º º º

So he liked cleaning eating utensils before using them and preserved his righteously dignified demeanor and presentation at his own risk and willingly followed a common civil servant on a ridiculously uneducated tour of Kurashiki, even exchanged smart banters uncommonly void of, well, logic and still no word of complaint. Not even after a rare trade of his jeweled clothes for rough slacks and a farmer's sweat-imprinted shirt there was no complaint. True, his dignity was no longer intact but he proceeded as if the world moved at his pace and his wearing a mustache and goggles were normal. If he ever looked back on this day he may flinch and recount a lesson learned on never letting someone else dress him in such disaster. All in all, there was no echo of complaint from the prince.

"You have to blend in." She covered his dark hair in a hat. "You're used to wearing beggar's clothes, this shouldn't be hard."

She was right.

He often disguised at his own convenience and admired being mobile in the concentrated market like a normal citizen. The attire wasn't obtrusive for the most part and that's what mattered. The opportunity was prime and he decided he wouldn't regret it.

Yuki guided him out of the store and directly in the puddles of marketers. She was ever visible to the townsmen and women, barefaced and nonconforming as her abysmal reputation. She stretched standards. Her actions let gossipers huddle around markets flapping gums for days and though it was at her expense, she was trained to be indifferent of rumors and glares. A feature unfound in women of any region.

So he liked her carelessness of social views and her manner of reproving standards. She was out of the blue, refreshing, crisp like sunlight lancing the eye in the morning.

They gravitated from levels of markets, past the middle class into a providently well-off and esteemed neighborhood. She made a swift turn in a corner, cut over a well, kicked a chicken and barked back at a snarling dog that scampered after sensing her fiery orbs.

Kaname followed in competent pace behind, though able to do about any task available to a vampire but not willing to interrupt her for he knew what a disadvantage it would be if he did. Yuki soared over a flight of stairs in the blink of an eye. He did the same and bumped shoulders with her at the top. She didn't notice but opened the door and entered the seamless darkness.

At the ingression Kaname lingered assessing the shadowed store. Through the murkiness, a silhouette wandered from a corner. A tense silence ensued and he figured she hadn't seen the creature dive forward. She wouldn't deny purebloods were likely more instinctive compared to others and to rival his survival instincts was like enduring the dry decent weather without water. As Kaname hovered over her, she paused skeptically.

A resounding crash blistered her ears. Yuki looked over his arm to a creature carved inside a wall. He waved fragile fingers and whimpered her name.

Her eyes shot wide. This time she knocked Kaname behind the knees. He attempted to soak some elements of pain by her relentless kicking and it was no surprise there was none merely a residue of dust on his clothes.

"What'd you do that for?" She growled.

Kaname blinked at her legs, wondering if a day ordained him the chance to do horrible damage to them in as much as her constant foot aggression would append him with injuries were he not a pureblood. That was an interesting thought. If he had a choice of not being born a royal pureblood he'd want to be a noble at least. An equitable level as Yuki who'd receive and injure her ruthlessly in blasé fairness and he could always assimilate her weaknesses and use it to his advantage.

Wait. If he weren't a pureblood would she crave his blood?

At this, Kaname scrutinized her from head to toe.

Her mouth twisted in lines normal on malformed men. She scoffed at his divesting stare and went to the man's aid.

Yuki felt tightness in her chest, tighter than a noose or a blockage in her heart, something heavily weighing her down that left her waddling on her knees. It was a surreptitious feeling that snuck over her without thought. Of emotions she didn't care but the sneaky ones she resented most. As she met Kaname's glazed eyes, disapproval barged in her body and made itself at home in her breast. He was thinking something weird again. She could smell it off of him.

Regally, Kaname turned away, uninterested in wrangles with her as much as the dog outside.

She observed the groaning vampire and guided him from the floor. "He, he's new. Don't mind him."

"He snuck behind you, it was suspicious." Kaname said.

Yuki felt the back of her head run cold, a shiver caught in her spine, twitching forever. She curled her lips and snarled. "Shh." She couldn't remiss sophisticated and rich children only knew the art of petulance. Although he was skinned with palace decorum, there was no repercussion in his actions and mannerisms outside of his lord's place. He was but a measly child—an annoyingly good-looking child.

She twisted around on herself and growled. Certainly he wasn't extremely good-looking. Nope, not at all. Millions of handsome creatures haunted the planet, and he definitely didn't obligate the population. Certainly, certainly not.

Can it, Yuki. The solemn half of her soul berated.

"My projection wasn't fitly established. I was trying to help." He continued in the regal, error-free manner.

The vampire in her arms rustled like a baby duck. "What're you doing bringing strangers here?" He nudged her away and pushed himself up with remarkable grace for someone who had been hanging on the walls of his store seconds ago. He pinned Kaname a corrosive glare, turned rigid to his toes by the uninvited one the receiver returned. Grabbing Yuki by the shoulder, he swung her to a full turn. "You travel with that fellow?"

Yuki began searching her robe. "That's not important. I have something for you to lo—"

"Shall I tell your father you're with thick skins like him?" He muttered. In the darkness, Kaname's red eyes shimmered like firecrackers.

Yuki was also affected by the tremulous sensation of his fury stare. She gave the man a forceful clap on the shoulder and leaned warily in his ear. "Can you just look at what I brought?"

He sent an uncertain survey at Kaname, twisted his neck around and tapped his nails on the counter, trailing a tuneless rhythm. "Who is he?" He whispered. "He doesn't look from around here. Did you buy him?"

Her eyes narrowed, "Not at him, this." She lifted the weapon on the table.

Yet the creature was intrigued by Kaname and as certain and keen as his eyes surely were, it read behind the pureblood's disguise. "His aura is brimming with danger, murder, twisted energy—good and bad at the same time. He isn't normal." Sharply pointing claws at Kaname, he spat rhymes of incantation and flapped his arms over Yuki and himself, warding off Kaname's negative energy.

Reaching in his pockets, he draped Yuki with a coined necklace and another on himself. "Pureblood. He's a pureblood. He can mind control us and make us do his bidding. Why did you bring him here?" The vampire squawked, shaking Yuki by the shoulders, "You shouldn't be with purebloods!"

She clenched his collar and shoved him in the wall, impatiently. "I can be more dangerous than a pureblood. He's a fly, ignore him."

Kaname made a sound from his immobile residence.

The vampire trembled and rammed knuckles against her cheek and knocked her on the hip. Steadying himself again, he peered at his visitors with glassy eyes. "The two of you—I will not tell a soul of your companionship." Sneakily he browsed the room and darted around the counter to seal the door. Several seconds of lodging locks and stacking bricks on the portal passed, finally he rewound his steps back to the counter. "But you—" He pointed at Yuki. "Should be ashamed of yourself. Your father will commit suicide if he hears you're with the likes of him."

"Don't accuse us of something we haven't done." Yuki snapped, slamming her fist on the counter, "We're merely traveling."

"It's shameful." He reiterated, eerily blinking at Kaname. "This pureblood isn't different than the others, Yuki." His skeleton fingers clenched in mid air. The razor starkness of knuckles and claws spiked in the fist. "A pureblood is an epitome of evil."

She wound her arm and punched him dead center in the face, grimacing in the tearing of flesh from the impact as a residue patched her knuckles. The vampire crippled on his feet, sinking on the floor. "Won't you shut it already?" Yuki growled. "A noble blood is half pureblood. What does that make me, half evil?"

His glassy eyes winked through the darkness at her. "You certainly make an example of that, no doubt."

She leapt like a lioness over a heap of zebras and strangled him by the throat. "Say it again, I dare you."

All of this occurred under the leisure observance of their prince. Standing quietly, Kaname watched without logic to interrupt, primarily because it was a wasteful effort and Yuki summed up altercations remarkably than anyone he could recommend in his opinion.

"Acckkk— " The vampire gagged and sobbed in feeble hopes to flee her deathly grip. The coined necklace pushed on Yuki's face to subdue her energy and rescue him with whatever incantation it contained. Yuki held on longer than she should've and watched him wheeze and slither like a serpent on the floor. He reached for a packet of blood under the counter. After sucking on the pouch for lasting minutes he brought himself up and pretended to sow the inelegant interaction.

"Forgive me." He breathed, "I have an uncontrollable mouth."

"Just analyze the weapon." Yuki wiped the mucus off her knuckles with her robe.

He touched the knife and peeked at the solid form of Kaname. "Wh-what is your relationship?" He whispered, trembling in the aphoristic temperature of the pure red eyes piercing his skull. He clenched eyes, averted and perspired in uncomfortable regions, including his toes and belly button.

Kaname stepped toward the counter and leaned in. His red eyes glistened on the flat pallid forehead of the vampire's as he whispered softly, meaningfully with a graceful flick of his tongue on a fang, "She...Is my slave. And I...want your blood."

"Ah—" The vampire collapsed behind the counter, scrabbling the floor in the prone, "Leave me alone, pl-please don't ta-take me-mehh."

He dwelled in the satisfaction at the cowering creature. Peacefully Kaname laughed to himself, his lips peeled smugly. From behind, he heard Yuki hitch up her sleeves.

Stormy red eyes narrowed on him. "You're done." Only the movement of white fangs wavered in the dark. Her fists locked on his shirt and dragged him to the door. "You can't play anymore. Stay outside." She plucked the locks and threw Kaname out of sight. "Go somewhere else, I'll come and find you." The door slammed on him.

Child. A petulant child. A half-man half-child in her charge who grew up between pages and was coddled by prestigious pureblood. In none of those years did he learn maturity and self-preserve. If she thought along the lines of a child under her watch, she might release the tenacious desire to smack him. Yet therein his hair was made of gold, his skin of diamonds and the blood coursing his body contained the extraordinary Water of Life. She ought to kidnap and sell him off for lavish exchanges. If not then cut his body slowly and take his blood over the extent of centuries. Yuki bit her tongue and ruled out her vicious thoughts.

He was a prince, an awfully recalcitrant one with raven flourishing hair and peculiar red eyes that so often glimmered like the blood she hankered.

In the silence of the store, her fangs gritted like knives shaving on stones. He made her hungry.

Veins popped under her arm sleeve, a mere touch of his collar gave rise to the irritation of hunger.

The storeowner crept widely on the floor, "Are you really his slave?"

Yuki slapped her lips together after tasting her thoughts and threw it in the graveyard of sodden implications that never existed. "I'm no one's slave." She moved to the counter, "Examine the knife and tell me its origins."

"I will but how did you get acquainted with the pureblood?" He held his breath raptly.

It had occurred to Yuki the vampire never left the comforts of the four-walled shadows in fear of looming powerful creatures and scrimmages surpassing his talents. His gift was his glass eyes, and like his incandescent orbs the rest of his skeletal body was brittle to touch. Only through previous encounter did she understand the disparaging difference in his structure and mien. Attacks inside the store were honored. Attacks beyond the perimeter he couldn't champion, nor dream of it.

Yuki licked her lips and ruminated on the question. The truth was her least favorite. "I'm a hired body guard."

His eyes spoke of instant conviction and relief. "These purebloods feel and act they're the center of the world, don't they?"

"Yes, but," She gestured to the blade. The stark silver edge flickered across his transparent eyes. "Tell me where the blade is from already."

He gripped the handle and swayed it playfully in midair a few times. "Hm." He frowned as he said, "It's made from here. I've seen similar swordsman ship in the western coast. It's not of high value either."

Kaname stared at the lock and the receding sound of floorboards. He had nowhere else to go but roaming the city in disguise was good fortune, and in that he could partake in anything he wanted. Except he felt uncompelled to go. The satisfaction of roaming wasn't supple if handed so willingly. Kaname leaned on the door with folded arms. She was done with her task in no time but her dissatisfaction at finding him hanging around intensified.

Yuki queried his disguise in unusual patience. He returned the regard in silence. "I thought you'd go sightseeing or drink someone's blood who's sleeping."

"I did." He agreed because teasing was amusing than arguing. "So I erased my victim's memory while I was at it."

Her mouth opened in a rueful sigh. She turned and proceeded out of the neighborhood. Halfway up the drive, Yuki paused, whirled, sent him to a sharp halt and ripped his mustache. "Too bad you're an eye catch or mustaches would suit you." She grumbled.

Kaname wrinkled his brows in what symbolized a question. She tossed the appendage back to him and resumed walking. He listened to the pound of her boots, the smell of her hair in the transient breeze and the humidity in her anger warping nakedly about her like a curse. Kaname lingered over her footsteps.

After much thought his voice shrank the strain in the silence. "I'll take that as a compliment."

"It wasn't a compliment." She tossed coldly over her shoulder and glared at the cracked soil. "Your face is too boyish for a mustache and you're a man. I pity you." She gritted. "Any man in the country tailors and proudly advertises his beard as a sign of masculine maturity. Not only can't you grow facial hair but you look horrible with a fake one. All you're good for is—" Swatting her visionary thoughts, she growled. "Besides an inherited royal status what are you good for anyway?"

Kaname trudged behind like a dragged boulder, stolid and overbearingly grandiose in size. "I had no idea the absence of my facial hair left you with an impression."

"Can you call yourself a man if you don't have a beard? How can you compete with townsmen?" Yuki acidly droned, a whisper of mania fleeted her glare.

"Would you like me to prove it to you?" Asked the pureblood with a generous flaunt of his incisors.

She scoffed as if it was the foolish thing she'd ever heard. "You prove nothing but how spoiled and suffocating your nature is. If you didn't know already no one prefers purebloods here. Without them the Okayama prefecture thrives in peace. No sacrifices or blood bath. We seldom go to war. There's no segregation between humans and vampires and we like our lifestyle very much."

"In my stay here I have yet to see a concentration of bearded men." Kaname remarked.

"They're around!" Yuki cried. "And they'll whip your ass in no time. For the sake of your pretty face I recommend you don't." She clenched her tongue between fangs as bitter acceptance sawed her bloodstreams. Silently she reworked the dialogue about his face that wasn't pretty and his hair that didn't rival silk. No, definitely not pretty. Unhandsome. In fact his striking features weren't factual but vapid opinions of women in general, a denomination Yuki didn't belong to.

He sighed over the heavy lump in his chest and looked at her shoulders. "Normal conception infers my abilities are unexcelled, even in my present beardless state."

She took a gander of him, a frown bled in her lips. "So your mother says."

"Beards do not imply power."

"I have witnessed that it surges confidence and prowess in men."

"Your convoys are barbarians." He said.

"Yours are gnats."

Laughter hurled out of his mouth. "Your infiltration tactics gave them good exercise."

"Of course." Yuki lifted a brow. "My father trained me."

"Mayors are experts in breaking laws." He let a grin crack between his stern lips.

"Ouji's are expert examples of callow." She lanced back. A second later, she gauged her life span for having spouted unintelligently in front of a superior pureblood. Let it not be condoned he was her closet confidante and as of recent he accumulated vast amount of her secrets. She didn't want to make him an enemy. He held a fort of leverage over her.

"What I meant was..." Yuki bleakly attempted in the tickling sloth of bile up her esophagus, "You're terribly inexperienced. If I'm not with you what'll happen to you? You don't know this world like I do."

"Possibly not." In the sentience of his mind, Kaname dismantled the diffuseness of her attack. His lips slanted in a half-hearted frown and grin. "Crooks designate a harshly rejected precedence that the knowledge of their work warrants praise in none but other crooks. I preclude objection and jealousy for this avocation."

She shook her fists as she bellowed, "I'm not a crook!"

"As it must be a crook's nature to deny their talents."

"You want to die?" Yuki sneered under his nose.

"As it must be a crook's nature to blindly threaten others." His black brows swept up somewhere in the sprinkling black bangs of hair. "I'm compelled to rectify here. The question should be do you think you can kill me?"

"Yes!" She sliced, clutching Artemis on her hip, "No big deal."

Kaname closed his eyes and smiled elegantly. "You fail at denying to be a crook and I happen to endorse the royal hierarchy that has allowed vampire legacy to be what it is today."

"Nothing prideful about that."

His smile limped and the corners of his eyes clenched in crystal menace. "You're set on ridiculing the monarchy until you have life in you."

"You're a better judge than I thought." She acceded. "We have a long way ahead, move faster."

"After you."

Kaname had conveniently learned Yuki was no softhearted, congenial creature. She was rough, valiant, corroded on the outside with an inner goodness translucent in her actions. She cared for his safety and weighted the consequence if he so much as pricked his pinky finger she'd throw herself in fire. Yuki was also unaccustomed to compliments, he'd badger her with poetic words and she'd revolt with curses in retaliation. It was amusing to watch her fluster. For one who'd never been around women that exalted emotions akin storms, volcanoes and earthquakes like Yuki, Kaname patiently observed all that he could. Even if she prodded him with negative illustrations about his absent beard and comely nature normally lost on men.

They traveled out of city but before that she purchased supplies and marvelous canteens of blood. Kaname felt a smile trigger on his mouth as he looked pointedly at her pelt. "You get thirsty frequently. You borderline hunger." Tugging his collar in felonious show of his opulent throat and neckline, he fanned himself. "Sometimes the heat is such a bother. The desert can be exasperating."

Yuki brutally swerved away, eyes pinned on her boots. She was in no position to feign having a satisfied hunger. She knew she couldn't pull it off when her food kept talking back as it flaunted its rich, succulent throat right under her nose.

Kaname was sensitive to her smell and reaction. The crucial wavelengths in her system allowed the pureblood ample inclination to rouse her starved interests with his blood…and body. She gritted her fangs inside her mouth and felt a sauce of hunger salivate the lining of her gums. She abided to give him a tour but beyond this assignment she feared losing control and refused his company.

"Go home." Yuki pulled off his wig. "I have work to do and I don't want you around."

The way his eyes motioned on her was delicious. Hunger riled in her stomach, pinching her bloodstreams tight and a faint but somnolent buzz tweaked at the bottom of her throat. His neck was in provident sight and her eyes relished its pale softness.

What luscious throat you have...

Somehow his skin dazzled like precious stones in the afternoon sun and his murky red eyes imbibed all but restraint. They lit up at her starkness and she stumbled back, afraid of herself more than him. Her mind sprained logic to comfort her starved and unruly body. His lips quirked, unhesitant and spot on at her struggle and the movement provoked a tingle posthaste between her toes, somewhere incurably sensitive she hadn't a clue of its sensory existence. Quietly, meekly as if in baited secret, her tongue lapped over her mouth at the sight of his well-formed lips.

What supple lips you have...

She bit down on her tongue and shook her head. "I mean it." Yuki wrestled with her purchases. "The culprit I'm after is tricky. If you're around me—"

"You want me." He stated, a fact sizzling in the dying breeze that accepted its truth, and all around her the world seemed to stand still, sinking in the glow of the same truth. A truth she didn't want to accept.

She wouldn't. She was Yuki, a civil servant who scoffed at her pureblood prince. "You humor me. I don't have time to play with you. I've shown you enough of our lovely town. Go home and leave me alone." In spite of the groomed and precise state of her bags, she shuffled and delved inside as if hunting for contents in the dark.

Kaname's posture slanted forward as he leaned in her ear. "Admit it." The heat of his breath made the clinging hair strands on her cheek quiver.

"Are you insane?" Yuki cried, flinging several steps for emergent space between them. "Do you take me for a hussy?"

He smirked wily and rubbed the edge of his mouth with a pad of his thumb. "If I could even call you that."

She clenched her eyes and waved her question into idle woolgathering. "I don't care. Whatever you have to say is of no concern to me. Keep your perverted thoughts to yourself."

Kaname's head slopped to the side in silent doubt. She stood gripped by the motion, never imagining their pureblood prince, a strong future commander of their nation looking confused over her trivialities.

Leave it to bookworms. She silently hissed at the back of her mind.

He bent in her face again, discerning the hunger in her pupils. "I can smell you want me. I can hear it in your blood and in the undertone of your heartbeat." Kaname smirked, all amused and victorious, "I have a condition. There's only one way we can move forward. Wear a dress, color your lips, do your hair and you can have all of me."

Yuki's mouth curled in loath and her fangs sinisterly warped into view. His lithe hand swiftly thrust on her dentures and scraped a digit on her incisor. She gasped at the brisk stroke as he retrieved his cut finger to examine the sharpness of her fangs. Absently she licked remnants from his hot blood on her teeth.

"What'd you do that for?" She demanded.

"Your fangs are in good condition but they feel strangely sharper against your tongue, don't they?" He inquired, straightening his height and smiled as he healed the cut. "Your senses are sensitive and you get stirred by simple notions. It's temporary but you better feed soon. Need I remind you that any blood in this world will be unsatisfactory unless you drink the blood you crave?" Kaname ran the finger over his mouth. "I assume it's none but mine."

She scoffed, "I drank my father's blood growing up. Do you think your blood is all I want?"

Kaname smirked, "So you do want my blood?"

"I never said such things." She shouted at the preposterous remark.

"Two bloods make who you are: your mother's and father's. At a certain point in a vampire's adulthood you start craving another's blood. This blood has a different value and sensational power, sometimes muddles a vampire's sanity."

"Your words don't touch me, Ouji." Yuki muttered in disinterest. "Blood is our food, nothing special. My hunger is none of your business. It's my problem if I starve."

"So I take you won't accept my offer?" A black brow leapt behind bangs in amused question.

"If you want a hussy take your fat bag of coins and trash the geisha's den." She turned. "Let's never meet again."

Kaname's considered her as she strolled with her head held high. "Need I remind you we're no longer in your hometown and I have no means of protection."

She hissed against her collar. "You truly are the most useless infidel on the planet, aren't you? Why are you a damn prince in the first place?"

"Does my birth right also need to be questioned by you?"

"As a matter of fact, yes." Yuki grunted. "Why'd you have to be a pureblood? You brag about the positive influence certain purebloods have in the world, get real."

Kaname stopped upon her, looming close and brimming with thickening frost as he answered. "I shall be the first to convince you that not all purebloods are terrible."

"Don't waste your time. I can't stand purebloods." She growled.

"Somehow I doubt this coming from a mayor's daughter benefits his record."

"Don't talk about my father." Yuki snapped.

"I won't." Kaname's brows remained hidden under long hair locks, "Only if you stop casually insulting my royal clan."

"Wake up and smell the pig's den." Hollered the noble woman stalking angrily in front. "Not everyone is a fan of the king and queen."

Kaname caressed his trimmed and sculpted jaw line. "Such nuisance can't be prevented, I wager."

"Wager all you want." Yuki nodded over her shoulder.

He smirked sinisterly at her brown head and met her pace. "Why did you refuse my offer?"

"I reserve the right to reject you. I'm not your slave." She informed.

"You are a Civil Servant saying no to your prince."

"I'm not your personal servant."

"Hm." Kaname merely voiced, a challenging grin molded his mouth as he regarded her in silent admiration. "What does it take for a woman to be like you? Rough and violent like a bull, filthy and remarkable like a swine?"

Peevishly she eyed him and said in that razor, flat tone that knocked the back of his knees. "Ask your mother."

Kaname staggered and looked up, fury embedded in his eyes as he hissed. "Yet again you insult your queen."

"What can I do?" Yuki resumed without glancing at the acrimonious pureblood on her right. "It's a born habit. Too late changing it now." She was silent afterwards for a second and gave him a look. "Why haven't you disappeared yet? You can't come with me."

"I take pleasure in making life difficult for you." The prince proclaimed.

"I'd give you a life-achievement award but I'm taking off." She strutted into a random alley.

Kaname noticed her marching boots thump their way across the ruined gravel and slippery mud. "And if your superiors ask why I never showed up at the annual dinner convention or that my whereabouts are unknown, how will you answer? Considering you were the last assigned to give me a tour."

Her piqued eyes flashed through drizzling hair locks as she turned her head. "Ouji, do yourself a favor and go home."

Kaname folded his arms. "Will your conscience let you sleep worry-free tonight, not knowing where I am or who takes advantage of me?"

"Fall off a bridge and drown." She literally took off, unhesitant.

Kaname hadn't entirely expected her to abandon him. She was completely unbothered and carefree as if he were an outrageous insect. At that moment anger consumed him. The next, it dissipated into confusion that made him pace listlessly back and forth across the street, hoping she changed her mind and would retrieve him out of the fragile kindness of her heart.

She never came.

Damn crook.

He sat on the sidewalk in the bitter night and glimpsed at the stars taunting him in his despicable state. A pureblood prince stranded without a compass. She warned him to head back a thousand times but he was overly confident she'd dare not abandon him. Kaname decided after forfeiting any hope for a rescue that the woman by name of Yuki was heartless, an irresponsible hoodlum and unsophisticated for his interests.

Reminding himself of his prestigious upbringing and name, Kaname rose from the sidewalk and looked up again at the star-mapped night. He hadn't expected women to be outrageously stoned hearted. She was practically a walking ice sculpture, margined on cold wrath.

º º º

Yuki growled at a pebble and sent it scrolling halfway across the park. "Conscience? I have none."

He followed her unnecessarily regardless of her important tasks. Did he assume because of his lineage, the sun and world spun for him? That she would drop her job and drag herself on her knees, obeying his every plea and command? She was no fool.

She jumped up and down, stomping and hoping to shake the world with her incessant earthly pounding. Running out of breath, Yuki hunched over and spat her venomous thoughts on the floor. "He's not my problem." She wiped the saliva from her mouth. "He has people, being a prince, he must. All he has to do is run into people and tell them he's a prince." Yuki laughed and waved at the crispy wind. "He'll be fine!" She assured the stars. "You'll see. People like him are too important to be lost forever on the stre—"

People like him—purebloods—were prone to attacks and kidnaps for their rare blood and ancestry. Frequent kidnapping rates increased around purebloods compared to the common vampire. Most were found but the unfortunate ones without luck were never seen ever again. Kaname was only a recent kidnap victim. Yuki crunched a shoot of grass on the flat plain with her boot until it turned to paste.

"He has powers." She reminded herself. "Don't you think all that reading will give him escape ideas?" Wasn't she the one to accept his godly innocent and bookworm demeanor? He was a child. She'd praised his worthiness temporarily and barked at him for his inferior combat abilities.

And his absent beard...

Guiltily she hunted her pocket and unraveled the article to the silent night. Throwing her head back, she wailed like a lone wolf. Why did she have to be harsh? Why did he have to be right? Why was her conscience tormenting her all of a sudden?

I shouldn't care. I don't want to care. I mustn't care. I won't care, damn it! She rubbed her tearing eyes and gaped at the empty road she left behind.

"Ouji?" Yuki quivered to the shadowy streets. The night was still and cold, no longer twitching with movement and life like the ostensible truth.

But I do care.

That was why she darted back through the street, faster than she had taken the route the first time.

I do care. I do, I do care! All my efforts for keeping him safe in the desert would be for nothing if something happens to him tonight.

Yuki staggered at the edge of the alley where they parted. "Ouji!" She screamed at the silent intersection. From left to right, spiritless shadows mocked. She called hysterically again, frantically jumping from one sidewalk to another, waving and stumbling over her unlaced boots. "Where are you?"

Evanescent as a dream, Kaname was nowhere to be found. She grew restless and bumped into stores that were open late, pestering customers and passersby. "Ouji?" Yuki yelled out of frustration.

It was apparent he moved on quickly, perhaps found a way to return home by asking a fellow citizen for directions. For incomparably dubious reasons, Yuki felt her eyes burn at the idea of Kaname speaking to strangers. He was a baby chick, waddling through town trying to find a way home and no one would look upon him with pity but marvelous black intentions. He was doomed, that baby chick, innocent and doting with no one to protect him from danger.

She tossed her purchases on the ground and cursed vehemently at the sidewalk, the crisscrossing pebbles, the lamppost and carriages, at the world and blinking stars, at how luminous the moon was and why it couldn't lantern a path for her to her charge. It was her fault for being stubborn but she couldn't trust solely on the fact that he was a male pureblood and could endure any suffering. People weren't auspicious and she encountered frequent experiences that proved her distrust of the world.

She didn't want Kaname to suffer. What would it all be for? His father looked at her with pride and interest as if he approved of her for a minute. If possible in her lifetime Yuki secretly preferred to be respected in the eyes of the king. His mother was something else but weren't all mothers tediously possessive of their only child? It was simple motherly affection, no wonder she grew suspicious of Yuki. As for his grandmother, oh—Yuki could envision the distraught on her face if Kaname were inflicted. The country wouldn't have a prince, a future king. Didn't Kaname mention he had no siblings?

He was the only hope for the country! Did she dare insult such a precious commodity with trivial stubbornness? Would it have hurt her to be nicer to him?

"What the hell did I just do?" Yuki mumbled in retrospect, "Why was I being cruel in the first place?"

He had given her blood to help sustain life. He healed her when she raided the palace, and for her sake, kept her secret. Now because of her he showed up in her hometown, following her around out of impractical boredom.

And I had the gall to get him stabbed.

Yuki whirled round and round on the streets. "Ouji?" Any person perceptible with Kaname's silhouette was searched. She shoved the tall man out of her way and abounded to the succeeding corner.

Patience was the key. All she had to do was keep her tongue and nod at his requests, no matter how expensively shameful they were. Next time, she'd do everything he wanted.

As she searched for two hours, she chanted secretly under her breath, unbeknownst to herself. "Please, don't be dead. Please, don't be dead. Please, don't be dead." As if the words would warp Kaname into view. She wished with her might to open her eyes and find him standing in a flawless state.

Yes, that'd be great.

Yuki gulped nervously. Seeing him just once and all would be all right with the world. No more fights, no more acting haughty, she'd be nicer—obedient.

She dropped on the sidewalk with her head in her hands.


She closed her eyes. It couldn't be happening. Now she hoped he picked up a few tactics of warding off people by following her around. Yuki cringed, shaking at the impossible idea. He hadn't a rotten bone in his body to be crude. The air he gave off was extremely suave, clean and luxurious, an obvious attraction to women and an appealing victim for goons. It was apparent he was not safe in either company. At least with Yuki he didn't have to worry about seduction because she'd fallen from grace in the female domain since she was a toddler and Kaname could trust in the fact that she'd never rob or leave him dead in a ditch.

Yuki stared at her trembling fingers and sucked air sharply through her fangs. She hadn't realized she was panting until the steam of her breath clouded on her hands.


It was the only answer. Her stomach fluttered and plopped dead center against her spine like a bird entangled on barbwires of a fence at a border. Yuki clenched her abdomen and breathed tentatively. There was a way to contact him. Since she drank his blood, she could track him. Did she dare depend on an aspect she'd been determined to eliminate since its inception?

Blood bond...

That's what Kaname's grandmother called it. A bond between two vampires, a supernal connection that surpassed any limits. She resented and feared the thought at the same time. Never had she wanted to be close to a pureblood through blood bond, not the present prince in the least. Her mother was a separate obstacle, which she didn't openly confront on a day-to-day basis. If she took this step and forced herself to tap into the blood bond what would happen to her? Would she become dependent on it? Would something unusual transpire between Kaname and herself? Where would the bond take them?

"Wait a minute." Yuki slapped her numbed hands on her thighs to return sensation in them. "Families have blood bonds." She grinned in relief and nodded to herself. She'd only need to know if he was safe and uninjured.

What was I thinking? She knocked her temple with a chuckle. A prince's lover, me? Let the sun rob the moon and the stars falls from the sky, this much would never be true. "Hah."

Closing her eyes, she concentrated on his scent, his unconscious movements derived from habit. "Ouji..." Yuki scowled, delving her mind.

Instinct seized her limbs and moved her off the ground. She glared into the streets, scanning all sides and darted straight. She could hear him like a whisper in her ear, a chiming bell somewhere in the loops of a forgotten mountain. He was far but reachable.

Yuki ran for ten minutes out of the curvy streets and into grasslands. Horses huffed and waved tails in the breeze in front of homes. She cut through fences and footpaths, ducked under barrels and fruit trees. Halting under a freezing tarp, Yuki designated her new milieu a good study. A boat shifted in the pond in the diagonal corner. Leaves crunched and fluttered under her boots, raining on the water. She stopped by the bank, under the speechless moon and glanced at the oars against the anchor.

"Did you follow me?" A mountain shifted from the darkness behind her.

Yuki hissed in her blinding turn, her fists locked in air.

Kaname folded his arms and sighed at the beaming moon that spilled its silvery magic on Yuki's hair.

She lowered her arms out of sudden control, which alarmed and annoyed her greatly. Yuki sprang on him and clutched him by the collar. "Why didn't you follow me? What would you have done if something happened to you?" She raged. "Do you know purebloods get kidnapped more than children? You think I'll always come to your rescue? Don't you care what your family will do if something happens to you? You're a damn prince of our freakin' country and you get lost in a stupid town for no reason?"

Kaname blinked vacantly and clamped her hands with an alarming suddenness.

She tensed from the pressure of his hold. Inertly Yuki eyed his strong hands. His longer digits and palms enshrouded hers entirely. In her upset contemplation she couldn't help but conclude that her hands wielded no power compared to his. Not in size, not in texture and not in agility.

What am I thinking? Yuki blinked stormily at his soft digits. His strength was prominent, exuding out of his skin without exertion unlike Yuki.

All his life he only knew how to handle books. Remember Yuki, you slaved for years mastering combat, slept on streets and broke bones to attain your strength. He can't compare to you. He wields books and perfumes while you carry guns and knives.

Glaring sturdily at the pureblood, she growled. "Let go of my hand before I chop them off."

He continued speculating her in swallowing interest. "Why?"

"Because I said so." Yuki snapped.

Ack! Patience, it's the only way to play nice, Yuki.

She sniffed, "Or else I'll touch you where even the orange haired couldn't."

Kaname's black brow inclined an inch. "And where is that?"

Her fangs peeked greedily above her full, bottom lips. "The part that'll let you have children as long as it's not mutilated."

He chuckled and stepped closer, fearless and provocative than she liked. She was unhappily startled by the fact that he didn't react to her threatening his royal heir-maker apparatus. Men often treasured their jewels. Why didn't Kaname, did he prefer sexual torture?

She inched calculatingly back and he bore into her face fast. "Yuki," He searched her moon-glistening eyes with a smile. "We both know why you're trying exasperatingly hard to take control of the situation here. You can't face the truth. Don't you find it fascinating you wanted to find me?"

"No." Yuki replied sharply. "Hell no, I don't."

Kaname tilted his head and smirked wider, reveling in her stubbornness like a lion looming on his prey. His nose brushed against hers subtly. "Yuki..."

She clenched her eyes and twisted her face away. Play nice. Remember to play nice. Future king, important person.

"You were worried about me." Kaname whispered.

"About your organs to be precise." She corrected, eyes trained shut. "They're priceless in the black market."

Kaname scowled and tugged her face by her chin. Her eyes snapped open in alarm, peering widely at his uncharacteristically concerned expression. His eyes were pitched black, darker than his hair, which crinkled against her forehead and cheeks. "Yuki..." He murmured against her dry, rough mouth, nipped from crisp and harsh climate.

She quivered from the heat of his breath, froze as her heart shot up to her throat.

"You were worried." Kaname mouthed in confirmation.

"There's a..." Yuki gulped at his hypnotizing eyes. "Misunderstanding. A difference."

"We both can see the truth here."

Her eyes doubled. Why does he—? Her lids sealed in solemn concentration. Smell enticing? Pepper, wood, black rain clouds, a mist of fresh linen, lavender silk... She sniffed high in her nose. Ah... Yuki salivated and lapped her lips. The smell of his humid skin.

Mere inches from her exposed neck, Kaname gazed at the supple lining arrested inside the cloak. She had tan lines but they'd soon disappear judging by the transitioning season.

A roar blasted from the edge of the night, rippling the standing pond with stark black lines. Yuki tore her hands and grabbed her stomach.

Kaname unnervingly surmised the sound was not worldly but the giant in her belly demanding to be fed.

I can't believe his smell makes me hungry. Yuki cupped her mouth and nibbled her knuckles. Bite his skin, pluck his hair, cook him in a hot pot or tie to him upside down a tree and let all his blood drain to his head. Her stomach noisily declared its issue as her eyes rolled shut in shuddering pleasure at the aspect of savoring his blood. It was supremely seductive that she thought she'd go mad.

"Ouji," Yuki panted with her back averted, twitching from hunger spasms, "Do me a favor and get away."

Kaname noticed her frame quake like a radiating power needed to burst out of her body and take on a human form. "You mean you need blood." He caught on.

She glared eerily over her shoulder. "You find this amusing? Sometimes it's hard to contain certain instincts that demand impossible things."

Kaname leaned his face over her shoulder to peer into her crinkled profile. "You mean me."

Letting out a dismal quiver, Yuki clutched her thick hair and knelt on the grass. "Why did I throw my groceries away?" She briskly shot up. Her knees locked and claws clicking at her thighs. Brilliant crimson eyes widened on Kaname, she panted and unhooked her cloak from her neck. "I'll be right back." Faintly letting the garment sag on the floor, Yuki shifted open her shirt and stripped in the magnificent moonlight into a flimsy under shirt.

Kaname reacted immediately by looking away. What was the oddity regarding her losing clothes whenever he was around?

She kicked off her boots, loosened her slacks and dove in the pond. The shallow pond rose and took her deep underneath, rolling and knotting under the net of leaves. Raptly Kaname watched the bank for signs of her revival. He waited for several minutes for movement and knelt on the side, listening at the pond floor being caressed by her swimming body. She turned and dipped further toward schools of fishes. Her claws clipping them and stringing blood that ran forever around her body and face. She fed for a long time, her appetite never diminishing and he believed she'd never resurface for air. She sprang out the first time and shook like a rabid animal and disappeared in the darkness again.

Tongue on cheek, Kaname listened to the sounds of her underwater. He could see her fumbling, catching and rewarding herself with more tokens of cold blood. It wasn't satisfactory but she didn't dare complain. Time shimmered and hooked the corners of the earth. Kaname sat back and sighed at nothing in particular.

Her head popped to the surface, face smeared in blood and haunting red eyes tainted by untamed animal hunger sparkled from under messed hair. She crawled to the bank and straightened, shook her hair and clothes as any undomesticated mammal would. On his left, she sat down panting and freezing.

"The cold rinse was mandatory." She explained reluctantly.

Kaname rubbed the top of his lip while speculating of her profile. Her fangs clicked and chattered like bat wings from the cold. "If you wanted I had no problem giving blood."

"I'm not your pity dispensary."

Kaname blinked a couple of times and cleared his throat. "I imagined you'd do the same for me." He decided softly. "Wouldn't you?"

She twitched under the weight of responsibility and moral specifics. "Only if it were a life and death case. If I'd get a seven acre land with eighteen horses, five sheeps, three water wells, a private bar with lifetime alcohol and my own city as a reward."

Kaname had no answer so he laughed under his breath. "Why doesn't that surprise me?" In the soft whisper, Kaname studied the pond and sighed. "I'm still waiting."

Yuki began wringing water from her hair. "For?"

"Reciprocation." He said.

She paused uncertainly, "Didn't we have this conversation before?"

He squared a sparkling fang in her direction. "Precisely."

"What kind of reciprocation are you waiting for?" She prodded.

Kaname's eyes floated over her wet physique, flicking uncomfortably from her transparent shirt. He sat up, "That's for you to decide. I've done my side of contemplation. When will you start? Or should I ask have you started and don't know yet?"

"Stop talking gibberish." Yuki barked. "You think I have the mental muscles to interpret your cryptic lingo?"

"It won't hurt to try." Said the fair prince with his nose in the air.

"That makes no absolute sense."

"I assume you just don't know yet." He speculated Yuki suspiciously.

Boldly, she shook her head with a shrug. "I don't even know what this is about."

"You will." Kaname guaranteed, to himself rather than aloud. "You will, eventually."

The temperature dripped while the two sat alongside the pond. Almost bare and indecent in her wet undergarments Yuki tugged her cloak over her nudity and relaxed on the grass. She let out an exhausted sigh into the air and gazed into the profound abyss fixed with stars and the lonesome moon. Her comrade sat stonily. Although his arms and legs seemed strained and tactfully locked in place, his stature was uncomfortable and forceful as if he were guarded and afraid of movement.

Yuki set an arm under her head and whispered tiredly into the night. "Lay down and look at the stars. It's gorgeous. I figure you don't star gaze at the palace often, do you?"

Kaname glanced skeptically in her direction but leaned back, searching through transparent clouds that whirled out of his way to reveal boundless stars. "After some time I was able to choose what I wanted and do as I pleased but only in the limits of the library."

"How terrible."

Kaname broke away from the sky, his stare bitter as frost upon Yuki. "How so?"

"You learn best by practicing things hands-on. It may be rough at first but what's the point of living in a dream when you can do what you want in the real world—outside?" She let out an ill chuckle. "We are terrifyingly different, Ouji. Because I'm a girl it was noticeable I did things I wasn't supposed to do. I never liked being limited." Her eyes darkened in understanding at his rigid profile. "But you're a royal that's why you didn't have a choice. If we'd met earlier I would've easily whisked you out of the library and taken you with me everywhere."

He looked at her directly, his eyes piercing as cold air upon fresh wound. "Why can't you do it now, what's different?"

Yuki felt her smile repress from his smothering eyes. "You're a big responsibility."

Kaname scoffed automatically. "For a prideful girl such as yourself, you definitely are insecure about your skills."

"Wrong. Who do you think will get their ass kicked if something happened to you?" She retorted. "Your being here with me is already too risky."

"Why are you afraid a pureblood will get hurt? Unlike you, we are durable."

"You don't remember getting kidnapped? It's because of your damn organs. They fetch a lofty price in the market." Yuki defended, adding, "Do you think I have time to watch over you?"

"It would have been better..." Kaname inspected the grass. "If you weren't so readily honest all the time. I might have let you be on your way to find the culprit." A breeze flung his bangs over his eyes, further veiling his nose and cheekbones. "I'm not normally petulant and irresponsible. I get to exercise these traits when my mother is around just to get her attention, but I find myself doing it a lot with you."

"It's fine." Yuki cut him soundly with an irritating scoff. "It's because you're our precious prince and you get away with these distasteful habits."

Kaname slowly mauled over her form, on her blinking eyes and glistening wet hair. The forthcoming words surprised him more than the subject of his thoughts, "Why are you not a pureblood?"

Her personal history with purebloods was not pleasant. Not after learning her mother was one and who ultimately served as contagion to her father. She decided early in life to resent all purebloods. They tossed away things, ignored value and devotion just to sate their desires. Her father taught her to peer deeply into everything she came across. The procedure of delving, helping and purchasing knowledge quenched the disparaging memory of how she had been thrown away. All creatures, human and animal, at some level were selfish but not obscenely selfish compared to purebloods. They were hateful.

As she confirmed her perimeters on the matter for the millionth time, a tear cascaded from the corner of her eye and her heart quivered a little. Yuki's wide eyes relaxed as she dissolved the hurdle of emotions inside her chest.

Kaname looked up in the smell of hot tears. She had closed her eyes and breathed evenly.

"I am half pureblood. Isn't it enough?" She whispered.

He scowled, "It's not. For me it's either I discard you or I discard myself completely."

Her eyes sharply opened, blinked several times at the moon and dipped over his head. His hair shuddered in the breeze. "Something tells me I should know what that means."

Sometime later when her eyes were closed, his hand drifted over her wet strands. They craftily felt on the moist locks and loosened them at once, letting the wind snap them back, out of reach. Kaname set his hand down, and from beside her Yuki could sense the heaviness pour out of his soul. His shoulders were hunched and molded inwards as his legs were trained out to the bank. She cringed for an unspeakable moment. The truth held her a silent prisoner on the ground.

He was fighting with himself. For something unfathomable or what was beyond his limits. A person who was trained to follow rules, walk within lines and dream in a room. His boundaries were being tested. Whatever he was after, it was only attainable if he abandoned the confines of his existence and Kaname was not sure if he should.

º º º

"Like it or not even without your discretion she must've checked in."

Shiki rubbed his chin and eyed the dispersed documents on his desk. "Well I'm not one to hold her down or push her around. She tends to do what appeals to her." Instantly his eyes narrowed amusedly. "You do know her astoundingly well."

Zero looked up from his folded arms with no sense of agreeable complaisance or patience. "Did she say where she was going?"

Shiki closed a folder without looking. "I told her to escort a kin of the royal family around town."

"Royal?" His lavender eyes fused into silvery suspicion. "As in the Kuran?"

"Sort of." Shiki mumbled out of vague belief, "His name was Ran, said he grew up at the palace. She wouldn't let off unless I let her do some work so I told her to show him around."

Zero opened the door and hung back with a disillusioned stare. "You are aware that by allowing her to show this Ran around, she can merely abandon him in an alley without a backward glance and pounce on her mission to track the missing culprit? This is Yuki we are talking about."

Shiki held his stare for quite sometime and slowly, loudly he gulped at the sentience of Yuki's disposition on ignoring the world by all means to do what she desired. "I-I'll send someone to help you find her!" He gasped.

"No need." Zero muttered mutely and exited. He had gotten in the habit of going after Yuki during her escapades that he was not surprised by the task at hand. Lightly he brushed his temple and considered the direction she may have taken. The wilder and tougher the road, the more likely she would have crossed it, he concluded.

As he went to retrieve his horse from the stable, the stark shadow at the entrance prevented his route. Respectfully he bent his head as he stepped closer toward Haruka.

He looked away from the roof of the association and beamed at the boy. The simple and vibrant emotion in his ruby eyes dispelled. "Yuki came around here earlier. Have you seen her?" Her father inquired.

"She left on business again. I'm on my way to get her."

Haruka nodded and gestured him through the stable. "When you see her tell her to come home as soon as possible. I have something important to share with her."

Zero paused by Lilly's stall, "I believe it's best you speak to her about suitors. She disapproves my helping you."

Haruka sighed softly and patted his back. "This isn't about suitors. I need you to pass this message on to her as soon as you see her. The rest I'll take care of it. I know you are looking out of her. Don't always do what she tells you. She also needs some growing up to do. You can rebuke her as much as you like." He smiled.

"Yuki detests the idea of marriage, Haruka-sama." Zero informed. "Personally she doesn't feel ready."

Haruka was staring at the ground sadly. "I haven't done a good job prepping her on feminine attributes. That's her weakest spot. Even though she is a girl she doesn't see herself as one." He worded cautiously. "Should I arrange her to go to workshops or meet some female colleagues of mine who can mentor her?"

Zero absently smirked and controlled himself. "I'll pass your message on to her."

"Ah, yes, thank you." Haruka retreated to the side and held open the stall door.

º º º

"Aw, that's a good boy." Dark maroon eyes widened in excitement as she readily opened her arms, "Come here, Kaname. This way." Her tender arms were slender and despite their delicate build, they firmly hugged the child and scooped him from the floor. Her hair and skirt fluttered in the wind as she whirled the child in midair.

"Ah! You laughed. You like flying, Kaname?" She lowered him and quickly whisked him back up. Her laughter was soft and angelic, just like the wrinkle on her brows and the sweeping line filling the corners of her lips. She held him to her bosom and sat down in a chair on the balcony. Bouncing the boy on her knees, she pointed out to the garden. "What do you think of the flowers, aren't they pretty?"

As if feeling cold she hugged him tightly and rested her cheek on his head. "Kaname will take a walk with me tomorrow. Then we'll go to the dining hall and sit with his oka and otou-sama. Then we'll go to the playroom again. We'll take a bath and then I'll sing Kaname lullabies and he'll go to sleep. Then he'll wake up the next day, hahaha." She cradled and swayed with him in her arms, loving every pit of expression raining on his face.

"You're my favorite, Kaname. Oh, yes, you are!" She giggled.

A splash of chilling wind throttled Yuki. She briskly sat up on the moist grass and swore like a groaning elephant at the dawn. The swishing trees silenced and she briefly took in her surroundings. Kaname was not next to her. She stiffened and browsed the area before dressing in her dry clothes clumsily. Fortunately her body had grown used to freezing temperatures that she didn't catch a cold. She darted from the bank and called for the prince.

"Where did you go, Ouji?" Yuki halted at the threshold of the village in contemplation.

The sun was teething at the tip of the land, brushing its blazing rims and inching higher by the second. As the world warmed, she walked in various directions, hopping and trespassing farms in search of Kaname. After their conversation last night one would think he'd have the sense not to disappear. Rather than give Yuki periodic panic attacks he'd obediently wait by her side like a useful ward. Too much to ask for it was to Yuui's luck. She stormed into the city, bumped shoulders, met glares and warded off desperate vendors at the market. By midday Kaname was still nowhere to be found. She returned to the pond where they spent the night in the afternoon because a creeping hope insisted that he'd reappear and eliminate her worries.

She hadn't taken into account how pleased she was after finding him last night or she might have died from worrying. It was time consuming to wait and search for the prince and so Yuki rebounded on her original mission.

"You think it's a good idea to vanish for no reason without telling me? Fine. I won't look anymore." She growled impatiently and kicked a pebble.

Instead of running to sword smiths asking to inspect the culprit's knife at her disposal, she slugged through streets in disinterest and walked for miles powerlessly. Instead of getting to the bottom of her task, she wanted nothing more than to sit down and scream for the prince. She almost curled on the ground and whined.

Why do I feel this way? Yuki wiped her eyes and swallowed the knot in her throat.

He was pestering and she didn't need him around. These were her primary reasons for shooing him off, and despite he was gone an emptiness lodged in her chest. She felt tired analyzing his whereabouts or if she'd offended Kaname. He may have come to his senses and returned home for the best. Even though it was a rational and critical objective, his absence was palpable. She didn't turn a street corner without checking to see if he followed or leave a single passerby unasked if he or she had seen him.

Two days of relentless searching, Yuki resolved to capture the culprit instead. There was no dock or a group of excellent combatants she could vent her frustration off of. The area where the knives originated was an abandoned sugar cane mill. New developments had ceased due to nonstop criminal activities. Citizens deserted the place to forgo the malicious environment. The remaining citizens that hung back belonged namely to the esoteric clan affiliated with the attacks at the Mask Festival.

The rundown factory didn't designate a security system that it was no surprise to find the place wealthy in rodents. With her weapons ready and feet locked guardedly on the floor, she winded closer to the end and made a left turn. Her vampire abilities allowed her to see perfectly in the dark, however, she couldn't brush off the disturbing vibe that the place had already been ransacked. Furniture's were overturned, appliances lay scattered and the usual state of misplacement screamed of a violent struggle. She could smell blood on the floor. Hundreds of mice swarmed out of her way as she leaned down to inspect it.

Yuki traced the substance, over a couple of hours it had turned brown. She pulled away in understanding.

They had already run off. Someone had been here before her. If she hadn't wasted time looking for Kaname she might have caught the damn cockroach in time. Yuki shackled her back knife on her belt and turned around. Letters smeared the top of the door. The elegant calligraphy flared on a straight line and ended merely above the wooden corner.

A hurried breath whispered out of her mouth as she studied the words carefully: "A woman shouldn't have to hound criminals for a living. She is the one in need of protection."

Her boots pounded on the tile when she took a step forward. There were weight marks streaked across the floor from her spot. Kicking several mice out of her way, she was promptly led to a door in the corner. A key hung on the lock, a gentle welcome. Her brows knitted in a mixture of disappointment and suspicion but she unlocked the door and held it open.

Bodies crumbled out of the closet, each slumped over the other. She gaped at the burly men. Their hands covered in dirt and blood while their arms and legs secured with ropes. Yuki counted heads and reviewed them again.

"Seven. Is this some twisted barf-provoking theme—Girl finds a building in the middle of nowhere and creeps inside to find seven knuckleheads."

A man picked his sweaty head up and mumbled, "You mean 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs'?"

"Don't compare me with that disgraceful schlemiel." Yuki roared like a mountain lion. The men cringed and flattened instantly. "If it were me I'd shove gazillion apples down her throat to prevent girls from looking up to that harlot." The men groaned from the floor which allowed Yuki to share her fury at the sight, "What happened here?"

"Please take us with you." One of the men scrounged, "We won't hide or run. Take us and let us pay for our crimes."

Her expression flipped to one of stern disbelief. "Say what?" Cautiously she bent into one's ear and tugged it up. He yelped in return. "Who did this to you?"

He closed his eyes. "I don't know. I don't know anything."

"Yes, you do. Now tell me whom it was." She ordered.

"A tall…." Heaved a prone man from the floor, "Extremely tall man. He made a bet that if we could defeat him we'd get to keep the female hunter."

Her fist silenced the man at once, and she rose with anger seeping and oozing through each draught of breath. "Who would dare make a bet of the sort? I'll kill him myself—tell me this instant whom it was!"

"We couldn't see his face but he left you a note." A clear nod of the man's head made Yuki cringe and glare again at the writing above the door.

"What a sick joke." She murmured under her breath. Not only was it a matter of pride but also it was her assignment. She was authorized to catch the culprit. Since the first half of her job was done, she lingered to ask questions about the attacks at the festival, searched the warehouse for similar weapons and verified their identities. Before leaving Yuki chained them properly and led them out into the streets.

They shared brief words sometimes and while Yuki would rather sneer and crudely hiss at them to keep their silence, they returned with amusing remarks about how unfortunate it was to see the actual female hunter they had made a bet on from the beginning.

"You don't look like how he described. You're petite and look like a mouse. Are you sure you're the hunter?" The man behind Yuki persisted.

"If I could I swear I'd twist your neck." She muttered.

The chain jingled in the wind along with the sound of footsteps. The wind howled and the afternoon swarmed with stars. From the road Yuki checked the sky and thought of Kaname. She wanted to know if he was all right but the concern beckoned a sinister craving for beating him into a pulp for wasting her precious time looking for his pureblood ass. He may resent her for looking or defend she didn't really have to but she was damned determined he could not protect himself at all costs. Yuki nibbled her bottom lip.

I miss his smell.

She wanted to slap him.

But he smells like expensive silk.

Despite her lack of contact with expensive silk, she assumed Kaname smelled like one. His scent and the pitch in his voice died in the last conversation. Somewhere from the train of thought, pain pricked Yuki's heart. He spoke as if he were running from or rushing to something. Her feet halted in the stark night, setting the draft stumbling and toppling on each other.

Yuki regarded the crew expectedly. "He didn't look strong, right?"

The men blinked and exchanged glances.

"He has a classy air." Yuki whispered, "And his eyes twinkle but his skin is an indefectible ivory because it hasn't been in the sun compared to ours. And his voice—his voice is like a cold wind smothering a roaring fire in the night."

"Yes, twinkle twinkle."

The men snickered and howled like wolves.

"It may have sparkled too."

Yuki yanked the chain roughly and as the theory of motion went, the men were tossed on the floor without much choice. "What the hell are you laughing at?" A banshee would have whimpered and run off if confronted by Yuki's hysterical cry.

The silent men wished they could as well.

"You pulled us under with one move." Said a man quietly by her feet. "But you don't look threatening. He said you were strong like an ox, cunning like a hawk, slippery like fish, noble as a horse, kin—"

"That's why we took the bet!" Hollered the last chained man. "We wanted a fit servant."

"Don't worry." Her fangs flashed sinisterly. "I will serve you well when you're in prison."

º º º

Juuri had been looking out for movement beyond the door. A shadow slipped between walls and the door hurled open. His silhouette was infiltrated by multiple lamplights. Neither flinching nor averse toward the illumination, Kaname resumed closing the door and changing his shoes for the in-house slippers. Juuri wandered around the wall and stood rapt, watching him enter the room. They stopped upon each other and silently passed a greeting through their eyes. Kaname moved around her toward his room.

"Where were you?" Juuri asked concernedly. "You took off real early."

"I went to explore the town." Kaname replied.

Her darkened eyes fell on the album on the table. "There's something important I need to tell you."

"Please hold off on it." He ran a fatigued hand through his long hair.

"It's about that girl." Juuri hastily said, striding to his side, "Please, you need to know."

He passively examined her wrinkled eyes and frown. "You don't want me to meet her?"

Juuri averted her eyes, "N-not exactly."

His brows inclined in soft surprise, "No? This is strange and new."

"You need to know her identity, about where she is from." Juuri clenched her fists. "She's connected to us, Kaname."

He inhaled deep in his lungs and mauled over the stretching shadows on the ceiling as her words lingered. "Because she works for the Hunters Association and is a Civil Servant?" He inanely surmised.

"I ran away from the palace years ago. I had an urge to explore." Juuri whispered. Her stiff shoulders relaxed as she caught his sleeves and guided him toward a chair. "Sit down."

Kaname only rubbed his brow. "You didn't want me to delve in your past. I decided to let it go. Why are you bringing it up again?"

Juuri sat across from him and curled her white hands in her lap. "Actually she is connected to me." Hesitantly she reached for the album between them. "Here."

He frowned at the cover peculiarly but accepted it and opened the pages. After a brief inspection the features of the subject darted out to him. Kaname turned more pages and stopped on a mature image of Yuki dressed in a male uniform.

"Why do you have this?" He wondered mildly, meanwhile committing the photo to memory. "From where did you acquire it?"

"Her father." Juuri answered and delicately took in his curious but sharp eyes over the album. "Does she appeal to you?"

"Far from it." Kaname muttered. "Not a single picture in a dress. I figure she was occupied trying to fit in a man's world, literally."

"Kaname..." Juuri leaned forward and captured his slender fingers. "Listen closely."

His narrowed eyes followed to her stern façade. "I am listening. What is this fear you're emitting?"

"I haven't talked about it with anyone from the palace. Not even your parents, grandmother or Rido." Juuri gestured the album gingerly, "That girl in there is a noble you already know. Her father was born from a straight political family. I ran away from the palace. Back then Kurashiki wasn't as big as it is now. I met someone who wanted to make the town a better place. We didn't get along fairly at first but I was always wary that he wasn't a pureblood. But we... We fell in love, Kaname." Tears streamed from her eyes as she drifted from painful memories. "We were so in love we didn't think about our statuses. I wanted to stay here forever."

"That man," Kaname alertly murmured, his hand lay still in her grip, colder than ice. "You met the other night was him."

"Yes." Juuri lowered her head. "While I was with him I gave birth...to a..." She struggled with herself and lifted a trembling finger at the album. "Her...She is mine. I abandoned her—both of them—to return to the palace." Juuri slipped off her chair and slumped on the floor. "I was afraid what the royal clan would do if they ever learned about Haruka and Yuki. So I ran without explanation and never turned back."

Looking dazedly from his aunt to the picture, he seeped remnants of sorted thoughts that craved to fit in a solid piece. A piece that was brutal as it was assaulting.

"Why did you break into the palace? Why did you want to meet Juuri-sama?"

"Why should I tell you?"

"I can help you."

"...After getting in the palace, I realized there was nothing else I wanted anymore. I saw her, and that was enough for me..."

All along that girl had known about Juuri and attempted to see her, perhaps meet with her. Kaname felt his legs and arms slackened. Consequently the album dropped on the floor where Juuri wept. His grandmother's intuition was sharper. At first glance she held the vague familiarity of meeting Yuki, since all along her presence and flare was identical to Juuri's at a young age. Fumiko knew Juuri quite well and it seemed up until now her motherly guts were true. However, unlike his grandmother, Kaname underestimated Yuki's physical attributes as mere coincidence and that she was half-pureblood, when in fact clues shouted at him for recognition. He asked her consistently about her business with Juuri, only to be dismissed until he didn't care to investigate further.

Kaname raised his fingers to the center of his eyebrows and closed his eyes tightly.

"How does she resemble Juuri-sama?"

"Juuri looked just like her. Same eyes, same defiance and valiance."

It was all plugging together into absolution. The real reason behind Yuki raiding the palace and the reason behind her vehemence to find Juuri that led to an eventual rescue of the pureblood from bandits. Despite their encounter Yuki didn't confess or appear to come close to spoiling her mysterious background. She would rather remain a stranger in Juuri's eyes. Kaname could understand her hunger to meet her birth mother but he couldn't silence the nagging question, which had ultimately pushed Yuki's desire to reconnect with Juuri.

What died in her or what changed her mind? Yuki was like an uncontrollable tempest, and they never quelled on their own.

But all this time... His solemn eyes blinked and turned to Juuri. "You had a daughter with a noble?" He gushed breathlessly, as soon as he heard his words he felt silly for repeating it aloud.

Juuri wheezed and sobbed harder on her sleeves. "You must be revolted by me."

Kaname searched the ground and reached for her arm. "Why were you hiding this, Juuri-sama? Why did you think my family would not accept your child?"

"Because of the echelon that gives purebloods power above all and the echelon that subjugates all living creatures—The world frowns upon nobles, commons and low levels. We are the only ones who shouldn't blend. The royal clan would have none of this. If I intermarried I could've brought the child in the clan otherwise it was impossible. If I ever brought it up, Kaname, they would've killed him and the baby. If I exposed them they'd be hunt down until they were no more." Juuri whimpered and shook her head. "The memories of my life here never silenced. It never stopped haunting me. So I came back to ask for forgiveness."

Kaname brushed her head. "You were keeping this in your heart for years, no wonder you were in so much pain." His eyes softened. "Thank you."

Juuri lifted her wet face inquisitively. "For?"

He wiped her cheeks with his sleeves. "For raising me and giving me utter attention my own parents couldn't offer. For always healing and putting up with my childish tantrums. You really comforted and took care of me for years without shedding tears. So thank you for being there for me. Because underneath all the motherly love you bestowed upon me it was to fill the void and desire to nurture the child you had to give up, Juuri-sama." Kaname sadly smirked at her hands. "I was just a replacement. Your heart always cried out for your own child. That's why I'm saying thank you."

Her white fingers caressed his pallid cheek. "You are like a son to me, Kaname." Juuri quivered endearingly. "Don't be hasty with your words. I'll always cherish you."

He suddenly stood up and smiled. "You were quiet for a long time but it'll change starting now."

Juuri sniffed and crawled to her feet as well. "How?"

"You are going to ask for forgiveness. For years I received your unconditional love instead of your own child. Don't you think I have some explaining to do?"

She scowled, "It's not your fault."

Kaname licked his lips unconsciously. His eyes lingered over Yuki's photograph. "There was a child who could've used your love and she always pined for her mother. She was crazy about her that she ran across country to meet her."

Juuri clenched her fists and jaw. "I-I will a-amend for that." She breathed, overcome by tears again, "I'll make it up to her no matter what."

Kaname nodded and slowly motioned toward the door, "You should. There is something I need to attend. I'll be back when I'm free."

Motionlessly Juuri watched from the parlor as the door closed. She was standing by herself in the light and the open album on the floor.

Echelon... Juuri retrieved the book.

We could've been a family and you could've been dear to the king and queen like their own daughter.

She touched Yuki's picture hesitantly.

It could be that in this life I never deserved you. Regardless of how much I tore myself over the years yearning to hold you in my arms, I wasn't meant to be with you. Tearfully she pressed the picture to her breast. But why couldn't I recognize you right when we first met? And why... Why did you not say anything?

º º º

If Haruka were to have a son, it would be Zero. The boy was obedient but a mastermind. He was firm and efficient when needed but tender hearted. It was why he never fretted when Yuki and Zero grew up together. The tall stature of Zero standing behind his petite daughter always sent a calm through the heart of the single father. He knew she was in good hands if Zero were around. If only Yuki wasn't such a nuisance Zero could have married her.

Haruka briefly chuckled to himself at the thought while stroking the fire in the hearth.

If possible Zero would make a prime suitor for Yuki. They had trust and were comfortable with one another. Their genuine friendship protected their hearts from unwanted qualms. Together, Zero and Yuki made a startlingly wonderful pair. They had friendship. They had understanding. But no love, not one shared by a man and a woman.

His laughter simmered into a somber sigh. At times like these Haruka often wondered whether he did the right thing to let the two get overly comfortable with one another. They were like brother and sister now and the notion of marriage between the two was nonexistent.

If only things were a little different... And here started the river of regrets inside of Haruka's mind.

He could've been stricter toward Yuki, pressured her more and more to learn music, literature and act like a girl. He should've forced her to wear dresses and heels. In addition sent her off to spend weekends with town's women who traveled to conferences and articulated the latest fashion and makeup techniques.

He couldn't remember how he became lenient with her. One day she said she was going out and the next she kept telling him she would be gone on business. From there she wouldn't return home for weeks, eventually months. Yuki never asked him for permission, she told him what was on her mind and she was not afraid to act on them despite the recklessness of the idea. Haruka could not for the life of him fathom from where she inherited that kind of trait.

His ruby eyes turned misty over the rippling fire. Now that he considered traits it was Juuri's impetuous and wily nature that attracted him. On one side Juuri was dominating and compassionate on the other.

Two knocks on the door drew Haruka from the hearth. Barefooted, he strode into the foyer and without as much as checking the window for his visitor, he held the door open gallantly. "Good evening, what brings y—" Haruka paused abruptly at the strange face that was new to the town he knew well. "Are you lost?" He asked immediately.

"Good evening." Kaname bowed his head slightly and leaned back. His head peeked a fair three inches above Haruka's. "I was looking for the previous mayor."

"Yes, how can I help you?" Haruka stepped out.

"I have information I'd like to share with you. If you have time why don't we sit and talk?"

Haruka calculatingly examined the tall vampire. His eyes narrowed slowly, "Naturally I don't invite purebloods in my abode. What is this about?"

"I'm surprised you say that after I saw you invite Juuri-sama inside a few days ago."

"She was caught in the rain."

"Yes, I was watching from the carriage." Kaname offered his elegant palm. "I am her nephew."

Any expression of congeniality peeled from Haruka's face. Nonetheless he shook the offered hand coldly. "You haven't answered my question. Why are you here, did she send you?"

Kaname replied with a charming smile. "The reason why I'm here regards your daughter's failure in understanding her identity."

Haruka's brows curled gravely. "What are you saying?"

"I heard she has trouble accepting she is a female."

"She does not have an identity complex. Good night." Haruka turned back to the door.

"She acts like a man. I hear you found her a suitor. What if I told you why she was rejected and that I may hold the key to changing her attitude?"

Raptly Haruka swung around in disbelief.

"No one agrees with her volatile nature," Kaname inputted, "Or so I've heard. I wanted to lend my resources."

"Why does a pureblood care?" Haruka sneered. "My daughter does not need your assistance."

Kaname bowed his head, "What your daughter requires is a simple reminder of what a woman is. Please, allow me to serve you and you will find pleasing results. I promise you."

º º º

© Nur Misurr Read & Review Thank you