::sighs:: There is no excuse for taking so long to update this story. I apologize to everyone who has been awaiting this chapter. ::sighs again:: I've been putting my entire mind into my KH fic, so pretty much everything else has been neglected. I'm sorry…

Disclaimer: The characters of Gravitation belong to Maki Murakami-sama, not me…

Chapter Nine:
The Elders…

The room was dark and he was cold. He couldn't remember how long he had been locked in the cell. It felt like it had been months, maybe even years, but he was sure that it had probably only been a day, if that. He wished there was a window in the cell so it would be easier to tell time, but he had the feeling that Mamoru had picked the cell for that reason. He always took advantage of an opportunity to fuck with a person's mind when he was given the chance.

A violent shiver rippled through Shuichi's body and he pulled his sorry excuse for a blanket tighter against his naked body for warmth. It didn't do much, but it kept the cold at bay for at least a little while. The cold shouldn't have bothered him so much. One of the things he had managed to remember from his training with Father was that the vampire blood in his veins would keep him warm, even in the most unbearable of colds. But now it wasn't working. He was shivering so hard that his teeth were chattering.

"Damn you, Father," he cursed. The vampire must have bound his powers while he had been under the influence of the tranquilizer. It was so like Father that Shuichi couldn't believe he hadn't thought of it to begin with.

Shuichi rolled over with a loud groan and rubbed at his eyes. Small green dots danced across his vision when he pulled his hands away, only to disappear off into the walls after a couple of minutes. He groaned again and curled into a tight ball with his arms hugged against his chest.

In the darkness, all he wanted to do was sleep. It wasn't like there was anything else that he could do. If Father hadn't have barred his powers, he would be able to see perfectly in the room. But now all there was was darkness. Cold, empty, dreary darkness that made him want to break down into sobs that would carry him off into sleep.

Where was Eiri? Had he even realized that he was missing yet? Shuichi laughed at himself. Of course he had. He was surprised the blonde vampire didn't have him on a leash yet. He just hoped that Eiri hadn't done anything to harm Artemis or Ryuichi when he had discovered that Shuichi wasn't with them. He wouldn't be able to live with himself if they had been killed because of his own stupidity. But he trusted Eiri enough to at least think that he wouldn't harm them. Eiri knew how much Shuichi cared about the other two dhampir. They were the only family he had left, after all.

"How much longer will I have to stay in this place?"

The answer to his question came a few minutes later. They were quiet at first, barely audible through what he knew was a heavy metal door, but he could still hear them. Footsteps. And they were nearing his holding cell. They slowed to a stop outside and Shuichi heard the rustling of keys before a lock clicked and, with an angry groan, the door was pushed open. The pink-haired boy had to squint his eyes to keep from being blinded by the light that flooded the room. Even still, all he could make out was the shadow of a person in the doorway.

"You have been summoned," said a male voice and the person entered the room before Shuichi could complain.

A cold, statuesque hand clamped around his upper arm and heaved Shuichi out of bed. A violent shiver rippled through Shuichi's body as the thin blanket fell from his body and left him exposed to the frigid air of the cell. Without loosening his hold on Shuichi's arm, the man pulled the boy from the room and into the hallway.

Shuichi hissed as his eyes were blinded by the fluorescent lights of the hall. No amount of squinting could keep the light away this time. Slowly but surely, though, his eyes adjusted to the bright lights and he was finally able to take a look around and see where the hell he had been taken.

The walls were a pure and stainless white and reminded Shuichi of the inside of a stereotypical mental institution. The floors were tiled with pale blue slabs of what was mostly likely fake marble, but fake or not, it still sent a chill throughout Shuichi's body as his bare feet pressed against it. He knew that he should probably do something about his nakedness, but he knew that he wouldn't be able to get away from the man who dragged him if he tried so he would save it for later.

Shuichi look a second and glanced up at the man in front of him. He couldn't see much, only the back of his head. The shock of black hair atop his head wasn't unusual for a person from Japan, but whenever Shuichi tried to walk a little faster so he could catch up to the man and get a look at the side of his face, he would speed up and leave Shuichi lagging behind again.

The man came to an abrupt halt outside a door and quickly unlocked it with one of many keys on the ring he pulled from his pocket. He shoved the door open and moved to the side, making sure to keep his face hidden from Shuichi's view.

"You are to bathe before your meeting. There are clothes and towels in the room beside one of the bathtubs. You have twenty minutes. I will alert you when you have five minutes before your time is up."

Shuichi nodded and went into the room. He managed to flick on a light switch just before the man pulled the door closed. Shuichi snorted. So now he was allowed privacy, after he had been pulled from his dark and dreary cell and dragged through a hallway in his birthday suit. Sure, they hadn't seen anyone on their trek through the hall, but that wasn't the point.

The boy sighed and went to the bathtub that had his clothes and a towel beside it and started the water. He climbed in before the tub was completely filled and sighed heavily as the warm water relaxed his muscles and calmed his heart. The tub was almost overfilled before he remembered that he had to turn the water off.

He cleaned himself quickly with the bar of soap and wash cloth that had been left for him, but he took his time soaking when he was finished. He had twenty minutes, after all. As he soaked, the thought about everything that had happened to him since he'd been found by Hiro in the gutter two years before.

Pale and sick and almost completely drained of blood, Shuichi had collapsed in that gutter because he felt no need to carry on. It was only luck that Hiro had stumbled across him on his way home from work that night. Even in his half-unconscious state, Shuichi had heard his loud gasp and felt him lifted into Hiro's arms. The span of time between being found and waking up in the hospital was lost, though.

After that day, Hiro had become Shuichi's best friend. It seemed only natural, seeing that not only had Hiro found him, but the doctors had used Hiro's blood in the transfusion that had ultimately saved Shuichi's life. Shuichi lived with Hiro and his family for a while and attended high school with him. They discovered Shuichi's musical talent and started to play music together. Hell, they were starting to get rather well-known around the city by the time Eiri had unceremoniously jumped into Shuichi's life. Not that he minded, or anything.

Eiri… Shuichi still wasn't sure about what he thought about the vampire. He cared about him, he knew that beyond a doubt. But was it love? Artemis said that it was—that she was able to read it in his aura—but was it really? Shuichi couldn't tell.

He had always been raised to hate vampires with every ounce of his being. Vampires were cruel and vile creatures that hunted and murdered humans just for the fun of it. But Eiri was different. Though he had never seen him hunt, Shuichi knew that he never killed, and he could tell when he fed by reading his aura. In the time that they had met, Eiri had fed three times, taking only what was needed for his survival from the human he drank from. And he was so kind whenever he was with Shuichi. The night they had slept together Eiri had been so gentle that it had made Shuichi cry, though he wasn't sure why. It probably had something to do with the past he still couldn't fully remember.

Shuichi sighed and sank down into the water so his nose was just above the surface. Everything was so confusing and he just wanted to scream, but he just couldn't. He needed to stay strong if he was going to make it through this.

A knock on the bathroom door pulled Shuichi from his thoughts and he looked to the door just in time to see it pushed open a bit, though the man never stuck his head in.

"You have five minutes. I suggest you get out and dress yourself before you run out of time and I have to drag you through the halls nude again."

"Thank you,…whoever you are…" Shuichi muttered and waited until the door was latched shut before he pushed himself out of the tub.

He wrapped the towel around his waist and pulled the plug to drain the water. He gently patted himself dry before he pulled on the clothes that had been left for him. He thanked whoever ruled above that the clothes were normal and not a hospital gown or something like that. He pulled on the pair of boxers and blue jeans before grabbed the T-shirt and pulling it over his head. The man pushed the door open again just as Shuichi was slipping into his second tennis shoe.

"Your time is up."

"Yeah, yeah," Shuichi grumbled under his breath. "I'm comin'."

When he left the bathroom, Shuichi's escort didn't even give the time to smile before he restarted the walk down the hallway. The boy "hmphed" quietly and silently followed the strange raven-haired man down the hall with his arms crossed over his chest.

The silence between the two males was driving Shuichi mad, but he knew better than to try and start conversation with the escort. The man probably wouldn't answer any of his questions anyway, so it was useless. It would be like he was talking to himself, not that he had never done that before or anything.

The raven-haired man came to a sudden stop outside of another door. He knocked casually on the door three times and took a step back, as if he was waiting for something to happen. Shuichi furrowed his brow and frowned when the door opened a couple of seconds later, revealing a large conference room. A man with a vibrant shock of red hair stepped out of the room with a gentle smile on his face.

"Ah. You're Shindou Shuichi, I presume?" Shuichi nodded and the man's smile grew. "Fabulous. Mamoru…I mean, Father has been waiting patiently for you to arrive."

Shuichi nodded again and glanced to his side, but the escort was gone. It only made his frown deepen.

Mamoru. Where had he heard that name before? And why did just the sound of it send a rush of venom dripping into his veins? He knew that he was a vampire, but there was something more to it than just that.

"Come along. Come along," the redhead said and gestured for Shuichi to enter the room.

The boy did as he was told and shivered in anticipation as the door closed behind him silently. There was only one person aside from him and the redhead in the room, but the table was set for four. Shuichi cocked his head to the side and lifted his eyes so he could look at the raven-haired man that was seated at the table. Father smiled at him and stood from his chair, beckoning to Shuichi with open arms. For the same unknown reason as the last time, Shuichi was drawn to him and let himself fall into the embrace gratefully.

"My, my Shuichi. Have they not been feeding you?" the man asked when he pulled away.

Shuichi snorted and turned his eyes away from Father. "Like you don't know. You're the one who locked me in the damned cell in the first place," he spat.

Father laughed and used a gentle hand to turn Shuichi's eyes back onto him. "But I didn't tell them to starve you. I'll have to have a word with the guards when this meeting is complete."

"And what exactly is this meeting? Where's the other person that the table's set for?"

"You mean other two people," Father corrected. "Unfortunately, our dear Tetsuya will not be joining us in this meeting. He has other things that he needs to take care of."

"And that Esther woman?"

Father laughed heartily and threw back his head. "She will not have the pleasure of joining us in any of our meetings. She has…fallen ill and it will take a long time for her to get better again."

"You bastard!" Shuichi growled and pushed himself away from the vampire. "What did you do to her?"

"I didn't do anything to her," Mamoru sighed. "And she's not dead, only lost in a coma-like sleep where she'll wander through her darkest dreams for all eternity. She's probably wishing that she was dead by now."

"You could have let her go!" Shuichi shouted incredulously, though he realized that he shouldn't have been surprised. This man was a vampire, after all. Eiri may have been a vampire as well, but he was an unusual kind. "You're a sick, sick man."

Mamoru smiled and the sight of his fangs sent a shiver of fear rippling through Shuichi's body. "But that's where you are wrong, and you know that. For I am not a man, I am a vampire, just like your blonde little lover."

"Leave Eiri out of this!"

"Eiri is the reason you're here in the first place, little one. You think I wanted you back just to have you back? You were a magnificent pupil and all, but you weren't that great. If you were great, you would have managed to kill me when you tried the first time."

Shuichi growled and turned on his heel, headed for the doorway, but the redhead stepped blocked his path. He growled again and turned to Mamoru with a fierce scowl on his face.

"Let me go!" he shouted. "I refuse to be like Esther. The moment you get your hands on Eiri you're going to kill me, aren't you?"

"I wouldn't kill you, little one!" Mamoru shouted, jumping back as if offended. "I would never kill you. You are too promising a specimen to just waste in such a way." Then he smiled and Shuichi shrank away. "But I hope you enjoy sleep because you are going to be like Esther."

The man advanced on Shuichi until the boy was pinned in a corner and the vampire was standing over him with a cruel smile on his face. Shuichi wanted to scream, but he knew the sound would only make the vampire want him even more. No, if he stayed still and refused to struggle hopefully Mamoru would give up on him without a fight.

A knock sounded on the door to the room and Mamoru stepped back from Shuichi with an annoyed frown on his face. Shuichi took the opportunity to dash away, but the vampire was faster and he grabbed him around the bicep before he had the chance to get too far. Shuichi cursed loudly, but stood obediently by Mamoru's side as the redhead opened the door and let two people. No, two vampires. Shuichi could have vomited from the scent of fresh human blood that was radiating from the man and woman's bodies.

They were both well dressed, the man in a navy pinstriped suit and tie and the woman in a long black evening gown. They looked like they were siblings. Their hair was the same deep brown color and, even from the distance, Shuichi could see that their eyes were a startling shade of blue. Their skin was as pale as a pearl.

"Brother. Sister. How good it is for you to join us!" Mamoru exclaimed while holding out his arms in a welcoming gesture, though he didn't once loosen his grip on Shuichi's arm.

"Mamoru!" the male vampire said and crossed the room to pat Father on the shoulder. Shuichi watched the display in disgust and frowned at the male vampire when he turned to him. "And Shuichi. My, my. It's been a while. You've grown to be such a beautiful young man!"

The man brushed a calloused hand down the side of Shuichi's face and the boy had to remind himself that biting his finger off would get him nowhere. He let his disgust flash in the eyes and frowned as the vampire laughed.

"You're still as feisty as ever, I see," he said and turned back to Mamoru. "Anyway, what's the rush, Brother? You called Kayade and me so suddenly that we barely had time to prepare for the journey."

Mamoru laughed and pulled Shuichi in front of him, gesturing around the boy as if he were a model advertising a new car. "I've finally found our trump card, Youji. Our little blonde vampire friend won't be able to resist coming on the attack if he hears that his lover is in danger."

Kayade, the female, gasped loudly and all three male's attention onto her. "He is Eiri's lover? You always have been bad at telling jokes, Mamoru."

Mamoru laughed and shook his head. "It's not joke, sweet Kayade. Eiri is quite taken with this boy, though he knows that he could—and will—be the one to kill him. You can't smell him on the boy?"

She shook her head. "All I smell is strawberries and soap."

Mamoru cursed and his hand clenched tightly around Shuichi's bicep. He pulled the boy closer to him and pressed his nose to the nape of his neck. He cursed again when he pulled away.

"I never gave you permission to bathe," he spat, shoving Shuichi away from him.

Shuichi put on his best innocent face and pouted at his ex-teacher. "I'm sorry. I didn't know that taking a bath would effect your plans." And it was the truth. He hadn't had any idea of Mamoru's plans when he had been bathing, though he wouldn't have done anything differently if he had known the plans, either.

Mamoru growled and advanced on Shuichi. "You little shit! How dare you disrespect your teacher. How dare you!"

"Ex-teacher." It was quick and to the point and sent Mamoru on a rage.

"I am still your teacher and I still control you! You will not disobey me! You hear me! You will listen to every word that I say and do as I see fit!" He was preparing to raise his hand to strike the boy when Youji put a hand on his shoulder. The small gesture worked to pull the other vampire out of his fit.

"Calm down, Brother. The boy did nothing wrong. I can sense Eiri's blood in his aura, as can Kayade." He frowned sadly.

The two vampires shared a private exchange before Mamoru sighed sadly and shoved Shuichi away from him violently.

"Tetsuya! Take the boy. You know what to do."

The redhead at the door nodded and was at Shuichi's side in the blink of an eye. Shuichi struggled against the hold he had on him, but the vampire was stronger than he was. He may have been stronger than Tetsuya on a normal day, but drugs that had been in the tranquilizer still floated through Shuichi's system and left most of his powers disabled.

"Have a nice sleep, Little One," Mamoru called just before the door closed behind them.

Shuichi growled silently beneath his breath, but obeyed the redhead when he shoved a hand in the middle of his back to get him moving again.

"Don't worry, Shu-chan. I'll take care of you. If you're lucky and Mamoru wins this battle, you won't have to die."

Shuichi snorted. "What do you mean 'if I'm lucky'? Do you not have faith in your sire?"

Tetsuya muttered something incoherent under his breath, but Shuichi didn't want to waste the time to ask him what he had said. It would have resulted in some sort of physical harm, anyway, so he didn't see the good that would come out of it.

The vampire slowed them to a stop outside a door with a coded entry. He punched the passcode in too quickly for Shuichi to read in his drugged state and pushed the boy into the room. Shuichi shivered as a numbing cold filled his soul.

Two tables were set up in the room. One was already in use. Esther was laid out on the table, dressed only in a white hospital gown. Her skin was sickly pale and her long, blonde hair surrounded her head like a brilliant halo. Heavy leather straps held her body down the table, and left Shuichi wondering why they were needed. Wires that were attached to beeping machines were attached to her temples and wrists. If it wasn't for the steady beeping that resonated from the heart monitor, Shuichi would have thought that she was dead.

"Stay."

It was only one word, but it meant everything to Shuichi. The boy cursed loudly as he felt his limbs lock into position, restricting his movement so he couldn't move. He knew that he should have been able to escape from the lock, though he didn't know the spell. The fact that the vampires were taking advantage of his weakened state made him hate them even more.

Tetsuya laughed quietly under his breath and busied himself with the machinery that surrounded the other table. He whistled quietly to himself, though the sound echoed off every wall of the room and rang in Shuichi's ears like nothing he'd ever heard.

Suddenly, a loud moan filled the room and Shuichi's eyes immediately went to Esther. She was thrashing around the table to the best of her abilities, her eyes clenched in pain and fear. Her mouth was opened in a silent scream. But, as quickly as it began, it ended and she went still on the table. The annoying beeping her heart monitor filled the room and drove Shuichi to the edge.

"The serum we gave her forces her to dream only of the terrible things that have happened to her in the past. Lucky for us, she seems to have had a rather difficult life so terrible things aren't hard for her unconscious mind to find."

Shuichi growled. "You all are sick. Why do you do this? Do you get some sort of sadistic pleasure out of torturing people?"

Tetsuya laughed while shaking his head. "No. I don't, but Mamoru is quite the sadist. He'll enjoying watching you in pain while you sleep, I guarantee it."

"Great. I get the pleasure of knowing that some guys is getting off while I'm running through a nightmare," Shuichi muttered sarcastically.

Tetsuya laughed again and started to busy himself with the machinery again. Shuichi let his eyes wander aimlessly around the room, but there was nothing to look at. He wanted to look at Esther's pitiful form on the table, but he refused to let his eyes linger.

A sudden searing pain tore up Shuichi's spine and he let out a scream. Tetsuya laughed and the sound didn't come from across the room like it should have. It was right beside Shuichi. The boy looked to his side and barely had time to notice the syringe that was stuck in the vein inside his elbow before he was overcome by darkness.

TBC…
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A/N: Ahhh…yet another ciffie. Sorry!!! Hehe…but that was as good a place to leave off as any. I really liked writing this chapter, especially once I was bitten by the almighty muse monster and got some inspiration. But, like I said in the opening, there really is no excuse for taking so long to update. But hey…at least it didn't take me six months like that it did that one time (can't remember which chapter it was…hehe…). Right?…

Anyway…::hugs:: for all who reviewed. I tried to send everyone private thank-yous. I apologize if I forgot anyone, but just know that the spontaneous reviews that I got after not posting for a while are the things that got me going again…

I apologize for any typos/grammar errors in this chapter. I didn't really edit it because I haven't had the time…

Well…until next chapter (which hopefully won't take as long to write as this one did…::knocks on wood::)…