A/N: The story begins rolling towards the climax. Finally.
Fun Fact: Red Tone is the only chapter story I've ever completely mapped out from beginning to end, not to mention the only story I've completed chapters for completely out of order. The majority of this chapter was written before chapters 6 and 7 even existed. Chapters 10 and 11 are nearly finished while I've barely started on Chapter 9. The epilogue is almost done. Given how much interest I've been pouring into this story in the past few months and given that the rest of the story is pretty much almost done, I anticipate finishing it some time before the end of the year. Uki will have finally completed a project xD I think this is the first chapter story I've really completed since The Love Note.
At some point before I upload the final chapter, I'm going to update the chapters with slightly revised editions, including bonus material and what I call "extraneous details." All in all I estimate it tacking on an additional 10,000 words or so. That way right before you finish you can go back (if you like) catch up on all the fun stuff and fill in on anything new.
Not to sound like a review whore or anything, but be sure to leave comments now and then if you like. Praise or critique or flames are all well and good. I'm finishing Red Tone because I like it and genuinely want to see it completed, but now and then it certainly helps the process along if I see that other people want it to be completed as well.
The journey home for Takuya was long and arduous. There wasn't a train running at this time of the night that would take him to where he needed to be, so he walked in the rain, and that made it a trial all on its own. The downpour lasted nearly the whole night, letting up only for minimal stretches at a time before resuming a violent assault, and Takuya made depressingly slow progress the whole duration of it. He took shelter when it got too intense, but the constant water threat was slowly making him weaker.
Furthermore, he was starting to get just a little concerned about his skin. It was not normal for skin to peel right off in large chunks; not normal at all. Granted, it didn't hurt, but damn. It should not be physically possible for anything to peel off skin like a layer of clothing.
He felt profoundly tired, and downright exhausted when you took into account all that had happened in the past few hours. All he wanted to do was curl up in a nice warm bed and sleep. Forget the cave, forget Aokigahara, forget Kouji. He just wanted to rest. Sometimes, during that night, it didn't seem like it was worth even trying anymore.
But he continued on with a single-minded determination, and in the last hour of night, the fierce winds finally blew their last gust, and the persistent raindrops finally ran dry. Though the moon was nearly spent, darkness lasted long enough for Takuya to leap into the sky, (extremely appreciative for a more practical method of travel) and ride the night home. He couldn't fly very fast, and the second he got airborne he already knew he couldn't fly very long, but he made it to Aokigahara before the sun made its first shy appearance, the horizon still overcast by the cloudy gray dawn, and from there, he was okay with walking.
He was happy the night was almost over. Happy and very relieved. Maybe he belonged in the night, but for the first time in many months, he was very grateful to see the sun. For a while, it seemed like there wouldn't ever be a dawn again.
Takuya had had a lot of time to think about things after he became a vampire. He'd had five months, but he'd spent those five months just trying to come to terms with his new reality. That, and sleeping as much as possible to pass the time, to forget. It was his only release, his only valid defense mechanism against imminent insanity or depression. With the exception of his nightmares, he could still be human in his dreams.
But he needed to think about more important things. Deeper things. Darker things. What it really means to be a vampire; a killing, bloodsucking demon of Hell for all eternity, and how to make this into something he could live with and accept, lest it eventually cause him so much agony and grief that he figure out the most effective method of committing suicide.
In many ways, even trying to pick his prey was flawed. Older men were probably loved by someone just like younger men. Even loners had someone who loved them and someone they loved. How could you "select" a prey based on obscure factors like that? It was still killing a person, a person who would be missed and whose life would be grieved, no matter who he killed or why he killed them. It would still be inhumane, no matter what stupid factors he brought into play. There could be no logical compromise when it came to deciding whose turn it was to die.
'Just don't eat humans,' thought Takuya briefly. With his belly so full of delicious human blood and bursting with satisfaction and contentment, Takuya thought it could actually be a simple thing to survive off of animals. He could even convince Kouji to try it with him, he thought.
But he knew better. Not only would Kouji not agree to such a fanciful notion, he himself already knew that it was just that; fancy. He remembered from his early days as a vampire what it was like to refuse human blood and to survive entirely on animal blood. It wasn't something that even a mature vampire could handle, he thought. The appeal of humans was too great. Vampires were designed to kill humans; it was their only natural function.
In a way he had not been wrong to do what he'd done last night. In essence, he was right. Vampires HAD to look at humans as just humans. It was the only way to live as a vampire. But at the same time, he couldn't think that life somehow didn't matter. In some way, it always mattered. Kouji finally had that reality check last night, when his selfish and unnecessary killing had devastated the one friend he'd had in 60 some years.
Thankfully, Takuya recognized that now. He wasn't mad at Kouji anymore. As much, anyway. There was still anger and resentment there, yes, but he knew that Kouji was still his friend and that Kouji still cared about him. And even though he had been the source of almost all his grief thus far, Kouji was the only person in the world he knew cared about him right now. Whether he liked it or not, he needed that. It was human to want someone to care about you. He would really worry for himself when he didn't care if he was loved or hated.
Takuya overshot the location a little bit as he continued in his brooding march through the forest, and ended up coming to the shore of Saiko before he met Kouji or the cave. When he realized his error he began to correct himself, figured his out his position from his surroundings and swerved around the shore. He was heading towards the cave, certain that Kouji would probably have retreated to it in the coming dawn. He got by in the light, better than Takuya usually, but he didn't like it any more than his super-sensitive companion. Even though the sun was still quite hidden at the moment, dawn would emerge soon, and the smart vampires would be well hidden before the sun became a risk.
So he would come upon Kouji probably uneasily awaiting his return in the little cave, and then what? Explain everything that happened, or just apologize for his outburst and leave it at that? Kouji would try to dig through his head, but it'd become a habit of his to keep it closely guarded. Kouji would only get so much out of his head on his own.
Kouji would just want to know how far he'd gone. If he'd gone crazy and went on a killing spree. If his once gentle, hesitant friend was now a mass murderer and incapable of being trusted.
Maybe Takuya would tell him. He really needed someone to talk to, and Kouji was his only option. Kouji was a good listener, anyway. He would listen. He would understand.
As he was trying to think of an apology that contained a sufficient amount of finesse not to seem insincere or melodramatic, simultaneously wondering to himself if Kouji would apologize and how he should go about accepting or rejecting it, Takuya was abruptly tackled to the ground, all in a rush, like lightning struck him. He was on the ground before he even acknowledge that he'd been hit, and it took him a second to register that he WAS now on the ground. It took him another second after that for the force of the impact to register as well. Finally, after he acknowledged he WAS on the ground and he HAD been knocked down there, he realized Kouji was lying on top of him, holding a hand over his mouth and looking intently over his shoulder.
Takuya couldn't even begin to fathom why Kouji would have done such a thing; it had definitely never happened before. He wondered if Kouji was still really angry at him or if he'd lost all trust in him and thought he was a threat to be eliminated, and no longer a friend.
So to make light of it, he gently pushed his hand away and said jokingly, "You that happy to see me?" as though this violent act had been nothing more than an over exaggerated hug.
Kouji slapped his hand over his mouth again and hissed "Quiet!" he glanced over his shoulder again, fearfully.
"Kouji, look..." Takuya tried to say beneath his palm, and he was met with a harsh "Shh!" This ticked him off; he'd spent all night thinking about what had happened and how he needed to go apologize to this guy, and THIS was his welcome home? Fuck that.
He pushed Kouji hard; either he caught him off guard or he'd found some inner well of strength, because Kouji nearly flew back from the sudden assault. Takuya said sharply, "What's your problem?" and Kouji just shushed him again.
"Shut up, you idiot. You're going to get yourself killed."
"Don't call me an idiot, you bastard." Was Kouji trying to fight him? Was that it? Was he ready to stand up for himself? 'Kind of late for that,' Takuya thought. 'You could've fought me last night.'
"Shut up!" he hissed again, urgently. He paused for a second before adding, sounding exasperated, "I'm not trying to fight you!" Great, Kouji was still going in and out of his mind at will.
"I don't want him to find you here," he hurriedly interrupted, in a dead quiet whisper. "He's here, he'll kill you. You've got to go away!"
"Who-" And finally, Takuya took in the sight of Kouji's clothes. They were torn, tattered, and destroyed, and Kouji himself looked all torn up as well. Gashes that looked fresh littered his arms, deeper than the ones Takuya had given him. He was clearly shaken and obviously exhausted; Takuya had never seen him look so tired and so drained, even in the day time. He knew he hadn't done all THAT to Kouji last night; he'd tried to, but he knew he wasn't responsible for all of it. He'd been fighting someone else.
He asked, "Kouji? What's wrong?" before his friend flew up into the air, fast, like he'd been hit by a truck, slamming into a tree so hard it soon collapsed afterward. Takuya hadn't even seen what had struck him so hard; it was had been so fast, and so silent. He just stared at the spot where Kouji had used to be, in shock, his mouth agape and his mind frozen, finally reaching a state of panic when he heard an unfamiliar voice speak up from the silence.
"So the young one has returned." The voice seemed to come from all around. It sounded young, but at the same time the language it spoke sounded old. It spoke in such a thick, weird, kind of foreign accent that Takuya had to really focus to understand him. "I knew you'd a acquired a protege, little brother. I told you; you can't lie to me." That voice was so weird, and the words he used were so old-fashioned and complicated that Takuya only recognized them from novels and classic literature he'd read back in school. It was a weird jumble; some of it modern, some of it old-fashioned, some of it just archaic.
Kouji was getting to his feet, slowly, tenderly. He was gritting his teeth savagely and Takuya thought, for a second, he heard him grunt out the name, "Kugyo."
As Takuya watched him he wondered if he was injured, and thought suddenly that this creepy, disconcerting voice had probably been the cause of all of Kouji's suffering these past few hours. Then his memory flashed the name "Kugyo" through it a couple times, Kouji's morbid story coming back to him in waves, and all hell broke loose. He yelled out, "Kouji?" and the other vampire looked at him, only for a moment, and then looked past him.
Takuya spun around, and there stood a stiffly smiling boy, roughly the same height as Kouji, and with a very similar appearance too. Despite his time-worn speech he dressed in modern clothing, and his attire also consisted of a cloak; a long, billowing black one on which the hood was currently down. His lips were curled back into a evil, perfectly white smile. His eyes were dark blue, even darker than Kouji's, nearly black, and they were fixated completely on Takuya. Staring right at him, piercing into him. Inflicting terror on him.
Takuya began to frantically back away and scream, "KOUJI-" but then he froze. His whole body just stiffened up and he couldn't move a muscle. He felt completely paralyzed from head to toe and he couldn't even get his eyelids to blink; which, he realized to a certain form of amusement, didn't actually bother him very much.
He continued standing for a moment, or at least he remained suspended in space for a few seconds, but then he fell backwards and hit the ground with a dead "THUD!" still completely lifeless. The other boy's eyes followed him to the ground, but he didn't move. He just continued smiling that creepy, evil smile. As he laid upon the forest floor, staring straight at the other vampire, he realized, alarmed now more than ever, that he was levitating slightly. His feet were a good half foot from the ground, but he seemed to be standing solidly. But it was dawn...how could he do that in the day time? How was that even possible?
By the time Kouji realized what was happening, he'd already hit the ground. When he didn't move, when it was clear that something profoundly wrong had occurred, Kouji called in a weak, almost pitiful voice, "Takuya?" He was incredulous that something could have actually happened to Takuya without the other vampire so much as lifting a finger. He waited; he got no response. And when he didn't move: "TAKUYA!" In a flash he lost all his cool and was right next to him, picking him up in his arms and shaking him, trying to get him to move again, endlessly repeating his name, panicking, and for the first time, completing turning his back to his brother.
"Oh, don't be alarmed," Kugyo said, a little too late, as Kouji was already pretty alarmed by this point. "He's not dead or anything. He just can't move right now." Kouji glared venomously at his brother, who continued smiling sweetly. For a being so evil Hell itself rejected it, the shinso seemed remarkably pleasant. He seemed downright jovial.
"What did you do to him?" Kouji seethed hatefully.
"Nothing at all; at least, nothing harmful. He just can't quite move right now, like I said. It's a very simple trick," Kugyo admonished. "Don't tell me you can't do it. I know all vampires can do it on humans, but surely you can affect other vampires..."
Kouji's face was angrily twisted into a snarl and his eyes were absolutely burning with fury. Takuya wanted to say something, like how he was alright and he wasn't in any pain and he shouldn't lose his focus because of this minor problem, but he couldn't speak. He couldn't even open his lips. He settled for letting Kouji delve gently into his mind, though he didn't much like the idea of him snooping around in there at the moment, and he felt Kouji notably relax when he realized that Kugyo was really telling him the truth.
Unfortunately, it didn't make him any less angry at his brother. Kouji was already starting to make a low hissing noise. He was still utterly panicked, and despite feeling near uncontrollable rage, he was very, very, very afraid. Takuya knew this much. He felt other feelings too, ones that he didn't want to think about right now. It wasn't exactly the best moment for them.
"By the way, little brother, that your new name? 'Kouji?' It's very cute," he said earnestly. "I guess you must just like the 'ji' suffix? I think your last one was, I believe, 'Yasuji'? That was about a hundred years ago though; oh my, it's been so long hasn't it?"
"You're one to talk," Kouji sneered. "A few hundred years ago you actually took a woman's name, remember?" Kouji clearly intended this to be an insult; Kugyo just found it hilarious. He laughed.
"Oh yes, I remember that. Why do names have to go out of fashion so fast…? Anyway, I've decided that since you went ahead and renamed yourself, I'll go ahead and do that too. Since you correctly identified yourself with 'ji,' the second son, I think I'll choose a similarly relevant suffix and choose 'ichi' for the first son. So that would make me…Kouichi? Oh, this language is fun to play with. You just create names out of thin air- like that." And he snapped his fingers, completely ignoring his brother's hostile scowl. "I did try Cantonese for a while, but that wasn't nearly as fun…"
"When are you going to reach your point, Kugyo?" Kouji demanded in a low, cruel growl. "You can't pretend to be innocent after all that. You came here for something."
"Oh please; call me Kouichi if you're so intent on being called by your new name, Ko-…little brother." Kugyo, henceforth known as Kouichi, smiled sweetly. "Oh little brother; try to understand my position here. I haven't seen my only family in almost a hundred years and I'm enjoying the reunion. You can forgive me for dawdling along. It's not like we're on a deadline. We're not dying any faster."
"Get. To. The. Point," Kouji seethed again. "If you're just here for a family get together, let Takuya go. He has nothing to do with us."
"Well, he has to do with you, little brother, therefore he has everything to do with me. Furthermore, you already know what I want of you, right? I want you dead. And you know that even with your pet there, I'd win, even though I know you conversely want me dead. So how about we call it a stalemate, sit back for a while and catch up before we continue trying to killing each other? You know if I wanted to fight you any more, I'd have instigated it already. We already know what the outcome would be if we fought anymore anyway. Your death comes to mind."
Kouji angrily let Takuya fall back to the ground, which he truthfully did not appreciate. He sat, on the ground, staring hard at his brother, who was now floating on his stomach while drawing picturesque mountains in the soil.
Takuya listened keenly to everything they had to say.
"I do apologize for bursting into your humble home so immodestly and proceeding to try and kill you," Kouichi said, somehow sounding sincere. "You see, you were just being very upset and uncooperative; I had no choice but to try and assuage you."
"You wanted to kill Takuya," Kouji growled. "That's the only reason you found me. You tracked him somehow."
"I found out you'd obtained a little friend and I was curious as to what it was. In all these years you've never taken in a pet, so I got nosy as to why this one was so special. You're the one who refused to satisfy my curiosity."
"I'm not letting you kill him," he replied flatly, refusing to acknowledge any of these statements. Kouichi just sighed in response.
"Well, he's here now, so if I should be so inclined I could easily kill him now. All of that earlier nonsense was unnecessary in the end, wasn't it?" Kouji's hissing was so low and odious that Takuya became acutely distressed just by the sound; he'd never felt such anger and resentment coming from his friend before, and yet he felt nothing at all come from the other vampire. It was like there was an endless black void where there should have been a neatly contained mixture of feeling and emotion. For as angry as Kouji was, Kouichi was equally as emotionless.
"You have a nice little place here, little brother," Kouichi commented politely. "Scenic lake, green grass, full trees, even your own quaint little cave…"
"And where do you live? Somewhere hot and covered in fiery brimstone, right?"
"It's not, actually, covered in brimstone," Kouichi informed his brother. "I think it's actually onyx, maybe. And maybe there's fire in some of the layers, but mine was nice and cold and dark. You flatter me to think I could withstand Hell's fire, little brother." Kouichi now scribbled his new name in the earth, in ridiculously intricate hiragana considering his lack of proper writing materials. He kept emphasizing the "ichi" part of it. At first he chose the character for "threat," then "hill," and finally decided on the character for "lord" as the "Kou" prefix. "Ko-u-i-chi," he sounded out. "I think it's a good name."
"Fantastic," Kouji replied dryly. His brother wiped his hands of the dirt and pulled himself back up to a sitting position, almost on purpose, so that Kouji would have to look up at him as he talked. Kouji remained firmly on the ground; his brother continued floating a few inches to retain a height advantage.
"I'm not here to kill your pet, by the way," Kouichi assured him. "Like I said, I was just nosy and wanted to see it. I'm happy for you that you finally have your own little pet now. It's good you finally saw the usefulness of a pet."
"He's not my pet," Kouji said flatly, and Kouichi actually gasped a little.
"No…don't tell me YOU are HIS…"
"Neither of us is a pet, Kugyo. That's just some twisted sentiment you came up with."
"Not just my sentiment, but a useful one, at that." Takuya almost felt like laughing when Kouichi slowly rotated clockwise until he actually appeared to be floating on his head, though he still seemed to be sitting. He could swear Kouji's eyebrow twitched. "I guess you're still obsessed with your silly little 'mate' theory…when will you learn, little brother, that a powerful vampire keeps slaves…?"
"When will you ever figure out that there is no need for them, especially in this day and age? Vampires don't fight each other; we don't fight humans. Why do we need slaves? You're the only vampire that I know of that's even interested in killing for other than food; you're the only other one I know that keeps other vampires as slaves. I know others who think your ways are sick and who do have mates. Your ways are outdated."
Kouichi chuckled at these sentiments, as though politely appreciating someone's failed attempt at a clever joke. Kouji still was in the habit of clicking his teeth when he laughed; Kouichi just had a low, grumbling chuckle that sounded more like an evil growl. "You haven't gotten out of the country much, have you little brother? Ever been to North Korea? Oh, no, you wouldn't have. You're still having your little 'water problem,' aren't you?"
Kouji had actually been trying to put on a distinctly unemotional face for the past minute or so, but he deeply scowled at this comment. "It's such a dreadful shame that a demon with so much potential could be so weak. Although, now that I think about it…"
Kouichi turned himself right-side up again, and he finally began staring in interest at the brunet lying on the ground, not moving a single muscle. Though this was entirely what he'd come for, revealing himself to his brother for the first time in a hundred or so years, he hadn't appeared remotely interested in Takuya before now. "He's yours, I take it?"
"He's not my slave," Kouji repeated, sounding progressively angrier with each word.
"No, but you created him, I'm guessing. That's unusual little brother; I don't think I can recall you ever transforming another human before this one. Why the change of heart?" Kouji did not respond, but Kouichi had a look on his face that Takuya often saw on Kouji; one that meant he was trying to read his mind. Based on the furrowed eyebrows and the little frown that followed afterward, he apparently failed. "Regardless...that makes this one a third generation vampire, right? Hmm, I've never actually gotten to know one very well; I usually just kill them. They're incredibly weak, aren't they?"
"Not at all," Kouji growled between clenched teeth. "He's strong."
"Maybe to you, but then you were always just a bit of a weakling…" Takuya might not have noticed it if he weren't carefully looking Kouji over, but he saw his entire left side twitch. His face was curled in a snarl again. He looked like a feral animal ready to pounce.
"You know, maybe I should let your little pet go so we can have a match. Two on one isn't very fair, but I have no doubt that I'd be able to defeat you. After all, we haven't properly battled for almost two hundred years; and you're overdue to die by about…eight hundred?
"Seven hundred and ninety-two," Kouji ground out, his fists beginning to shake, "if my assumption is correct and you're trying to say I should've been killed as soon as I was born."
"Oh, was I too obvious about that? Yes," he sighed wistfully, dreamily staring off into oblivion. "That would've saved everyone a lot of trouble, wouldn't it? For example, I wouldn't be so bothered by the fact that you're alive, you wouldn't be so miserable over the fact that you're alive, (you're alive, little brother; you still occupy space in this world) our father probably wouldn't have had to worry so much about you being out there, you wouldn't have murdered that poor little boy…" At this, Kouji's entire body began to shake softly, and he began to emit a low, vicious hiss. "-and you probably wouldn't have gone and bothered this poor boy and his life; now he'll probably hate you for as long as he lives. After all, if he doesn't hate you for making him a demon to begin with, I'm sure he hates that you're so weak and can't even protect him until he realizes his full potential, if he even has any. You never know; maybe you'll finally have someone as weak as you are-"
Kouji abruptly leapt from the ground and rushed straight at his brother, nothing but a blur, completely silent. In a split second Kouichi disappeared, and then reappeared, not two feet away, pleasantly smiling at his little brother.
"Oh come on now, Kouji. I'm not ready to fight today." Another blur went straight for his throat; he didn't so much as dodge it as he did practically teleport from it. A chain of blurred bodies continued, going on and on, nothing ever actually happening; no one ever actually meeting. Takuya couldn't believe the speed Kouji was capable of attaining when he really wanted to. They finally paused many long seconds later, neither of them any worse off, both of them facing each other head on and regarding each other with extremely wary intensity.
"You seem so determined all of a sudden, little brother," Kouichi stated calmly. "I wonder why you didn't put forth so much effort earlier?"
"Let Takuya go," Kouji said again, his words guttural with rage.
"Is that all this is about? You just want me to let your little mate get away with his tail between his legs?"
"If you don't let him go, I swear to God…" Kouji let him imagine what he'd do, but as he tensed and positioned himself to strike, Kouichi only mockingly clicked his teeth. Despite his superiority complex, even the demon seemed to occasionally exhibit some "normal" vampiric features.
"First of all, I assure you there is no God, little brother. Maybe there's some shell of heaven out there, but no God. Second, you can't do a thing to me. I believe the phrase for this is called 'shit out of luck,'" he said, enunciating the words very carefully. "Is that it? No matter…you know the truth, you're totally ineffective when it comes to fighting me. We both know this already." And though Kouji still remained posed to strike him at the first given opportunity, his eyes fell to the ground, shamefully looking away from the shinso. "So will you finallylet me kill you, all to protect your little pet? Hell, if that's all it'll take, maybe I'll kill him now…
What happened after that took about three seconds to occur. In the first second, Takuya suddenly felt free and unbound; his paralysis had been completely lifted. And while before Kouichi had been a completely emotionless void, all at once emotions began flooding into him, like until this moment there had never been such emotions to feel. He'd never felt something so intimately from another creature before; he could think, react, feel; and he knew, essentially, what Kouichi was thinking, just through his emotions. It was chilling; it felt cold, evil, totally beyond human emotions, and the rush of such a chaotic cocktail almost made him sick.
In the next second, Kouichi lifted his hand towards Takuya, saying bluntly, "Well?" as if hinting that if Kouji himself willed it, he would gladly kill Takuya, without so much as blinking, just through this insignificant movement of his hand alone. Then Takuya got to his knees.
In the third second, Kouji's eyes lifted back to his brother, hate-filled rage burning in them as he began to charge in rebuttal, prepared to if not tackle into his brother, cause as much damage as was remotely possible with complete disregard for his own safety, and Kouichi's grin grew even more maniacal. If Kouji died in this attack, if the shinso finally killed him after all these years and sent him to Hell like he'd always promised, he didn't care, so long as Takuya was safe.
Takuya felt this from Kouji, and when he realized what he simultaneously felt from the shinso, he knew all too clearly that Kouji would literally be killing himself for nothing.
"Kouji, stop!" he shouted when he realized he had the chance to intervene before it was too late. "Stop, STOP! He doesn't mean it; he's just playing with you!" The momentum carried Kouji forward, even as he heard his words, even as he gasped in relief to hear Takuya's voice again. His face suddenly shifted from demonic rage to tenderness. "He won't do it! He's just baiting you! STOP!"
Kouji had to continue taking one step; two steps, three steps, before he could halt himself. His head twitched, urging to look back at Takuya, but he refused to let his eyes off of Kouichi, who was now chuckling.
"So, your pet's a feeling vampire. In my sincere opinion I think that's completely useless in most circumstances, but at least you've got the good ability, the mind reading one, so that makes you slightly less useless." All of this was still said in a friendly, conversational tone, as though the two hadn't just attempted to trade blows and they hadn't been close to attempting to kill each other. Not to mention, Kouichi had no qualms about looking away from his brother; his head turned to Takuya, and he smiled encouragingly.
"Don't get me wrong; for all I know, third generation vampires might turn out to be somewhat useful. Sometimes even second generation can almost match a shinso, so I'm sure with enough practice you could end up alright. But, well…let's just say that my little brother here is half as strong as me just because he's not a shinso. Just imagine how you compare." At this, Takuya couldn't help but shiver. He also couldn't help but notice that he was still in a very vulnerable position and that Kouichi was in a very advantageous position to deliver a swift killing blow, to both him and Kouji, if they pressed his buttons the wrong way.
"We'll kill you." Kouichi returned his gaze to his brother and pulled his legs back into the air, sitting comfortably.
"What was that, little brother?"
"We'll kill you," Kouji said, so low a mortal would not have been able to hear; so packed with emotion that a demon such as Kouichi could not even detect it, though it sent Takuya's mind reeling. "Takuya and I will kill you. Right here, right now."
The brunet in question felt like speaking up for himself; after all, Kouji couldn't dictate who and when he fought, and he hadn't even been able to interject once throughout this entire meeting except to save Kouji from making a grave mistake. But it was unnecessary; Kouichi leaned over again and sighed, deeply.
"Oh, but I don't feel like it right now. It's almost day time little brother; how smart would it be to engage in glorious battle right before the sun's emergence?" Kouji thought about this, then grunted and nodded shortly. Even for a vampire as powerful as a shinso, there were just some things that you didn't do. Fighting in the sunlight seemed to be one of them. "We'll kill each other later, I promise. Besides, if we're fighting one on two, that wouldn't be fair. You'd have to allow me to bring one of my pets."
"Fine," Kouji growled, even as his fingers tensed, like claws. "Takuya will handle your pitiful slave and I'll take you down."
"Au contraire, little brother; that means 'on the contrary,' in French," Kouichi explained.
"I'm aware." His teeth were so tightly clenched it was a wonder he was able to pronounce words.
"I want to play with your pet, and I think you'd enjoy playing with mine. She's very, very special."
"I don't care about your slaves," his brother spat in return. "I just want to personally cast you right back into the Hell you came back out of."
"Then if you and your pet can defeat my little slave, I'll let you have a go at me." Kouichi gestured with his hands, inviting his brother to suggest something that might be better. "Do we have a deal?"
Takuya again was about to speak up for himself, but immediately afterward, Kouji stiffly said, "Deal," and that was it.
"Very well; you'll know when and where to find me, I'm sure. It was nice to see you again, little brother."
"Fuck you. That means 'fuck you' in Japanese."
Kouichi got a kick out of that, and even as he seemingly disappeared into thin air, his chuckles could still be heard in the dead silence, like a phantom's laughter.
"So, uh…" Kouji was still standing stiff as an ancient stone statue, staring into the abyss where his brother had once been. His face was still twisted in mad rage. "You've got some serious family problems, huh?"
"No shit." Kouji was still just standing there, refusing to move from his spot, but he began to shudder.
Takuya finally picked himself up, awkwardly, trying to figure out what to do or what to say in this unusual situation he suddenly found himself in. Kouji beat him to it:
"I'm sorry I dragged you into that. You don't have to show up for when we fight. You don't need to be brought into this."
"Well, no, I don't." Takuya felt incredibly tempted to get the hell out of there. He'd denounced Kouji as a friend, companion, mate or what have you not too long ago; he could forgive the guy, but he would have to earn his trust again, from scratch. He wasn't about to go back on his word so quick, especially not after what Kouji had done.
But…Kugyo had done worse. He figured there was no escaping, anyway; even if he abandoned Kouji to fight his brother on his own, inevitably, the shinso would probably hunt him down again, and then he'd really be dead. If he had to pick sides, he'd still rather stick with the guy who'd been helping him all this time.
"I'm just…so sorry, Takuya. It's all my fault. I should've just killed myself after Hiroko…" He felt his emotions raging between anger, regret, sorrow, and most obvious of all, a desperate need to apologize. Altogether, it was frighteningly powerful; Takuya couldn't remember the last time Kouji had let his emotions open up so much. He was overwhelmed; it was like a dam had broken and it was releasing countless feelings everywhere. "Then I would've just finally died and Kugyo wouldn't have had the pleasure of doing it, and you'd still be human and your mother would still be alive and you'd still be happy." His voice broke on the word "happy," very obviously, and Kouji just shook his head sadly. He was making these pitiful little sobbing sounds, trying to do what he could not do: cry. His whole body just dropped to the ground and he violently beat it with a tightly clenched fist, over and over again, trying to destroy the earth itself when he couldn't release his agony in tears.
And after he watched Kouji unleash for a few seconds, after he'd finally calmed down and stopped clenching his teeth and mewling fake sobs, Takuya finally replied.
"I can't say I wouldn't rather still be human, and I still wish my mom was still alive. And yeah, I am still pretty pissed at you for that. That hasn't changed," he began. Kouji still couldn't bear to look at him, but he nodded, and though Takuya obviously wasn't done, he replied,
"Then just go somewhere; somewhere densely populated by humans, but not near enough to where you'll want to attack them. He won't touch you where there are witnesses; he won't be able to kill all of them. He'll forget about you in a few years. He really doesn't give a damn about third generation vampires because he's not even remotely threatened by them. It's me he really wants dead, not you."
Takuya paused uncomfortably. Kouji was willing to let him go; hell, he was flat out telling him to go away. But even after he'd loudly and finitely ripped apart his friendship with Kouji, Takuya couldn't bring himself to leave him in the middle of something he knew he couldn't handle by himself. If they were to fight again, Kouichi would kill him before he could even try to land a blow, and even Kouji knew that. Why else would he have remained hidden in this god forsaken forest for so long?
"I gotta tell you though; I was pretty far from happy where I was before all this," he eventually added.
Kouji just resumed sitting on the ground, hunched over, trying desperately to shrink into nothing. He didn't want to see anything and he didn't want to be seen. While before there had been a torrent of feelings, Takuya felt his emotions totally and completely shrivel up, and there was nothing there. It kind of scared him how similar this reaction was to the shinso.
"Listen. Seriously, listen, okay? I've been wanting to say this all night." Kouji didn't react to his words, but he kept going anyway. Surely Kouji could hear him, regardless whether or not he acknowledged him. "I'm sorry about what I said last night. I was angry, okay? You killed my mom. Practically right under my nose! And then you go and have me romp around with you and keep me from the news, figuring I'd never find out? What was I supposed to say? 'Gee bud, you killed my mom and lied to me but that's okay and I don't care?' Shit, man…"
He didn't even feel Kouji's presence digging around inside his mind. Kouji just ceased to exist all of a sudden, even though he was right there in front of him. Takuya still felt remarkably sorry for him, even after what he'd done.
"I know you wouldn't have killed her if you'd known you were going to let me live. I know you just weren't expecting to make me a vampire that night. I know it's not your fault and I forgive you."
Kouji didn't seem to be listening at all. Takuya was getting sick of talking to nothing.
"Look, I'm sticking around. You stuck with me all that time when you could've just left me after transforming me, even when I was out of control or doing stupid shit that could've gotten you in trouble. I owe you that much."
Kouji muttered, "I owe you a life, two actually; the one I took from your mother and the one I took from you."
"Well, first off, pay me back by making sure Kugyo doesn't kill me. That I'd appreciate." Kouji's shoulders sunk in despair, and he sighed sadly.
"I can't promise that," he whispered. "Kugyo's so strong; he's one of the most terrifyingly powerful shinso I know. He's hundreds of years old; he knows every trick, he's beyond cruel, completely insatiable for killing…"
"You're just about as old as him, and you have plenty of knowledge yourself. His slave's gonna be way weaker than him, so I'll just kill him quickly and we'll both take on Kugyo together, okay?"
"And what?" he asked, sounding as dismal as Takuya sounded confident. "You've never had to fight a vampire before. You're a third generation; I'm a second. We stand no chance against a shinso. You just don't understand the vast disadvantage we're at here. You don't even know what it was like holding him off, even for ten minutes until you showed up..." Takuya shivered. Ten minutes? Kugyo messed up his brother that bad in only ten minutes? And Kugyo hadn't even called it fighting; he was just "persuading" his brother to give him the information that he wanted...
"We have an advantage. We're the good guys. The good guys always win." Finally, thankfully, Kouji clicked his teeth. It was discouraging to see that he'd regressed from the normal laughter he'd started to pick up back to his vampire habits, but at least it was a positive response.
"You're crazy," Kouji told him in an affectionate tone. "So crazy and cocky and stupid."
"How many times today do I have to tell you not to call me stupid, you bastard?"
"Not enough; you're still stupid."
"And you're still an angsty old bastard. 'Old' being the main draw to that sentence." Whether the lighthearted joking was an attempt to ease the tension, to forget the fact that they had agreed to enter a duel likely to result in their deaths, or even just their own peculiar way of apologizing, even they probably didn't know.
"After you left, last night, I mean...after what happened with us, you know..."
"Two." Kouji visibly calmed down. He even found it within himself to look over his shoulder and smile.
"Just two. Three, if you count a cat." Those teeth clicked again, and then he resumed staring at the ground. "One of them an older man who lived alone anyway. The other one..."
Takuya didn't say anything, but he thought it. Kouji eventually got the picture and began delving delicately in his mind, and after a few seconds he softly said, "I see," and that was all that needed to be said.
"I hope you can forgive me too."
"I can't be mad at you, Takuya. Not for long anyway. You're the only living thing in the world I give a shit about." He hesitated, perhaps not sure if it was in his best interests to continue, but he did: "I worried about you all night. I worried you would do something you regret. I already know how it is to live with regret."
"I hope you know that I apologize profusely, profusely, for killing your mother. If we stay alive much longer, and stay together, I hope you know you'll be hearing that from me annoyingly often." Takuya wasn't sure if Kouji was trying to be funny when he said that, but he just accepted it. It wouldn't bring back his mother, but he knew Kouji agonized over what he'd done, and Kouji himself knew as well.
"And I forgive you. You're still kind of on my shit list for it, but I forgive you."
"If it makes you feel better, it was painless for her. After I left you that night I found her in her room, sound asleep. I was as gentle as I could be; I don't think she ever even woke up. She still looked very peaceful in the end-"
"Thanks. I guess that kind of makes me feel better. Just...don't talk about it anymore. I don't want to think about it."
"As you wish."
Now that dawn had fully emerged and the clouds covering the sky had begun to dissipate, the sun began to shed its light on the world, and the vampires were getting uncomfortable. Takuya was reduced to squinting in the light and was quickly losing his already limited vision, and Kouji had to hold an arm over his face to protect it from the rays, so that he could clearly see his companion. When he saw that Takuya was quickly becoming irritated by the light, he suggested: "Let's go inside the cave for now and get some rest. We don't have to worry about my brother for now. Shinso or not, he doesn't like the light either."
Takuya grunted an agreement, and began wandering around, blindly looking for the cave entrance. The sunlight was far too bright; he couldn't see anything properly.
Kouji, however, surely took his hand, and began leading him along. He didn't let go of it even when they reached the mouth of the shallow cave, or even when Takuya went in as far and as deep as he could, and settled into the cold rock. Kouji retrieved his pillow for him, and even when he collapsed on top of it and curled up sleepily, he still did not let go of his hand. Takuya felt warm, pleasant feelings emitting from him, and while at first he kind of liked that and was kind of relieved that Kouji could feel like this after letting himself be swallowed into such an emotionless void, eventually he mumbled,
"Just because I forgive you doesn't mean you're my 'mate' now or whatever, Kouji."
He quietly continued holding his hand for a moment, and then sighed, and released it.
"I understand. I hope you don't mind me saying that I still hope, one of these days..."
"Let's try to not die first. No, let's get some sleep first. Then we'll worry about not dying. Then we can wonder about more...complicated things like that."
"You and your sleeping; you always want to sleep," he teased gently. He waited for a response, but the brunet did not give him one, and he sighed again. The young vampire had already fallen asleep, and he couldn't really blame him; it had been an exhausting night.
Kouji remained awake for many hours after that, unbeknownst to Takuya, thinking about the shinso; thinking about his friend. Takuya didn't know what was in store for him, but he was willing to stand up against one of the most ancient Shinso he knew existed, all for him. He was willing to risk death to help him. And that made the warm feeling inside expand.
He didn't know what was ahead, and he didn't know what his brother had in store for Takuya. He would protect him for as long as he could and he would do anything to ensure that he came out of this alive, but he wasn't naïve. Takuya might not want to think about it, but he knew how easy it would be for the shinso to kill him. All he knew was, and he made this decision deep into the afternoon before he finally fell into sweet slumber himself, that should Takuya fall in the upcoming battle, he would not hesitate to kill himself afterward. He'd had enough losing the people he cared about, and he'd had enough trying to scrape by in life with a lonely existence. He would try to make his suicide noble by attempting to finally strike down his brother, but if it came to it, he would set himself on fire. He'd find a way. He would not remain in a world that was cold and empty like it had been without his only companion, and if his brother took that away from him, he wanted nothing else to do with life.
Besides, suicide would spite Kouichi marvelously, and if he died knowing how infuriated Kouichi would be over not getting to do it himself, well, he would be okay with letting death take him.
Takuya did not concern himself with these thoughts. In his dreams, he was human again, riding a train on the way to visit his friend Kouji, who lived in the mountains. He wasn't wearing his bloody cloak anymore; he had on normal clothes and had ear buds in his ears, and he was listening to his favorite song. He also had a half-full bottle of Pepsi in his hand, and though he didn't drink from it, knowing it was there filled him with contentment.
Eventually one of the seats opened up, and since he still had a while to go, he went ahead and sat down in it. After a few minutes he got sleepy, and he leaned up against who he thought was a stranger, who ended up being Kouji ('why was Kouji on the train?' he wondered) without his cloak and dressed in normal clothes as well. He rested his head against his chest, and the other human clicked his teeth in amusement. He stroked his hair, and his touch was warm and soft. He was ready to settle in and take a nap when Kouji smirked, his fangs already enormous, and then he leaned down and bit his neck.
He didn't remember what happened after that; the shock woke him up after a few seconds. Even when he realized he was awake, when he caught sight of Kouji he braced himself for an attack. But then he realized that he was not on a train, and Kouji was not trying to kill him, and furthermore, that he was not human.
He looked around the tiny cave and determined by the light that it was late afternoon. His morose little friend was hunched up against the side of the cave, knees to his chest, sleeping soundly. If he was haunted by dreams or nightmares, they didn't seem to be bothering him now; his face seemed completely serene.
Takuya just curled up with his pillow again and rest his head upon it. Sleep was his only escape from this world. Sometimes his dreams were scarier than reality, but this time, reality was far scarier. The echoing laughter of the shinso still rung in his ears, and he looked to Kouji again, absorbing his tattered, defeated appearance. He wasn't completely in denial; in his heart had settled the sinking feeling that he may not be alive much longer. So he willed himself back to sleep, to at least pretend to be human a few more times before he died.
Additional author note: I know some things are a little confusing right now, namely how Kugyo exists given the circumstances outlined by Kouji back in chapter 2. These things will be explained later, don't worry.