World of the Moon
One: A Quiet Dinner
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
"Dinner? At our house?"
The person posing this question was a bespectacled youth of fairly average build and complexion. Well, upon closer observation one might have noticed a certain paleness of skin that could be written off as not spending enough time in the sun. If one had stuck around for a bit longer, too, they might have noticed a tenseness of spirit around him, one that tended to unnerve normal people.
It was, therefore, fortunate that Shiki Tohno and 'normality' had not been on speaking terms for quite a while, despite initial appearances to the contrary.
The person he was posing the question to, on the other hand, would not be considered normal, at least not by the standards of the average male. With her flowing black hair, piercing blue eyes and delicate features, Akiha Tohno was the sort of beauty that could turn heads on the street as she walked by.
The head of the Tohno household raised her teacup to her lips and nodded before taking a long sip. "Yes," she affirmed. "Dinner, Nii-san. This coming Wednesday sounds like a good time for that, does it not?"
Shiki sat back, his own cup of tea forgotten as he pondered this new development. Whether or not it was an unwelcome one was something he had yet to figure out, but it was certainly surprising.
"Why, Akiha?" he finally questioned. "I thought you hated Arcueid."
"Hate is an awfully strong word," his sister's features clouded over. "It's true that I am not fond of her, and that if I could I'd have you break off all relations with her," a pause as she sipped her tea and gave her brother a resigned look. "However, I do not think that a likely outcome at all."
This, Shiki reflected, was one of those times where it was in everybody's interests if he simply kept quiet and continued to listen.
"Honestly, Nii-san. She's a bad influence. Ever since you've started seeing her you keep going out at night and coming home in the early hours of morning."
"It's the height of summer, Akiha. You know she gets lethargic during the day, so it's really a good compromise for us to meet during the evenings."
"My point exactly. Therefore," Akiha continued smoothly. "All things considered, I'd much rather your meetings with the vampire be in a time and place where I can make sure you're not getting into any trouble. That way, everyone is happy. That sounds good, doesn't it?"
Shiki was silent for a long moment.
"Oh, come on, Nii-san," Akiha's dissatisfied expression was growing deeper by the moment. "It's just for one night."
There was something… Shiki couldn't quite identify it, but something was screaming at him about this being a horrifically bad idea. The counterbalance to that, of course, was that if he didn't offer some sort of response soon, Akiha would be the one screaming instead, and that was probably a good deal worse.
And so he sighed, nodded, and plastered a smile on his face. "All right, Akiha. I'll call Arcueid and tell her the details."
As soon as Shiki had departed from the sitting room, Akiha's somewhat frustrated expression rapidly morphed into one of delighted malice.
"Hmhmhm…" she chuckled to herself. That whole thing had gone splendidly.
"So, Shiki-san took the bait, Akiha-sama?" Kohaku smiled as she entered a room with a fresh pot of steaming tea in hand.
"Of course. And he doesn't suspect a thing," Akiha leaned back in contentment as Kohaku helped refill her cup with more of the strong red brew.
Soon… soon I'll have my revenge on you for stealing Nii-san away, you damn vampire.
Had it not been entirely beneath her dignity, Akiha might have been tempted to let loose an Evil Laugh.
Oh what the heck, she could indulge once in a while.
"Eh? Little Sister invited me over for dinner?" Arcueid's surprised voice sounded over the phone.
"Yeah, I know," Shiki nodded, although of course Arcueid couldn't see him doing that. "I don't get it either."
"This is great, Shiki!" after the initial hump of surprise was over, Arcueid was her usual cheerful self again, and as usual, wasn't paying any heed whatsoever to Shiki's concerns. "Little Sister's finally started to accept me as part of the family!"
"Ah… well… I wouldn't say that exactly…" he began to say, but was cut off by Arcueid's delighted laugh. "I mean, I know we planned for a quiet night at your room, but-"
"Oh, no no no. Going to your house is fine! Better, even!" Shiki blinked. Was it just him, or had Arcueid's reply been… a little hasty? Before he could follow that line of thought to its conclusion, she spoke up again.
"Hey, I should probably wear something special for this, right? I mean, it's not every day I come over to your house for something like this."
"I don't think you need to go to that much trouble, Ar-" Shiki was cut off by a strange sound in the background. Almost like a series of loud thumps. "Arcueid? What was that?"
"Hm? Oh, nothing," Arcueid's voice sounded distracted. "Anyway, tell Little Sister I'll definitely be there! Six is a good time, right?" and before Shiki could make any other sort of response, the line went dead.
Shiki shook his head, but found a slight smile on his face that refused to go away regardless. Arcueid's enthusiasm really was infectious, he thought as he replaced the phone on the receiver and headed off to his room.
Maybe this will turn out to be a great night after all.
Yeah. And maybe the sun would turn blue tomorrow, too.
As Arcueid hung up the phone, a beaming smile covered her face that would have caused Shiki to go weak at the knees had he seen it. An invitation to dinner! This was special!
The smile quickly vanished, however, as she took note of her room's other occupant. One that had arrived suddenly and would hopefully be departing just as suddenly.
"Be careful, Ciel!" she snapped as she stalked over and began picking up a large collection of books that had tumbled to the floor. "You can't just leave your stuff lying all over the place like that. It's no wonder everyone keeps bumping into them all the time."
The elite agent of the Church's Burial Agency glared at the vampire princess as she folded her arms. "It's not like I have anywhere else to put them! Honestly, if you're so rich, why didn't you just rent out a bigger apartment?"
Arcueid folded her arms and uttered a small 'hmph'. "You know, I don't think you have the right to talk like that when you're the one freeloading in my house."
The effect was instantaneous. Ciel went beet red and her fists clenched. "It's not like I had a choice!" she hissed. "You think I wanted those people to have to come fumigate my whole apartment block?"
"Well you didn't need to move in with me either," Arcueid said mildly. "Don't any of your classmates in that school you go to have rooms you could slum with in the meantime?"
CIel gave the vampire a sideways glance. "Oh? Are you saying you want me to move in with Tohno-kun?" and Arcueid found herself in one of those rare moments where she was flustered by Ciel's remarks.
Ciel sighed and rubbed her head. "To be honest, I don't know many other students at the school. Maybe Inui-kun, but his home is even more cramped than yours. Besides," a bright smile pasted itself onto her face. "I knew you wouldn't refuse me. After you'd given me the time to make my request, of course."
Arcueid sighed and rubbed her forehead as she remembered the Burial Agent showing up at her front door yesterday with several bulky bags of luggage in tow. She still wasn't sure why she'd given in and said yes – probably Shiki's constant pleas for the two of them to get along better was starting to get to her. Either way, Ciel was now sharing a room with her, her presence a constant drain on her good moods.
"This is ridiculous," Arcueid muttered. "A vampire and a vampire hunter living in the same apartment."
"It's not any more ridiculous than you dating Tohno-kun," Ciel's voice held more than a hint of frost in it.
"You leave Shiki out of this!"
"But how can I? I have to make sure you're not drawing him down some dark, unwholesome path." Ciel's smile was angelic
"Speaking of which, wasn't that Tohno-kun on the phone just now? Something about having dinner at the mansion with him?"
"Yes, it was Little Sister's idea – and you're not coming." Arcueid aimed a glare at Ciel to drive this point home.
"Please. As if I would want to spend more time in the presence of Tohno-san," Ciel said dismissively. "Why would she even want you over there anyway? She hates you even more than she hates me."
"People change," Arcueid folded her arms. "I've been acting as nice as possible to Little Sister lately, so maybe she's also coming around?"
Ciel's only response was a snort of derisive laughter.
Wednesday afternoon proved to be sweltering, as usual. By the time Shiki had made it home from school his uniform was drenched in sweat.
Hardly a condition I want to be seeing Arcueid in, he thought to himself as he hurried into the cool interior of the mention. Of course knowing her she probably wouldn't notice or mind, but he wanted to make sure that he looked presentable for her.
The fact that Akiha would be present tonight probably had something to do with it, too.
He glanced at the clock as he set his bag on his study table – he had about two hours until Arcueid was supposed to arrive. He should probably have a bath first-
Just then, the door to his room creaked open and Len padded into her room on her four paws, eyes doing a quick sweep of the room as if to assure herself that nothing had changed since she'd been in here this morning.
"Oh, hello Len," Shiki greeted his familiar and pet as she sauntered in. He knew her well enough not to take the lack of reply as anything more than Len's usual reticence. A smile quirked his lips as he watched the cat jump up onto his bed, directly in the way of sunbeam.
"So," he said idly. "Will you be joining us for dinner tonight?"
At this, Len's ears perked up.
"Arcueid's coming over too. She'll probably be glad to see you and how well you've gotten used to life in the mansion, don't you think?"
Len remained silent for several long seconds, her tail flicking lazily in the wind the only indication that she approved of the chance to see Arcueid again. However, just as Shiki was about to open his mouth to speak a second time, Len froze, her entire body tensing. Before he could say anything else the familiar had already bolted out of the open window, running along the tree branches outside his room.
"Wha- Len!" Shiki called out, already knowing it was useless. Whatever it was that had spooked Len had left her in a blind panic.
With a sigh, he turned and left the room. There was still that bath to think about…
As Shiki sat at his desk, listlessly going through his homework, he couldn't help shake a creeping sense of unease. Well, it wasn't that difficult to figure out where the problem lay. Akiha and Arcueid in the same room tended to make for colourful situations that tended to be bad for his heart in the long run.
Well, there was that. But even with the obvious problem in front of his eyes, Shiki couldn't shake a deeper feeling of dread. Something that chilled him to the very roots of his soul, even though he couldn't place it.
With a sigh, he set his pen on the table and stood from his chair. No sense worrying about something like that. It was nearly time for Arcueid to arrive, anyway, he'd best get to the sitting room where he could welcome her.
Slowly, he descended the front stairs of the mansion, pausing for a brief instant to glance at the elaborately carved double doors.
Only for Kohaku to open them and step inside, carrying a pair of gardening shears.
"Shiki-san!" Kohaku gave him one of her usual cheery smiles. "Did you come down to wait for Arcueid-san? That's really dedicated of you."
"No. Well, yes, but that's not the point. Kohaku," Shiki glanced over his shoulder at the direction of the kitchen. "Shouldn't you be cooking dinner right now?"
"Ah." Kohaku's smile froze.
A long silence stretched across the two of them in the lobby. In the silence, Shiki could hear the sound of someone hard at work in the kitchen.
The nameless dread suddenly intensified.
"Kohaku-san…" Shiki began in a very low, voice. "If you're not the one cooking dinner, then who is?"
"Aha, well, yes, it's a bit of a funny story, really…" Kohaku's eternal smile never faded, although right now it was starting to look rather strained. "Akiha-sama thought it would be a good idea to let Hisui practice her cooking skills, just for tonight and… Shiki-san?"
Shiki had gone still as his mind processed the bombshell that Kohaku had just dropped on him.
Akiha had set him up and perfectly, because his mind, trapped in the realm of human decency and virtue, had never imagined she would stoop to such an extent, to such a vile act as – as...
Feeding Arcueid. Hisui's cooking.
"Kohaku… you knew?" he finally managed to mumble weakly.
"I'm sorry, Shiki-san. Akiha-sama swore me to secrecy. And if you think about it, it'll make for a good practical joke, won't it?" Was she trying to find a bright spot in this situation?
Useless. This was useless. What he had to do was contact Arcueid and tell her that tonight's dinner was cancelled – preferably before Akiha realized that he'd gotten wind of her plans. Right – first things fir-
Ding dong! The cute, innocuous chime of the doorbell jolted Shiki out of his planning.
"Ara ara," Kohaku glanced over her shoulder. "It looks like Arcueid-san has arrived."
Cursing his luck, Shiki hurried over to the door, yanking it open to reveal a beaming Arcueid waving at him.
"Hi, Shiki! I know I'm a little early, but-" she was cut off as Shiki seized her by the shoulders.
"Arcueid, RUN! You have to get away from here! It's too late for me, but you can still save yourself! You have to-"
"Huh? What's going on, Shiki? Why are you acting all weird?" Arcueid stared back at him in confusion.
"Yes, Nii-san. Why are you behaving so oddly?" came another voice from behind him, and Shiki froze. Turning slowly, he found himself gazing into the eyes of a black-haired demon. Trembling, he opened his mouth to voice his outrage, but no words came out.
"Ah, Little Sister!" Shiki's apparent bout of insanity already forgotten, Arcueid bounded forward. "Thanks for inviting me to dinner!"
The smile that graced her lips appeared nothing short of demonic to Shiki. She hadn't even bothered to yell at Arcueid not to call her 'Little Sister', a further sign of the looming disaster. "Don't worry, Arcueid-san," she said airily. "It was my pleasure."
Arcueid nodded enthusiastically and headed deeper into the mansion, leaving Shiki to stare forlornly at her back. What were they going to do now?
It was only when settled at the dining table and awaiting Hisui to arrive with the first of what could tentatively be referred to as 'dishes' that Shiki realized that by trapping Arcueid into coming into a dinner where Hisui would be cooking, Akiha was now forced to suffer through the same thing herself.
He stared at her impassive face, trying to discern what she thought she would gain out of this. Was this simply a case of cutting her nose off to spite her face?
An awkward silence descended over the kitchen table as Shiki silently directed all of his available animosity at his sister and Akiha directed most of hers towards Arcueid, who was –
"Why do we need three different forks?"
Busy fiddling with the utensils on the table.
"Because each separate portion of the meal requires its own set," Akiha said carefully, not bothering to hide her satisfaction at knowing something more than the eight-hundred year-old vampire. "Or at least it would normally, but I decided that it might be better if today's meal was a little simpler."
"Apologies, Akiha-sama," Kohaku said from behind her. "Setting the table like that is a force of habit."
"Mm," Akiha's noncommittal murmur was cut off as the doors to the dining room swung open, revealing Hisui carrying several plates of… of…
As Shiki's dish was placed in front of him, he stared, uncomprehending at what appeared to be part-fish, part-chicken, and part-mushroom.
"I thought a more Western meal might be a good idea. You have no objections, Arcueid-san?"
"Of course not! I'm sure whatever food you make will be delicious! Isn't that right, Shiki?"
For a brief eternal moment, Shiki contemplated screaming at Arcueid of all the culinary atrocities he had seen produced by Hisui's hands over the years, but several things stopped him. First and most obvious was Akiha shooting him a death glare that threatened horrible, bloody vengeance if he so much as breathed a word of what was in store for Arcueid.
That alone would not have been enough to produce anything more than a slight hesitation on his part, but the fact that Hisui was standing right there effectively put a roadblock on any such ideas. Bringing up her lack of cooking prowess was a sore spot at the best of times, and knowing Hisui he had absolutely no doubt that she had worked her fingers to the bone in an attempt to make a good meal for Arcueid, and he didn't want to throw that in her face in front of everyone.
Trapped in between a set of impossible choices, Shiki cast about in the vain hope of finding something, anything that would help him, but that merely resulted in his gaze landing on the food on his plate yet again.
Dear Lord in Heaven, was it staring back at him?
"Well, shall we begin?" the slight tremor in Akiha's voice was probably something Arcueid wouldn't have noticed, but as Shiki turned to look at her he wondered if she'd just realized that maybe this wasn't a price worth paying just to make Arcueid suffer after all.
"Yes, let's!" Arc's cheery voice cut through Shiki's own musings, and before his horrified eyes, she scooped a huge dollop of the… stuff, and proceeded to stuff it into her mouth. Hisui's cooking being the sort of thing best ingested in small doses (and with liberal amounts of water in between spoonfuls).
"A- Arc!" Concern for his girlfriend temporarily overrode all other concerns and Shiki instinctively reached out a hand to her. "Are you oka-"
Arcueid's eyes had gone wide, and her jaws moved mechanically up and down as she slowly chewed at the food in her mouth. Silence had descended on the table as everyone present stared at Arcueid in horrible anticipation of the response.
Finally, Arcueid swallowed her food and took a deep breath as she stared down at her plate.
"Shiki…" her voice was soft.
"Arcueid, I'm so sorry, I didn't-"
"This is fantastic."
"- and I promise it'll never – huh, what?" Shiki stared at his girlfriend, at a loss for words. Given that her eyes were practically bulging out of her skull, Akiha was similarly flabbergasted at Arcueid's proclamation.
"C –come again?" Shiki ventured.
"I said, this is fantastic!" Arcueid was back in full bubbly mode now. "No wonder Little Sister hired her as a maid, I've never tasted cooking like this! I mean, it manages to be sweet and sour and salty and bitter all at the same time!" as she finished, she happily dug into the food in front of her again.
Stunned by this sudden turn of good fortune, Shiki sat still for several long seconds, simply grateful for an apparent disaster having been averted (although he had to admit that his ego just taken a bruising on the basis of the fact that Arcueid, who always liked it when Shiki cooked for her, apparently had no qualms about eating Hisui's cooking, which called his own skills into question). In fact, maybe he could-
"So… is my cooking satisfactory, Arcueid-sama?" Hisui's hesitant voice.
"Yes it is!" Arcueid flashed her a beaming smile. "It's fantastic!"
A relieved sigh escaped Hisui's composed features. "I'm glad for that, Arcueid-sama. When Akiha-sama told me that she wanted me to cook dinner for you tonight, I was so worried I would not be able to create a good enough dish."
Shiki stole a glance at Akiha, who looked about equal parts outraged at Arcueid inadvertently ruining her plans and uneasy about having to follow suit and at some point actually eat the food in front of her. Kohaku, meanwhile, simply appeared to be enjoying herself immensely.
"Hey, Arcueid," Shiki spoke up after a moment. "Would you like some of my food? I think Hisui gave me a little too much…"
"Really?" Arcueid's face lit up for a moment before falling again. "But I can't, Shiki. You're still a growing boy, you need to be sure to eat a lot."
Well, so much for that idea. Sighing internally, he picked up his fork and got ready to-
"In that case, you may have some of mine," Akiha spoke up. "I'm normally a light eater, anyway."
"Okay! Thanks, Little Sister!"
"Don't call me little sister," Akiha snapped.
Standing behind Akiha, Kohaku raised one sleeve to her face to hide a smile.
Sitting on the couch and sipping at a strong brew of black tea, Shiki reflected that all in all, today could have gone far worse. Akiha was in a bad mood, but those came by often enough that he knew how to handle them by now, and Arcueid was in a good mood, which usually served to ensure that he was in a good mood too.
"Oh, look at the time," Akiha said as she glanced up at the clock. "Ten thirty already? We should be getting to bed soon, Nii-san."
"Aw, but it's still early for me!" Arcueid made a dissatisfied face.
"I appreciate that, but Nii-san has school tomorrow," Akiha's voice was firm.
"Arcueid, I think she's right," Shiki said softly. "I am rather tired."
The vampire nodded reluctantly. "All right, then. Good night, Little Sister. Thanks for everything!"
"Don't call me –" Akiha began, but then she slumped back in her seat. "No, nevermind. Good night, Arcueid-san."
"Good bye, Kohaku! Good bye, Hisui! Thanks for cooking for me!"
"Farewell, Arcueid-sama." Hisui bowed deeply.
"See you again, Arcueid-san."
"C'mon, Arcueid," Shiki said. "I'll see you to the front door."
Once they were outside, Arcueid turned to Shiki. "Hey, Shiki."
"Hm? What's the matter, Arcueid?"
"Just now, during dinner…"
Shiki tensed up. "What about it?" he asked, trying to keep a collected voice.
"You called me Arc," she was looking at him with her head tilted to the side. "I don't think you've ever called me that before?"
"Oh… that," Shiki rubbed the back of his head. "It was just a spur of the moment thing, you know?" he hesitated. "Why? Should I not do it again?"
"What? Oh, no, no." Arcueid's smile lit up her face. "Actually, I think I'd like it if you called me that more often."
Shiki chuckled. "Okay. I'll try to remember that, Arc."
Her smile grew wider, and she leaned in to give him a quick kiss on the lips. "Good night, Shiki."
"Good night, Arc."
And with that, Arcueid headed off into the night.
Shiki stood still for several long seconds before turning back into the mansion, ready to deal with an upset Akiha, an ever-smiling Kohaku and quiet Hisui.
Tonight had been a good one, after all.