Part One

maybe I'm a different breed and maybe I'm not listening

Kurogane knocked on the door to a small, single-story house, and took a deep breath.

"Okay," he said to Shizuka, "You're here because I think the girls are getting to that age where they're gonna have questions about why you want to be with me, and you can answer that better than me. But they're still, you know, pretty young, so, just . . . be vague."

Shizuka stood in the shade of the porch beside him, squinting slightly against the light of the midday sun. Kurogane had opted for sunglasses. He rarely remembered to blink, which was one of the reasons he also rarely went out in daylight. It was nothing but myth that his kind burned in the sun, but it made sense to be discrete and keep to the shadows and the dark of night so people didn't notice all the little things that didn't add up about him.

The door opened, and Kurogane took his sunglasses off. "You didn't tell me you painted," he said immediately, and scowled. "You should have told me."

Chitose's smile was as warm and welcoming as ever, despite the reprimand. The house had been yellow with white trim until recently, and the sudden shift to blue had him suspicious. If he found out she'd been up on some rickety ladder without so much as asking if he was free to help . . .

"I hired a professional," she explained. "I would have asked for help if I'd been doing it myself, I promise."

Then she leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek. Shizuka let out a cough that sounded far too much like amusement, and now that Kurogane was not scowling at the idea of Chitose trying to paint her own house without his help, he turned the glare on his companion.

"Do I get a kiss?" Shizuka asked, voice impressively even.

Kurogane slapped him across the back of the head. He was careful to use only a fraction of his strength. Shizuka's head was only human, after all. "No. Shut up. Chitose, this is Doumeki Shizuka. My . . . You know."

Chitose, impervious to Kurogane's moods, stepped forward and gave the young man a quick hug. "Welcome to our home. It's nice to meet you—"

"You can call me Shizuka," he said quickly.

"Both of you come inside," Chitose said, stepping out of the way and holding open the door. "Kurogane, thanks for coming over. I wouldn't have called, but I just thought it was better for you to answer the girls' questions yourself."

Kurogane shrugged easily and tucked his sunglasses into the collar of his shirt. "I don't mind coming over, you know that. Speaking of the girls, where are they?"

"Girls!" Chitose called out as she shut the door. "Kurogane's here!"

The thundering of small feet in the hallway sounded more like a herd of elephants than two little girls. Two blonde heads flew at him and butted him in the sides. If he'd been breathing, it would have knocked the air right out of him, but he pretty much didn't bother unless he needed the air for speech. Two pairs of wiry little arms were wrapped around him, and the air was full of giggles and chattering in a pitch so high he was surprised the dogs in the neighbourhood weren't yowling.

He caught a girl in each arm and hugged them back, then set them rather carefully a few inches away from him. "Chitose, are you ever gonna cut their hair?" he asked as he looked them over. "And dress them in different clothes?" he added.

The girls giggled, but no clues as to which one was Chise and which one was Chiho were forthcoming. Well, whatever, they were a matched set, he always just called them "hey you" or something anyway.

"Come see our room," one of them said, tugging on his hand.

"We re-decorated it," the other said, tugging on his other hand.

And thank God and all his angels for that. Last time he'd been here it was so violently pink and full of glittery princess crap that he'd thought he'd go blind.

"You come too," added the first one, looking back at Shizuka, who was standing rather bemusedly in the foyer with his hands in his pockets. Chitose had her mouth open to admonish them for being rude, but she closed it at that.

"Are you Kurogane's special friend?"

Shizuka and Kurogane both snorted, almost in unison, but then he answered "Yeah, I guess."

"What's your name?"

"Doumeki—" Kurogane began to answer, but was interrupted.

"You can call me Shizuka."

He was really getting a kick out of this, the bastard. "Call me Shizuka," indeed.

"I'm Chiho and that's Chise." Kurogane desperately noted the difference—Chiho had purple ribbons in her hair and Chise had white. At least he'd be able to tell them apart for the rest of the day. "We've never seen what it looks like when he bites someone," she said, a wicked light in her eyes.

"Can we see it?" asked Chise, with a similar unholy gleam.

That stopped Shizuka in his tracks in surprise. Kurogane grinned.

"I told you before; they know how it works."

"You said I had to be vague," Shizuka muttered, and followed them the rest of the way to the bedroom.

"See?" the girls said proudly, in unison, throwing open the door.

It was now purple and varying shades of gray and white, with a lot of lace. It was exceptionally, horribly female. But it was less objectionable than glittery pink princess crap, so Kurogane nodded his head and made a passable effort at looking appreciative.

"Nice," he muttered.

"We decided to have something more elegant because we're too old for that other stuff," Chiho said importantly.

"How old are you?" Shizuka asked in a neutral voice, carefully keeping his amusement to himself.

"Nine," they said in unison. "How old are you?"

It was always eerie when they did that.

"Twenty six," Shizuka answered, untroubled as always that he was getting too old to still be in school. His studies had been interrupted by meeting Kurogane. They'd moved, he'd had to transfer to a different university, then it had taken quite a while to find the balance between how much blood Kurogane needed for sustenance and how much Shizuka needed to be healthy. He was finally back on track, now. He actually hadn't aged in several years, so he was starting to look a little young in the face, something that would get more and more obvious as time passed.

"Did you know Kurogane's a hundred and thirty?" Chise asked him.

"Yep," Shizuka drawled.

"Even though he doesn't look that old," Chiho said critically, eyeing him. "He looks even younger than you."

Kurogane scowled. "Your mother says you've been taking music lessons, girls. Shizuka and I wanted to hear what you've been practicing." Great, now even the girls were noticing. It wasn't his fault he'd been turned so young.

"How old were you?" Shizuka murmured as the twins led them, chattering all the while, to the drawing room where they had the piano. Apparently Chiho played, and Chise sang.

Kurogane rubbed the back of his neck—it was a habit when he was embarrassed, and a hundred years later he still hadn't broken himself of it. "Seventeen," he muttered.

"Glad you found me when you did," Shizuka smirked. "If I looked any older this would start to look creepy." Then he blinked, and gave Kurogane a look like he was seeing him for the first time. "Damn, you had kids young."

"What are you talking about?"

"Well, you said this is your family, so I was assuming they were your great granddaughters or something . . ."

"Oh," Kurogane said, rubbing his neck again. "Ah. They're not exactly . . ."

"You don't know the story?" Chise asked, leaving her sister at the piano and running back over to them. "Kurogane, you should tell him. It's a good story. Kurogane's very heroic, like a fairy tale. Only vampires."

Kurogane closed his eyes and wished, not for the first time, that the myth about vampires turning into a flock of bats was true. He'd like to screech in their faces and fly the fuck out of here right now.

"Maybe you should tell me the story," Shizuka suggested, throwing himself down into a chair and looking at Chise with expectation.

She scurried over and sat down on the floor beside him. Chiho was playing scales on the piano, but she was turned their direction and smiling with anticipation. The only reason Kurogane didn't flee and pretend he had to discuss something important with Chitose was that he wasn't about to leave Shizuka alone with the girls.

"It's a story about my great-great-grandma," the girl said, adjusting the white ribbons in her hair. "My Nana Tomoyo. When she was a little girl, Kurogane's family was her neighbors. And they lived in a very small village, because it was a long time ago and stuff."

Yeah, this one had all the makings of a great storyteller.

"And a group of scary vampires, the bad kind, not like Kurogane, the ones who hurt people on purpose, those vampires—they attacked!" This was accompanied by Chise gesturing with her hands, fingers curved into claws. "And they killed everyone, and they set fire to people's houses. Kurogane had a very fast horse, and he found my Nana Tomoyo hiding in her closet, and he put her on the horse, and the horse's name was Ginryuu I think, and he put Great Grandma on his horse Ginryuu and sent her away. And then he fought with the vampires to make sure they didn't go after her! He was very, very brave, and cool, just like the prince in Sleeping Beauty who had to go through all the big thorn bushes and fight with the dragon."

Shizuka snorted, apparently unable to help himself. Kurogane scowled ferociously. He was very glad that he was incapable of blushing. He wondered how long it was going to take her, babbling away like this, to actually tell the story. He was still trying to figure out some reason to tell her to stop, and he couldn't think of one. She was only nine, she didn't really get that maybe he wouldn't want to tell Shizuka all this.

"So then he was a vampire, because one of the bad ones made him like that. And he went and found Nana Tomoyo to make sure she was safe, and then he kept protecting her for her whole life, and then when she had a family he said he would always protect her family, and she said that because he was so brave then her family would always help him too. So that's how come he comes over sometimes and talks to mom and makes sure things are okay and fixes the sink when it's backed up, and it's how come when my Auntie Sayaka's husband was being bad, Kurogane made him stop and made him go home and be a good dad to their baby who's my cousin. Because Mom says it's from him saving my nana that made it so he couldn't have his own family, so we'd be his family instead. And Mom wanted us to call him Uncle Kurogane, but he said no way and he won't let us."

Story thus completed, Chise sat there beaming with accomplishment, waiting for Shizuka's reaction. Kurogane looked out the window.

"You're right," Shizuka said slowly. "Very brave. Just like the prince. Do you know any good songs that would go along with the story? Maybe you two could play a song that sounds like it's about being brave."

Chise scurried over to the piano, where she and Chiho began to argue ferociously about the songs in their repertoire and which of them might be a good accompaniment to the story of Kurogane the Brave.

Shizuka shrugged at him, not moving from the chair. "I was just curious," he said quietly. "Sorry."

"It's fine," Kurogane muttered. "It's not that big of a deal."

"I'm guessing Chitose keeps track of your finances and keeps everything legal, since you technically died a hundred years ago and everything?"

"… yeah."

"Did you really go find their aunt's husband and threaten him?"

"Tche," Kurogane snorted, not unhappily, remembering that. Baring his fangs and telling Kazuto that leaving them to protect them meant they were all alone, and how fucking useless was that? He'd do the protecting, thanks very much, he'd been doing it long before this little prick had come along and thought he was good enough for Sayaka. To his credit, Kazuto had taken the lesson to heart and gone home and stuck with his family after that. Kurogane had taken care of the rest of that little problem on his own. He almost licked his lips at the memory of what he'd done to those assholes. They'd picked the wrong family to terrorize. "Yeah."

And suddenly Shizuka was giving him bedroom eyes. Kurogane smacked him on the back of the head again and they both settled down for a minute to listen to the girls play. After they finished their song, they both darted back over to the two men.

"We wanna see," Chiho reminded them.

"Yeah, we wanna see what it looks like when he bites you."

"No," Kurogane said, but Shizuka was already rolling up his sleeves. Kurogane turned his eyes away, hating the sight. Shizuka's arms were both scabbed from bite marks, the skin a horrific mottling of bruises in various stages, some green and some still purple. At least he didn't take off his pants and show them the wounds on his legs, too, though Kurogane would hardly put it past him. "Put your sleeves back down," Kurogane barked. The girls were nine, they didn't need to see this.

But it would have been like closing the barn door after the horses had already escaped. The girls were laying cautious fingers to the marks and marveling up at Shizuka's face.

"Doesn't it hurt?"

"It looks like it hurts."

"It does a little, but I don't mind," Shizuka said, sounding unconcerned.

"How come?"

"It only hurts a little, and I wouldn't want Kurogane to go hungry. You know he can't eat the same food as normal people, right? This is all he can eat. So it's not so bad. I'm pretty tough."

Chitose called them all into the other room to have something to drink and to chat. There was nothing she could offer Kurogane, but they were used to it well enough that it didn't embarrass her anymore. The girls kept giving Kurogane side-long glances while they chattered with their mother, in between everyone throwing a billion questions at Shizuka that he fielded with far more patience than he ought to have. The girls had never looked at him like that before. With caution. Because they knew, now. Knew that he had to hurt someone for his own survival.

There had been a time once when he'd seen Chitose and Sayaka start looking at him like that, too.

Someday, the twins would have kids, and he'd see it yet again.

Shizuka's hand squeezed his knee under the table. Kurogane was surprised by the gesture of support and affection—he and Shizuka didn't often behave with a lot of intimacy. But he gratefully held onto his hand for a moment. Just because he was one hundred and thirty years old didn't mean he'd gotten used to seeing his family start looking at him like that. It was only Tomoyo who never had.

Kurogane knocked on Shizuka's door and found him sitting at his desk with a pile of notes and books around him. He looked slightly glassy-eyed, and his hair was tousled by his own hands running through it with distraction. He barely looked up when Kurogane slid into the room. He didn't mean to always be so silent, but it came more and more naturally over the years, knowing how to place his feet and how to move so his clothing didn't rustle.

"Going to Kusanagi's?" Shizuka muttered the question, flipping through a textbook with one hand while he kept his finger on a page in another.

"Yeah. Don't study all night," Kurogane said. He almost made a sarcastic comment about Shizuka's lack of sleep, considering he'd been gone all the night previous and Kurogane had thought he was studying at the university library until he'd come home smelling of someone else and coffee. But it would be too possessive coming from someone who claimed Shizuka was free to have his own life. Instead, after a brief hesitation, he dropped a light kiss on Shizuka's temple. To his credit, Shizuka didn't suddenly break his concentration or pause in his search, but he did sport an odd smile as Kurogane slipped back out.

The walk to Kusanagi's was short and familiar, so Kurogane paid little attention to anything but the pleasantness of the night air. It was summer and the smell of eucalyptus trees was heavy, mingling with mown grass and the blacktop releasing its accumulated warmth from the day. It was late, midnight, but there were still a few lights on in a few houses, and even the lingering scent of a barbecue hours past.

It wasn't the sort of neighbourhood where you would expect to find a vampire. Not when the mythology said they were loners, killers, mysterious and ancient and bloodthirsty. They ought to all live in old manses or catacombs or something. But the truth of the matter was that a typical suburb of a medium size was one of the easiest places in the world to hide your secrets and keep to yourself. More so for Kurogane, who'd spent his entire life as a vampire staying close to normal humans, to his family—and, typically, far from others of his kind.

Kusanagi was different. He and Kurogane had run into each other one night trailing some people who'd had a suspicious meeting in an alleyway between a pizzeria and a hardware store. They'd sized each other up immediately and realized they were both protecting the same city with what seemed to be the same motivations. So rather than engage in some sort of territorial battle, they'd both taken a step back, sheathed their fangs, and let their shoulders drop. Then Kusanagi had invited him back to his home for a chat.

Kurogane had been coming by a few times a week to play cards ever since.

Being a vampire was a hard existence for many reasons, but it was the lack of sleep that could truly drive you mad. All those long days and nights that could blur together, that could be unbearably lonely, that was one of the hardest things. Kurogane had family to visit. Had Shizuka. But they slept, went to work, went to school. Kurogane did none of these things anymore. You had to have paperwork and interviews for things like that. He'd died a hundred and thirteen years ago, and it was too hard to forge identities anymore. He didn't worry about money; he and Tomoyo had made wise investments and her family had been careful about maintaining them. But it was easy to grow bored.

So he had this. Protecting the city, and poker with Kusanagi.

It was informative, if nothing else. Kurogane had met few other vampires, and the ones he had were not company he kept long. In truth, he hated everything about vampires. They were smug bastards or worse. The names they had for normal humans—slaves, cattle, pets—made it obvious that they thought they were a higher step in evolution. Like hell. Normal humans didn't have to eat each other to stay alive and they died all on their own without needing a fucking two by four through the chest. Part of the reason Kurogane stuck in the admittedly boring suburbs was that old and arrogant bloodsuckers still didn't come here.

Kusanagi had taught him a lot, without even knowing it. They just talked, and Kusanagi told him plenty about the world that Kurogane only lived on the edges of. Kusanagi was an interesting character anyway—about two hundred years old, and in service to a more powerful vampire named Fai. Fai lived somewhere in the area, and Kusanagi was charged with keeping the place clean. Kurogane slowly gleaned that although he'd thought Kusanagi was poaching on his territory, Kusanagi was semi-officially sanctioned and could boot Kurogane out if he wanted to. Kusanagi seemed to like having him around, though. They'd mapped the city out to make sure everything was being kept under watch, and Kurogane was free to do as he liked. But Kurogane had no doubt that everything about him had been reported to Fai. That rankled him.

An elder like the vampire Fai could only be ten times worse than the predators Kurogane had run into before. Probably hundreds and hundreds of years old, probably dangerous. Kurogane had no desire to get anywhere near him.

Kurogane went around the back of Kusanagi's place, which was more run-down than his own. Kusanagi stuck to it because there was an vacant lot behind him rather than more homes, which suited Kusanagi's purposes since there were fewer people to see his odd comings and goings. He knocked on the back door and nodded to Kusanagi when the older vampire opened it.


"Hey. Come on in."

Kurogane came in through the small mudroom and moved into the kitchen, where they always left the folding table set up with a battered radio and a few decks of cards stacked up. There had been a memorable occasion when two of Kusanagi's old friends had come through town and they'd actually been able to play a decent game, but Kurogane had been on edge the entire night trying not to let on to the other vampires how little he knew of their kind. It was one thing to be young, it was another to foolishly fumble some kind of protocol. Kurogane might not want to be too familiar with other vampires, but neither did he want to signal to them that he was weak or stupid.

He saw a few dishes in the sink, and flicked his eyes questioningly to Kusanagi. The thick shoulders moved in a slight shrug, but he didn't say anything.

So he had a new prey, or a thrall perhaps. Kurogane didn't know enough to know whether or not Kusanagi enthralled his prey. There were a few advantages, like knowing for sure that they were at your beck and call and knowing for sure that they wouldn't expose you. But then there was the bit that Kurogane had never been able to stomach, where they lost their free will and nine-tenths of their personality. Kusanagi seemed more practical than sentimental, so Kurogane wondered.

The new prey must be a recent acquisition. They also seemed partial to cold cereal, judging by the pile of milky bowls in the sink. Kusanagi used to have someone who stayed out of sight every time Kurogane had come over, for a while, but there had been no signs of them for a few weeks, and Kurogane had found out that Kusanagi could feed at Fai's home if he could not find prey of his own—one of the perks of having a master, Kurogane supposed. Although it begged the question of how many thralls Fai kept around. He was probably a greedy old bastard with a half-dozen slaves at his feet.

Kurogane took a seat and started dealing out the cards, waiting for Kusanagi to flick the radio on and start up a conversation. It was his house, so Kurogane wasn't going to. Tonight, though, he sat down quietly and didn't reach for the radio. It took him a minute before he said anything, and when he did speak his voice was hushed.

"So something was bothering about what you were telling me last time."

Kurogane thought back to what they'd talked about last week. Oh, yes, how could he forget? His stomach twisted sourly. The night of his making. Screams and blood and fire. "You think you can kill me, child?"

"You said they left you there and didn't ever come back for you . . . But you know what they looked like, right? You could have found them by now. Why don't you ever look for your maker?"

Kurogane shook his head impatiently, as much irritated by the hand of cards he'd dealt himself as he was with the line of questioning. "I don't remember. I don't know."

"You don't remember the bastard that bit you and ran off?" Kusanagi asked incredulously.

Kurogane snorted derisively, although he felt a sort of vindication and relief. Kusanagi's reaction to finding out he had been essentially orphaned by his maker had been shocked and profoundly angry. Apparently it just wasn't done. If you made a vampire, you took responsibility for your creation. In Kusanagi's own words, a vampire you'd made was your child. He'd also said he hadn't made one, but from what he understood the bond was supposed to be strong.

"It just doesn't make any sense to me that after killing off an entire town, one of us would choose to turn you instead of killing you, but then turn around and leave you there. That's just strange."

"I agree, but that's the way it happened," Kurogane drawled. "My memories of that night are . . . Not good. I mean, they're patchy. I only remember bits and pieces. I might be able to pick a couple of them out of a line-up, but I couldn't describe them well enough to track down. And I don't think I'd know which of them it was, anyway."

There had been six of them. They'd cut through his little town like a hot knife through butter. And then they'd set fire to everything. He could barely remember what had happened. Except the voice. He remembered the voice. "You think you can kill me, child?"

Kusanagi frowned. "I asked Fai about it. He said he could only remember one time a vampire had turned someone and abandoned them, and that vampire got brought up on charges. It's a crime for us, turns out. It's irresponsible. Newborns have got too much bloodthirst and not enough sense. It's the maker's job to keep control of them and teach them our ways. Whoever made you could be in a lot of trouble."

Kurogane shrugged, feeling tetchy about the whole thing. He didn't like talking about this. "I turned out fine. I've killed, but never for blood."

"You're something, that's for sure," Kusanagi muttered.

Then he tidily won the hand. Kurogane scowled.

Shuffling footsteps alerted him to another presence as new cards were dealt out. He looked up.

A young girl came in, wearing tiny little shorts and a loose sleeping shirt and ugly slippers in the shape of fuzzy dogs on her feet. She went to the fridge and grabbed a carton and started drinking right out of it. She turned around and grinned cheerfully at Kurogane.


Kurogane's words stuck in his throat.

"What are you doing up?" Kusanagi said reprovingly. "You ought to be asleep, girl. I told you to start taking better care of yourself."

She blushed and scowled at the same time, and those stupid little dog slippers scuffed at the floor. "I was asleep, I just got thirsty. Who's your friend?"

Kusanagi crossed his arms and stared her down.

"Fine, fine," she sighed, replacing the carton in the fridge. "Honestly, you're worse than my mother."

She shuffled back out of the room, Kusanagi's eyes never leaving her back until she turned a corner.

"I was trying not to wake her, but we might as well give that up as a lost cause," he sighed, and reached over to flick the radio on. "She's probably playing some video game all night."

Kurogane was still frozen where he sat. She wasn't a thrall, obviously, but that didn't appease him one whit. She was a little girl. He doubted she was even in high school. She was just a kid, and here she was prancing around half-naked at midnight with two vampires from a previous century. Kusanagi was feeding from a child. Keeping her here, taking her blood . . .

Kurogane wanted to be sick. Would have if he still possessed the physical capacity for it. He was raging inside, and chafing with the knowledge that he couldn't do anything. As a fighter, he was probably better than Kusanagi. They'd worked together a time or two, and he'd gotten the measure of the other vampire. But that didn't change the fact that Kusanagi was near enough to a hundred years older than him. Kurogane didn't have any figurative weight to throw around with older vampires. He knew enough to know that any effort he made to tell his senior what he could or could not do would not be well met.

"That's Yuzuriha," Kusanagi said after a pause, looking uncomfortable. "Don't worry about her."

Kurogane bristled, but tamped it down as best he could. He didn't know what the penalty might be for wrestling Kusanagi into submission and poaching his prey, but he doubted it would be good. He'd do it anyway, and damn the consequences, but he had a better idea.


Much as he wanted to avoid the other vampire, he didn't have a choice anymore. He'd have to go see Fai. He didn't think he'd be able to convince him that it was wrong to keep a girl so young as prey, but he might have luck convincing him it was conspicuous. That was all they really cared about. Being too conspicuous. And some old-and-grizzled-looking guy like Kusanagi was going to attract all the wrong kinds of attention in this neighbourhood if this fresh-faced girl was seen by anyone.

Dammit it all to hell. This was the last thing he'd wanted.

His shoulders wouldn't relax the rest of the night, and the silence lay thick between the two of them over the table. The radio couldn't quite cut through it. Finally, around three o'clock, Kurogane realized that if he didn't call it a night he was gonna jump over the card table and put his claws into Kusanagi's eyes. So he finished out his hand, then stood and stretched nonchalantly.

"I better head out," he said casually. "My prey's been worn out the past couple of days, and I've gotta get him healthy soon before I start getting too thirsty. I wanna make sure he's sleeping."

Kusanagi nodded amicably and swept up the cards to put them away. "Okay. Let me know if you want to try looking for your maker. Fai could help."

Kurogane stiffened, and Kusanagi's hands left the cards to raise up in a gesture of surrender. "Just saying help is available. See you."

Kurogane gave the best nod of thanks he could manage, and hurried home probably faster than was wise. Even if it was three in the morning, it wasn't a good idea to show off a vampire's speed where humans could easily see it. He just wanted to put Kusanagi's house behind him so he could think. How was he going to approach Fai? Hell, how was he even going to find him?

He made his way silently into the house, trying not to wake Shizuka. But as he passed the closed door to Shizuka's bedroom he saw a dim light. Probably the desk lamp. Without even knocking, he opened the door and scowled at the figure hunched over the desk.

"What are you still doing up?"

Amber eyes glimmered in the light as they lifted to look at him. "Wasn't too tired, and it's a good book," came the short, easy answer. "And you're always thirsty after you've been over there, so I waited up for you."

It was true that spending time around another vampire and their prey was rather like being constantly aware of a meal being prepared. Kurogane felt the familiar pinch, not in his stomach but in his chest, and the dry roughness in his throat that signaled his need for blood. It was making itself known more urgently than it usually did because he was upset. He was always more thirsty when his emotions ran hot. Which is why he was always so careful not to give in right away.

"Aren't you clever?" he muttered, ambling across the room and taking a moment to see what the book was, laying open on the desk. Some vapid romance novel about vampires. "Cute," he grunted, scowling at the smirk his companion wore. "You ought to be sleeping, don't you have class in the morning?"

"I told you; it's spring break. I'm all yours this week. Well, I have to finish a paper. But mostly all yours."

Kurogane just felt even more irritable at that. Shizuka wasn't all his and never would be, because he didn't enthrall his prey. Just like he didn't go after children. So he'd been abandoned, so he didn't know the rules. So what? He had created his own code of morals to live by, and he thought he'd done well enough. He took care of his prey and looked after innocents and kept the city safe.

He'd never kept a prey as long as he'd kept Shizuka. They were having to come up with some new rules for Kurogane's code. He wanted Shizuka to have his own life. He wasn't a possession. It suited Shizuka that he was granted the long life of a vampire's prey—doomed alongside Kurogane to never grow older or die—because he claimed to be waiting for something. He had never said what he was waiting for, and Kurogane had never pressed him. They had a careful arrangement that worked for them, and Kurogane wanted him to keep going to school, to keep his own friends, to pursue his own interests.

It occasionally backfired. That time he'd come home tasting of marijuana hadn't been pleasant. Or that time he'd come home tasting of some other man who just tasted foul.

But mostly, it worked. Shizuka kept himself healthy and available, and Kurogane tried not to request anything too ludicrous.

"Come on, then," he said softly.

Kurogane pulled him away from the desk and pushed him toward the rumpled, unmade bed on the other side of the room. He meant to bear him down and stretch himself atop the other man and quench his thirst, but at the last moment, Shizuka turned the tables on him, swinging him around and pushing him down onto the bed. He sat heavily, and his prey straddled his lap.

Surprising, but not unwelcome. Kurogane allowed the hard kisses and the fingers trailing underneath his shirt for a few minutes. In truth, he marveled at the way Shizuka treated him sometimes. At his acceptance of Kurogane's nature, and the fact that he kissed him with passion even though he knew nothing could come of it. It was rare for someone to understand how complicated it was to get into a sexual relationship with someone who was physically incapable of sex, and who would simply enjoy what was given. Vampires were, after all, dead. It freaked the humans out, so normally you had to put them under thrall to get a relationship like this. Yet another reason Kurogane lived with Shizuka when he had never kept prey long-term before.

It was nearly four in the morning, though, and while Shizuka might be planning to sleep in, Kurogane wasn't about to start pleasuring his prey when he'd been up all night twice in a row now. He grabbed Shizuka's wrist, encircling it with his fingers, lifting his hand up. He kissed Shizuka's palm, and trailed a line of nibbling kisses up his arm before stopping at the crook of his elbow.

"When did you last smoke?" he murmured against Shizuka's skin.

"It's been a while, I cut back," came the amused reply. "You should have just told me you didn't like the taste at the beginning."

Kurogane didn't answer that, just slid his fangs free and sunk them into the big vein. His prey had to wear long sleeves to avoid getting accused of shooting up, since the bruised bite wounds there looked worryingly similar to track marks. Kurogane tried to vary the places he fed from, so the wounds had time to heal. He'd tried using a knife before, so it wouldn't bruise, but knives weren't as precise and therefore more dangerous. He wouldn't put Shizuka's life at risk just for cosmetic purposes.

Blood coated thickly over his teeth and tongue, painting the inside of his mouth cool and hot at once. Humans said blood tasted like copper, but for Kurogane it tasted like Shizuka—like crisp, pure water. Each human tasted different. Shizuka's taste was one of the best things about him.

Only . . . he didn't taste as pure and clear as he usually did. Kurogane pulled his head back, ran his tongue over his teeth, and made a face. "Who have you been having sex with?" he complained. "They taste like—like sunshine or flowers or something. There's weird fucking springtime shit in your system." He smacked his lips, and his eyes went wide with sudden amusement. "You've been sleeping with a girl."

Shizuka gave him an unimpressed look. "Are you thirsty or what?"

Kurogane went back to feeding with a shrug, but he remained curious. He gave Shizuka what pleasure he could, but a human not being held in thrall had needs and desires, and Kurogane rarely begrudged him any partners he chose. But this one tasted like freshness and innocence and Shizuka hadn't mentioned her. Weird enough that he might have to pull rank here and get to the bottom of it.

When he was done, Shizuka stood up and went to his desk, opening the top drawer to reveal a neatly arranged set of first aid supplies. He swabbed his arm with alcohol and pressed a wad of cotton to the wound. Kurogane rose up and grabbed the medical tape from his hands.

"I'll do it," he muttered, and quickly wrapped it around a few times to hold the cotton in place. "There, go lie down, I'll get you some water."

Shizuka looked amused. "I'm fine."

"Do it anyway."

"You only took a few ounces. What am I, a nightcap?"

Kurogane muttered little irritable nothings under his breath and pushed Shizuka back to the bed. "You're drinking water, and you're going to sleep. So shut up."

"Yes, Master," Shizuka said with a sly smile, shucking off his shirt and getting comfortable.

Kurogane scowled at him. He'd given his prey very few rules, apart from "don't tell anyone I'm a vampire" and "give me warning if you ever decide to leave." But Rule Number One was "don't call me Master." So naturally he called him Master at every given opportunity.

It was good for both of them, Kurogane mused as he went into the kitchen and got a bottle of water from the refrigerator. Reminded them that Shizuka could do as he liked.

"I've got someplace to go this week," Kurogane said when he came back in. "I've got to go see Fai."

There was a long, surprised moment of silence.

"Well, I gotta find him first. I know he's nearby, but—"

"I know where he lives. I'll take you there."

Kurogane stared at Shizuka, whose face was implacable. He had his mouth open to ask, but then . . . No. No, it was none of his business.

"Fine. This weekend, then," he said shortly, and turned again to go out.

"Goodnight, honey," Shizuka said in a sugary voice.

Maybe he really should make Shizuka a thrall. It was no good letting a guy like this keep his brain.

It was on a crisp fall evening that Kurogane sat on a bench and watched people walk past him. He was at the local university and had no good reason to be there. He had haunted it constantly when Sayaka had attended there, keeping an eye on her and making sure she came to no harm. She probably knew he was there, but she never acknowledged him because she knew that was the way he wanted it.

But Sayaka had graduated and gone, and here Kurogane still sat.

He'd known a vampire once, about fifty years ago, who went to a different university every five or six years. He'd get a degree, take a year or two off, and then go and get another one. He collected them like postage stamps. Kurogane had run into him quite by accident, but had talked to him for hours because he had a lot of stories and Kurogane hadn't met many vampires before. It seemed his maker was wealthy beyond compare and funded his studies with no questions asked.

It was only later that he realized how sad and sickening it was. The terrible fear of eternity that kept him locked in this frozen state, unwilling or unable to move forward or explore anything new. It was a different field of study, but it was always the same dusty old buildings with their dusty old professors. The vampire was afraid of ever moving from the routine. Afraid of the rest of his life. The hundreds and hundreds of endless years.

And now it was Kurogane sitting here, watching them walk by him. It wasn't as though he were envious, thinking that he was seventeen and he ought to be walking among them. No, he had died at seventeen and he ought to be six feet under. He was here because he was bored and they were more interesting than the radio tonight.

But he couldn't help thinking about the university-addicted vampire, and feeling sickened by himself.

Then he'd seen her. Nineteen maybe, and certainly not old enough to be as drunk as she was. Coming from a house party and headed back to her dorm, most likely. She had blond hair cut into a pageboy, and she was as cute as a button. Her clothes weren't enough for the chilly night, but she didn't seem to notice, humming to herself as she made her way home. She looked a little wrecked, but happy. Must have been a good party.

Something moved in the shadows in the corner of his eye. He knew better than to give himself away, so instead of turning quickly, he let out a breath and tried to look relaxed. He didn't move his head at all, just kept darting quick sideways glances at the place he'd seen something move.

And he smelled it.


They didn't smell of blood, as he'd first assumed they would when he was younger. They smelled of stone. And Kurogane smelled two of them. He felt them, too, a darkness that throbbed like a headache building in your temples, if such a thing could happen without actually causing pain. He knew they were there, and he knew they were close. He tuned his ears to the shadows.

" . . . such a lovely thing . . . kill her . . . just enthrall her . . . with us."

"no use for . . . have so many . . . dump the body?"

Kurogane carefully stretched his hands out, trying to keep them hidden by his legs as his claws sprang unbidden. He'd stopped a few of clumsy idiots from ruining each other's lives while drunk before, but this wasn't a drunk college boy getting too randy. There were at least two vampires, and he couldn't tell how old they were. They were discussing this girl like she was a fucking takeaway meal. He felt his fangs press against his lips, but he didn't try to control them. There was no way around this fight. He wouldn't walk away from something like this.

How dare they come into his city?

Once the thought was there, it burned like a steady fire in his chest. This was his city, this was his university, this was his human girl, even when she was too drunk to sense her own danger. His girl. His place. His family lived here.

He was nothing but a blur of movement when he launched himself into the shadows beneath the overhanging trees near the languages building. He grabbed the two vampires and knocked their heads together before they even bothered to react to his sudden appearance.

"Who the hell are you?" he hissed.

The two vampires scrambled to right themselves, crouching and letting their own claws and fangs slide out, but their eyes were still as much curious as angry.

"We could ask you the same question," said the bolder of the two. He looked like a middle-aged man, physically fit but smaller than Kurogane. The woman at his side gave the appearance of being nearly the same age, and even more fit than he. He looked into both their eyes in turn, and realized with surprise that they were just babies. No more than thirty vampire years on them.

"You look like you don't know any better," Kurogane said, relaxing marginally. "But a good vampire doesn't kill their prey, and especially not these days."

The smirks they tossed at him dissolved his calm and set his anger to boiling again. They knew perfectly well that killing humans was considered tawdry even among the more ruthless of their kind, and considered murder by the more reasonable. They just didn't care. Kurogane didn't know if they were the type of arrogant bastards who thought humans were nothing but cattle, or if they were just vicious animals, but it didn't matter.

"Then let me explain something else," he growled, flexing his hands at his sides, feeling his words coming thick and heavy around his teeth. "This is my city, and you're poaching."

Their eyes narrowed, and the woman at least seemed to be thinking about that.

"I want you out of my territory. Now."

There was a bark of laughter from the man.

"Two against one, child," he said. His voice sounded smooth as silk and it felt like rough sandpaper, scraping over Kurogane's senses and setting his nerves on edge. Child? This little thing was an idiot. He still hadn't gotten over the human way of thinking. He still judged based on the age Kurogane appeared to be. But he was older than both of them combined, and he'd been stronger than them even when he was a mere thirty years.

There was one niggling worry. He hadn't fed well recently. His most recent prey had stayed for a few weeks then asked to leave, and he'd let them go without a qualm. He could do something to his prey. Something that wasn't enthralling them. He could look into their eyes and make them . . . It wasn't forgetting him. It wasn't forgetting that they'd fed him. It was more like forgetting to think about it. He could make the knowledge of it sink so deeply into their subconscious that they'd never think about it again. It wasn't perfect. If somebody ever point-blank asked them if they'd ever seen a vampire, they'd say "yes." But it worked well enough. Vampires were nothing but a fairy tale, these days. He didn't usually worry when he set his prey free.

So Kurogane was thirsty, and weaker than he should have been. That wasn't going to stop him, but it was a worry.

"So perhaps we'll make this our territory, after we finish with you," the man said, his silky voice grating over Kurogane's ears.

Damn him. The woman had wavered, but now she was steadying herself for the fight.

Kurogane wasn't about to wait for them to strike first. He lashed out, grabbing hold of the woman and bearing her down. It was easy to see that it was she who had more fighting strength out of the two, and he needed to fight her while he had the most energy. She twisted in his grip and got her feet under her and bucked him off, but he'd gotten his claws into her arms and held on. Her skin ripped open as she tried to fling him away, and she yelped. Kurogane turned and kicked the man solidly in the chest, interrupting his attempt to jump on Kurogane from behind.

The man flew into a tree and hit it with a crack that echoed in the streetlamp-yellow quiet. He didn't make any noise at all, sliding limply down into the dirt.

The woman had gotten free of him in the meantime. Kurogane spun to face her. She clawed at his face, trying to get at his eyes. He turned his head in time to catch the blow with his cheek. He felt the flesh tear and grunted. He ducked under her next blow and grabbed her by the wrist. She tried to turn and break the hold, but he twisted her arm up behind her back. She whined at him and tried to kick, but he twisted until she was bent double, then he kneed her in the back and sent her to the ground. She immediately rolled away and sprang back up, but he'd been waiting for that, and he clubbed her in the temple with his fist, using her own momentum to add force to his blow. She went sprawling again.

He briefly wondered what this looked like, if there were any casual passersby to see it. A dark blur under the trees, moving too fast for individual movements to be spotted by the naked eye. The sounds of grunting and hissing. Maybe they'd think it was a catfight. With really big cats.

She swept his legs out of from under him, or at least she tried. He hopped right over her kick and landed in a crouch with his knee on her chest. He put his claws at her throat and looked her deeply in the eye.

"I told you. This is my city. You will not trespass here again. You will warn others that this city is mine and not available to them. You will leave its people alone. Mine."

Her eyes were slightly glazed as she listened. She was young enough that he could practice his fledging ability to influence on her. You had to have a significant amount of power over another vampire before you could influence them and bend them to your will, and the only power Kurogane knew of was age.

He let her go. "Now get out of here."

She jumped to her feet and ran. She couldn't run as fast as he could, he noticed critically. Not even when he'd been younger. It was not the first time he'd noticed that he was faster or stronger than others.

Then something hit him in the back of the head. His face landed in the dirt and he groaned. Claws dug into the back of his neck, and he couldn't move unless he wanted his spine ripped out. The man he'd thought was stunned was kneeling on his back and had his claws deep into Kurogane's skin. He stayed very still.

"Go ahead. Mesmerize me," the silken voice said, close enough to his ear that Kurogane felt the careful exhalation of breath. It was hard to speak naturally, and it took practice not to huff out air every time you did it. He'd always sounded like he'd just run a marathon, back when he'd first woken up needing to consciously remind himself to put air in his lungs when he wanted to talk.

Obviously he couldn't influence without looking the other vampire in the eyes. But Kurogane was angry. Angry at himself, more than anything. He should have marked out his territory more carefully. He should have been more aggressive and imposing and scared them off without a fight. He should have found a new prey so he wasn't so weak tonight. He should have known better than to think this man was stunned and laying in the dirt. He should have been paying attention.

If he lost this fight, this piece of shit was going to control the town where Kurogane's family lived. Those blonde twins that Chitose had, still chubby little toddlers, they slept tonight peacefully because he was supposed to keep them safe.

He reached out, pushing his mind backwards in the same way he'd pushed it forwards into the woman. It was incredibly difficult without having the man's eyes as a focus. He had to buffet his own mind around looking for a purchase on the other's consciousness. But he found him. He pushed his influence in, and it caught fast in the man's. His weak, young, undefended little brain.

"You will take your claws off me, child."

The last word came out sarcastically, and Kurogane grinned fiercely when the man obeyed. He could feel the tremble in the man's hands as he fought to resist the order, but the claws slid out of his skin. Kurogane immediately rolled them over, grappling with arms and legs and pinning the man to the ground.

"Get the fuck out of my city," he said, using the man's eyes to go even deeper into him and twist his influence tight.

The man whimpered. Kurogane pushed himself to his feet in one light motion, setting himself several feet back from the man. The other vampire immediately got up and started running. He didn't even look back. Kurogane tracked his retreat with a grin.

A softly singing voice caught his attention. The girl he'd been trying to protect. The fight had happened so quickly that she wasn't even far away yet.

Thirst spread like fire through Kurogane's chest, licking flames crawling up his throat. Normally thirst felt similar to the painful pinch of a hungry stomach. But this was fierce and hot. Kurogane had sprung from the shadows before he'd even realized what he'd done. His body was poised to bear the girl to the ground and drain her dry.

His mind caught up to his body just in time, and he managed to turn his headlong rush to one side. He slammed palms-first against a wall, and stayed there. He held his breath and clenched his teeth tight. He pressed his face close to the bricks and pressed his hands against them. He focused all his will on staying where he was.

She smelled so good. She smelled sweet like the alcohol she'd drunk and heavy like the pizza she'd had for dinner and rich and warm and salty and . . .

No. He ground his own face against the rough brick. Something pattered over his shoes, and he noticed in a distant way that his claws were digging into the wall and raining brick dust down on the ground.

Then a new scent wafted over him. Pure and crisp, like cold spring water. It would tumble over his tongue like a mountain brook. His teeth were sharp on his lips and he was drooling. He was weak, and his body was desperate with craving. And the scent of cool water was coming closer and closer with each moment.

"I saw some of it," a voice said, just behind him, soft and low. "I saw the fight."

Kurogane was trembling with stillness.

"I know what you are, and I know what you did for that girl. And I know you're about to hurt her."

Kurogane was surprised enough that he turned his face just slightly to see who was speaking. A university-age young man, dark hair and eyes, simple clothes.

"You know?" Kurogane grunted. Shit, speaking was a mistake. The breath he took for it carried the mingled scents of the two humans, and the fire in his chest was raging uncontrollably.

"You're not the first vampire I've met," he said matter-of-factly. Like he was saying he'd seen a blue sky before or something. Then he said, "We need to get out of the light."

He grabbed Kurogane around the arm and pulled him. Kurogane was so surprised that he allowed it, following the young man's lead around the side of the building and into the shadows where the streetlamps didn't penetrate the landscaped bushes and trees.

Then he pressed his back against the wall, tilted his head to one side, and said, "Drink."

Kurogane was up against him and had his fangs against his throat before the youth could blink. But he stopped himself there, shuddering, digging his claws into the wall again.

"No. What. Why. Who are you."

He didn't have the ability to even make them questions. The warm skin of his neck was only an inch away, and Kurogane wanted it.

"I just don't want that girl to get hurt. I know about vampires, so you aren't going to have to threaten me or kill me or anything. I'll feed you, and I'll keep your secret. Unless you've got a thrall who can get here sometime in the next two minutes."

"You can't know much," Kurogane said raggedly. "Or you'd know how dangerous it is to feed from the neck."

There was a flicker of surprise in his eyes, just the barest hint of fear. Then Kurogane couldn't help himself anymore, and he fell to his knees and buried his teeth in the young man's arm. He groaned in ecstasy. On one level, it was warm and salty and coppery like all blood. But deeper than that, where only a vampire could taste it, it was just very slightly sweet and just very slightly cold and it was exactly like a mountain spring. Kurogane shivered with relief as it cooled the fire in his throat and spread through him.

"I'm Shizuka Doumeki, by the way."

He grunted in acknowledgement, but didn't lift his head, still sucking and swallowing greedily. He had to slow down. He could only take enough to take the edge off his thirst, to sustain him for a day or two. This man wasn't offering himself up to be drained. But he was so good.

"We probably should call your thrall," the youth said, sounding slightly amused. "You seem like you haven't fed for a while."

Kurogane used the voice and the question to focus, to push himself back. He pulled his fangs free of skin and muttered, "I haven't. I don't keep a thrall. I had . . ." He licked at the blood trickling down his arm and sighed with pleasure. "Had a prey. Let them go. They wanted to go home."

"You just let your prey go whenever they ask?"

The words were slurred. Kurogane had to stop feeding. Now.

"Of course I do," he said, letting the feeling of being affronted fill him up. Using it to break the spell of pleasure that feeding had laid over his mind. "They're not slaves. Whatever vampire you met before is a piece of shit if they told you any different."

His impromptu meal chuckled, but the sound was weak. He was very pale, and his knees were shaking as he leaned up against the wall. Kurogane suddenly realized that he couldn't hear the girl singing anymore. If she had gotten far enough away that he couldn't hear her, then she must have gotten home safely. The dorms weren't far from here.

"Can you walk?" Kurogane asked roughly, getting to his feet and wiping the back of his hand over his mouth. He drew his fangs and claws in. He patted at his cheek where the woman had torn him open. It was healed over.

"Maybe later," came the flippant reply. "Think I'll stay here for now."

"Don't be an idiot. I'll take you home."

Now that he was fed, it was no trouble to pick the man up in his arms and carry him.

"Where do you live?"

Oh, swell. Wasn't that just fine? He'd passed out. There was only one thing to do, then. Kurogane took him back to his own home. He carefully cleaned and bandaged the bite, and spent the rest of the night trying to get the bloodstain out of Shizuka Doumeki's jeans.

When he woke in the morning with no pants on in an unfamiliar bed, the young man's only question was whether or not Kurogane had any food in his house and if he was planning to make him breakfast because it seemed like the least he could do after Shizuka had fed him dinner.

Kurogane hadn't laughed in a long time. Maybe that was why he asked Shizuka to stay.

Shizuka had a car, and he wanted to drive to Fai's house. Kurogane was not impressed by cars in general and didn't like riding in them, but there was little choice. While he might be able to traverse ten miles in ten minutes, Shizuka could not it was Shizuka who knew where they were going. He kept trying to convince Kurogane to learn how to drive the car, but Kurogane had no more interest in it than he had in television or cell phones. For one thing, it would be Chitose's name on everything like it was on the house, and it would start to look weird if she owned that much crap on the other side of town. For another, it just wasn't necessary. He didn't need any of it.

The car ride was mostly silent. That wasn't particularly unusual for them, but this time it was rather charged.

"So back in the beginning. The night we met. When you said you'd met other vampires before. You meant Fai, didn't you?"


"When did you meet him?"

"Just a couple of months before you."

That was their only attempt at conversation, and then Shizuka was parking the car in a neighbourhood not dissimilar to their own. At first Kurogane thought it was a joke. He'd been expecting to be led to some mansion, some kind of estate, but instead he was standing on the sidewalk looking up at a well-kept and modestly-sized home. There were flowers growing in planter boxes outside the front windows, showing themselves golden and white and pink in the light spilling through the curtains. Hardly the place for a powerful vampire to be keeping half a dozen thralls in demeaning outfits and holding court over lesser kin.

Kurogane paused and gave Shizuka an unimpressed look. In the twilight, Shizuka's smirk reminded him of the Cheshire Cat from that movie the girls liked to watch. "Were we just gonna stand out here?" Shizuka asked lazily.

He was right. They shouldn't linger in the street, not even now that it was getting dark.

Kurogane grunted. "Just figuring out how to introduce myself," he muttered, striding up to the door with no further dithering and knocking on it sharply.

There was probably some kind of protocol for this. There was probably some formally written letter on old parchment he was supposed to send a week before his arrival. But fuck it. He just wanted to make sure that kid Yuzuriha wasn't getting taken advantage of, and he wanted to go home. He wasn't planning to take up much of Fai's time.

The door was opened by a short young lady with a delightful little face, round and with a pert nose and a dusting of freckles. She had red hair and she was adorable, and Kurogane scowled at her. She was older than Yuzuriha, at least.

"Who are you?"

She faltered and looked up at him with round eyes before answering, "I'm Lucia, I'm the housekeeper."

"Oh. Well, I'm here to see Fai. Is he available?"

The housekeeper immediately shook her head. "No, I'm afraid not, he's currently quite occupied. Would you like to come back . . . Um. Next week?"

"Next week?" Kurogane repeated in disbelief. "Is he away or something?"

"I'm afraid that's private," Lucia said testily, drawing herself up to the full of her not-very-impressive height.

"Any chance we could leave a message for him?" Shizuka spoke up from behind him, sounding shrewd. "My master has some urgent business for him."

Kurogane was tempted to enthrall this man or get rid of him far more often than he was really comfortable with. Shizuka didn't have any idea why they were here, because Kurogane hadn't told him, so he was talking out of his ass. Not to mention he'd referred to Kurogane as his damn master, and not as a joke in the privacy of their house either.

"Lucia , who's at the door? Is there a problem?"

A blond man was coming into view, appearing from around the corner in another room. He was blond, his steps were slow and careful and he looked rather frail and nearly gray. He was sweaty and his lips were pale, and he clung to the wall for support. Kurogane recognized the look of a human who had been all but drained during a feeding.

Lucia looked panicked for a moment, turning around and dropping her head in a show of deference. "No, sir, it's only a visitor for Master Fai, they're going to leave a message—"

The smell of the frail blond man slammed into Kurogane with the force of a train. He smelled divine. Kurogane had never been so thirsty in his life, not the night he'd met Shizuka, not any night, his thirst was staggering and his throat ached and his fangs shot free without any prompting. He was bounding across the room, unable to stop himself, panicking even as he drove forward, desperate for just a taste of that incredible smell, his eyes just as wide as the drained human's—

The man took him down with a simple martial arts throw, with nothing more than a hand on his collar and a leg swept out for him to be forced over. It never would have worked if Kurogane hadn't been so single-mindedly focused on the smell of his blood, but something about the shock of landing on his back managed to startle him out of his instinctual need to slake the aching thirst. He stayed on the ground, blinking up at the man as he leaned heavily against the wall.

"It's hardly polite to drink from prey in another vampire's house," he said coldly. "Leaving aside whether or not you are civilized enough to ask me before sinking your teeth in."

Kurogane hadn't been so overwhelmed by thirst since he'd first woken one hundred and eleven years ago. He had no idea what had just happened, losing control like that. He'd just fed from Shizuka yesterday. But the man smelled like . . . like . . . Still trying to figure that out, Kurogane just stayed there on the floor and looked at the man. He was on the tall side, lithe-looking, dressed simply but crisply in trousers and shirt. He had crow's feet around his eyes, and laugh lines around his mouth. His hair was gathered at his neck in a small tail, and was shot through with silver that glinted in the light.

"I am Yuui," the man suddenly said, finding something amusing apparently since he grinned. "And I would offer to help you up but I rather think that I would only end up on the floor beside you."

His voice was very precise and carried a foreign accent. Kurogane could barely think past the thirst, but he he had to get himself under control, now. He quickly got to his feet and wondered what on earth he was supposed to say.

"Sorry," he said at last, fiddling with straightening out his shirt. "That's never— I don't normally do things like that."

"I'm inclined to forgive you since I am quite unable to muster the energy for anything else," the man named Yuui said, smiling with his pale lips.

Kurogane and Yuui seemed to figure out at the exact same moment that Yuui was about to faint, because when Yuui said "oh," in a soft voice, Kurogane was already reaching out and catching him. He wasted no time, sweeping the taller man into his arms and carrying him over to the sofa.

"Get a glass of soda or juice—something with sugar," Kurogane barked at the hovering housekeeper. He laid the man out on the sofa carefully, seeing as he did that there was a wound still bleeding sluggishly at his neck. He took off his jacket and put it beneath Yuui's head and shoulders so he wouldn't get blood on the upholstery. He carefully didn't breathe, trying not to smell it, trying to ignore the powerful urge to lick at the wound and open it back up and finish the job someone else had started. "Hey, just stay still, you're gonna be fine," he said, looking down into glazed, dull blue eyes. He pressed his hand over the bite on his neck.

"Yes, I know," Yuui answered slowly and slurred. "I've got some practice, you see."

"You've got practice with nearly getting killed?" Kurogane snarled. "What the fuck do you stay for, then? You're not a thrall." You could always tell a thrall, and Yuui clearly wasn't one.

"Well, I will admit we have not cut it this close before," Yuui said faintly, closing his eyes. "But it was a bit of an emergency, unfortunately."

Really, between the accent—French?—and the slurring, Kurogane could barely understand him.

"Stop talking and lie still," Kurogane ordered him. The housekeeper returned with the juice, and Kurogane immediately sent her away again for blankets and pillows. Yuui's nail beds were blue and he was clammy with sweat, and Kurogane knew if he went into shock he'd have to go to a hospital and that was not really an option. He chafed Yuui's hands and forearms in his hands. "Shizuka, get his shoes off and do this with his legs."

Shizuka did so immediately, and the minute the blankets and pillows arrived, Kurogane directed the pillows under Yuui's feet to elevate his legs and he himself tucked the blankets around the man. He sat with Yuui's head in his lap, pressing his hand over the bite and then after he'd sent the housekeeper scurrying off for a third time, cleaning it with alcohol and bandaging it carefully. He gave Yuui juice in small sips, holding him gently and trying not to touch the bite. He sent Lucia away yet again to find a bottle of iron supplements and directed Shizuka to crush one up and mix it into the juice. It wouldn't be of much help, but he doubted there were bags of saline drip in the linen closet, so he did his best.

Yuui's colour didn't improve, but he did stop sweating. Kurogane continually roused him when his eyes tried to slip shut to make him drink more. After a while, when it seemed that Yuui wouldn't go into shock after all, Kurogane finally slowed his frantic treatment enough to say,

"So, Fai did this to you?"

It confirmed his worst suspicions about the vampire.

Yuui looked grieved by the question, though. "He didn't mean to," he whispered, even his voice weak and pale. "He needed as much power as he could get to keep Rondart from escaping."

"Rondart? What? Who's Rondart?"

"Kyle Rondart. The murderer Fai's trying to keep locked up in the bedroom," Yuui sighed.


"He's a vampire, and he committed a grave crime," Yuui explained, sounding so utterly exhausted that Kurogane almost felt guilty for pressuring him to speak. "Fai has the power and standing to pass judgment on him, but he's hoping to convince Rondart to take a knee and pledge loyalty instead. He needed to be as strong as possible to keep a hold on him. Kusanagi's on his way over, hopefully bringing his vampire neighbour. Once we have three, we can take care of the problem one way or the other."

Yuui was just babbling, hardly capable of controlling his own words, his head lolling listlessly in Kurogane's lap. He gave a start when Yuui mentioned Kusanagi's neighbour, but Yuui didn't appear to notice. Yuui wasn't making much sense anyway. Pledge loyalty? Pass judgment? Once they had three what, vampires? Why?

Shizuka was a silent presence at Yuui's feet, still quietly chafing his skin to keep him warm and try to encourage blood flow. He hadn't said a word, and Kurogane had a sudden suspicion that he knew more about all this than Kurogane did. Kurogane tried to meet his eyes, but he was being deliberately difficult.

"I remember you," Yuui said suddenly, looking down at Shizuka. "I remember you very well, because your dreams were so troubling to Fai." He looked up into Kurogane's face with new eyes. "This must be the one."

Shizuka kept up his ministrations, even as he was shaking his head. "No, it's not him. But he's part of it, I think."

"And the girl?"

"Found her," Shizuka answered, and something went soft in his eyes for a moment. Kurogane didn't believe it. He hadn't even had a chance to press Shizuka for information on the girl, and then this total stranger who was on the verge of dying in his lap seemed to know about her. And more than that, he'd never seen such an expression on his prey's face. Shizuka loved this girl, didn't he?

"Don't suppose there's any chance," Kurogane growled, "of you telling me what the hell this is all about."

Yuui's eyes flicked back up to him, seeming startled. "You don't know?"

"Why would I ask if I knew?" Kurogane snapped.

"I thought Kusanagi might have at least told you about Fai," Shizuka answered. "But I guess you really don't know."

Kurogane all but bared his fangs, impatient and frustrated.

"Fai can read people's dreams," Shizuka explained. "He can very nearly divine your future from them. But he can't do it with other vampires, only with humans. So when he looks into your dreams and can't see much, that's when you know you're going to be caught up in the vampire's world."

"So . . . He's looked into your dreams," Kurogane said slowly.


"What did he see?"

"Just Himawari," Shizuka said, his hands having gone still at last. "I knew I'd meet her and fall for her. Everything else was just . . . darkness."

Kurogane thought a lot of things in that moment. He really wondered what sort of improbable creature Fai was, being able to visit people's futures in their dreams. He clearly wasn't above draining his own prey for the sake of power, which predisposed Kurogane to not like him. This dreams business was creepy as hell, even for vampires. But mostly, he just looked at Shizuka's face and wondered not for the first time what sort of man his prey really was. Incredibly brave, incredibly stupid, or more than likely both.

He might have even said something, but two things happened almost simultaneously and there wasn't really time to talk after that. First, Yuui sighed softly and finally passed out. He was breathing better, so Kurogane didn't try to rouse him. Only a second later, someone pounded on the door, and Lucia went scurrying over to let Kusanagi in.