Blood Letting

Part One

Disclaimer: Usual nonsense - I don't own the borrowed characters contained within this work of fiction, etc, etc.

Notes: This is a continuation from my Halloween Special two-part story from years ago. I had an urge to write more one day and this is the end result. I know quite a few people were unhappy with how Halloween Special ended and, while I think it was fitting for that story, I did have an awful lot of background written down that I didn't use in that story. So, as I was remembering it one day, I came up with this plot.

Style: Originally, I tried to keep as few breaks in scenes as possible with Halloween Special. In fact, if I think the second part was one complete scene. I'll be breaking from that style in this story as there will be more shifting around. I'm planning on this going on for a bit longer than HS, so it makes sense. HS was more about the individual scenes than a sweeping plot. :)

"What's going on, Shizuru?" Reito's voice broke the thick silence that had hung in the air since the two had retreated to his private chamber.

The female elder shifted in the antique leather chair, shifting her gaze to the tall window that almost completely filled one wall. The perfectly kept estate grounds outside the window were mostly hidden by the night's darkness but she didn't look away. Reito wondered if she was purposely ignoring him or if she was merely lost in thought.

He leaned forward in his own seat, perching his elbows on the desk and lacing his fingers together. He wasn't entirely sure how to handle this conversation. Just yesterday he had been expecting a routine visit from the Kyoto cadre leader where they could discuss some joint endeavours and now he had to deal with the mess that had been dumped on his doorstep. His own cadre was in uproar, demanding answers and action from him.

"How long are you going to keep me waiting?" he urged, irritation creeping into his tone.

This grabbed her attention and she now turned to look at him, her crimson eyes appearing duller than he remembered. "For..?" she answered, her voice low.

He let out a sigh through his teeth, keeping his gaze level with hers. "Answers, Shizuru." When she didn't respond, he decided to elaborate. "You can't expect to act as you did and not be asked to explain your actions."

Shizuru quirked an eyebrow at him. "And what is it I have to explain exactly?" She sounded as if the suggestion was absurd, but Reito wasn't convinced. He believed she knew precisely how out of place her actions were.

"Don't test me any further. I thought we had a mutual respect for one another." He wasn't in the mood for her games. He often tolerated them because it was just one of her quirks but things had gotten too serious for them now.

Shizuru visibly shrunk back into her chair. "Yes, Reito, I suppose we do." Her gaze returned to the window with those words. "But I don't know what you expect me to say. I acted the way I thought appropriate."

Reito pinched the bridge of his nose for a few moments. "So aiding our enemies and showing dissension in front of them is appropriate?"

"Don't you ever get tired of the bloodshed?" Reito was unsure whether she was asking him or herself.

"We live in a particularly dangerous time. If we don't have self-righteous humans shooting at us, there are werewolves biting at our heels. More often than not they are merely a nuisance but we've also lost more of our cadre in the past decade than in the last fifty years." Reito felt his muscles tensing more and more with each word. "We have it pretty tough in Fuuka, more so than you do in Kyoto, and you ask me that?"

Shizuru's eyes didn't move at all. "I notice you skirted the question, Reito."

He stood, smoothing down his dark suit, and moved around the large wooden desk to where Shizuru sat. "Am I tired of losing more family than I gain? Then yes. Am I fed up with fighting those that hunt us? Absolutely not."

Shizuru finally looked up at him. "This is where you and I differ, old friend." She stood then, also, and turned her back on him. The action annoyed Reito but he let her continue. "I've lived long enough to know that no matter how hard we may try, we will never win. We might suppress one foe but another will always rise up to struggle against us."

Reito waved off her words. "That is just the way of things. Once we are strong in numbers again, once we have regained our lost power, we can crush whoever might think themselves our enemy."

Shizuru's chestnut hair moved as she shook her head. "That's what we've always said. Think about it, Reito. There are no other elders as strong as we are, and yet we haven't been able to overcome the Lycans or Searrs completely."

"That's nonsense. We had word from your own cadre that Searrs had ceased attacks in Kyoto."

Shizuru glanced at him over her shoulder. "That is..." she paused for a moment. "...a temporary solution; and one I managed only through extreme measures."

Reito noticed she seemed displeased at having to admit that but he had no clue as to what she was referring. "What do you-?"

He was interrupted suddenly by the other vampire who had now turned towards him fully. "It doesn't matter. Times have changed and so we must change. For the sake of our cadres, don't you think we should be trying to find an alternative to this eternal slaughter?"

Reito was taken aback by her sudden outburst. It was unlike Shizuru to speak like this, let alone with a spark of emotion. He wasn't sure what had happened to have her think this way but he didn't like it. He had to find the reason. "What's wrong with you, Shizuru? You're not acting like yourself!"

"As I said, times have changed."

Reito shook his head, disbelieving. "And what about that mongrel back in the sewer, what does it have to do with this!" His ire was getting the best of him but he didn't bother reining it in.

To his surprise, Shizuru's crimson eyes flashed in anger before narrowing at him. "That is none of your concern."

The defensiveness of the response told Reito otherwise though and he wasn't about to let that go. "There has to be a reason you let it live. You're not one to let one of their kind live, especially when they harm our own." In fact, Shizuru was one of the most ruthless elders he had known. If her family was threatened she would do anything to ensure their safety.

Shizuru's gaze dropped to the ground for only a second but Reito picked up on it instantly. What was that? Guilt, confusion, deceit? Whatever it was, the Kyoto elder hadn't answered his question. If she continued like this, he would have no choice but to take action against her. He didn't have the authority on his own, but with the backing of other elders he would.

"Dammit, Shizuru, talk to me!" he spat the words out, letting her hear the anger lacing them.

"I... don't know, Reito. I really don't know," she said quietly.

He took a deep breath, attempting to calm his temper. "What don't you know?"

"Why I didn't want any harm to come to her," she answered simply.

Reito took in her words. There was an uncertainty in her voice and he wasn't sure what to make of it all. It was unlike Shizuru to be unsure of anything. "She's a Lycan."

Shizuru shot him a look that told him not to state the obvious. "I'm well aware of that, Reito. There was just... something about her." She shook her head slowly. "I don't know what exactly."

Dissatisfied with the explanation, Reito moved away from her. He paced over to the other side of the room, which housed a wide bookcase filled with all kinds of first editions. "This is ridiculous.. Couldn't you have picked some human to be your plaything! Or perhaps one of your own kind, for goodness' sake!"

If his words angered her, he couldn't tell. "I don't expect you to understand."

Her cold words were the final straw for him. He wasn't unreasonable. In fact, he'd always tried to be as fair as he could but her out of character actions and lack of explanation were too much. "You're clearly not fit to lead your cadre any more, Shizuru. I don't know what's happened in Kyoto but I intend to find out. There will be an investigation and I will send communications to the other elders."

Still no change in her expression. Had she expected this? A pang of guilt filled his chest now. They were friends and had been for a long time. Should he have given her more time and more of a chance to explain herself? He shook the thoughts from his mind. He might be her friend but he was also an elder and it was his duty to see that harmony existed for his people. Some of his cadre were worried what Shizuru's actions would mean for them while others were calling for her exile. While he wouldn't go that far on this day, he couldn't just let it go either. Not even for the sake of friendship.

"I expect their backing in this matter. As such, you will be asked to name a caretaker for the Kyoto cadre while we investigate and you will be under house arrest here," he spoke with as level a voice as he could muster, the words almost sticking in his throat.

Shizuru stared straight at him, making it even harder for him to retain eye contact. "Is that everything?"

Reito swallowed awkwardly. "No..." Shizuru eyed him warily. "We will be tracking down this Lycan as well. It would make no sense to investigate only you when she is central to the problem as well."

Again, no reaction. But Reito sensed something shift within Shizuru and he felt he might be treading on dangerous ground. "Why would you let her go only to do this?"

It was too late to take anything back now. "Out of respect for your wishes, Shizuru, and I hadn't had the chance to speak to my advisers either."

"If you truly respected my wishes, then you wouldn't be saying any of this."

Reito couldn't deny that, so he didn't try. He walked back to his chair and placed his palms on his desk, releasing a sigh. "Please leave now Shizuru. The guards outside will escort you to your quarters." She looked at him for several long moments before slowly moving towards the door. "Just know that I do this with a heavy heart and I wish it wasn't necessary."

He had selfishly hoped she'd offer some off-hand remark to make him feel better but none came. He was soon left alone in the room with only thoughts of having betrayed his oldest friend as company.

Life had not gone well for Natsuki since returning to her little cabin weeks ago. Not only had she been left feeling somewhat lost and confused after her encounter with the vampire elder but she'd been ostracised further by her fellow pack members. If it hadn't been for their Alpha, Mai, interceding on her behalf, then they'd likely have torn her to pieces.

Upon her return from the sewers, Nao had passed on what she had witnessed to the rest of the pack. Thankfully, she hadn't overheard all of the conversation Natsuki had with the Kyoto elder or she'd most likely be branded a traitor. She suspected that they called her that behind her back anyway. Not that it mattered much to her. She had even less desire for pack life now than she did before.

To her relief, she'd been left alone for the most part. She'd spent most of her time just sprawled out on her cabin floor, staring up at the damp wood of the ceiling. She couldn't even find comfort in prowling the surrounding area as she had before. What was she meant to be doing? Why couldn't she just forget all that had happened?

Natsuki let out a short huff and rolled over onto her side, bringing her knees up and placing the pillow over her head. She'd need to go find food soon as she hadn't eaten since the previous day but she just couldn't find the motivation to get up and leave her little haven from the world. She sighed and forced herself onto her opposite side, finding it impossible to get comfortable.

She'd need to stop sulking like this soon though. It was taking its toll on her body. She was tired more often and she'd lost some weight. Was it possible she was depressed? How would she even be able to tell anyway? Natsuki sat upright suddenly. No, she refused to be depressed. That was not going to happen to her.

Lifting herself from the floor, she idly walked to the window and pulled the curtain aside slightly. The moonlight was strong it seemed and she could see the clearing in the forest well. Nothing was moving outside so she lost interest fairly quickly.

She considered hunting but dismissed the idea almost instantly. She hadn't gone through the transformation since that time in the sewers and she had no compulsion to do so again. She decided the best course of action would be just to go into town and buy something. She wondered if she had any money lying around.

Natsuki glanced around the room, ignoring how messy it was looking, and tried to locate her wallet. As she continued scanning the various surfaces in the room, she felt the hairs on the back of her neck bristle. Her head snapped to the left and she caught movement in her peripheral vision. A shadow sped towards the window and she instinctively fell into a roll, ending up crouched by the opposite wall.

Her fast reaction time had helped her avoid the shower of glass and an as-of-yet unidentified attacker piling into her. She let a low growl rise up at the back of her throat to serve as a warning. As her attacker steadied himself from the tumble through the window, Natsuki instantly recognised him as a vampire.

He sneered at her before pulling a knife from his belt. She found the choice of weapon unusual as she was used to going up against vampires with firearms. After all, werewolves were much easier to take down with silver-nitrate bullets than a blade. Her muscles tensed, ready to launch her into action at the vampire's first move.

Her heart pounded in her chest as she felt the adrenaline surge through her body. Sound from outside the cabin told Natsuki that her foe wasn't alone. Great, she thought, just what I needed as a pick-me-up. Her eyes flitted from the vampire in front of her to the messy bed near her. She'd left her pistols under the bedsheets and she hoped she'd be able to get to them in time. it would depend on her attacker's next move, however.

Without warning, the vampire lunged forward. He swung his blade forcing her to leap to the side. She was able to place the jump so she landed next to the sheets where her pistols were hidden. The almost deafening sound of wood cracking under force filled the air and she didn't waste time to look up. She knew it was her door being forced.

She made a dive for her bed, just managing to fumble for one of her guns. She got a hand around it and pulled it free, attempting to push herself into a standing position once more. She brought the pistol around on the knife-wielding vampire, who had suddenly begun to look panicked. She didn't give him a chance to react before pulling the trigger and watched as he slumped to the ground, taking a solid hit to the chest.

She didn't have enough time, however, to find the position of the other attacker as he was already upon her. She felt a force slam into her and she felt the gun slip from her fingers and heard it clamour across the ground. The bulky vampire who had grabbed her easily lifted her before throwing her against the nearest wall.

She felt the air knocked from her lungs and she landed on the floor with a whimper. Her moping had made her sloppy, she realised. Weeks prior she had been able to take on an elder and now she was being thrown around by any old vampire. She scrambled onto her knees but her attacker was already next to her. A rough hand grasped the hair on top of her head and lifted her gaze up. She was forced to take in the muscled form of the vampire, including his gloating smirk.

"Bastard," she spat, her eyes sparking with defiance.

She was yanked abruptly to her feet, causing a surge of pain to shoot across her scalp. "You're lucky you're wanted alive, mutt. But to what degree is another matter."

What did he mean? Someone was after her? If it was a vampire, why wasn't she dead already? Wouldn't it be a huge risk to capture her in comparison to killing her? She didn't have any time to ponder that though as she received a jab to the stomach. She spluttered uncontrollably as the world around her whirled for a moment.

"That's enough, Mack," came a voice from behind the burly vampire.

Once her vision cleared, Natsuki could make out a smaller vampire looking decidedly more concerned than his companion. He was standing over the corpse of their dead comrade, a deep furrow etched into his brow. The vampire holding onto her merely snorted and pulled her roughly away from the wall, causing her to stumble against him.

"Lets just get out of here and back to the estate." The smaller vampire fingered the pistol tucked into the front of his trousers as he eyed Natsuki.

"Fine," Mack grunted. "But there's no harm in having fun first, you know."

His companion shook his head and turned towards the door. "I have a bad feeling about this mission, Mack."

The burly vampire snorted again as he gripped Natsuki around the shoulders and pulled her to a full standing position. "Why?"

Mack eyed Natsuki for a while, perhaps attempting to discern if she'd be a threat in her current state. When he didn't get a reply from his friend, he turned his attention to the door. Natsuki peered over as well and was shocked to see the smaller vampire rooted in the doorway, unmoving. A muted gurgling sound reached Natsuki's ears and Mack must have heard it too as she was quickly tossed aside.

As the muscled vampire took a step towards the door, his friend fell backwards revealing what had caused the interruption. Natsuki's heart skipped a beat as she saw the familiar leather-clad form of Shizuru, her crimson blade in one hand darkened by the blood of her fellow vampire. Natsuki's eyes flitted to the crumpled body, noting the gaping wound across his abdomen.

What the hell is going on!

Mack had frozen in place as well now. "Wh-what..!"

Shizuru looked at him, her eyes cold and distant. It sent a shiver down Natsuki's spine even though she wasn't the one it was directed at. "It seems your friend was correct," was all she said.

She heard Mack snarl and he clenched his fists but he didn't move. He was at a disadvantage, it seemed. Shizuru had her blade and he had no weapon at all. "Elder...?"

It seemed he was just as confused as Natsuki. "My apologies but I cannot let you complete your mission." Shizuru took a step forward.

"I don't understand," Mack said hesitantly, his voice laced with panic.

Shizuru continued forward. "I dare say you don't."

"You're... betraying Lord Reito!" he took several steps backwards, his hands searching for something he could use as a weapon.

Shizuru's eyes darkened and it seemed she had given up on conversation with this vampire. In one swift motion, she closed the gap between them and struck down with her weapon, lodging the blade in Mack's neck. His eyes widened in horror before the life left them. It was a quick and surgical death. Shizuru let his body fall to the ground before pulling her blade free.

Natsuki realised it was now only her remaining and wondered if she'd be next on her list. She pushed herself back up against the wall of the cabin, finding security in the rough wood against her back. If Shizuru was going to attack her, it wouldn't be from behind.

She watched cautiously as Shizuru merely stood in her previous position, her eyes closed and her breathing slow. Natsuki's pulse quickened under her skin as she waited for the other woman to do something. She could try and get away, she supposed, but she knew all too well the kind of speed Shizuru had. If she didn't want her leaving then Natsuki wouldn't make it out the door.

Shizuru slowly turned towards her. Natsuki met the crimson gaze and she felt her chest tighten. Questions burned in her mind but she couldn't find the will to speak. A flicker of concern flashed across Shizuru's features; the first sign of emotion to show since she had appeared. Shizuru moved closer to Natsuki and kneeled down in front of her.

"I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner. Can Natsuki forgive me?" she spoke softly.

"Huh?" Natsuki's confusion was only growing.

"It is my fault they came," Shizuru murmured as she glanced away.

Her fault? Natsuki brought a hand up to push hair out of her face. She was sure she looked incredibly bedraggled at that point. "What's going on?" she managed to ask, her strength beginning to return to her.

Shizuru's brow creased slightly. "There's no time to explain, there will be more coming."

A spark of irritation urged on Natsuki's words. "You better damn well explain. I just got used as a punching bag in my own home!"

Shizuru let out a soft sigh. "I suppose Natsuki is right but I will be brief. The Fuuka cadre holds you responsible for my actions and, as such, wish to question you on them."

Natsuki looked at the elder incredulously. "What the hell kind of crazy reasoning is that?"

"They do not believe one of their own, especially an elder, would break away from..." she paused, seeming to mull over the correct word to use. "...traditions."

What was it about this vampire that always left Natsuki in a state of confusion? She could never really get a straight answer out of her and it was infuriating. Deciding she wouldn't get much more out of Shizuru on that subject, she went back to the previous one. "Since when did they start wanting to see us alive at all?"

Shizuru cocked her head to the side a little. "I imagine that would be temporary at best."

Natsuki frowned. So, the Fuuka cadre wanted to hunt her down and Shizuru had turned up in her life again. She thought she'd never get to see her again, which she still wasn't sure how she felt about. Clenching her teeth, Natsuki forced herself up onto her feet, ignoring the pain in her gut. Shizuru peered up at her.

"That's a nasty habit you got there," Natsuki muttered. Shizuru quirked an eyebrow at her and stood herself. Natsuki started moving about the room, searching for her pistols and ammunition. "Coming to my rescue."

She heard the elder chuckle softly. "It seems I cannot resist a pretty face."

The words caused Natsuki to pause for a moment but she forced herself to continue her search and pretend as if she hadn't heard them. There Shizuru was saying things like that again. Natsuki refused to react to them, though. That would give the vampire too much pleasure.

She reached down and picked up the pistol she'd dropped earlier, checking it over quickly before moving on to rescue the other one from beneath her bedsheets. The cabin was in even more disarray now but there was nothing she could do about it. If Shizuru was right, there would be more vampires coming and it seemed they knew exactly where to find her. She wondered how they'd tracked her as it was obvious they hadn't merely stumbled upon her.

Now that she thought about it... "How did you find me?"

Shizuru had moved over to the window and was peering out into the night. "I followed them," she said as she motioned towards the dead vampires.

That didn't really give Natsuki the answers she wanted but she supposed she could ask later, when they weren't at threat from being attacked at any moment. She paused at that thought. She'd just assumed she'd go with Shizuru without hesitation. Natsuki wasn't the kind to work with anyone, let alone her natural enemy. What is it about you..?

"We really must be leaving now," Shizuru urged.

Natsuki nodded. "Let me gather a few things." She quickly moved around the cabin, picking up her shoulder holster and strapping it on. She slipped her pistols into the holsters and grabbed a short, dark jacket that had ended up on the floor. She patted down the pockets and was mildly amused to find her elusive wallet in one. Finally, she scooped up some spare ammo clips and looked over at Shizuru.

The Kyoto elder crouched and wiped her blade off on one of the dead vampires' shirt before moving silently outside the cabin. Natsuki gave one last glance around the place she had called home before sighing and following Shizuru.

They'd made fairly good ground together, even if they weren't used to travelling together. Natsuki often found that moving with her pack members would slow her down but Shizuru seemed to instinctively know where Natsuki would go and how fast she would do it. As such, they had cleared the forest quickly and had hit the city in no time.

Natsuki found the city unpleasant though. The amalgamation of scents and sounds almost dazed her and she yearned to be free of it as soon as they had entered. She found the stench of so many humans living together in one place disgusting and she couldn't understand why they had to make so much noise. Was it an unspoken contest or something?

She now found herself standing in the shadow of a tall building that appeared mostly abandoned. Shizuru had stopped in an alleyway and was looking up towards the roof. Natsuki followed her gaze but she wasn't sure what it was the vampire saw.

"Shizuru..?" she whispered.

The elder glanced at her before looking back up the building. "We need to get off the streets. They'll be searching and there are too many eyes out here."

Natsuki looked down the length of the alley, not sensing anyone in their immediate vicinity. Then again, with all the conflicting scents in the air it wasn't likely that she'd always be able to pick up danger if it was near. "So where are we going then?" She inwardly chastised herself for not asking that question sooner.

Shizuru pointed up to an upper floor of the building she was looking at. "These apartments are mostly deserted so we shouldn't draw much attention by staying here."

Natsuki wondered how she knew that but didn't ask; now wasn't the time. "Lead the way," was all she said.

The other woman smiled at her briefly before launching herself towards the building. Natsuki watched in surprise as Shizuru used the narrow alley as a jumping board to gain altitude. She hopped from the side of one building to the other until she reached a small metal balcony. It had probably been part of a fire escape at one point but there was no ladders connecting to it now.

Shizuru raised her eyebrows expectantly at Natsuki before holding out her hand. She was clearly too far out of reach to offer the werewolf help but Natsuki knew the kinds of games Shizuru liked to play. "I'll do it myself," Natsuki called up to her.

She turned on her heel and marched down the alley to the front of the building. She was sure she could hear Shizuru chuckling behind her back. It wasn't that she couldn't have reached the platform but she was determined not to do what Shizuru wanted. For the most part, anyway. Fleeing for her life just happened to be a coincidental shared goal.

She pushed open one of the creaky double doors that lead into the apartment building. The paint had flaked away long ago and the exposed wood was cracking badly. The entrance hallway was small, dark and silent, making Natsuki wonder if there was anyone at all living in this building. She moved carefully to the rear of the hallway, noting the staircase situated there. There didn't appear to be an elevator, though she wouldn't have trusted it anyway. She couldn't think of much worse fates than being trapped in a small box that might cause one to fall to their doom at any moment. Unless Shizuru was in there with me, of course. That would be a complete nightmare.

She trotted up the stairs quietly, peering into the darkness for any sign of Shizuru. She half expected the vampire to jump out at her just to see the shock on her face. She listened closely as she took each measured step up the stairs but she couldn't tell if Shizuru was up ahead. The building itself was noisy enough, though. Distant banging pipes and the creaky structure filled her ears. She was sure she could make out the skittering of rodents as well.

She reached the first floor and the place where she assumed Shizuru would be. Surely she would have waited on me, right? Then again, Natsuki wouldn't have put it past the vampire to have her play hide and seek.

At that moment, Natsuki felt something brush up against her ear and she froze. It took her only a second to recognise Shizuru's scent. "Boo," Shizuru whispered into her ear, a hint of amusement in her voice.

Natsuki shuddered slightly. "Funny."

Shizuru pulled away and stepped in front of the werewolf. "Natsuki is no fun this evening." She swore she could hear the pout in Shizuru's voice.

Folding her arms across her chest, Natsuki leaned against the wall of the corridor and gave Shizuru a withering look. "Perhaps it's the whole running for my life thing that has ruined my sense of humour, eh?"

The other woman quirked an eyebrow. "Are you sure it existed in the first place?"

Natsuki frowned and prodded Shizuru on the chest with a forefinger. "Are you trying to press my buttons again?"

A smile spread across Shizuru's face and her eyes narrowed slightly. "I would love to..."

Natsuki didn't miss the meaning at all and she could feel the heat rush to her cheeks. She floundered for a moment, trying to come up with a comeback that would put the vampire in her place but Shizuru's words had staggered her. With her mind having abandoned her, she resorted to brute force. She placed her palms flat against Shizuru's shoulders and pushed her away, causing the elder to stumble backwards.

A flicker of emotion flitted across Shizuru's face before she corrected herself and peered at Natsuki. "There's no need to be so hostile. I shan't bite."

Her tone was light but Natsuki let out an unamused snort and crossed her arms again. "I don't believe that for a second," she said dismissively.

Shizuru turned away from Natsuki and stared down the corridor, seeming to scan each doorway once. "Unless Natsuki wants me to, of course," she muttered as she walked away.

This caused the werewolf's cheeks to redden again and she let out a small growl from the back of her throat. She'd almost forgotten how infuriating Shizuru could be. Almost. She didn't retort, however, since the vampire had now created some distance between the pair of them. That and she knew she wasn't likely to outwit Shizuru in a vocal battle.

Instead, she merely followed the elder down the corridor, shoving her hands into her jean pockets and trying to contain her annoyance. She watched from a distance as Shizuru paused in front of various doors before moving on. Eventually, she came to a door and glanced back at her.

"This will do," Shizuru stated simply and gripped the door handle.

To Natsuki's surprise, the door opened without any problems. Were all these apartments abandoned? The vampire disappeared through the doorway so Natsuki quickened her pace and peered into the apartment. It didn't appear as dilapidated as she expected it to be. There appeared to be a fairly thick layer of dust in the entrance hall but there were even pictures still hanging on the walls. With the door having been unlocked, she expected the apartment to be completely stripped down by looters.

She glanced up and down the corridor once before stepping into the apartment and quietly closing the door. A musty scent filled her nostrils and she could pick up the faint odour of moulding food. She wrinkled her nose in displeasure and walked further into the apartment. The first room she came across had an old single bed tucked into one corner of the room. It was barren apart from a mattress, which appeared well-used even if it hadn't been touched in a long time. There was a rickety looking wardrobe sitting against one wall as well but, apart from those two items, the room was empty.

Unless Shizuru had taken to hiding in the closet, and she clearly wasn't one to do that, the vampire wasn't in this room so Natsuki moved on. There was a bathroom on the right hand side of the corridor that was giving off some rather unpleasant smells so Natsuki decided to give it a wide berth. At the end of the hall was an open door that seemed to lead into a joint living room and kitchen. As she stepped inside, she noticed Shizuru by one of the windows, peering through the blinds at the street below.

The room was fully carpeted aside from the kitchen area, which was tiled. Natsuki eyed the old fridge cautiously and it was obvious that was where the scent of mould was coming from. There was a battered old sofa sitting at the opposite end of the room accompanied by a table and a unit where a television should have been.

Natsuki frowned. "So, remind me, why are we here again?"

Shizuru didn't turn her attention away from the window. "We don't have a destination in mind as of yet so continually running through the night won't be very effective. I thought it best we get some rest and think about our next move."

Natsuki paced across the room. "Our next move? Just what the hell is going on?"

She heard Shizuru let out a soft sigh. "That is a long story."

The werewolf's frown deepened and she threw herself down onto the old sofa, the weathered furniture creaking slightly beneath her weight. "I think I deserve to hear it," she didn't hide the frustration in her voice.

Shizuru turned to face her and Natsuki was sure she could see a weariness in those crimson eyes. The other woman moved towards her and perched on the arm of the sofa, at the opposite end to where Natsuki was seated. "It's not something that can be summarised easily, nor briefly."

Natsuki ran a hand through her hair and leant back, resting her head on the back of the sofa. "How about filling me in on the more important parts then? Like, why they're after me and not you?"

She watched as Shizuru cupped her chin in one hand and peered back at her out of the corner of her eye. "I'm sure they're looking for me by now as well."

"Don't try to avoid my questions."

A flicker of a smile pulled at Shizuru's lips. "Very well," she paused and straightened. "Let me ask you this then: How do you think your little conflict with the Fuuka cadre will end?"

Natsuki's brow furrowed as she took in the question. She wasn't seeing the relevance of the question. "That's not for me to think about, I leave that up to our Alpha," Natsuki answered dismissively.

"Ah, how simple things must be for you then. But I do not see Natsuki as the sheep in wolf's clothing. You are not a follower."

Shizuru's words took Natsuki by surprise. It wasn't that she was wrong that shocked her, it was the fact that she was right. She would do everything she could to break away from any kind of authority. She was a lone hunter, not a pack animal. Still, she wasn't about to concede the point to Shizuru so easily and so she just waved her hand to tell the vampire she was way off the mark.

A small chuckle reached Natsuki's ears. "As much as you may protest, I've seen it in the way you act."

Natsuki lifted her head to glare at Shizuru. "This isn't about me! Just get to point already."

Shizuru turned her head to look at the werewolf for a few long moments and Natsuki wondered what was going through her mind. Before she could ask, Shizuru spoke again. "I believe you know just as well as I that no matter how much we struggle, we will forever be locked in this war."

Natsuki sat forward and rested her forearms on her legs as she stared at the floor. Shizuru was probably right. It wasn't as if she hadn't thought it before, but Natsuki wasn't one to give up the fight either. That was the only reason she had stuck around. If it hadn't been for Mai, though, she'd probably have left the pack a long time ago.

"I grow so very tired of all of... this..." Shizuru's sadness was clear in her voice and it left Natsuki almost breathless. The weight of her words were heavy and it shocked Natsuki that Shizuru was so open about how she felt.

Natsuki looked over at the elder but her chestnut locks had tumbled over her shoulder and obscured the view of her profile. "What... do you mean?"

The sudden sound of Shizuru dropping her blade on the floor caused Natsuki to flinch and she stared down at the weapon she'd seen do so much damage. "The fighting... the bloodshed... it is an exhausting old existence."

Natsuki pressed her lips together firmly, thoughts racing through her mind. It would never have occurred to her that a vampire would be tired of killing. Wasn't it instinctual to them? She wasn't really sure how to respond to what was being said.

"Through the eons I've protected my cadre, and I would do anything to ensure their safety, but there comes a time when one has to look inwardly. Nothing I have ever done since joining the Kyoto cadre has been for myself. Should I really sacrifice everything to ensure the survival of my kindred, including my own happiness?"

Natsuki wasn't entirely sure the question was meant for her but she was feeling awkward at having not replied yet so she attempted to interject. "Don't you find happiness in knowing they're safe?"

Shizuru's head dipped for a moment before she turned to look at Natsuki once more. There were raw emotions swimming in those eyes and it was overpowering to stare into them, yet the werewolf couldn't tear her gaze away. "I... don't know. Perhaps I had grown too complacent in my long life, believing that the cadre was the only purpose in it."

It was odd having a conversation at all with a vampire, let alone an elder who was doubting herself. It was surreal. Natsuki felt her brow furrow. "So what?"

Shizuru blinked blankly at her. "What?"

"So if you're not happy, do something about it? How is this my problem? I'm not some agony aunt you can run to when you fall out with your vamp buddies," Natsuki blurted out, a sudden irritation overcoming her. Here her life was in danger and Shizuru was talking about her own problems.

Shizuru's gaze dropped and she stood, facing slightly away from Natsuki. "I apologise."

Natsuki let out a frustrated breath and stood as well, reaching out for the other woman without thinking. She stopped herself before touching Shizuru's back. "Look, this is all too much for me. Weeks ago you turned everything upside down for me and now you're doing the same again. I don't know what to think or feel any more."

She could see the elder stiffen slightly as she spoke. "Do not think you are alone there, Natsuki."

Natsuki couldn't help but shiver as she heard her name spoken in such a low tone. She wasn't sure how to interpret those words though. "What are you trying to accomplish by doing all this? You should have just let me be captured and gone back to your normal life. If you can call that normal."

"Perhaps." She'd been the one to suggest it but hearing Shizuru agree with her made her stomach knot. "That would have been easier, at least."

"Then why didn't you!" Natsuki demanded.

Shizuru turned slowly to face her again and Natsuki felt uncomfortable under her intense gaze. "I... couldn't let you suffer for my actions."

Natsuki shook her head, not satisfied with that answer. "I'm a Lycan, what does it matter what happens to me?"

A small crease appeared on Shizuru's brow and Natsuki wondered if she was getting frustrated with this conversation as well. "Natsuki is more than that," she murmured.

Natsuki still didn't get it. It was more that she couldn't understand what Shizuru was saying rather than Shizuru's vague answers that was annoying her. Shizuru seemed to easily read between the lines or pick up on subtle hints, whereas Natsuki felt like she needed everything explained in detail to her.

Shizuru must have noticed the confusion in Natsuki, as she went on. "You were the first Lycan I saw as... an equal, the first to intrigue me, the first I wanted to remain alive. I had never wished for the extermination of all werewolves but if they had ever crossed my kin I had no compunctions about killing them."

Natsuki didn't know what to make of that. It gave her a certain sense of satisfaction to hear it but also confused and angered her. "I don't understand. Why..?"

Chestnut locks bounced lightly as Shizuru slowly shook her head. "I don't know, Natstuki."

Reaching up with one hand, Natsuki rubbed the back of her neck, trying to knead the tension out of it. She couldn't deal with this, not all in one go. She needed time to mull it over and come to her own conclusions. But that wasn't about to happen at that moment. She just hoped Shizuru wasn't expecting any kind of answers out of her.

Shizuru waved a hand, as if fanning the current mood away. "Anyway, in answer to your initial question, it seems that my peers didn't like the change in me. They looked to blame you rather than me but I haven't given them much choice now. They'll be looking for both of us."

"I see," Natsuki replied. "What will they do with you if they catch you?"

"That rather depends on who gets to me first," she stated. "If certain factions within the Fuuka cadre reach me, then I can probably look forward to a public execution for betraying our beliefs. If I'm found by Reito's people, then I imagine the punishment won't be so... final."

Was it really possible that the vampires would kill one of their own elders? Then again, she had no idea how the hierarchy worked in the cadres. They were probably an overly ambitious bunch. "What about your own people?"

Shizuru shook her head. "They are mostly in Kyoto. Those that accompanied me here will have been placed under house arrest just as I was. There's no way they can communicate with the rest of my cadre. Reito's smart, he won't risk a civil war at this point."

"Jeez, this is getting serious."

Shizuru offered her an apologetic smile. "My apologies, Natsuki, I didn't mean to bring the mood down."

Natsuki ignored her attempt at levity. "I can't really deal with all this now, you know. Let me sleep on it, okay?"

Shizuru fell silent for a while and Natsuki shuffled uncomfortably on the spot as she waited for a response. "Very well. Natsuki should get some rest."

She eyed the vampire warily. "What about you?"

Shizuru glanced to the doorway on the other side of the room. "I... must deal with my own needs. I request that Natsuki does not follow me."

Narrowing her eyes, Natsuki instantly became suspicious. "Just what, exactly, is that supposed to mean?"

Shizuru stepped closer and Natsuki resisted the urge to back up in response. "Please, just honour this wish."

The words seemed final to Natsuki so she reluctantly nodded. "Fine." She had no intention of doing so, however. No matter what had been said, Shizuru was still a vampire.

"Thank you," Shizuru uttered softly, and made for the hallway. "Take the bed, if you wish. I will be back before sunrise."

Of course you will, she inwardly mused, I'm not that ignorant about your kind. She allowed the elder a decent amount of time to leave the building before making her own way out into the night. The chill air only worsened her mood and aggravated the suspicion that was churning in her gut. Part of her wanted to trust Shizuru but she doubted she'd ever fully be able to, no matter what she did. Vampires were her enemy. There was no getting around it.

Extra Note: It was pointed out that some punctuation was missing in this chapter, and thanks to those that pointed it out I now know there's a problem when converting a Google Documents file to a Word file. I didn't check through the entire document and it appears to have missed out certain symbols, such as hyphens and question marks. Now I'll have to read through each chapter entirely once I've converted it to ensure there are no mistakes. I went through this one and hopefully added all the missing question marks and breaks in. D: