymore.”
Morrie and Tatsu watched the couple from behind a screen, “It looks peaceful enough, should we just leave them alone?” Tatsu murmured. “Let’s just wait until he asks about Heath, that’s my greatest concern.”
They didn’t have to wait long, Inoran looked around before asking Yusuke, “Where is Heath? I need to apologize to him…did he stay at Sakurai’s?” Yusuke sat next to Inoran.
“I had to send Heath away. He was interfering with our relationship, he wanted me to leave you and stay with him as a mate. I told him no, that you alone are the only person I need in my life, that you are my blood spouse and I am bound to you for eternity.”
Inoran frowned, “I hope he comes back to us, it won’t feel right if Heath is missing from our family. I need to tell him how sorry I am for saying those words, he’s part of our family, Yusuke. Once I am cured, we must go and look for him.”
“No, I do not want him back in our family, he seeks to undermine you as our leader, he only wants me for his own selfish desires.” Yusuke said heatedly.
In a moment of pure and total clarity, Inoran shook his head, “You do not have a say in how I run my clan, Yusuke. Yes, you are my blood spouse, but if I want Heath in my life, as a member of my clan, then that is what will be. Will you go against me if I decide that we need a larger clan with more members?”
Yusuke was taken aback, almost cowed by the strength in Inoran’s voice. “But he betrayed you, he tried to take me from you, how can you trust him again?”
Inoran reached out and caressed Yusuke’s cheek, “My love, you went to him, did you not? When I refused you, when I kept you from my bed, did you not go and seek comfort with Heath? Were you not lovers when I would disappear without a word? No, my love…trusting Heath is not the issue.”
Yusuke stood quickly, “Are you accusing me of something Inoran? If so, please speak freely and tell me what your heart says.” Inoran chuckled, grabbing Yusuke by the wrist and pulling him to sit on the bench again.
“I am not accusing you of anything love, I’m simply reminding you of facts that are still very clear in my mind. Once I am cured, or at least able to function like a reasonable person, we will be going back to Fuji, then after a time, we will go out and search for Heath.”
Tatsu had reached out and clutched Morrie’s hand when Inoran reprimanded Yusuke, only letting a sigh of relief once Yusuke had sat down again, “Let’s leave them alone,” Morrie whispered in his ear, leading his lover away.
“That scared me to death! The last thing I wanted to do is break up a fight.” Tatsu panted and flopped down on a couch. Morrie sat next to him, “I was so close to going out there…I was rather surprised with Inoran, he was very cognitive of what he was telling Yusuke, though I believe Yusuke didn’t like what he heard.”
After another hour, Inoran and Yusuke joined Morrie and the other members of the clan, for a meal in the large dining room. Introductions for Daisuke and his family were made, Inoran apologizing profusely for his bad manners.
You liked the older vampire, “Inoran-san, we understand. There was quite a bit going on in the house when you arrived, we just did not want to inflict any more stress than you already were experiencing, please, think nothing of it.” Inoran took You’s hand and kissed it, “My dear, thank you for your concern, I truly appreciate it.”
The atmosphere was relaxed and enjoyable; Inoran was engaging and quite talkative, more so than he had been in centuries, much to the relief of everyone. He talked about going back to Fuji for awhile then going out to search for Heath.
“I will stop by for a visit to speak with Sakurai, and to personally thank Kai for his efforts to find a remedy for what ails me, I still have small relapses, but I suspect now that my beloved is by my side, I will return to my not so grumpy self.”
Morrie asked Inoran if he would remain for a few more days, “I’d hate for something to happen between my home and yours in Fuji, please…take a few more days before you leave, we want to make sure those herbs are working as they should.” Inoran bowed low, “If I may intrude on your hospitality for another three days, I’d be forever in your debt, Morrie-san.”
Once the house was quiet, with all in bed for the day, Inoran and Yusuke reconnected on a physical level, both men deliriously happy and contented, though Yusuke had thoughts of Heath that weighted him down enough for Inoran to notice.
“Please, don’t be upset with me due to Heath, we owe it to him to at least try to locate him. I don’t want him roaming around the country alone, you know that he’s a fragile man, even as an immortal.” Inoran scolded his spouse.
With a huff and a pout, Yusuke finally agreed, he too didn’t want any harm to come to Heath. “I love him, but not with the same intensity that is our relationship, but you’re correct, he is not a strong-willed man. Let us first return to Fuji before we go out traipsing across the country looking for him. We will have to be cautious; you know what dangers lurk; all we can do is be vigilant and pray that we do not encounter any problems.”
The four samurai stood in front of Reo; Asanao and Arimatsu flanking the clan leader. “Is this your final decision, gentlemen? You do not wish to be brought into the blood?”
It was a difficult choice for Nakamura, Ogawa and Jin. They had spent the night laying out the pros and cons of becoming immortal as their blood brother Suzuki had done.
“I don’t want to live forever, to be honest. I want to live a natural life, for as long as I can. I don’t begrudge you your immortality Masa, but it is not something I see for myself.” Jin Koba spoke softly, he never meant to hurt his long-time companion.
“Sorry, Masa. But I feel the same way as Koba, it’s just not in the cards for me, though I would like to remain an agent for Clan Aichi if Reo-san will have me.” Ogawa offered.
“And you Taizo? Do you feel the same way?” Suzuki was surprised that his brother did not leap at the offer.
“I’m on the fence, Masa. I’m not sure I want to be part of this new century that is coming. I would rather keep the way of the samurai in my heart and in my daily practices, and not kowtow to this new government that seeks to emulate the west. I’m going to have to say no, I do not want to become an immortal, but as with Ryo, I’d like to be an agent for Reo-san as well.”
He knew there was no convincing argument that he could offer, to change their minds, he had to accept it. “Well, let’s go speak to Reo-san and see what he has to say.”
Nakamura acted as spokesman for the group, “We would like to offer you our loyalty as human agents, Reo-san, we will swear fealty to Clan Aichi.” The three samurai bowed low.
“I see that you have thought this through carefully and I will honor your wishes and accept your fealty to the clan. I have several businesses that could use a sharp sword and a quick mind. I respect your wishes of course, though with regret I accept them as well.”
Arimatsu stepped forward. “You will be under my supervision. I will assign you duties that will rotate on a monthly basis so you do not become complacent in your work. You will be paid a weekly salary; housing will be provided as are meals. If you wish to purchase your own home at some point, please speak to me first. If you seek out companionship, please make sure to alert me, so we may discuss this with Reo-san. Any questions?”
Nakamura cleared his throat. “What if I change my mind? Is the offer still on the table?” Arimatsu turned to look at Reo.
“We can discuss that, yes. As long as you remain with Clan Aichi, the offer stands. There is one other item I’d like to discuss. If you are on duty and you come across any samurai or ronin that are injured, please alert someone from the main house.”
Excusing himself, Arimatsu led the men out of Reo’s office, leaving Jyou and Asanao behind. “What do you think?” Reo asked as he leaned back in his chair.
“We have 4 new members, all samurai. There’s not much else to say about it.” Asanao said.
“It’s disappointing that they did not want to be brought into the blood, but that doesn’t negate their abilities as warriors, just the longevity of service.” Jyou added, “Any reinforcements against the coming war, is valuable. Let’s just hope we can find more that are willing to be brought into the blood, or there may be a catastrophic ending.”
He made sure to stay out of the city, having no knowledge of the immortals that may be lurking. The journey had been long and depressing, Yusuke’s words burning in his mind, the hate and venom behind the voice. Heath couldn’t be far enough away from Yusuke, even hundreds of kilometers felt too close.
He had chosen to go north knowing the the cold winters would keep prying eyes away. He was hoping to find some sort of abandoned hut or small house deep in the mountains, where there would be plentiful game and fresh water. He knew his health would suffer, feeding from animals is never a good way to live as a vampire. But at this point, he cared for nothing, not Yusuke and not even himself.
He was on a narrow path walking into a dense forest when he first sensed the immortal. He continued cautiously, looking around as to make sure there would be no sneak attack. Heath knew he was being followed; the other immortal’s eyes were burning in his back. Then the man was standing in front of him,