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A Marriage of Beasts

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Like the greatest of tragedies love stories, it begins with a completely avoidable misunderstanding. 

Daisuke's lunch is late.

He glances at his watch. "HEUSC, verify feeding schedule."

HEUSC activates with a chime, the AI's smooth voice carrying over his discreet earring speaker. 

"Today's schedule is as follows: first replenishing at 1200 hours, second replenishing at 1900 hours, Twilight as needed. Does sir wish to adjust these appointments?"

"No. What's the status of the first appointment?" 

"I cannot answer that. ETA not available."   

Daisuke stares at the clock across the room, an ornate tower that spits out a little bird on the hour. The big hand hits one and the sparrow bursts out of the coop, chirping a love song. He idly taps the table. There aren't many things more displeasing than a delayed meal.

At the sound of footsteps in a distant corridor, he leans forward and eyes the door of his study. Daisuke expects a knock, a shaky plea for entry, or the silent quivering of the poor soul bracing themselves for his company. He doesn't begrudge them this. Not everyone can withstand being in the presence of their betters. Daisuke waits for the knock and the usual smell of fear.

Fear has a bitter smell. Like old limes and dried sweat. Contrary to popular belief, the best-tasting prey is not hunted or cornered. Stress hormones only harden the meat and spoil the blood.

Or in his father's words: "Stroke the rabbit's head, Daisuke. Then snap it. Kill kindly."

The door swings wide open. A tall man stumbles through, catching himself before colliding head-first into a cabinet of leatherbound grimoires. He would have had to pay a pretty penny for that. A quick once-over tells Daisuke he can't even afford the glass on the cabinet, nevermind the books. Everything about this man shouts supermarket discount Saturdays. Suzue had once cajoled Daisuke into going to one of those as a 'social experiment.'

Results as follows: Don't be poor. This specimen did not receive the memo. 

"Oh, crap—"

Daisuke watches as the man quickly finds his balance and rights himself. 

Decent body. Good reflexes. Mentally, Daisuke checks a few boxes.

Now that he's in the room proper, he makes a perfunctory assessment of his guest: clean-shaven but rumpled, hair left untamed, up to the gods to decide, Daisuke supposes, which is both brave and stupid. He's also scentless.

No. That isn't right. There's a faint chemical scent lingering around his glands. Suppressants. Strong ones, military-grade. Daisuke would know, he manufactures them. 

He frowns at the discovery. What a stupid way to spoil a meal.

When the stranger finally acknowledges Daisuke, he clears his throat and straightens, adjusting his tacky green tie. Few species take to suppressing their nature. Incubi and succubi, the rare wendigo, even dhampirs on occasion. But most notoriously self-denying is the wolf. They try so hard to blend in, to integrate with society, often at the cost of their biological imperatives. It's misguided and pathetic. Daisuke can't sympathize and doesn't care to. He leaves the sympathy to the saints. 

"Kambe Daisuke?"

The man reaches inside his jacket. Another questionable sartorial choice. It's becoming increasingly clear that this is the kind of person whose idea of a fashion statement is a bowler hat.

"My name is—"

"You're late."

He looks taken aback. "Excuse me?" 

Daisuke flashes the broad head of his watch. "It's 1:02 pm."

This doesn't appear to embarrass the other man. He looks confused.

"Yes? I didn't know you were expecting me."

"Of course I was expecting you." Daisuke motions at the chair across from him. "Have a seat. We'll finish this quickly." 

He shoots Daisuke a disapproving look and slowly approaches the desk, taking the time to survey the contents on the table. Daisuke lifts a perfect brow. Still, the other man remains standing. Daisuke folds his hands and waits. And waits. After a needlessly long pause, the man sits, irritation plain on his features. If this isn't a wolf, Daisuke's wearing polyester for life. 

Strange for Hattori to pick such an uncooperative breed. This is to say nothing of their flavor. 

"Right. As I was saying," his meal starts again. "I'm from the Tokyo Po—" 

Daisuke gets up and smoothly makes his way around. The other man recoils so quickly, Daisuke almost takes offense. 

"What do you think you're doing?" the man asks, neck shying away—but not baring, it's never baring with these creatures—the tendons of his throat visibly stretched. It's an exquisite sight. Daisuke swears he can hear the rush of air leaving his lungs, the sound of twitching muscle. 

It's the season of blood and his guest is ripe for the picking. 

He brings their faces together, and with a hand on the chair's armrest, ducks his head to breathe in the aroma of unnerved prey. The man's hair is an interesting shade, honey-beige, and a few stray strands tickle Daisuke's cheek. It's soft. There's a hint of mint body wash. What would he smell like without those awful chemical undertones? Untainted by suppressors and the scent of irritation? 

As expected of someone who would so rudely intrude his study, he shoves Daisuke backward, the small of Daisuke's back bearing the brunt of the blow as it strikes the edge of the desk. How undignified. He doesn't recall asking for any manner of rough play in the week's requests. 

Lunch is to be a simple affair. There's no time for unnecessary indulgences. Daisuke's a busy man with business to tend to and pawns to play. Dinner, on the other hand, lends itself perfectly for a more... protracted experience. 

Daisuke carries on without a fuss, pushing away from the desk and retaking his stance. He owns islands and changes cars like dress shoes. Who does this dog think he is? 

"Ever heard of personal space? I pegged you for a crook, Kambe, but assaulting an officer is really—" 

"Mm, is that what we're doing?" Daisuke interrupts.

This kind of play has never been his style. He considers the man before him, the long and lean body hidden beneath the bland get-up. Surely a little exploration wouldn't hurt. Before he can reason himself out of the idea, Daisuke's between splayed knees. He nudges them farther apart. He slides a palm down an ill-fitting shirt, toying with each button, stopping only to tease the man's waistband with sly little tugs. Daisuke pulls on the cheap belt. A warm hand snatches his wrist. 

"I don't take bribes," Officer Lunch says, squeezing once. "Sexual or otherwise." His tone is firm. 

He's good. Daisuke has to give him points for a realistic performance. He scowls and lets Daisuke's wrist go. Had Daisuke been entirely human, his kind of strength would have bruised. 

Stomach clenching, Daisuke remembers the actual point of the man's existence—to curb his hunger. He focuses on the man's nape. Daisuke presses his thumb along a carotid artery, gums aching as they give way to sharper, better teeth. Many will never understand the elegance of having built-in dinnerware. 

"As if you're in any position to deny me," he tells his prey. Then quick as a whip, Daisuke yanks the tie within reach, pulling his meal in direct proximity of his mouth. "You may as well take what I can give you." 

Pleasure. Pain. A blank check. 

"What?" 

"Daisuke-sama?" 

He stops. Suzue appears between the cracked door, a little too pale for his liking. He's no stranger to faces twisted in horror. He has a steady track record. Even so, he doesn't care for the look on the Suzue. 

"This is... Inspector Katou Haru," she says.

Seemingly inspired by the introduction, Katou fishes out his badge and slaps it against Daisuke's face with an audible smack. Suzue gasps, clutching her blouse. 

"From Tokyo PD. Urban Defense Division," Katou adds, the sound of his voice on the verge of guttural. It must be so hard holding back like that all the time. What a waste. "I'm here regarding one of your subsidiaries." 

Ah. What a boring development. Displeased by the reality of things, Daisuke wrinkles his nose and pulls away. He ignores the now very real officer and casts Suzue a withering look.

"Where's my lunch?" 

She makes a soft noise of distress. "I—I thought—it's already—they haven't?—" she sputters.

"You thought I was your lunch?" Katou stands abruptly. He pushes into Daisuke's space like a senseless animal, and Daisuke rests a hand on the other man's chest, holding him off. What is it the Germans say?

Nein! Halt. Sitz. Bad hund.

"An unfortunate misunderstanding, I assure you," Daisuke says. "I'm grateful for the interruption. I was starting to think Hattori had suffered an egregious lapse in judgment and ordered from... what was it called again?"

He'd seen those obnoxious commercials too many times.

Daisuke hums, amused by the officer's twisted expression. "Mm. Yes. A dollar menu."

Katou inhales forcefully. He doesn't keep his distance and charges in, leaning until their noses touch. It's precisely what Daisuke wants.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Katou barks at him.  

"It means I pity the poor, not eat them." 

That sends Katou into another fit of barely-contained rage, and Daisuke watches as he clenches and unclenches his fists, struggling against years of evolutionary biology in the making. Poor puppy. 

By the door, Suzue bows diplomatically. "My apologies, Daisuke-sama. I'll bring you a pack from the reserves."  

He shakes his head, dismissing the notion. He hasn't drunk a pre-packaged serving in three decades, and he has no intention of starting now.

"No. It's fine," he says, giving Katou an open look of contempt. "I appear to have lost my appetite." 

All the while, Daisuke's mouth waters in anticipation. Hunger is a temporary state of being, but pride? Pride is forever. Suzue quickly excuses herself, shutting the door behind her. Daisuke returns to his side of the desk. No point in testing his restraint. He may be a Kambe, but he isn't above temptation.

"How may I assist you, Inspector?" 

"Do you have a permit?"

Daisuke blinks. "Excuse me?" 

"Your feeding permit. Show it to me, Kambe." 

Daisuke ignores the impolite tone. He's tempted to ask how this is in any way relevant to their conversation but stops short, remembering to pick his battles. In the end, Katou is an officer of the law. He pulls out a drawer and thumbs through the documents for the laminated certificate, then hands the permit to Katou with a blank stare. The smaller-sized copy he keeps in his wallet. 

"Satisfied?" 

"Hardly," Katou says. He slides the certificate back across the desk but keeps his fingers steepled above it. "Word of advice, don't go around sticking your fangs into anything with a pulse—"

"An assumption on your part," Daisuke cuts him off. "I have a rather sophisticated palette. And it certainly can't be reduced to 'anything with a pulse.'" 

The audacity of this man. This wolf

He's caught off guard when Katou reaches over the desk to grip his chin with a forefinger, prying Daisuke's mouth open and brutishly shoving a thumb past his lips. 

"I don't like liars," Katou says in a low voice, angling Daisuke's head so an impressive fang glints in the light. He's so crude. Crude, gruff, and self-righteous. 

Daisuke's first reaction is to the texture. Katou is rough and heavy on his tongue and impossibly warm. Second to that is the taste. A little like artificial sugar, some sort of tropical flavor, like Katou had been sipping a Malibu cocktail only minutes before barging into his study. Daisuke stiffens and clings to the desk, knuckles white. 

"No appetite? You sure about that?" Katou asks, and there's a lilt to his tone, a hint of something darker. Bold of him to try and take Daisuke on. "I've been on the field long enough to know the look of a hungry vamp."

The politically correct term is dhampir, but Daisuke figures he's beyond basic courtesy. 

"And how do I look?" Daisuke is tempted to say.

Instead, he wraps his mouth around the intruding digit. He leans forward to take it in as deeply as he can accommodate, careful to graze the flesh against his teeth, and not puncture it. He keeps his gaze locked on Katou's face. It's a nearly imperceptible change, but Daisuke catches a grimace and the flash of a yellow iris. Interesting. 

This time it's Katou who is surprised. He pulls away, looking scandalized and ready to clutch pearls. Daisuke smirks. Katou stares at his own thumb as if it wronged him. 

"Hungry is a far cry from starved. And please don't entice me, Inspector," Daisuke says, fixing his own tie. "If you're unwilling to commit to your advances."

"Yeah? Are those Kambe Words of Wisdom?"

Daisuke notices he's not leaving. The other man retakes his seat. Well, what dogged determination.

"Not particularly," Daisuke answers. "I simply don't favor dogs that are more bark than bite." 

Katou freezes. He quickly takes on a relaxed posture—what can only be a sad attempt at composure—and shrugs one shoulder. Cute. Go ahead and feign nonchalance. I see right through you

"You're the first to be able to tell at a glance."

Katou oozes discomfort. Daisuke likes the feel of it.

"It's likely I'll be the last. When it comes to this, I can't be outdone." He taps his nose.

The Kambe family line is one of the last remaining noble clans. Daisuke's blood runs purer than most early vampires' descendants, and that pedigree affords him a variety of useful abilities. 

Such as recognizing a mutt in disguise. 

"Yeah, okay, whatever. Look, I'm here because—"

"Is it a job requirement?" Daisuke asks.

"What is?" 

"The suppressants." 

Katou glares. "Not that it's any of your damn business, but no, they're not required unless an incident or investigation calls for it." 

Daisuke only looks at him. Katou relents with a grunt, crossing his arms. "It's just a personal preference," he admits. 

"Ah." With an air of absolute indifference, Daisuke reaches into his inner pocket and plucks his cigar case. He takes his time lighting a cigar, tipping it against his mouth, and with an exaggerated drag blows in Katou's direction.

"An Alpha without a pack," he says, all levels of smug.  

This strikes a nerve. Katou's face turns a shade unknown to the color spectrum. He tightly grips one of his knees, and Daisuke thinks he might be shaking. 

"This morning, at exactly 6:34 am, a disgruntled employee entered a Miyagi Metals research facility and shot five members on shift," Katou continues, ignoring the bait. 

So that's what he came for. Daisuke makes no effort to hide his disinterest. He clouds the air with more smoke, which Katou immediately dispels with an aggressive wave. 

Daisuke nods once. "Yes, that. Very unfortunate. I did hear the police were able to get the hostage situation under control, however. I'll have Suzue send you and your team gift baskets for a job well done." 

"Are you mocking me?" 

"Yes," he plainly answers. "Please make it more difficult to do so. I appreciate the challenge." 

In response, Katou only narrows his eyes. The yellow irises, however, do not make a reappearance. Pity.

"During questioning, the perpetrator claimed the plant was involved in unapproved experimental research, and that his actions were justified because he was only trying to 'save mankind.'" Katou gestures the quotes in the air, eyeing Kambe critically. "Miyagi Metals may appear to be a completely independent corporation to the public, but we both know it falls under the Kambe conglomerate. Isn't that right?"

"Inspector, that's hardly a secret. I control several entities with over three hundred thousand employees on the roster. I can't be held responsible for the actions of each and everyone, or whatever conspiracy of the month they happen to be peddling." 

"So you have no knowledge of this so-called experimental research?" 

Daisuke chooses his next words carefully. "It was a matter that was recently brought to our attention, and we were in the process of investigating."

"And you didn't think of alerting law enforcement?" 

"I felt it could be dealt in-house," Daisuke says, disliking how he's compelled to explain himself. Why is Katou's scrutiny is so irksome?

"Two people are dead, Kambe."

Katou looks personally wounded by the circumstances. As if he had a hand in these turn of events. Dogs and their overreaching sentimentality—this is why Daisuke only bothered with cats growing up. By far the more majestic animal.

"Their loved ones will be properly compensated and the funeral services arranged for." 

Katou grits his teeth. Daisuke is beginning to worry over his tooth enamel. "Of course that would be your answer. What would a vampire know about living or dying?"

"Dhampir," Daisuke finally corrects. 

"I don't care about your kind's little rebranding movement. Call yourself what you want. But trying to sound more human isn't a replacement for actual humanity." 

"And medicating your wolf to death is?"

The question hangs in the room like a bad suicide. Daisuke welcomes the dark tension, invites it for tea. Someone needs to call out the idiotic officer, and well, the weekend is around the corner, the stocks are up, and he's feeling generous and up for the task.

Katou launches off the chair with a painfully sour expression. "You know what? I'll have my colleague handle your statement. He's right down the hall. I'm not dealing with your bullshit. I should have known this wasn't going to the work the moment you tried to get a bite in." 

As he turns, Daisuke calls out to him. He blows another smoke ring for dramatic effect. "It's an easy fix." 

Katou pauses a foot from the door. Daisuke imagines he can't resist the pull either. The pure predator magnetism between them. Like two beasts circling the same watering hole, unwilling to yield. For all his righteousness and restraint, Katou is as thirsty as he is.

"Are you familiar with Packs of Convenience?" Daisuke asks and braces himself. 

Unsurprisingly, Katou whips around, gaze dark and wild.

"If you're suggesting that I hire people to—" he chokes off with a growl, pressing the heel of his palm against his forehead. "This is ridiculous," he mutters more to himself than Daisuke. Katou gifts him with another one of his scowls. "Look here, Kambe. While you might be happy to get everything you want in life by waving a checkbook, that's not how I work. So, no. No thanks. Whatever you're suggesting, I want nothing to do with it. Jesus. Packs of Convenience? Really?" He sighs and shakes his head. "You don't even know me."  

Daisuke gives Katou a thorough once-over, possibly the fourth one within the hour. Myopic thinking aside, he's unquestionably amusing. Daisuke considers making an exception regarding his pet policy. Perhaps this dog will be worth the trouble. 

You don't even know me, Katou says.

"I will," Daisuke tells him, as sure as a clairvoyant behind a glass ball. It comes out a little more ominous than he intended. Putting out his cigar in a chrome ashtray, Daisuke leaves his seat and walks toward the other man.

Katou's scowl deepens. "Well, I don't—won't. Know you. That is. I'm not interested in—can you not do that?" 

Daisuke lifts a brow. 

"You're stalking," Katou hisses with an unnecessary amount of teeth. "It's like you're trying to provoke me." 

Daisuke stops. "Are we not predators?" 

For a moment, Katou simply stares him down, like he can't believe what he's hearing. All that incredulity and for what? The stark, ugly truth? Is the truth not a justice enforcer's sole aim?

Katou snorts and smirks at Daisuke with disdain. "Yeah. I guess we are. Is that a thing of yours? Always looking to mess with something bigger than you?" 

Daisuke purposefully brushes past Katou's shoulder and reaches for the door to dismiss his guest. He's superior and selective, not rude. "Our height difference is negligible." 

"Oh, it's not just about height," Katou growls from behind him.

It sends a delightful shudder down Daisuke's spine, the rush setting his whole body aflame, and this is it, the promise of something worthwhile, of something he never knew he so desperately needed, but would, without a doubt, attain. Against his back, Katou radiates pure heat. It's on the verge of uncomfortable. Daisuke indulges in the sensation until the moment breaks. Katou finally reaches for the doorknob and offers his parting words, a harsh whisper near Daisuke's left temple. 

"Enjoy your lunch, Kambe." 

And that is how Kambe Daisuke met the man who would one day ruin his favorite suit, wreck the front gates of his estate, and leave him at the altar.

Not especially in that order.

 

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Scene: MPD records storage unit, after hours. Stage Right: one impossibly peeved officer of the law.

"Can you believe the guy?" 

Hoshino nods absently. "Uh-huh."

"And get this, I was the one reprimanded," Haru says. He smacks a mound of manila folders on a crooked table, dislodging a few documents. "Me. And over what, you ask?"

"I didn't," Hoshino says without a glance in his direction. "You're awfully hung up on this." 

"He thought I was food! A walking blood bag. Home-delivery for the Old & the Unresting. Winner, winner, chicken dinner." 

"Just occupational hazards, senpai." 

Haru grabs a dusty crate of folders and slams it down on the desk. "Kambe's not a hazard, he's the whole damn nuclear plant." 

Hoshino sighs. "Then please keep him from imploding. Now hand me that safety datasheet, I want to go home."

 

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The thing about the dead is that they have had the last word. 

Daisuke unfurls the parchment on his desk and slides a thumb across the fine ink. Item 221. It is a truth universally known that any Old World dhampir in possession of a legacy must arrange for its lasting. 

He frowns at the delicate writing. That means a mate, Daisuke dear. He can hear Kikuko even now, her voice stern, raspy, and full of judgment. When his grandmother had announced her 'retirement from the living,' Daisuke had only felt relief. It was like being dispatched from a lifetime of chronic pain. But in the world, there exists no remedy without side effects, no cure without consequence.

"How many again?" Suzue asks. 

Daisuke sets the scroll aside and leans back on the chair with a slight grimace.

"Two-hundred and twenty-two." 

That's how many parting requests Kikuko took the time to painstakingly itemize on an enchanted scroll before her farewell party. How nice must it be to slide into a gilded casket the moment one tired of living? In his grandmother's case, she'd grown more annoyed than tired, and quote: 'wake me up when you're done running the household name to the ground or next time Japan hosts the Olympics.' 

"She's always been hardest on you," Suzue says. As if that needs saying. 

Daisuke picks up the tastefully-aged scroll with a frown, glosses over the impeccable calligraphy, puts it back down, then picks it up again to repeat the process. He does this for a few minutes and sighs.

"I don't care for children." Or mates, for that matter. 

Suzue rubs her elbows and offers him a generous interpretation. "I think Baa-chan was worried you'll be lonely." 

Plausible-sounding and dead wrong. Kikuko was a known kingmaker. She did what was necessary to drive the Kambe line into money and prestige, and all the way to the peak of infamy. Inevitably, that involved all manner of orchestrations, deals, and blood promises, alliances forged behind closed doors. Frankly, a likelier reason for this insipid list—she simply hadn't liked Daisuke. Honor your ancestors, she'd say. Keep Kambe tradition alive. 

And the unsaid: be unhappy, you wretched child.

"Her concern was unjustified. I live in excellent company," Daisuke says, sliding Suzue a lukewarm look and a sliver of a smile. He can give her that much. 

She laughs. "I don't count. Neither does HEUSC." 

"HEUSC is a feat of machine learning and essential staff. Humans are fragile, messy creatures with no regard for their kind. This decree," Daisuke waves at the document, "is outdated nonsense. The last time a Kambe vowed a human into the family, Marie Antoinette still had her head. I resent this."

He fights the urge to pinch his brow. He settles for crossing his arms, tilting his nose in preemptive disgust. "And the silly things... smell."

The memory of a particular wolf flashes through his mind, unbidden. 

"They're a little silly," Suzue agrees. "But that's what makes them so fun." 

Daisuke makes a show of re-wrapping the scroll with a silk bind and securing it in a locked drawer. He loosens his tie and leans on an armrest, intrigued. 

"What did you do?" Daisuke's hand idly raps the table. His tone isn't admonishing, but there's an edge of suspicion. 

He watches Suzue's grin turn impish. Daisuke knows better than to fall prey to her waif-like figure and gentle demeanor. Underneath that three-piece couture suit is a monster of whimsy and charm. Suzue has a face fit for a ceiling chapel and the willfulness of a bridge troll. Anything Suzue wanted, she would have. And if it's all in service of Daisuke or his agenda, well, one would be better off stopping the heat death of the universe.

This makes Daisuke rather proud. 

"Well," she clasps her hands, her delight difficult to miss, "if a prince is to look for a bride, shouldn't he have a ball?" 

He stares at her. Suzue beams and inches forward in her seat, heels tippy-tapping on the hardwood in excitement. "Mm? What do you think, Daisuke-sama?"

After a minute or so of her hopeful staring, Daisuke finally caves. "I'll have HEUSC prepare the guest list and contact the eligible candidates and their families."

Even Daisuke has to pay the troll toll from time to time. Besides, he likes Suzue on most days. She knows exactly how to adjust the sole inserts in his shoes.

Suzue makes a small pleased hum and begins a sequence of motions: she stands, checks her watch, pulls out her phone, presumably checks her messages, and finally starts the riveting process of coordinating his most banal tragedy. Marriage. 

"Suzue," he says.

Suzue glances his way, hastily placing a call on mute. She looks at him with her undivided attention, shiny-eyed like a poodle anticipating a treat. If Daisuke were less selfish, he might wish for Suzue to look after her own interests, but he likes her this way, likes her unconditional devotion and tireless doting. And now in the not-so-distant future, she'd be alleviated of these duties, replaced by a soft-bellied human with aristocratic blood. Technically, all marriageable candidates possess some degree of dhampir heritage, but the blood is so thinned out, Daisuke can't justify making the distinction. If it smells like a human and lives like a human... well.

"She wanted me to use the rings," Daisuke says. He sighs, fidgeting with his cufflinks.  

"Oh." Suzue raises the phone to her ear and murmurs sweetly, "I'll have to call you back." Her gaze softens with concern. She curls a hand around the family pendant, one of her self-soothing tics. "... is that so?" 

"It is so," Daisuke affirms.

He's just as dismayed. Eternity rings are an antiquated practice. It'd been well over a century since a noble clan used them in ceremony. Daisuke has no interest in reclaiming this part of his ancestry. An eternal binding is tacky. And frankly speaking, not very eternal. It does plenty, however, binding minds, bodies, and souls. The works. To Daisuke, this isn't noble or poetic, it's intrusive. 

"My mother loathed their existence and had them removed from the family treasury. She loaned one to the Tokyo National Museum. The other one is in a bank lockbox in Nagoya." 

"That shouldn't be difficult to get." Suzue types something on her phone, no doubt already coordinating logistics. 

"There's no hurry," Daisuke says. "The selection will be months out from now. I don't need the media catching wind of this so early on." 

"As you wish, Daisuke-sama." 

Daisuke strays from his desk and stands by the window overlooking the grand courtyard. On the periphery, Hattori stands on a small ladder, trimming an overgrown bush. 

"We'll host it here," he decides. 

Suzue nods and goes quiet for a time. He broods in the somber silence, his gaze steadfast on the royal fountain spewing water from a cherub's tiny penis. "What is it?" 

She hesitates, fidgeting. "I'm sorry." 

"For?" 

"For all of this. Kikuko. Her request. You... should marry for love, not duty." 

"My parents married for love," Daisuke says, pressing a naked palm against the glass and blocking out the fountain deity from his sight. Goddess of Agape. Just as imaginary as the rest of them. "And we both know how that turned out."  

He politely ignores her crestfallen face. 

"Suzue," Daisuke says after a beat. "I'm not so entitled a man to think I can have a kingdom without sacrifice. This is the way of things. In the end, my father chose the rose." 

Daisuke slowly drops his arm. "And I, the crown." 

The courtyard Goddess, designed to enchant for eternity and generations of Kambes, seems to grant him a private smile. Water seeps from a hollow socket and runs down her smooth, marbled cheek. This, too, is by design. 

 

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Katou Haru is a little bit in love. 

"Uwah, put those away," Kamei says, holding his hand over his chest while he backpedals into the corner of the observation room. 

Haru wipes the corner of his mouth and covers it with a palm, ears growing hot. Letting his canines descend like he's hitting puberty all over again and the supermoon is around the corner—could he get any more embarrassing? He bites the inside of his cheek. Get a grip.

Kamei laughs at his struggle, shaking his head. 

"You're so easy, man." 

"She's pretty," Haru laments. He pushes his face against the one-way mirrored glass.

She's so pretty it hurts. On the other side, a slight and dark-haired woman sits across Cho-san, charming the stern man with a smile and eight calculated flips of her hair. Kambe Suzue. Researcher, model, philanthropist. Radiance incarnate.

Also dumb rich. Reeeeeal dumb rich. Haru would ordinarily be put off by the absurd net worth, but Kambe Suzue puts orphaned pups through college, dammit, and actively works toward restoring park reservations, caring in place of a disinterested, disaffected government. She's socially conscious. She's perfect. 

And according to the Weekly Bunshu's Most Eligible Bachelorette, very single. 

"You said that about the last one," Kamei says smartly.

He leans against a metal table, mouth split in amusement. Haru isn't sure why Kamei thinks his presence here is needed. Last time Haru checked, he had a backlog of theft reports to go through. Then again, when left to his own devices, Kamei's desk duty consists of surfing the web for tits and drinking banana milk out of a mug shaped like a toilet.

Meeting Suzue again is clearly destiny. This is the work of a universe attempting to redeem itself after Haru's little run-in with the Other Awful and Not So Pretty Kambe. 

(Okay, so he's a little pretty. It's the glamour's doing. Or you know, genetics. Vampire shenanigans.) 

Haru points through the glass.

"That—She—Look," he manages, shaking his finger. "She's a goddess. I've never seen anyone like her." He digs into his lip. "Except maybe Akiko. And that new girl at Millenium Modeling. And that Second Division recruit..." He groans and makes a dismissive gesture in the air. "Ha, that's not the point. Kamei. We are in the presence of greatness. This is Woman. A daughter of Aphrodite. The second coming of Ishtar. The embodiment of—"

"Yeah, yeah. I get it, she's a babe. Are you gonna do that whole speech on... what did you call it again? Modern Feminine Mystique? Because I'm not prepared. Like mentally. Or ever, honestly." He picks at his ear and flicks the crud away.

Haru gives him a look of pity. "They really need to change the cut-off score on the qualifications exam. You have the thinking capacity of a bean sprout." 

Kamei ignores him in favor of spreading himself across the work table like a buttered sandwich. He elbows a stack of documents, and they cascade to the ground.

"Uh-huh. Wake me up when it's lunchtime. Saa-chan made me a bento," he tells Haru. Kamei grins as if this development elevates him somehow. Haru doesn't have the heart to inform him he's no better than yesterday, and probably a little worse.

"Mahoro-chan told me you also make a pretty mean bento." Kamei wiggles his eyebrows. "You'll make an excellent wife one day." 

"You know, there's no shame in knowing your way around the kitchen. What you fail to realize, Bakamei, is that food is just foreplay on a plate." 

Kamei strokes his chin and nods, all sage-like. "Okay, but all I can do is heat up a cup of noodles. What do you call that?" 

Haru smirks. "Sounds like a disappointment. Maybe Sachiko-san should consider ordering take-out. And not just for food." 

"Oi." Kamei abruptly sits up to pout. Haru cracks a smile at the indignant look on his face. 

Above them, the overhead light for the interrogation room switches from red to green. Stop means no, green means go, and Haru jumps, brain kicking into gear. At last, the time has come.

Yawning, Kamei waves lazily at him. "Good luck wife-ing the leech."

"We don't use that kind of language here," Haru says. At the scolding, Kamei raises his arms, trying to placate him. 

"Okay, okay. Bad joke. Sheesh. Don't bite me, man. Do you even have your shots?"

Haru rolls his eyes. He hustles out of the observation deck and into the corridor, then begins an ambitious performance of pretending to fake a call. He lowers his voice, attempting to channel the ghost of all things cool and suave. This is rendered pointless when Suzue exits interrogation room B. Naturally, Haru, in all his hysterical glory, fumbles with his phone and drops it on the ground with a loud smack. 

"Oh no," Suzue says, lifting a hand to her cheek. She looks genuinely concerned. 

Haru flails. "No, no, it's—uh, fine." He quickly picks up the phone and flashes the cracked screen. He'd just gotten it replaced, too. "Just a scratch... ha. Ha." 

In no way swayed by his mortification, Haru pockets his mobile and pats down his hair. A last-ditch effort to look presentable before the living goddess. This does not help. On a good day, the mop on his head is windswept. But today, of all days, it'd qualify as the habitat for an endangered species of bird. Haru chuckles nervously. 

"Sorry you had to go through all that," he says, jerking his chin at the interrogation room. "It's just a formality." 

Cho-san slips into the corridor with a lit cigarette pinched between his fingers. He catches sight of them and acknowledges Haru with a nod. 

"Barking up the wrong tree there, Katou," he says cryptically, then ambles away before Haru can get in a word.

The hell? 

"I'm always happy to cooperate," Suzue says. She frowns. Even the way her mouth dips in displeasure is beautiful. "I hope you can find the person responsible. That poor chocolatier..." she murmurs woefully.

Haru gapes. An angel. A literal angel. 

"Can I take you out to dinner sometime?" 

The question storms out his mouth before dignity can kick in. Haru freezes in time, body confused—run? Play dead? Punch himself in the face? 

"I'm sorry, that was really unprofessional of me," Haru hastily adds. 

The universe is merciful, so Suzue merely cocks her head and looks him up and down with warm scrutiny. It's uncomfortable, but Haru's not one to turn down a woman's interest, even if a little judgmental. 

"No," she says.

Haru is gutted. Either that or he's spontaneously developed an ulcer.

"But I do need a handsome date for a dinner party. How does next weekend sound?" 

He falters. "O-Oh?" 

Katou Haru is a little bit in love. It's probably premature and won't last a single bit. But that's all right. If there's one thing he's familiar with, it's being dumped—by his last girlfriend, by his division (temporary suspension for failure to comply with directive ), hell, he'd gotten a shelter dog once that ran away his first week home. And it's not like Haru isn't confident. He has a few things going for him—he could whip up a mouth-watering curry, for example—but Kambe Suzue is in the big leagues. Haru's just the guy in the stands selling salted peanuts. 

To be fair, they're good peanuts. All in all, as a man, Katou Haru has a lot to offer. Maybe someone is finally willing to recognize that. 

"Yes! I mean—" He clears the frog out of his throat. "Yes. I'd love to."

He doesn't own anything remotely in the ballpark of Kambe-level 'nice,' but Haru is not anything if not an innovator. Police work involves diving head-first into situations he has no business being in. An itchy, tight suit for a day? Hardly an obstacle. Haru's stuffed himself into air vents. 

"Great." Suzue shoots him another photogenic smile. Wow. She might as well be a completely different breed.

Wait. Dhampir. Right.

Haru's stomach flips like it's pulling parkour stunts. He swallows. 

"Great," he stupidly repeats back. Idiot. "Can't wait." 

Okay. This is happening. It's really happening. Haru rubs his nape with a clammy palm. "Should we, um, exchange numbers? LINE ID?" 

Suzue blinks at him. "Sure," she says, extending her palm. Haru scrambles to give her his phone.  

They smile at each other. Haru thinks he sees a sliver of a pearly fang, though ultimately decides it must be his imagination. 

 

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Scene: Kambe Estate sub-basement gymnasium, late evening. Stage Left: one shirtless, artfully damp dhampir.

Daisuke wipes the sweat off his brow. He tosses a soiled towel on a nearby bench and catches the precise moment his phone lights up with a notification and a metallic buzz.

It was great seeing you today. Looking forward to next weekend. :) 

 

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The club smells nothing of sex or blood.

That's the first thing Haru notices. The second thing is the size. It's stupid large, and while the schematics had indicated three stories of dance floors and VIP suites, Haru isn't prepared for this castle of a club. He shouldn't have expected anything less from Roppongi. Haru doesn't do parties, but crime does. Sometimes all you need to do to catch a bad guy is follow the music. In this case, the untz-untz-untz blasting from the speakers marks the beginning of an end.

The Gondawara group's end, to be precise. Potentially.

Haru elbows his way through the dancing crowd, packed despite the available space. Something latches onto his arm and he jerks away, one hand instinctively hovering over his holster. His pulse settles when he catches sight of the small, pale hand frozen mid-air.

"Hey," a girl says over the din of the club. Her hair is shockingly pink, and she seems young, too young considering the location. She goes for his arm again, yanking on his sleeve. "You a cop, right?" 

Haru twitches at that. Not even four feet past the bouncer and he's getting scoped by a high-schooler.

"Isn't it past your bedtime?" he tells her, carefully prying her fingers off his jacket cuff. 

The girl's brow wrinkles in annoyance. "No," she says saucily. "You know, I came over here to warn you, but I think I changed my mind." 

She turns on her heel, leather skirt riding up her thigh and flashing strategically torn fishnets, and Haru's quick to chuck off his coat and catch her by the wrist.

"Wait. You really shouldn't be here." He motions at her to accept his coat. "What were you going to warn me about?" 

She snatches the garment out of his hand and throws it over her shoulder with a two-finger hold. The balls on kids these days.

"My name is Yoko. If you want to find out, follow me." 

Haru follows Yoko off the dance floor and into a sectioned-off area where people are huddling on velvet loveseats and blowing strawberry-flavored smoke. Whatever shitty EDM track the DJ is mixing becomes slightly muted; still obnoxious and loud, but Haru can easily pick up bits of conversation. The suppressants dampen his senses only to an extent, just enough to avoid stimulus overload. Yoko pushes him into a nook with a crescent couch and forces him to take a seat. The armrest is sticky. Haru wipes his hand on his pants. 

"How'd you make me out?" he asks. 

They're alone in the barely-lit corner. Yoko plops down by his side and props her feet on the exotic coffee table across from them.

"You busted my boyfriend for aphros. Scruffy-looking blonde. Whines a lot. His name's Hiroshi."

Haru remembers the guy. "Street aphrodisiacs are dangerous."

"I know," Yoko says. She leans back and fishes a lollipop out of her low-cut top. "And it's a six-year minimum for distribution. But you let Hiroshi go with a warning."

The way she stuffs the lollipop in her mouth has her left cheek bulging. Haru is seriously concerned over the girl's wellbeing.

"He says you yapped his ear off, though. Some dumb stuff about staying in school and finding his purpose." 

"You're just kids," he says. 

Yoko snorts. "Whatever. I don't like owing anybody anything, even a narc. I don't know what you're trying to do here, but you better leave before the real party starts. I've seen security making rounds." 

Security? More like thugs with wired comms. 

Haru hones in on that sliver of information. "What's happening tonight?"  

That gets him an exaggerated eye-roll. "None of your business." She side-eyes him. "Unless you have an invitation. Which you obviously don't. But if they sniff you out, you won't be having a good time."

Haru sighs and crosses his arms. "Look, this is serious."

He assesses her for a moment, debating how much to disclose to a mouthy teenager. Considering she has nothing to gain from helping him out, he takes a small intuitive leap. "Maybe it doesn't matter to you, but I personally can't get behind the local syndicates trafficking children."

That admission completely changes Yoko's too-cool-for-you expression. She removes the lollipop from her mouth and sits up on the couch. She finally looks her age and even a little scared.

"What?" 

Haru's not sure if the Gondawara group is behind the trafficking. He always suspected they'd been carting around more than street drugs, and after an anonymous tip from the crime hotline, his suspicions only deepened. Despite Takei's insistence, Haru believes the missing children should be the priority, not busting a distribution operation out in the docks. He's determined to find out the truth by night's end, even if that means overlooking a few protocols. 

He looks at Yoko. "Yeah. So if there's something you know, you should tell me." 

"I... I really don't know anything," she says. Yoko fixes her skirt. Her fingers are small, brightly painted with yellow polish. She stares at the folds of her skirt bunching on her lap. 

Haru says nothing. He stands up and gestures at her shoulders. "Keep the jacket." 

"Wait."

Yoko jumps out of her seat and with a shifty glance around the room shuffles closer to Haru.

"...There was this guy who tried talking to me and Hiroshi once. Said he'd give us drugs if we let him film us kissing and stuff. I don't know if he's with any of the syndicates, but he always turns up around here for the wet auctions."

Wet auctions?

"My team shut those down months ago," Haru says. 

"Obviously not all of them." She crosses her arms. "There's one tonight."

"And this guy you mentioned, is he helping run the show?"

Yoko shakes her head. "No. Creep like him would have tried to call dibs on me. But they don't do kids. Like, I know for a fact, okay? I tried to get on the list, and they told me I had to be at least twenty-one. The vamp who runs it is a real hardass about that. Some kind of big shot, I think, but no one's ever seen his face."

She pauses and looks at the floor, clutching her wrist protectively. 

"It's good money."

"It is," Haru says. "But it's dangerous. Trust me, it's not worth it."

Yoko's laugh is hollow. "You're on the city payroll, the hell do you know?" 

Haru's losing her. He backtracks. "This wet auction, what are they looking for? Virgins? Women? Type O-positive?"

"It's not like that. They have this dumb screening process." She snorts as if recalling something amusing. "You have to pass like a test or something."

"You're telling me people are lining up and competing for... what? A shot at being some vampire's club soda?" 

She smirks. "You've never been bit, huh?"

"No," he says. As if that's something to be proud of. "And you haven't either." Haru points at her smooth, unmarked neck. She smells entirely human. No one's placed claim, and if there's something Haru knows about dhampirs, it's that they're only ever truly territorial about two things: turf and good ol' virgin blood. 

Yoko clutches her nape and frowns. "Whatever. The rest of my body is game, could be somewhere else for all you know."

"Right. You want to tell me where this auction is going down?"

"Not really," Yoko says. She shifts under Haru's unimpressed, bitter expression. "Look, I seriously don't know." She looks over his shoulder and stiffens. Haru knows fear. It's not a good smell, sharp and unpleasantly acidic.

"I have to go."

Haru grips her arm before she gives him the slip. He hands her a business card. "If you're ever in trouble, call this number."

"Yeah, that's not happening," she says, but she takes the card anyway.

Her defensiveness bothers him. It isn't right. She should be at home, worrying about school, thinking about repotting plants for the gardening club, or whether she's going to make volleyball captain. Not in a dark-core nightclub at one in the morning talking to an undercover cop.  

"Go home," Haru tells her. "Feed your cat, hang out with your boyfriend. Do whatever. Just get out of here and don't come back." 

His badge burns in his pocket. "You don't want to stick around if I'm crashing this party."

 

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With a little due diligence, Haru learns the auction is taking place in the neighboring hotel.

"Just don't get caught," Kamei says through the call, chewing loudly. Sachiko had brought muffins today. "If I have to sit through another meeting with the honchos, I'm going to eat my fist." 

Haru disconnects the line and leaves his phone in the glove compartment. Kamei's a second-rate cop, but a lifetime of shady porn has made him a regular on the darknet forums, and sussing out the unsavory is kind of his thing. Kiss Kiss Fang Fang has an access point on the second floor.

Haru doesn't waste any time heading back inside and crossing the little indoor bridge suspended over a crowded circle bar, the fifth he's spotted tonight. It's a smart way to lure humans: cheap alcohol and sexy music. And well, you always have the fang-chasers, waiting like bait for a bite whether the party vibes are a hit or not. Haru doesn't get the appeal. Then again, playing chew toy seems to be an exclusively human thing. As much as Haru enjoys tearing into a wad of smoked meat, he isn't about to offer his throat for the pincushion experience. 

Live-feeding isn't illegal. It works a lot like sex. Two consenting adults doing the deed in the privacy of their home is a non-issue. The gray area is in profit, selling feeding sessions like streetside hotdogs.

Like Roppongi, some areas approved certain vendors to provide these services—many which included delivery, likely to the satisfaction and convenience of one particularly infuriating dhampir. But this was only after verification, a hefty city fee, and a lifetime of regular audits.

In the end, organized crime cares little to pass inspection. Working out of the scope of legality affords people like Umezo, the Gondawara group's head deputy—and a Class B dhampir—a non-taxed, non-regulated, streamlined feeding experience. He's guaranteed to show up at the auction. In the least, Haru might catch Yoko's mystery creep. 

Royal Conference Suite A is difficult to miss, given only two suites span the whole floor. A large man stands at the doorway, face fixed in a professional scowl as people in evening attire and Venetian masks approach and flash invitation cards. Haru adjusts the collar of the maintenance jumpsuit he nicked from basement storage. His employee tag, KUROSAKI, shines in the light like a blade.

For full effect, he wears a utility belt and carries a chunky toolbox. One earphone clings to an ear like he's half-heartedly listening to a podcast. He's extra like that. It's why he made the Task Force. (It's also why he's one hair away from being kicked off it.)

The man checking invitations smells of expired mints and strong cologne. Haru braces himself for another a wave of clashing smells to assault his nose. It isn't as bad as the club, at least, where the air was clogged with evaporated sweat and the distinct scent of alcohol-induced happiness. Haru waits until a sharply-dressed couple walks up to the beefy bouncer. It's then he strikes, striding over with a bored frown.

"This the place with the busted toilet?" he rudely interjects. 

The couple gives him a cursory glance, sashaying away with noses tipped in contempt. Bougie dhampirs. Of course. The bouncer, this one human, is just as unimpressed with his presence. His mouth tightens. 

"Yes? No? I don't got all day, man," Haru says. 

"I will check," the doorman says in an unidentifiable accent. He raises a hand to the wired piece in his ear. Haru slides into his pocket and casually activates the jammer. When the man's forehead creases in confusion, Haru swallows a smile and waves him off. 

"You know what? Forget it." He checks his watch. "My shift is over in two minutes. Yasamune can handle it." Haru sighs with all the pain of a blue-collar worker and begins to walk away. "Not my problem if you assholes get a shit parade," he mutters under his breath, loud enough for the targeted party to hear.

"Wait." 

Haru turns. Arches a brow. 

The bouncer jerks his head inside the room. "Go." 

Forcing a look of dread, Haru rolls his eyes and shuffles back over. "Seriously?" 

The man nods again. "Go." 

Without another complaint, Haru slips into the conference hall. He quickly zig-zags his way through the sprawl of patrons. Haru stays alert, walks with purpose. They teach you this in the academy, how to stay cool and look like you belong in a tank of predators. Haru can't compare them to sharks. Sharks don't hunt humans, and if they take the occasional accidental chomp, they know when to let go. 

It's not like he's a bigot. He understands the struggle of fighting a violent nature. But there's been an uptick in v-related homicides, and the last few bodies Haru had the displeasure of handing over to the medical examiner remain deeply ingrained in his mind. He loves his job, but death... that's one thing he'll never get used to. 

The party is sparse. At most, fifty or so warm (and cold, mostly cold) bodies flitting about. The lighting is low and intimate. In the corner, a violinist plays a smooth, generic melody. It's every bit the picture he imagined. Stuffy and excessive. There's a platform occupying a portion of the space. No doubt where the evening's goods' will be paraded around. 

"Can I help you?" 

Haru glances to his side, to a woman in a deep-plunge mermaid dress wrapped around her body like a spray tan. He's a little taken aback by her sudden appearance, not thinking any of the partygoers would approach a man in a stained uniform. She leans in to read his nametag. Her obscenely pale breasts jostle in the tight corset, and Haru can't help but flush.

"Kurosaki?" she says aloud. 

"Don't mind me," Haru says and lifts his toolbox. "I'm just here for some emergency maintenance." 

"No one's reported any issues."

Her eyes are an unusual amethyst. Nothing about her demeanor seems unnatural, save for that shrewd gaze. She looks at Haru like she can see inside him. Maybe she can. 

"You know, this has to be the most creative way anyone's ever managed to sneak into one of these." 

Haru grips the toolbox a little tighter. At this point, Takei should really just revoke his undercover privileges.  

The beautiful dhampir giggles. It's an airy, seductive sound, a modern siren call. "Don't be scared."

She touches his arm, purring. Haru stays cool. He isn't so much scared as annoyed. His gut tells him he's landed himself in hot water. Magma, even. 

The dhampir closes in on him and sticks to his face, cheek-on-cheek. "I won't tell on you," she murmurs, her breath a sickly-sweet fragrance. These bastards always smelled good. A hand sensually trails up Haru's arm, claw-like nails grazing the starchy fabric of his uniform, pressing hard enough to pinch his flesh. After lightly running a finger along the side of his throat, she teases the jumpsuit's collar. 

Realization slowly dawns on him. This dhampir thinks he crashed the event to get bit. He almost laughs. Only years of training and fieldwork allow him to keep a straight face. 

"You're cute," she says, pulling back a respectable distance. Her nose twitches. "But smell a little strange. Is that cold medicine?" 

"Yes." Haru tries to look chastised and bashfully tilts his head. "Sorry. Is that a problem?" 

"What flavor?" 

"Strawberry," he answers with no hesitation. She nods, satisfied. 

"You can call me Countess," she tells him. "Come with me, and I'll show you your place." 

Yep. Right into a pit of magma. 

In the span of seconds, Haru is ushered into a dressing room packed with humans, their heavily perfumed and half-naked bodies dusted in a slight golden sheen. Like the patrons, they’re also wearing masks. He doesn't have time to take in his surroundings. It’s a feeding frenzy—well, more a preamble to one. Two women rise from the shadows and descend upon him like vultures, their hands digging into their aprons to wield a sponge and a brush. Haru's never been more afraid of ordinary household objects. 

They make quick work of wrangling him out of the stiff jumpsuit, then vigorously wipe him down with moist towelettes and stuff him into a pair of dark slacks.

“I’m not going out there without a shirt,” Haru says. The woman rubbing gloss on his mouth rolls her eyes. He smacks his lips and tastes vanilla. Haru tries not to think too deeply about why the flavor of his mouth has any importance. 

Haru’s given a loose button-down shirt eventually, though coerced into undoing the first three buttons. God forbid he covers his clavicle. Despite the absurdity of the situation, he's impressed by the swift transformation. From working man to a glittery, auctionable product in the span of a half-hour. True supernatural efficiency.

The hustle and bustle continue. After being spritzed with a cologne smelling like peaches and cream, a highball glass appears in front of his face. Haru stares at the lime wedges suspended in the water and the dumb curly straw.

"Hydrate," someone says. "You're up in twenty." 

Well, fuck. Talk about blending with the environment. Not exactly how he planned to scope out the place, but when among beasts, you either play dead or play nice. Or as Cho-san once said: the darkest shadow lies beneath the candle, the safest haven is inside the monster’s mouth.

Haru takes the glass, flicks the straw aside, and tosses it back. It goes down easy. Play nice it is. 

 

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Scene: Midori Garden Hotel, the hour of the wolf. Center Stage: two predators, no watering hole.

 

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The first thing Haru notices is the rope. He wakes slowly, ass planted on a hard chair. The patterned marble floor is a blur beneath him. When he goes to move, the reinforced rope drags painfully against his wrists. It's an odd pain. On the edge of sweet, like the feel of velvet on raw skin. He bites the inside of his cheek. Frustration. That's what the night has amounted to. 100% pure organic frustration, and not from concentrate. So much for laying low. Suppose his department got wind of his little off-the-books recon—Haru's looking at six months of desk duty, folding pamphlets, and making labels for case files running all the way back to 1992. 

The second thing Haru notices is the miserable heat radiating from his pores. This isn’t Haru’s first rodeo. He’s no stranger to being caught and drugged, tossed around like a sack of long grain rice. He knows the feel of a detoxifying agent, has been chained enough times to warehouse beams to recognize foul play. The auctioneers had obviously felt the need to slip him something to flush out the bitterness of the 'cold medicine’ in his system.

Wait. The wet auction. How did I…

When did it all go ass up?  The lady dhampir, the glittery humans standing around like chattel, the auctioning stage—it all seems so distant. He tries to recall the last thing he remembers and ends up giving himself a nauseating headache. The memories skip around his mind like an old film reel on a busted projector. Every scene is hazy, chemically corrupted. Haru can't make sense of any of it.

"If I knew I'd have a dog for company, I would have brought treats.” 

The deep and familiar voice jars Haru fully awake. On instinct, he jerks his head toward the nearest window, his body going cold at the sight of the moon through the balcony's glass door. A big, busty moon three slices away from being whole and his suppressants are wearing off. Fantastic. He growls and glares across the room, yanking at his binds.

The dhampir sits on a tacky, oversized armchair. It's the kind of thing you'd see in the tea room of an English manor. He sits with one leg strewn across his lap and sips away at a glass of unambiguously dark wine. The color is rich, and when he swirls the drink, it moves the way venous blood would, dense and sluggish. Haru tries the rope again, using considerable force to pry it apart.

"I applaud your efforts, but I suggest you don't waste your time. It's silk-steel," the dhampir says. 

Haru squints at him. "Kambe Daisuke," he spits. It’s been four months since he last saw the dhampir. Haru has no interest in a reunion. 

Sweat dribbles down his temple and curves around his jaw, stopping only to collect at the base of his neck. He feels the weight of something there, a thick swath of material. Leather, maybe. A collar? 

Goddamn it, Kambe. 

Disoriented, Haru turns his unfocused gaze to the menace before him. The fog clouding his mind doesn’t let up, and Haru figures this is one round of lock-the-cop that's going to require some extra elbow grease. 

"Good evening, Inspector Katou. So glad you could join us." Kambe points to the side, at a fuzzy lump of white curled on the hotel bed. "Have you met Lady Anastasia?" 

The cat twitches at the sound of her name. She pops up, shaking her dainty head and arching her spine before padding over to her master. Kambe gingerly picks her up and places her on his lap. She purrs. Haru frowns at the fluffy pampered creature and watches as Kambe strokes her fur like a smarmy cartoon villain. His fingers are objectively beautiful: fair, long, and blemish-free. 

"You didn't strike me as a pet person," Haru says. His tone is casual by experience, but mostly by necessity. No use giving Kambe the reaction he's looking for. The cat flops on her back and bears her milky belly. It's a little endearing, Haru has to admit that. 

"There is some merit to owning one." Kambe tenderly pats her white mane. It’s a bizarre sight. Haru didn’t think he was capable of tenderness. "I can trust she'll remain at my side until she is no longer of this world." 

"I mean, yeah, that's the point. They're life companions. I guess that's the best someone like you can ask for—blind devotion."

It's a cruel thing to say. Haru doesn't think much of it, however, and it's obvious neither does Kambe. He offers no rebuttal, only silence, and continues to stroke the immaculate coat of his prized show cat. The single indicator of Kambe's potential humanity comes in the form of a slight wrinkle in his brow. Haru's not falling for it. 

"Are you enjoying the party?" Kambe asks. 

Haru can't help it, he chuckles. It comes out a bit breathless. "Figures you'd be involved. So this is your little side project, huh? I always told the Chief you were playing dirty. Anyone who runs three-hundred and sixty-two blood banks isn't going to stay on the right side of the law." 

Kambe leans back, the model image of zen. It's infuriating. There are days Haru wishes he cared less about doing the right thing, juggling just enough bad to push Kambe into a corner and strip him of his pride. It's that insidious urge that keeps him awake at night. He hates the way Kambe makes him feel, hates that one single encounter had him reconsidering vigilantism. These days, Haru has a better understanding of crimes of passion—and why they happen in the first place. Everyone has a breaking point. A point of no return.

Haru may be learning his. 

"It's a perfectly respectable industry," Kambe says. 

"You're an exploitative piece of shit," Haru snaps.

He feels the binds weaken, the tearing of silk-steel audible. Haru doesn’t move. Kambe doesn't appear to notice. If he’s remembering correctly, Kambe’s keenest sense is his sense of smell. Dhampir? More like a bloodhound. Which one of them is the dog again? 

"I’m exploitative? By providing my kin with quality, federally-approved blood?" he asks Haru.

"By opening sourcing centers in disadvantaged communities. People in need are easier to rip off."

Kambe leisurely rubs the top of Lady Anastasia's small and furry head. He's completely unperturbed. Like Haru decided to drop by for a quick chat, and is not, in fact, involuntarily strapped to a chair, drenched in acrid sweat from heel to scalp. The detoxifying agent coursing through his body leaves him chilled to the bone. He doesn't need to touch his skin to know he's running a fever.

"Selling blood and plasma is degrees safer and easier than sweatshop work, wouldn't you say?" Kambe asks. 

"You sell what you get for five times the price," Haru argues. 

"I run a business, not a charity. If you're interested in philanthropy, that's a different Kambe. Look her up. She runs a non-profit."

Ha.

"Funny." Haru's temples throb. He keeps the pain from bleeding into his expression. "It's seriously a tragedy that you're related." He pins Kambe with a vicious sneer. "Is this what this is about? You didn't strike me as the type to have a cousin complex."

Had Suzue mentioned their chance encounter to her asshole of a relative? It had only been a few days since the bomb scare in Ginza. Back then, Haru understood that involving himself with Suzue would invite a world of conflict. There's no avoiding the likes of Kambe Daisuke and his rich guy bullshit. But Haru's the definition of a won man—Suzue is his ideal, the midnight sun to his full moon. Coming home to someone like her, who wouldn't want that? Who wouldn't endure the fury of a self-made god? The Prince of Shadows himself?

"I like to check in from time to time," Kambe explains. "Suzue has a habit of picking up questionable strays. Don't take her interest in you personally." 

"You think I don't know what she has to put up with? She's not your lapdog." 

"You’re right, she isn't," Kambe says. "I'd say she's more of a retainer." 

Haru clenches his teeth so hard his jawbones creak. "Why don't you do all of us a favor and mind your own goddamn business?"

"My interference is instrumental in encouraging Suzue to make good choices." Kambe raises his glass, marking his words. "You, Katou Haru, are not." 

"Screw you," Haru says.

"I'll consider it." 

Kambe tilts his head, and a look of superiority crosses his mean little face. Not unlike a king berating his loyal subject. Haru doesn't cower in response. Kambe won’t ever be getting anything from him. No loyalty. No fear. Full-stop, the dhampir can take his diamond-bedazzled crown and shove it up his—

"I believe you're in clear violation of your operating procedures. Or am I to believe this surprise visit of yours has been approved by your division?" 

Damn it. Haru ignores the flare of anxiety twisting his stomach. "I had reasonable cause." 

"Did you now?" Kambe sniffs his glass and lifts it to his mouth. Haru can't help but follow the sly motion of his tongue as it gathers the moisture along an unreasonably plush upper lip. He's noticed that Kambe is never hasty. He likes to savor things. I have a sophisticated palette, he once told him. Snob.

"Let me go," Haru bites out. It's a demand above all else. He's not bargaining with any devils tonight.

"No, I don't think I will."

Daisuke sets the glass on the small table by his side. He folds his hands and addresses Haru in such a condescending tone, an inhuman snarl nearly escapes Haru's throat. Kambe wants him to lose it. Haru knows this just like he knows the scent of smoky cedar and exotic spice wafting from the other man. From the moment he marched into his private office, Kambe's been dead set on drawing out every ugly, violent, selfish urge from Haru's core. This is nothing but a pastime to him. Free entertainment. 

"What the hell do you want then?" Haru asks.

I have more important things to do than deal with you, he wants to say, but thinks better of it. With Kambe’s involvement, there’s no doubt he’s privy to useful information. Maybe something can come out of this unwanted encounter. 

"An apology would be a promising start." 

"And what exactly would I be apologizing for? Last time I checked, live-feed auctions were still illegal." 

"The Superintendent General and I have an arrangement." 

Haru scoffs. Of course, he did. At this juncture, Haru's convinced Kambe can burn the city to ash or summon the four horsemen and get a special commendation in the form of a park statue. When you had unlimited pocket money, what couldn't be yours?

Well, you're not getting a pass from me. 

"Moreover, I would argue that showing up to a party you weren't invited to is exceedingly rude, Inspector."

"I'm not sorry for anything, Kambe," Haru says, mimicking the exaggerated enunciation. 

"I suppose it is up to us to rectify that." Daisuke slowly rolls his sleeves up corded forearms. Haru's gaze briefly strays, the wild pounding of his heart picking up a notch. "Since an untrained mutt has no concept of civility."

Kambe stands, a reaper in pressed clothing. He lovingly places his cat on the chair, adjusting her monstrosity of a bow. It's hard to look away from him. Haru isn’t sure he wants to. Kambe’s body, his face, that obnoxious better-than-you bearing. It all draws Haru in. There is a suppleness to his movements, a beautiful and terrifying fluidity, and Haru thinks this must be the famous vampire thrall, the ability to charm by presence alone. Kambe approaches him. 

The primitive part of Haru's brain goes on alert. In the presence of another predator, and amid a nearly full moon no less, all Haru wants is to lunge and bear teeth. Kambe's milky, slender throat—wouldn't it look better in his mouth? Would he bleed just as red as the wine he drinks? Or is it as black as tar, as dark as the soul Kambe keeps?

Haru dispels the intrusive thoughts. He reaches for his anger, anchors himself to reality on spite alone. Breathe. Focus. Stay in control. Kambe is only an obstacle among many. Haru blows a few strands of hair away from his sticky forehead. 

"You know, those dog jokes are really overplayed. Don't care to be a little more original?"

Cool fingers slide under his chin. He expected colder. Someone like Kambe, who's only a fraction from being pureblood, doesn't have the right to feel so human. Haru doesn't hesitate to meet the steely gaze, the blue of Kambe's iris on the verge of silver. From experience, Haru knows a vamp's gaze is his greatest weapon. It's too bad. Kambe's are especially pretty.

"Brave of you to stare into the eye of the beast," Kambe murmurs.

His breath, also lukewarm, fans Haru's cheek. He sounds pleased. No one should have a voice like that. Like it belongs in a pot of fondue. Asshole.

"Says the man at the mouth of a wolf," Haru retorts. He slides his tongue across his front teeth and flashes a long canine. Kambe's response isn't disappointing; his gaze flickers red. Is that a promise or a warning? 

"You can't put me under a thrall. We're trained for this,” Haru says.

"That sounds like a thinly-veiled invitation to prove otherwise." 

As he speaks, Kambe trails a smooth finger over the shell of Haru's ear. He squeezes Haru's earlobe and rubs it. The sensation is... puzzling. Puzzling and prickly and not anything Haru needs.

Haru sneers. "It isn't." 

"Then I'll take a page out of your book," Kambe announces. "And simply invite myself." 

Without another word, he slowly eases himself over Haru's lap, knees folding over thighs. Haru goes rigid. Some deep, ancient urge begins to surface through the veil—a new hunger, but a different kind of devouring. The delicate line of Daisuke's throat flashes through his mind's eye again, the desire in the pit of Haru's stomach cresting in waves. 

"Careful, Kambe," Haru says through gritted teeth, his canines sliding from their place in full-form, ready for a demonstration. "You might not want to corner a chained dog." 

"It's fine." 

Kambe is flippant. Not much of a surprise there. He pushes into Haru until they’re chest-to-chest and grips the back of the chair's headrest. A bare wrist brushes Haru's clenched jaw, eliciting a shiver. 

“Sensitive?” Kambe mocks. 

Haru can only bury so much. At the end of the day, the body reacts before the mind, and Kambe has set out to make thinking an impossible task. The lunar fever creeping in on Haru doesn’t help his case. 

Kambe daringly nips one of Haru's ears and teases the cartilage with his blunter teeth. He suckles around the area, making it hot and slick. Haru bites down on his tongue.

Daisuke sighs. "You see, Inspector, I've never met an Alpha I couldn't pin down." 

The Kambe straddling his lap is a challenge like no other. Haru has never met anything so unhinged and dangerous, and in his sleek designer suit, just as well-dressed. Most monsters don't have the decency to smell or look this agreeable. It's probably for the best. Haru can't afford the distraction.

He gulps, forcing down the excessive saliva collecting in his mouth. Stupid, overactive glands. Haru disguises his discomfort with a dark chuckle. "Sounds to me like you want to break that streak."

"Break? No." Daisuke grinds down. "Bend? Yes. Considerably." 

He lets Kambe do his little song and dance. Haru stifles a groan when a strong hand reaches for the seam of his pants and cups his cock.

"Serviceable," Kambe says, causing Haru to choke on his spit. He startles violently in his seat. His body—the traitorous stupid thing—responds to Kambe’s touch, cock instantly hardening. This absolute bastard. Always getting his way. Fury makes Haru's chest tight, and he gradually finds himself slipping away into an alien darkness, swept by a primal directive. Hunt. Dominate. Feast. 

Mate. Mount. Claim.

The more time passes, the more compelling it all becomes. He grows dizzy with the different urges fighting for power. Haru's a kingdom unto himself. 

"Untie me and maybe I'll show you what a real knot looks like," he snarls on impulse. Shit. Forget strapping him to a chair, Kambe should have gagged him. 

Kambe hums in dismissal. "Oh, I'm intimately acquainted."

A strange feeling bubbles inside him, a lot like heartburn and just as unpleasant. Haru bucks upward, jostling Kambe and grinding against the swell of his ass. The fact Kambe does not lack in this region does not go unnoticed. 

"Not with this one, you aren't."

Acquainted? Tch. Haru will show him acquainted. Unable to resist the delicious pressure bearing down on him, he rocks his hips, savoring the soft gasp that escapes Kambe, the way his body trembles then goes taut. Haru’s losing it. Exactly like Kambe wants. 

Damn it.

"You're right," Kambe says. His voice is only slightly strained.

He reaches behind Haru and strokes down the length of his arm. Haru takes a sharp, shaky breath, the touch burning like an iron brand in its wake. There might be something to this twisted and erotic form of intimidation, after all. Haru's never felt more on edge, toeing the line between doom and disaster.

As soon as Kambe stiffens above him, Haru knows what the dhampir found—the loose rope, now limply hanging from his wrists. This time, Haru goes in for the kill. Before Kambe can retreat and scatter into the shadows, Haru tears through the rest of the binding and clutches Kambe's hips, fingers sinking into the firm meat of his body, holding him down without tempering his own strength. Kambe can take it. If he asks for it, he can take it. Those are the rules. 

"You sure that was silk-steel?" Haru asks with a charged smirk. 

Kambe remains rooted in his lap. Unshaken. He answers as he normally would, with unnatural calm. "Yes. Imported from Morocco."

No. That won't do. Not a single bit. Haru jerks to his feet, taking Kambe with him and hoisting him by his deliciously toned thighs. No longer operating within reason, he tosses Kambe onto the mattress. Kambe bounces on impact, dislodging a fat pillow, yet takes all the commotion in stride, put-together as ever in his crisp grey vest. He leans back on his elbows to smolder at Haru with questioning eyes. Always cool like that... Haru really wants to mess him up. Wreck him and his perfect mask. Haru wants to show Kambe what it means to be on the other side of a greedy and ruthless bite, what it means to be fed upon. 

The waxing moon hangs over Haru, silver and sure. He buckles beneath the weight of instinct. He slips in and out of consciousness—the restrained super-ego—fighting his wolf for control. The animal fights back. 

"You still in there, Inspector?" Kambe tilts his head.

Haru's not sure what he's asking. He clambers onto the bed, crowding the dhampir with his larger frame. Even like this, with Kambe spread out beneath him, it doesn’t feel like a conquering. It’s nowhere near one. More. He needs more than this. Kambe doesn’t smell afraid and that’s not right. 

He needs to be a quivering, rotten mess.

“Still with me?” Kambe asks again. “Or should I be concerned?” 

“I don’t… know,” Haru answers honestly. His vision wavers. Time has slowed. Everything feels like a dream within a dream. Haru wraps his hands around Kambe’s throat. He squeezes. Just to test the grip. That’s all he’s doing. Checking the structural integrity of Kambe’s body. This is the most important thing now. Nothing else.

“I… ” he trails off, panting. I want. I need. “Turn over.”

When Kambe doesn’t move quickly enough, Haru does the work for him, flipping the dhampir on his stomach. Haru grabs him by his short, inky locks. He's rough with his handling and Kambe’s breath hitches. 

“Katou,” he hears Kambe say. It’s like he’s speaking underwater. “Katou. Are you listening? Katou. Mutt. Idiot dog. Filthy beast.” 

For the first time, Kambe shows a measure of resistance. He twists in Haru’s grip.

“HEUSC, standby for Emergency Protocol 103: Inspector Katou Haru is One Very Bad Boy.”