Chapter 14: Akatsuki
…two years later…
"Are you going to knock…or should I?" Hanabusa said nervously as we stood in front of the Souen mansion. I rolled my eyes and sighed, answering his question by knocking on the door.
It opened quickly, as if someone had been waiting on the other side. Ruka stuck her head out, but strangely she didn't leave the house.
"Hi. So?" she asked, knowing why we were here.
"Another one, in the same town. Are you coming?" I said, keeping the details at a minimum to make sure no one would know about our secret mission, though I knew Ruka would understand.
"I…I don't think I can…" she said hesitantly, avoiding eye contact with us. "Did you…see him?" she asked, almost longingly, referring to Kaname no doubt.
"Yes. He's the same as always," Hanabusa told her.
"I'm glad," she said, somehow looking relieved. "Well…I guess I should go…but please, be careful," she told us, beginning to turn around.
I reached out to her, grabbing her shoulder, intending to stall her for a second to ask if everything was ok. "Wait, Ruka—" I started.
As I touched her, she flinched hard at my touch and inhaled sharply. My hand snapped back to my side as if I had been shocked, and there was a heavy moment of silence.
"Ruka, seriously what has gotten into you?" Hanabusa said, crossing his arms, but looking concerned nonetheless. I could feel his eyes on me, as if he was waiting for me to back him up, but I could only seem to stare at Ruka as I tried to cover up my hurt.
"I'm going to get a head start, you catch up," Hanabusa said to me, turning around to leave. I tried not to show my surprise. It was true that he was generally very self-involved and immature, but he did this sometimes, left the two of us alone, when it was evident there was something we needed to talk about.
"Ruka…" I paused, thinking about how to word my question. It would make a difference in whether or not she would answer. "Are you sure you don't want to come? You…probably haven't been outside in a while. Maybe it's good to get some fresh air."
She sighed, eyes downcast. "Thank you…but no, I shouldn't."
"Listen…are you doing okay?" I asked bluntly, not knowing what else I could do.
"Yeah, Akatsuki. I'm really okay. I just have a lot of things I need to do…and besides, I'll see you soon anyway, right?"
"Of course, I wouldn't miss your birthnight," I told her, giving a small smile. She returned it, though it didn't quite reach her eyes.
"See you at my birthnight, then," she said, closing the door behind her.
Once the door was shut, I let out a sigh, running my hand through my coppery hair in frustration.
"Look at that lamp! It's practically screaming her name!" Hanabusa squealed as he ran over to yet another store window. "Just look at that stitch work!" he said, as if he knew anything about stitch work.
This had been going on for about three hours. After we had left Ruka's house we had ended up looking for gifts for her birthnight instead of carrying out our mission for Kaname and hunting down a rogue level E. For some reason they always seemed to be in this same town. It puzzled me, as the Hunter's Association was in this town. Shouldn't they be keeping the level E's under control?
It also puzzled me as to why the Pureblood always had us kill the monsters only in this town. He often told me that I was a valuable fighter, as he had heard many times the story of when I had practically burned down the town and mass amounts of level E's with it almost two years ago. He also told me that the reason was that there was a human school near the town, and that he was trying to protect its students. But there were human schools in lots of towns, and we were never summoned to kill any of the beasts anywhere else. Something just didn't seem to add up.
"Look, cake! Ruka loves cake!" Hanabusa yelled again in delight, looking in a bakery shop window.
"That's not really a present, Hanabusa…" I trailed off when I saw him run in a new direction, probably towards something else that was the new "perfect gift".
I knew we should be searching for the level E, but it hadn't made itself known to us yet, and it seemed a waste of time since I knew it was only a matter of time until the creature revealed itself to us.
"Jewelry! Ruka does love sparkly things, you know," Hanabusa said thoughtfully as I sighed.
Though evidently Hanabusa was having no trouble at all finding a gift for our friend, I on the other hand was finding nothing. Sure, there were pretty things that I was sure she would have liked, but nothing seemed right.
"How will I ever choose?!" Hanabusa wailed from a little ways ahead of me. "I know, I won't! I'll just buy it all!"
I face-palmed. It turned out ADHD spoiled rich vampire aristocrat with a bottomless wallet was a bad combination.
"Hanabusa, you realize we're in a town that's two hours by foot away from our home and we can't call a car because our mission is a secret, right? How are you expecting to get all of that home?" I pointed out, trying anything to make him see reason.
"Akatsuki, what are you getting her? If you want to be as thoughtful and amazing of a friend as me, you had better start looking," he said haughtily, ignoring my question, and I stared at him, wondering if he actually believed what he was saying. He blinked.
"What?" he questioned.
"Nothing. I just don't see anything here that seems right," I told him, dismissing his narcissism as a lost cause.
Truthfully, my mind was not really on finding the perfect gift, or the level E for that matter. It was on Ruka, and her reaction to my touch earlier. It had been so strange, the way she had flinched when I touched her. Even if she hadn't been expecting it, was it really that out of the ordinary for me to put a hand on her shoulder?
For some reason her reaction had caused a sharp pain in my chest. I couldn't explain it, but it had hurt to watch her, standing there trembling after I had pulled my hand back. And what hurt even more was that even though I could so clearly see the anxiety in her eyes, she had blatantly lied to me, telling me that she was fine.
"Well, just don't get her a silk scarf, a ruby-encrusted tea set, a leather bag, a gold friendship bracelet, a 6-layer cake, an antique lawn gnome…" Hanabusa rambled on about all of the ridiculous things he was buying for Ruka while I drowned him out.
My thoughts returning to Ruka, I sighed. I couldn't help but feel guilty. It was my fault we so rarely got to see her recently. It had been shortly after I gained my powers that she had stopped being able to really spend time with us. Of course we saw her at some of the night parties, but lately she had rarely left her parents sides. It was like I could feel her gradually withdrawing from me. It seemed like she was always defensive about something. It was really—
"Wait, what? You bought her a chinchilla?" I asked Hanabusa, bewildered, having suddenly heard part of his list of gifts for the unsuspecting girl.
"They're nocturnal, just like we are! It's perfect! Ruka loves furry things!" he beamed, as if it was just so logical.
"Hanabusa, take that thing back. There's no way her parents would let her keep an animal in the house." Not to mention the fact that he hadn't thought to buy a cage, food, or any of the other things that one would need when having a pet.
"But just look at him! Maybe I should keep him!" he pleaded, holding up the fluffy ball. The poor thing looked petrified.
"Hanabusa. Animals are scared of us. You're going to give it a heart attack. Not to mention I don't think you're responsible enough to have a pet. Please, just go return it to wherever you got it." What was I, his mother?
"Fine, but I'm plenty responsible!" he pouted, and I watched in disbelief as he simply stuffed the animal into one of the paper bags he was holding, handing the others to me as he set off to put it back where he had found it, saying something about buying some more useless trinkets for Ruka. Honestly why did I bother.
"Excuse me, young Lord, is there anything I can help you with?" I heard someone ask me. I turned around to see a short girl, probably one of the vampire shopkeepers, looking at me.
"Not really," I replied, keeping it short.
"I…I'm sorry if I'm out of line, but I overheard you and the other one that you're with talking about a birthnight present…If it's not too much trouble, would you mind if I show you some of the things in my shop?" she asked hopefully. Well, I wasn't finding anything anyway. I might as well.
I walked with her towards her shop, but there seemed to be no lights on inside. Not that this was overly strange; since we could see in the dark we really had no need for lights, but at least dim ones tended to attract customers. I dismissed it, stepping through the door after the girl.
"So what did you want to show me?" I asked, looking around expectantly, thinking I would see something gift-worthy.
"There are a lot of things I want to show you Akatsuki Kain," the girl said rudely, referring to me without an honorific. Not to mention the fact that she knew who I was.
"What?" I said, backing up as I tried to figure out who this girl was.
"You will not keep me from my prey, aristocrat!" she screeched, turning suddenly to face me. Her eyes were red and crazed and her fangs were elongated, ready to attack. The level E.
She pounced, bony fingers outstretched, reaching for me. But I was fast, and before I could consciously think about it a blast of fire escaped my hands and engulfed the creature, which was incinerated just moments before it would have made impact with me. Its screams evaporated as ashes showered down onto me.
"Akatsuki! What happened?! Aauuugggghhhhh!" I heard the voice of Hanabusa behind me as a particularly girly scream escaped his mouth and he side-skipped to avoid the pile of ashes near me. "Was that…the level E? Why are you in a shop?"
"She led me here after you left, saying she wanted to show me something. She seemed completely sane until we got here and then she attacked me, but as you can see she's taken care of," I told him.
"It's odd that she was able to fake sanity. Usually we are able to recognize them pretty quickly," Hanabusa said, clearly a little taken-aback by the situation. "Do you think this was the one Kaname told us to hunt?"
"Well the only thing he told us was that it was a level E in this town…" I reminded him.
"That's true. Well, I guess we can head home then," he said, but he didn't make a move to leave.
"Yeah," I responded, turning to walk out the door of the shop.
"Wait! Help me with these bags!" he yelled over to me and I turned around to see about a dozen shopping bags filled with who knows what for Ruka, though the furry animal from before was noticeably missing. How had I missed the bags? Without a word I walked over to pick up a couple of them.
We walked home, our pace slow. It would take a couple hours at this rate to make it home, but I didn't mind. I needed the time to think.
Looking up at the sky as Ruka so often did, I gazed at the moon and stars, very visible on this clear night. It was quite beautiful. It was too bad Ruka wasn't able to get out much recently. I was willing to bet she missed being able to see the beautiful night sky. I halted suddenly, startling Hanabusa and making him throw all the bags he was holding into the air.
"Akatsuki—!" he started to complain, but I cut him off.
"I know what to give Ruka for a gift," I told him. I smiled, wondering how I hadn't thought of it before. It was going to be perfect for her.