Story: The Coming of the Thaw (all chapters)

Authors: bleeding.blade

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Chapter 1

[Author's notes:

PREFACE: Again, before anything else, I'd like to thank my readers for their continued and patient interest in this series. It's taken me far, far longer than I'd hoped to post the third installment - and there's still a fourth along the way. I truly hope the story below will have been worth the long wait.

WARNINGS: While the pace of this story will be faster than the one that preceded it, there will still be sections where the action gives way to explanations. To reduce the strain on the narrative without leaving the lay reader in the cold, I've put the lengthier explanations in the footnotes. Having said that, I think the most important warning is that these stories contain spoilers to both My-HiME and Blood+, since the events they relate happen after the conclusions of both series.

DISCLAIMER: None of the characters below are my property. The characters of My-HiME belong to Sunrise while the characters of Blood+ belong to Production I.G. and Aniplex.


My name is Natsuki Kuga. I'm only nineteen years old, but already I feel as if the best part of my life has ended.

People don't understand it. My classmates tell me that I'm beautiful. My teachers tell me that I'm intelligent. My friends tell me that I'm strong and that someday the wounds will heal.

Some wounds can't ever heal. Because the people who bear them don't deserve it.

Twice, I killed the woman I loved.

Twice, she died in my arms.

Only once did she ever come back. And I never told her how much I loved her.

So when my best friend, Mai Tokiha, told me, "You have to let go, Natsuki," I laughed bitterly and replied:

"Let go?  How can I let go of something I never had?"


I survived the months after Shizuru's death by doing the same thing that helped me survive my mother's death: I focused my energies on finding the enemy.

The first thing I did was to return to Fuka Academy to search the school for clues. Fumi-san had met me, tremendous grief and sympathy in her gaze.

"We searched the grounds thoroughly, Natsuki-san. There wasn't a trace left of the monsters that attacked us that night. They disintegrated completely, and what remained revealed nothing unusual on examination."

I had closed my eyes and clenched my fists in frustration. As I turned away, Fumi-san reached out and grabbed my arm.

"I'm so sorry, Natsuki-san. So, so sorry..." She said it in a fierce whisper, in a voice choked by regret. I stared at her in bewilderment, and patted her hand awkwardly.

"It's...alright, Fumi-san. We're all sorry." I'd walked away hurriedly then, my eyes and throat burning from the by-then familiar ache.

My subsequent attempts to find answers proved futile. None of my contacts in the underground could provide me with any information. None of the work I did with the police as a crime lab assistant could provide me with any clues. For weeks, I kept my eyes and my ears open for the least suspicious incident - and absolutely nothing came my way.

To distract myself from the pain, I threw myself into school and work. I took extra courses; I worked overtime shifts. I sought solace in exhaustion, but grief found me even in rest. Sleep gave me no respite - my dreams masqueraded as memories of things that never happened - and would never happen - Shizuru in my arms, smiling, laughing, alive. I would wake up only to remember her death, and the tears would come, hot, angry, unwanted. Bleak days blurred into grim weeks, until one day, nearly six months after Shizuru's funeral, I was called into my boss's office at the lab.

"This is going to raise eyebrows Kuga-san. You're still an undergraduate and you're not even full-time, but you work hard and you do good work. That's reason enough for me to put you on my A-team - but only if you want it, because what they're working on right now doesn't seem to be going anywhere."

"In the last two months, the police have discovered six bodies in the slums: three beggars, two thieves, one prostitute. There was no evidence of violence, no sign of struggle, and zero witnesses. Usual motives for the crimes have been ruled out. Police don't think it's theft as the victims were dirt-poor. They don't think it's revenge either as the victims were nobodies. They suspect a possible serial killer, though the profilers are stumped because there's no torture and no message. Common cause of death," and here, my boss paused and looked at me, "was exsanguination, and in all cases, two puncture wounds were found at the jugular."

"In other words," I spoke drily, "we're looking for Dracula."

My boss shrugged. "I'm sure the press will think of something just slightly more original when the news finally leaks out. Call it what you will, but if our guy is a copycat killer, he's got the original down pat. Legends have it that Dracula's victims were drawn irresistibly to their killer. Well, apart from the lack of resistance in the case of our victims, there's this to deal with." At this, my boss picked up a stack of photographs on his desk and flipped them across to me. As I went through the pictures, the hairs on the back of my arms began to rise.

"They died with a smile. Every single one of them."

I looked at my boss and nodded. "Count me in."

Chapter 2

If I'd thought that joining a team working on unsolved cases would give me a much bigger challenge, I was wrong. Over the next few weeks, the police uncovered four more bodies, but forensically, the findings were exactly the same. Enough of a pattern had surfaced that we knew what to expect: the victim would be poor and marginalized - the kind of person whose absence would go by almost unnoticed. In fact, I suspected that the only reason the victims' bodies were even found was because the police were actively looking for corpses. Patrols were increased, but Fuka was a large city with sprawling slums, and it was virtually impossible to monitor all the relevant areas.

Still, despite the lack of progress, the case was unusual enough to engage my professional interest.  I took to reading literature on vampirism in the hopes of finding something that the police would find useful. Mai had found the topic thoroughly revolting but had been cautiously encouraging.

"It's just like you to find something so grossly morbid so fascinating, Natsuki."

She'd wrinkled her nose then, but I could tell that, for all the disgust she proclaimed, she was relieved that I was actually taking an interest in things again. Later that evening, on her way out of my apartment, she paused at the doorway and impulsively gave me a hug. All she said was, "You've gotten too thin, Natsuki. Next time, I'll leave you some of my cooking." Then she gave me a jaunty wave and left.

Mai. I have no idea how I would have survived those months without her.


The break, when it came, was hardly illuminating. When I arrived on the scene, the officer-in-charge quickly filled me in on the details.

"We have a live one this time. Survivor is a forty-plus-year-old, homeless male.  A couple of other beggars found him - said they heard some terrible noises and decided to investigate when it got quiet. He was in shock from blood loss when we got here; same two wounds on his throat. He's on his way to the hospital so we can't talk to him yet, but there's the crime scene to handle now in any case."

The scene, as he put it, was an absolute wreck. In contrast to the previous scenes where the victims had looked as if they had all peacefully gone to sleep, this one looked like the site of a train crash. Barrels and fences had been shredded, concrete slabs had been smashed, and the asphalt actually looked torn in places. But there was none of the usual evidence of what had caused the destruction - no blood, no hair, no prints, no torn clothing and no discarded weapons. My partner and I spent hours minutely examining the area, photographing the damage and bagging materials. It was only during my third survey of the alley that I noticed something just the slightest bit unusual - a film of gray powder that I had first dismissed as residue from the broken concrete. On closer inspection, it proved much coarser and was dispersed over a fairly small area. I bagged as much of it as I could, glanced around the alley one last time, and nodded at my partner.

It wasn't promising, but it was the only new lead we'd discovered so far.


The news when we got back to the lab wasn't good. After having been treated at the hospital, our survivor had woken up - only to start screaming hysterically. It had taken three nurses to restrain and eventually sedate him. The next time he had woken up, he had curled into a fetal position and begun rocking himself back and forth. The police had not been able to get anything intelligible out of him.

As for the powder I'd found, even that had turned out to be a dud. Just plain crushed rock, one of my fellow technicians told me. Its appearance at the site could be explained by any number of reasons. I nodded, but made a mental note to look out for the substance in any case.

From that point on, the incidents became even more mysterious. The deaths stopped, but we began to get reports of strange noises in abandoned slums, and of lots and alleys that turned into wrecks overnight. Rumors began to surface of ghostly chain gangs, political vandals, mini-tornadoes - the usual speculations of tabloid scum. Yet in all of the sites I investigated, there was the gray powder: plain, banal and perhaps all too readily explainable, but also too consistently present to simply be coincidence. It was the closest thing there was to a signature.

But as the weeks dragged on with no new information, interest in the case flagged. The fruitlessness of the search frustrated me, but only because I was desperately seeking a diversion then. For some reason, my dreams of Shizuru had become darker and more vivid.

It had begun the night after I had visited yet another scene of wreckage. In the middle of photographing the area, I had had a distinct feeling of being watched. The feeling had returned several times since then, and each occasion would always be accompanied by a night of restless dreaming. The dream was always the same. In the dream, I would be in a garden, desperately pulling out weeds. Shizuru would be in front of me - a strange, feral Shizuru that filled me with dread. She would taunt me over and over. It's not that easy to kill a weed. I would ignore her and continue pulling up the thorny stalks, the stems chafing my hands until my palms bled. Then there would be only one weed left, and the moment I would pull it out, there would be Shizuru, the real Shizuru I knew, smiling at me sadly. Every weed is a flower in someone's eyes. Then I would look down to see blood dripping - not from my hands, but from the weed I'd pulled, and the sight would fill me with such a devastating pain that I would wake up gasping, my pillow stained with tears and my sheets soaked with sweat.

It would take me a long, long time before I could go to sleep again.

Chapter 3

"How long has this been going on?"

Midori sat across me, worry and concern clear in her green eyes. Mai had been so appalled at my sudden deterioration that she had dragged me out to see the older woman.

I shrugged listlessly. "A few weeks."

Midori sighed and took off her glasses. "The thing about grief is that it doesn't always follow a straight line progression. Sometimes it suddenly gets worse. Even after it seems that it's been getting better." She hesitated. "Natsuki, you might want to consider seeing a -"


"Natsuki." Mai pleaded.

"Mai, no. Look, I know you love me, and I love you too, but you have to let me handle this on my own."

Mai rammed her fist down in frustration. "I've let you handle this on your own for the last eight months, and, in case you haven't noticed, you haven't been handling it at all!"

The injustice of the accusation stung, and I could feel the rage that was almost always seething under my skin threatening to explode. I don't know what I would have screamed at her in that instant if Midori's phone hadn't suddenly rung and startled us all.

"Midori. Yes?"

We couldn't hear what was being said on the other line, but the red-haired woman's lips tightened and her voice was tense when she ended the call.

"Got it. We'll be right over."

Then looking at us, she said.

"That was Haruka. Yukino was attacked in their house by a monster like the ones at the ball."

We were out of Midori's flat in seconds.


What we found was not as bad as we'd feared. Some of the former HiMEs as well as some of Yukino's former colleagues from the Fuka Student Council were there by the time we arrived. Yukino was badly shaken but unhurt. Haruka was furious as expected. What had actually happened was that Haruka had been preparing dinner, and when Yukino had uncharacteristically failed to appear after being called twice, Haruka had gone to the younger woman's room to check. There, she had found Yukino stumbling in a trance-like state toward a monster standing outside her window. Haruka's shrieks had broken Yukino's spell, and when Yukino began screaming herself, the creature broke the window and attempted to grab the younger woman. Only a "blurry figure," as Haruka put it, had crashed into the monster at that very moment, and while the two creatures had struggled outside, Haruka had dialed the police. By the time the police arrived, however, no sign remained of either the monster or the figure - though the thoroughly thrashed woods next to the house showed evidence of an extremely violent battle.

While Haruka told her story, I cursed myself for not having been on duty at the time, for it meant that another forensics expert had already gone over the scene. For the first time in eight months, we had sighted the monsters that had killed Shizuru - and I had completely missed the preliminary investigation. I decided to survey the scene anyway, and Mai, Midori and Nao came along with me out of curiosity.

As I examined the woods outside Haruka's house, I couldn't shake off the sudden feeling of déjà vu that came over me. I had never been to Haruka's home before, but the sight of the gouged trees, broken trunks and pitted ground seemed oddly familiar. It was only when I saw the grayish powder at the foot of a scarred cedar tree that I finally made the connection:

I remembered Fumi-san's findings: They disintegrated completely, and what remained revealed nothing unusual on examination.

I recalled the lab technician's conclusion: Just plain crushed rock.

The monsters at the ball. The vampire in the slums.

They were all one and the same thing.

They had killed Shizuru.

They had tried to kidnap Yukino.

They were hunting the HiMEs.

And something even more terrible was hunting them.

Chapter 4

"But how can you be so sure that they're after us?" Nao demanded.

"I can't give you proof," I admitted, "but I'm somehow absolutely sure. I've been tailing them for weeks. They've never attacked outside the slums - never gone after somebody who'd be missed. This time they've gone after someone who doesn't fit the profile, and it just so happens to be Yukino. The only other time they've done it, all the HiMEs were present, and," here, my voice trembled ever so slightly, "one HiME was actually killed."

Nao looked as if she wanted to argue, but Midori cut her off. "It's all circumstantial evidence, like Nao's pointed out, but I'm not going to wait until another one of us is dead to be convinced. I agree with Natsuki that there's more than just coincidence operating here. The problem is, if something or someone is after us, what can we actually do about it?"

"Not much," I responded wryly. "None of us have any powers left. But if these monsters are after us, there seems to be something else that's after them. After the initial run of victims, the police haven't discovered any new bodies. I don't know if this..."vampire-hunter" is on our side or not, but at least it certainly isn't on the side of the monsters."

Mai looked troubled. "Then it looks as if the only thing we can do is to be more careful and more vigilant. It's probably best if we avoid being alone too much these days." She'd looked at the others as she'd said it, but somehow, I had the feeling she'd meant it for me.  


In the end, it was Midori who came up with a semblance of a plan.

"Like Mai said, I think it's best if we team up temporarily for safety reasons. Mai - Mikoto, Akane and Yukino will be part of your team. Natsuki, Nao - you'll both be with me. Fumi-san, Yukariko-san and Alyssa should be safe with Miyu at the Fuka Academy convent - that android should be able to give even the "vampire-hunter" a run for its money. Akira and Shiho are both abroad, but I'll send them a message in any case to be careful."

"If an...emergency arises, call my spare number immediately. In the meantime, Nao and I will try to find what information we can using our sources. Hopefully, we can augment what Natsuki's been able to learn so far. If any of us find anything, you'll all be the first to know. That's it for now." Then seeing as to how everyone looked so glum, she added, "HiME Sentai dismissed!"

When Midori joined me outside, I was staring grimly at the night-time sky.

"You think it's them again, don't you?"

I glanced at her. "Who else do you think it could be?"

The red-haired woman sighed. "Smoke?"

"No thanks."

She took a long drag and exhaled a perfect smoke ring. "What're you going to do?"

"Kill all of them. Like I should have the first time around."

She shook her head. "Killing's not in you. It was in her maybe. But never in you."

She sighed again, stubbed her cigarette, and made to go back inside.

"I put it in her, you know." There was pain in my voice when I said it.

Midori paused. "Maybe you did. But you also put it out. Don't ever forget that, Natsuki."

The night sky, when I looked at it again, looked just the slightest bit blurry.


"Well, this is turning out to be bloody useless!"

Nao threw herself down on Midori's couch in irritated boredom. For the last three weeks, Midori, Nao and I had rotated staying between our three homes - an additional precautionary measure Midori had instituted amongst the former HiMEs so that we wouldn't be such "lame ducks" as she put it. The frequent moving and cramped quarters had taken their toll, however, and all three of us were feeling more irritable than usual.

"I say we just call this whole thing off, go to our respective homes, and try to live the rest of our short lives as normally as possible."

I was tempted to agree with Nao. So far, absolutely nothing had happened, and our combined efforts at obtaining new information had failed in any case.

Nao continued to rant. "I bet you, I just bet you, no one's going to call that bloody emergency num -"

The shrill sound of Midori's phone startled all of us.

It was an incoming call. From Mai.

And just as abruptly as it had begun, the ringing ended.

I was out the door and on my bike before Midori even got to her phone. I should have known something was wrong the moment my Ducati wouldn't start. But in my rush to get to Mai, I merely swore and tried revving the bike again.

Then I heard Midori's warning yell. Too late.

All I remember was the sting of a dart on my neck, then the sudden paralysis that caused me to topple over on my bike. It must have been a powerful drug, for the blackness claimed me before I even hit the concrete.

Chapter 5

"Kuga-san, it's truly a pleasure to see you again."

The figure before me swam hazily into focus. My temples throbbed and my throat burned unpleasantly, but when I recognized the man before me, all other considerations fled.

"You!" The hate and revulsion I felt was so thick, the word came out as a hiss.

"Who else would it be?" the man called John Smith responded. "It's only been three years after all, and my superiors believe in long-term assignments."

I stared at him stonily. My arms and legs were securely strapped, and as much as I was tempted to struggle, I knew it would be useless.

"What have you done to the others?"

"Your friends are safe. At least for now. They were merely decoys this time. You were the one we wanted."

I spat out my reply. "The same way you wanted Shizuru?"

The man in front of me looked genuinely pained. "The loss of Shizuru was...highly regrettable. We were very much looking forward to her potential contribution. But her death proved that the first monsters we'd bred were imperfect - impossible to control. The ones we've bred after have been much better, as our experiments on Fuka's unwanted elements have demonstrated. They follow orders better and can hypnotize their victims - which makes them much better abductors."

"What do you want from us? There's nothing we have that could possibly interest the Searrs now."

"You're being much too modest, Kuga-san. The HiMEs are essential to bringing about the Golden Age, and we can't afford to wait another three hundred years. We think we've found a way of using your abilities - even without the Carnival. It would have been easier to carry out the research if we had successfully kidnapped Yukino. We were planning on using her Child's powers of surveillance to observe all of you. But, as you may have noticed yourself, there are certain...elements that have been obstructing our interests."

"The vampire hunter." I stated flatly.

The man called John Smith nodded. "A creature, unfortunately, that belongs to a far more superior breed of vampires than the ones we've yet developed. We can't fight this vampire with our vampires, Kuga-san. We've tried and we've consistently failed. We've decided to try a different strategy altogether - one inspired by folklore, you can say - and this is where you come in."

It was only then that I noticed the syringe in his hand. As he approached, he spoke to me almost apologetically. "It's rather regrettable too. I was so looking forward to seeing what you would be like as a vampire, Kuga-san."

I struggled then, violently and desperately, but it was utterly useless. My last memory, as he emptied the syringe into my arm, was the look of pity on his face.


Rage. Rage. Hunger. Hate. Lots of hate. Creatures. Men. Bloodsuckers. Men and bloodsuckers. Enemies all. I bare my fangs.

Surprise on the men's faces. Surprise and terror. I'm more powerful than they expected. So much more powerful.

Attack the bloodsuckers first. Rip the throat of the first. Snap the second in my jaws. Three. Four. Five. Six. I lose count.

Only the men are left. I've never killed a man before. I hesitate.

But these men have wronged me. They've wronged me. They deserve to die. Yes. They deserve to die.

I advance on the closest one. I can smell his fear. I close my eyes to savor the scent. I open my jaws to make the kill...

But when my jaws snap shut, it's not the man I taste. I open my eyes. It's a bloodsucker. It's between me and the man. It speaks to me:

You are not a killer...

I howl in rage. Then I attack.

I savage the bloodsucker - feel my teeth and claws sink into its flesh. Its blood fills my mouth. It tastes different from the others. I back away, expecting it to collapse.

It remains standing. It doesn't defend itself, just looks at me with crimson eyes.

Crimson eyes.

I stop. Confusion fills me. I know those eyes. I know those eyes...

I feel the rage and the hate fall away. I have arms suddenly.  I have legs. I collapse. I look up. The crimson eyes are still there. I know those eyes. Their owner died a long time ago. But I'm seeing them again, in a dream. Even if it's just a dream, where I'm some kind of monster, I'm grateful. I look at the eyes one last time, then I close mine. Once again, the blackness comes.

[End notes: NOTES: Just for those readers who may not understand the reference that John Smith makes to the "Golden Age," the Golden Age is the age that the Searrs Foundation is attempting to usher into the world - and the reason why the Searrs are attempting to control the powers of the HiMEs to begin with. As for the reference to Yukino's "Child," or "Child" in general, the reader can refer to the explanatory note at the end of Chapter 8 of this story.]

Chapter 6

When I woke up, the face I saw before me was the last face I'd expected to see.

It was Solomon Goldsmith.

"You're finally awake, Kuga-san. I'm so glad."

I sat up groggily.

"Where am I?"

"You don't need to worry about that. All you need to know is that you're safe here."

"What happened?" Memories of being strapped to a chair surfaced and I shivered.

"You were kidnapped by the Searrs. I'm sure you remember at least that much. We rescued you and brought you here."

I gazed at him for a long time. "Every time I see you, Solomon Goldsmith, it's never in the best of circumstances. Who are you, really, and to whose side do you belong?"

"You have nothing to fear from me, Kuga-san. There's time enough for explanations later, but for now, you urgently need to rest."

I was tempted to argue, but already exhaustion was claiming me. I nodded reluctantly - and slept.


This time, when I woke up, there was a woman in the room with Solomon. He introduced her as Dr. Julia Silverstein.

"Your condition's largely stable now, though we'll still be keeping you under observation for a few days. As much as possible, try to stay in bed. It's difficult to anticipate what physiological changes could still occur and how they could affect you, so it's best not to move too much."

"Physiological changes?" I looked at them with a sudden wariness. "What physiological changes?"

Julia glanced at Solomon before replying. "Do you remember anything that happened to you between the time you were kidnapped and the moment you woke up here?"

I shook my head. "The only thing I remember was being strapped to a chair and then passing out. I don't recall anything else after that."

Julia hesitated. "The Searrs injected something into your bloodstream, and we're still not very sure what it is. It's caused some...changes, but nothing that's impaired your physical condition overall. Again, we need to monitor you for a few more days before we can say anything for sure."

I narrowed my eyes. "Why are you helping me? What's your interest in all of this?"

Julia smiled. "All Solomon and I are interested in is that the Searrs fail in what they're trying to do. Solomon will give you the explanations you need over the next few days. For now, I need to get back to another patient."

After she excused herself, Solomon seated himself next to my bed and asked:

"What do you know about vampires, Kuga-san?"


It took several sessions over the next few days - mostly because Julia's drugs limited my attention span - but Solomon did give me the explanations he promised. He told me about the history of the Chiroptera, their divisive war, their near extinction, and their resurrection following the interference of the Searrs. He told me of the Searrs' plans to vampirize the former HiMEs, the opposition he had mounted, and Shizuru's involvement in the war he had waged. He told me of her long months of painful training, of the ball she had engineered to trigger an attack, and of the measures they had taken to attempt to avert the disaster that had nevertheless befallen that night. At the mention of Fumi-san's name, I grew pale.

"So all this time...she knew what was going on??"

Solomon shook his head. "Not everything; certainly not much. After Shizuru's...death, I asked Fumi-san to keep her silence. We had all agreed that there was nothing to be gained by having the HiMEs find out what the Searrs were attempting - at least for the time being."

I shook with anger. "None of you had the right to decide that for us! We could have done something - helped you in this war! This war isn't even about you, goddammit, it's about me and my friends, and you left us all in the dark!"

Solomon looked at me steadily. "What could you have done, Kuga-san? What could any of you have done? None of you have any powers left, and none of your information sources have given you anything. The only thing any of you could have done was to go on living - as normally as you could. Would you really have denied your friends the ignorance that's allowed them to have the life they've had these past several months?"

Then in a quieter voice, he added. "And do you really think I could have borne the death of yet another innocent? I watched Shizuru die too, Kuga-san. One death was enough. Her death was far more than enough."

I turned away from him then, torn between rage and shame. Part of me wanted to give in to the anger - anger over why he and Shizuru had kept their crusade from me, anger over the incalculable risks she had taken on by joining him in his fight. But another part of me realized the hypocrisy of my own rage. In Shizuru's place, I would have done exactly the same thing. In my not too distant past, I had done exactly the same thing.

In a softer voice, I asked him. "So after her...death, what happened?"

Solomon looked away from me then and he seemed to wrestle with himself for some time.

"After Shizuru...died, the Searrs were quiet for a long time. Then new monsters appeared, preying on victims from the city's margins. It took us a while to realize that the attacks were merely experiments - that the Searrs were simply testing new breeds. In any case, we were determined to prevent more deaths, so we sent fighters of our own to patrol the city."

"So the vampire-hunter is one of you?"

Solomon hesitated. "Yes. What you call the vampire-hunter is one of us. On a very few occasions, the vampire-hunter was me.  In any case, we were very successful in repelling the Searrs for quite a long while. The Searrs tried modifying their vampires to defeat us - the one they sent to abduct Yukino Kikukawa was a much better version of the monsters they'd used at the ball, for instance. But at the end of the day, an artificially developed Chiropteran will almost always be inferior to one of Chevalier blood. I think our very superiority was what forced them to change their strategy."

"'We can't fight this vampire with our vampires'," I quoted John Smith.

Solomon nodded. "Even after they had made their decision, they continued battling with us to give us an impression that their tactics hadn't changed. Of course, we'd increased our surveillance on the former HiMEs after the attempt on Kikukawa-san, but it was ultimately our failure to perceive the change in the Searrs' plans that led to your abduction. The night you were kidnapped, they sent several monsters to attack Mai Tokiha. While our forces were engaged, they cleverly abducted you using human agents. We found out what they'd intended too late. The moment they had you in, in fact, they withdrew from their attack on Tokiha-san."

"What did they want from me?" My voice was calm, but it barely masked my dread.

Solomon hesitated. "We have our...suspicions, but speculation will only make things worse. The reason Dr. Silverstein is here is because no other scientist in the world has studied Chiropterans as much as she has, and she knows more about suprahuman biochemistry than any other human being on the planet. If anyone can find out what was done to you, she will. And if anyone can possibly reverse what was done to you, it's her."

I leaned back and closed my eyes. I suddenly felt very, very tired. Just as Solomon was about to leave, I called out. 


He looked at me questioningly. "Yes, Kuga-san?"

I looked away. "I didn't get to say this, that last time we met, but...thank you. Thank you for being Shizuru's friend during months. It's a funny thing for me to say, but I'm glad that she had you right until the end."

He was silent for so long, that I looked up. After a moment, he opened his mouth to say something, then changed his mind and shook his head. All he said was, "You have nothing to thank me for, Kuga-san. At least, not yet."

With that cryptic line, he left the room. Left it and left me to relive the anguish of Shizuru's death all over again.

[End notes:

NOTES: Julia Silverstein is one of the principal characters in the series Blood+, and how she appears in this story is consistent with her background in the Blood+ series. In that series, she is the only doctor known to have closely supervised the medical care of both Chiropteran Queens Saya and Diva, and her intimate knowledge of Chiropteran physiology and biochemistry played a key role in the series' conclusion.

As for Natsuki's admission of having done "exactly the same thing" as Shizuru did, this is a reference to Episode 21: The Obsidian Prince Awakens, where Shizuru mentions how Natsuki had kept her identity as a HiME a secret in order to protect Shizuru.


Chapter 7

"Have you felt anything unusual? Any vertigo or nausea? Any physical pain or discomfort?"

I shook my head. I had been at Solomon's headquarters for nearly a week already, and Julia had been seeing me practically twice a day. If she had been expecting any additional "physiological changes" in me, as she'd put it, there had been none that I could see.

She was scribbling at her clipboard when the door to my room banged open and a harassed-looking intern barged in.

"She's woken up," he told her tensely. "And she's trying to get out."

Julia's lips tightened. "Does Solomon know?"

The intern nodded. "He's on his way now."

Julia nodded and stood up. "You'll have to excuse me for now, Natsuki-san. And please forgive me if I confine you to your room while I attend to this."

She left with an apologetic look. As the door closed, I heard the lock turn. As soon as she left, I slipped out of bed and began jiggling the knob.  As I worked on it, I heard Solomon's voice.

"You're in no condition to leave these premises! Your wounds haven't even begun to close!"

The arguments that ensued were done in voices too low for me to follow. Then there was Solomon's voice again, urgent and pleading. 

"I'm not letting you go. I watched you nearly die once. I'm not going to let it happen again."

With a final burst of concentration, I jimmied the lock and opened my door just a fraction. Through the opening, I could make out the backs of Solomon's and Julia's figures. I couldn't see the face of the figure they were talking to, but it looked tall and slender, and it was leaning heavily against the wall for support.

"Please Solomon...I have to get back to them, find out what they did..."

The figure attempted to elbow its way past Solomon, but it was far too weak and it ended up collapsing in his arms instead. Solomon swore, and as he lifted the figure in his arms, the light fell on it and revealed a face - a face that had haunted my dreams day and night for the last three years; an impossible face.

What happened next happened very quickly, and very slowly, all at the same time.

I remember walking out into the hallway, the floor cold under my bare feet.

I remember Solomon stopping in his tracks, the dismay evident on his handsome face.

I remember Julia shouting at the interns, the worry apparent in her straining voice.

I remember whispering her name, my throat dry in dazed disbelief.


Most of all, I remember how her eyelids had fluttered open then, the look of tender recognition in her crimson eyes, and how her voice sounded when she'd said my name. "Natsuki...."

What I can't remember, can't remember at all, is when she stopped smiling and lost consciousness - only that Julia had stopped shouting and Solomon had begun to run.


"Is she going to be alright?"

There were a thousand pressing questions I wanted to ask Solomon at that instant, but for the moment they could all wait. The most important thing was to find out if Shizuru was going to be fine.

For the first time since I had met him, Solomon looked suddenly vulnerable. "We're not sure."

I looked at Shizuru lying pale and unconscious on the bed. Her entire torso was swathed in bandages, and so were her arms.

I clenched my fists. "Did the Searrs do that to her?"

Solomon looked at me sadly. "No, Kuga-san. You did."


"The whole story, Solomon. No half-truths this time."

We were in the waiting room; me sitting, pale and rigid; Solomon pacing, agitated and restless.

After a brief pause, he spoke.

"To save Shizuru that night at the ball, I turned her into a vampire. I saved her, in effect, by...killing her. It was her choice to keep her continued existence a secret. She knew her being a vampire was the only advantage we had over the Searrs. If it hadn't been for her, this war would have been long over."

He looked at me then with a pained expression. "After we rescued you and you woke up, I considered telling you that she'd survived. But it was her secret to tell, not mine. And frankly speaking, she hasn't been in any condition to divulge any secrets. Ever since her last battle with the Searrs, she's been drifting in and out of consciousness."

"So all this time," I whispered, "the vampire-hunter was Shizuru?"

Solomon nodded. "Her powers are almost unimaginable - a hybrid of HiME and Chiropteran abilities. She can create Elements just like a HiME, and she has a Chiropteran's speed and strength and fighting and healing abilities. What she is now is precisely what the Searrs want to achieve by vampirizing the HiMEs. But they don't know it's her. All this time, they've thought it was me."

"But if she's as powerful as you say..." I trailed off, thinking of how frail Shizuru had looked in her bed, and how light she had appeared in Solomon's arms.

Solomon sighed. "Against humans and other vampires, Shizuru is almost indestructible. It's to the Searrs' credit, much as I hate to admit it, that they realized how futile it was to keep sending artificial Chiropterans against her. What they unleashed against her, instead, was the one thing that has always been the scourge of vampires everywhere."

I looked at him in confusion. "And you're trying to tell me that this...‘scourge' happens to be me?"

Solomon smiled sadly. "Not you as you were, Kuga-san, but as what the Searrs turned you into. A werewolf."

Chapter 8

"I can't tell you anything very conclusive as I've only just begun studying HiME biochemistry, but in simplistic terms, what the Searrs did to you was to alter your latent HiME abilities so that instead of summoning a Child, you transform into one instead."

Solomon and I were in Julia's research lab. At Solomon's request, she had agreed to brief us on all that she had learned so far.

"You see, Lycanthropes - or werewolves, as they're more popularly known - are even rarer than Chiroptera now. It's a scientific miracle of sorts that the Searrs got as far into their research as they did. They realized that the only way they could win against Solomon was to breed the natural enemy of vampires - werewolves. But Lycanthropes, as a race, have been long gone. The Searrs' solution, and it's a brilliant one I have to admit, was to find someone who could potentially very easily undergo the transformation. Someone, in addition, whose biochemistry they had long studied."

"Duran." I whispered. "They wanted to turn me into Duran."

Julia nodded. "Exactly. In a way, Kuga-san, you were very literally the only viable candidate they had for their plan. You're the only HiME with a wolf for a Child. What they failed to anticipate was how powerful you would be. In the same way that Shizuru is a HiME-Chiropteran hybrid, you're a HiME-Lycanthropic hybrid. It's impossible for us to predict what your exact abilities are as you're the first of your kind, but from the descriptions we got from the troops who brought you in, you appear to be part biological and part mechanical in your transformed state - just like Duran. Again, it's impossible to say for sure, but I would guess that while Shizuru's current HiME ability is to materialize an Element, yours is to materialize into your Child. But how exactly you achieve that is something you'll have to discover for yourself."

"But what you're saying, in effect, is that the way I am is...lethal to Shizuru." I stared at them, aghast.

Julia sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Technically, you should only be dangerous to her in your transformed state. But in any case, Kuga-san, the worst has already been done. During your...rampage at the Searrs' lab, you inflicted quite a number of bites and slashes on Shizuru. It's your saliva in her bloodstream that's poisoning her and preventing her from healing. It's precisely what the Searrs intended: they wanted to use you to neutralize us first before reactivating the other HiMEs. That's why they launched a full-scale offensive just to obtain you."

" can reverse the poison right?" I stared at her fiercely, willing her to say yes.

Julia looked troubled. "I don't know, Kuga-san. If she continues to deteriorate over the next two days, we have only one option. It can save her. But it can also kill her."

"What is it?" I asked dully.

Julia looked at me gravely. "She would have to take your blood."


She lay quietly on the bed, her skin pale and her breathing shallow. She looked even more beautiful than she had in the past, if that were even possible. Her hair had grown much longer: the bangs were gone, and the chestnut waves that had used to stop at her shoulders now cascaded all the way to her waist. She had always been slender, but she looked even thinner now, and her skin, fair to begin with, now looked alabaster. She looked ethereal and fey - an almost otherworldly beauty.

As I stared at her, I began to feel the impact of the week's many revelations all over again.

First, there was the rage. At the Searrs, for causing everything. At Solomon, for involving Shizuru. And most of all, at Shizuru herself - for the long agonizing months that she had allowed me to believe in her death. The pain and grief of those endless nights returned to me full-force, and I hated her for not having spared me any of it.

"Do you have any idea," I asked her as she slept, my voice low and trembling from barely-suppressed anger, "do you have any fucking idea what it felt like? Do you have any fucking idea what it felt like to go on believing that the person who mattered the most to you in the world was dead? Did you honestly think it would make my life easier?" I was sobbing by this time, reliving the nightmare that had been my life for the last several months. I cried for a long, long time, and when I was done, the rage had exhausted itself.

Only this time, there was the guilt. The guilt that had never gone away, and that only seemed to keep expanding. Measure for measure, the pain she had inflicted on me was exceeded by the pain I had inflicted on her. I recalled yet again the early years of our friendship when I had shut her out with my indifference and detachment; the tragic night when I had turned away from her in disgust and revulsion; the painful weeks after the Carnival when I had evaded her from shame and unease; then the precious few days after my graduation when I had wavered again and again in declaring my love for her.

And then there was the most recent memory, the one that tore at me the most - the memory of a pair of crimson eyes and a voice telling me: You are not a killer. I would have killed that night, of that I'm sure, if she hadn't stepped in and saved my humanity. Stepped in - and risked dying all over again.

"Oh Shizuru," I whispered to her then in my grief and regret, "how many times will you have to die in my hands?"

[End notes:

NOTES: The idea of having a vampiric Shizuru defeated by a Natsuki-turned-werewolf was inspired by narratives like the film Underworld where vampires and werewolves are naturally antagonistic. The idea was made more irresistible by the fact that Natsuki's character is closely associated with wolves - in the same way that Shizuru's character is closely associated with blood. I thought it would be interesting to exploit these associations in a way that would bring an additional tension to the storyline.

And just for those readers who may have forgotten what the terms mean, the word "Element" in the My-HiME universe refers to the objects that the HiMEs can create. For instance, Shizuru's Element was a naginata, while Natsuki's was a pair of pistols. The word "Child," on the other hand, refers to the creature that a HiME summons in battle. Shizuru's Child was the snake-like Kiyohime, while Natsuki's was the wolf-like Duran. In chapter 5 of this story, John Smith makes a reference to Yukino's Child - a plant-like creature called Diana whose ability is to send out spores that act as miniature cameras, cloaking devices and illusion generators. 

In this story, the HiME ability that Shizuru retains is the ability to materialize Elements, though I've expanded her ability here to include weapons other than a naginata. I've taken more liberties with Natsuki's HiME ability - as Julia explains, rather than being able to summon a Child, Natsuki transforms into one. Natsuki's new abilities will be explored in greater detail, however, only in the next story of this series.


Chapter 9

"It's risky; very, very risky. But I don't know if we have any other choice."

Solomon and I were in Julia's office. Solomon looked haggard. With Shizuru down, he had been handling the war against the Searrs by himself entirely. Despite the jealousy I felt over the bond he had developed with Shizuru, I had found it impossible to resist growing fond of him. In the short time I had known him, he had been unfailingly kind and gentle, and if not for his intervention, the other HiMEs - myself included - would have long fallen into the Searrs hands.

"You have my assent, Dr. Silverstein. Kuga-san?"

They both looked at me. Over the last two days, Shizuru's condition had worsened. Julia's proposal was to transfuse some of my blood into Shizuru's bloodstream, with the hope of transferring the antigens I had against my own Lycanthropic poison. If Shizuru's body developed its own antibodies, she would heal. If it didn't, my blood would only poison her further, and she would die.

I closed my eyes. How many times, I thought in silent anguish, would I have to be the one to bring Shizuru to the brink of death, if not beyond?

But Julia was right. As it was, Shizuru was dying. For the third time.

"Alright, Dr. Silverstein. But only on one condition." This time, I looked straight at Solomon. "If Shizuru dies, you'll have to kill me."

After a long pause, Solomon nodded.

"Very well, Kuga-san. I promise."

I nodded at him gratefully. "Thank you, Solomon..."

Twice, I'd killed the woman I loved.

Twice, she'd died in my arms.

And twice, she'd come back.

This time, if she didn't, I didn't want to be left behind.

Not again. Never again.


The three days that followed were the most harrowing in my life. Immediately after the transfusion, Shizuru's vital signs plummeted. It took all of Julia's skill to simply keep her alive. Solomon came as often as he could; I practically lived on the chair next to Shizuru's bed.

"You should try to get some rest, Kuga-san."

I looked up and simply shook my head. Worry and exhaustion made it difficult for me to speak properly.

"It was hard for her to stay away, you know. It was a choice she had to make, day after day after day. It almost cost her her soul... trying to live without you."

My voice trembled. "She didn't have to."

Solomon spoke gently. "She didn't know. She wasn't sure, and she was afraid of losing control again. What are you afraid of, Kuga-san?"

I whispered. "Of her. Of how much I love her. Of how much I don't deserve her."

Solomon chuckled sadly. "Love isn't deserved, Kuga-san. It's freely given. And that, I suppose, is what makes accepting it so difficult." He stood quietly for a few more moments, then draped a blanket around my shoulders.

"Good night, Kuga-san."

"Good night, Solomon."

After he left, I stared at Shizuru's sleeping form and counted the years I had lost with her - years lost to fear and anger and denial. I reached out to brush away the hair covering her face, and found my fingers tracing the outline of her lips instead. I hesitated. Then very slowly, I leaned forward...and kissed her. Was that how she had felt when she had kissed me that night? That feeling of indescribable tenderness, that feeling of loving someone so intensely that it caused one's chest to ache? I leaned my forehead against hers and whispered her name. "Shizuru..." Then moving swiftly and quietly so as not to disturb her, I slipped next to her under the covers and held her body close to mine. Then I slept.

Chapter 10

When I woke up, I found myself looking into a pair of crimson eyes.

"Ara..." she said weakly, smiling at me, "I must have died and gone to heaven."

I smiled back at her. "Or, I must have died and gone to hell."

"Hell's angels must look much better then."

I reached out and touched her face. "Much better," I admitted softly.

We stared at each other. There was so much that was waiting to be said... Then a tear began to roll down her cheek.

"I'm sorry, Natsuki...So so sorry..."

I shushed her by putting a finger on her lips. Then I shook my head and smiled at her, though I could feel the wetness on my own cheeks.  She looked at me for a long, long moment, then sighed and closed her eyes with a smile.

After a while, I called out to her. "Oi, Shizuru..."

She didn't open her eyes. "Hmmm?"

I could barely speak past the lump in my throat.

"Try not to die again, okay?"

She smiled and nodded, though her eyes remained closed.

She fell asleep then, and after a while, so did I.

It was the first time in months that I slept dreamlessly.


The next few days passed in a blur. Julia spent long hours running tests on Shizuru, until she finally, cautiously pronounced that Shizuru was out of danger.

"The upshot to all of this," she told me and Solomon while Shizuru rested, "is that she's probably going to be immune from future werewolf bites. She still needs to rest though, so I wouldn't let her go anywhere for at least a week, Solomon."

"In that case, I'll leave Shizuru to your care then, Kuga-san." He'd said it with such a knowing smile that I blushed.

The ironic thing though, was that after months of desperately regretting having left so many things unsaid and so many acts undone, I found myself strangely silent in Shizuru's presence. We had been apart so much over the last three years, and so much had happened during that time, that I was no longer sure if the old camaraderie - or the old intimacy - still held.

Still, despite my silence and my awkwardness, I was blissfully happy just to be near her. There were times when I would be seized by a desperate urge to hold her, just to prove to myself that the fact of her continued existence was true. During those moments, she would catch me staring at her and give me a questioning smile. I would only blush and look away.

And during the moments when I could stare at her without her noticing, I could see that she had changed. She was still very much the same calm, composed and charismatic woman she had always been. But now there was a certain gravity to her - a solemnity that appeared almost haunted. I would think of what Solomon had said - of the countless battles she had fought on her own against beasts and demons and monsters, and of what those battles had cost her soul - and my chest would ache.

Then one day, I found her standing by the window, sipping a cup of tea. The sheer familiarity of the image she presented made me smile. For that moment, I forgot about the awkwardness.

"The only thing missing from this scene," I said, walking over to where she stood, "is your laptop on a desk just waiting for me to give it some attention."

She turned to me then and smiled with a hint of her old mischief. "My laptop wasn't the only thing waiting for Natsuki's attention."

She'd outwitted me yet again, but I was too relieved by the return of her old playfulness to mind the way I usually did. I merely smiled at her in response and propped my chin on the windowsill next to her.

After a few moments, she spoke. "And how has my Natsuki been?"

I remembered the last time she had asked me that, and I knew she remembered it too.

I smiled and shrugged casually. "I've been worse."

She raised an eyebrow at me in amused surprise. "Ara, it's a different answer from the last time. And what, pray tell, is making my Natsuki so happy?"

I hesitated. For a long, suspenseful moment, all the old doubts came rushing back - on top of which was my new fear that we had grown apart and become strangers. But when I looked at her, I remembered all the years that we had lost because I had doubted and wavered far too often. And in that moment, I made a choice.

"You." I told her quietly. "You're the one that's making me so happy."

She just looked at me in stunned and priceless disbelief.

When I couldn't take it any longer, I kissed her.

"And just so you know," I told her softly when we parted, "that's what I wanted to do the last time."

She shook her head at me then, the barest hint of a smile on her lips. "Ara, it took you long enough, it did. Though I have to say, it was worth dying for. Twice."

I looked at her crossly. "That's not funny."

When she continued to laugh, I shushed her by kissing her. Again and again and again.

It was a good thing, as Julia pointed out, that she was immune to werewolf bites.

[End notes:


This ends The Coming of the Thaw: Part III of The Chronicles of Blood and Ice. I thank my readers for their patience - both in waiting for this story to come out and for putting up with the relatively lengthy and obscure references and allusions. Again, I hope the wait was worth it, and as usual, comments, reviews and ratings would be greatly appreciated :0)

Finally, I want to end this note with an invitation to read...

The Throbbing of Two Hearts: Part IV of The Chronicles of Blood and Ice, where Shizuru and Natsuki reunite - only to face the possibility of the most final of separations in the war against the Searrs.

Watch out for it :0)


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