AN: sorry this is so much later than the other chapters, but my computer decided that it absolutely had to fkn die on me, the cheap piece of garbage. (You know, I wanted chapter 4 to end in a cliffhanger—just not this one of one!) Well, here's the long-overdue conclusion…
Thicker Than Water
Mao was getting used to waking up alone. She walked out into the kitchen and found Kai. "Cooking breakfast, eh?" she asked as she walked into his arms and kissed him.
"yeah, well, I figured I might as well make myself useful, you know?" said Kai. "I can only spend so many hours a night watching you sleep, after all." He grinned self-deprecatingly at his new inhuman status.
"This would have been a useful skill for you to have back when Akako and Aoko were in diapers," Mao said. They made light of his inhuman condition as well as they could, pretending that it was no big deal, but… "Damn you, Hiroshi."
She must have said that last part aloud, for Kai wrapped his arms around her, saying, "There, there. I'm still me. We're still us. We even have a sample of my seed, for if we ever decide to have children of our own. I'm growing resigned to being a chiropteran. Everything will be alright."
But Mao knew that everything would not be alright. Kai was no longer human. Kai was still Kai, yes, but he was a chiropteran version of Kai now. They would grow apart. She would grow old and die one day, and Kai would do nothing of the kind, so if nothing else, that would separate them—and that wasn't even the worst part! Kai had hated Diva, the woman who had raped and murdered his brother, more than anything, and still did, of course, but now a part of him longed for her…and that sickened him to the depth of his soul, sending him into spirals of self-hatred. He had tried to drink it away, in spite of the example David had set back when Red Shield had been out of commission, but his chiropteran biology didn't allow him to get more than tipsy even when he downed liters of vodka at a time. It was too efficient at destroying poisons. He had reminded himself that his new feelings were just biology, just like his inability to get trashed, but still, it was a new level of hell unimaginable to Mao. She did what she could for him, but it wasn't enough, and she knew that it wasn't enough. Damn that Hiroshi for doing this to Kai. May he jump in a fire and die, may demons torment him throughout the rest of his eternal life, may he be eaten alive by fire ants—may he be dead at the bottom of the ocean right now.
Kai went back to the food and dished out six plates. Saya came down from the guest bedroom, no doubt drawn by the smell of the food, and Haji, who had been reading in the living room, perhaps all night, came as well. The girls ran down the stairs and started shoveling their food into their mouths with their usual contempt for all things unhurried. They ate more than Saya did, and more often as well (including blood transfusions)—something Mao had once thought was impossible. "Whoa, girls! Don't you want to at least taste your food?" Kai asked. It was an old barb.
"No!" they shouted defiantly and in unison. Kai stuck his tongue out at them.
Saya shook her head in wonder. "I can't believe how smart they are," she said. She had been getting to know them, and was impressed by how they seemed to be smarter than the average five-year-old, much less one-year-olds.
"It's their rapid aging. It plays holy hell with their development," Kai said, and then winced, for he had forgotten that they now understood what swear words were. "They are smarter than most five year olds because their brains are growing at an accelerated pace, so there's a lot more room in there. It's sort of like how a computer with a large memory bank will run the same programs faster than a computer with a smaller one, or so Julia explained to me. There's a lot of empty space to be filled."
"I am not an airhead!" Aoko protested.
"She is, but I'm not," Akako added.
"Girls, don't fight," Kai chided, and the girls shut up obediently. Mao sometimes wondered how things would have been different, how the history of the twentieth century itself would have been different, had only someone of told Saya and Diva not to fight, back when it would have done some good. There was a knock on the door. "Come in, David and Julia," Kai shouted.
It wasn't chiropteran powers that allowed him to know who it was—"They're becoming permanent features around here," Saya commented.
"Well, it's easier to study Aoko and Akako—and now myself—by being around them. Us," Kai said. "Anyway, as I was saying, Julia says it's like how software downloads faster when there's more free space on the computer, but their aging will slow and their minds will fill to proper capacity, and it ought to even out by the time they're 'adult.'"
"We're going to get stupid? Unfair!" Akako protested, as if she could make the universe take it back.
"Why are you saying we're going to get stupid?" Aoko demanded of Julia as if she just told them that there was no Santa Clause (though they figured as soon as they first heard of Santa Clause that he wasn't real—Aoko said that giving gifts to everyone in the world wasn't economically feasible).
"You're not going to get stupid," Julia assured them. "Just…normal."
"What's the difference?" Akako asked.
"Akako," Kai warned.
"Any word an Nathan or Hiroshi?" David asked.
"Nothing," Kai said. "If he was going to get into touch with us, I would think he would have by now."
"I suspect that we wouldn't get any word of anything no matter what happened after they fell into the sea," David said.
"How so?" Mao asked.
"Well, remember that Nathan already faked his own death once, so the fight would be the perfect excuse for him to disappear like this, provided he won, and as for Hiroshi, if he won…well, he already got what he wanted, or enough of it to satisfy him. If he won, he'd just leave—after all, it's not like any of us would want to wish him a fond farewell. And, of course, there's always the possibility that they're both dead."
Mao nodded, as what David said made sense. She devoutly holed that Hiroshi was dead down there. The bastard turned Kai into an inhuman monster, and for what? Because he didn't trust that Kai would do absolutely anything to protect the girls if he were not of the same flesh as they. Mao didn't know what was worse—the fact that Hiroshi did do this or the fact that it wasn't even necessary. The girls were everything to Kai.
"You know, Mao, I've been thinking…with Kai the way he is, he's never going to grow old, and, well, with you the way you are, you will, and so, if you wanted to…I could give you some of my blood," Saya said.
"A female chevalier? Is that even possible?" Mao asked.
"Amshel did some experiments, and it turned out that yes, it was, but they became sterile," David said. "Apparently, Diva didn't like having them around, and so she ordered them killed."
"…Kai, what do you think I should do?"
"It's your decision and all, but…don't do it, Mao. Just because I'm a mon—" he stopped, as the girls were listening, and one day they would have chevaliers, and no parent ever wants to make their child feel like a monster. "Just because I am the way I am doesn't mean you should be, too. Besides, who knows what will happen if you become Saya's chevalier? You might not be all that interested in me any more, if you catch my drift."
"There's a pleasant thought," Mao said dryly. "In all seriousness, though, I was going to say no, anyway—I just wanted to see if you agreed with me. Thanks anyway, Saya."
Van Argeno's mouth dropped when he saw the table that had been reserved for him. He had expected to see Hiroshi…but Nathan was here, as well.
"Ah, Mr. Newman, come, sit," Hiroshi said—in French. Argeno shouldn't have been surprised, as the next chiropteran he met who wasn't a panlinguist would be the first. Argeno came and sat, Newman being the fake name he was using.
"Surprised to see me?" asked Nathan, also in French. Nathan's accent was flawless Parisian, where Hiroshi's was Quebecois.
"Well, yes," Argeno admitted. "Were you two…in on this together the whole time?"
"Oh, heavens, no!" Hiroshi said. "I figured, though, that after I accomplished my secondary objective, I'd want to disappear, and, there being no reason for him to hang around any more, so would he, and so if I could somehow get a subtle hint across… You know, for a while there, I thought you didn't get the hint. Why didn't you just chase me off like I planned?"
"Hiroshi my friend, you are a very blunt person. What wonders learning the art of subtlety would do for your life, I can only imagine, but that is beside the point. The point in this case is that chasing you off would not have been dramatic. Don't you know anything? The final fight scene of the story is always the most epic. It would have been a waste of the scenery that you were so kind as to wait for." Nathan chuckled. " 'Subtle hint,' eh? The storm in said final epic battle is the biggest cliches of all time. For shame."
"Why did you go along with it, though?" Argeno asked.
Nathan shrugged. "Kai was already one of us, and killing Hiroshi wasn't going to change Kai back, after all, so as long as Hiroshi was leaving never to return anyway, what would the point have been? I mean, sure, Saya and Haji were out for blood, but I'm a more practical creature, I like to think. Besides, on some level, he is right. Some of the stuff the girls are going to go through, it will take a chiropteran to understand. This is a good compromise, I think. Oh, and by the way, Hiroshi, that bit with letting him preserve some of his semen was a nice touch."
"I don't want them thinking that I turned Kai into a vrykolake because I want him to make babies with Saya, after all," Hiroshi said.
"Of course you don't want them to think that—the reason being that that's exactly what you want to happen," Nathan said. "Although, with how much he hates Diva, becoming her last chevalier might drive him to madness."
Hiroshi shrugged. "It's a risk, but he's a tough kid. He'll shift the focus of his desire to Saya, or concentrate on raising the girls, or hell, even focusing on Mao would be alright with me—after all, she only has such a short time left to live in this world—six, eight decades, tops. Worst case scenario, Kai stays with Mao until she dies, and then he'll be all Saya's."
"How very machiavellian of you," Nathan opined admiring.
"I don't understand why Machiavelli has such a bad rap," Hiroshi shrugged. "Humans. No matter. The question we're here to address is, what do we do next?"
"What do you mean?" Argeno asked.
"There's a reason Vlad isn't here, and it's not that he's not a daywalker, or even that he won't like taking orders from me if and when he gets his mojo back. It's that he's not of our blood, and so his loyalty might be divided. There may be other threats to our happy little family, after all. Who says Saya's body was the only pregnant corpse to exist? Yes, being daywalkers helped Saya and Diva to survive when other bloodlines would have died pointlessly the first time they were innocently exposed to daylight, but it's sill not impossible. Even without that spectacular threat, there's always remnants such as ourselves, vassals without a queen, and who knows what convoluted plots they have in store for that family? It's just lucky that I found them first."
"Oh, you weren't the first. You're just the first one who got by me," Nathan said.
"What, but…Joel never encountered another one of us aside from Diva's and Saya's flock, I'm sure of it," Hiroshi said.
"Well, likely he didn't—after all, you are rather direct. And yet a few did beat you to the punch, and I disposed of them quietly. See what I mean about the virtues of subtlety?" Nathan chided. "Anyway, yes, of course I'll protect Saya Junior and the girls.
"Am I correct in assuming that I don't actually have a choice in whether or not to join this venture?" Argeno asked.
"You are," Hiroshi confirmed. "Don't feel bad, though—the pay is good, and immortality is just a request away."
"You know, Hiroshi, I bet that this whole thing would have gone better if you had tried to reason with them."
"Shoulda woulda coulda," Hiroshi retorted. "I thought it would be quicker to just nab the kids and go, but then you and Haji showed up and tossed a monkey wrench into my plans. Ah, well—things turned out well enough as they are."
"God, Hiroshi—you are such a blunt instrument," Nathan said bemusedly.
"Yes, but I am also sharp."
Nathan did a double take. "Was that a pun? Since when do you tell jokes?"FIN
Someone asked me if Vlad was Dracula. Well, at first he was, but then I decided that he was too sucky a character to portray Dracula, and then I decided that even for Dracula there might be limits to his ability to cope, and in the end, I decided to just let the reader decide whether or not Vlad is Dracula. I figured that the references to (the real) Dracula would go over most people's heads, anyway, in spite of being in some cases none too subtle.
Now, then, on to the girls. For their names, I used the InuYasha School of Naming (InuYasha (the title character of InuYasha) is a dog demon; inu is Japanese for "dog" and yasha is a type of demon): aka means "red," ao means "blue," and ko means "child." "Akako," at least, is a real name, but I had to cheat for Aoka. Her name had almost been "Midori"—Green. Now for what people probably actually want to know: what was the deal with the speed-aging? Well, I wanted the story to take place as close to the time of Saya's going to sleep as I could get it, but I also didn't want to run against canon. The girls were five when they went to see Saya's grave, and it would be stupid for her to go to sleep again when she didn't have to. Besides, I wanted to have some manifest example of how Saya and Diva were damaged by their, shall we say, stasis. It's a well-established gimmick, so I figured, why not?
The whole daywalker thing wasn't a gimmick, though. Well, technically it is, but that's not what I used it for. The simple fact of the matter is, even in the nonsense-science of chiropteran biology, there is no reason for the Schiff to burst into flames when the sun light touches them. There is simply no reason for it, and so I created a reason for it. I wasn't even planning it from the beginning—after all, the Greek vrykolake, which is what Hiroshi calls chiropterans, is one of the few vampires of mythology who can be up and about in broad daylight.
Speaking of Hiroshi, he actually had a long road to get here. Originally, he was to be a character in a sequel to an AU story in which Riku is kidnapped by Diva instead of murdered by her, and then serial raped until he escapes. The sequel would have picked up after Riku escaped and had amnesia and was found by Hiroshi, who was a more sympathetic character back in that stage of development.
The problem with this was that I anticipated writing the sequel more than I did the prequel, and that didn't work out well—after all, how well do you do something when you want to be doing something else? And so, the story was scrapped.
Another AU incarnation of Hiroshi would have been a story where he tracked down Red Shield before the aforementioned rape and murder of Riku and tries to force Saya and Diva to make up, which he does by tying them up and forcing them to share a room. It's not as funny as it sounds. I actually decided to start doing this one after I had started writing this story, but quickly gave up on it. I had decided while writing this story that it would have been nice to do a version where more of the characters were, you know, not dead, but while I was actually writing it I decided that I didn't like that version of Hiroshi.
Even though he had many of the same character flaws as this incarnation of the character (stubborness, lack of any sort of real empathy for others (for instance, he arrives in time to stop the rape of Riku, but decides to wait and only save him from being murdered, as he wants Diva to have children), ruthlessness, et all) and threatens to start murdering Saya's loved ones and Diva's chevaliers if they don't learn to "play nice" besides, something just bugged me about his character. I can't really describe it—I want to say that he struck me as being a bit on the Stu side, except that I can't say exactly why as that doesn't really apply to villains. The closest I think I can come is to say that villains are supposed to be kick-ass in order to glorify the heroes who struggle to defeat them, and it seemed that Hiroshi was being glorified with in his struggles to take on the entire cast—and that's another thing: it seemed to be a little much to have him be able to take on all of Diva's chevaliers (who weren't about to let their queen get kidnapped) and Red Shield (who won't want Saya kidnapped or Diva alive) at the same time.
That's one problem I don't have to deal with in this story: it takes place after the end of the series, beyond any hope of reconciliation. With Diva dead, that frees Hiroshi up to be the main antagonist, not to mention freeing him from having to put his jackboot down on a whole host of chiropterans, which would require him to have some ridiculously awesome abilities. (He can still take Haji on one-on-one with apparent ease, but come on—he's older, wiser, and knows more dirty tricks than Haji.) Perhaps I will find some way to fix the other story, but don't take that as a promise or anything.
I probably won't write anything any time soon—after all, I'm breaking my self-imposed exile just to write this (and looking at the non-existent reviews, I'm forced to ask myself why did I bother?), and really, I ought to finish The First Generation before starting another project.
Well, that is what it is. Do you honestly need my prodding to R&R? Apparently, because you're not doing it! You know, I wrote a fic in Artemis Fowl that didn't get any reviews, and I haven't written another Artemis Fowl fic yet…