They sat beneath the red foliage of the old maple tree with its delicate weeping branches outspread like a mother’s arms, cradling her precious little children about her. Soon the tree would drop her leaves and shiver, naked, throughout the coming winter, but for now she was brilliant and beautiful in her exquisite velvet robes of red. It was the middle of autumn and on this bright, clear night they could see and smell everything. The full moon hung in the sky, huge and round and bright as could be like a glowing white jewel against a backdrop of glittering stars in a pool of inky black and blue; lush grass and rich soil; the earthy odour of decaying leaves on the ground and impending rain far off in the distance; smoke from people in nearby towns roasting sweet potatoes and chestnuts for the mid-autumn Tsukimi festival, when people would gather to celebrate the autumn harvest moon.
A gentle breeze whispered through the grass and leaves: fill your larders, for this winter will be a harsh one. They needn’t heed the warning on the wind, for they lived beyond the daily struggles of mankind. It had been some decades since they were brought to their maker’s home and they were quickly approaching their seventies but, sitting beneath the old maple tree together, they were just as young and fresh and beautiful as they had been the day that their hearts stopped beating in their twenties. Their skin was firm and fair and unblemished; mortal disease could not touch them, and time was of no consequence, for they could not age.
“I do enjoy looking at the moon,” the first young man sighed.
His dark-haired companion smiled. “I know. I don’t believe you have ever missed a single Tsukimi in all the years that I have known you, Sugizo.”
“Nor shall I.” Sugizo sighed again, wistfully this time. “My mother used to tell me that story when I was a child. It’s been so long that I cannot recall her face, but I will always remember the story of the rabbit on the moon.”
His friend remained quiet. He knew that Sugizo held little fondness for his mother, having sold him to a pleasure house when he was but a child of eight years old. At least he had a sweet fairytale to remind him of the kinder days of his childhood.
“Heath, look,” Sugizo said, pointing. “You can see him.”
Heath laughed lightly. “The moon is far too high in the sky. You cannot possibly see the rabbit from here.”
“But I can,” Sugizo insisted. Still pointing, he pulled his companion closer with his free hand. “If you sit here, look at where I am pointing. You can see his long ears and his cute, round body. Our little friend watches over us.”
They sat beneath the old maple tree, shoulder to shoulder, cheek to cheek. Sugizo’s gaze was fixed upon the moon but Heath’s eye was drawn to the hand that held him close. He gave a light cough and Sugizo withdrew his hand, looking down.
“I… I am sorry. That was not… proper, was it?”
Heath, too, avoided his gaze, but he smiled again. He would have blushed if he could. “No. It is quite all right. I… I don’t mind.” What he meant was I liked it, but perhaps would not have been ‘proper’ to admit, either.
Sugizo swallowed a sigh of relief and cast a glance at his companion. Heath looked especially lovely tonight. The soft glow of the moon highlighted his elegant features, in particular the beautiful eyes that had drawn him in the very moment they met some forty years ago. Heath had smelled of blood and terror and despair that night. Now, he smelled of jasmine and sweet wisteria and some unidentifiable, intoxicating, irresistible scent. Sugizo watched Heath blink slowly and he raised his gaze to meet Sugizo’s eyes with a questioning look.
Smiling bashfully, Sugizo looked away again. “I am sorry. I didn’t mean to stare. I simply wondered…”
Sugizo hesitated and chanced a look into Heath’s eyes, always so warm and patient. “Whether you would ever think of leaving this place.”
“Oh.” Heath thought upon this for a moment and shook his head. “No. I could not leave. Not if you remained here.”
“Then what if… we were to leave together?”
Heath did not answer for a moment, but he held Sugizo’s gaze calmly. “I hate the way he touches me.”
By he, Sugizo knew that there was only one person: their vain, capricious maker, strong and beautiful and golden with an explosive temper as imperious as the sun itself.
“I hate it when he touches me, too,” Sugizo said quietly. He had spent almost twenty years working at the Gin no Tsuki pleasure house in Kanagawa. As a child, they had dressed the pretty little boy as a pretty little girl and he would greet guests at the door and serve refreshments to them. During this time he had been groped and fondled by more lecherous older men than he could count, and then when he came of age, he was pressed into service where men and women alike would pay a handsome fee to do all sorts of things to him. Yet in all these years he had never been quite so repulsed by another’s touch or felt so dirty and used as he did now, under Yoshiki’s roof.
“I…” Heath began softly and reached out to touch Sugizo’s hand. “If I had my way, Yoshiki would never lay a hand on you.”
They both knew that that was an impossible dream. Yoshiki was stronger than either of them and even if that weren’t the case, they couldn’t lay a hand on him if they valued their lives. Theirs was a bloodthirsty, cutthroat breed with no rules or laws to keep them in check, save for one: the ultimate sin of harming or killing the one who gave them new life. Those who were guilty of the crime of killing their maker would soon see a bloody end at the hands of their peers.
Still, there was no harm in dreaming of a life without their maker, Sugizo thought with a smile. He leaned in close with a conspiratorial smile, as though he were about to divulge a great secret. His lips were almost close enough to brush against Heath’s ear. “I wouldn’t mind if you touched me that way.”
Perhaps it wasn’t proper either but when they gazed into each other’s eyes, nothing and nobody else mattered. They had spent far too many years dancing around each other and the simple words they exchanged tonight brought it all to the surface, culminating in a kiss with dreamy, hooded eyes, the meeting of cool, soft lips and a delicate gasp, half surprise, half delight. Just one simple little kiss and their lips parted. Sugizo rested his forehead against Heath’s and dared to reach up and touch his face, a tender caress of his thumb over Heath’s delicate skin and they shared a tiny smile before their lips met again with more confidence this time, feeling the soft brush of dark lashes on cool porcelain cheeks, and it was almost as pleasurable as feeding on live prey, like a gentle flame rippling beneath their skin, a startling warmth that burned and glowed inside them like hot liquor, chancing a tentative taste of Heath, propriety be damned, and trembled with delight when Heath responded in kind. Heath cupped the side of Sugizo’s face with one hand and Sugizo sighed into their kiss, clasped that hand in his own. Mine. Yours. Ours. This wasn’t just kissing. They had each kissed other people before. What they shared now were songs and poems, shy promises and bold declarations, visions of forever, a delightful secret like a hidden, gleaming pearl that was known only to the two of them. Happiness. Exhilaration. Peace.
Sugizo’s body exploded with pain and somebody was screaming and it was Heath’s voice, Heath was screaming his name and he tried to move, he needed to be by Heath’s side and shield him from whatever danger had befallen them and he bit back a scream of his own; his arms and legs wouldn’t obey as though the very bones were broken and with much effort he opened his eyes and he stared down at the unnatural way his arm bent at the elbow, oh gods his bones were broken, and he set his jaw, grasped his forearm with his good hand and shoved the joint back into place with a thick crack and through the blur of agony and tears he saw Heath lunging for him, only for a furious streak of gold to swoop in and catch him by the scruff of his neck.
“No!” Heath cried. “Spare him, my lord. Take me instead!”
Blush pink lips twisted into a snarl of satisfaction. “As you wish.”
Lying in a heap against the side of Yoshiki’s manse, his body alight and thrumming with pain while his cracked bones twisted and groaned and tried to mend themselves, Sugizo could only watch in silent horror when Yoshiki sank his teeth deep into Heath’s neck and tore a great gash from throat to chest, drowning Heath’s tortured screams in his own blood, and their eyes meeting for one fleeting moment: Shock. Tears. Agony.
With one last contemptuous sneer, Yoshiki threw Heath’s broken, bloody body on the ground and left in a whirlwind of red-hot fury. Sugizo did not see where he went; all he could see was blood, blood everywhere, Heath was choking on it in between short, shallow gasps as the likes of Mana, Takuro and Hisashi looked on sadly.
Takuro knelt down in the blood-drenched grass beside Sugizo. “What can we do?”
But Sugizo did not hear him. Terrified, he hovered over Heath’s barely conscious form, unaware of the tears running down his face. He looked down at the ground between his knees. The flow of blood from Heath’s body had slowed and it spread in a thick, dark pool around them and everything that Sugizo saw was red, red, red: red grass, red dirt, red hands, red leaves. Having lost so much blood so quickly, Heath’s already pale skin turned as white and dry as paper and his once beautiful, leanly-muscled body was as limp and withered as a long-dead corpse, as though the past few decades of bountiful youth had finally caught up with him in the blink of an eye. He was barely breathing now, just the occasional wheeze of his body desperately clawing to stay alive and failing, and his eyes were blank and unseeing as Sugizo knelt, cradling his thin body, cool tears cutting clear tracks through the smears of blood on his face. It wasn’t fair. They hadn’t even had a chance to enjoy their time together and Yoshiki, jealous, petty Yoshiki couldn’t stand to see someone else’s happiness when it didn’t involve himself and had to rip them apart. Yoshiki who had given them his blood and forced them to live by his will.
“Sugizo.” Takuro’s voice sounded very far away. “He has lost too much blood. I fear…”
Something about this train of thought gave Sugizo pause and he gave Takuro a hard stare. Everything revolved around blood. Blood was their death and their life. Blood had made them and blood alone sustained them. Blood could heal them. Heath had lost a lot of blood but if he took in enough fresh blood…
“Sugizo, don’t—!” Hisashi cried, but he had already torn his own forearm open with his teeth and pressed the bleeding wound to Heath’s already bloodstained lips, pooling off and drawing a lovely line of red across his withered cheek before dripping into the puddle of blood beneath them that had already begun to soak into the earth. Sugizo held Heath tight and wept bitterly, fearing the worst, until Heath’s body jerked to life like a wooden doll; his eyes, still clouded and seeing nothing, snapped open and a low moan of agony escaped from his red-painted lips. Still sobbing but clinging to that sliver of hope, Sugizo tilted Heath’s head back and let the blood from his arm trickle into his slack mouth. The smell of fresh blood drove his animal instinct to survive, and the dying Heath weakly swallowed this generous offering of life. Before long, Sugizo’s wound healed over and Heath swallowed one last time and his eyes fluttered closed with a sigh, his body once again going limp. Sugizo pressed a trembling kiss to his forehead and gathered him up in his arms. Their clothes were soaked with blood and heavy, and his still-healing bones ached terribly, but he paid this no heed. Without a look or a word to those who looked on, Sugizo took Heath and they disappeared into the night, never to return to their maker’s home.