CHAPTER 32 – SLANDER
The past few days have given me the opportunity to ruminate, if you will, over Kaname's announcement, as well as mentally prepare for tonight's venture, the celebratory ball concerning Takuma's new appointment as head of the Senate. (Well, technically, it's to celebrate the formation of the new Senate as a whole, and to formally acknowledge the mutual desire for a peaceful relationship between the Senate and the Association.) Takuma, I've been told by Rima and Senri, is the guest of honor, unofficially.
I'm not sure I want him to be a part of Kaname's schemes. He's a crafty thing, Kaname, and I don't know if I trust that he has Takuma's best interests at heart. And it's not that I doubt Takuma's ability to take care of himself, but he can be such a doormat! Especially where Kaname is concerned. I don't like it. He'll just go along with Kaname's plans and… and… it doesn't even matter that Kaname said he wants Takuma to keep him in line. I don't think that's Kaname's real intent.
After all, Kaname never said he was going to become king. All he said was that the Senate was going to be reformed. It would be so like Kaname to use the Senate as a vehicle for his plans while he stayed in the shadows. A shadow king… like Kyoya Ootori. Only real.
On the bright side, I'm moved in, now. Apparently, Takuma paid for the rest of my contract so I could move out immediately—if he was surprised at how little the total cost was for another four months' rent, he didn't let on.
Two weeks have gone by. Just two weeks with Takuma, and it's felt like a few months. I don't know how it went by so quickly…
"Hold still, Hikari."
I scowl but comply; it's not wise to argue with a vampire with a curling iron in hand. Rima sighs softly as she continues work on my hair, which has been cut specifically for the occasion. I also have new shoes, a new dress, handbag, and perfume. And makeup. Dreadful stuff, makeup. I look like a clown. Rima assures me that I look fabulous, and that Takuma's jaw is going to hit the floor when he sees me. I have my doubts, but then again, Rima somehow managed to work her magic with nothing more than the contents of her purse at the ball last time—the night we rescued Takuma—so I suppose I should just sit tight and wait for her to finish.
"Quick question… why don't you have a stylist or something?"
There's a pause as Rima releases the curling iron and forages for a new strand of hair to sizzle. "I do. I just never get a chance to do this stuff myself."
That makes me pause, and I catch myself before I turn. "Then… why aren't you a stylist?"
She sets down the torturing device and reaches for a can of hair spray. "Because I can't stand most people."
I give a short laugh. "That does put a damper on things." I imagine that somewhere in there is the unspoken story of some fashion photographer clapping eyes on her and swearing that she would be the best model in all Christendom, and would she please, please, please—on bended knee, mind—consider getting a job at his agency?
"Do you have any idea how many humans would plague us endlessly if she were a stylist?" comes Ruka's voice from across the room as she delicately gives herself a French manicure. "There would be no end to the complaints—why don't I look just like you? As if humans could possibly pull off the looks we can."
I don't really say anything to this. That might hold true for the general populace—I mean, haven't most girls at one point or another made the mistake of wanting to try out a haircut, a certain makeup scheme, or a specific style of clothing that just didn't work with them because of body type, coloring, or whatever? My next thought is, what about being a fashion consultant? But that still wouldn't solve the problem of not wanting to work with people.
A few strokes of a brush later, another quick spritz of hair spray, and Rima reaches for a lavender sequined headband complete with an embellishment of thin, curled feathers. She hands me my light violet-hued pearl earrings and spins my chair around. "There." (I should've known better than to think she might say something like "what do you think" or "ta-da!")
My shorter-than-ever hair is now in loose spirals down to my earlobes in a way that reminds me of a 1920s flapper. My makeup is supposed to be light, just enough to bring the outfit together and bring out my eyes. And paired with my dress, a spaghetti-strap, thigh-length gown of lavender silk with no waist whatsoever…
I stare blankly at the woman in the mirror. It's not really me. This is an adorably freckled girl with a sleek ensemble… and a definite air of wannabe-ness about her. Like she's trying too hard.
"I don't know…"
"Even I have to admit," Ruka speaks up from her spot on the divan across the room, "you're cute in that." She looks like she means it, too. I find that hard to believe, with her luxuriously long, honey-brown hair in gorgeous waves, and a black mermaid-cut dress, set off by diamond necklace and earrings. Oh, and a mink stole. She is one classy lady ready for a red-carpet event.
Rima, on the other hand, is dressed in a more retro-ish, avant-garde fashion—a blue-green, shimmering cloth, way off the shoulders, with hoop skirt and tattered layers of black tulle overtop. Her hair is half down, half spiked out in a ridiculous, but amazingly alluring, updo. Kind of reminds me of the ball scene in A Knight's Tale, when Jocelyn wears her hair in that spiky way.
I can't argue with their professional opinion, but neither can I agree with them. I'll let Takuma be the judge of it. But it would be rude to say that their help was in vain, so I smile at them both. "Thank you for helping me with this. I'd look like a complete idiot otherwise."
"You mean like you looked in that peach monstrosity in January," Rima mutters.
"I'm pretty sure your work on that deserves a Nobel Prize or canonization as the patron saint of fashion," I return seriously. "That dress was bad."
"Well, we couldn't have you seen with Takuma looking like that again, could we?" Ruka says airily as she turns to slip on her stilettos. A quick toss of her hair and a hand down her dress to smooth it out, and she's out the door.
I turn back to Rima. "No sense in debating whether or not I look as good as you say," I finally manage, and I bend down to fix some ridiculous purple strappy shoes to my feet. It's not that I think I'm ugly. I just have a hard time seeing something drop-dead gorgeous when looking at lil' ol' me. I mean… I'm just… me.
"Don't even, Hikari." Something in her tone makes me look back up at her. "I know my fashion. You look amazing. Don't you dare think about saying otherwise."
My hands fumble at the clasps, and I try to disentangle them from my numerous silver anklets (which were apparently essential to this outfit; why, I have no idea). "Okay." I blush at this. Do I really look beautiful? Hm. I suppose the look on Takuma's face will be the true indicator. Possibly Hanabusa's, too—Yori isn't here tonight, so he won't be distracted by her.
I wobble a bit on my heels, but manage to walk out the door, through the hall, and to the top of the imposing marble staircase; I keep my hand tightly on the banister to ensure a smooth entrance. Rima's dress can't keep from swishing as she walks behind me, much more gracefully and confidently than I am, I'm sure. But we're halfway down when we catch snippets of laughter from the other room. Clack, clack, clack, and Ruka parades into the room on the arm of some handsome vampire—I think his name was Yoshiro—followed by a terrifically stoic Kain. (You really have to feel sorry for him; Ruka is so blind.) Hanabusa, Senri, and Takuma then file in behind them, and all eyes turn to the stairs—
I feel my face heat up just a little, but I force myself to observe Takuma's reaction.
His eyebrows shoot up as his eyes widen, and a great big smile spreads across his face. "You look fabulous, Hikari!" he praises as he manages to bound gracefully up the few remaining steps to offer me his arm. (Thank god; I'm not going to survive the evening without him there—not with these shoes. Whoever thought it was a good idea to give me five inch heels…) "Beautiful." He leans in to kiss my cheek once we reach solid ground.
Positive, yes… I suppose I shouldn't have expected anything along the lines of an overwhelmed , momentarily speechless reaction—oh, you're so beautiful… and eyes full of longing. Flapper-style garb doesn't usually lend itself to that. I still can't keep from smiling, though. And I won't have to be afraid of embarrassing him with my appearance, either. Nothing wrong with that!
"You look amazing," I return. He does—a light gray two-button suit jacket over matching slacks. His tie is even the same shade as my dress. (What is this, prom?) But then I realize that Ruka's dress matches Yoshiro's tie and Rima's matches Senri's. Is that just a thing in the formal world? Huh.
And he's wearing—
"Your shoes!" I blurt out with a huge grin. Those black-and-white leather oxfords he wore at the dance at Cross Academy. Was that really almost two years ago?
"I thought you'd like them," he responds cheerily. "I need more excuses to wear them."
"You should always wear them. Always."
"Wouldn't that be painful if I had a nightmare and started kicking in my sleep?" he ponders.
"Everywhere but in the house. How's that?"
"Shall we?" Yoshiro asks, and the front door is opened by the Souens' butler (I forget his name…). Outside, four cars are waiting for us: a Benz for Yoshiro and Ruka, a Ferrari for Rima and Senri, a Lotus for Hanabusa and Akatsuki, and a Bentley for Takuma and me.
Hanabusa doesn't seem too happy about this.
"Oh, come on," Takuma protests. "The '47 Saloon is my favorite car of all time. And you get the Lotus!"
"But it's mine—oh, fine…"
"Any time you want to sell it, you know where I am!" Takuma returns happily. "Thank you, Hanabusa!"
We enter our respective cars and are off.
Takuma stares at me wordlessly for nearly thirty seconds before I frown. "Is there something on my face?"
He smirks. "There is nothing wrong with your face. Quite the opposite. That's the trouble." His fingers under my chin guide me to meet his lips in a kiss. "I won't be able to take my eyes off you tonight."
I can't help but smile at these words. "Takkun, do you want me to blush like a strawberry all night long?"
"That wasn't my goal, but I would enjoy that, yes." Once again, his lips mold to mine. Sweet ecstasy! I run my hands through his hair—lightly, so as not to mess it up entirely, since he does have to appear before an audience tonight. His arms pull me closer until I doubt you could slip a sheet of paper between us. Thank god there's a partition between the back and front seats! I'd hate for the chauffeur to bear witness to this. "You look lovely tonight."
My dress is kind of riding up at this point—I don't think it covers what it's supposed to anymore. And when Takuma's hand slides down to my thighs, I can't bring myself to care about the dress anymore. "Sh-should we be doing this?" I whisper.
"The night is young, we're in love, we're together, and we're undisturbed. Need I list more reasons?"
"Nope!" A grin practically splits my face in two. I don't wait for him, then, and I loosen his tie to allow myself better access to his neck…
It's funny how quickly an hour passes when you're having fun.
We reach the Culia, the underground headquarters of the Senate. It's every bit as opulent as the ballroom used at the Association for parties, only without windows, and there are several other rooms, equally splendid, for meetings, guests, and other miscellaneous purposes. Marble, crystal, and gold everywhere.
And columns. Especially columns… though in the case of the Culia, it makes sense, having been inspired by the original Roman senate.
We make our way into the back of the building, an abandoned factory on the surface, and descend into the foyer, where a line is forming for entrance into the ballroom itself. Directly in front of us are the Hanabusa and Akatsuki, and of course, Takuma's first thought is to tease them—mostly Hanabusa.
"Where's your date, Idol-sempai?"
He huffs imperiously. "Yori is on vacation with her family. Skiing in Hokkaido."
"Pity. If she'd wanted to go ice skating in August, she would've only had to find you."
This isn't dignified with a comment from him.
Things progress in a similar fashion, lighthearted and jovial, until the herald calls each of our names in turn—"Yoshiro Takahama and Ruka Souen. Senri Shiki and Rima Toya. Senator Akatsuki Kain. Senator Hanabusa Aido. Chairman Takuma Ichijo and Hikari Yagari."
"Ooh, chairman. Fancy," I tease him as I cling like a limpet to his arm whilst we make our descent into the ballroom. The announcement of the chairman apparent, the head of the Senate, is turning quite a few heads down below. Curse these heels! No pressure or anything; if I fall, I'd only embarrass Takuma like crazy. Not that he'd acknowledge that.
"Relax," he says softly. "I won't let you fall."
That is comforting, but I'd rather he not have to catch me, anyway.
Through some blue-eyed miracle, we manage to reach the ground, where more than a few austere looking figures are waiting to speak to Takuma.
"Good evening, Ichijo-dono."
"Good to see you doing so well, Ichijo-sama."
"Your grandfather would be proud!"
"Who is this young lady?"
Takuma nods and greets them all—by name, when he can, and when he can't, he politely asks for their titles. Small talk commences, as well as some question answering. "Good to see you, too, Inoue-san! How is your wife?" "Hisakawa-sama, good evening. Thank you." "Shizuka-san, always a pleasure. This is Toga Yagari's daughter, Hikari."
The next twenty freaking minutes pass this way. At one point, Takuma leans over and tells me quietly that I don't have to stay with him, but I shake my head and try to be proper arm candy, smiling and greeting the dignitaries in pleasant manner, effectively melding myself with Takuma's image in everyone's mind. I'd bet money that a lot of them will remember us as married or engaged or something.
But shortly, Kaname enters the room, and all grows silent. "Good evening. Thank you for coming. Please enjoy yourselves; the formalities will begin at ten o'clock."
At this, there is a soft metallic sound, and I turn to see a row of cooks removing silver domes from various platters at a long white table. A small orchestra begins to play in the opposite corner of the room. A few more hellos, and we're free to enjoy ourselves—everyone else has left Takuma to do their own thing.
"Well, then… would you care to dance?" he asks with an adorable smile.
How can I refuse when he looks like that?
Around we twirl, and we're quickly joined by several other couples. Takuma smiles warmly at me, an excited gleam in his emerald eyes. "Can you believe we've been living together for two weeks?"
"And we still haven't killed each other!" I return happily. "Who'da thunk it?"
He laughs. "Yes, that is a good thing, but I was thinking that we might have to make the arrangement permanent."
My heart leaps up into my throat, and it's a wonder it doesn't continue flying up, up, up out of my mouth until it hits the ceiling. (What an image.) If I answer him seriously right now, I'm going to end up either a sappy, blubbering mess or being unable to breathe—or both. So I side with levity. "I don't know… I mean, we're still in that 'best behavior' stage. I think I should wait to see if I can stand you leaving dirty underwear around before we make any concrete decisions."
"On that note, I've been meaning to ask… do you put DVDs into the wrong cases when you're done with them? Because that would be a deal-breaker, you know."
"I'll make sure to put them back correctly as long as you don't sing opera in the shower."
"Can I sing it while skipping around the house in a pink tutu?"
"Do you do that often?"
"I don't know… pink isn't really your color, Takkun."
"What if it was green?"
"Hmm… that might be okay. I'd have to see you in it first."
There's a pause, and we both burst out laughing at one another.
"Are you all right?"
I give a nervous chuckle. "Fine; I just tripped, is all." A pox upon all high-heeled shoes. "Why must there be balls, really? If something's going to happen, wouldn't it be better if it was announced at a board meeting or something?"
Takuma grins in amusement. "Sure, it'd be more practical, but you forget that this entire affair is supposed to celebrate the formation of the new Senate. And a board meeting is hardly cause for a celebration."
"If it makes you feel better, when we get back, we can stay up late watching anime and eating Pocky. That'll be our real celebration."
I nod and smile broadly—I like this plan. "I think it's important that we do!"
But before he can say anything else, the song ends, and we both separate to applaud for the orchestra. "I think I'll go find some champagne," Takuma says to me then. "Would you like some punch or anything?"
Mmm… probably not a good idea. I'd likely spill the stuff. I shake my head. "No. Thanks, though."
"Right. Um, I'll come find you in a minute, then." He begins to walk off, still keeping his gaze on me, and I nod, pointing toward the side of the room, where he can find me when he's done. I know better than to think that I could just wait here until he returns; as the man of the hour, as it were, he'll be stopped by nearly everyone, and I can't just stand out in the middle of the dance floor like that.
Standing next to one of the pillars off to the side is Senri, and Rima sits beside him on a small sofa. Rima catches my eye and nods in acknowledgement, and I decide to join them. Slowly, I make my way through the dancing couples to join them on the sidelines. "Hey, guys."
"Mm," Senri grunts.
"Hey," Rima adds. "Where's Prince Charming?"
"Don't call him that, Rima," I quickly correct her, not quite managing to suppress a shudder. "He's not the perfect prince you read about in those dumb ole' fairy tales…"
There's a pause, wherein they both exchange glances, then return their gazes to the ballroom. "Whatever you say…"
Hmph. I guess Takuma seems a little too good to be true, but I just don't want to be that annoying Barbie princess by his side. (Not like I really could be, but whatever.)
"So. What brings you over here, anyway?" Senri asks.
"Takuma went to get something to drink, and I'd rather not risk spilling anything, so I thought I'd join you guys in doing nothing for a bit."
"Hm. S'that so."
I turn to sit beside Rima on the sofa. "Yes."
We chat through a few songs, but mostly just sit quietly. It's awkward—I can tell I'm a third wheel right now. Senri holds Rima's hand oh-so gently, caressing it with his thumb, acting like he can't bear to stay here much longer and could they please run off to find a vacant room. Gag me with a spoon. Ah, well. At least they finally got engaged. Took 'em long enough. They've been living together for four months… to say nothing of the fact that they've been going out for what, ten years or something? They're insane. Nothing else to it.
A pair of lips connects with my cheek.
"Takuma, don't sneak up on me like that!"
He smiles brightly, like all's right with the world, and offers his hand to me. "But you're so much fun to tease! Can I make it up with a dance?"
"Yeah, you two lovebirds go dance," Rima drawls lazily.
"Who's calling whom lovebirds?" I wonder idly back. "Why don't you both go find a closet somewhere and have fun?"
I watch as they exchange glances, shrug once, and Senri offers her his arm before they head for the doors at the back of the room.
Takuma snickers. "Wow. They're horrible."
"At least they're engaged," I point out. "I mean, took him long enough to ask her… when d'you think they'll tie the knot?"
"Give it another ten years."
"Hikari." I turn at this new, deeper voice to see Toga-san and Zero approaching us. I offer them both a bright smile. "Ichijo. Congratulations," Toga-san offers with a nod of his head.
"Thank you, Yagari-san.
Zero grunts, but he must know that he should be on his best behavior, because he sighs and says "Congratulations, Ichijo," without a lot of malice. His gaze flicks over to me, then. "Hikari." Strangely, he then offers his hand to me and jerks his head in the direction of the dance floor.
"Sure." I take his hand and then look back to Takuma, who says that he'd be there waiting for me.
My guess is that Zero wanted to ask how I was doing away from Takuma, because being near him might warp my responses. Also, he wants to know how Yuki is, probably. "Yuki's doing very well, by the way," I say without preamble. "Kaname's allowed her to get a facebook page, and she's a lot happier now that she can talk with everyone."
"They're going to recreate the Night Class at Cross Academy."
I blink several times in my surprise. "Um… what?"
"Yuki has asked the headmaster to recreate the Night Class, and he's agreed to do so. The new term starts in less than a month."
Well, that does make for good gossip, but… "What's that got to do with me?"
Zero's expression hardens somewhat. "Sara Shirabuki is enrolled there."
I spend about two seconds debating about whether or not I should stay and continue dancing with Zero or run back and tell Takuma. I am literally turning around when Zero tugs me back to himself. "Wait." It takes us a second to return to our rhythm of dancing, but once we do, he continues. "How are you doing?"
"Toga-san hasn't told you?"
Purple eyes narrow. "I didn't ask."
(I should have guessed that. Zero wouldn't want to appear "interested." Though my guess is that Toga-san would rather have a hunter-vampire for a son-in-law than an aristocrat.) "Takuma and I have a townhouse that's about a fifteen minute walk from the Association. We're doing really well." Despite the fact that I'm dancing with grumpmeister Zero, I smile at the statement. It's still new and exciting!
"I didn't ask how the two of you were doing. I asked about you."
"I didn't know you cared, Zero." I meant this in a joking way, because it's obvious that Zero cares about too much, though he thinks he tries not to let on. He didn't take it so well, though, because he just glowers at me. Geez. Fine. "Still can't take a joke. Huh. Well, I'm doing splendidly. Except for the news on that… that… that bitch, Shirabuki." And that is honestly the nicest word I can think of to describe her. "How about you, Zero-kun? How are you? I hear you're now a senior hunter."
He shrugs and grunts. "I get by."
I slowly nod in response. "Guess that's about all you can ask for, right?"
"Look, I know it's out of the blue, but is it too much to ask that we call a truce?"
That's confusing. "I, uh, thought you had to be fighting to call a truce."
Zero's brows furrow. "Whatever. I'm guessing Ichijo is going to put you back in school, and something tells me he's going to join you. Cross has already put me back in school, anyway."
"Just how badly does it suck to be on the Disciplinary Committee, anyway?" I ask.
"It's not that bad." By which he probably means he likes being able to vent some of his stress on yelling at or fighting off the Day and Night classes each day.
"Well, at least you know I won't cause trouble if I do end up joining the new Night Class," I say sensibly.
"You'd better not. Cross wanted me to ask you to join the class anyway, and be one of the Disciplinary Committee."
"And… what good would I be?" I blurt out.
"You have hunter blood, for one. That's worth a lot. You're also a fair shot, and you're not always afraid to stand up to opposition."
"'Not always' being the key phrase." I pause. "But… I'll be in the Night Class, right? What am I supposed to do, fend off fangirls while bringing up the rear of the class?" I get an image of myself dressed up like Link, shield, fairy, sword and all, while edging backwards towards campus. Fangirls dressed like armed marauders use anything from maces and spears to get at the retreating Night Class at my back.
I'd be like some kind of vampire knight.
…I need help.
"I'm just passing on the message. Talk to that idiot, Cross, if you have problems."
I make a mental note to talk to Takuma about this before I approach Cross on the subject. It's now that the song ends, and Zero and I break apart to applaud the orchestra—or, well, I applaud and Zero just grunts and crosses his arms. "Well… thanks for the info, Zero. And, if it makes you happy," I extend my arm, "truce."
After a moment of staring at my hand, he takes it in his and shakes. I smile at him. "See you around."
Despite the fact that I'm bursting with news, I can't bring myself to burst Takuma's bubble right now. It's his evening. I'll tell him on the way home. If I can keep my mouth shut, that is.
It's about fifteen minutes later that the herald stops everything to announce the appointment of the new Senate, comprised of twenty members. Chairman Takuma, then Hanabusa, Akatsuki, and someone named Shiki—maybe Senri's uncle or something? And a bunch of people I don't know. Uncle Kaien (I wonder if I still have to call him that?), flanked by Toga-san and Zero, joins them to exchange handshakes. Takuma then formally announces everyone's desire for peace between the Senate and the Association, which Uncle Kaien agrees with. There's some applause, and then everything returns to dancing, music, and eating.
I remain on the sidelines talking with Rima and Senri while awaiting Takuma's return. He's going to take forever, talking with more dignitaries and CEOs and other folk at the top of the social caste pyramid.
But once he does return, we resume dancing. I'm not sure which is bugging me more, my stupid heels, or the news that's threatening to burst out of my mouth without notice. Can't tonight just be over?
A more upbeat (but still classical) song begins to play, but by this point, my movements are slow and jerky. Takuma's ever-present smile takes on a suspicious flavor. "You seem preoccupied."
"Hm? Oh. I guess it'd be nice to go home. I'm kind of tired." True, but not why I'm off on my own planet. I mean, Shirabuki? At Cross Academy? Isn't that worse than placing a keg of gunpowder next to a candle on a windy day?
Not to mention, if I do end up on the Disciplinary Committee there, Shirabuki will likely find herself on the receiving end of some retribution.
Speaking of, she should be here tonight. Something as important as the Senate will have attracted her attention.
"Do you want to leave now?" Takuma asks me. "We technically don't have to stay."
"But shouldn't you stay?"
"Probably, but there won't be any real consequences if we do leave."
"It's up to you, Takkun." I think I'm coming off a little more gripe-y and whiny than I'd intended. Green eyes narrow just slightly at me; he knows that fatigue has nothing to do with why I want to leave. Most times, I love that he knows me so well, but it's definitely not working in my favor right now.
"Uh…" I watch as a slender, delicate hand on Takuma's shoulder stops us. A soft crunching sounds, and Takuma's eyes widen. His jaw clenches tightly in pain.
And she just came up out of nowhere and broke his collarbone for no good reason! What the hell?
I narrow my eyes at her as she steps into view, releasing Takuma (I immediately cling to his side both for his support and to get a little further from her). That devil… evil… demon bitch! The tangy scent of sweat fills my nostrils as Takuma fights to stay upright and silent instead of doubling over in pain and crying out like any sane being would've done. But that's Takuma, never one to cause a scene, if he can help it. I can hear his teeth grinding together.
"Good evening, Taku-chan."
"It might be better if I was elsewhere, but thank you, all the same, Shirabuki-sama." I notice he continues to smile, albeit in a strained manner. I, on the other hand, keep my wide eyes locked on Shirabuki, my expression easily less polite. I glare, not even bothering to check myself. I don't care if she's a pureblood! I don't care if I should be bowing to her! I don't even care that everyone else in the room is going to judge me, and by extension, Takuma, six ways to Sunday for it! She's evil and deserves much more than the stink eye.
She turns, then, focusing her golden eyes right on me. "I heard a rumor… though it may have been nothing more than hearsay… that you have adopted a mongrel, Taku-chan."
He stands there stiffly, unmoving. It just now occurs to me that everyone around us has stopped dancing and is staring at us, instead.
Apparently, I am the dog, here. The mongrel. I know what she's implying; hunters often take in Level D vampires and attempt to slow their descent to Level E while using their powers for easier hunting. Purebloods seem to enjoy changing one or two humans into "pets" who serve as lapdogs, constant snacks, or valets. Aristocrats, save for the changing, do the same with both humans and Level D and C vampires.
Well, I suppose it could be worse. At least no one will criticize him for that; it's a common practice.
"That is nothing more than a rumor, Shirabuki-sama." He speaks in a would-be easy tone, a little marred by his gritted teeth. I give him a bracing squeeze; he squeezes back a little tightly, but I don't care. (I take it his shoulder is mostly healed by now, probably because of our amusement during the car ride.)
We both wait for her next words—surely she didn't come up to us just to confirm a rumor; if anything, she's got something to say about it.
Which bodes ill for us on all accounts.
"Heh…" A slight chuckle at first, but Shirabuki's laughter grows louder until it is the only sound in the room; everyone else has grown silent. My mind tells me that her laughter sounds light and pretty, but my heart hears only nails on a chalkboard. "I knew it! How the mighty have fallen! The Ichijo line, prized for its potent, powerful blood, has reached its end in you, Takuma. Falling in love with an ex-human hunter? A cross-breed brat? I shudder to think how your children will turn out."
I feel my stomach drop and my hands fall limply to my sides. I know this… I know all this… but… she had to announce it to the entire vampire aristocracy… stop staring at me…
Low chatter begins to spread throughout the room. I don't need to listen to individual conversations to hear the derisive, scornful tones around us.
I should go… all eyes are on me… I don't like it. I've never liked being in large crowds, but being the center of attention is a thousand times worse. Need to go. Need to get away. Shouldn't shame Takuma like this… STOP… STARING…
And another voice in my head flares up at this abuse. Stand up for yourself! Tell her to go to hell and that she has no say in our love life!
I swear, I'd like to give her a piece of my mind. It's not enough that she has to kidnap Takuma and torture him for nearly a year. No, she has to humiliate him in public after he's just gained a lot of political support and popularity from most of the vampire community! If I could get my hands on her, I'd… I'd…
I'll have to settle for words, since my strength certainly isn't going to save me in this instance. "What gives you the right to—"
"Are you all right, Hikari?"
I pause, thrown off by Takuma's interruption. "Uh… I wanna go home, but I'll be okay." I'd be more okay if I could wring her neck, but under the circumstances, I'll settle for just plain okay.
"We'll go as soon as we can; I promise."
I just nod dumbly, feeling heavy and sick. I'm pathetic. I really am. Not only has Shirabuki come back up just to ridicule me and call me a freak (I've had enough of her, for pity's sake!), but she has to avert everyone's attention to me and Takuma in an extremely negative way. I hate crowds… and Takuma didn't do anything to deserve this derision—nothing but love me.
It's my fault.
…wait a second. Okay, it's not my fault. That's stupid. All I did was be born and bite a pureblood in retaliation. And love Takuma. How does that make this situation my fault? Exactly.
Okay; breathe; calm down, Hikari. They're just vampires. Very, very powerful and influential vampires who don't approve of you. Didn't you say that you didn't care about approval from others?
Well, that was before I was involved with a super-influential vampire. Think of all the crap that could happen, now that his reputation is tarnished…
"I don't care what they think—not about us, anyway. You know that."
Again, it's all I can do to bob my head up and down against his chest.
"Shirabuki-sama, I would greatly appreciate it if you did not draw such negative attention to Hikari. I'd also appreciate it if you wouldn't try to break my shoulder again."
"Indeed, such actions are rather unbecoming of a pureblood lady," comes another, darker, deeper voice. Kaname-sama? I manage to turn my head enough to catch a glimpse of the dark-haired vampire standing just a few feet away from us, staring pointedly at Shirabuki. "Hikari-chan has done nothing to deserve such harsh words, and neither has Ichijo. What do you seek to gain by heckling them?"
My eyes snap wide open and I turn further to watch Kaname, who does not even spare me a glance. Wow… really? What's he doing this for?
"Oh, dear. I fear I've upset you, Kaname-kun." Figure that out all on her own, did she?
"Sara-san, what is your purpose in judging Ichijo and his lover?" (If it's possible, my face gets even redder at the word "lover.")
"What is your purpose in defending them, Kaname?"
She avoided the question.
I watch Kaname's eyes narrow just a little. "First, Ichijo is my close friend. Second, I have just appointed him as the leader of the Senate. Third, I fail to see what his personal life has to do with you and your opinions."
Shirabuki stares back at Kaname, cool as a cucumber. "Kaname-kun condones this blatant veering from tradition. How disgusting. Is this the image the vampire community is to bear in the future: a lot of ragamuffin mutts running about without collar or pedigree? No respect for blood or principles? No discipline?"
"I should think that of all people, Sara, you should value loyalty. That is what Ichijo is displaying for Hikari-chan, love and loyalty. Moreover, Hikari is the daughter of Toga Yagari. This should be something of a gesture of peace, if nothing else—proof that hunters and vampires are able to coexist without quarrel."
(That one starts some interesting conversation.)
What follows could only be described as a stare-down between two very refined stoics. "My dear Kaname, for someone in charge, you know nothing about peace or control. I, for one, would very much like to ensure that aristocrats and purebloods get the respect we deserve. If every nobleman's son chased after a Level D-hunter cross-breed, where would our bloodlines be? No. I will not stand for this sacrilege."
Kaname's eyes narrow further, and I see his hands twitch once, just barely. "Ichijo."
"Is Hikari-chan going to be all right?"
"I'm fine, Kaname-sama," I offer quietly. "I just hate crowds."
He smiles faintly at us. "If you wish to return home, I won't blame you. Do what you will."
"Thank you, Kaname." Dimly, I register the fact that Takuma isn't addressing Kaname with honorifics. I wonder if they're back on good terms again or if it's for the benefit of our audience. "I do believe we've had enough… erm…"
"Yes, that… for one night."
"Do not trouble yourself about revering Sara as a pureblood; you have my leave to insult her as much as you please." That sparks more than a few exclamations in the crowd and the faintest of frowns on Shirabuki's features.
"I don't think that is necessary, but thank you, Kaname." Thank god one of us is retaining our composure. Those words will go a long way in this instance. Kaname definitely made the right choice in appointing Takuma as the Senate's chairman.
Silence reigns for a few more seconds, until Takuma clears his throat softly. "Are you ready to go, Hikari?"
Oh… really? Well, he did promise as soon as we could… "Yes."
"Right. Good night, Kaname; I assume I'll be seeing you tomorrow, then?"
"Yes, just as we planned. This changes nothing. Until then, Ichijo."
Before I know it, we're out in the car being driven to our townhouse, which is only about twenty minutes away, as opposed to the hour it took us to get to the Souens' mansion. Takuma still holds me tightly in his arms, and neither of us is wearing a seatbelt. Is it sad to say that I don't particularly care at this point?
"I'm okay, now, Takuma. You can let go…"
After a pause, his arms loosen and I sit down beside him. "Sorry…"
"What are you apologizing for? Nothing was your fault."
"I'm sorry for cutting you off like that. Unfortunately, I can't let something said in anger ruin my reputation as chairman."
I gulp as I remember him cutting me off. Yeah… I didn't think. I hang my head, then, feeling properly cowed. "I should be apologizing for being so careless," I mumble.
He sighs quietly, but says nothing more. What else can he say? Not "it's okay," because it's not; "don't do it again" isn't terribly great, either.
Now I'm feeling truly pathetic. I slump over. God… when did I become such a hothead to think that I could shoot my mouth off at anything that displeased me? The last time I did so, I was—well, I'm not sure if Rido Kuran counts… I did "shoot my mouth off" at him, but not verbally. I guess that one was my saving grace. But before that was at Toga-san when I first met him that same night, and before that was Kaname, back when I was still human.
Oh… wait! The last time I spoke out of anger without thinking was when I told Takuma that I loved him.
How can I be upset about my speaking out of turn when it's been actually beneficial to me, overall? Now, I can be upset about this instance, for sure… as well I should be. I need to make sure I remember Takuma every time I get angry at someone or something. As long as we're together, I need to think about how my actions or words will reflect on him.
"Maybe I'm not the type best-suited to be a politician's wife…" I finally muse.
Takuma's lips press against the top of my head firmly. "Nonsense." There's a pause. "Okay, maybe you're not, stereotypically speaking. But I wouldn't trade you for anything."
I have to smile at that, despite my rather turbulent emotions.
But then… well, geez. May as well get this torture over with and tell him Zero's news. "While we're talking about Shirabuki…"
"What about her?" His expression turns carefully neutral, but I can tell he's still angry and upset about the whole affair.
"Uh… Do you know about what's going on at Cross Academy?" I hedge.
"I've heard they're reforming the Night Class."
"Shirabuki is a part of it."
His eyes close and his arms tense around me for a few seconds of silence, and he relaxes slowly. "I see."
"And Zero said that Uncle Kaien wants me to be part of the Disciplinary Committee."
"Probably to keep watch on Shirabuki." I hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense. Cross knows I'd want to keep an eye on her after what she did to Takuma, and while I was at it, couldn't I make sure she didn't go gallivanting off causing trouble on campus? "Do you want to go back? You never finished your last semester there."
I don't really like being reminded of that fact. Not only am I a hothead (apparently), but I'm also a Level D vampire, I'm a hunter, I'm dating a high-ranking aristocrat who is also the head of the Vampire Senate AND the president of the Ichijo Group, the world's largest corporation, AND I'm a penniless high school dropout. Is there anything else I could do or be that would make me even more hated by the world?
What even is my life?
I think my brain has had a little too much emotional strain on it tonight. I've gone from nervous to ecstatic to bored to bitter to mortified to self-loathing to furious in the span of about three hours. I can't even feel anything anymore. "I don't even know," I mumble as I slump against his shoulder. "Part of me wants to say 'yes,' cuz I can't trust that devil-evil-demon-bitch to scratch her nose, let alone attend a school full of humans. But the other part wants to say 'no,' and to get as far away from her as possible. The rest of me says 'I don't care, and can I please not think anymore tonight?'"
A bitter smirk appears on Takuma's lips. "We'll talk about this more in the morning. Do you want to call in sick tomorrow?"
"I shouldn't, but I probably will. Though Toga-san might insist, if I don't."
"I scheduled tomorrow to be my day off. We'll just sleep in as late as we want and then talk about Cross Academy." Didn't he mention seeing Kaname tomorrow? Probably tomorrow night, if I know Kaname, so that leaves most of the day for us to talk about school.
"And the devil-evil-demon-bitch."
He smiles, now, a little more genuinely. "I want to see her wear that on a 'Hello, my name is' sticker."
"A little photoshop could fix that," I suggest with a yawn. Sleep sounds very good right now. Watch, though, I won't be able to shut off all the thoughts in my head, and I'll stay up all night…