A/N: Thank you so much for the support and kind reviews! I read each and every one of them even if I might not have been able to reply to all of them. I also apologise for the long wait. Apart from RL matters and issues that used up all of my time and energy, this chapter just didn't want turn out how I wanted it to but I'm finally content with it now.
Since I promised that Koharu would meet more canon characters in this chapter, it got longer than expected because I didn't want to end it before those scenes. Apparently, I'm shit at estimating how long a planned scene will become.
We'll also see more of Koharu's struggles in this chapter! She might have the life experience of an adult human woman and superpowers that make sneaking around and spying on people a little easier, but that doesn't mean that dealing with vampire aristocrats is a walk in the park or that she has no troubles at all.
While this chapter is slightly darker than others, Where the Flowers Bloom will remain a more upbeat story with fluff and an optimistic heroine because that's what I personally want to write and read about and there seems to be a lack of stories like that in this fandom (or I just haven't found them yet).
Since there have been a lot of questions/input concerning the pairing – I haven't decided on the final pairing yet, but it'll either be Takuma/OC (this is the pairing I had in mind from the start), Kaname/OC or Takuma/OC/Kaname. I won't pair Koharu with anyone else.
Warning: This chapter has some trigger warnings for verbal and physical abuse thanks to a certain someone.
Chapter Seven – Silent Watcher
A few days after Takuma's birthday, a white dove pecked on a window of the Kurenai residence. The family of three was about to have their afternoon tea and was sitting together in the living room when they noticed it.
A few days after Takuma's birthday, a white dove pecked on a window of the Kurenai residence. The family of three was about to have their afternoon tea and was sitting together in the living room when they noticed it.
Maria immediately jumped up from her chair and approached the window with an excited smile. She quickly opened it.
"Koharu-sama! You're finally here!"
A flock of white doves flew in, carrying the records Koharu had been making in secret since she started spying on Ichiō. She landed on the violet carpet, changing into her true form in the process.
"Hello Maria-chan, it's nice to see you again," Koharu replied with a smile before she turned to her former teacher. "Masaru-sensei, thank you for agreeing to keep these records for me."
Two days ago she sent him a letter to ask him for the favour and whether she could secretly visit them. Koharu might need those records later and she'd rather leave them with a safe pair of hands than anywhere near the Ichijō residence or in a cave in the woods where something could happen to them.
The records consisted of incriminating evidence of Ichiō and the Vampire Council's transgressions that Koharu had witnessed. She planned to continue to write down what she saw through her familiar's eyes whenever she had the time.
"We've always felt that it wasn't right how the Senate treated our relatives from the Hiō Clan – especially you and your mother – and you've helped our daughter so this is the least we can do for you," the man assured her.
Koharu felt a little guilty for getting him and his family involved in her plans. But she had no one else she could ask for this favour.
"As I said before, you don't owe me anything for helping Maria-chan, but I'm grateful for your help nonetheless."
They sat down at the table together and talked about trivial things for a while before Masaru-sensei asked her about her skills with the shinobue and whether she'd continued practising after he was no longer allowed to teach her. Koharu had brought the flute with her and showed him how much progress she'd made since then.
There were still a lot of things he could teach her, so the visit became an impromptu music lesson. Koharu didn't mind at all. She'd sorely missed this.
Maria was eager to demonstrate her own skills with the koto as well. "Let's play a song together, Koharu-sama!" she suggested.
Koharu agreed with a smile and let her teacher pick out a piece they both knew. The two girls had a good time together and ended up playing their instruments until Koharu had to return home. Her doppelgänger was reaching its limits and she'd promised Kaname that she would be back by dinnertime.
Koharu had asked to skip today's training with him to meet Maria in secret instead. She'd guessed that if she didn't explicitly tell him where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do, he would most likely send his familiar after her to find out what she was doing. She really didn't want that.
Also, by informing him beforehand, she showed him that she trusted him enough to keep some of her secrets. Sooner or later Koharu would have to bring him into the loop anyway and it would be better if there was at least some bond of trust between them when she revealed her own plans, even if they didn't trust each other completely. She'd have to convince him that combining their ideas and making adjustments to his plans was more effective than to go through with just his own plans.
Speaking of plans and trust, Maria and her father promised that they'd introduce her to other Aristocrats that they trusted. After Koharu had asked her teacher whether he could introduce her to trustworthy people, he had first suggested inviting them here in secret but she'd rejected that proposal.
If it came out that she hadn't been at the Ichijō estate when she should have been and was having secret meetings with other Aristocrats, the Kurenai family would be in serious danger. Not only because the senators might assume that they were planning something against them if she put in so much effort to go behind Ichiō's back and if they found the records Koharu had made, but also because the Vampire Council worked together with her father.
Koharu didn't know whether the senators had banned Masaru-sensei from seeing her on their own accord, or if Ridō had asked them to do so. He was certainly sadistic enough to give her a music teacher only to take him away again once she'd taken a liking to him.
Ridō was capable of anything, even ordering a Level B family to be slaughtered because he wanted to hurt Koharu for his own amusement. Kaname was safe from Ridō's sadistic tendencies since he was stronger than him and so was Takuma because of his relation to Ichiō. The Kurenais, however, were not because they had no ties to the Vampire Council.
Thinking about it that way... Shit, she really hadn't thought this through, had she?
It had been very thoughtful of Takuma to invite Maria and her father to his birthday party for Koharu's sake, but what if she had acted too friendly around Maria? If someone reported to Ridō that she was Koharu's friend, the Kurenai family could really be in serious danger.
Maybe they already were. And that was without factoring in the records.
A strong feeling of unease and worry washed over Koharu. Any future friends or allies she might make that didn't have any connection to the Vampire Council could one day be in danger because of her as well. She should never openly show that she liked someone where a servant or someone who had to do with the Senate could see it.
Or was she being too paranoid and overthinking things? Was she overestimating her father's reach while he was recovering from the wounds Kaname had inflicted on him?
And what about her brother? Why had Senri been introduced to her?
His great-uncle worked together with Ridō in the story, so it could have been his idea to let the siblings meet. Did Ridō want them to form some kind of relationship, so he could mentally torture her later when he took control of Senri's body?
That was a terrifying thought, but it sounded exactly like something that Ridō would do.
As Koharu said her goodbyes, she reminded Maria to act like she hadn't seen her since Takuma's birthday party the next time they met and the girl eagerly promised that she wouldn't forget it.
"I'll put on my best act," Maria said with an enthusiastic grin.
Koharu smiled at the girl's attitude, but it didn't reach her eyes. "Don't go overboard with the dramatics, Maria-chan."
"I know. You don't have to worry about it, Koharu-sama!"
Maria gave her a beaming smile as Koharu flew out of the window in a flock of doves.
'Maria is adorable. It would be fun to spend more time with her in the future and to meet more vampires like her and Takuma, but can I really risk it? I don't know whether I could forgive myself if something happened to them because of me,' she thought to herself.
Koharu spotted a snowy owl in one of the nearby trees as she flew past it, but since she wasn't a flock of real doves and the predatory animal could probably sense that, it did nothing but watch her with attentive eyes.
By the time Koharu arrived at the Ichijō estate, she was almost late for dinner even though she'd flown as fast as she could. After confirming that no one was watching the window or this side of the building, she let her shadow puppet open the window to the drawing room. As soon as she'd flown in and turned into her true form, she dismissed her doppelgänger.
Kaname barely looked up from the book he was reading at her return – he'd stayed with her shadow puppet while it pretended to read too. It could follow the instruction to turn over pages but if Koharu wanted to know the information contained in the book, she would have to actively concentrate on her connection to her shadow puppet and on reading the book.
"How was your afternoon?" Kaname, who was sitting on a sofa, asked her in a low tone, so not even a vampire outside this room would be able to hear him.
"It was great. Maria-chan and I played flute and koto together," she told him in an equally quiet manner. "What have you been reading?" she asked him.
"A book that Ichijō lent to me," Kaname said cryptically so Koharu approached him and peered over his shoulder to find out whether it was a dreary, depressing drama again.
She was surprised when she recognised the scene Kaname was currently reading – it was one of Takuma's mystery novels that she'd read some time ago.
"Oh, I like this story," she commented.
It reminded her of Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Koharu was proud of Takuma for convincing Kaname to read a book that was a little more cheerful than what the other Pureblood usually read.
Kaname sighed. "Now you've spoiled the ending."
"How? I hardly said anything," Koharu asked incredulously.
"Knowing you, the story has to have an unrealistic happy ending or you wouldn't like it," he pointed out in a wry tone.
Much to her chagrin, he was right about the reason why she liked the book, so she couldn't say anything in her defence. "Why are you always such a pessimist?" she asked instead as she sat down next to him.
"I'm a realist."
Koharu pouted. She couldn't believe that she was having this conversation again.
Kaname smiled a little in return, as if he was enjoying seeing her frustration. Ridō definitely inherited his sadistic side from him.
Great, now she was thinking about her deranged father again, as if she hadn't been doing that enough ever since the soiree.
"No, you're not. You're always focusing on the bad things, Kaname. Just let yourself enjoy the good things while they last and indulge yourself once in a while."
Koharu tried to live by this principle as well as she could. Life wasn't always easy, which was why it was important to have enough good things like hobbies, friends or interests in your life that could balance out the shitty times.
Thankfully, Takuma once again arrived to save the day before the two Purebloods got into another argument. He smelled like he'd just come out of the shower. Takuma had practised his sword techniques with his grandfather the whole afternoon, so it had probably been needed.
"Were you two bickering again?" he asked with a look of disapproval as soon as he saw their expressions. "You really should be nicer to each other."
"We are nice to each other... most of the time," Koharu said.
"Indeed," Kaname agreed.
"I beg to differ. You two can quarrel over anything and everything." Takuma saw things differently.
"Anyway..." Koharu changed the topic, "How did you get Kaname to read that mystery novel?" she asked the Level B vampire.
"Oh, just with a tiny little bit of manipulation," Takuma replied with a bright smile.
Koharu gave him a conspiratorial look. "You have to tell me the details."
"I'm sitting right here," Kaname reminded them.
"I will, but... Koharu-chan, are you alright? You seem kind of troubled." Takuma furrowed his brows in concern.
Wow, how could he tell? Her friend really was incredibly good at picking up on people's emotions. And here she thought she'd kept her worries hidden.
Kaname put his book down and watched her more closely, too. Should she really confide in him and Takuma and tell them about her concerns?
She'd have to at least mention her first encounter with Ridō to make them – or rather, Takuma, since Kaname knew what kind of person he was – understand her worries. While Koharu doubted that either of them would ever side with Ridō, or that they would actively want to endanger people like Maria, it still meant that she'd have to trust them to a certain point. Was she ready to do that?
She thought about it for some time.
"Can we go to a cafe tomorrow? There's something I'd like to hear your opinion on," Koharu said quietly, having made her decision.
She might not completely trust Kaname yet, but sharing her concerns with him and Takuma about this matter should be alright. Besides, it had always helped her in the past to talk with someone about her worries or things that troubled her. Bottling everything up wasn't healthy and she'd already spent years in isolation.
"Of course we can!" Takuma assured her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
Kaname didn't seem to be enthused by the thought of getting up during the day but he complied with the request.
Silvery moonlight illuminated the garden of the Hiō compound and a cool breeze that smelt of cherry blossoms ruffled Koharu's hair while she was reading a romantic story in front of her living room window. She was so absorbed in the book that she was startled when she suddenly heard the door to her quarters open. Her caretakers usually waited until they had her permission before they entered, so this confused her.
That was when she felt the foreign presence. One that was very similar to her mother's but less comforting, colder. It felt ominous.
The sliding doors were pushed open and a tall, handsome man that smelt strongly of human and vampire blood sauntered in. He was a Pureblood vampire, just like her.
Koharu didn't recognise the dark-haired individual with heterochromatic eyes but just taking one look at his expression was enough to tell her that this man was dangerous.
He wore a broad grin as he approached her but it didn't look friendly. Koharu quickly stood up, her book forgotten.
"Who are you?" she asked him as he eyed her up.
"Don't you recognise your own father?"
Koharu was surprised to hear that this man was her father, to say the least. However, her eyes were the exact same shade of blue as one of his, his hair also curled at the ends and she could even see a faint resemblance in their features, so she believed him.
"You are Kuran Ridō?"
Her caretakers had told her about him, but he didn't live at the Hiō compound and had never visited it before.
The older Pureblood's grin widened. "Yes, that's right. I'm your dear Otō-sama. I've been wanting to meet you for a while now. I've heard that you resemble Juri."
Juri? Did he mean... "My aunt?"
Ridō stopped before her – the top of her head didn't even reach his waist – and tilted her head up by her chin, applying slightly too much force to it.
"It's a pity that you didn't inherit my sister's brown hair, but I quite like seeing my eyes on a face that looks so much like hers did when she was younger," he said and then he buried his nose in the crook of her neck.
Koharu froze in response. No one had ever done something like this to her.
Ridō inhaled her scent, which made her extremely uncomfortable. The young Pureblood had never learned what to do in a situation like this, but she wanted to get away. Even if this was a normal thing for a father to do, she definitely didn't like it.
Koharu tried to push him away, but Ridō grabbed her by her arm and whirled her around. He put his other arm around her waist and held her in place as he licked the skin of her neck. The action made her flesh crawl.
"Stop it." Koharu struggled against his grip and even managed to send a wave of telekinetic energy in his direction before her concentration slipped but it was somehow cancelled out by him.
The older Pureblood chuckled, as if he thought her attempts to escape from his hold were amusing. For the first time in her life fear gripped Koharu's heart when she felt her father's cold fangs scrape across her skin.
"No! Let go of me!" she demanded but it fell on deaf ears.
Ridō buried his fangs in her neck.
Koharu felt a sharp pain when her skin was pierced. She let out a whimper as her life force was forcefully sucked out of her before she got a grip on herself and continued to struggle against her father's hold. Her neck burned and she felt like her strength and body warmth were being stolen from her as Ridō continued to drink her blood.
She struggled until dark spots appeared in her vision and her limbs felt heavy and powerless. It was then that Ridō let go of her without a warning.
Koharu barely had the time and strength to catch herself before she hit the floor. For a moment, her head was spinning before her eyes refocused on the sight in front of her.
Blood was dripping from her father's lips and chin and his cold, uncaring eyes were glowing in a crimson hue. Even though she was a vampire herself, the sight terrified her.
"Ah, I like that look of fear on your face," Ridō told her as he licked her blood from his lips. "I wonder whether my sister and her daughter will show me the same expression when I kill them and my brother after I'm done with you."
Koharu had hardly enough time to process his words before he was on her and pinned her to the ground.
"Scream for me," her father whispered almost lovingly in her ear before he buried his fangs in her neck again.
And Koharu screamed. She pushed against his chest with what little strength she had left and called for help, for her caretakers and even her mother, the woman she'd never met and who had abandoned her immediately after Koharu was born.
But no one came. Nobody helped her.
She was alone.
"Yes, yes...! Continue screaming for help and defying me like that! Just like Juri," her father cried in an ecstatic voice before he continued to suck her blood.
'Is this how I'm going to die again?' Koharu wondered.
Where had that thought come from?
Images of a white room flashed through her mind and strange beeping noises sounded in her ears. In the white room she saw three people, three humans, sitting in chairs next to her bed. The man and the two women – mother and daughter – were crying because she was sick.
Purebloods didn't get sick, so Koharu had never been sick before.
And yet, she knew in her heart that this was a memory of hers. That this was her family.
The images faded as suddenly as they'd come and she was back in her quarters again. Koharu almost didn't have the strength to open her eyes again and gaze at Ridō when he finally drew back.
"Interesting... I wonder what that memory was," he said and added with a grin, "Maybe I should let you live for a while longer, draw out your fear and suffering. You can't escape me anyway."
'I'm going to lose my family again,' was the only thing she could think of when her father left her quarters sometime later, after pushing her to the brink of death over and over again by repeatedly drinking her blood. He only let her recover for a short amount of time so he could repeat the process.
However, when he left this time, he was carrying the bloody remains of her baby cousin in his arms.
"I'll return to devour you completely once you've grown up, my dear."
The furniture in Koharu's room was shaking when she awoke around noon, breathing heavily. She tried to take deep breaths and calm down, but as always when she dreamt of her first and only meeting with the sadistic creature that was her biological father, she could still feel his fangs at her throat and hear his voice in her head for minutes after waking up.
It wasn't the first time that she had this nightmare and it most likely wouldn't be the last time either, but it was the first time she'd dreamt of her dead cousin Kaname too. She blamed Ancestor Kaname for it since he'd let her see that memory.
Speaking of the devil, he was standing in front of her door. He must have woken up because he'd heard the furniture move.
"Koharu, what is the matter?"
She was still too shaken to speak, though she'd calmed enough to regain control of her powers, so she opened her door via telekinesis before she knew what she was doing. Kaname saw it as the invitation it was and entered her room, sitting down on the mattress next to her.
"Did you have a nightmare?" he concluded after taking a look at her.
She nodded silently as she wondered what she'd just done. She let Kaname see her when she was at her most vulnerable... On the other hand, wasn't she going to do something similar later during their trip?
"Do you want to talk about it?"
She shook her head. When he shifted on her bed, she thought that he'd leave again, so she reached for his sleeve and held onto it.
"Stay?" Koharu asked him quietly and then sheepishly looked away when he gave her a questioning look.
What the hell was she doing? Why did she want Kaname to stay by her side? Did she feel safe with him?
A few months ago the answer to that question would have been 'No', but right now...
It wouldn't make sense to harm her at this point, not when he was investing so much time in training Koharu so she'd be able to fight her father one day. Kaname was also stronger than Ridō, which most likely contributed to the fact that she felt relatively safe with him.
Still reeling from that realisation, she was surprised but didn't say anything as he actually laid down next to her, on top of her blanket. She closed the door with a thought and followed suit, still holding onto Kaname's sleeve when her head met the pillow.
She didn't know whether it was because of his presence or because she felt the warmth of his body through the blanket, but she calmed down much more quickly than usual after that nightmare.
When she was woken up by a knock on her door and her maid's voice, Koharu wasn't just holding Kaname's sleeve anymore but was cradling his hand in hers. As soon as she noticed this and that she was almost lying on the other Pureblood's shoulder, she dropped his hand as if it had burned her and put some distance between them.
Her cheeks burned as she stared at his sleeping form, remembering what she'd done. Koharu was mortified by her actions a few hours ago.
What the hell had she done?! Even though she'd been affected by the memory of her father, she should've had more dignity and sense than to beg Kaname of all people to stay with her as if she was a frightened little child!
Koharu hated that Ridō still affected her like this, that he still had that power over her even though she hadn't seen him in years. Ironically, if it hadn't been for that horrifying night, she might have never recalled her past life. Being pushed to the edge of death several times in one night kick-started her memory and called forth the memories that had been buried deep in her soul.
She tried to crawl out of bed as stealthily as she could, without waking Kaname, because she really didn't want to face him right now, but as Honda-san once again called for Koharu, he pulled the blanket over his face to shield it from the light that came in through the curtains.
Koharu paled. Shit, did that mean that Kaname was already awake? Or was he still half-asleep?
She really hoped for the latter.
She was still crawling backwards when Kaname suddenly addressed the maid in a sleepy voice. "Just a moment..."
Koharu startled and fell over the edge that she'd reached just then with a squeak, colliding ungracefully with the floor. She quickly got up on her feet and used her vampire speed to enter her bathroom when she heard the blankets shift, hoping desperately that Kaname hadn't seen that.
As if she wasn't embarrassed enough already, the maid then asked, "Kaname-sama? Are you in Koharu-sama's room? Do you want to... postpone the trip and have more time to yourselves?" sounding more eager than normal.
She was definitely misunderstanding something.
Koharu wished the ground would open and swallow her up. Sure, the two of them were teens in the eyes of vampire society, but that didn't mean that Kaname and her were doing naughty things behind closed doors when they stayed in one of their private rooms together!
Should she explain the situation to her maid, or would that just make everything worse?
"That depends on Koharu," Kaname mumbled.
She had to take a few deep breaths and swallow her embarrassment before she was able to answer.
"The trip will take place as planned," she said quickly, struggling for composure.
"As you wish, Koharu-sama, Kaname-sama."
The entire time during breakfast and the car ride Koharu was unable to look at the other Pureblood without blushing or feeling abashed. Of course, her strange behaviour didn't escape Takuma's notice.
"Koharu-chan, are you alright?"
"Yes, it's nothing," she quickly replied, noting how Kaname's lips twitched up from the corner of her eyes.
Was he enjoying her embarrassment?
She crossed her arms and stared at the landscape from the car window, silently fuming, until they arrived at the same town they'd visited before. Thankfully, there were less people around this time.
It was difficult to stay around humans for the first time after her vampire instincts had awoken and the last thing she needed right now was to suffer from a sensory overload. Much to her chagrin, most humans now smelled rather delicious to her and the three of them still got curious looks from people.
Takuma, being the amazing person he was, tried his best to take her mind off things as he led them to various shops. After buying some books at a bookstore, Koharu decided that it was time to tell her two companions why she'd asked for this trip in the first place and suggested finding a place to sit down.
They visited the same café as before and sat down at a table far away from the other guests. The waitress recognised them and was visibly delighted to serve them again. Once the group had received their order – three pieces of the freshly baked chocolate cake and black tea – and Koharu was certain that there were no other vampires than the tree of them in the café, she started the conversation with a question.
"Takuma-kun, what I am about to tell you might put you in a difficult position with your grandfather. Are you still willing to keep this conversation a secret?" she asked the Aristocrat with a serious expression.
He looked surprised by her question and stirred his tea as he thought about it. Kaname gave her one of his unreadable looks, but she could tell that he was curious.
When Takuma locked eyes with her again, she saw his determination in them. "Your secrets are safe with me, Koharu-chan."
She sent him a soft smile in return. "Then let me ask you another question. How much do you know about Kuran Ridō, the former head of the Kuran family?"
She refused to refer to that creature as her father out loud, since it would be an insult to her human father.
Takuma furrowed his brow. "Hmm. Apart from what you've said and that he is your father? Not much and mostly rumours. Ah, but I know that he had a good relationship with the Senate."
Koharu nodded. "That's exactly what I am concerned about. I have only met him once, a few years ago," she began and watched a mother and her young daughter cross the street in front of the café, mentally preparing herself and keeping a tight rein on her powers, "but that was enough time to understand that he is a twisted and sadistic monster. He was supposedly placed under arrest by the Senate, but who knows how much power he still has, how many people report to him. Anyone I befriend and who hasn't any connections to the Senate could be in danger because of him."
It was silent for a few moments. "Koharu, Ridō won't be able to act for quite some time due to the injuries he sustained in our fight," Kaname reassured her.
"You fought against him, Kaname?! When and why?!" Takuma asked, struggling to keep his voice down.
"Ridō informed me that he was going to kill my aunt, uncle and their offspring once he was done with me. So, it must've been shortly after my encounter with him," Koharu said with a sombre expression.
Kaname's dark look was a scary as well as saddening thing to behold. "He killed Haruka. Juri... sacrificed herself."
Takuma's horror was plain visible on his face. His grandfather must have kept the true circumstances of the Kurans' deaths a secret from him.
What Kaname didn't mention was that Juri had sacrificed herself in order to turn Yūki into a human. Haruka and Juri's deaths seemed to affect him still, though he only showed his sorrow through his eyes. They'd treated him kindly, had accepted and loved him as if he was their own son.
Koharu placed one of her hands over the Ancestor's and gave it a soft squeeze, making Kaname look at her. Losing loved ones was always painful, no matter how old you were.
"Your nightmare. Did it have something to do with your encounter?" Kaname suddenly wanted to know. "What did Ridō do to you?"
Koharu wilted under his intense gaze out of garnet red eyes. She took a deep breath, feeling phantom fangs pierce her neck again, and pulled her hand back.
She looked down into her tea cup. "That is a conversation for another day."
"Koharu-chan..." Takuma seemed to be deeply concerned for her but also... angry. "I can't believe that my grandfather is collaborating with such a... such a...!"
"Bastard?" Koharu suggested tiredly.
"Exactly!" Takuma said hotly, his eyes shining in anger. Literally.
Takuma's piece of cake suddenly disintegrated into thin air.
"Oh no...! The poor cake!" The Aristocrat quickly glanced around to check whether one of the human guests or the staff had seen him use his powers, but, thankfully, no one was looking this way at the moment.
Koharu smiled weakly at his fidgeting and pushed her plate with her mostly uneaten piece of cake in his direction. "Here, you can have mine if you want." She didn't have any appetite right now anyway.
He rubbed the back of his neck bashfully. "Ah, thank you! And don't worry, Koharu-chan. I will keep an eye on my grandfather's servants and associates from now on, so I can warn you if they are plotting anything that might hurt people like Maria-chan," Takuma promised her.
This time, she gave him a warm smile in return. "Thank you, Takuma-kun."
Koharu was startled when she was pulled into a warm embrace that smelled of orchids, a spicy cinnamon smell. Kaname.
When exactly did he sit down next to her? Sneaky.
This was definitely unexpected. Why was he so nice to her today? Did she look miserable enough to trigger his sister complex?
"You're trembling," Kaname pointed out.
To her embarrassment, he was right. She didn't even notice that she'd been shivering because the topic affected her so much.
Koharu allowed herself to hold onto him for a few moments, enough to gather herself. Then, she left his embrace, her cheeks feeling hot as she remembered all the embarrassing things that had happened today.
Even if he might have good intentions, did he really have to do this in public and right in front of Takuma?
"Umm... thank you, Kaname," she said without looking at him.
Once Takuma had eaten the last piece of cake, they left the cafe and watched a movie at the movie theatre. She had no doubts that Takuma had picked the cheesiest romcom in order to cheer her up. Kaname eased his suffering by reading one of his new books.
When they returned to the estate, Koharu felt a little lighter. Talking about her concerns had definitely helped her. She used to do the same with her family.
In the following months, Koharu received plenty of soirée invitations from other Aristocrats and attended one almost every week. She needed to find political allies and create a space for herself in vampire society, after all.
Before she accepted the invitations, however, she asked Takuma and Kaname about the hosts, since the two of them knew more about the Level Bs in question. More often than not she went together with either Takuma or Kaname, or both, to a soirée, but there were also times when Koharu attended an evening party alone with just one or two guards following her.
After months of having a schedule like this, Koharu was ready to escape to a deserted island or go into hibernation in a coffin until canon had sorted itself out, so she wouldn't have to deal with any more people. What the heck had she been smoking when she thought she could handle this for the sake of changing canon?
While she'd become slightly more confident in herself and better at interacting with the Aristocrats, she still wasn't very good at it. She wasn't a natural conversationalist and she doubted that she'd ever be one. Maybe she'd enjoy small talk in a few decades or centuries, but it was not this day or decade.
Koharu had to admit her defeat and reduce the frequency in which she attended soirées to once or twice a month with a break in between, lest she burn herself out. At least she had a few more years before shit hit the fan, aka when Ridō was ready to pay her and Yūki a visit.
In any case, establishing some kind of partnership took years among vampires – most of the Aristocrats had known each other for decades, sometimes even centuries. This meant that Koharu was in it for the long haul, whether she wanted to be or not.
The silver lining was that Takuma frequently invited Maria-chan and Senri over. The three Level Bs and Kaname made her time at the Ichijō residence more enjoyable and took her mind off things.
The next future Night Class student Koharu met at an evening party was Tōya Rima. The girl with the strawberry-blonde hair glared suspiciously at Koharu the moment they were introduced but waited until Takuma, Senri, Koharu and her were sitting alone in a room before she fearlessly confronted the Pureblood.
"What do you want from Senri?" Rima was concerned about Senri's safety.
Koharu already liked the girl. 'I want to spoil my adorable little brother rotten and have a proper sibling relationship with him,' Koharu wished to say but settled for, "His friendship."
"I don't believe you."
Well, Rima's instincts were spot on. Koharu did want more than friendship from Senri. She wanted him to be her family, but she'd settle with friendship for now.
"Rima..." Senri said, most likely wanting to stop her from getting into a fight with Koharu.
"That is alright. I will just have to gain your trust and show you that I have good intentions," Koharu said and smiled fondly at Rima.
"That sounds like a plan!" Takuma chimed in and whipped out a card game. "Why don't we play a game of Old Maid together?"
A few more encounters later, Koharu came to the conclusion that she had greatly underestimated Rima's stubbornness, or rather her protective feelings regarding Senri. This only made Koharu more determined to become her friend though, no matter how many years it took.
Koharu could barely contain her excitement when she inspected the guest list of one of the soirées she'd been invited to at the beginning of winter. After almost a year of attending parties, she'd finally meet the rest of the known future Night Class students!
She was disappointed when Takuma had to go on a business trip with his grandfather the day of the evening party, but Kaname accompanied her since he'd received an invitation as well. Koharu was in such a good mood that she accepted his arm when they got out of the car and he offered to lead her into the mansion.
For once she didn't even mind the stares they got when they entered the room. The host was quick to greet them and introduced her to his political allies, one of them being Aidō Nagamichi, Hanabusa's father. He seemed genuinely delighted to meet her.
"Koharu-sama, I have been wanting to meet you ever since I learned that there was a surviving Kuran princess. I am overjoyed that the noble Kuran bloodline will continue with the two of you."
It wasn't the first time that she'd heard something along those lines, but it was the first time that someone said it with such genuine enthusiasm. The servants at the Ichijō residence probably threw away any invitations Kaname and her received from Aristocrats like the Aidō family that were openly in favour of bringing back the Kuran monarchy. This would explain why Nagamichi hadn't already personally invited her before.
And was it just her, or was the man badly shipping her and Kaname?
Koharu stared curiously at the brightly smiling Aristocrat. Maybe there was a reason why Hanabusa had been such a Kaname fanboy in the series. Maybe he'd inherited the fanboy genes from his father.
"Thank you for the warm welcome, Aidō-san, but Kaname-onii-sama and I are not engaged," she said neutrally, just to clarify things.
"I see. Well, you are still young and, as Purebloods, you will have more time than anyone else to decide what you wish to do in the future. Things can always change." It sounded like he really did want to go down with this ship.
Nagamichi turned to Kaname next. "It brings me great joy to see someone at your side again, Kaname-sama. It must have been a surprise to learn that you had a cousin."
"It was indeed unexpected but it was not an entirely unpleasant surprise. Even if I could do without the many disagreements we have on a daily basis," Kaname said dryly.
Koharu gave him a piercing look for making her seem like a squabbler, which only amused the other Pureblood. That scheming schemer.
Nagamichi laughed, either at Kaname's remark or Koharu's reaction to it. "That just means that you are having proper conversations with each other. If I may say so, I am relieved that you seem to be in a much brighter mood than when I last met you, Kaname-sama."
"Am I?" the Ancestor asked, appearing composed, though there was a hint of a smile on his lips.
Maybe Takuma and her did have a positive influence on Kaname after all. He definitely wasn't reading as many depressing dramas as before and seemed more content whenever the two of them included him in their activities or he trained her in secret. He still didn't want to join them on their sunlight walks or when they watched game shows or discussed mangas together, but that was probably because of his personal preference. He did like to garden with her and play strategy games like chess with them, though.
Aidō senior just smiled before changing the topic. "While my daughters didn't join me today, my son Hanabusa, who is about your age, accompanied me to this evening party. I believe he and his cousins went to the winter garden some time ago," he said to Koharu. "Perhaps Kaname-sama could introduce you to them."
"I would be delighted to meet them, Aidō-san," Koharu replied, not having to feign sincerity for once.
"I will introduce you," Kaname said to her. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Aidō-san."
"Likewise. I hope I will see you again soon, Kaname-sama, Koharu-sama." He bowed to them and they parted ways.
As they crossed the room, their guards, or rather the henchmen of the Senate that were spying on them, followed them from a distance. That was nothing new. Whenever Takuma wasn't with them, they were closely watched.
This made the whole gathering allies thing even more difficult as Koharu had to be very careful about what she said. Even when she met Senri, Maria and Rima at a soirée without Takuma at her side, she had to act differently around them for their safety.
Thankfully, Maria had been understanding when she mentioned something along those lines in a letter beforehand and played along, Senri didn't seem to care, and Rima gave her a thoughtful look after noticing that Koharu was acting less friendly when she was being followed by a guard or they were in the company of servants or other adult vampires. Maybe she'd caught onto what Koharu was doing.
"...go berserk! She even threatened an Aristocrat at a soirée! What if she intends to hurt Kaname-sama?"
Koharu heard a piece of a conversation when she and Kaname entered the winter garden. The speaker seemed to be a young male.
"I don't think that–" a teen girl with long light-brown hair began but stopped speaking when she spotted Kaname and Koharu approaching the seating area.
Her eyes and those of the taller auburn haired teen sitting next to her widened, though she was the only one that gave Koharu the once-over.
"I thought that at least you would understand my concerns, Ruka!" the same blond teen that had spoken before continued.
He was sitting with his back to the entrance of the room so he hadn't noticed them yet.
"Hanabus–" the teen Koharu suspected to be Kain Akatsuki, tried to interrupt his cousin before he could dig an even deeper hole for himself, but...
"Aidō," Kaname greeted the blond Level B. "I see that you are as lively as ever."
Kaname fanboy Number One made a noise of surprise and whirled around in his seat, holding onto the back of the sofa with his hands while he kneeled on it.
"Ka-Kaname-sama!" he squeaked, blushing lightly before he saw Koharu at his side. He paled considerably and his electric blue eyes widened in horror as he realised who she was.
Hanabusa's fearful expression made Koharu feel as if she was the bogeyman. She was slightly disappointed that he was spouting the same stuff as other Aristocrats, but it wasn't like she hadn't expected that. His reactions and mannerisms were still funny, though. She'd liked his character in the series.
"May we join you?" she asked the three other vampires politely.
"Ah... of course!" Ruka said quickly, probably not daring to say 'no', or not wanting Kaname to leave with Koharu.
Since there was only enough space for three people on each of the two sofas, Koharu sat down next to Hanabusa without missing a beat with Kaname taking a seat at her other side. The Level B had turned to her at the action and looked like he was torn between wanting to run and being too stunned to move.
Koharu couldn't help but smile at him in amusement, which only seemed to reinforce his contradictory feelings.
"Let me introduce you to my cousin, Kuran Koharu," Kaname said.
"Hiō," Koharu automatically corrected him, and not for the first time either.
"But you are also a Kuran."
"As you like to remind me. However, since my parents never married each other and I am already used to it, I prefer to go by my mother's family name." Among other reasons.
"Umm... it's a pleasure to meet you, Hiō-sama," Ruka said hesitantly and introduced herself when the two Purebloods were done with squabbling, "My name is Sōen Ruka, and these are my cousins Kain Akatuski and Aidō Hanabusa. Is it true that the two of you are engaged?"
That topic must have been preying on Ruka's mind if she was blunt enough to ask that question on their first meeting.
"Koharu is fine. It is nice to meet you all. And no, we are not engaged. I wonder who has been spreading that rumour. That just proves that one shouldn't take any hearsay at face value," she added calmly, throwing a glance at Hanabusa, who visibly wilted at her words.
"Please forgive my cousin for his thoughtless words, Koharu-sama," Akatsuki apologised for his relative, possibly fearing Koharu's retaliation if his expression was anything to go by.
Ah, somebody else with a protective streak. She had a feeling that she and Akatsuki would get along just fine in the future.
"It's alright, Kain-kun. There is nothing to forgive," Koharu reassured him with a gentle smile. "I think if I had a book for every time I heard something among the lines Aidō-kun has said, I'd be able to open a bookstore by now. But I would like it if you formed your own opinion on me after actually getting to know me."
She could've just pretended that she didn't hear what Hanabusa had said, but since she wanted to build a sincere friendship with the three cousins, she felt like she had to address this right away.
"Of course." Akatsuki's relief was palpable in his voice and the two other Aristocrats relaxed as well.
"Koharu might actually be a threat to me," Kaname suddenly commented, which made Hanabusa and Ruka tense again, before he elaborated, "A threat to my peace and quiet."
Did he think that was funny? Sure, the Aristocrats' reactions were amusing but...
Wait, was Kaname messing with their minds on purpose?
"We both know that you could just hide and continue moping in silence if you really didn't want to spend time with Takuma-kun and me," she pointed out.
"Perhaps." He either didn't have a good comeback to that, or had already accomplished what he wanted.
Sometimes she wondered what was going on in his head.
The conversation took a more pleasant turn from there. After Ruka wanted to know how Kaname had been since she last saw him, she asked what kind of books Koharu liked because of that comment earlier. It came to light that Ruka was also a fan of romance novels, so they recommended some books to each other. Akatsuki rarely spoke even though he watched everyone closely, especially Koharu, the unknown Pureblood.
When Hanabusa had finally composed himself enough, he wanted to know about Koharu's past since he'd only heard rumours about it. Maybe her request had gotten through to him.
Even though she described her very restricted life so far in a few sentences – there really wasn't much to tell – she was careful not to paint the Senate in a negative way, and to mention that she was grateful to Ichiō for letting her live at his estate together with her relative, because of their watchers. They also spoke more about Hanabusa's scientific interests before it was time to go home.
"Until next time," Koharu said her goodbyes and gave Hanabusa one of the cherry blossoms that adorned her pinned-up hair – they fit the colour of her kimono.
Hanabusa accepted the flower with a puzzled look.
"Why did you give Aidō one of your flowers?" Kaname asked Koharu inside their car, when they were on the way back to the Ichijō estate.
"I noticed him staring at the blossoms from the corner of my eye and assumed that he might want to have one." Since Hanabusa was interested in science, he'd probably been curious about the out of season blooming cherry blossoms.
"I don't think he was staring at the blossoms."
"Oh." Of course he wasn't.
How could Koharu forget for even one moment who, or rather what she was? She'd gotten too caught up in the conversation with the future Night Class students.
But Hanabusa was a Kaname fanboy, so it wasn't like he'd suddenly become her fan and start to collect things she'd come in contact with just because she'd gifted him a flower once, right?
A/N: That remains to be seen Koharu, lol. What do you think will happen?
What was/were your favourite scene/s in this chapter?
Let me know your thoughts in a review! :D Feedback is always appreciated and motivates me to write.