Disclaimer: Vampire Knight belongs to Hino Matsuri.


I was the one you always dreamed of, you were the one I tried to draw.

How dare you say it's nothing to me?

You're the only light I ever saw.

Can't seem to hold you like I want to, so I can feel you in my arms.

Nobody's gonna come and save you, we pulled too many false alarms.

-x-

THURSDAY

-x-

Beep..beep...beep...beep...beep...beep...beep...

Kain groaned, stirring slowly into consciousness. The beeping, first. Then — he winced, teeth clenched, pressing the heel of one hand to his throbbing forehead. His neck hurt, a dull ache pulsing from its odd angle, propped against the arm of the couch. A muted pain was pounding in his chest — and pressure. Kain tensed, and looked down. A crown of long, wavy, honey-gold hair lay there, barely an inch below his chin, a small white hand curled on his left bicep. His own arms lay around her small waist, holding her to him —

Kain swallowed thickly.

Ruka was asleep. She was asleep on him — and the bandages. Kain's brow furrowed. Bandages — and her skin was touching his, the soft fabric of her dress brushing against the exposed skin of his chest, her legs caught between his own, her body nestled into his. The sudden feel of her small hips against him made him shift quickly, still staring, in muted disbelief, at the girl in his arms.

"Shit," he muttered.

And the beeping.

Kain shook his aching head and looked around the room. There were large, rust-red patches on the carpet in front of the French doors, sunlight pouring through the thin lace curtains...he turned towards the sound, trying to find the source. The silver disk was laying on the ground, under the coffee table — slowly, cautiously, he slid his arm down the side of the couch, and picked it up.

A tired moan escaped Ruka's lips at the slight shift of Kain's body. Her body tensed as she roused, shifting to regain her balance on Kain's moving form. Slowly taking in her surroundings, Ruka licked her lips and rubbed her eyes, pushing herself up on two wobbling elbows, blinking around in a daze. His hands immediately darted to her waist, steadying her. Ruka started, and looked down.

"...Akatsuki? Oh," her tone shifted as her mind processed her location, her eyes darting immediately to the bandages on his body. "Grief. Are you okay? How are you feeling?"

Kain stared at her blankly. She was still, for the most part, on top of him; her left leg was pressed against the back of the couch by his own right thigh, the other carefully balancing, partially extended, between his legs, the creamy whiteness of skin all too visible beneath the raggedly short skirt of her torn blue dress. Her hips were still pressed against his torso, his own hands sitting, disproportionately large, on her waist, the softness of her small body pushing down on his, and she didn't seem to notice; her hands were on either side of his neck, honey-colored hair spilling down on his bare chest, brown eyes running over his chest as her soft pink lips twisted in concern, an incredibly short distance away from his own —

"I'm feeling better," Kain replied steadily.

Beep...beep...beep...

Both pairs of eyes moved to the silver disk in Kain's hand. He weighed the possible consequences of Rima finding Ruka splayed across him, decided he could probably handle it, and flipped the intercom open.

Aidou's worried expression immediately took a turn for scandalized.

"What the hell are you doing?!"

Ruka stared at her cousin's furious expression for a split second before the assumption he drew dawned on her. With as much speed and dignity as she could muster in her rumpled state, Ruka raised herself to a kneel and quickly backed away from Kain; the redhead resisted the urge to roll his eyes and pushed himself up to a recline against the arm of the couch.

"Nothing," he told Aidou with very little conviction.

"Jesus Herbert Christ, Ruka Soen."

"Don't be an ass, Hanabusa."

"Nothing is happening," Kain repeated, managing to sound a little more certain.

"We fell asleep," said Ruka, deeply irritated.

"Doing what? Playing doctor?"

"Actually," the brunette scowled. "Yes."

She raised a hand pointedly towards Kain's torso, still coated in thick layers of bandage. Aidou paused, his gaze taking the direction of her indication, and seemed to calm a degree at the sight. Kain sighed, feeling significantly more exhausted. Ruka, the picture of indignant fury, stood and glowered at the screen with tangible contempt.

"I'm sure Akatsuki can fill you in," she bit at the blond. "I'm going to take a bath. I'm filthy. Good evening."

Ruka marched pointedly across the room —long hair in tangles, dress bloodied and torn — opened the bedroom door, shot Aidou another withering glare, and slammed it behind her.

Both cousins sighed heavily. Two pairs of eyes turned from the immobile door, and back towards each other.

Silence.

"I don't get why she's so angry," Aidou said finally, almost pouting. "It was a valid assumption."

Kain bit back the urge to laugh at the petulant expression on the blond man's face.

"It's Ruka," he said as a way of explanation. "She's like that."

"That woman," said Aidou, "is a hurricane."

"I know," the redhead replied, cracking the joints in his neck.

"Hurricanes are bad, Akatsuki," Aidouventured cautiously.

Kain shrugged. His cousin rolled his eyes with a smile, before he seemed to remember the situation at hand. The blond leaned forward towards the screen, squinting at the bandages. And cursed.

"Jesus, Akatsuki," Aidou frowned. "What the hell happened to you?"

Kain winced as he began to unwind bandages from his torso. "I got shot three times. How was your evening?"

"Ruka?"

"Ruka's fine," the redhead grumbled with a sigh, propping his still aching head in his hands.

"There was blood on her face."

"It's mine."

"Good. Because I can't count on the available appendages of my body the number of people who would be after your neck if they'd touched a hair on her body."

Kain sighed. "What do you want?"

"I wanted to check on you," Aidou replied simply. "About halfway through the evening all the Es and Ds suddenly vanished from my side of the building. Shiki told me they went to yours. Some of them had hunter's weapons."

"Did they?" Kain scowled at his cousin, pushing tenderly on the spot over which his flesh was desperately trying to digest a hunter's bullet. "I didn't realize, thanks for the update."

"Three times," Aidou whistled. "You were a bloody mess, weren't you?"

"What happened to the ones that were guarding our room?" Kain demanded, recalling two younger vampires. "Seiya Tsuga and the Kadoma boy. They were in horrible shape."

"Yeah, they got Seiya with a hunter's sabre," the blonde replied. "She's in the first floor control room, they have her hooked up to at least eight bags of blood. Rima pulled the bullet out of Kazuki Kadoma and he's awake now, but he hasn't left Seiya since he could move. Really nice kid, Kazuki. He's beating himself up about it, too. It's really adorable, minus the festering wounds. Really reminds me of you two."

"Ha," replied Kain with a wince.

"You look pretty good," the blond observed. "Did Ruka get the bullets?"

"She got two of them," Kain replied dryly. "I'm working on the third."

"Good luck. You must be exhausted."

"I've been out for a good eight, nine hours."

"Well, the hunters got here a couple hours ago and cleared out the rest of them, and they put up the barrier. They haven't quite figured out how to tweak it, though, so it's going to be a shitty day for us."

Kain winced. "That explains the headache."

"And the bitchiness."

"I think," said Kain, "You struck a nerve."

Aidou rolled his eyes, raising a glass of blood tablet to his lips. "Akatsuki, please. I think I know about defending Ruka's honor as well you do."

"I kissed her last night," said Kain.

Aidou promptly spat the concoction in his mouth all over the intercom.

Kain frowned as his cousin cursed, swiping at the driblets of reddish liquid on the screen with a tissue. Blue eyes stared at him in incredulity.

"You kissed her?! You kissed Ruka?"

"Yes," said Kain.

Aidou exploded.

"You kissed Ruka Soen? The girl you're been in love with since fucking infancy? The girl you're not supposed to be touching?! What the actual shit?!"

"I was shot three times," Kain snapped. "Sometimes when you're bleeding to death your judgment gets a little hazy."

"God dammit," Aidou fell back in his hair, shaking his head in disbelief. "You moron, what were you thinking?"

Kain sighed. "She was...crying."

His cousin threw his hands in the air in utter exasperation.

"She was crying."

Kain shrugged. Aidou sighed.

"You're hopeless."

"No," Kain furrowed his brow, frowning at his cousin. "She was upset. She was mad at me for getting hurt."

Aidou snorted. "That's helpful."

"I think she was mad at herself. Because she couldn't do anything about it."

At this, Aidou's demeaner wilted. He smacked his forehead with his hand and groaned, slumping back in his chair.

"God...not this again."

"What do you mean?"

"She's been acting like this for years," Aidou mumbled through the hand he'd slapped over his face. "What was she saying? That she was useless and you shouldn't have bothered?"

"The gist."

"Ugh. You'd think you could teach a person to buy herself some self-respect."

Kain frowned. "How long has this been going on?"

Aidou opened one blue eye and glared at his cousin. "Since conception. Jesus. How do you not know?"

"I don't know," Kain shrugged. Aidou sighed.

"Well, figures. It started after her last brother left the house, which was about the same time your mother sent you to military school in Greece for burning down the Prague estate after they told you you were engaged to my stupid sister."

"I didn't think I missed much," Kain frowned. Aidou snorted.

"Yeah, of course you didn't. You were out of range for six years, and guess who had to chaperone Ruka the entire time."

"What happened?"

"Nothing happened," Aidou sighed, slumping ungracefully against his chair. "But I've never agreed with how Aunt and Uncle Soen raised Ruka."

"I don't follow."

"Of course you don't," Aidou rolled his eyes. "You do exactly what they do. I've said this before. The bloody lot of you spoil the living shit out of her. All while she was growing up her parents and her brothers and you, you most of all, treated her like she'd keel over and die if you asked her to do anything on her own. So she never did."

"I think that's an exaggeration."

"Is it?" the blonde said, exasperated. "For a hundred and fifty years Ruka didn't and couldn't do anything for herself. None of you would let her. She was sheltered, like girls are, but they took it to the extreme and raised her to be completely dependent on other people. People like her brothers, and —"

"Like us?" Kain paused, processing his cousin's words.

"Exactly," Aidou sighed. "You see how she is. When she runs into unfamiliar situations, she has no idea how to react. She can't cope with it, because she never really learned how to. When you and her brothers left the country, all of you at the same time, she was in shock. Her entire environment changed. And, since you weren't around, her mother made me watch her."

At this, Aidou gave Kain an extremely pointed glare.

"And I, being not you, stood back and let her do whatever the hell she wanted."

Kain snorted. "And that helped?"

"At the very least she started maturing," the blond snapped. "You know, there are consequences to raising a person to be that entitled. But she learned pretty quickly. In fact, I am going to sit right here and take full credit for how she turned out. But I'm not going to pretend I fixed everything. Ruka's Ruka. She hates being wrong, and she hates making mistakes. She had to do a lot of that in those six years. And she hates being insecure, so she compensates by being a giant bitch. Mostly to me."

He sighed.

"I pretend to understand it, but nobody understands how demoralizing weakness feels better than Ruka. She hates it. And she hates herself for being like that. She likes men like Kaname-sama and me because we're not nice to her. Do you get it? She likes men who are mean to her. She doesn't like herself. That's her problem. She pretends to be very confident, but she's not, not yet, at least. That why she likes people like you, too. You're infallible. And she's still scared to be alone."

"Well fuck," said Kain.

"I know," the blond shrugged. "Sometimes I'm honestly surprised she wasn't completely twisted by the time I got to her. That she wasn't completely beyond help after all those years of getting everything she wanted, all of the time. It's a miracle she's any kind of normal at all. She could very well have turned batshit fucking insane like Sara Shirabuki."

"How do you know all this?"

Aidou rolled his eyes. "I know her just as well as you do. If not better. For some incomprehensible reason, you all shit yourselves when Ruka was born, and I thank whatever saved me from that epidemic daily."

He paused, straightened, and leaned forward, staring into the intercom screen.

"In fact," Aidou said slowly, "I refuse to talk to you about this any longer. I am so retired from this. You're back. I filled you in. She's your problem now."

Kain looked startled. "If I'm part of the problem, how am I supposed to help?"

"You helped screw her up. You figure it out," Aidou shrugged. "Stop treating her like she's completely helpless. She's not. Fact is, she can and will live, with or without you. Or me."

"I'm not antagonizing her intentionally, you know."

"I know," the blond sighed. "But you can't baby her, Akatsuki. She doesn't need a paladin. Really she doesn't need anything, she can fend for herself now. But she wants someone's faith, someone's support. You finally told her how you felt, didn't you? That's a start. You're giving her the upper hand here, you're giving her some power. I mean, obviously, that's not good for you," Aidou broke into a grin, "But it's good for Ruka. You love her, and you tell her she's worth loving. If she has even an ounce of respect for you, that knowledge should teach her a little more self-worth."

He paused.

"Maybe that's why she was so upset last night," Aidou pondered, tapping his chin. "Oh, Akatsuki, you're so efficient."

"Thanks," Kain said drily.

"I have to go," the blond man shrugged. "Kanae hasn't slept for three days, and Ichijou and I are taking turns annoying the crap out of her."

"At least you won't be here, annoying the crap out of me," Kain offered, and didn't really mean it. Conversations with Aidou had taken a sharp turn away from irritating, towards surprisingly enlightening.

The redhead ran a critical eye over his cousin as the blond man waved, and disappeared from the screen. Kain tossed the 'com down on the couch beside him, and leaned back into the cushions with a deep sigh.

Maybe he wasn't as sensitive to Ruka and he thought he was. Maybe he didn't know her as well as he thought he did. He closed his eyes and tipped his head back, massaging the bridge of his nose with one hand.

She was more complex than he had realized. She had more fears, and more insecurities, than he had ever dared to suspect.

Kain's shoulders relaxed. It pained him to know that Ruka believed so little in others, had so little faith in herself. His arms clenched. He wanted to reach out to her. He wanted to shake her. He wanted to explain to her just how enough she was.

A corner of his lip curled as he dropped his hand to his chest, where Ruka's head had lain a short time before.

He really was hopeless.

-x-

Ruka leaned against the closed the bedroom door behind her, and took a deep breath. She could hear their voices through the obstruction; Kain's deep baritone, soft and slow, a little raspy from sleep, Aidou's lilting tone, quick and cutting, and uncharacteristically stern. She had little doubt as to what subject that conversation would turn to — and she didn't want to talk about it. Not now.

She grabbed her discarded robe from the foot of the bed and walked through the double doors of the bathroom.

The bath room was a large, warm space. A shower stood against the left wall, its glass door painted in grey ombre, obstructing the interior from view. The walls of the shower were covered in black marble, and a rainfall shower head the size of a dinner plate hung at an angle on the wall; a large black iron rack stood opposite, out of the range of water spray, heavily loaded with thick towels and scented toiletries. On the far side of the room was a massive two-sink black marble counter, with the ends raised to accommodate free counter space. A mirror covered the wall from ceiling to the top of the counter, lit from above by gentle, warm light. And on the right side of the room — Ruka's objective: a porcelain tub sinking into the top platform of a set of black marble steps. A black triangular basket in one far corner held a variety of bubbles, salts and soaps; a small black iron rack held a sizeable number of towels.

She picked up a purple bottle from the basket and opened it, taking a deep inhale. And smiled. Lavender and rose. Heaven.

Turning on the water, Ruka deposited half the bottle into the stream under the tap, before replacing it into the basket. She unzipped her tattered dress, paused to look at it in distaste, and promptly threw it in the trash.

She turned to look at herself in the mirror, and winced. Patches of skin and chunks of hair were covered in dried blood. Kain's blood. She hadn't lost a drop. Ruka wiped at the streak on her forehead in irritation, and promptly stepped into the shower.

It smelled like cinnamon. Ruka couldn't suppress a small smile. She, like Aidou, preferred long, relaxing baths to start and end the day — but sometimes, Kain was nothing if not utilitarian. Only one of the towels in the stack in the shower had been removed. It hung outside the door on a hook, to be reused. One bottle of shampoo had been touched. He was so simplistic.

Ruka quickly worked out the tangles in her hair under the rainbath, and scrubbed the rust-red patches off her skin with a bar of French-milled soap. She turned off the water and pulled the second towel from the rack, rubbing gently at her streaming wet hair before tucking it around her body and exiting the shower. Her bath hadn't filled yet —the tub was massive — Ruka pulled the towel over her shoulders and donned her green robe. She walked back out into the bedroom, leaving the bathroom doors open, and sat down on the edge of the bed.

There was an intercom disc in this room, somewhere.

She leaned back across the bed and peered at the bedside table near the window. Sure enough, a sliver of silver gleamed in the moonlight. Ruka raised her knees and scooted across the bed, grabbing the disc and cradling it in her hands as she settled against the pile of pillows against the headboard.

She bit her bottom lip nervously as she waited for the other line to pick up. It took all of ten seconds for Rima to comply.

The screen opened to a dimly lit bedroom. Ruka could see the edge of a bed — long, wavy black hair on the black sheets, a white arm heavily bandaged and covered in tubes and needles, a dozen IV stands, a boy kneeling on the carpet, head buried in his arms — Ruka felt a pang in her chest at the sight of him, prostrate against the bedside, white knuckled hands clenching the duvet. Then, suddenly, screen rotated away from the scene. Rima's face appeared, the picture of exhaustion.

"Ruka," the blonde girl sounded almost surprised. "You're up already? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Ruka exhaled, pulling her wet, honey hair over one shoulder. Rima raised an eyebrow.

"You look tired."

"You do, too."

"Never mind me. How are you feeling?

"I feel fine, thank you."

"How's Kain?"

"I'm not sure," Ruka frowned. "I think...he's alright. I patched him up as best I could. He...slept for a while."

"Good. He took three bullets for you." Rima's expression was almost puzzled. "I watched him do it."

Ruka grimaced.

"I don't know what you did to deserve him," the pigtailed girl shrugged.

"I don't know, either."

Rima, slightly taken aback, leaned back in her chair.

"Where's Shiki?" Ruka said quietly. Rima blinked, surprised.

"He's — taking a nap. He's tired."

"How long was he out there?"

"All night," Rima's voice tightened. "He wouldn't let me take over. He made me come back as soon as I evacuated your guards."

"Ah," said Ruka, a hint of a smile on her lips. Rima frowned, and contemplated Ruka for a moment.

"Kazuki Kadoma and Seiya Tsuga were injured," she said finally. "Shiki wanted me to stay here and take care of them."

The brunette sighed. "I thought that was her I saw on the bed."

"Seiya's very severely wounded. Kazuki's been there all day. Shiki couldn't get him to leave; he fell asleep half an hour ago."

Ruka nodded dumbly.

"When they hit Seiya last night — when Kazuki saw her fall, he went insane. When he woke up, we had to drug him to calm him down. He was inconsolable."

"That's a surprise," said the brunette. "Seiya's been in love with him for a while, hasn't she? He's never done anything about it."

"How did you feel, Ruka?" Rima fixed Ruka with her piercing gaze. "When you saw Kain bleeding. What were you thinking?"

Ruka lowered her eyes, drawing her knees to her chest. Rima sighed.

"Seiya hasn't regained consciousness yet. Her wounds still haven't closed." The blonde paused. "I don't mean to be abstruse, Ruka. But when things like this happen, you should really think."

"I do think," Ruka replied finally, frowning. "I just — I don't mean to be ungrateful."

"What do you mean?"

Ruka sighed, running a hand through her wet hair.

"Sometimes — when Akatsuki does things like this. It's too much."

Rima cocked her head. "I'm not following."

"It's like you said," the brunette said slowly, eyes averted, "Last night, he took three bullets for me. Because he thought I was in danger. Because at the idea that I might be hurt, Akatsuki forgets himself. His own safety becomes immaterial. I take precedence over everything."

"And that scares you?"

"I know he probably saved my life," Ruka sighed. "He's done it before. He puts himself in danger without hesitation. And that kind of behavior — isn't that terrifying? The feelings behind actions like these. He doesn't say anything — he never says anything — but the intensity, I can feel it. It feels...suffocating."

"I see," the blonde nodded slowly.

Ruka shook her head. "I'm not that weak. One shot wouldn't have killed me, not at all. But he treats me like I'm glass."

"You are important to him, Ruka," Rima frowned.

"That's just it. I don't want to be that important to anybody. I don't want him to risk his life for me. It feels like a burden. I don't want that weight. I'd rather take the bullet than see him go so far to protect me. But because I don't want him to be hurt...because I don't want to be anyone's precious thing."

The brunette buried her face in her knees. "I'm awful, Rima. I'm so ungrateful. He almost died last night...I don't understand it. I don't think I can ever make someone my absolute priority. I don't think I can place someone else's safety, or even their needs, and their wants, above mine. Isn't that terribly selfish?"

"Yes," Rima replied without hesitation. "It is."

"I don't know what to do," Ruka mumbled into her lap.

The blonde girl looked at her for a few long, silent moments.

"These feelings and thoughts you're having," she said finally, "I think you should listen to them, carefully."

"I think," said Ruka, "I should talk to Kanae."

Rima raised a brow. "Kanae?"

"Yes. Can you connect me?"

Rima reached down to type on her keypad, then paused.

"Are you sure? She's in a very diluted derivation of your situation."

"I'm certain."

The blonde paused for a moment, contemplating the request.

"Alright," Rima said finally, keying in three numbers. "Just — tread carefully, Ruka. It's a touchy subject."

She vanished from the screen.

A few short beeps, and a different face appeared. The picture was tilted upwards, towards a heart-shaped face on a girl with long, sleek, inky black, and unsettling white eyes. The girl glanced up — she was reclined on a couch, a thick crochet blanket tucked around her waist, Austen in her hand — and blinked in surprise.

"Ruka," said Kanae Kotonami, dropping the book and reaching forward to grab the intercom. "My God. How are you?"

"I'm doing alright," Ruka breathed a sigh of relief. The black-haired girl looked thoroughly unconvinced.

"You're locked in a suite with Kain?"

"Rima tell you?"

"Mmm," the girl on the other side replied. "She called Aidou, Takuma and I on Monday. We're on your floor."

"Fantastic," said Ruka.

"Were you injured last night? They got to Komaki. The beasts."

"No," Ruka sighed, rubbing her neck. "But Akatsuki was. Shot by a hunter's gun."

"God. I knew they would get hunter's equipment. Nobody ever listens to me. How many times?"

"Three."

"Ah," said Kanae, twisting a long, inky lock around a thin white finger. "And, how many, may I ask, were in your defense?"

"I wish you wouldn't."

"Then I won't," the black-haired girl replied. "But I'm glad you called. I was beginning to die in here. The only people who talk to me are Rima, Aidou, and Takuma. Rima doesn't have time to chat, Aidou is unmanageable, and Takuma's built himself a play fort from bookshelves. I may attempt to kill him, in the near future."

Ruka waved a hand to interrupt. "I called to ask you something, actually."

"But of course."

"I wanted to ask you about...Azuma."

"You want to ask me about your brother?" white eyes fixed on Ruka in puzzlement. "Why?"

"You're going to marry him."

Kanae gave Ruka a very flat look. "Yes. That is, I believe, the idea behind an engagement."

"How long have you been engaged for, now?"

The black-haired girl leaned back against her pillows, and put a finger to her chin. "Hmmm. I think we're pushing seven years now. I've been putting off the blood contract, though, but Azuma was really irritated that I had to stay here this week, so I'm to hop on a train to the estate as soon as we get out and sign it. So I guess there's no escaping it now."

Ruka smiled. "I've always wanted a sister."

"Ruka, that is the only reason I ever agreed to this engagement. Now, if only Rima would just give up on Shiki and marry Hizuki or something."

Ruka's lip curved at Kanae's sardonic tone.

"Why did you agree, really, though?"

Kanae raised a perfect black eyebrow.

"Because my father and my brother told me to."

"Kanae."

The black-haired girl sighed in exasperation. "Ruka, really. What do you want me to say? I didn't expect it to be the real thing. And you know Azuma, he's your brother. And he's perfect. Everybody since the dawn of time has collectively agreed that Azuma is perfect."

"What do you think of him?"

"Does it matter what I think of him? He's smart, and polite and charming and kind; he's well-born, wealthy; he's terribly handsome and terribly tall, and, let's face it, he has really fantastic hair. I can't imagine I could do better — though, I can't say for sure whether he would take three, or at the very least two, bullets for me in the face of a horde of ravenous beasts."

"Kanae," Ruka frowned. "Be serious for a moment, will you? I know Azuma dotes on you."

"Does he," Kanae rolled her white eyes.

"Excessively so."

"Excessively," Kanae repeated pointedly. "He sends me fresh flowers every evening. He writes me every week. He sends me some grandiose present or another at least twice a month. I don't know where I'm going to put them anymore. He never drops in unannounced, but he'll send a note up to my door to ask permission to see me on weekends. Yes, you think that's gallant, but Komaki just laughs. It's embarrassing, the displays. I don't know how you live with him, Ruka. It's ridiculous."

"How do you think he feels about this?"

"Oh, I'd imagine he's quite proud of himself."

"No," Ruka sighed. "How do you think he feels about your attitude?"

"My attitude?" Kanae looked up, and smiled. "Oh. I see."

"What?"

"This is about Kain."

"No," Ruka snapped, and blushed. "It's not. I'm just —"

"Come now, Ruka. I don't think you called to psychoanalyze my relationship with your brother," Kanae rolled her eyes. "You want to know how Kain feels. You want to know how Azuma feels."

Ruka sighed, leaning back.

"I thought you might understand my situation," she frowned, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. "I could have asked Rima, but she and Shiki are utterly in sync. With you, though...Azuma is devoted to you, and you always act very indifferent towards him. Like you don't want him."

"Don't I?" Kanae shrugged. "I guess that's a fair assessment. He does grate on the nerves."

"If Azuma took a bullet for you, how would you feel?"

"Oh, Azuma would never take a bullet for me. It would muss his clothes."

"You're being incredibly obstinate."

"Am I?" Kanae frowned. "Alright. Maybe this can be more eye-opening than you thought."

The black haired girl twisted her blanket in one hand, rolled her eyes to the ceiling, and spoke.

"Azuma's gestures," Kanae said, resting her chin her intertwined hands, "They're sweepingly romantic, grandiose things. To everyone else, it looks like Azuma lavishes his time and money and attention on me. But he doesn't do these things to win my affection, or my approval. Your brother dotes on me as a matter of obligation and expectation. He does things very publicly, so everyone can see what a good fiancé he is. None of it is really sincere, Ruka."

Ruka frowned, pulling her knees up to her chest. "It doesn't look that way."

"Yes, he's very good."

"You sound miserable," she remarked. Kanae snorted.

"Miserable? Please. He treats me like I'm a prize he won in a bidding war. Like I'm something to show off, and then put back on the shelf. I hate it. I'm not miserable, I'm annoyed."

"Do you love him?"

"Are you going to tell him if I say no?"

"Be honest."

Kanae opened her mouth to offer what would probably be a very sarcastic reply, but the other girl's stern look stopped her. The black-haired girl's eyes shifted, her gaze skirting past Ruka.

"Do I love him," she sighed. "I don't know. I'd rather not."

"What do you mean?"

"Azuma is too perfect. He scares me. He's so many things, he's so much to everyone all the time. People look up to him, people idolize him, people love to be around him. And I should feel so lucky, because your father picked me to be the one who gets to marry Azuma. But I don't. I would destroy him if I could."

"What do you mean?"

"In truth, I'm terribly jealous of him. I want to bring him down. I want him to slow down. I want him to put me first. I want his undivided attention, and I want him to want me as much as everyone else wants him, and I don't want to share him. It feels wrong to want these things, and I know I shouldn't want them. I am never going to ask him for the things I want, because it would ruin us both. I don't deserve your brother, Ruka. I am far from being good enough for him. I want to break him down until he is as imperfect as I am. When I am around Azuma, I become ugly and selfish and greedy and needy, I try to get him to notice me by being the only person who doesn't pay any respect to him, I become so small. I hate it. I can't stand to look at him."

Kanae stopped.

"Maybe this is how Kain feels," she said, voice hoarse. "Maybe this is how anyone who ever falls in love with a Soen feels. I don't know, Ruka."

She looked up.

"So am I like you? Or am I like Kain? Am I denying my feelings because I think I'm not worthy of him, or am I silently pining after someone who does not love me back? In your story, who am I? Who is Azuma? You, or Kain?"

Kanae relaxed at the conflicted expression on Ruka's face, and smiled.

"Very enlightening," she said. "Think about it, Ruka. Maybe you're more like me than you believed."

"I don't know, Kanae."

"I think you do," the black-haired girl said gently. "Rima's probably being very neutral about this, but I think you know what your feelings are, and what your decision is. You're just trying to find some answers for yourself — such as, why you've kept this at bay for so long, or how you can even face him after so much time. Your only real challenge is making peace with yourself. And in my opinion, it's just silly."

Kanae leaned back against the arm of her couch, picking up her discarded copy of Emma.

"Do yourself a favor. I know you don't hear this very often — but think about how he might feel, for once. This isn't just Kain steamrolling along, you know. You're doing nothing to dissuade him. In fact, I'd say you're encouraging him."

Ruka sighed, running a hand over her exhausted face.

"I don't — I don't know, Kanae."

"Well, if you've been trying to reject him, I must say you're doing a fabulously awful job of it."

"I just —" Ruka rubbed her forehead, frustrated. "What should I be saying to him? No, I don't think I love you, but would you kindly go on as if I hadn't said that? I like him around, Kanae. I've always had him around. I want him to stay with me. I'm selfish, too."

"You can't keep him as a pet," the black haired girl peered over the cover of her book critically. "He's a person, too. If you're not going to return his feelings, sooner or later, you're going to have to let him go. You can't expect his life to revolve around you forever. "

Ruka frowned. "Well, that's the thing."

"Oh?"

"I really called to ask you how you dealt with Azuma's attention. How you dealt with the devotion. Last night...I don't know if I can ever understand how Akatsuki can be so selfless. I can't understand how he can forget himself. "

Kanae smiled.

"Well, I can't quite offer you the allegorical explanation you want. But I think I can translate."

The black-haired girl paused, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear.

"You know what the saying is: the impulse to protect is the noblest part of love. Kain protects you because he loves you, because you are precious to him. He disregards his own safety because he does not see how precious he is to you."

"I don't think —" Ruka frowned. "I think you're rushing to conclusions."

"If I'm wrong, then why are you so concerned for him?" Kanae grinned. "When you love somebody, you cherish them most of all. But when someone loves you, you learn to value yourself in return. If you understand this, and understand Kain's actions and his feelings, it won't seem so terrifying. Easy, yes?"

She paused.

"Oh, I forgot. I haven't even answered your first question. Impolite of me."

"My first?"

"About Azuma," Kanae shrugged. "Yes, I suppose I do love him. And it's the most miserable, lonely feeling."

"I think you're underestimating him, Kanae," Ruka looked up, a small smile on her lips. "I'll speak to him."

"Don't bother," Kanae waved a hand carelessly. "I've long given up that battle. Azuma and I are unsalvageable. But you — take this time to think things through. Talk to Rima. Hell, talk to Aidou. You clearly don't want to give Kain up — at least on some level, you care for him, and you want him. And his feelings are not even a matter of question. But you two can't go on like this forever. You can't keep dancing around each other. Kain took three bullets for you last night, Ruka; I'm sure he was happy to do it. Men like that don't come courting every day. And they don't get treated the way you treat him. Honestly, I really don't know what you did to deserve him."

Ruka sighed, resting her chin on her knees.

"I don't know, either."

-x-

Kain knocked on the bedroom door, on the brink of impatience.

"Ruka? Are you in there?"

He'd been standing there for a good ten minutes, now. He needed to take a shower, badly. And Ruka hadn't left the bathroom for over an hour.

"Ruka."

Kain sighed. And opened the door.

Ruka was asleep on the bed, curled down into the headboard, her cheek resting gently against the pillows. Her hair was sticking to her face and neck, still wet; she was clad in little more than her robe, a discarded intercom beside her. Kain exhaled, walking slowly into the room, crouching down next to the girl. She was exhausted, that much had been clear; there had been circles under her eyes when she had woken. He raised a hand to brush a piece of wet hair from her cheek, and paused. Her skin was ice cold.

Clearly Ruka believed she was impervious to illness.

Kain sighed deeply and ran a hand through his rumpled hair. Carefully, he slid an arm between her back and the headboard, and slowly pulled her towards him, almost cradling her in his lap as he reached to turn down the comforter. With a quick twitch of his wrist, he pulled the sheets back from the bed, and settled the girl back down, drawing the thick eiderdown over her sleeping form. Then, slowly, silently, he sat down on the edge of the bed beside her.

Ruka's tongue brushed over her lips, lightly wetting them as she inhaled. Kain leaned forward, reaching down and cradling her cheek in his hand, brushing the pad of his thumb over her bottom lip, his heart starting to beat at a dangerous tempo. He was surprised the sound wasn't waking her.

He moved his hand light over her forehead and pushed the wet hair from her face, and away from where it stuck to her neck. Kain's eyes caught on the white skin — the hollow at the junction of her neck and shoulder, exposed to his sight; cradled against the pillows, her head leaning in the opposite direction. His breath hitched, amber orbs unmoving — he slowly crouched down over her, eyes fixed on the skin of Ruka's neck, and he could almost see the blood flowing bare millimeters beneath the surface —

Ruka stirred, shifting.

Kain jerked back, heart pounding. He swallowed slowly, shaking his head to clear his thoughts — what the hell

He rose to his feet rapidly, sparing the girl on the bed one last glance before ducking out the door.

-x-

Ruka was frustrated.

She grabbed the pages propped up against the piano and flipped them over, closing her eyes and she took deep, calming breaths.

She couldn't do anything anymore.

There was need for distraction — that, she had decided, was certain — and with this goal in mind she had ventured down the soundproof hallway, tracking down a small auditorium, dimly lit and richly stocked. Half a dozen rows of red velvet seating were arranged in a decline away from the main door; a sparse chandelier bathed the room in warm, low light; the walls of the auditorium were covered in instruments, and a beautiful grand piano sat under a spotlight at the far end of the room. Several large bookshelves stood against the wall behind the piano, loaded with scores and anthologies, and Ruka had thought the whole arrangement to be extremely suitable to her needs. But now — the brunette sighed, flipping the first page of the score back to its proper face, settling her fingers back on the polished ivory keys. Now, she couldn't even remember how to play.

Her grandmother had told her, once, that muscle memory was not enough for instrumental mastery. Ruka hated it when her grandmother was right.

One, two, three; four, five, six...

She ran her hands over the keys again, eyes fixed on the lines and dots on the page. The first page was simple enough — melody in the right hand, chords in the left — she reached up quickly to flip the second page, executed it well enough — then the run. Ruka growled in irritation as her fingers tripped over themselves —

That's it.

She slammed her hands carelessly down onto the keys. The discordant result of her near-tangible frustration echoed noisily around the room.

A small click, and the door closed. She didn't even bother to look up. Ruka dropped her elbows onto the keys, resting her forehead on her hands. The piano rattled its jarring discontent.

"What are you playing?" came Kain's voice, echoing somewhere from halfway down the carpeted path, cut between the velvet seats. Ruka turned slightly, peering through her hair at him.

"Chopin's Nocturne in E-flat major, opus 9, number 2," she replied dispassionately. "I'm not playing it, I'm butchering it."

"Ah," she could see the small smile on his lips. "Loathe to Depart, isn't it? It wasn't so bad."

Ruka offered an unladylike snort as her response.

"Here," he said, nudging her over. Ruka obeyed, sliding over on the piano bench as Kain sat down, position his right hand over the appropriate keys.

"Hanabusa plays better than I do," he said, peering at the music. "I think it goes like this."

Ruka stared at him blankly as he executed the run with little to no effort, finishing it off with flair. Without a word, she stood, and marched to the first row of seats, plopping down and staring at him expectantly. He stared back.

"Well," she said, a hint of annoyance in her voice, "Go on."

Kain smiled and closed the lid over the keys. Swiveling around the bench, he stood and moved to the wall, plucking an ornate twelve-string guitar from the middle of the room. Turning, he walked back towards Ruka, sitting down on the red velvet seat next to her.

"Hanabusa plays piano," Kain said, plucking the strings carelessly as he tuned, "I play strings, mostly."

"Ah," said Ruka, watching his fingers move gently over the neck of the guitar.

"What do you want to hear?"

She leaned back, and contemplated the question.

"I don't know," Ruka replied, eyes downcast. "Anything, I suppose."

"Hmmm," he said, and plucked at the strings. Ruka closed her eyes and slid down in her seat, leaning the base of her head against its curved backside. The notes that gently floated towards her were light and melancholy, an apologetic twang, as Kain's fingers danced over the heart of the guitar. Then, suddenly, his soft, low voice drifted through the space between them, like a slowly rumbling whisper, catching her breath in her throat.

The stitches in your winter clothes, your cello bows,

We stole your hair to make them.

We're sorry for the iron shoes we nailed to you,

And stuck you in the rain

And then you sprinted away, sprinted away to where, I don't know

God is moving in your bloodstream where the crossbeats aren't so slow.

Ruka swallowed, lifting one hand to massage her suddenly throbbing throat. But another hand caught it before it landed — Ruka's eyes snapped open. The guitar lay silent as Kain curled his hand around Ruka's, brushing his thumb gently over her knuckles before slowly pressing his lips to the tip of every delicate finger. Ruka froze, her breath rattling in her ribcage, her eyes fixed on his red hair.

"I'm sorry," he murmured gently against her fingertips, "That I upset you last night."

Ruka closed her eyes as his breath brushed over her skin, biting her lip, trying to resist the quivering feeling growing maliciously in her stomach. His lips moved upwards, back to the roots of her fingers, over her knuckles, and he was pressing kisses to the inside of her hand now, on ever y line of her palm — his lips lingered against her wrist, the tip of tongue probing the delicate veins under her skin.

"I didn't mean to," Kain exhaled against the crook of her hand, closing his eyes. "I know you're not weak, Ruka. I know you can protect yourself. I know you're independent, I know that. So walk where you can walk alone; but if you can't, let me carry you. You want to fight your demons alone, alright. But let me do for you the small thing, what I can do for you. I can be selfish, too."

He drew away, squeezing her hand gently.

"I'm sorry. I'll stop, if you like."

Kain straightened silently, and looked at Ruka. She was staring at him, her expression conflicted, her body tense — then, suddenly, without warning, she leaned forward and pressed her lips to his.

The aim was clumsy — her kiss landed on the corner of his mouth, but he turned, almost instinctively, to catch it. Then, almost as suddenly as she had moved, he stood, breaking contact, the guitar in his lap falling to the ground in a dissonant clang as he stared at her in shock.

"What are you doing?"

Ruka rose weakly, pushing herself to an upright position. Slowly, she took two small, silently steps towards him, and drew her arms around his neck.

"Thank you," she said into the crook of his collar.

He paused, then slowly wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her closer, lifting her off the floor. Ruka's breath hitched as her body pressed against his, her the tip of her nose less than an inch away from his bridge, her hands clutching his shoulders, arms braced against his chest. She raised her hands, brushing her fingers against the short hairs on his neck, and cupped his face, the pads of her thumbs pushing gently against his cheekbones. He closed his eyes as she leaned forward, and kissed him again.

The touch was light — almost imperceptibly light — the barest of pressure keeping their lips together. Kain removed one hand from her waist, tightening his grip with his other arm, and tangled his fingers into the hair at the base of her neck, pulling her down towards him. The kiss deepened rapidly — Ruka's lips, parted for breath, offered no resistance as he slid his tongue past them, pushing lightly against her teeth, skirting the barest of touches over her skin. She tightened her grip on his face as she responded with equal eagerness, her tongue dancing against his, pushing, teasing; he removed his hand from her hair, tucking it under her knee for support, his thumb skirting against the skin under the hem of her skirt —

A light moan escaped from Ruka's throat, and Kain's self-control snapped.

In one swift motion he moved, slamming Ruka's back against the wall, bracing her hips with his own. She grunted lightly on impact but didn't protest; his kisses changed, no longer gentle and pliant, but rough and desperate as they bruised her lips. His hands had free range now — he hooked one of her legs around his waist as he pressed his chest to hers, running his fingers under her skirt, over the skin on her thigh — Ruka moaned again as his thumb brushed against the junction between her legs, his other hand pressed firmly against the curve of her waist —his mouth moved, pressing fast, furious kisses along the side of her neck, nibbling on the skin of her shoulder —

"Stop," she gasped suddenly, her hands moving to push him away, "Akatsuki, stop."

Kain obeyed, his hands frozen in place, the bridge of his nose pressed against the skin of her collarbones, chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath.

"Am I hurting you?"

Ruka shook her head, struggling to plant her feet back on the ground, her fingers still in a vice grip on his shoulders. He released her gently, backing away, his breath uneven as he ran a hand through his unruly red hair, amber eyes raking over her rumpled appearance. Ruka braced her back against the wall, panting lightly, pulling her crumpled skirt down, skin flushed pink. She didn't look at him, her eyes averted downwards, her pale hands clenched and pressed firmly against the wall. Kain stared uncomprehendingly at her stiff posture, amber eyes conflicted.

"I'm sorry," he said gently. Ruka clamped a hand over her mouth, eyes tearing. He reached a hand forward to steady her —

She slapped it away, hard. Eyes wide, almost as if she were in shock — Ruka stared at him wordlessly.

Kain flinched, dropping his hand to his side. Then, quietly, angrily;

"I don't understand you at all."

He turned and marched back towards the exit, pausing to pick the guitar up from the ground. Setting it down against one leg of the grand piano, Kain moved silently up the walkway, and shut the door firmly, loudly behind him.

Ruka crumpled to the floor, crouched in a ball, and hid her face behind her knees.

-x-

The intercom on the piano was ringing, again.

Ruka slowly unfurled from the wall. She didn't know how long she had been hiding there, how much time had passed since she —

Biting her lip, Ruka raised one hand and swiped the silver disk from the gleaming black wood of the piano. She knew who would be calling.

Blue eyes greeted her, concern blossoming in the blond vampire's face and he looked her over. Ruka wanted to laugh. She was a disaster — her hair was sticking to her face, where the tears had dried; her eyes were red and puffy, and she didn't even want to know what her rumpled clothes were conveying to her cousin.

"Hey, Ruka," Aidou said cautiously, "I wanted to talk to you."

"Hanabusa, please." Ruka fell back against the wall and buried her face in her hands. "Don't ask me what I'm doing, I don't know."

"He's furious, you know," the blond said calmly, his face close to the screen. "Mostly he's mad at himself for losing it. But I'm sure he's at least a little mad at you for being a bitch."

"I hate you."

"I know why you're doing it," the blue-eyed man replied softly, fixing her with an even gaze. "You kiss him because you want to."

"Thank you, Captain Obvious," she snapped.

"You kiss him because you want to, but you don't want it because you love him. You want it because of the hormones. Because it's Thursday. Because you feel small and guilty."

"Fuck you, Hanabusa."

"Stop it, Ruka. I'm being serious. Stop being so defensive, and listen to me. Remember when you would listen to me all the time?"

"Why did I ever do that?"

"Because I know you better than anyone."

"Do you?"

"Yes. I do."

Ruka didn't reply. Aidou frowned, leaning into the screen.

"You're teasing him. You're baiting him. What are you trying to accomplish?"

"I don't know, Hanabusa. Please stop."

"No," the blond man said affirmatively. "Okay. I think there's something you're not quite understanding here. Listen to me for a second here. And don't speak until I'm finished.

You and I, we're similar. You know we are. We grew up in a cutthroat society, and we navigated it together. We watched out for each other for six decades. Social games, they were never Akatsuki's thing. But we learned them, and we learned how to play them expertly. We're manipulative. We toy with people's thoughts and feelings like they're worthless. We're too experienced to be naive, but we're too jaded to believe in honesty. I know why you're confused, because for people like us, pure things like love become a joke. When we're bored we fuck around, and we can touch each other, you and me, without thinking anything of it, without feeling. But Akatsuki's not like that, Ruka.

Akatsuki doesn't do anything he doesn't mean. When he finally realized he was in love with you, he stopped sleeping around. He stopped doing all the pointless things that people like us do just to pass the time. With things like other people's feelings, he's sensitive to them. He cares about them. He doesn't play games with people, Ruka. And you can't treat him like you treat me, or any other boy you've ever tangled with, because he's not like us. He's a good person. And when you touch him, whether or not you mean it, he believes you.

I know you talked to Kanae this morning. She talked to me, too. And you know what? I've never seen Kanae touch Azuma, not once. She doesn't touch him because she thinks he's like Akatsuki, she thinks she would bastardize him. But the difference there is I would laugh in your face if you ever tried to tell me Azuma's never fucked a girl and never spoken to her again.

The other difference is that you know what Akatsuki's like. You know him. And you still do these things, Ruka. What are you doing?"

There was a long pause, as Ruka stared, almost frightened, at the expression on her cousin's face. Suddenly, she snatched the intercom from the ground and pulled it close.

"I don't know, Hanabusa!" Ruka exploded, "Everybody keeps asking me, I don't know!"

"Don't you?" he challenged, unshaken. "I think you know exactly what you're doing, Ruka Soen, I don't believe you for a second. You've haven't made a single move without intentions, not for the last hundred years."

Ruka scowled. "What do you want from me?"

"Maybe a little bit of honesty, for once," Aidou snapped back. "Sometimes I really fucking hate you, you know that? You don't give a fuck what you do to people, do you? Well you're going to have to give a fuck, because this is Akatsuki we're talking about. You can not treat him like that. I don't know if you've forgotten, but he's not there for you to play with."

"Goddammit, Hanabusa," Ruka grit, pressing a fist to her mouth. "I know that. I screwed up. Okay?"

"No." Aidou stared at her evenly, unfazed. "You're not stupid, Ruka. And you don't fool me."

"I'm jealous of him. Alright?"

Aidou paused, blinking.

"You're jealous."

Ruka sighed.

"All those things you just said — I want to be them, too. When he's near me — I want to be near him. I want to be a good person, too, Hanabusa — but all I can do is tear him down! I tear him down. It makes me feel like less of a horrible, awful, ugly person —"

She stopped, and blanched. "Oh God. I'm just like her. I'm just like Kanae."

Ruka collapsed onto the closed lid of the piano, her hair spilling over her face as she hid her head in her arms. The blond man on the screen frowned deeply as he look at her, worry evident on his sharp features.

"Kanae's not a bad person, Ruka," Aidou's tone softened. "Neither are you. Neither am I. Kanae is in love with Azuma, and she doesn't want to taint who she thinks he is. She doesn't want to hurt him. But if you're the same, why do you want to bring Akatsuki down so badly? Why are you willing to do what she isn't?"

"Because — Azuma and Kanae aren't working. Because they almost hate each other, they're so blind."

He looked startled. "Because —?"

"I want him to see," Ruka sighed, shaking her head. "It's not fair if he doesn't know. I want him to see what kind of person I really am."

"Why?"

She didn't respond. He paused for a moment, then ventured:

"Are you scared he won't love you if he thought you were different?"

Ruka sat, silently, on the piano bench, for a long, silent minute. Then, slowly, she nodded, fingers clenching in fists, covering her eyes.

"Well, I don't think that's true, Ruka. You've been showing him all week, haven't you? You've been trying to warn him."

Silence.

"He hasn't changed his mind, you know. Not for a second. Not even now."

Silence.

"Well?"

Ruka's tense shoulders twitched. Then, slowly, so slowly, loosened. She sighed, wearily, sliding her hands down to rub her cold arms.

"I need to apologize, don't I?"

Aidou relaxed visibly.

"I can't believe you're even asking that question."

Ruka scowled. "You are unbelievable."

"I am beyond belief, aren't I?" Aidou preened, grinning. "I helped unravel this cosmic puzzle, at the very least. I feel like I deserve a prize. Do they have Nobel Prizes for things like this?"

"We keep apologizing to each other," Ruka frowned, running a hand through her tangled honey-gold hair. "We spend so much time being sorry."

Aidou shrugged. "Because neither of you ever learn."

-x-

Rima was skeptical. Shiki was asleep on her shoulder — his crop of dark hair was stark against Rima's neck, sticking at odd angles into her face — and the girl, all flat-eyed and unconvinced, still managed to look all types of demeaning.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," Aidou groaned, every kind of irritated. "How many times do I have to tell you?"

"And you didn't bully her or anything? You just fixed it."

"I did," Aidou frowned. "Don't I get any applause?"

"I suppose," Rima sighed, examining her nails. "Somebody should tell Kanae."

"She's asleep," Aidou informed her. "She was exhausted."

"Of course. She hasn't slept in three days."

"I think it's the barrier," the blond man mused, "I think it wore her out."

"Why, what's she been doing?"

"Warping the sutras, cutting holes in the perimeter, generally antagonizing the hunters. Just for fun."

"Oh boy," Rima said with no enthusiasm. "Remind me to thank her for the earful we'll hear in the morning."

Aidou shrugged, and gazed past the two controllers, into the bedroom. The IVs were gone; the slim figure in the bed was the only occupant now. Black hair had been tightly braided, and a slight flush had returned to the girl's icy skin. Aidou smiled.

"Seiya Tsuga's better?"

"She was conscious for a while," Rima remarked dryly. "The hole in her chest finally closed. She's not fully healed yet, so she has to stay here."

"Where'd Kazuki Kadoma go?"

"Back outside. He took over for Shiki."

"Nice kid, he is."

"Yes," Rima deadpanned. "And practical, too. He asked her to marry him less than an hour ago."

Aidou blinked. "You're kidding."

"I'm not. He called his father right before she woke up. I think the Kadoma are negotiating a blood contract with the Tsuga right now."

"That escalated quickly," Aidou whistled. Rima raised an eyebrow.

"I could say the same for your party."

Aidou rolled his eyes, and crossed his arms with a petulant huff. Rima settled back into her chair, patting the still sleeping Shiki gently on the head, the silence penetrated only by the soft breathing of her two wards. Rima watched Aidou carefully; he had his eyes closed, a ghost of a smile on his face, looking reasonably pleased with himself. She opened her mouth to speak, and suddenly stopped, remembering something. A lot of somethings. Rima frowned, and glanced back over the older vampire, lounging on his couch as if he had just arranged for world peace.

"And you? Are you alright with this?"

The blond man looked startled, then hesitant. Then, slowly, Aidou leaned forward, picking up a book from the coffee table, tapping thoughtfully on the spine.

The Beautiful and the Damned.

"Sure," he smiled. "Why wouldn't I be?"

-x-

I make the most of all the sadness,

You be a bitch because you can.

You try to hit me just to hurt me so you leave me feeling dirty

Because you can't understand.

We're going down, and you can see it too.

We're going down, and you know that we're doomed.

My dear, we're slow dancing in a burning room.


A/N: I am committed to updating faster than/at the same rate as the manga. Here's Thursday, on Thursday.

Please don't ask me where this story fits into canon. I would have said "during Rido/before Sara", but I brought her into the equation in this chapter. It's mostly because I think Sara's motivated by part spoiled entitlement and part loneliness, and for me, Ruka is a character that had a lot of potential to go that direction if nobody had kept her grounded. Kain and Aidou being the grounding parts.

The italicized lyrics are from Slow Dancing in a Burning Room by John Mayer and Broken Horse by the Freelance Whales, the latter of which I highly recommend.