Once again, the technical details about the supernatural creatures come from the authors, not any preexisting text, so please treat it as such. Plagiarism is a no-no.
Chapter Two – Nine Seconds
Sora jolted out of his sleep, and for just a moment, the rush of adrenaline and the racing of his heart and the tired ache of his bones felt familiar. Normal. How many times in the past had he been startled awake in his own room and bed, or at Riku's place after a round under the sheets, or even in the car as Tidus drove him home from work?
The metallic clank at his ankle reminded him where he really was and what had happened the last time he had woken up this way. A deep chill had permeated and seized his naked body, and he felt more hollow and ill than ever, even after the zombie's kindness from before. How much time had passed since then? When had he fallen asleep?
Sora dared to lift his head, his thoughts scattering under the sharp throbbing in his skull and the vertigo that swept through him, pinpricks of darkness inching into his eyesight and threatening to pull him back into unconsciousness. He squinted through the darkness of both his mind and the room to study his surroundings again. Circular room, tapestries, wrought-iron bed posts. Still in the same place, the same nightmare.
But he was alone. Or seemed to be. Something told him he was alone, but he let his gaze linger on the shadows of the room, searching for any signs of movement in case he was wrong. Nothing stirred, and he allowed himself to relax a fraction, his fear actually allowing his mind to focus on his situation, starting with panicked questions. When had the zombie left? And when would he be back? Worse yet—the vampire?
That was enough for him to turn to risky notions, his desperation spurring him into action while he still had a chance. He pulled himself into a sitting position, trying to ignore the intense pain that flared up his backside and the other places the vampire had loved. Clenching his jaw to stifle an anguished sound, Sora blinked past fresh tears and turned himself to study his shackle up close. He wasn't going to stick around to see what else they had planned for him.
He knew without a doubt that this was going to be dangerous, but waiting helplessly to be that monster's feast—or worse—was even more terrifying than the thought of what might happen to him if he were caught trying to escape.
The metal of the manacle was thick steel, skillfully made with no visible imperfections, and it was locked tight enough for him to feel discomfort when he tried to twist his ankle. An unhealthy ring of pink shadowed his skin from the metal grazing against him again and again, but that slight burn was nothing compared to what he was already feeling. He lifted the long chain, scanning the links closest to him, knowing he didn't have time to check every single one for flaws, but they were just as perfectly crafted. Trying not to despair as he thought about not being able to get out of this damn thing, he turned his gaze to the dim room again, certain that there had to be something here he could use.
He passed over the armchairs and the eyehook in the middle of the floor and scanned the room's decorations, his eyes landing on the objects closest to him. There. The candleholders!
He was huddled on the floor next to the nearest one before his sickness could get to him again, his legs and the tips of his fingers numb from weakness or perhaps the cold. It took a lot of effort just to keep his arms up to push against the candleholder, testing its strength. It was bolted to the floor, also made of steel, so maybe it would hold up against his shackle.
The base of the holder was designed so that the scrollwork stuck up, slightly curled but just straight enough for him to slip between his ankle and the cuff of his shackle. Sora shifted, leaning his weight on his side, twisting his ankle and the cuff and putting pressure on the metal, and silently screamed, praying for it to stretch or break or something to let him free. The arch of the scrollwork only dug into his ankle, pushing into skin and bone, and the shackle remained unyielding.
Holding in his tears, Sora turned onto his other side, the song of the shifting chain almost mocking him as he tugged frantically at his ankle, his shaky breaths the only other sound in the room aside from the clank and scraping of steel. It bit into him as he continued to work, the fierce burn of his ankle only making him panic more. He only stopped when he noticed that the metal had grazed him raw until he bled.
The scrollwork was too thick to try picking the shackle's lock. Giving up on that idea, he pulled his injured ankle free from the holder and sat back to glance around again. There was nothing near the eyehook that he could use to try pulling it free, but... The bedposts looked sturdy.
Sora's knees trembled when he got to his feet, his ankle screaming in protest as the shackle settled around the raw skin. He clambered back onto the bed and gave the left post a strong jerk. It didn't budge. Good. It took some maneuvering, but he managed to wrap the chain around the post just once so that he could sit on the bed and pull at the chain with his hands without putting too much pressure on the ankle itself. Lying back, he kept his grip on the chain firm, pushing his good foot against the post and using his entire weight against it. His muscles cried out at the exertion, but he kept pulling, hands throbbing, shoulders threatening to dislocate, tears soaking his hair and a sob caught in his hoarse throat.
The taut chain wouldn't yield, but he kept trying anyway, and the pain lancing up his backside grew so severe that he couldn't hold back a small whimper, every muscle in his body trembling, struggling, red and white flashing behind his eyes at the intense strain. His body gave way first, his fingernails cutting crescents into his palms as the chain slipped from his sweaty hands, and he went crashing onto the plush mattress amongst the linen sheets and velvet comforter.
For a long moment he just lay there, choking out shuddery sobs, the room spinning around him even with his eyes clenched shut. Even when he managed to calm himself a little, his breath came raggedly and he could hardly think through his muddled, paranoid state of mind. His entire body was speaking to him, limbs weakened and quivering from his efforts, his headache pounding full force along with the searing pain of his ankle and other places he didn't want to think about.
Every part of him protested as he sat back up, a violent shiver running through him as his world lurched and icy fingers of sickness clamped around his stomach, making him groan.
Gritting his teeth, he slipped his eyes open a fraction, staring at the angry red of his ankle and the cold, gray shackle that kept him in checkmate. The chain rested harmlessly in front of him, a sleeping steel snake. He felt like it was mocking him.
His gaze traveled upward, noticing that when he had slipped, somehow the tied curtains on the left post had come undone and now hung freely. It was a fleeting thought, but it occurred to him that, even if he could probably rip those free and fashion them into a rope, he couldn't reach the beams overhead to hang himself. Everything in the room seemed to be bolted down, so there was nothing to use as a weapon. Just curtains, just sheets. The vampire had taken a lot of precautions. Even then, Sora was too much of a coward to do anything to himself.
God, he had to get out of here!
Gathering his resolve, he swallowed back his pain and shakily got to his knees, wrapping the chain back around the post to try again. His hands stung as he grabbed hold of the steel links and drew them taut, but he let his fear take control, letting it give him focus past his pain.
He felt the rush of adrenaline and the chill creeping up his spine long before he noticed he was no longer alone, his mind entirely focused on his task. It was only when the attack on his preternatural senses suddenly spiked did he drop the chain with a startled cry, whirling toward the door.
Zombie Riku watched him impassively, seemingly unconcerned with Sora's escape attempts. Sora gulped, sinking back onto the bed, his skin prickling with gooseflesh. Would the undead creature lunge at him now, turning him into a quick, messy meal like he had with Paopu?
His heart leaped into his throat as the zombie took a slow step toward him, blank white eyes boring into Sora's soul.
Riku was exhausted. Three hours training with weapons he'd never touched before in his life had left his limbs feeling lethargic, but he didn't dare mention it to Auron, who had only paused the training in the first place because he had been called away momentarily. Riku hadn't seen the messenger, but it must have been important.
Waiting for Auron inside the training room, Riku slouched against the wall, his head tilted back, eyes raised to the foreign ceiling, as he let the ache settle in his tired muscles. From his position, he could hear Auron speaking to someone, but the werewolf's words were indistinguishable. Riku only knew when he spoke because of his baritone voice, like the rise of thunder, deep and rumbling.
Now that he had a moment to himself, Riku could feel his heart racing. Perspiration had dampened his hair, making it stick to the sides of his clothed neck. He felt uncomfortable, partly because of his attire still, but mostly because he knew now how bad his situation was. He was horrible. He could hardly do anything Auron told him to. What hope he'd had before for saving Sora had been worn away to a tiny sliver that he hardly recognized. He wasn't going to be able to help Sora. Auron could. But Riku? Riku could hardly fire a crossbow, let alone save the life of someone he loved.
Nine seconds. He had managed to prep and shoot his crossbow in just nine seconds, his fastest time, but he hadn't even hit the target. He couldn't even imagine a moving target or doing all this under the stress of whatever horrors he was likely to face out there. Fuck. He had hardly touched his other weapons, so who knew how he'd handled them.
He released a long sigh, letting his eyes drift closed.
They fluttered back open and shifted to the doorway. Auron was there, his dark eye narrowed, regarding him with that impassive look of his again. Riku had a feeling that he was about to hear something good for once.
"We'll continue this later. We're needed in the briefing room. There's been a change of plans."
Riku frowned. "What kind of change?"
"Orders from the superior," Auron replied, nodding to Riku's discarded backpack on the ground. "Get your stuff. We're getting a bite to eat first."
The notion of food made Riku's stomach churn. He hadn't eaten since before Sora's house, and all of that had been chucked onto the carpet of Sora's bedroom. Now, even though he had been starving before arriving at HQ, he wasn't sure he could keep anything down.
Still, he nodded and obediently picked up his folded crossbow, trying to figure out where to holster it. He heard the shuffle of feet as Auron approached him and took the collapsed weapon and silently slid it into a holster at Riku's hip. Riku murmured a thanks and picked up his backpack, clenching his jaw as his arms screamed in protest. Shouldering his bag, he brushed past Auron and left the room, not meeting his face. He could feel the werewolf staring at his back.
The man named Ansem was in the hallway waiting, and Riku remembered who Auron had likened the man to. He was the so-called Metatron figure, and Riku wasn't surprised that he had been the one to inform Auron—whatever the new orders had been. If anything, Ansem's involvement filled Riku with a little bit more hope. After all, for someone so seemingly important to keep coming to Auron personally, it meant that either Auron really was a legend like Zell had said, or this mission was extremely important to the Organization. Or at least important to Auron's boss, whoever he was. But whatever the case was, both were good signs. The Organization wouldn't send anyone except the best unless it wanted to botch the mission, right? Maybe this would work after all. They'd get Sora back.
Ansem's orange eyes narrowed a fraction behind his spectacles, and Riku realized he had been staring. As he heard Auron pause behind him, Riku murmured an apology and looked away, starting to continue down the hallway without prompting. When they had first arrived here at headquarters, he had seen a glimpse of a food court on the opposite side of the atrium, so that was where he headed.
"Auron," he heard Ansem say in a smooth, direct tone, "fifteen minutes."
Auron didn't reply. Riku heard the werewolf fall into step behind him, but Auron's legs were longer and he soon took the lead, leaving Riku to his thoughts as he trailed behind him. When they were out of Ansem's hearing range—or so Riku hoped—Riku spoke up.
"So what are these new orders?" he asked, staring at the man's back.
Auron cast a glance over his shoulder. "The boss decided to take control of the situation. He's sending some hunters with us to back me up. It's an order, so I can't not accept them."
"And that's bad?" Riku asked. "How many of them?"
"Three," Auron replied curtly. "I'm used to working alone now. I don't like being responsible for other people."
Then what about me? Riku wondered, but he bit his tongue, deciding not to ask. He already knew he was going to be a major burden. Remembering the revenant with his face, with the pale skin and blue lips and milky eyes, tearing its sharp teeth into that girl's stomach in the video, Riku shivered. That could be him.
Nine seconds to load and fire his cross bow? He'd be dead within two.
Once they reached the circular main area of headquarters, Auron began to walk at a brisk pace, Riku having to take three steps for every two of his. He wasn't used to being the one trying to keep up.
The food court area was where he had thought it was, and Auron led him right into the sea of tables, passing groups of all kinds of creatures—humanlike and non, more of the latter. Riku tried not to stare, he really did, but he found his gaze lingering several times. Now that he wasn't as overwhelmed as when he had first arrived here, he wanted to see everything.
This part of headquarters was enormous, probably eight times bigger or more than the large eating area in the university center back home. It had a fantastic view of the atrium where he had met Zell, and from this angle he could see the bridge from earlier, a large willow tree, and a rock structure with a working waterfall. Too bad Ansem had only given them fifteen minutes, because Riku would have liked to have rested at a table in front of the peaceful scenery. But there was no time for resting, was there?
Beyond the rows and rows of tables and chairs (some larger, some smaller, some just designed weirdly) were the actual different stations for food, as big as restaurants themselves. Some of the places looked familiar—like a Subwayand there was even a McDonald's—but there were other places with titles in foreign languages that didn't even look human. Riku was curious as to what they served there, but as he glanced around, he spotted something that made him think twice.
It was a demonic man, relatively attractive with paper-white skin and long red hair, but he had thick black horns that curved up behind his skull a good eighteen inches or so, and slender, fuzzy auburn ears that extended outward like an angry cat's, one of them pierced with a dangling cross. What made Riku hesitate, however, was what was on the tabletop in front of the man. His fingernails—striped claws—were holding down a small, squirming animal that looked like a mix between a rabbit and a squirrel, with white floppy ears and a brown bushy tail. Riku watched as a dagger-like claw sunk into the screeching creature's skull, making its cries turn shrill, before they ceased completely. Then the man picked up the still twitching animal, swiped a black tongue over its punctured skull, and then tore into its neck with a row of sharp fangs.
Stomach churning, Riku changed his mind and glanced away, not wanting to know what was being served in those strange restaurants. Some more of the less humanlike beings, like the tall British demon Riku had run into earlier, were also eating live food. Getting queasy, he stuck close to Auron's back, following him to the less suspicious food chains. Auron led him to a smaller kitchen area, almost like a buffet, with normal looking food and somewhat normal looking patrons around him, though Riku knew he'd never be able to tell the difference with most of them. Even Auron looked completely human, after all. Then again, a werewolf was pretty normal compared to some of these freaks.
"Stay with me," Auron warned, moving into one of the long lines for the buffet. Almost immediately, someone got into line behind Riku, who listened to Auron and stuck close to his side.
The person behind him was androgynous, but s/he gave Riku a good twice over before focusing on his ID and smirking at it. Riku wasn't sure if it was because he was wearing hunter gear and was so obviously not a hunter, or if it was because he was just human, or what. Trying not to give off the impression he was uneasy, he forced himself to calm down and not look around as much.
The line moved forward, and Riku snuck a glance at one of the tables nearby. A group of gorgeous men and women were crowded around the small circular table, some of the girls draped on each other's laps, some of the boys touching each other more than just casually, more than one of them with girls straddling them or vice versa. None of them were eating anything, though a few glasses of colorful drinks sat in front of them. They looked relatively human, but they all gave off such an alluring, sexual air that Riku could tell there was more to them.
One of the slender males, dark-haired and almost feline, caught Riku's gaze and held it, a slow, sultry smile pulling across his lips. Then, almost simultaneously, the entire group of beautiful creatures looked at Riku, appreciatively watching him, sharp eyes roving over his figure, red tongues darting out to wet their lips. Riku was captivated by their inviting expressions, a flush coming to his cheeks as he kept staring at them, unable to tear his gaze away, their eyes burning into him and making him shift uncomfortably against the tightness of his suit. There was something sweet smelling in the air, overriding his other senses except for the sudden racing of his pulse.
Auron's voice was firm, managing to attract his attention for a split second, but then he was back to staring at the table of temptation. The first boy who had caught his gaze was now beckoning him with a curled finger, his yellow eyes drawing him into a warm, dreamlike daze, sending him dark little promises of unending pleasure, and before Riku realized what he was doing, he was taking a step towards them.
A strong hand grabbed his arm and yanked him back, and a steaming bowl of something was shoved under his nose. When Riku breathed in, it was to the acrid, tangy scent of garlic and ginger on top of other heavy spices, which immediately overpowered the sweet, appealing scent from before.
Riku's mind cleared, and he blinked a few times, glancing from the bowl to Auron in confusion. It was kimchee. No wonder it smelled so spicy. Auron gave him a look of admonition before pulling the bowl away again.
"You were smelling pheromones," the werewolf said, by way of explanation. "They can tell you're human."
"Who?" Riku asked, starting to glance back at the table of gorgeous people. Auron's large hand caught his chin and turned his face away before he could see them again, and Riku brushed his arm away, getting the hint not to look.
"Succubae and incubi," Auron said. "Every one of them. They feed off sexual energy, and an attractive human like you is rare around headquarters. You already stand out, so don't encourage it by leaving yourself open to their tricks."
Resisting the silent lure, Riku nodded and swallowed against his dry throat, and didn't once look back at them. His suit felt so stifling now, the neck feeling tight, so he unzipped it to a more comfortable position, baring most of his neck. He didn't dare take off the leather and gold collar.
Auron continued on down the line, and Riku followed, eyeing the kimchee Auron was carrying. Was that for him?
"What are you going to eat?" he asked.
As if to answer, Auron paused in front of one of the cooks, having passed most of the Asian food and now coming across more American things. "Medium rare steak," he told the person behind the protective glass. "And get the kid some chicken and dumplings. And some of those." He gestured with his free hand to some steamed vegetables.
Vitamins and protein. A healthy meal. Riku realized then that he hadn't eaten in over ten hours.
He was silent as he was handed a warm plate a minute later, and the aroma of poultry and seasonings made his stomach growl. Auron, with his bowl of Korean food and a small plate of nearly bleeding steak, broke out of the line to head towards what looked like a small java shop. Riku tagged along close behind him, avoiding eye contact with everyone.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
"You need caffeine," Auron announced as he stepped up to the counter. "One mochaccino," he said, and the frazzled girl at the machine went right to work, expertly mixing and pouring, far faster and neater than any Starbucks employee.
Wondering what Auron was going to drink, Riku asked, "What about you?"
"Vexen took care of that."
Riku frowned, confused, but then he remembered how the apothecary had refilled Auron's flask of Goldschlager. Auron was going to eat a bloody steak and a bowl of spicy kimchee with Goldschlager? Gehhh. The man's stomach must have been made of steel or something. Riku wrinkled his nose.
After glancing at him, Auron formed a small, amused smirk. "Come on," he said, and then nodded to Riku's ready mochaccino. "Let's go. We have five minutes left."
Riku knew when not to linger. He took the coffee and, before he could even think about thanking the girl, he was sweeping out of the tiny shop right at Auron's heels, back into the main dining hall. Though he wondered, he didn't ask why Auron didn't have to pay for anything, or even if they were allowed to take food outside the court or into the place they were heading.
All he did was pick up his pace, cradling his plate of normal food, and matched his strides with Auron's, falling into step beside him.
The zombie hadn't attacked.
Sora had backed all the way up against the headboard and curled up, shaking, with his face buried against his knees, and waited for his punishment for trying to escape, but it had not come. The Riku had stopped near the bedside. Besides the slight trembling of Sora's chains, only the sound of the zombie's rattling breath filled the air, but it wasn't close enough to send Sora into another panic.
Was he waiting for something? Sora was too scared to look, but, with skin-crawling certainty, he could feel the zombie studying him, though he wasn't sure how he could be certain about anything anymore. Working up his nerve, Sora lifted his face, glancing over the curve of his knee at the creature, who really was watching him.
The zombie knelt beside the bed, the intense gaze a bit less intimidating with the pale creature now lower than Sora. He cocked his head slightly, giving him an oddly bird-like quality, but said nothing.
"Wh—What do you want now?" Sora quivered, trying to act casual despite being on the brink of pissing himself in fear.
The zombie cocked his head the other way now, blinking once slowly as if he was forcing the action out of a need to seem "normal." His lips barely parted, though Sora still got an uncomfortable glimpse of those sharp teeth.
Sora couldn't understand what he meant, until he noticed how the Riku's gaze lowered from his face to his hands. Angry red marks shaped like chain links burned across his palms. Sora swallowed, closing his hands into loose fists to hide the marks.
"I... I just..." Just what? Sora couldn't even begin to explain his way out of this. He could hardly even think straight. Why wasn't the zombie mad? If he could talk, then wasn't he smart enough to know what Sora had been doing?
Or... maybe he wasn't?
Swallowing against his hoarse throat, Sora decided to test him. "Where do you go...when you're not watching me?" he asked tentatively, managing to keep his voice from shaking.
The Riku lifted those blank eyes again, head still tilted, blue lips parted, and when he spoke, it sounded so forced, as if it really did take all of his effort just to utter something coherent for Sora. "...hunt..."
To hunt. At least Sora knew he wasn't being saved for food for the zombie, and that he zombie was actually willing to answer questions.
And there was one question that Sora had to know the answer to, no matter how sick the thought of it made him feel.
"...he's really going to turn me, isn't he? And he'll never keep his promise to leave Riku alone, either..."
The zombie's eyes changed ever so slightly, placid blankness becoming... grief? Sora's heart clenched for reasons he couldn't name.
Remorse? From this inhuman being?
Remorse and honesty.
Sora's arms tightened around his knees. An indescribable sadness welled up inside of him, overcoming his fear, but for some reason, he couldn't cry about it. So now he knew his situation for sure. He knew he was definitely not getting out of this alive if he stayed here. He also knew he was probably going to suffer even more before it happened, and that if he ever saw home or Riku again, it'd be under circumstances that he was too terrified to think about.
But most importantly, he knew that his vampire twin wanted him to cry about it. Cry and beg and writhe and entertain him. At least Sora could resist that, keep struggling, or keep planning on an escape somehow...
The zombie's heavy breathing drew closer, and Sora glanced up again, noticing that he had brought in a tray with him and had set it on the floor. The black steel tray carried a plate of food, a glass of what looked like water, and also a strip of white cotton. Sora understood the food and water, but what was the other thing for?
That was when he noticed that the zombie had gotten too close and was studying Sora's raw ankle. Sora automatically drew his leg away, shooting the Riku a scared look, but almost at the same time, he realized that despite what the zombie had done and what he a monster he was, he was here to help Sora, to take care of him. And if those subtle signs of humanity inside of the zombie were real, then maybe Sora could use him.
Gentle, cold hands touched Sora's ankle, lightly feeling the edges of the raw spots. Sora hissed, instinctively jerking away again, only to feel himself caught in the zombie's grip.
"... need... padding..."
The Riku removed a tiny key on a cord from around his neck.
"... will... help... but... not... try... escape..."
Then, amazingly, he unlocked the shackle. The sudden loss of the grinding weight against his skin was almost unreal.
"... if... try... run... then... will... break... legs..."
And with that warning, the zombie began to wrap the wide strip of soft cloth around the raw spot on Sora's ankle. Oh, so that's what it had been for. Keeping the threat in mind, Sora sat there, tense and holding his breath, his heart racing as he watched the zombie work. His cold fingers were careful and agile, hardly agitating the hurt ankle, and Sora wondered how the monster that had killed Paopu could actually be so unexpectedly kind and gentle.
His gaze flitted over to the open shackle. He wasn't looking forward to wearing it again, but after the speed and strength he'd seen the zombie display before killing Paopu, he knew he wasn't lying when he'd said he'd break his legs if he tried to run. And if Sora did have any hope for escape, he'd need those legs.
At least now he knew who carried the key. Maybe the vampire trusted his servant a little too much.
He began to relax, still not trusting the zombie completely, but appreciating his care. When the cloth was on and secured, those pale hands went to pick up the shackle to replace it around Sora's ankle.
"You're Riku, too, right?" Sora asked quietly, breaking through the silence. "Your name."
The hands paused. The zombie's breath stuttered a little more. And as Sora watched, the Riku's throat worked as if troubled, before the milky eyes lifted to meet his again.
Sora's breath caught.
If there was remorse in those white eyes before, now there was agony.
"... aren't you?" Sora managed, his throat constricting in a strange sympathy.
The zombie's head lowered, shoulders hunching in a wounded posture. "... was..."
Was? Why wouldn't he still be Riku?
"... master... took... name... away..."
"He can do that?" Sora asked, incredulous. "But—I mean—even if he could do something like that, you're still Riku, right?"
But even as the words fell from his mouth, he realized what he was saying. His gaze took in the dead lips and jagged teeth and inhuman breathing and those dead yet alive eyes and he couldn't help thinking that maybe Riku losing his name had been a good thing. If he couldn't call himself Riku now, he couldn't compare himself to what he used to be. As sad and crude as that was. Though that meant, without his name, he wasn't anything. Hardly an existence. Just the vampire's servant. Was that another form of control?
Sora wondered which was worse. Having the name, or not?
Yet when he looked at the zombie and remembered the anguish he had seen for that one moment in those eyes, he knew his answer. At least with a name, he could say he was someone.
"Is it okay if I call you Riku?"
Agony softened into surprise, given in another of those slow blinks. The zombie nodded just as slowly, shifting the opened shackle in his hands.
"... sorry... have... to..."
"It's okay. I understand." Sora really didn't want the damned thing back on, but he knew there was no other choice. He slid his ankle closer, letting the zombie close and latch it over the wrapping.
Sora nodded. "It doesn't hurt as much now. Thanks."
For a moment, Sora swore the corner of Riku's mouth quirked up in a little smile.
The briefing room Auron led him to was different from the last. Auron had to use his ID to swipe for clearance before the door opened, and inside, it was spacious, filled with a long, narrow table with a tall device built into the middle that looked like a smaller version of the projectors from before. Smaller monitors were imbedded right into the surface of the table, and they looked like touchscreens. The walls were blank white, curved to form a semi circle, and the ceiling was domed with no light structure. Light came from an arc of spots along the walls, not quite fluorescent but more natural feeling.
As Auron moved into the room, Riku hesitated just inside the threshold with his food, wondering where to sit.
Ansem was already there, his eyes following Auron as the werewolf took a spot at the middle of the long table and set his bowl and plate down. Then those orange eyes flitted to Riku, narrowing at him again as if expectant. Feeling completely out of place, Riku moved away from the door. As he did, he noticed the other people in the room, and he glanced at them as he slowly shuffled to a seat near Auron.
Ansem's adopted son, the cute blond who looked eerily like Sora, was sitting at the very end of the table. He had his chair facing the opposite direction and was sitting on it backwards in a straddle, his elbows resting on the surface of the table. He had a small bowl of skinny noodles in front of him, and Riku watched as the boy used two fingers to pick up a single strand and bring it between his lips.
When he noticed Riku was looking, he smiled faintly and slurped the noodle up.
After lowering his backpack and crossbow to the floor, Riku sank into a seat at the conference table, setting his plate down with a soft clack, and his coffee went next to it. He caught sight of Zell sitting across the table, the blond flashing him a grin and a thumb's up. Riku blinked. What was Zell doing here? Wait, he must be one of the hunters assigned to their team. Just from their brief encounter earlier, Riku somehow felt a little better having Zell's power on their side.
The man sitting next to Zell was new to Riku, though. Though also golden blond like Zell, his hair stuck up and out in points that reminded Riku of Sora, only this man's hair was a bit more vertically inclined. The lower half of his face was shrouded in a tattered, blood red cloth, piercing blue eyes watching the room over the ragged fabric. Those eyes focused on Riku for a moment, and the teenager swore they were glowing from within. Gulping, Riku took in the rest of the silent man, noting that his outfit consisted mainly of heavy dark blue fabric and dark leather, his left hand and lower arm encased in golden clawed armor. Underneath his red mantle, something shifted against his back, and Riku saw a hint of the black skin of something that looked almost like a bat's wing.
Intrigued, Riku would have kept looking for a hint of that appendage again, but Ansem took that moment to cross the room and approach the table. The fifteen minutes must have been up.
"It's time to start," he said calmly as he paused next to the blond boy.
"Hey, Boss?" Zell quipped, knitting his brow up at Ansem. "I gotta ask... what's the kid doing here?"
Ansem frowned. "If you would settle down, Mr. Dincht, I would be able to explain to you why Roxas is here." He waited for Zell to lean back in his seat, thankfully quiet for the moment, before continuing with his attention on Riku, who had begun eating. "I'm aware you've already met Mr. Dincht. You will have two other Hunters accompanying you. The first is Cloud Strife..."
The scary-looking blond nodded once, not making so much as a grunt of acknowledgement. The darkness under his cowl twitched once.
"... and the other is... not here." Ansem's frown deepened, creating small lines between his fine brows. "Where is Sephiroth? Why is he late?"
"He can't be far, his food is here." Zell took a bite of his sandwich before continuing with his mouth full, much to Ansem's silent disapproval. "Sure he'll turn up soon."
"Is he usually late for meetings?" Riku asked, hoping he wasn't insulting anyone.
"He got back late from his last mission and he hadn't fed yet." Cloud's smooth baritone was so soft and so unexpected, it made Riku jump and almost drop his fork. "He'll be here any minute now."
Riku's eyes drifted to the plate sitting at Sephiroth's place, next to Cloud. On it was a thick steak, except this one was more rare than Auron's. A lot more rare. It looked... raw.
"Wh—what is he, anyway...?" Riku whispered. No one answered, either because they hadn't heard him or they didn't want to. "Hey, I asked—"
"We heard you the first time," Auron replied gruffly. "Sephiroth is a dhampir."
"A what?" The term sounded familiar somehow, almost like— "Wait, did you say he was a vampire?"
"A dhampir is a halfbreed." Ansem settled smoothly into the seat next to his son. "The offspring of a mortal mother and a vampire father, usually."
"I thought vampires were the enemy!" Riku said, appalled. "A vampire took Sora, remember?!"
"We are aware of the hostage's situation," Ansem replied. He said it in a way that made Riku realize what an ass he was making of himself. "And we do not need a human to remind us what we are after."
"Vampires aren't the enemy," Auron said, giving him a dark look.
Even Zell was staring at him as if something were wrong with him. "They're right," he said, his hands still around his sandwich, "they're not the enemy. Just the ones who break the law. Sephiroth is nooo-where near being like the psycho with the hostage, man."
Riku found himself getting to his feet, his hands on the table as he leaned forward, glaring at the two blonds in front of him before turning to Ansem. "He has a name. It's Sora. Not hostage." Their nonchalant attitude was really, really bothering him, and add that to the fact that a half-vampire was going to be working with them, the situation just made him really uncomfortable, especially after what Auron had told Riku about those monsters.
That's all they were. Monsters.
"Riku, sit down," Auron said firmly.
Riku didn't. "And does it matter if he's not like the one who took Sora?" he asked in an acidic tone. "Vampires suck blood. They hurt people to survive. They're all monsters."
Strife's cold eyes slowly slid towards him and locked with his gaze, and something about the way his brows furrowed in that slight, almost imperceptible way, and his lips pulled into a thin line, made Riku feel completely debased. The hunter didn't even have to say anything. Riku got the message clearly: What do you know, Human?
His anger fizzled out of him before he knew what was happening. But before he could rethink his words or even consider apologizing for them, a long arm slipped around his waist and pulled him backwards, right up against a solid chest.
A small yelp escaped him at the surprise encounter, but whoever it was who held him didn't let him pull away or turn around, the strong arm only tightening its grip. Riku's breath caught in his throat at the brush of soft lips against his neck, his eyes widening when there was a definite graze of teeth and a hint of warm tongue against his skin, a sensual but cruel tease. He realized his heart was racing when the person behind him finally spoke, the voice deep, honeyed, and dripping amusement.
Startled, Riku turned his face, catching sight of silky silver hair and a sultry little smirk, right before his attacker nuzzled into his neck again, over his collar.
"Sephiroth, lay off the boy. He doesn't know better."
Strife. Still impassive. But Riku felt like he had just been saved. Unfortunately, the dhampir wasn't done. He gave a low chuckle and pulled Riku even closer, who let out a small squeak and gave Auron a pleading look to save him.
"Mm, if only I wasn't under contract..." he murmured against Riku's neck, his fingers sliding up the boy's leather-clad thigh. "I'd bite him right here."
Riku's body gave a shudder of both fear and what felt like anticipation, giving into Sephiroth's playful flirting with ease, leaving him voiceless, ashamed and scared shitless, and slightly aroused. That was when Auron finally spoke up, his expression normal, but Riku sensed the warning in his tone.
Riku could practically hear the smugness in Sephiroth's voice. "He's delectable. Is this your new charge, Lykos?"
"It is," Auron replied, curt. Let him go and You're scaring him were left unsaid, perhaps because they were obvious. "Let's get to work."
When Sephiroth slowly released him, Riku quickly pulled away and shot him a look that showed he was more embarrassed than he was bothered, and Sephiroth offered an enigmatic smirk in return, his eyes narrowing a fraction as he studied Riku like a hawk would its prey. Riku briefly skimmed over the man's body, taking in his long silver hair and vibrant green eyes and the elegant, sleek black clothes that did nothing to hide his slender but built physique. His pants and boots were nothing special, but his shirt was enough to make Riku's gaze linger.
The collar was large, reminding Riku of an old military style jacket, but the material seemed thinner, the design more modern. The shirt was undone, hanging open halfway down his chest and closing just under his solar plexus with two silver clasps, showing off his well-formed chest and the sharp lines of his clavicles. From Riku's angle, he even saw a hint of nipple beyond the dark, open material. The rest of the shirt hugged his sides, flaring out slightly, revealing a line of skin down his toned abdomen to his pants.
Sephiroth caught his stare now that they were done studying each other, and Riku quickly returned to his seat, avoiding eye contact. He saw Strife fire a warning glare at Sephiroth as the dhampir settled into his own seat, but Riku noticed there was a lot less ice in that look than the one the blond had turned on him earlier. Sephiroth answered Cloud with a smirk, almost primly tucking into the bloody steak on his plate. Riku expected it to moo when the tall man stabbed it with his fork.
"If you are done now," Ansem stated calmly, though his tone was chilly. He moved to the center of the table where the projector was. "It has taken us years, but we've managed to piece together a holographic layout of Sorah's lair."
He keyed in a few commands, and a ghostly representation of the first floor of a sprawling building spread out over most of the table. Deciding that now was a safe time, Riku began to continue his meal, finding himself much hungrier than he had realized. He kept his attention on Ansem, though, not wanting to miss anything important, not taking time to savor the food even though it was to die for. All the while, he could feel Sephiroth watching him.
"This is Cerise Noir's main entrance, as well as the bar area and dance floor," Ansem explained, and each time he waved his hand, the area in the hologram indicated by him changed from a turquoise outline to a red, signifying what was where. "It's always crowded, a mixture of supernaturals and their unsuspecting human prey. Very rarely do humans notice when one of their own falls victim to a vampire or other species here." Ansem went on to gesture, Riku's eyes following the man's slender hand. "Hunters Dincht, Strife, and Sephiroth will place themselves here." The turquoise bled to red again. "Dincht, you will be on lookout, and assist Strife and Sephiroth in securing the main area without arousing suspicion. Your job is to notify Lykos when the vampire leaves the club to hunt."
The hologram lowered slightly, a second floor stacking on top of it as Ansem continued. "The next floor up contains private rooms. The staircase leading up to the third floor storage is guarded by a bouncer who also supervises those rooms. The third floor storage area is where Lykos and his charge will be going. You two will enter through the back door. There's a security lock on that door, but we have the code for it. Your job is to make your way to the third floor without being seen. In the back of the storage area, there is a set of fire stairs that have been modified to bypass all external exits and go straight into the basement. That is where Sora is being kept." The slight stress on that word made Riku sink into his seat a little; he knew Ansem was watching him even without looking away from the hologram. "Once you retrieve him, you are to get him to an outside team who will be waiting by the rear door. If no alert has been raised by then, the other half of your mission is to assist the rest of your team in ambushing the vampire when he returns to the club."
Riku hesitantly raised his hand to shoulder height, afraid that the others might laugh at him for acting like he was in school. "Sir? If I can ask a question... how do you know this layout is accurate? I mean, if we go inside and things aren't what we expect, it could get us all killed." So what if he was an ass for questioning the experts? He wasn't about to risk his life on bad information.
However, Ansem didn't even look fazed at Riku's uncertainty. He nodded toward his son, who punctuated the sudden silence with the slurp of another noodle.
"Roxas spent some time as Sorah's prisoner, until I rescued him. He knows the layout of Cerise Noir better than anyone else here."
Zell choked on a bite of his sandwich, quickly forcing it down with half of his drink. The stare he focused on Roxas... he looked like he was about to fall out of his seat in shock and admiration. To encounter Sorah and live to tell about it was nothing short of a miracle, with or without help...!
Riku dropped his fork, a swell of hope squeezing his chest tightly. "Then it's not impossible to save somebody from Sorah...!" He leaned toward Ansem like a dog straining at the leash. "If you did it once, you can do it again! You can rescue Sora!"
"Riku..." Auron began, a soft but clear note of warning in his voice.
One slow shake of Ansem's head promptly squashed Riku's hopes. "My time as a Hunter is long done, child." Ansem hesitated for a moment, oddly disconcerting for Riku even though he barely knew the man. "In saving Roxas, I myself was gravely injured. The abilities that were paramount to my status as a Hunter are sadly out of reach now. But I consider the sacrifice to be a very worthy one."
For a moment, Ansem and his son glanced at each other, and Riku's throat tightened at the brief spark of affection he saw there.
Just how much would he give of himself to save Sora?
"You might be human, Riku, but you have more power than you give yourself credit for."
The unfamiliar voice made Riku look up, startled, only to find Roxas looking right at him. The blond smiled at Riku's shocked expression, and Riku was painfully reminded of Sora's own happy but worn smiles. Just how much had the blond teenager suffered at Sorah's hands?
"Everyone here has talents of their own. Racial or personal, it doesn't matter. But what's important is that you love Sora, right?" Roxas picked up a noodle, letting it dangle from his fingers. "If you love him, you'll find a way. That's why, even though I'm not a Hunter, I want to help you in any way I can. Because somebody loved me enough to want to save me." With that, he slurped up his noodle, turning his attention back to his half-filled bowl.
Riku couldn't keep a tiny smile from creeping onto his face, but it faded when Sephiroth spoke.
"And just how do we know we can trust Roxas's memories? Sorah is a skilled manipulator of both mind and body... what's to say he didn't simply let Ansem take Roxas away with a skull full of false information in an effort to trap us?"
Riku couldn't believe the balls on this guy! Elite Hunter or not, to question his boss like this... and over Ansem's beloved son on top of it all...! Even Zell seemed somewhat surprised at Sephiroth's question, though Strife and Auron were both watching Ansem expectantly. Despite the attention, Ansem coolly handled their doubts.
"From what surveillance and infiltration we have managed to accomplish over the years, and from what I myself remember, Roxas's account of the layout is precise," he said as he gestured to the simulated tour, which had begun to rotate slowly on an invisible axis, showing off all angles of the layout to the people seated around the table. When no one challenged this, he flitted his gaze over their attentive faces. "Any more questions before we continue?"
Riku hesitantly raised his hand again, feeling ridiculous as everyone stared at him.
"Yes?" Ansem drawled. Though he sounded patient, Riku had a feeling that the man was getting tired of his human ignorance.
"If this place is a club," Riku asked as he nodded towards the hologram, "won't we need to dress the part?"
"Absolutely," Ansem replied, "but you already fit into the crowd with that."
Glancing down at his skin-tight outfit, Riku couldn't help thinking about leather fetishwear and that he'd stand out in the crowd anyway. He decided not to protest, not wanting the others to think of him even more as a burden.
"I have a question," Strife cut in quietly. This time Riku wasn't as surprised when he spoke up, but his voice still struck him with the way it was firm but still soft in a sleepy, sensuous way. His cold blue eyes stared up at Ansem from under his bangs, his mouth barely visible above his red cowl. "These bouncers you mentioned. What race are they?"
"Possibly renfields," Ansem answered, and before Riku could even wonder what that meant, Ansem leveled his gaze back on him, especially him, to clarify, "human slaves who are completely devoted to the vampire in hopes they'll be turned for their loyal service."
Riku wasn't sure whether or not to be grateful for the explanation or insulted that Ansem had done that. "If they're just human, then what's there to worry about?" he wondered aloud.
"They will be on the lookout," Auron said. His voice was thick, and Riku noticed that he had his flask out. "Plus, there are others inside the club who may or may not target you for just being human. You remember the table of incubi in the cafeteria."
That he did. Embarrassed that it had been brought up in front of everyone, he glanced around, but most of them still seemed impassive. Strife, however, shifted his dark wing on reflex, as if pinpointed by that statement.
Next to the mysterious hunter, Sephiroth spoke up without looking away from his now almost done steak. "Incubi, yes. They have cunning means of seduction and would be attracted to such an atmosphere for fresh prey."
Strife added smoothly without missing a beat, "And other races will have less honest ways of charming you into their beds." Here he paused, his gaze sliding in Sephiroth's direction as if it had been a direct jab.
"What other ways?" Riku asked.
Sephiroth's eyes shifted, focusing on Riku, intense green studying him. "Glamour," he said pointedly, and then returned Strife's glance. "Something that even the most skilled hunters cannot resist."
Though he himself didn't move, Strife's wing twitched again, the material of his cowl fluttering around it. Riku frowned, glancing from Strife to Sephiroth, sensing underlying tension behind their statements. Were they teasing each other? Riku wondered at their relationship.
"If this is something even experienced hunters fall prey to..." he asked, "just what chance do I have?"
Ansem raised a brow at Riku's mumbled question. Sephiroth rested his elbows on the table, lacing his fingers together and leaning toward Riku over them. Strife noticed the gesture and snorted, folding his arms and turning his face away from the dhampir.
"The kid has a point," Auron rumbled, ignoring the dirty look Riku shot him for the label. "Sephiroth, you're the only one here equipped to train him in resistance. You might be descended from a different species of vampire than Sorah, but your glamour works much the same way."
"Whoa, whoa!" Riku held up both hands. "You want him to glamour me?"
"Why not? He's the only one here at the moment who can," Ansem replied coolly.
"He tried to bite me!"
Sephiroth smirked. "Then try not to be so tempting."
"Forget it! I'll take my chances with the freaking vampire!" Riku leaned back in his seat, afraid to be that close to the dhampir, even with the conference table between them.
"You brought up a valid point, and now I'm afraid you'll have to see it through." Ansem nodded at Sephiroth, who rose from his seat and started around the table toward Riku. "You can't be a liability to this team, boy. You will go with Sephiroth and train as best you can before the start of the mission, or you won't go at all."
"B—But that's not... hey, let me go!" Riku's protest turned slightly shrill as a strong hand jerked him out of his seat.
"Don't worry, kid. I'll be gentle."
"I'm not going anywhere with you!" Riku struggled, ashamedly aware of how childish he was acting, but this guy was just scary! "Zell, help!"
The blond fighter shrugged, offering a sympathetic look as Sephiroth hauled Riku out of the room. "Just watch your neck!"
"THAT'S NOT FUNNY!"
After the shackle had been replaced, the zombie lingered in the room as Sora slowly picked at the food that had been given to him on the tray. It was only rice and meat, already cut up, and the only utensil was a spoon. Though Sora wondered what kind of damage he could have done with a fork or knife, the fact that they had taken precautions with even that told him once again that they were well prepared to keep him here, that they were anticipating his every move.
As he ate, he tried not to let his gaze stray too often to the zombie, who had taken to huddling on the floor in the shadows, which was an improvement from his usual position behind the heavy draperies.
If not for the hunger gnawing at the pit of his stomach, tempered only by queasy fear, Sora wouldn't be able to eat at all. As it was, he got down only a few spoonfuls before he stopped, hoping his stomach wouldn't rebel.
"... must... eat..."
Sora picked up the spoon again, but didn't move to scoop up another bite. "I don't have much of an appetite. Did you expect me to?" He did pick up the cup of water, sipping at it. Losing so much blood had really dehydrated him.
"... master... wants... strong..." The zombie reached out a bony-fingered hand. "... need... help...?"
"Riku" wanted to feed him? The idea of it unsettled Sora; he felt like he was being fattened like cattle. He shook his head. "Thanks, but I can do it myself." He forced himself to take a few more bites.
Riku continued to watch him as he at least polished off the rice and left half of the meat there. He couldn't eat any more. Leaving the plate at the side of the bed, Sora cradled his cup of water as the zombie approached him to take away the rest of his unwanted food. For a monster, his movements were always so careful, Sora noticed. He seemed so attentive to every detail, it was almost eerie.
There had to be something there. For a zombie, anyway. No brainless thing could be doing all this for him. And if he wasn't so brainless, then he had to know more about this place, about Sora's situation, and about his captor.
"Thanks..." Sora murmured after a moment, his voice soft as it broke through the silence.
Pausing in mid-rise, the zombie tilted his head and blinked at Sora owlishly.
"For being so nice," Sora clarified, lowering his gaze down to his cup. The water was getting warm. Fingers tracing the rim, he bit his lip, trying to find the words to say this right. "You could be violent and sadistic like that vampire, but you're not."
The zombie blinked again, looking like he was thinking about something. For a long time, he said nothing, quietly observing Sora. Sora drank down the rest of the water, his heart squeezing painfully as he wondered if he was wrong about the zombie-Riku's intelligence. If he really was mindless, Sora would get nothing from him...
But then, the soft rasp of a voice returned. "... master... only... know... anger..."
So maybe Riku really did have human intelligence, if it could make a judgment like that. Sora nodded, somewhat relieved, and stared down at his cup, watching a droplet of water slide down the side of the plastic.
"You know a lot about him, I guess..."
There was a wheezy intake of breath, but the zombie was otherwise silent again. Sora glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, noticing how he was being studied by the poor creature as if he was the one to be pitied. Curious, Sora lifted his face to meet his gaze fully.
"Don't you?" he asked. "If he's your master."
"... master... not... tell... anything..."
Riku turned away, his face still that near-expressionless mask, and yet Sora knew he wasn't being entirely truthful. He inched closer, leaning toward the creature with a hesitant smile that was almost impossible to keep in place.
"But you're always around him. You must've noticed things about him... what he's like when he's not, you know, playing with his food." God, that was hard to say. All this time, he'd been trying to convince himself he was something other than food, and though he'd been failing miserably, saying it out loud made him really understand it was even worse.
The zombie didn't move, didn't even reply for several moments. When the words came, they were almost a whisper. "... master... hurt... if... angry... hit... lots..."
"He hits you? But you don't feel pain, do you?" Sora swallowed as no response came, a sick dread rolling over in his gut. "Do you...?"
"... not... matter... hits... anyway... even... if... not... fault..." The words came slower this time, more forced, and Sora couldn't tell if it was from the effort of speaking so many words at a time, or if it was something more. "... not... try... escape... master... kill... if... try..."
"Do you mean me, or you?"
Riku shook his head. "... already... dead..."
So then he meant Sora. Sora would die if he tried to escape. And if the zombie had been able to anticipate what Sora had been trying to do, he wasn't brain-dumb at all. That meant that even if Sora did come up with an escape plan, he couldn't count on outsmarting the zombie guard dog.
But from the sound of it, he was a captive, too. Though it might have been a strange thing to find comfort in, Sora suddenly felt so much less alone. The zombie knew his situation well, and Sora saw his own possible future in him. He could wind up like this Riku, slave to the crazy vampire, beaten for no reason, and worse. The only difference was that Sora was still alive and had some semblance of free will, but probably not for long.
"You and me," he said quietly, looking down at his empty plastic cup, "we're not all that different, are we? Pretty soon, he'll take my name too."
Riku said nothing to that, but Sora didn't miss the way he suddenly stiffened for just a moment. He opened his mouth to ask what was bothering the zombie, when he got his answer. His skin prickled icily right as the door swung open and the vampire breezed in.
"I wouldn't even bother," the other Sora chuckled when he saw his prey ready to speak. "It doesn't understand. It can't even talk."
Sora snapped his mouth shut, recoiling away as the his twin approached. A soft whimper escaped him when he felt those cold fingers stroke through his hair. The vampire petted him for a few moments, grinning in a way that could be fond if not for the sick glee in his eyes.
"Did you have enough to eat? You need to keep your strength up, of course. It wouldn't do to have you die of malnutrition, now would it?"
Sora's lip quivered, his head leaning further away from the vampire, tears welling in his eyes as those cold, clawed fingers cupped the back of his skull, pulling him into kissing range. The other Sora smiled, nuzzling the human's cheek in a way that was almost affectionate.
"P—please... let me go," Sora begged, though he knew it was futile.
The vampire leaned back enough to lock his eyes with Sora's, filling the teen's vision with bright, icy blue that seemed to swell, washing through his brain like a wave of soothing water. Some of the tension melted from Sora's limbs, the fearful tightness in his chest easing.
Until the blood crashed down through his memories and left him screaming with a voice no one but him could hear.
-blood cold icy fear PAIN jagged burning makeitstop-
his soul bled out his eyes and from his screaming mouth, his forgotten body twitching in the vampire's grip as if shocked. Those blue eyes stared unblinking into his own, and still all Sora could see was
-wontsharewonthelp mommawhy ithurtsineedit justalittlepleaseill bequiet-
her face filling his vision, angry and snarling. Her bony hand held him down, her thin, trackmarked arm swept down and across
-blazingfire throat riversofhotliquidlife whycantibreathe mommawhy-
and he choked on a breath he couldn't draw, hot fluid bubbles bursting on his lips, painting his face and splattering his vision red on red until she threw him into the gutter, into the rain, one eye blinded with muddy water and the other watching his life flow away into the drain
-ungratefulshit iwontshare neverwantedneverlovedjustDIE-
until someone picked him up, picked him out of the gutter, naked and docile and lost, one moment of warmth until he felt how cold his savior was and then life wasn't draining out, it was being PULLED, sucked away greedily as the aching abused void between his thighs was invaded at the same moment, a stranger taking the last thing he had
-nowon'tletyou itsnot fair why stop stop stop NO-
so he screamed and bit down on the throat so close to his, an ouroboros embrace with one feeding on the other, and tasted the surprised laughter in the bitterness exploding over his tongue
-wontdie wontdie takeit takeitall iwanttoLIVE-
but there was no life in this body, the stranger had none and took all he had, to leave him the same nothing to pass to another and another and another...
Sora found himself yanked out of the bloody agony, his brain feeling rubbed raw until the backs of his eyes began to throb in pain. He fell out of the blue emptiness of his twin's eyes, sagging backward over the arm supporting him, one hand clawing blindly at his own throat. There was no gaping wound under his fingertips, only the raw, closed-over punctures that the vampire kept abusing.
The vampire chuckled breathlessly, like a lover sharing a playful tease after a romantic tussle. One arm still supported Sora, the other hand resuming its gentle stroking through the human's hair. Sora's body twitched with a soft moan, and the vampire's smile only widened.
"You and I share more than a face. We share the same drive to exist. I keep hurting you, and you keep fighting, don't you? But everyone in this life has hurt you in some way, little one. No one is innocent of that." That cold hand drifted down from Sora's hair to stroke his cheek lovingly. "No one at all... not even your precious Riku..."
A shock of actual physical suffering shot through Sora the moment his boyfriend's face entered his thoughts. He bit down on a sobbing cry, the memory crushed down by a pounding headache with all the intensity of a cheese grater scraped across the surface of his brain. Blood roared through his ears, not quite drowning out the vampire's soft laugh.
"Your memories are so sweet, little Sora. I couldn't help myself... I wanted to taste them on my tongue, feel them curdle in my belly. You feed me so perfectly, as if you were made only for me." As he spoke, he tipped Sora back, cradling the broken boy in the cool, soft sheets. "It's such a shame, though... mortals don't last forever. Your body will surrender, your willpower crumbled to nothing... and then I'll make sure you never have to fight again."
Sora heard the soft rustle of cloth hitting the floor, felt himself wrapped in cold arms, felt the slight weight of an icy, familiar body pressing him down, and he knew that there was no escape, not this night.
He wept, and even his own tears felt cold against his face.
The vampire's lips nearly rested against his ear, dark hair brushing Sora's cheek, softness curtaining away half his vision.
"I am you, you are me. We complete each other, little Sora. I want you to breathe my name, while you still have breath to speak it..."
Cold and cruel, sparking hot agony without mercy through his throat, the fangs slid into his flesh as if they belonged there. The first pull at his life melted the world away, eroded his will, mingled pleasure with fear in a dark whirlpool that frightened him more than sheer terror ever could. It drew him down into a place where the slow pressure of invading sex made him feel warm, made his hips surge closer in desire even as he screamed internally for it to stop.
Darkness closed over his awareness, and he was swallowed whole.
Sephiroth's knee barely touched Riku's as they sat side by side on the couch, half turned to face each other. The small break room only had space for the tiny sofa, a small end table with a few scattered magazines, and a lamp. Riku was almost afraid to breathe, feeling like the off-white walls were closing in on him.
His eyes met the dhampir's, an almost sly smile touching the older man's lips, and Riku's throat tightened. Was he being glamoured already?
"No," Sephiroth chuckled, as if reading Riku's thoughts. "You get a warning the first time."
Knowing he was being teased, he tried to close off his expression as he defiantly kept Sephiroth's gaze. Heat trickled into his cheeks, though, as he remembered how his body had reacted earlier to Sephiroth's touches, but that hadn't been glamour then either, had it? If he was being so susceptible to Sephiroth's allure now, he wasn't sure how he was going to resist whatever his glamour was like.
"This is actually standard Hunter training, at least for the races that are susceptible to glamour," Sephiroth explained. "Normally, you'd practice this for weeks, if not months. But since we're short on time... are you ready?"
Riku nodded slowly, not daring to blink at first for fear he'd miss something important. Only when his eyes began to dry out did he try, but it wasn't the quick flicker he was used to. His lashes came down slow, sleepy, the warmth of his cheeks seeming to spread along his neck and into his limbs to weigh them down. He couldn't break Sephiroth's gaze, those turquoise-green pools swallowing him, freezing his thoughts until all he knew was the strange pins-and-needles sensation creeping through his brain. His head tilted back slightly, his breath coming in soft pants, unable to move, unwilling to defend himself from the power of those oceanic eyes.
Even when Sephiroth suddenly began to lean closer, those pale lips inching toward Riku's vulnerable throat... even after the gaze was broken and the shiver lingered in his head... Riku was completely helpless. He didn't even mind Sephiroth's closeness as he felt warm breath against his jaw and slender fingers curl against his hip.
You're completely open. The words slid through his mind, a caress of silk that sent a shiver down his spine. Fight me off. The idea seemed contradictory—it came in a suggestive mind-purr, yet it was telling him not to surrender to it.
Fight? But how?
The attack seemed to be in the wispy, warm pleasure seeping through his body, turning him to liquid willingness. It would be so easy to just give in to it, let consciousness melt away. He wanted to know what those gleaming fangs would feel like, sinking into his flesh. Would it be how Sora had felt the first time they had made love, one into the other until it was impossible to tell where he ended and Sora (Sephiroth) began?
Sephiroth's presence rested in his mind like a solid thing, coiling around him, holding him captive. Riku groaned, pushing at the shimmering heat nesting in his skull, but there was no force in the effort. It pushed back, harder, and Riku tumbled away into oblivion.
When his mind finally cleared, it was like waking from a dream. His eyes drifted open, his consciousness stirring back to life, and he blinked a few times up at a cascade of silver hair in front of his face. He wasn't sure when it had happened, but he was now lying on his back on the couch and Sephiroth was straddling him, his fangs extended and pressed lightly against Riku's neck, leaving small dents he could feel. His heart jerked to life and began to race, his mind now panicking as he realized what position he was in.
Sephiroth slowly pulled back, murmuring, "You're dead."
The statement drove Riku's body back into action. Drawing in a sharp breath, he abruptly tried to sit up and push Sephiroth away from him, but the dhampir's body was a steel wall, unyielding and firm.
"Do you think you'll be able to just push Sorah away once he's got you?" Sephiroth watched Riku struggle, grunting softly as he fought to get free, but there was no smile on the older man's face anymore. "Do you think you'll even come out of the trance at all?"
"I know, I know! Now get off me!"
The blush was working its way down Riku's neck, now more angry than lustful or embarrassed. The moment Sephiroth released him, the teen shot off the couch and pressed against the wall, watching the dhampir with wide, wary eyes. Sephiroth's movements were slow and fluid as he rose to his feet and began to approach the boy again, who stiffened as he neared.
But Riku's defiance didn't last long again, his apprehension melting away as Sephiroth's gaze leveled on his, that luminescent green fixating him and swallowing his consciousness. He relaxed against the wall as Sephiroth closed the distance between them, his body pressing right up against Riku's, a hand fanning out against the wall beside Riku's head.
As the boy breathed in, a dark, enticing whisper passed through his mind like a caress, wordless but full of siren promises, dangerous and tempting. Sephiroth's proximity was intoxicating, dizzying him and filling him with warmth he couldn't resist—did he even want to? Sephiroth's lips were there before him, quirked into a subtle smirk that sent a pleasant shiver down his spine. It was alluring, almost taunting, challenging him to make a move.
Unthinkingly, Riku reached out and twisted his fingers around a lock of Sephiroth's silver hair, tugging, and another whisper moved through his mind, praising him, encouraging him, and he tugged a little harder, drawing Sephiroth's face closer.
The dhampir dipped his head lower, gaze breaking from Riku's as his lips found vulnerable skin. Riku dimly heard something heavy hit the floor at his feet, wet silky flesh grazing his neck back and forth, teasing. Riku's lashes flickered, a groan lodging in his chest, breaking free as sweet sinful fire stabbed through his throat. He should've choked, screamed in pain, but all he could do was moan, sagging into arms that lowered him to the floor, and the fire was gone as swiftly as it came.
There was no telling how long had passed by the time he dragged himself out of his daze. He was sitting on the floor, Sephiroth crouched in front of him, elbows resting on his thighs, watching silently. Riku swallowed, feeling an odd sting in his neck. He reached up, touching the spot... and his fingertips came away dotted with blood.
Fear, stark and cold, ran through him, his stomach twisting as he stared at the red staining his fingertips. From there, he glanced down to find his gold collar undone at his feet. Sephiroth had removed it without him noticing. Disturbed, Riku narrowed his eyes up at the dhampir, meaning to sound angry, but his voice came out shakily instead. "W-What did you do to..."
"Feeding rush," Sephiroth said smoothly, picking up the collar. "Nowhere near as pleasurable as a full vampire's real bite, but still stimulating enough to get an erotic little sound out of you. To think, I only nipped you."
Blush deepening, Riku swallowed against his dry throat and snatched the collar away from Sephiroth. Before putting it back on, he wiped his neck of the blood, muttering, "I thought gold was supposed to be poisonous."
"Not to my kind," Sephiroth said, again expressionless. "You're not fighting enough. If Sorah doesn't even have to touch the gold to take this off, you're in trouble. The problem is that you have something of a hedonistic streak. The search for pleasure drives you, I can taste it in your blood."
"Give me a break, this is the first time I've ever been hypnotized or glamoured or whatever!" Riku was fighting mad now, humiliated that his control was really that weak and that Sephiroth knew it. It was as bad as the idea of Sorah and his pet revenant watching Riku and Sora have sex.
"You still don't get it, do you?" Sephiroth scowled, his handsome features darkening with irritation. "You only get one chance. If Sorah glamours you and you don't resist, you're worse than dead. Of course, it might just be easier to let him turn you. Then the two of you can be Sorah's little sex slaves for eternity."
That made Riku see red. With a snarl, he swung at Sephiroth, though he barely had any room to cock back with the way he was sitting against the wall. Sephiroth caught his fist easily, his grip gentle but firm, holding Riku's hand immobile.
"Fuck you!" The words ground between Riku's clenched teeth, though they did nothing to make him feel like he was right or strong. He wanted to cry.
Sephiroth was right. His whole life had focused only on pleasure, and now when he needed to be strong, to suffer and struggle for what was really important, he couldn't do it.
But he still had to try.
As if sensing Riku's thoughts, Sephiroth's smirk returned. "That's better," he said in a low tone, rolling the syllables on his tongue as if they were to be savored. "Anger and desperation are better than nothing, which was what you had before." He slipped his fingers under Riku's, uncurling his fist and lacing their hands together as he leaned close, his words precise. "Use them."
The touch, oddly intimate as it was, only further fueled Riku's anger. It should've been Sora clutching his hand, Sora leaning close as if wanting a kiss. He took that rage, that simmering fear at what his helpless boyfriend must be going through, and shoved it into the forefront of his thoughts.
This time, he felt Sephiroth dive into his head. The dhampir grinned appreciatively at the resonating sensation of hitting that mental wall. Riku managed to grin back, though it was more a grimace from the force of his effort. A trickle of sweat rolled down the side of his face, but he held firm.
Long, strong fingers glided up the inside of his thigh, squeezing methodically, kneading muscle toned by years of sports.
Riku's eyes widened, thrown off his guard by such a blatant advance. Sephiroth's hand slid up his thigh, fingertips digging briefly into Riku's hip and kneading in slow circles. The teenager could feel himself starting to really sweat, though the pressure of Sephiroth's thoughts were still almost casual. Riku swallowed, forcing himself to maintain eye contact, feeling the grip on his hand shifting, turning his arm over to expose the dark vein throbbing in his wrist.
His lower body was abruptly yanked against the dhampir's, the fangs sinking into his wrist and the full force of Sephiroth's mind stabbing against Riku's walls. Riku was gone in an instant, his own cry ringing muffled and lustful in his ears.
Heat seared through him, igniting his nerves, satisfying shivers running up his arm and sending pleasure dancing down his spine. Sephiroth soon no longer had to hold his wrist captive, Riku finding himself voluntarily holding it up for Sephiroth's indulgence. Hands free, Sephiroth slowly, sensually drank from Riku's wrist, who felt a gasp escape him at the fluttery, elated sensations it invoked. Sephiroth's palms cupped his hips and firmly held him close as he pressed forward, Riku's back straightening against the wall as the remaining space between them disappeared. Sephiroth's knee slid between his to keep his legs spread as his hand skimmed down, finding the inside of his thigh again, a teasing pressure that Riku found himself arching his hips toward, a low, frustrated groan resounding in his throat.
A part of himself recognized that sound—sometimes Sora would tease him like this, often when he was especially desperate for his affection, and he would let Sora know just how much it annoyed and aroused him. Like this.
But this wasn't Sora, his mind suddenly reminded him, throwing him back into the present.
"S-Stop..." Riku grit out, shaking sickly as the reality of his failure came crashing down. Mercifully, Sephiroth obeyed, a slow swipe of his tongue clearing the remaining blood from the holes in Riku's wrist. Through the haze blurring his vision, Riku could see the sad disappointment in the man's face.
"I know how unfair it must seem, Riku," he said gently, backing up enough to let the boy start composing himself. "The Hunters who require this training take a very long time to build up enough immunity to glamour to be truly effective at it. You're not going to get that time, so we have to do what we can. At the very least, you can recognize the sensation of glamour and try to fight it off."
So in other words, Riku had a start, but it wouldn't be enough to save him? Lovely.
Gathering his scattered thoughts, Riku curled his arms around himself and swallowed against his hoarse throat, nodding to Sephiroth's credit. He was still trembling slightly, his nerves on edge and his body left brimming with want.
"I-I need to go to the bathroom," Riku said in a rushed half-demand. He wasn't going to let Sephiroth stop him.
Thankfully, he didn't need to. The dhampir's eyes met his, his seriousness fading into something laughing, though his lips didn't change from their frown. He gave a simple nod and pulled away, rising to his feet, completely composed and unruffled.
Riku wasn't nearly as graceful. He used the wall to hold his weight and then stumbled slightly as he made a beeline to the door, not looking back.
He needed to breathe.
As he staggered into the hallway, his whole world spun around him, everything becoming a blur of egg white and metallic black. The door hissed closed behind him, but Sephiroth's presence lingered. Riku could still feel his touches, fingerprints branded into his thigh, palms enveloping his hips, lips pressed to his wrist, breath ghosting against his neck. He knew what he must have looked like standing there in the colorless corridor, his flushed cheeks and wild green eyes exhibiting arousal.
God, his pulse felt like it'd never stop racing. Placing a hand over his heart, he took a steadying breath, trying to calm his nerves. Only then did he realize that he had no idea where a bathroom was in the first place.
He explored the long, curving hallway, avoiding eye contact with anyone he passed, aware of the affects of glamour now. The last thing he wanted was for another incubus or something to catch him under a spell. He made sure to memorize his steps so he wouldn't get lost on his way back to that secluded little room where Sephiroth was waiting for his return.
Shivering, he tried to ignore the way his body reacted to the thought, heat coursing through him, torturing. He had to stop thinking about it.
Passing two tall, fuzzy beings—not unlike Chewbacca, he thought, or Bigfoots/feet—he found a glowing blue sign that could have been a symbol for a toilet. He decided to risk it. He turned the corner into the narrower corridor, passing through another automatic door.
The smell of sterility, sweet soap, and an underlying, unpleasant musky odor made him wrinkle his nose. He'd found the place, alright. It wasn't that different from regular bathrooms at a mall or restaurant. A row of sinks and mirrors lined one wall, polished to a pristine shine, and the other wall was filled with doorways with little blue signs above them that seemed to indicate what species should go where and use what. A symbol of a humanoid told Riku where to go, but as he passed the other doorways, he saw a variety of different stalls and toilets, some normal looking, others designed bigger, smaller, more open, more rounded, some just plain weird. A few were occupied, and Riku avoided looking for too long.
The humanoid bathroom was familiar enough that it did relax him. He relieved himself and returned to the main area of the bathroom, feeling a little better already. He wasn't looking forward to going back to Sephiroth, fearing that next time he might have to go to the bathroom for a different kind of release if Sephiroth continued. But just getting away from him, away from Auron and the others, had lifted some of the pressure.
He approached one of the clean sinks and washed his hands, smiling softly at the runny pink soap provided for him. It was like some things were universal. Glancing into the mirror, though, he saw how shitty he really looked. To anyone who didn't know him, maybe he looked fine, but he saw the feverish blush on his cheeks and the paleness of the rest of him, of the shadows under his eyes, the dryness of his lips. His hair was a mess, too, the thing he always spent an hour perfecting before going out into public. Sora always teased him about his hair fetish. Now it all seemed so trivial.
Some ends of his hair were sticky with liquid red where they must have brushed his neck after Sephiroth's feeding. He took off his collar and set it aside. Tilting his face, he inspected his neck, touching the sore spots, blood still coming away. Shuddering, he triggered the faucet back on and washed his neck and wrist thoroughly before splashing water on his face to wake himself up.
Running damp hands through his hair, he looked at his reflection again, his wet eyelashes and lingering blush making his face seem more feminine. The coolness of the water was somewhat refreshing, but it couldn't wash away his worries.
The automatic faucet shut off, filling the bathroom with silence, as he continued to stare at his dripping reflection. He'd probably wasted too much time in here. He had to get back. After drying himself, he grabbed his collar and put it back on, zipping up the neck of his top for good measure. Turning away from the mirror, he left and retraced his steps back to Sephiroth's temptation.
The dhampir was lounging on the couch, idly flipping through the magazine that had been on the small table. He didn't even look up when Riku entered the room, the hissing automatic door announcing his presence. A silent moment passed, and Riku shifted his weight, apprehensive about being in the man's presence again, wondering what was coming next.
When Sephiroth did nothing, Riku caved into the tension and crossed the room to the couch and sank onto the cushions next to him, sitting stiffly, glancing at him expectantly.
Their green eyes finally met, Sephiroth peering over the edge of the magazine. "Lykos came by," he announced, calmly closing it. "Ansem has scheduled our mission early tomorrow morning, which will be night on the target's world. Both of them want you to get some rest before then."
Lykos. Sephiroth had called Auron that earlier. He wondered if it was some sort of special name for the werewolf.
Riku relaxed into the couch, sighing, feeling a deep ache settling in his limbs. Despite his exhaustion, however, he had an underlying problem that he didn't want to admit to Sephiroth of all people.
He was scared to sleep. How could he, after the day he'd had? His mind could hardly stop spinning enough for him to remember that, oh yeah, somewhere in another world in another life, he had a test coming up and had made plans with his friends for that weekend. A Cleaner, maybe Axel, was probably working on erasing his own past, like they were going to with Sora's.
Sephiroth must have seen the look on his face. "Do you think you will be able to sleep?" he asked. Even though he still seemed impassive towards Riku's situation and his voice held no concern, Riku found Sephiroth's question almost benevolent.
Riku hesitated, feeling his stomach churn. He hadn't finished his meal, either. Slowly, he shook his head. "I probably won't," he muttered.
Though they were sitting so close, he didn't expect to feel Sephiroth's hand skim up his thigh again, automatically making him tense and shoot the man an alarmed look. But this time when their eyes met, Sephiroth didn't look threatening, not a hint there of the predator from earlier.
A sudden tranquility washed through his muddled mind as he stared at Sephiroth, dazed. The shine of the dhampir's gaze blurred before him as his weighed eyelids began to sink closed, but the green had seared into his mind's eye, and it unfurled, blossoming into a velveteen meadow that swathed him with warmth and comfort.
Then the stillness came, and Riku slept.
to be continued...