This is my first attempt at a fanfiction... go easy on me. The rating is Mature for blood, violence and sexual themes. I've kept the latter as prosey and non-pornographic as is humanly possible (for me, anyway). But if such things offend you, steer clear.

This is based purely on a whim after I watched episode 34 of Blood Plus. A year after the Red Shield Tragedy, when Saya seems all badass and broody. I looked at her, and noticed the strange, matter-of-fact understanding between her and Haji, and I thought to myself: So this chickie was out fighting gruesome battles each night against chiropterans for a year, emotionally-shattered, edging slowly toward emo, and this guy who's practically crazy about her was with her the whole time? Oh come on, people! You're telling me nothing happened somewhere along the line?

Spoilers in some parts, I suppose. I've kept the tone all descriptive and verbose since I figured Haji thinks that way; since he's the quiet type, he probably notices more things around him. Also, no suing me for the title of the fic. Its similarities with Louisa May Alcott's 'Rose in Bloom' are merely to play up the irony. Rate and review, pretty please.

I do not own Blood Plus and am making no profit whatsoever from this story.

Under a year has passed since the death.

So much has changed.

It is something he still stumbles with comprehending. A disquieting torpidity. After all, with the longevity graced to his lifespan, he should have been well-acquainted with change.

As a boy, he knew nothing but. His unsolicited trappings of aristocracy notwithstanding, he was born a romani, a gypsy. It is common knowledge that nomadic lifestyles are a romani's lot. Even to those who sell their flesh and blood for want of food. In his adulthood, the scenario remained commensurate. Evanescent backgrounds are forever an immortal's curse; transience is a feature as permanent as sunrise, even as the irony of such metaphors is not lost on him.

He is a somber man by nature… but even he is not without humor.

Even in times as bleak as these.

He hears weeping in the deadest part of night. As a Chevalier, sleep forever eludes him. His senses are heightened, compelled to absorb all. He cannot help but take in her hard stifled gasps, smell the fresh running salt on her face.

He longs instinctively to comfort her, yet she will take none from him. Her grief refuses to soften, to offer him access, allow him to dispel it.

She seeks solace only in holding the heft of her sword each night, of swinging blow upon blow to each new enemy, splattering gossamer skin and inky hair with foul blood. In her eyes—that spark of warmth that he so battened on, cherished—fades dull and cold with each harrowing battle.

He sees something else in her gaze now, something more than the determination and courage he has seen her evoke in their moments of tribulation, or the desperation and sadness he is accustomed to when their days are long and the nights hard and despondent.

He sees a rage there.

More than rage, a hatred. Harsh and cold as the blade of her sword.

That is another thing that has changed.

He is a man accustomed to silences. Reticence is a fundamental facet of his nature, his greatest and most successful means of defense. He has learnt early on to be perceptive, to watch those around him, weigh the quality of their own silences, the quality of their words. He knows how to react, to behave with them accordingly.

It has never been so with her. He knows her through and through—or at least, he once did.

Her silences are pervasive now, a sort of ponderous hollowness that can terrify. She remains ever-still, her eyes keenly alert, always on guard, brightened by that sharp point of hate. But he hears the chaos in her psyche, a cacophony of voices, screams, pleas; he can almost see each image, grotesque and nostalgic, that rushes like an avalanche through her overtaxed mind.

When he is faced with burdensome thoughts, with emotions and fears he finds himself unable to articulate, he seeks the comfort of his cello. Meticulous motion, melodies evoked at his command, changing rhythm and sound in accordance with a set framework played at his hand—the sense of order, the systematic comfort of it have always been his bolster, even in his direst years.

It seemed, not too long ago, that she too took solace in the familiarity, the cognition of each note he played—especially, perhaps, that one tune in which he had been tutored to flawlessness, decades ago, by her pale imperious hand, under her quick and caviling eye.

But now, she merely grips her sword tighter to her chest, lips thinned and eyes half-shuttered, rolling into herself with each gray thought, oblivious to him even when he is right at her side.

Yet another uncanny change.

In weaker moments, he finds himself indulging in what he had begun to regard as a human habit. Reminiscence. It is futile, after all. Remembering those who are gone. These humans are so fragile, so fitful, their lives so brief compared to his and her own.

What point is there to remember that which will inevitably be lost?

Yet in this instance, he finds he cannot help himself. He sees, in unguarded moments, the bright flash of large brown eyes—guileless, veracious, yet not without compassion and intelligence. He hears the sudden bright voice prattling against his ear, little unschooled fingers tripping with eager hesitation over the strings of his cello, attempting a child's facsimile of his own practiced tunes.

But then, Riku had not been more than a child.

A shining child, an innocent in the purest sense of the word—and completely undeserving of the perverse and soul-chilling fate he had met at Diva's hands.

The memory still scalds him to think back on; strange in itself, as by now, the anger would have cooled itself, dulled into detached contemplation, another incident to mark their long and unceasing battle against Diva and her followers.

Perhaps, he muses, Saya is not the only one who has changed.

The path they walk on is curtained in red, fragrant to such an intensity it staggers.

The roses are in bloom, exquisite origami crenellations, yet softer and more flawless than Egyptian cotton. Alive and vibrant and fairly singing their beauty, arranged against sharp-contrasting green leaves to a devastating effect. Haji cannot help the way his eyes linger on the blooms, even as he drifts after Saya like her tall silent shadow, his steps in tandem with her's,

Red roses were always her favorites.

Saya's eyes are fixed straight ahead, almost in an austere disregard to the effervescence of flowers around her. Perhaps she cannot bring herself to look at them. Perhaps the sight of them, the scent of them, unearths emotions, memories, she cannot permit herself to indulge in.

Or perhaps they trigger the anamnesis of atrocities she cannot bring herself to relive.

Nonetheless his words are instinctive, even impulsive.

"Do you remember…?"

Saya halts mid-stride, eyes slanting sideways at the sound of his voice. For the first time since his distant boyhood, Haji feels unsettled by her hot gaze.

"Remember what?" she asks, and her voice, in utter contrast to her fierce look, is flat, dull.

At least on the surface.

Discretion decrees that he keep silent, that he let the whimsy pass. Nonetheless, his obstinacy is as much integrated into his personal matrix as the strings on his cello; he gathers his nerve and murmurs, "The first time I brought those pink roses up to your room. You told me to take them back. You said red was your favorite."

Another time, the memory would have brought a small, thoughtful dip to her mouth, a quiet remark about how tyrannical and overbearing she had once been. Or, another time, had he played it just right, that soft girlish blush that so inordinately pleased him, sent a pleasant vibration of warmth strumming across his spine.

But now he may as well not have spoken. Her eyes remain the same; hard, sharp, intense. Yet so distant for all their focus, so faraway from where he is, as though it is a plane of reality she can no longer inhabit.

She says to him, by way of reply, "Let's move faster, Haji. We have to reach the next town before nightfall."

Without waiting for his response, or, more likely, expecting none, she turns and proceeds faster through the maze of red roses. A single fragrant bloom lies discarded in her path; fragile, livid, helpless. Her foot crushes it uncaringly into the stone, and she marches on without a backward glance.

Haji strides silently after, but he cannot help but glance down at the battered red bloom.

The petals lay curved across the cold gray stone, vivid and smooth, so warm in their vibrancy that they put Haji in mind of fresh-spilled blood. Then cold wind shivers across the stone path, digging invisible hooks into the mashed petals. They flutter hopelessly after the wind, as if unmindful of its impersonal, uncaring mien—drawn to it in sheer helpless faith.

Haji glances away and trails silently after Saya, not looking back.

They encounter chiropterans that night.

Drawn to the frenzied screams of their victims, cries for help made incoherent with terror, pain rending each breath. He and Saya have heard those sounds so many times before, but each instance is no less tormenting. The victims, two homeless young boys, no more vital in standing than a pair of scruffy dogs. Their deaths would be a loss few would look back on with regret.

But neither Saya nor he can view it that way.

Harlequined by moonlight, Saya draws her sword, the blade flashing silver against the darkness. The scarlet stone mounted at the hilt glows, ominous, isolated—in tandem, somehow, with the red flare of rage in her eyes.

Her thumb flicks across the jagged grove, evoking a vibrant current of blood.

The first blow is sweeping, a deathscythe's trajectory. It decapitates the roaring chiropteran midair. Blood splatters across Saya's face, but she declines flinching. Her motions are fluid, otherworldly. Dodging the toppling body, headless to the shattering noises as it crystallizes midfall, she swoops onto her next target.

Two well-aimed blows, a zigzag pattern of Death, and the second chiropteran slumps at her feet, howling. Blood splashes the cobblestones under them, running in dark channels over stone circles. The third chiropteran, crouched in shadow behind Saya, bends, hisses and arcs up pouncing, hell-bent on tearing out her throat.

Haji swerves to intercept it, flicking glittering silver daggers. They embed themselves like lightning pinpricks in the chiropteran's leathery flesh, flinging it backward, against a crumbling brick wall. The creatures snarls, giving itself a shake of sorts, reorienting its senses.

Once more, it lunges, but by that time, Saya has made her entrance.

The moon illuminates an ethereal path for her to lunge across, spotlighting her like an actor on a dark stage—only this is the veritable circumstance, and she is no actor, but a predator flourishing in her natural habitat.

Her sword flashes like quicksilver as it impales the chiropteran's chest.

For one lucid moment, Haji views the scene as frozen in time, dipped in sterling. The fragile, exquisite girl, her china skin and delicate frame belying the ferocious strength of the sword thrust. The airborne blood, flaring around her in a grisly dark halo. The lunging chiropteran, caught suspended in midair, hideous and voracious, its sinewy neck thrown back in the harsh act of the sword's penetration.

Then time speeds forward once more. It a hailstorm of crumbling stone and gore, the crystallized chiropteran falls to the floor, splintering. Saya takes a breath, then wipes the blade of her sword across the hem of her dress. She sheathes it in one decisive motion, then turns and walks away.

"Haji. Let's go."

The two homeless boys who drew them here are immobile, drained entirely of blood. There is no longer anything they can do for them, save for hope they will receive a proper burial.

Once, she would have looked back on the boys' deaths with regret, with sadness.

Now, she does not even falter in her steps.

In town, they solicit a room for the night, preparing to keep moving when daylight peaks the horizon.

Sleep has become a faraway concept, no longer an obstruction his body demands of him. He views it that way solely because it leaves him unhindered, ever-alert, content to keep watch over Saya as she closes her eyes to indulge in a few brief hours of repose.

But these nights, her eyes remain open, even as she lies in bed, motionless. Her sword is propped against the bedstand, close for instant access in event of attack. Occasionally, at each shifting shadow across the shuttered window, each nocturnal creak and rustle and groan, he sees the tremor of her fingers, a furtive impulse to seize her weapon.

He longs to relieve the vibrating tension through her frame—but he cannot begin to conceive how.

He wonders, occasionally, whether she would be at greater ease if she were in the midst of her human family again. Their upraising chatter, their comings and goings, an intricate mesh of warmth and familiarity that kept a greater part of her pain softened. Perhaps the nest of comfort they offered her, the one that evoked that freshness, that vivacity that he had never yet seen in her eyes—perhaps they could have stopped her from ever reaching this point.

As deep and singular as his devotion to her is, there are some instances where even he cannot ease her mind.

Perhaps it is retrospect, spewing falsehoods, deluding him into thinking he ever did.

He hears a sharp creak across the door; intuitively, he knows it is little more than the wooden floorboards, expanding their mass at night.

But Saya is already half out of bed, her blade held poised and wary, eyes blazing red.

"What—what was that?"

Her voice is harsh and ringing in the silence.

Haji raises a hand, placating, soothing. "There's no danger, Saya. It's all right."

She stares at him for a few moments, then toward the door. The sound of her breathing, a tightly reigned in-out, fills his sensorium. He waits patiently until it slows down. She returns her sword to its prior place, settles gingerly back into the pillows.

But her eyes remain open, staring unseeingly at the dark ceiling above.

Haji feels his sinews aching, a literal pain, manifested solely on her behalf. His hands close into loose fists, and he averts his eyes, stating quietly: "Saya…"

Immediately her gaze flicks to his, half-wary, half-anticipant. She still expects him to herald that danger is near.

He says, "Saya… please try to sleep. You need your rest."

At the words, her gaze dulls, growing strange for a moment, unfocused. Her lips part for a fraction of a second, as though she is on the verge of telling him something. But instead she looks away, returning her eyes to the ceiling.

He sees her mouth moving, forming a statement so hushed no one's ears save a chevalier's can decipher them.

"I… I can't."

He swallows, quiet and resigned. And returns his watch toward the window.

The kites are colorful, a cacophony of blue and red and yellow, dancing across the pink sky at sunset.

The children, two boys and a girl, flounce and laugh as they run across the wide street, holding the tails of their kites in small sunburnt fingers. Their eyes are bright, cheeks rounded with mirth and well-being. Haji is reminded of his faraway childhood, of the games he used to play in distant evenings with his brothers and sisters, in a flurry of colorful rags and cooking pots and moist earth.

Laughing, clapping, thoughtlessly happy, without a care in the world.

Strange, that he can recall that fleeting era of his childhood, but the emotions, the simple joy he experienced then, is impossible to fix upon. Perhaps time blunts sensation, as though the joy was a facsimile he heard or read about, but never sustained firsthand.

Perhaps it is, as before, just retrospect, playing mindgames.

A familiar laugh brings him up short. He feels Saya automatically freeze in her steps. Her eyes race for one heartbreaking instant to regard the children with their kites; the laugh, unbidden and eerily well-known, seems to come from some phantom shape of Riku.

A high, warm, ha-ha-ha, bubbling and feeding on itself, compelling you to batten on its exuberance.

But the fancy lasts for only a moment. There is no Riku there. Just a delighted sun-toasted little boy, whose movements and words are a sort of echo to those of a boy who will never feel warming sunshine or see fluttering kite-strings decorating the purpling sky.

Haji can almost hear Saya's heart weeping; the whisper of wind carries the salty aroma of her stifled tears.

For the briefest space of a moment, he notices her hand move, straining instinctively toward his, as though to hold it. But the impulse fades in the next instant. He hears her draw in a slow composing breath. Paying no more mind to the cheering children, their giggling kites, she strides relentlessly on.

Haji pauses for another moment, watching her solitary form on the empty street, then follows after her, the children's laughter still reverberating in his ears.

She will eat nothing anymore.

Her appetite was always hearty, to put it politely; he had never seen her turn down food when it was for the offering. He used to find that insatiability charming, enjoyed the way her eyes sparkled and her lips glistened as she chewed and swallowed, asked for more, began the process anew.

It was a reminder somehow, of her ties to life, of that streak of humanity that exuded with such completeness in her nature.

But now, she does not touch food. Sweetmeats and confectioneries barely cause her to break her glance. He has even gone so far as to tempt her with the sticky stuff of chocolates, but all to no avail. She wants no indulgences, no reminders of the human facet of existence, the one that she once shared with such unabashed joy.

But neither does the blood rouse her appetite.

The sight of it, though she sees it spilled every night after battle, seems to sicken her. He has watched, many a time, as she studies the blood oozing from her victim's wounds, weeping red into the aftermath of a fugue. Seen her eyes darken, seen her visibly struggle with the gnawing hunger. Seen her clench her hands into vibrating fists, breathe in and out forcefully, like someone struggling to rein in their temper.

She is harrowed by the knowledge that she needs this blood to live. He thinks perhaps she finds it debasing, animalistic, to know she is no better than those creatures she has dedicated her entire turbulent existence to slaughtering.

He wonders, sometimes, if she ever views him in a similar light.

As her chevalier, he is obligated to protect her, to serve her—but that extends also to keeping her healthy, to the best of his ability. If he fed on blood in the past, it was only because he knew that he had to keep Saya strong, to provide her the replenishments needed for the battlefield.

But now the very thought of it seems to curdle her soul.

It chills him, watching the hollows that ferment under her large, dark eyes; the accentuated dip of cheekbone and jaw; shadowy collarbones that seem to press out against too delicate a layer of skin. She grows more and more wan with each day that passes; no amount of urging and persuasion on his part can convince her that she needs to feed to survive.

She seems to want to coast along an edge, a horizon betwixt this existence and beyond. She cannot bring herself to amalgamate with either, so floats on the dangerous ether hovering in the center.

An ether of nothingness.

He attempts to feed her himself once, when his desperation for her has overridden all self-control. Blood directly to her mouth, with the same forceful delicacy as that night in the school. To urge her to fight, to save herself. To live.

This is no different.

He feels, in the first contact of his mouth on her's, her rigid shock. But immediately after, electric hunger, elemental urgency, in the way her mouth opens under his, swallowing, craving. A tiny sigh escapes her, and her hands curl tightly around his forearms as though wary he may flutter away. He can feel her energy burgeoning against him, as she battens on the lifeblood, grows stronger. Were he able to talk, he would murmur his encouragement, urge her to take more…

But then she goes rigid against his grasp; the hands that clenched so yearningly at his arms turn to pearl starfish; hard, smooth, cool. Very deliberately, with a frigidness that startles him, she draws away. Her face is pale, stony in the darkness; a dark trickle of blood gleams as it rolls down her chin. He is filled with a dizzying urge to brush at it with his thumb, to lick it off.

But her words decimate the impulse.

"Haji… please. I-I can't do this."

He wonders at the catch in her throat. Self-reproach, anger, longing… or all three?

"Saya… you have to feed. Please."

"No, Haji."


"Please. No." She shakes her head, and begins to walk away. "I can't."

He stands where he is, hearing the uneven sounds of her footsteps fade.

They hear whispered rumors of chiropteran attacks on the north side of town. The news lulls them, walking unceasing throughout the day and most of the shadowed night, to dank alleys and brawling bars and worse, the smell of urine and poverty and decadence a ponderous presence.

A part of Haji, the old-fashioned, decorous part that is still immutably-entwined to sprawling manors and immaculate waistcoats and holding ladies' lilac-scented hands as they stepped into their carriages, shakes its head in futile distaste.

Were circumstances different, this is no place where he would ever allow Saya to set foot in.

But Saya seems oblivious to the bawdy laughter, the fetid drunks, and the muted mutterings, groanings that are perhaps better to remain deaf to. Her eyes track the area, keenly vigilant, on guard for suspicious figures, for chiropterans on prowl.

A trio of sniggering toughs lumbers across their path, leering toward Saya. Haji immediately finds himself drawing abreast of her, one protective hand extended. He often fears, in moments like these, of a recurrence of that frozen time in France, where he unleashed sweeping wings and unceasing blows to defend his companion—but evoked only her terror in the process.

He cannot afford to add to her desperation that way now.

Fortunately, these drunks are not quite drunk enough—or perhaps foolhardy enough—to risk confrontation. They stagger off, leaving him and Saya be. Haji relaxes imperceptibly, and he and Saya hazard on, through the murk of voices and shouts, the fumes of alcohol and sloth.

They find their chiropterans—or perhaps it is vice versa—at a solitary corner alley. Trash rots sullenly at one end, and toward the other stands a grimy wall, coated in fungus and excrement.

A soul-chilling shriek heralds their attack. Haji and Saya look up in time to glimpse the pack of chiropterans hurtling from atop a building. In the dimness, they look lurid, monstrous—hellbeasts so gruesome they become caricatures of themselves.

"Saya, look out!" he shouts.

Immediately, Saya lunges in one direction, he in the other. The chiropterans land ravening and slavering between them. There are four in all, with eyes that glitter obscenely against the murky darkness.

Haji registers the metallic ring and hiss as Saya unsheathes her sword; in the next moment, she is little more than a pale streak in the gloom, swooping in a kamikaze charge into the fray. Her sword moves with the devastating abruptness of electricity, punctuated only by shocking red bursts of blood for every instant the blade connects with a chiropteran.

Haji shadows her movements, swiveling this way and that to avoid the claw-swipe or fang-snap of their foes. Creating openings for her where he is able, severing limbs that flail too close to her, pulverizing arms and legs and chests in a grisly harmony with the sweeps and arcs of Saya's sword.

Excitement crackles, adrenaline, bloodlust and fear running high, addictive in their paradoxical entirety. The howls of the chiropterans seem to blend with the hollow skirl of laughter and shrieks emanating from the not-too-distant square beyond.

But intuition pricks at Haji. Something is not right.

He feels it in Saya's breathing, harder, sharper than he is accustomed to. In the staticky abruptness of her movements, otherwise so fluid, so effortless. Her self-inflicted regimen, the deprivation of sleep she imposes upon herself, is taking its toll.

Then there is the sudden affidavit.

Roaring, the surviving one chiropteran streaks headlong toward Saya. She brandishes her blade, muscles tense, in anticipation of motion—but motion does not translate itself fast enough. Haji hears himself shouting her name, even as he watches the entire scene unfurl frame by hideous frame.

The chiropteran's serrated claw swiping at Saya. Her body half-twisted, a marionette caught in mid-jerk, as she arches out of the way. The precious seconds expended too late, the splatter of blood that suddenly decorates the front of her dress. Her eyes flashing wide, tendons on her neck standing out sharply as she gnashes her teeth to contain a scream of pain.

And suddenly everything accelerates. Toppling, clutching her wounded stomach, Saya staggers to the side. Her face looks pale, half-dazed, but the hand that grips her sword is tight, firm.

Haji has yet to see it falter.

He lunges forward, ramming the chiropteran with the flat potion of his cello-case. The creatures howls, reeling, and Saya utilizes the advantage to swerve forward. One quick brush across the sword's groove, and her blood runs in a poisonous channel, exhaling stony paralysis and imminent death where it connects deep within the chiropteran's arm.

Stone fragments scatter like weighty confetti across the grimy alley. Haji moves in fast, catching Saya before she falls flat on the floor. Her free hand is still cradled to her blood-soaked wound; at her peak, he knows a blow like this would disappear within moments.

But he also knows the fatal risk to a chiropteran queen who exists solely through insomnia and starvation.

His voice is tight with urgency. "Saya…"

Her lashes flutter, a hummingbird's ebony wings, to frame dark, hazy eyes that regard his face with pain and regret. Her voice is so low he can scarcely hear her; it is as though he gropes through the air to feel how the words curl around it.

"Haji… please…"

He wants to ask what she is pleading for.

But he has little opportunity. Depleted by exhaustion, by starvation and unending grief, she has slipped at last into merciful unconsciousness.

The rain beats a glittering drumroll against the window of the narrow room.

In an area such as this, the sight of a man asking for a room, clutching to him a pale and motionless teenage girl, does not even warrant a raised eyebrow. Haji makes a mental note, as he is given the rusted key to the room's door, that he and Saya leave this place as soon as she is better.

Saya swims in and out of awareness as Haji takes her to the room. The bleeding on her wound has dwindled, then faded; fresh weeping blood replaced by clotted darkness and the gleaming pink of healing skin. Haji prays that by tomorrow evening, it will dissolve as though nothing has ever happened.

He lays her gently on the bed. Divesting her with practiced efficiency of all blood-soaked apparel, he cleans and bandages the wound, leaving her clad in a plain cotton dress. The instances where she has returned from battle, too weakened for her own toilette, are rare—but in each circumstance Haji has endeavored to be quick, expedient and silent.

He cannot, even in these moments of unwarranted intimacy, allow himself to indulge in thoughts or longings outside their immediate circumstances.

In battle, there is little time for intemperance.

Saya murmurs, fitful, vaguely agitated, as he draws the covers over her. Impulse lures his hand to the hair scattered in silky disarray across her forehead. He smoothes them back and prays, inside, that she will have a peaceful night for once.

At the windowsill, he sees a single unbloomed flower resting in a bluish vase. He wonders, in a fleeting moment of distraction, whether it is a rose. The leaves are shaped the way a rose's are, though he can spot no thorns prickling the fragile stem.

Gradually, Saya's breathing deepens into slumber. As a chevalier, dreams are as distant a concept to him as sleep. Nonetheless, he hopes her dreams will be restful, pleasant. The rain beating against the window seems to lull the air. He finds himself watching the way the each diamond droplet against the windows casts a pinprick shadow against Saya's luminous face.

Settling himself by the chair adjacent to her bed, Haji watches the shadows drip away and return anew as the rain pours on.

It is the most turbulent part of the rainstorm when he is alerted to the sound of suppressed sobbing.

He can feel the thick tears running down her face even more vividly than he can hear each choked, half-wrenched sob. She is still lying in bed, but the covers are now thrown off, and she has curled into a fetal position, hugging her arms and knees across her stomach.

Her back is to him. Nonetheless he can see her shoulders shaking.

In the past, similar instances have urged him to go to her, but to do no more than touch her hair or stroke her shoulders until the tears ease, until she has composed herself. But tonight, each splintered sob evokes an answering needle of pain in his chest.

He cannot help himself.

She is suffering so. And he, as a consequence, suffers also in his churning sympathy for her.

"Saya…" He is at her side before he even realizes it, pressing tentative hands to her shoulder. Often, she stiffens at the touch. He can feel her physically battle with her grief, to try and compose herself for his sake, and perhaps her own, or to cry out and draw closer to him.

But tonight she does neither. The flood of her tears redoubles. She cries as though she is without future, without friends, without hope.

Perhaps she feels she is.

"Saya…" He settles slowly at the edge of the bed, tightening his hold on her heaving shoulders.

The agony racking her frame seems to burgeon through the entire room, a thick, suffocating physical presence. He winces inwardly, and draws her closer. In the same instant, she turns around to face him, and her arms lash tight around his neck. Her face is wet and overheated with tears; eyelids swimmy and lashes glistening.

Haji holds her to him, a bolster in storm, as she shudders and keens against his shoulder. He can feel her tears, unbelievably hot, shockingly unending, seeping through the material of his shirt, making warm contact with his flesh. He feels, in the way his skin flutters, the way her own breathing hitches as his arms tighten around her, the toll that total absence of physical contact has had on both of them.

The deprivation that translates itself now into this raw, tangible need.

Her mouth presses against his neck. He feels her harsh sobbing breaths, sending the dark hair quivering across his jaw and cheek. The harsh pinprick of teeth ensues only a moment later; she is too famished to exercise restraint any longer.

Her hands curl tightly into the material of his shirt. By degrees she presses closer, draws him to her, until he is half sprawled on top of her. She drinks the blood that flows from his neck, laps at it without pause. He can feel her strengthening on it, healing; the rain beats a jagged tattoo against the window, but he can focus only on the minute sounds of her breathing, tiny sighs and rustlings.

He waits patiently until she has had her fill, even as a part of him dreads that she will be self-castigating when it is over, will punish herself by denying the urge to a more brutal degree, thereby punishing him as well.

But tonight her lips only detach from the scarlet half-moon in his throat. She draws back slightly, breathing in and out against his skin. The proximity of her, the warm copper-tinged breath against his body, sends an amative shiver through his frame, a shiver he forces himself to quell.

The resolves crumbles to ash as he feels the vibrating touch of her lips across his throat, shy, almost gingerly. A thanks, an apology, or a kiss? He is not sure. He moves to withdraw, to urge her to get her rest, request that they move out of this area as soon as she feels upto it.

Her hands tighten across his back at the motion, keeping him in place. Her lips drag lower down his throat, across the area where collarbone dips against the material of his shirt. It is becoming evident without speech what she wants from him—but he fears it might be something he cannot bring himself to give.

Not now. Not like this.

"Saya…" His voice is ragged. A flicker of reason in darkness.

She seems to sense what he is about to say. "Please, Haji… just for this night…"

"Saya… you can't want to…" Breath fragments as one of her hands glides across his waistband, under his shirt, hot fingers traveling in flaming brands across his cool skin. He twists awkwardly away from the touch, but not completely. "You're wounded…"

"It'll be gone by morning," she whispers, and her fingers are knotted tight into the material of his shirt now, the other hand pressed more firmly, more boldly into his bare skin. Warming it. Warming him. Haji tries to remember how long it has been since he was so suffused in heat, so effusively steeped in it.

Still, he hesitates.


"Please, Haji. It'll just be for this night. We…" She swallows, wets her lips with a pale pink tongue. "We don't have to talk about it tomorrow."

He is not sure what she means for that statement to be. An assurance, or a plea?

If so, for whose sake?

But he finds, as her lips press his in the next instant, that he cannot muster the willpower to parse it out, or to deny her any longer.

The rain thunders repeatedly against the thin panes of the window, shattering in diamond-bright droplets. Saya's mouth opens against his, tongue flickering out to taste. Shy, wet velvet sweeps. He responds in kind, allowing himself to be drawn deeper and deeper into the kiss, allowing her to lure him fully on top of her.

He holds a greater bulk of his weight off on his forearms, still conscious of her healing wound. But, even tempered as he is by caution, he revels in the press of her warm slender form against him, in her hands gliding under his shirt, their heat leaving searing imprints across his chilled flesh.

Their breath is beginning to break, turning harsher, quicker. Saya shivers and tightens her hold on him as Haji glides his own hands along the folds of her thin dress. Tracing curves, testing their shape, before slipping his hands underneath her clothing, matching impressions to evidence. She sighs into his mouth as his cool fingers stroke along heated skin, pebbled with gooseflesh from excitement, from hunger.

She feels so tiny under him. Slender limbs and fragile bones. Soft girl-belly and small round breasts, the nipples springy under his palms. He can feel the wound-up energy in her quivering frame. Smell the scent of old blood from her bandaged wound, mixing with the intoxicating musk of her skin.

Her little hands begin to scrabble at his clothing with more purpose, plucking at his trousers and shirt. He feels her escalating urgency, matched sliver for sliver by his own. He allows her to divest him of his clothing as much as she is able, even as a greater part remains bunched around his body. Trousers dragged down only halfway, shirt unbuttoned but still clinging along his arms and shoulders.

Lust makes him equally disordered. Her cotton dress is bunched in wrinkled sheaves under her arms. His mouth slips along the warm skin of each breast in turn, mouthing half-stifled mewls from her. He feels her fingers climbing his shoulders, digging into his hair like pale fragile talons. One of his hands arrows between her thighs, seeking access, testing whether she is as willing to partake in this as she lets on.

He feels her yield as though born without the concept of hesitation. His fingertips stroke at her center, with the same controlled subtlety he lavishes on the gleaming strings of his cello. Touches that make her flush and gasp, toss her head, until her breath begins to unravel, punctuated with low keening noises that flutter like musical notes against his ears.

The rain is crashing against the window with force now; the air of the tiny room feels muggy, electrifying. The sound of Saya's breathing and his is loud and ragged in the darkness. He feels the coil of tension snaking through her as he continues his relentless ministrations. Her nails bite sharp hot lines against his shoulders as she draws in broken gasps, her body beginning to shake.

"Ha-Haji—" A cry escapes her, short and pleading. She bites her lower-lip. Her hips are moving now with the rhythm of his stroking fingers. Toes curled, fists clenching and unclenching. He goes faster. And she rocks with him, climbing higher, toward her crest. Trusting him. He strokes harder, until her mouth falls open, the pale cords of her neck straining. Faster, still faster. Almost there. Until—


The climax seems to strike her unaware, a galvanizing shock. Her eyes widen, flashing red for the briefest of moments. She arches up off the bed, mewling helplessly. He eases her through the throes, urging her higher, harder. This time her fingers fist wildly into his hair, and she keens his name like an entreaty.

He holds her until the shudders ebb, face buried in her neck. Their bodies have gone dewy with sweat, fusing together. Then her lips are against his ear, moist thready breath making him shudder, whispering what she wants from him next—that which he both half-dreads and craves more elementally than blood. He feels her shift against him, making room; her hands are twined like thin ivory chains in his hair.

He watches her eyes as he eases into her; dark and hazy, lowered at half-mast. Telltale hitches in her breathing, imperceptible flinches and gritting teeth, alert him all the while for signs of her discomfort, for when he must slow down, ease off. Each minute, every searing inch he pervades is exquisite, torturous. He finds himself committing everything to his memory with greedy ferocity, a dragon hoarding its treasures.

The sight of her delicate face; flushed and pained, yet so needy. The slippery heat of her, the secret pulses between her legs. How her chest heaves as small spasms rock her. How her breath comes short and urgent, almost in sobs. Yet still she takes him in; melting, coaxing. Her trembling thighs wind around his waist. She lets him make himself heavy on her. Lets him kiss her, swallowing her muffled whimper as he slowly, deliberately breaks through her innocence.


When the ingression completes, both he and Saya are panting as if running a race, each breath ending in a strangled groan. Her eyes are wide and teary, fixed on him. Her parted lips gleam in darkness, barely inches from his own. Tenderly, he dips his head to taste them. Feels them move against his mouth, exhaling a single dizzying word that is his name.

Trim nails sink tight and possessive into his flesh as he begins to rock against her, in her, with the most minimal of movement. She clings to him, moves with him, every inch of her skin palpitating, burning where it makes contact with his. Everything is so slow; the bed barely creaks beneath them. Yet he feels Saya trembling all over—a trembling that gives way to deep spasms, like a seaquake. "Ah...ah..." she breathes in short gasps, over and over. Pain and a dull edge of pleasure.

A streak of lightning illuminates the room for split-seconds, chased closely by the sister rumble of thunder. Haji cannot hear it, cannot see it. His entire sensorium evolves around Saya in that instant. Drinking in the stifled whimpers that escape white teeth gnashing a flushed lower-lip, the helpless shudders that overtake her everytime his movements gain even the most infinitesimal force, the way her body twists and arches under his, as though torn between trying to accept him deeper and struggling to tear away.

He keeps on moving, gentle and rhythmic. One hand searching for, then locking on, that little hot-spot between her thighs. Teasing and stroking, until Saya jolts beneath him, her soft cries deepening into something else. Not pain, but something very much like it. An agonized approval. The spasms rock her harder now; she tosses her head from side to side, nails scoring his back, her breath coming in hot explosive gusts.

So beautiful.

Shuddering, Haji clenches his jaw. His self-control is no match for this; against his will, he is already at the edge. Swept away by the delicious scent and feel of her; by the purity, the total fury of her need. If an enemy attacked right now, he would not care. Restraint frays, bit-by-bit—and snaps entirely. Suddenly he is slamming into her, full-length, making her whole body quake. He feels her breath escape on a frantic Oohhhh! Hears his own stifled grunts, blending with the abrupt clack clack clack of the rattling headboard, the whining of the old mattress. And over that, Saya's cries—a rising litany of Please please oh God pleasegetting louder, more drawn-out and desperate. Goading him on.

Saya. It becomes his one coherent thought. Saya.

Thunder crashes louder across the room as he feels her stiffen underneath him, her head flying back to emit a wordless desperate sobbing that gives way to a sharp, full-throated cry. He follows only split seconds after, caught up in an agonizing rack of pleasure that leaves red lights exploding before his eyes, tiny explosions that bloom in his peripheral vision like scarlet roses or eruptions of fiery blood.

He collapses against her, gasping, every sinew thrumming with heat, siphoned from her body to his. He takes a moment to orient himself before easing off, still uneasy about the wound in her belly, though he knows it is fast-healing now that she has fed.

Saya murmurs something and presses close to him, pillowing her head against his shoulder. He can feel her heartbeat already slowing into slumber. When he strokes his fingers through her hair, brushing it off her face, she does not stir.

Holding her to him, reveling in the heat and closeness of her form, he lies in the darkness and hears the rainstorm peter out.

True to her word, they do not talk about any of it the next morning.

It becomes a reticent agreement between them, one of the many in their attenuated relationship, from the times he has held her and offered her a comforting shoulder when she has cried, to the times he has carried her to safety after a gruesome battle to clean her wounds and lull her into sleep.

Like the promise he has made to her after she has succeeded in her mission to kill Diva.

That morning, as daylight pours from the lone cracked window, dancing across the creaking floorboards, Haji silently helps Saya into fresh clothing, blank-faced, solicitous. The vase holding the lone flower stands like a witness to their movements. The flower within, draped in a pale sleeve of green, still unbloomed.

The bed where Saya and he have spent the night is neatly made, cold in its precision of folded sheets and immaculate pillows.

As though last night never happened. As though it never existed in the first place.

Haji no longer even bears the imprints of her nails against his flesh, the scent of her on his skin. Chiropteran physiology and a hot bath at the crack of dawn have dissipated all that into nothingness. It is only in his mind, where, cherished and luminous and untouchable, every second of that night exists, prolonged and magnified in intensity, as though with a prism.

And just as brilliant and colorful in the rainbow of emotions it evokes in him.

He helps Saya lace up her coat with practiced efficiency, keeping his eyes on his fingers, his mind on the task at hand. It is a shock, therefore, when he feels her hand suddenly close on his, soft and familiar, the warm contact too sudden, too much.

"Haji…" She says his name softly, her eyes lowered.

He takes an imperceptible breath, every inch of him quivering, suspended. Nonetheless, when he speaks, his voice is steady, calm:


"For… last night." She swallows, exhaling slowly. "Thank you."

Her eyes raise to his then, and for one crawling, luminous instant, a shared knowledge resides between them, a mutual reminiscence savored in silence.

Then they hear the knock on their door; the landlord alerting them that they have only fifteen minutes before the fee paid for the room will have expired. The moment shivers into the air like smoke, leaving behind only a stark reminder of where they are and why, of the mission that still exists front and center between the two of them.

In silence, Saya rises to her feet; before her, Haji straightens as well, one hand already moving to heft up his cello-case and sling the strap across his shoulders. Then Saya walks deliberately out of the narrow room, and he follows after, shutting the door behind him without a backward glance.

And at the windowsill, within the tiny blue vase, the amputated rose blooms; deep-red petals unfurling into the gray dimness of the room like a punctuation mark.

Though neither Saya nor Haji can see it, it is a promise made visible, an unspoken reassurance for their fate, and for the future.