At the sound of Yukke’s urgent cries, the two in question hurried to the room where Satochi was resting, expecting the worst. Heath and Sugizo followed more slowly and peered inside to see a relieved Yukke hugging a bemused Satochi so tightly that he was almost strangling him. Tatsurou lingered by the door but Miya sat by Satochi’s side and took his hand.
“How do you feel?” Miya asked gravely.
Satochi grinned and flexed his arms. “I feel good! I feel like I could wrestle an ox!”
“I’m sure you could,” Miya chuckled.
“Satochi, would you like some time to rest before you join us outside?” Heath suggested. “There are a few important things to discuss.”
“Yes, please,” Yukke said quickly, glancing at Satochi. “If you wouldn’t mind.”
Heath smiled kindly and just as he slid the door closed again, the four elder vampires could hear Satochi protesting, “I feel fine! I could fight a bear!”
Sugizo laughed. “Is he always like that?”
“Yes,” Miya said wryly. “Having Satochi around is not unlike looking after a child sometimes. But he is like family to us.”
“You are family. Blood kin.”
Miya paused and slowly sank to his knees in the sitting room. “Yes, I suppose so,” he said quietly. He kept his gaze on the floor. “I had never intended to change anyone. I only changed Tatsurou because he asked me.” He shot Tatsurou a sideways glance. “For twenty years.”
Tatsurou smiled for the first time that evening; a wry, thin smile, but a smile nonetheless.
“And now I find myself the maker of two . I am no better than Yoshiki.”
Sugizo glowered. “You are nothing like him.”
“Sugizo is right,” Heath said. “I cannot say whether it was the right or wrong decision to change Satochi. What I do know is that you did not do it out of malice or conceit or a flight of fancy. You did it out of genuine love for your friend.”
Miya thought upon this for a moment and shook his head dubiously.
“Is it true?” The door to the adjoining room flew open and there stood Satochi with a weary-looking Yukke behind him. “Am I one of you now?”
Miya glanced at the other three before nodding, his expression sombre as though somebody had died. “Yes. You are.”
“Which one of you did it?” Satochi demanded, looking between Miya and Tatsurou.
“I did.” Miya bowed his head and squeezed his eyes shut, ready for Satochi’s wrath.
Instead, Satochi cheered loudly and clapped a stunned Tatsurou on the back. “We’re brothers now, Tatsu!”
“Yes, I… I suppose so,” Tatsurou said, trying once again to smile.
Heath cast a small smile of his own at Sugizo. Never could they have imagined such a positive reaction to being told that your life had been turned on its head, that you had died and been brought back not quite as you were before.
“I cannot say that I have seen anybody so happy to be a vampire,” Sugizo remarked.
“Why wouldn’t you be?” Satochi asked, astonished. “Why, as a boy I’d always dreamed of having magical powers!”
“Well, I finally got my wish that I had been asking for,” Tatsurou said.
“I remember being devastated after my first hunt.” Heath glanced at Sugizo. “Then a very special someone sat with me and offered me comfort. I have fallen in love with him every day since then.”
Sugizo gave his lover a soft smile and kissed his hand.
Miya sighed sadly. “I saw Yoshiki change two boys during my time there. One of them was so miserable that he tried starving himself to death for months, and Yoshiki would not grant him the mercy of a swift death. Poor Shinya finally ended his life by sitting outside and waiting for dawn. His death drove his friend Toshiya to madness.”
Throughout this talk, Heath glanced at Yukke. He was the lone human here amongst a pack of five vampires all discussing their shared experiences and while he did his best to smile and be happy for his friend, he could hardly help feeling very lost and forgotten.
“I do not mean to interrupt,” Heath said, resting a light hand on Satochi’s shoulder. “But what say Sugizo and I take this fellow out for his first hunt and feed?”
“Oh! May I go? Please?” Satochi looked at Miya like a child asking for permission to go out and play with his new friends.
Heath smiled at the new fledgling kindly. “Normally your maker would do this, but I think Miya and Tatsurou could use the rest after this evening’s ordeal.” Wordlessly, he caught Miya’s eye and then tilted his head ever so slightly in Yukke’s direction.
“Oh, uh, yes,” Miya said quickly. “If you wouldn’t mind, we’d really appreciate it. Thank you. Besides, I am sure he can learn a lot from you both. Satochi, please be on your best behaviour.”
Satochi beamed. “I will!”
“Feel free to use that room to rest,” Sugizo said. “I’m afraid we don’t have much in the way of bedding; we’ve never had guests, but you’re welcome to take the futons from our room on the left. We shall be back before long.”
Sugizo slipped one hand into Heath’s and his other arm about Satochi’s shoulders, and the three of them departed into the night.
“What should we do first?” Satochi asked, excitedly skipping ahead of his new mentors, who exchanged a look and smiled at his enthusiasm.
Heath chuckled. “The first thing you must do is calm down.”
“But there’s so much to learn and see and do!”
“Very well.” Heath placed both hands upon the young fledgling’s shoulders. “Lesson one: as a blood drinker, you can no longer eat human food. The only thing that will nourish your body is blood.”
“Your body has gone through significant changes,” Sugizo explained. “Eating human food will make you very sick.”
“Oh,” Satochi said thoughtfully. “Very well.”
The two older vampires walked Satochi through town, teaching him how to look out for a likely meal, how to stalk and bring down his target, how to discern the smells of humans, the subtle differences in each vampire’s scent that could potentially prevent a run-in with a more dangerous elder and save his life. They schooled him on what to expect when feeding from men and women, old and young, how to use the darkness and shadows to his advantage, how to read the clouds and the wind and the moon, to understand his newfound strength and speed, to listen for the call of songbirds hailing the arrival of dawn, a sure reminder that he must soon find shelter. They explained the importance of keeping a low profile, of taking only as much blood as they needed from any one individual, how to know when to stop drinking, how to tell when their victim is close to death. They warned him about the dangers of losing vast amounts of blood, and to flee should he find himself in a situation where he could not win a fight.
Satochi frowned and thought about this very hard for a moment. “When we ran into that group, Miya was trying to leave but they wouldn’t let him.”
“That’s right,” Sugizo said. “Miya is no fool. He was doing his best to avoid a fight but Kirito put him into a bad position. It was five against two and Miya had to try and protect you and Yukke at the same time.”
“Please don’t be angry with him about what happened to you, Satochi,” Heath said gently. “It was unfortunate that Karyu attacked you, but Miya did what he thought was best for you at the time.”
Satochi just shook his head. “But I’m not angry with Miya. I just don’t think that it was fair for that man to pick on Yukke.”
Heath smiled. “You and Yukke are very close, aren’t you?”
“We grew up together! Been friends since we were little, and we both started working for Miya and Tatsurou when we were ten.”
“Yes, Miya told me all about that. I think it was very kind of them both to take you in.”
“How old are you now?” Sugizo asked.
“Let’s see…” Satochi looked up at the sky, quite oblivious to the fact that everything looked different now. “Twenty-three this year. How old are you?”
Sugizo chuckled. “I stopped counting after one hundred.”
“You’re more than a hundred years old?” Satochi looked impressed.
“Satochi,” Heath said. “It’s a wonderful thing to have and keep friends for so long. Please do not let your friendship with Yukke fade.”
“Why would I?” He sounded genuinely confused.
“You were his closest human friend and this change in you may be very hard on him. You’re used to living together and doing things together, but now you’re separated by night and day. It’s important to show him that your friendship still exists.”
Satochi fell quiet for a moment and he nodded. “Yes. I want Yukke to know that I will always be his friend, no matter what.”
Heath and Sugizo found it very enjoyable having guests for the first time. Meeting others of their own kind was rare enough, let alone meeting friendly ones, and being friends with a human was a novel experience. In all of their years, humans had never played a significant part in their lives. Aside from being prey, humans had always existed somewhere in the background and in their periphery, little more than nameless, faceless strangers drifting back and forth as the pair moved from one city to the next; an old woman selling beautiful kimono, the man and his daughter who ran a ramen shop, the friendly couple who sold sweets made lovingly by hand. At their worst, humans could be dangerous in large groups if they learned of the existence of the demons who preyed upon them. Not once had it crossed their minds that they might befriend a human for it could only spell trouble once the human inevitably learned of their terrible secret, but once Yukke had come out of his shell and began to open up, he was almost as comfortable in Heath and Sugizo’s company as he was with his own friends. Even so, Heath was keenly aware of a certain melancholy about the young man. As the only human in the entire household, he spent his days by himself, going out to run errands in town, tending to the horses that their little group had brought, or tidying the house. They might spend a few hours together in the evening, but then Yukke would retire to bed alone while the vampires prowled the night. By the time Yukke rose in the morning, everybody else was sound asleep, hidden from the light of the sun.
Satochi took Heath’s advice to heart. Although he slept during the day, in the evenings he would accompany Yukke for a drink and a meal while Sugizo and Heath watched over them at a respectable distance, just in case.
Sugizo sighed. “That boy doesn’t know how lucky he is to have someone like Miya looking after him. What if Kirito were watching them, waiting to attack them? I swear he has not retained a single thing we told him.”
“Perhaps he knew that we were nearby,” Heath suggested. “Besides, it was a lot for anyone to take in, in only one evening. We can let him have a few carefree nights with his friend.”
“The very first thing we told him was not to eat human food and what did he do?”
Now it was Heath’s turn to sigh. “Yes. You are right.” They had both seen Satochi laughing and sharing plates of yakitori and gyoza with Yukke without a care in the world. Later he would stagger outside and vomit everything up again while Yukke looked on in dismay.
“Well, I suppose that is one way to learn something.” Heath kissed him sweetly. “Never mind. We still have the house to ourselves for a while before the others come back.”
Heath tugged at the collar of Sugizo’s kimono and drew a line of leisurely kisses along his neck, and Sugizo threaded his fingers into Heath’s dark hair and pressed him closer, encouraging him, and Heath drank slowly as though he were sipping the finest wine in the world. He settled into Sugizo’s lap, relishing his scent and the taste of his blood and beneath him, Sugizo let his head fall back and his fingers tightened in Heath’s hair, his other hand gripping Heath’s waist and he moaned as they ground their hips together when a loud gasp and a burst of laughter made the lovers look up.
Miya cleared his throat and kept his gaze fixed on the ceiling as though it were very interesting. “Um, should we come back later?”
“Not at all,” Sugizo said with a lazy, indulgent smile. “We have never had an audience before.”
Heath laughed and swatted him. “Hush, love, don’t embarrass them like that! I am so sorry, Miya. We had not expected you home so soon.”
Miya coughed uncomfortably. “Yes, well, er… Yukke was getting tired so ah, we shall be retiring for the night. Uh, enjoy the rest of your night.”
This drew another loud snort of laughter from Satochi and, doggedly avoiding eye contact with the amorous pair, Miya took the other three into the adjoining room and slid the door firmly shut. Heath and Sugizo watched them go and chuckled to themselves.
Much to everyone’s relief, Kirito left Miya’s group alone for the duration of their stay but even so, Miya was not keen to remain idle any longer. And so seven nights after they first arrived into Okayama, Miya knocked on the door to Heath and Sugizo’s room.
“Come in,” Sugizo called.
“No!” Heath hissed, and the pair clutched at each other, giggling in between bloodstained kisses. When the door slid open, their guests found them on the floor with the top half of Heath’s kimono undone and Sugizo on top of him with blood on his smiling lips.
Heath laughed again and pushed Sugizo away playfully, sitting up and tugging his yukata back up to cover the bite marks. “I beg your pardon, I do apologise. Sugizo can be a little—”
“Insatiable.” Sugizo kissed his neck and started sliding the yukata off Heath’s smooth, pale shoulder again. “You’re welcome to join us if you like.”
“Stop that, love,” Heath purred, making no effort to actually stop him. “You are making our guests uncomfortable.”
Satochi laughed and Miya stammered awkwardly, not knowing where to look. “I’m sorry, we’ll just...” He cleared his throat and stared at his feet.
“No, please,” Heath said. “Is there something you need?”
“Er, we’ve come to say goodbye,” Miya said, bowing deeply. “I’m sure we’ve caused enough trouble for you as it is.”
“Not at all,” Heath protested.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure,” Sugizo said. “We so rarely get to spend time with our own kind that doesn’t end in bloodshed and animosity. And to have a human friend around has been so refreshing. We’d be honoured if you might stay a little longer.”
“All the same, we don’t wish to inconvenience you any further,” Miya said.
“If you stay with us until the end of summer, we might travel together,” Sugizo suggested. “We plan to leave this city before long.”
Miya shook his head. “In the event that Yoshiki has been following our trail, I’d rather he didn’t find you as well.”
Heath nodded understandingly. “I hope we shall meet again someday.”
Miya offered their hosts a rare smile. “We should like that very much.”
They were sad to have to part ways but Miya’s mind was made up. At any rate, he was more than capable of looking after his pack, even the young and inexperienced Satochi, and Sugizo and Heath trusted that they would come to no harm under Miya’s care. With their guests gone, the pair returned to their quiet, two-person lifestyle to see out the rest of the summer before they packed up their belongings to move onto their next destination, wherever that might be.
“Well, look at who it is,” a familiar voice sneered, and Heath and Sugizo glanced into the shadows to see Takeo, Karyu and Kirito glowering at them.
“Good evening,” Heath greeted them pleasantly.
“And a good evening to you,” Kirito said in a more chilly tone. He nodded at the packs slung over their shoulders. “Going somewhere, are we?”
“Yes,” Sugizo said. “You’ll be pleased to know that we are leaving town. You can go back to being the lord of Okayama.”
“What a shame! And we were getting along so well.”
“Indeed,” Sugizo said dryly. “Such a dreadful shame.”
Kirito eyed Heath next. “I feel bad for you, being stuck with somebody like him.”
“Oh?” Heath said with affected politeness. “I am not sure I understand.”
“You don’t know?” Kirito glanced at Takeo and Karyu with mock surprise. “Then I am sorry to have to tell you: we caught him sneaking off to the brothel on the other side of town. Fornicating with humans! It is so sad and so shameful but I believe you deserve to know the truth about his infidelity instead of being played the fool.”
“You—” Sugizo snarled, but Heath held him back and his patient smile did not falter.
“No, Kirito, you are absolutely right. I am a fool—”
The three shared a smug smile between themselves.
“—to even be speaking to you about this,” Heath finished calmly. “He told me prior to visiting the brothel. We have no secrets from one another. I know that he will return to me once he has had his fun, just as he knows that I bear him no resentment. But I can see that you have never allowed yourself to love or trust another, so you will not understand.”
Sugizo took immense satisfaction in the stunned looks on their faces. “Honestly, I cannot say which I find sadder: that you clearly have nothing better to do than to watch our comings and goings, or that you have never been with somebody that you trust completely.”
“Let us go, love.” Heath took Sugizo’s hand.
The pair swept past and Kirito ground his teeth and lunged, only for Sugizo to respond with a good swat that sent him sprawling and whimpering. Heath shook his head and the two lovers left Okayama hand in hand.