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That Witch Fulfills

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That Witch Fulfills

Disgusting. It was the only word she could scavenge for such a repulsive taste, even when such a term spat in the face of her regular decorum. She leaned back from the young woman's neck just as her tongue became inexorably submerged in the acrid swill and resisted the urge to purge her ill-gotten gains to the mossy cobble below. Diana knocked back her head and willed the woman's blood down her gullet, all the while resisting a secondary urge to sneer. Even here, in the confines of a shaded alley a Cavendish had proper etiquette to adhere to.

The woman in her arms slumped, face ashen and wrinkled with the telltale signs of confusion. The hypnosis was beginning to wear off, but the bloodletting would leave her in a daze more than long enough for Diana to steal away.

The Cavendish righted her blonde locks, stamping down those hairs that rebelled during her feeding and turning to leave the alley. And then her stomach, that accursed, atrophied organ, growled against her bosom and she flashed a stare back at the recovering maiden. The feeding had been far too short and the reprieve it gave her would wean away in a matter of days, but a single mouthful of that woman's blood was already a difficulty to swallow, so much so that a full feed could probably count as poison.

But her body once again protested and she knew that this young girl was probably the best she would manage to get within her family's territory. To leave the job unfinished, to leave herself starving and in need of another nightly escapade a week from now...

She would have to grin and bear being parched. Diana had standards for herself and no self respecting vampire would gorge themselves on such a repulsive set of veins. Or... Maybe they would?

She raised her fingers to her chin as she stalked from the alley, smudging the smatterings of blood around her lips and tightening her cloak against the nightly chill. There was beginning to be... a pattern, she noticed. A... personal pattern, and it was almost as bitter a pill to swallow as the young maiden's blood minutes before. Actually, with her pride in account it was probably even worse.

Blood was losing its taste; worse yet, the taste was becoming more putrid with each donor. Very quickly Diana could see herself coming upon a wall, one almost unscalable in scope, and for the first time in her twenty years of unlife she was genuinely scared. Well, 'first' was certainly an exaggeration; she had been scared when her family had relocated to a new manor and terrified when her mother had passed away, but it was unheard of where she was worried for her own wellbeing. She had heard of the 'pureblood' defect before, but instances of purebloods were already so rare and the wide distance (and rivalry) between clans culminated in a significant lack of information on the problems with vampiric mating.

She passed a local bread shop and she was surprised when her stomach contracted in a pitiful growl. A silent reprimand shot down to the shriveled organ. Human foods did little to satisfy her hunger, but their appeal of taste and substance over the liquid nature of blood left her borderline spiteful of the peasants and nobles she walked among, especially in light of her recent affectation.

She choked down a mewl of discontent and continued her pace down the quiet thoroughfare. The town streets were mostly abandoned at this time of night and made it easy pickings for her kind, especially with the amount of winding corridors and unmapped alleys. A beautiful hamlet, by all measures and it gave her a sense of nostalgia for the London streets from which she hailed. Transitioning to life in Germany had been hard on her younger self, but with the success garnered through the town's trade with eastern provinces she was able to acknowledge the wisdom in her mother's decision, especially given how... hostile England had become to the vampiric tribes.

Eventually the feeder road she was on flowed smoothly onto main street, past more windows, more delicacies ripe for the taking before their respective shops closed their doors for the evening. Diana resisted a minute urge to purchase something small, more so because it'd hurt her pride more than it would have hurt her sizable wallet.

Thankfully a distraction appeared to aide her self-restraint. Giggling, joyous giggling at that, drifted over the smell of furnace and burned fir that clung to the air like soot.

Diana's eyes tailed to a crowd of onlookers, mostly children and a small assortment of parents, all wreathed in a half-moon along one side of the road where a petite young woman with almond eyes, a button nose and her hair looped in a loose bun was talking emphatically to the crowd. The sight was quite odd, not only because of the woman's obviously oriental origin, but also because she was dressed in an outlandish white outfit.

There was something instantly familiar about the pattern and the cut, but every stitch was clearly handmade; a crude replica made with every ounce of love unskilled hands could convey. But, the work served its purpose and Diana was shafted back to a time long before her life in Germany, a simpler time alongside her mother. Even from where she was, completely out of earshot of the brunette woman, the rapid gesticulations and exaggerates poses called upon those steeped memories of a performance she thought she'd never see again.

The smile on her lips was too reflexive to stop.

"Chariot..."

O/o\O

Akko stretched, slipping from her bed as the morning rays spilled over her sheets. The morning was both the best and worst part of the day. The best when she thought about all of the time she'd have to talk with friends and set up her act, the worst when she actually had to get up. She let out a rested yawn and roused herself enough to stumble down the stairs, a trip which ended with her face flat against the floorboards and her hair dripping through the cracks between planks.

"Ahhh, damnit," she groaned and brushed a splinter out of her cheek.

"Are you alright sweetie?"

Akko glanced up at her mother, smiling while she twisted into a crossed-leg stance, "I'm fine mom; it'll take more than a fall like that to do me in!"

Her mother sighed and scratched her head, the bun of hair bobbing with each focused scritch, "Sometimes I wish it would; it would be nice to have rice left over for dinner every night."

Akko beamed and scrabbled to her feet, striding to the lone table near the center of the room with a joyful aplomb. Breakfast was scant as it always was, and though she appreciated her mom's humorous quips making light of the issue that did not mean the issue was solved. A solitary egg, some after-market sausage and a hen's pickings of homegrown rice did not a fulfilling meal make. But, it was enough for now and she couldn't afford to let what little energy it provided go to waste; a good show could fizzle on an empty stomach!

As she cleaned her plate her mother began to speak again, "...Akko... I... Are you planning on going to Dirne Strasse tonight...?" And with a simple word that last meager sausage turned into a rock in Akko's stomach. "I... heard from Holbrook that she saw you walking that way the last two nights..." Akko wordlessly downed her remaining water, puckering her lips before she could say anything back. Her silence was only a quiet confirmation. "Sweety, why don't you go work at the mill instead, I'm sure they can find something for you there! You don't need to go an-"

"The meal was delicious, mom!" Akko almost screamed, propping herself to a stand with a slam of her fists. Before her mother could get a word in edgewise she rushed to the door, grabbing the satchel beside it and a tattered blue jacket from the pins above. "If you need me, I'll be at Lotte's setting up for tonight!"

Her mother's parting words cut as the door slammed behind her, satchel clutched tight to her clenching chest. That is not a conversation she wanted to have and she'd be damned if she didn't put it off as long as possible. Besides, what did her mother care? Akko didn't need her permission for something like that, she was perfectly capable of making her own decisions! Now... committing to those decisions was a little different. Her mother had been right that the last two nights Akko had maneuvered her way towards Dirne Strasse but both nights she had hesitated in making her... 'debut' as it were and left for home before the streetlamps had gone out.

Even then a few passersby definitely saw both her travel to and from, and many shared a similar look of conceit or distaste. She didn't mind those looks; she was used to being the eccentric outcast of the town with her energetic street performances. It was the other type of face that cropped up during those walks, the ones of poorly concealed disappointment, that coated her skin in an unsheddable layer of invisible grime. She wanted to shout at them 'I haven't even done anything yet, stopping looking like your dog died!', but that'd just make her look more suspicious and call more attention to herself, to the point she'd risk word getting back to her father. That was more unnerving than any face thrown her way.

Mom had been right that finding a job at the mill would be easy, but by the nature of the work her dad would know, and he was adamant that his wife and daughter would never need to help pay the bills. He was already frustrated enough with Akko doing her magical act, but he had relented on that as she was only partly motivated by money and was more purely motivated by the thrill of the show. She could probably fight him down to letting her get a mill job, but a mill job would also mean she wouldn't have any time to plot her performances and execute them, so she was already against the idea even before her father had time to shoot it down.

So, with their family funds slowly dwindling and her father spending longer nights in the factory Akko struck upon an idea. Not a good idea, or a pleasant idea, but it was the only thing she could strike upon; even if it cost her some dignity, if it meant saving her family, so be it!

...Just as soon as she could work up enough nerve.

Akko shook her head. Now was no time to get dragged along by those soggy thoughts; she had a performance to plan!

It took only a few minutes to pad down the street to Lotte's family shop, diving in and out of jagged alleys for extra adventurous spike to her normally mundane travels. Of course, these were all paths she'd scuffed hundreds of times over since their family immigrated to Germany, to the point where it was technically more mundane to walk through them than to take the main road. She still enjoyed the extra exercise though and it was a wonderful way to wake up her legs in the morning.

When she opened the doors to the Yanson Bakery she was hit by a warm, buttery wall of air that made her gullet growl. She would have to ask Lotte for a cinnamon roll later; she tried not to bank on her friend's kindness but sometimes it was hard to resist asking for a free morsel.

"Well don't you look chipper."

The voice was like an icy knife, severing the inviting atmosphere in two.

"And you're glum as always," Akko bit back, her smile only dropping a fraction as her crimson eyes met faded ruby.

"You would be too if the constable stopped you from performing," the other girl replied, gently preening a lock of heather hair with a thumb and forefinger.

Akko glared at the girl, "Sucy, don't compare me with you. Performing magic for kids is way different than testing alchemy on sheep. You're lucky the Lukics and Badcocks didn't press charges!"

"The sheep deserved it," Sucy grunted, with only the smallest of tweaks to her lips betraying the true disdain absent in her voice.

The door behind the shop's counter opened up, the wrought wood hitching against a loose floorboard before plopping open completely. Dawning a set of glasses was a girl with a smaller frame than that of Akko or Sucy, threading the wings over her ears and through her strawberry locks.

"Oh, Akko good morning!" the bespectacled girl cheered, "I trust you're well?"

"Mornin' Lotte, and yeah, I'm feeling pretty good!" Akko smiled back.

"She's understating it, Lotte, she was practically blinding when she came in here," Sucy droned. "In fact, get her out of here, I think I'm getting retina damage."

Lotte frowned at the shopkeeper, "Sucy don't be like that.” Her gaze drifted back to Akko, “Though now that you mention it, she is kinda glowing. I'm curious as to what has you in such a good mood, Akko." She gave Akko an inviting look, a silent coax for the reason of the performer's unusual cheer.

"Well, that’s because..." Akko thrummed, reaching into her pack and pulling out three thin sticks, all tipped with what looked like gorged arrow tips and ending with a wick that ran the stick's length. "I got Connie down at the rifle factory to whip these up for me! They're going to make tonight's show quite literally 'explosive'!" Her hands waved through the air and Sucy had to duck under one of the contraptions to avoid being knocked out cold. Akko cradled the sticks and sighed, "If tonight goes well then I'm sure these will become a highlight of my performances!"

"So you've finally decided to end it all," Sucy smiled, small and wry, "I'm impressed; I thought it’d take you forever to snap. And you’re going out in such a flashy way."

The Japanese girl growled, "They’re not bombs, they're fireworks and Const assures me they're ninety-five percent safe!"

Sucy's smile dropped as one of the gunpowder tubes was waved in her face, her single exposed ruby eye tracking the tool with an utmost caution, "‘Ninety-five percent’?"

"It’s wonderful you're getting creative with your work, but doesn't that seem like a bit of a risk, Akko?" Lotte asked, laying a gentle hand across the exuberant girl's elbow to steady the flailing limb.

"It'll be fine, it'll be fine," she curled her fingers in a tiny, dismissive wave, "I'd never knowingly put my audience at risk!"

"What about the bull?" Sucy asked. Akko’s finger’s curled and her quirked lips pulled tighter, a squig shooting up her spine.

"Or that time with the window," Lotte continued.

"And the crow's nest."

"And the sewer."

"And the baby goat."

"And the fountain."

"And the second baby goat."

"Alright, alright, I get it!" Akko shouted, cutting her two friends off. "But I swear, none of those times I knew anything could even go that wrong!" Sucy opened her mouth but Akko was faster, "Yes, even with the baby goat. Goats. Both of them."

"Well, if you're sure about it. Just don't go hurting yourself or the townsfolk..." Lotte sighed. She adjusted the headband crowning her hair as she continued, "So, are these fireworks replacing the treats at the end or should I help Sucy cut up a couple cinnamon rolls?"

The performer cupped her hands and bowed, "If you'd please; the kids adore them!"

"I never volunteered for this," Sucy mumbled.

Akko sidled up to her shoulder and smiled, "But you will because you're both my best friends!"

"I didn't volunteer for that either," the alchemist retorted.

A counterargument died in Akko's throat as the shop's bell chimed. She barely registered an arm muscling around her neck, bicep playfully digging into her shoulder. Well, 'playfully' could only go so far because after only a second or two it began to legitimately hurt.

"Kagari, you crazy bastard, ready to roll some heads tonight!"

"ACH, Amanda!" Akko sputtered, "Can't... breathe...!"

A moment later the pressure around her throat released, "Damn, sorry about that Akko, forget how strong I am sometimes," Amanda lamented, scratching a hand behind her scarlet curls. The rather tall girl stepped around and leaned on the counter as another of the shop's workers made her way inside, a rather bulbous woman with lavender hair wrapped in a heavy, bleached apron.

"I heard something about dicing cinnamon rolls? Could I be of assistance?" the portly girl asked.

"I was just hoping you'd come along Jas, they were about to force me to do it," Sucy scowled.

Lotte waved the rotund worker over to a cutting board, "Over her Jasminka, I was going to help before I headed off to Finnelan's for the day!"

Akko watched as Jasminka padded over to the counter, her movement awakening the sense of life that often made Yanson's bakery a hotspot for everyone in town. In that way the warmth exuded by the furnaces became warmer in a way Akko could never quite put to words. It always made her feel like, so long as she had these friends around her, Akko could take on any challenge that faced her. And, very often she was right! Without them she'd never have been able to perform as well as she could, giving her position in the town beyond that of just another clumsy street performer, instead becoming a beloved member of their little hovel of the city, where children and adults from across the whole town could and would travel for a wonderful night of fun and fancy.

But, even with this support, a hollow truth rang from the deepest confines of her stomach, the growl of a lion in the exotic African savanna ready to pounce. Only so much could be made performing the way she did, and much of what she made went to supporting the passion itself. She wanted to become big, a star attraction like so many of the traveling troupes she’d seen when she was young. But to get there she needed money, and for now all of that money would have to just be put towards surviving.

As pleasant as these little moments were they served as a grim reminder of the inevitable walk of shame she would soon have to travel down Dirne Strasse.

"Oi, Akko, ready to set up? Const gave you the boom sticks, right?" Amanda asked, pulling out a measure of string. "I thought of a great place on Traum Pfad where we could do this neat trick with them!"

"Ah, y-yeah, let's go check it out!" Akko nodded.

Not the time to think about that. Any of that. Head on straight Kagari, head on straight.

O/o\O

Diana willed her eyes to move, to keep her legs moving, but both were inextricably glued in place, the latter to the road and the former to the brunette laughing and jeering at its corner.

The style, the charisma, the grace!

...Well, she supposed that last one was fairly absent, the brunette appeared less coordinated than a drunkard after Oktoberfest, but this failing was more than countered with plays at humor and self deprecation. And though that aspect was more foreign to Diana's memories, everything done by this one meager girl, this child dressed in mimicry and thread, all echoed back to a performance Diana had not thought of for years if not a decade in its wholeness.

The apparition before her was a ghost from her childhood and in an instant her wilted heart gave a shudder of longing.

The brunette continued her act, joking with a debonair compatriot standing just 'offstage' as she spun and twirled. Her magic was crude, and oft Diana saw the strings belying the show, but the mastery of flair the girl exuded was completely enrapturing. Surely none of what she did was impressive by magical standards (on the contrary, real magic was frequently more terrifying and destructive), but Diana watched helplessly as each trick whittled at her deadened soul. Spheres of all colors and sizes vanishing and growing, shrinking or floating, sticks severed into fags only to recompose with a flick of the wrist, sweets drifting in like pixies bestowed upon the giggling gaggle.

All of this done with a smile, a laugh, or a protracted gag and at those very instants no abominations graced the streets of the town, only children whisked away to a land of colors sights and sounds.

This grand performance was cap stoned with literal sparks as the woman pulled fire from beneath her dress and shot it to the sky to hang in three parallel orbs of showering heat.

And with a blink it was over.

Diana swooned against the wall beside her on the walkway. She needed more blood; if she was getting transfixed like that then she had horrifically underestimated just how much she was in need of. She hadn't even registered the crowd dispersing, and when great swaths of people were pulling the vanishing act she knew that no foul play was at hand and it was only her own failing health at play.

She allowed herself one more glance at the performer, now consulting with a small band of misfits, among them the debonair assistant, a nebbish girl with world encompassing glasses, and a disturbingly pale figure tinged in a violet hue that Diana almost mistook for a nosferatu. The quartet collected the scattered remnants of their show, words of excitement and congratulation wisping back and forth between them.

As the other three busied themselves with cleanup, the performer herself went over to where she had laid her witch’s cap, its brim bustling with coin and copper and note. Her eyes sparkled at the amount, though as Diana’s voyeur continued that smile seemed to slip. Very vaguely she could read the brunette’s lips, though only the trailing end which seemed to say something along the lines of not enough.

The girl’s melancholy was interrupted by the debonair, a girl with ginger curls cut close to her scalp so that only a few curls jutted out as a crest upon a rooster’s crown, or perhaps as one of those creatures of prehistoric origin she had fancied herself to study in the quiet hours. All the same, the coworker (friend?) seemed to break the dour cheeks of the young magician, jolting her into a more comfortable posture.

“This is the most we’ve ever gotten! I think the fireworks were a success!” the performer beamed, tipping their spoils towards the redhead’s face.

“Nah, I think people are just starting to really appreciate what you’ve got going on here. Soon enough you’ll be livin’ the high life and leavin’ all of use behind,” the debonair hollered, giving her friend a rather rough shove between the shoulders.

“Please, let’s hope that happens,” the pale girl drolled.

The performer shot that particular compatriot a rather inflamed look, “Sucy!”

“Ah, Amanda, could you help me with this?” The nebbish girl rolled in from the side, arms weighed with stands and pieces that seemed a touch too big to carry on her own.

The debonair, Amanda apparently, slid away from the performer and hefted the stands easily, shouldering them without a second thought, “No problem Lotte, I got you covered. We’re taking this back to your folks’ shop tonight, right?”

“Ah, thank you, and yes. I’ll help carry the powder,” Lotte replied, picking up a half-filled sack tucked next to a corner.

“Wait, Lotte, Amanda!” the performer paused, thumbing through the hat. She pulled back out with a significant amount of the pot, hefting them out to the two, “Your cuts for helping out. And for the sweet rolls, Lotte.”

“Akko,” Lotte sighed.  She reached out and took only a fraction of the funds, far less than what had been assumed as a ‘fair share’. Diana tilted her head as she watched and was mildly amused as the action was mirrored by the young witch as well. “Just for the rolls. I help out for fun, but I get plenty from bookbinding with Finnelan.”

“But...” the brunette deflated.

Amanda stepped forward and cupped the girl’s hands, pulling what looked like half the funds from the crumpled roll as easily as water through a sieve. After though, their hands remained connected, “Akko, look, she’s throwing you a bone here. I’ll take my cut because I know you feel guilty over it, but if your friends show you kindness, take it, okay?” She balled Akko’s hand around the bills and shoved it back into the hat for her, smiling. “Even if it’s not enough, every penny counts in the long run, right? Now take this, go home and spend a nice evening with your mom, okay?”

Even at this distance Diana could tell the girl’s hands were shaking as she balled up the hat to keep the spoils from spilling over; she was practically on the verge of tears.

“...Th-thank you, Lotte...” Akko sputtered, rubbing at a stray drop dancing on her cheekbone.

The gaunt figure passed Akko, following the other two, callously throwing a slip of paper in Akko’s face. “My services aren’t free,” Sucy droned, “Get me the ingredients on that list. Should cost less than what you would have paid me.” And with that she shuffled off, dress catching on the cobblestone like a ray over coral.

“Yeah, I gotta get home. My sisters wanted me to read them a bedtime story,” Amanda explained, looking at the starry sky above. She groaned and dragged a few fingers through her hair, “I’ll be shipping out with Const and Jasminka again in the spring, so they want to hog me to myself before any of that.”

“Since when can you read?” the brunette sniffed, throwing out a weak smile.

The debonair scratched her cheek, a dusting of pink bridging her nose, “Since Lotte’s been teachin’ me how.” Akko began to snicker, which prompted a further response, “Hey, hey! Don’t go laughing at me, alright! It ain’t easy!”

“Right, right,” Akko giggled. She curved a finger and pantomimed a box beneath her foot to prop her knee in the air, her voice heavy with rolling ‘r’s and ‘a’s, “It’s just so amusing to think of Amanda, ‘American Scourge of the High Seas’ cracking open an adventure novel with your sisters; seems like you’d just tell them one of your own stories instead.” The redhead stared her down, but she waved it off, smiling, “But I’m happy to see you two getting along after that rough patch a few months ago. I’m happy for you Amanda, really, I know you can do anything you set your mind to!”

“Yeesh, yeesh, don’t make me blush,” Amanda said, gritting her teeth as her face reddened. She shoved her cut into her pockets and nabbed Lotte by the arm, “C’mon, let’s get to your parents shop so I can get home sooner. Have a good night Akko!”

Lotte made a feeble attempt to wave with her elbow, face flustered pink by the sudden traction causing her to spill a small amount of glittering powder from the sack in her unarrested arm, “Goodnight Akko!”

“Night guys! See you tomorrow! We’ve got a week to plan the next big show!” Akko called after them. The trio waved her off and faded down the street, leaving both Diana and the magician among the slowly scattering remains of her audience.

Diana watched as the brunette studied the hat-turned-purse under her fingers, eyes peeling back each layer of currency and the keen mind behind them performing some kind of arithmetic. As the seconds passed the other woman’s jowls sagged and her jaw set straight.  It was actually surprising when she started to move as she gave no outward indication that she was aware of her surroundings or even her moving legs.

The young vampire, as it were, was stuck watching, eyes refusing to leave that gaudy white dress and those retreating crimson pools. Only the growl of her stomach managed to loose her from the daze and the realization settled that she had been drooling. She fluttered her sleeve across her chin and scrubbed away all evidence, but the knowledge that she’d been reduced to such a state gnawed at her frustrations.

She needed to feed. She needed to feed now.

Swallowing to keep her appetite at bay, Diana stalked forward, ghosting across the street and onto the sidewalk behind the drifting performer. Her shoulders brushed past a handful of pedestrians, eyes carefully training in on her new quarry. The distance she kept was respectable, probably around twenty paces, and every few feet she scanned the street for unwelcome eyes and alleyways to lose them in. Privacy was paramount for feeding and even a thinning street posed an impossible level of danger for brash action. It was one of the earliest lessons her mother had drilled into her as a child, and as far as she knew bold actions were typically the number one reason for vampire deaths around the world. Getting caught was almost an immediate death sentence, not just for that vampire but for everyone around them, even for those of noble heritage or upper class status. Discretion and stealth were her only friends at current.

It was still difficult to resist closing those last few steps, to sink her teeth into that subtle pulse she could hear calling from just beneath the witch’s skin. Her fangs ached, her nose tweaked with every whiff of natural perfumes and her muscles tensed in preparation for subduing her target.

All of that was halted when another figure swooped in from the side and surprised both women. In a suave motion a number of rather hefty bank notes were dropped into the girl’s still outstretched hat, naturally bringing her attention to the man who had deposited them.

He was tall, taller than Diana by a good head, and sported a well combed head of blonde hair trimmed just above his temples. Glacial eyes lanced out from the darkness, disrupting the shadows pooled by his spindly nose.

Diana watched as the brunette’s head launched from side to side, between the man and the folds of cash he’d slipped into her hat, her eyelids fluttering faster than a hummingbird’s wings.

“I was hoping to catch you like this. That was some performance back there. A real show stopper,” the man said coolly, leaning down on his cane. Diana winced when its metal tip scraped between a divide in the cobble, producing an ungodly screech that made her damn her above average senses. Or maybe it was enough for normal humans to hear it as well, because the performer seemed to flinch in equal amount, if not more.

“Uh... Uh thank you! Thank you so much!” she stammered, stepping back to give him a bow from the hip. But as she moved to step away again, the fingers of one hand lingered near the brim of the hat, curling around it to curtail her exit.

He grinned, “That wasn’t a donation.” Were Diana’s blood not already cooler than a winter breeze she would have said it froze. She watched as he leaned in closer, making her strain her heightened hearing to listen in to the next damnable words he’d speak. It was a whisper as warm as a fireplace but as edged as a blacksmith’s fresh blade, “Let’s say I’m... looking for an exclusive, private performance...”

The gall! Diana had to restrain her own arm from flying to her collar in repulsion for the poor girl. She may have looked down on her luck, she may have even been Diana’s next target, but even a blood-sucking fiend as defined by all of society could tell tha-

“I’ve seen you the last few nights, down near Dirne Strasse...” he breathed.

Dirne Strasse? Why would he mention that unholy hovel of all places?

...Oh.... Oh...

And all at once Diana found herself suddenly understanding this magnetic young performer a touch more than before.

The brunette hitched as his free hand rose to caress her chin, “You’re pretty new to it aren’t you?” She remained quiet, allowing him to thumb away a small tear that escaped her corkscrewed eyes. “Don’t worry, that’s the reason I came out to find you. A precious little thing like you doesn’t need the abuse that comes with working those corners. Allow me to be your escort this evening and I’m sure we’ll both find ourselves enjoying the night... together,” he cooed, pulling up beside her and wrapping his arms around her shoulders. “In fact, I find that getup of yours to be quite... exotic, befitting of your nature I suppose. Absolutely captivating if a little crass around the edges here or there.” The two began to move, propelled it seemed solely by him, turning towards a nearby alley that led deeper to the heart of the city. “Come, I have a manor not far from here, we can be there by the top of the hour and the night shall be ours to imbibe!”

“Uh...” the brunette hesitated. Once more she looked to the money, to the man, then to the money and Diana could hear the saliva swim down her throat as she resigned herself to the man’s embrace and leaned into his arm.

Something thrummed in Diana’s chest, like her stomach squeezing in the most dizzying throes of hunger she’d ever experienced, and it’s there that her legs moved and all caution was cast aside in the name of action.

Before she could even properly register her plan, an entire purse’s worth of goldmarks were dropped into the uncovered hat, leading both commissioner and ‘artisan’ to stop in their walk.

“Wh-wha...?”

Two pairs of eyes fell to her, with her robe crinkled, her back arched and her golden hair disheveled beneath her hood. Coughing, Diana righted herself, brushing down her cloak and tilting her head as to prevent a clear look beneath, using the shadows at play and her keen eyes to her advantage.

“My apologies,” she rasped, giving her chest one or two beats to clear her taxed lungs and improvise a quick plan, “but I believe the amount provided will account for a proper counter-offer?”

“Eh...” the performer asked, her lips defying gravity by splitting in such an undignified manner, “E-ehhh?!”

“Counter offer?” the man blinked. He looked down into the hat, at the same time as Akko, glaring at the glinting coins piled atop his bank notes. He glared at her, though with a tinge of confusion, “I’m afraid your calculations must have been skewed because what you have offered is not comparable to my original offer.”

“How did you even hear...” the brunette murmured over the money.

“You would think, were that gold not also in addition to the offer you’ve made,” she replied, pulling a tight roll of banknotes from her pocket. She gave it a glance before sighing and handing it to the man, “I’m ashamed to say I don’t have smaller denominations on hand. Still, this should be more than sufficient to cover the payment you’ve already made for this girl’s evening.”

She could hear the man’s taste buds drying at the amount being shoved into his hands, and with the way he clung to the roll she knew she had him by a hook. It would be remiss of her to let him off so easily.

“But, by accepting the difference there you’ll be agreeing to never come near this young lady again,” Diana seethed. She reached out and clenched his hand into the bills, crumpling them beneath, “My terms are more than acceptable, correct?” The gentleman’s face paled as he tried to wrench his hand free from hers. She could feel the bones under her fingers beginning to strain and his struggling was rather amusing. He nodded though and she had to give up her moment of sadistic entertainment to maintain her passive demeanor. “Excellent. Now, away with you. Your ill intent has no room here.”

He looked at her in some combination of awe and fear, curling his bruising hand inward and scurrying off with his money in hand, like a chimp thieving a zookeeper’s keys.

“Such unrefined behavior, propositioning defenseless girls in such a way,” Diana sighed. She turned to the brunette. The girl was watching her, cautious, afraid. It reminded her of a rabbit or perhaps a mouse; prey observing predator.

“Do... do you want something from me too?” she stammered, holding her hat close.

Diana had to clamp on her fangs to stop the dull aching that seeped into their roots. She sighed, “Yes, I suppose I do, though I had not planned on being as untoward as that young man back there.” It was a lie, of course; her plan had been to spirit the performer off into an alley and drink her to the brink of no return. But that was a tidbit best left unsaid now that a more... amicable situation had been achieved. Time was of the essence though, lest Diana allow the putridly primal hunger consume her like the bulk of her peers and feed on the girl as only the most bestial of demons would.

Her eyes lingered to the mouth of the alley where a number of potential onlookers still traveled. She directed her gaze to the uneasy woman downwind, “I do not suppose you have more... private accommodations we could use? My travels have not afforded me to bring my manor here and I have yet to purchase a room for the night.” Though an earnest question, she was hoping that the last statement would garner some humor from the distraught brunette. Instead the girl caved inward somewhat, playing with the fraying edges of her hat.

“Uh... y-yeah... Though, uh... I can’t be having you stay the night,” the girl squeaked, “My... roomma-... parents aren’t so approving of this, my father especially and if h-!”

Diana raised a hand to stop what she predicted to be a tirade of excuses, “There’s no need for concern. What I intend tonight will take not but fifteen minutes at most. I’m sure your accommodations will be more than suitable for it.”

The performer hicked into the air and Diana had to refute a laugh seeing the other girl turn into a tomato. Biting her lower lip the way she did made her more appealing, too. Something about this girl scented of something pure, like an absolute stain of innocence and Diana was quickly finding this... aura intoxicating.

“Ye-yeah, that should be fine. Uh...” she fidgeted on the spot, looking from one mouth of the alley to the fork deeper in. “It’s probably quicker if we go this way,” she pointed to the T-cross up ahead, “I mean... if you’re in a hurry...”

It was adorable how the girl’s face could only grow into a brighter shade of red than the last. Diana smiled though, “Yes, I thank you for such consideration. I must be off home to my manor before daybreak.” She began to pace past the witch, only to realize that she would need to be led. A twist and she found the girl rocking on her feet, biting into her thumb. Diana quirked a brow, “Are you not coming? I cannot very well perform this task on my lonesome, nor can I navigate to your chosen haven...”

The brunette jumped, “Right, right! Sorry...” She sped past Diana and to the break of the fork, pointing to the left, “Th-this way, please.”

Diana smiled and followed, enjoying the jumpy energy being thrust into each facet of the girl’s actions. It was invigorating.

The walk was mostly silent, with the occasional direction from the performer and a small, aimless musing about the gothic architecture from Diana. Eventually though, the brunette chose to break the silence.

“S-so... I... uh... don’t really know too well how this is done... Do we... exchange names?” she asked, rubbing her shoulder. She had long past shelved her hat in her satchel upon some prompting from her current companion.

“I... suppose that would be fine,” Diana nodded. In fact, Diana knew the young woman’s name, overhearing it from her friends and their conversations, but proper etiquette dictated that she not use it until introduced. It was a consideration for practical reasons, since most humans couldn’t hear a pin drop in the next room over or listen in on private conversations. Using that kind of information needlessly would bring questions and even if they were easily lied around or half-truthed instigating query was more dangerous than avoiding it in its entirety.

As the silence began to settle, the brunette popped, “I... I guess I go first...?”

“As you are the one asking, that would be proper,” Diana smiled.

The girl nodded, “I’m... Atsuko. Atsuko Ka-.”

“I think first names will be quite enough,” the blonde interjected. “I have no desire to share my surname; I should give you the same leeway. It is only fair.”

“R-right.” Atsuko nodded. “Well... uh, you can call me Akko. People here have a hard time saying ‘Atsuko’ so I don’t want you feeling uncomfortable.”

“You’re very considerate,” Diana smiled, “You may call me Diana. It is very nice to meet you, Miss Atsu... Akko.” The vampire hummed as her own attempts to say the foreign name were quelled, “What do you know, it is rather strange to my tongue.” She rolled her lips and tongue slowly, adjusting just a bit to the strange beat to the name, “At-su-ko. I suppose that’s easy enough to become familiar with.”

“Oh... Um... Yeah, that’s pretty good. And it’s nice to meet you too,” Akko replied, folding her hands toward the lower rim of her belly.

The rest of the walk was silent, save again for those nudges in the right direction, infrequent as they were considering they had almost completed the journey during their introductions. Upon reaching their destination, Akko hesitated, her hand hovering over the door knob but never quite touching it. A minute ticked on and after three Diana became impatient.

“Is there a problem, Akko?”

“What?!” the girl sputtered, “N-no... Just... Well... Uh... steeling myself for something... Uh... Yeah.”

Another second beat by.

“And? Are you ‘steeled’?”

She heard Akko swallow as she had before, “Yeah. I... I am.”

And with that Akko opened the door.

The hovel was dimly lit and sparsely furnished, a common occurrence among the lower class, she was told. It was here that Akko’s monetary situation came into clearer focus. Frazzled drapes over the lone window, splintered wood peeling off the solitary table in the room, the counters against the far wall sagging from overuse, chipped dining ware and walls that were beginning to mold and rot around the edges, scraped clean to give the appearance of wellness but long ago having been stripped of that healthy dye; how anyone could enjoy living in these conditions taunted Diana’s sensibilities.

A single person occupied the space as they entered, a woman by her make, seated next to a fireplace absent of four or five bricks along its length. She was older, weary as the hole-in-the-wall around them, as she peeled her gaze away from a small book her eyes betrayed a kindness, a warmth, which Diana hadn’t seen in quite some time. And likewise, it had been quite a while since she’d seen the same tightened look of consternation.

“H-hi mom, I’m b-back...!” Akko faltered, rubbing her neck. She waved to Diana with both arms, a wide but ultimately toothless grin sprouting from her jaw, “This-s is... Uh... It’s... sh-she’s... uh...” The brunette’s mouth clamped shut as her mother’s face failed to morph. “Uh, a friend!” she finally squeaked, grabbing Diana’s hand and pulling her towards the gnarled staircase.

The vampire barely caught the droop in the older woman’s face as they left, the sag to her eyes and lips permeating some deeper aspect of Diana’s psyche, an undertow sifting air from her lungs. Shifting her eyes to the scrambling brunette ahead of her did nothing but make the pull stronger and immediately she dashed her head away, barely registering the two door second level before she had been dragged inside Akko’s room.

The door drifted closed behind them, leaving a deafening click hanging in the air while the rest of the world began to still and settle. Diana watched as Akko’s shoulders bobbed, the stitched white dress rippling around her ribs and the skirt swishing at her knees. It was alarming the distance between the energetic and self-assured performer and this shambling, scared... child. Were it not for the fingers crushing Diana’s palm her arms would have suddenly felt too empty to bear. It was fascinating, watching this other woman’s behavior, and at the same time the urge to intervene, to stop this woman’s thoughts and cut her own observations short; two steam engines running in opposite directions on the same tracks.

Akko let go of her hand, knocking her from her daze... stare...? Ogle...?

Wordlessly the brunette strode forward, her shoulders caving inwards, making her form appear even smaller against the dim orange glow drifting in from the streetlights outside. After a shuddering breath a jittery hand overlapped the left side of her lapel, the index finger slipping beneath the collar of the white performance outfit and propping the fabric up from around her bladed bones. The web of her hand pushed the cotton south, dragging it down the crest of her shoulder and towards the elbow with a motion intended to be smooth. Her hesitation was anything but.

Diana knew now would be the time to stop her.

“That is enough,” the blonde whispered. She stepped forward and rested a hand along the crook of Akko’s exposed neck. The warmth itched through her glove and the pulse was almost like a feather running along her digits.

The jilt underneath Akko’s skin was almost enough to send Diana into a frenzy, to have her launch into an unrestrained feed right then and there. But restrain she did, pressing the brunette over to the tattered, unkempt bed in the corner where the two sank into its stuffed surface. The brunette’s nostrils flared as she sucked in an unruly amount of air and shuddered as it almost violently left her body. By this point every inch of exposed skin from her armpits on up were tinged with an almost alarming red glow. This only made her neck all the more tantalizing.

“I never quite explained what exactly I paid you to do...” Diana cooed, brushing a chocolate strand away from the oh-so-alluring curve. “You see... What I desire is not conventional by any measure,” she mused, rubbing her tongue across the accentuated canines, “I have certain needs, ones that anyone can fill, but you... you intrigued me.” She leaned down and let her breath wash over Akko’s skin, and she smiled as the girl shuddered from the chill. Her lips finally made contact with that skin and she could feel her own blood pumping faster than a cobra’s strike. This was so different than other feedings, so much more intimate, and she found herself enraptured with her own allure and performance. For the first time in years she felt a warmth spread in her body that had been absent for far too long.

She knew that this moment, this energy, was what it felt like to be well and truly alive, and it dropped her mind into an ocean simmering beneath a fog of euphoria.

“I promise,” she whispered, using the movement of her lips to suss out the strongest artery, “It’ll only hurt for a second...”

Akko shook, managing only a confused “H-hurt?!” before Diana drew her fangs across the brunettes crimson neck and clamped down.

The squeal that leaked from Akko’s mouth was two parts surprise, one part terror and all parts confusion. She gripped onto Diana’s robes as the fangs pulled free and the first suck brought a little touch of her essence beyond Diana’s lips. “Gahh!” her fingers squeezed and flexed with surprising force, nails prominent even through the thickened bind of Diana’s cloak.

Diana for her part could barely feel the scratches beginning to blister over her spine. Akko’s blood was fresh, hot, and spouted like a fountain previously untapped, no doubt a consequence of the flush. The first few drinks reeked of that fetid slime that she had so detested not a mere two hours ago, but after a short acclimation she discovered a sweetness underlying the taint and bile. The texture was thick, like freshly squeezed berries and it tasted of cherries pickled in melted sugar, maybe even fermented with how dizzying the smell made her head spin. Each suck, each lap, became greedier, hungrier than the last, and soon that withered stomach was brimming with ichors of Elysium.

Akko’s breath huffed over Diana’s ear, light and temperate, gently nudging the flaxen locks across her scalp. Diana savored the moment, closing her eyes and tightening her hold on the woman beneath her. She had for so long considered the idea of heaven beyond the reach of her cooled fingers but how, and how this one woman had changed her mind so effectively!

The fingers digging into her coat slacked and the breath over her temples began to fade and all at once Diana stopped, a pool of delicious magma pooling to a stop along Akko’s paling neck. Diana opened her eyes and swallowed back what blood remained outside the vein, giving the punctures a swift flick of her tongue. The saliva melted through the crimson fluid and plugged the holes, leaving naught a mark of her transgression but a few small cranberry smears. She pulled away, her own breath heavy, hesitant.

She’d almost gone too far. There was no desire to kill this poor performance artist, this witch of mundane practice. To take an innocent life... Diana rose above such crude desires.

“H-hhaa...” Akko’s breath was shallow and her eyes were almost empty, but Diana was sure that the sparkle would return to them in due time. Having so much vital fluid taken often left her targets dizzied, so this much wasn’t new. The brunette would most likely be stuck in this daze for the next few minutes, leaving enough time for Diana to leave gracefully and properly digest the emotional high she'd just experi-.

Calloused fingers clenched around her wrist just as she was enacting her escape. Oceans met fire, small and as weak as those flames might momentarily be.

"Y-you're a... does... Oh god..." Akko shuddered, her eyes flickering between terror and awe and some third, eerie emotion that Diana had only seen in the eyes of the most enraptured of men.

Diana pulled her arm away. She would be lucky to remove herself from this situation without further query, "The services I required have been fulfilled. I will trust that the money I have supplied you with was a satisfactory exchange."

However, Akko was surprisingly strong and her grip stayed firmly latched to the vampire's arm, "D-does this mean I'll become like you?!"  Diana froze as a second hand met the first and she would be more callous than those fingers to ignore how much they we shaking. "P-please, please! I'll keep your secret, it’s just that my family, we already have enough problems, if I becom-!"

A palm was placed over the brunette's mouth. Diana, impressed as she was by the girl's stamina, could not have the blabbermouth continuing like this as she left. Appeasing her seemed like the simplest and most expeditious option.

"The conventions of my kind are more complex than your common folklore. You will be fine so long as you eat your fill and drink as you need," she explained, pulling her hand away. "I have bestowed no curse or affliction, nor did I desire to... In fact I found our time here tonight more... invigorating that I had anticipated..." Diana muttered, her face coloring at the admission, which in addition to surprising Akko surprised even herself. She pried away Akko's fingers and ghosted to the door. She stopped as she teetered into the hall. "...I... I may require similar assistance in the future... I'll be in touch."

Her boots barely made a sound over the rickety wood, her cape fluttering as she strutted to the household's doorway. She opened the passage, letting the night's chill invade and a stray gust to blunder over the threshold. For a moment she spared a glance to Akko's mother, a confused woman concerned for her daughter's well being. There were no words that would sway her from those sallowing assumptions, so Diana elected not to say any and waste the delicious stains on her breath any further.

She vaguely registered Akko scrambling to the doorframe as she took her leave, those crimson eyes unseen but felt across her spine. In a moment of weakness she looked back, drinking in Akko's disheveled hair, rumpled dress, and shoddily cleaned nape before ultimately tearing her eyes away just as the muscles in her chest constricted around her ribs. Her ears quirked and heated as new words began to drift along the whisks of the wind.

"Close the door! I better hope it was worth it, Atsuko." The first sentence was chiding, but the second was emptier, sadder.

"It-It was mom... I promise... I promise..."

The door closed and even with her perception, as honed as it was, she could make out no more.

Diana frowned. Something was wrong. Very wrong. She could feel the fresh blood dripping into her system, oozing into her pores... and yet her hunger was not sated. No, to say that would be wrong; her hunger was all but obliterated in seconds, even so far as for her to question if it would ever return. What was left though... what took its place...

Mere words failed her, and in one of those instances she felt indefensibly lost.

O/o\O

Akko put the quill to the page, fingers unmoving, as though willing the ink to take meaningful shape through thought alone. All she achieved was soaking an indigo splotch into the parchment. The cheap blue ink seeped through the jagged pores of the paper, reaching and budding like blood through a vei-.

Akko shook her head of the image.

She scowled and ripped that part free, balling it into her free hand and blackening her palm in the process. The rest of the page quickly became devoted to a crude schematic, just as with the dozens of other scraps littered around the room. These, like hundreds drawn before, would be presented to Constanze over at the rifle factory and double checked for flaws and given suggestions for what might work instead. It was an integral part of Akko's planning process and was one of the few areas where no one, not a one, could genuinely call her lazy. Plotting for new routines was typically an easy process, and these dozen scraps would be matched twice over if not more if Akko's head chose to screw itself on straight.

Sadly, this didn't seem like a possibility.

Two weeks after the.... encounter with Diana and her thoughts absolutely refused to center on anything but the blonde. It was infuriating, distracting, and it was starting to have an impact on her performances. There was just too much to digest. First she was propositioned by a woman for what she thought would just be… well… lewd acts is the only way her mind would let her phrase it, at least for now. Ever since she was little she’d been too busy pretending to be Chariot to imagine what her future husband would look like, but she knew one day it would have to happen. And even after she’d resigned herself to giving up her chastity to a stranger for cash, she’d never envisioned a woman. It was scandalous! It was illegal! It was… really not bothering her as much as she thought it would.

Which was probably the second thing to unpack because, when she was alone there in that room with the supposed seductress, mixing in with all the self-loathing and anxiety there was an undercurrent of excitement she couldn’t help but scratch her head at. Was she attracted to woman? If so, her life just got about a million times more complicated, so maybe it would be better just to shelve romance entirely. Or was there something to the person in question, something about Diana…

Diana. The tall, blonde, and dashing girl who swept in, proposed a physical exchange for the financial… and then outed herself as a vampire by taking a mouthful of Akko’s neck. Another shiver and Akko knew that that particular feeling would never quite fade from her consciousness. And perhaps that was the most alarming one, as it was one of the most distracting sensations in the world. Painful, yes, but mixed with the raw slide of teeth on blood through skin, the gel of her spit, the hot roll of her tongue. So much overstimulation, so little time to comprehend it! Even in the weeks since their meeting there was naught a sign of clarity for the beset Japanese girl.

Of course, she’d been avoiding thinking about the thing, and that only made those stray thoughts cropping up in the middle of a back flip attempt at a live show all the more humiliating.

She'd already gotten worried questions from Lotte, some irritated jabs from Amanda and worst of all chillingly knowing gazes from Sucy, but last night's act had been one of her most miserable and she'd barely done more than break even from the tips. That had been a wakeup call and she immediately went about the entire day trying to shake off this funk. However, it didn't seem shutting herself in the living room of the Yanson homestead did much to stem those distracting thoughts. To compound matters, her oh-so-supportive friends had a tendency to bust in from the adjoined Yanson Bakery during slow periods and needle her with questions about the upcoming acts.

Normally this would be welcome for generating ideas, but in her distrait mental state she couldn't properly add that feedback to her ideas, leading to wasted breath and time which left her more frustrated than before they'd come in.

"Ehh, Akko! How are those schematics coming?"

Case in point; Amanda was bored. Normally this led to the duo cracking jokes that wormed their way into their performances, but Akko's mood wasn't as playfully oriented as Amanda's, especially when the ginger clapped her hand over Akko's left shoulder and made her flinch.

"Slowly," she grunted, rolling the hand off her shoulder.

"Yeah, I can see that..." Amanda frowned, leaning down to collect some of the scribbled scraps. "You know, you never quite explained how you managed to afford more paper. I thought you said you couldn't afford any more three weeks ago?"

Akko ignored her for the most part, keeping her eyes glued to her current work, "Yeah, and? I scrounged some up."

She could hear the older girl sigh.

"Akko, you know what I'm getting at."

The brunette blinked, "No, I don't think I do. What are you getting at?"

She looked up to her friend, eyes narrowed. Amanda leaned against the kitchen table, the forest of her eyes defiantly catching the blaze of Akko's crimson gems.

"You show up here with whole scores of paper," the ginger began, "your mother has a brand new beret, and you can't shut up about how your dad came home early all this week." She slammed her hand to the table and leaned over the smaller woman, "Need I continue?"

Akko bit her lip and kept it shut.

"By the looks of it you're finally financially stable and I'm left confused about exactly how you managed to do that."

Once again the brunette kept herself quiet, killing the urge to reply with "by having my blood sucked and having an incredibly awkward conversation with my father."

"C'mon," Amanda whined, "We've all been pulling for you forever, and now that your family's in the clear you're pulling away from us..." The ginger relented and shrunk, "It... kinda feels like you've been using us and now that things are going well for you..."

Akko sighed, immediately feeling that familiar tightening in her gut. Her friends were all experts on guilt-triping her and each brought their own unique flavor to the table. It just so happens that Amanda's was the most direct...

"No, no, I... I could never abandon you guys..." the performer frowned. Her fingers creased into the wooden table. "I'm just... You ever make a decision that you're not sure if you should regret or not...?"

"Hmmm? Can't say I hav-."

A bell from the front chimed and in a moment Sucy's voice followed.

"Oi! Amanda, we've got a live one, get out here ."

"Yeah, yeah, here I come!" she yelled, mumbling shortly afterward while standing, "What does she expect me to do, I just lend a hand lifting boxes..."

As Amanda cracked the door another voice wafted through.

"I'd prefer if you did not refer to your clientele so... flippantly."

Akko's heart stopped and the pulse above the cradle of her neck flared and flushed. She jumped to her feet, attracting Amanda’s attention and the eyes of one blonde, fair-skinned customer standing just beyond the counter space in front of the door. Lava met sea and a land of stillness was born.

“They get the customer service they pay for,” Sucy replied, shuffling a few baked goods back and forth.

The comment went unheeded by the patron, though it did prompt Amanda to open her mouth, “There, I’m out here now; what do you need?”

“Take over, I’m going on break,” Sucy replied, shuffling just into view of the doorframe.

“Oh, y’gotta be kiddin-, Sucy you lazy dog, don’t you dare walk out on me!” Amanda snarled. It was here, as both of them were facing back into the kitchen, that they finally took notice of the eerie silence drifting in from the homely hovel. The redhead’s brow knotted, “Oy, Akko, you okay?”

Sucy matched her coworker’s expression, though it was spiced with something more, something that seemed to compel her to glance over her shoulder at the customer awaiting their service. Something must have clicked because in almost an instant that head of periwinkle hair whipped to greet the woman just beyond the shop’s oaken barrier.

“Miss,” the shopkeep spoke.

The blonde did nothing but blink.

“Ma’am,” Sucy tried again.

Again, no response.

“Dummkopf?”

Blue eyes snapped free and the woman focused down on the comparatively short employee.

“Sorry, I don’t think I quite caught that,” she blinked, her eyes almost automatically flying back up to the stunned Akko.

“I said, ‘are you alright?’” Sucy wriggled.

“Ah, yes, I am fine,” the customer replied. “It simply appears to have been a momentary lapse of focus. My apologies.”

“No problem miss, let bygones be bygones, no?” Sucy nodded. “Is there something you were interested in buying?”

Amanda swapped her gaze between the two scenes, of the frozen Akko and the suddenly motivated Sucy, probably wondering ever so briefly if real witchcraft was at play and their bodies had been switched. She angled back at the brunette, stepping closer, “Hey, Akko, snap out of it. You’re scaring me...”

And snap out of it she did. Vocally. Rather loudly at that.

“Diana...?”

If Diana’s roving eyes hadn’t been locked on Akko before, they for sure were now. And it didn’t go unnoticed.

“Akko...” Diana breathed.

“Ah, my apologies ma’am, we don’t normally let the village idiot out,” Sucy rolled smoothly. She shuffled backwards towards the door, leaning over to grab the handle, “I’ll remove it from view to spare you her unsightliness posthaste.”

“N-no!” Diana bit, the fingers of her left hand flying to the counter.

Akko swallowed, eyes tracing the digits as they dug deep into the aged wood, splintering the formerly pristine surface.

The blonde coughed and righted herself, a small tinge of red across the bridge of her nose, “I mean to say that the girl isn’t a poor sight. I have no objections to her remaining visible.” She fastened her gaze into a glare, “And I would reconsider using the term ‘village idiot’ considering you’ve done nothing but insult your customer the last few minutes.”

“I have no shame,” Sucy replied honestly. She motioned to the vast array of sweets decorating the shelves behind her, face as placid as ever, “So, what’ll it be?”

Akko and Amanda stepped through the door and closed it behind them as Diana scanned the selection, the brunette keeping careful note of the vampire’s movements. They had spent only so much time together that Akko hadn’t managed to really remember much about her... patron beyond some broad-stroke details. But now, even under the hood of her cloak the woman’s exquisite features were inescapable; the firm set to her jawline, the winged edge to her eyelids and the piercing stare they amplified, the alternating shades of blonde, from flax to platinum. Everything about this woman was breathtaking; had the moonlight not made her almost ethereal the night they met Akko would have felt disappointed at how little of the woman’s beauty she really appreciated. Then again, even with the reflection of the setting sun against the store walls, the woman’s shape recalled that of the angels mounted around the church down the road.

“I have heard your cinnamon confections garner quite a reputation; three or four should suffice for what I need,” Diana finally answered. “Which ones precisely matters not, they should all serve my needs in some shape or form; I’m looking to introduce some friends and myself to new tastes. “

Sucy blinked at the woman, “So... which one do you want?”

Diana blinked back, “I... I just said it doesn’t matter. Just... surprise us, please. Price is no issue, but four cinnamon confections should do.”

The alchemist shrugged and began to sort through the options, leaving the dead air between Diana and Akko ever more noticeable.

The brunette started slowly, “Sooo... Diana... It’s... nice... to see you again. I didn’t realize you were out and about around this time of day...” The question was layered, but Akko hoped Diana would pick up on it. She didn’t know the woman too well, but she knew she was rather intelligent, so there was some hope she’d key into what the performer was stabbing at.

“I... Hmmm... Yes, I could see how that might be a curiosity...” Diana hummed, resting the first knuckle of her hand to her lips. “Due to our position my family does have a proclivity for certain times of day, and while I favor those traditions it is only a mild inconvenience for me to break them, at least if I take care to prepare accordingly beforehand.” At this the blonde outlined the hood of her cloak with her thumb, sending an amused smile that made Akko’s chest constrict. That smile, though, only lasted a second before it was reeled in and replaced with a well tempered line, “There happens to be a number of exceptions to how my relatives and I live, though I’ll leave those details to your imagination.”

“I... I see...” Akko muttered. It was impressive how smoothly Diana conversed in layered meaning. Then again, she figured it’d only make sense for a vampire to be naturally skilled at talking in double-speak. It was probably more surprising that Diana’s answer was so flippant, since the impression Akko got the night they met was that she wasn’t the most forward of people.

“So, Akko,” Amanda drawled, plopping herself onto the counter between them, “mind introducing us to your new friend here?”

The brunette bristled at the mischievous glint in those emerald eyes, sensing the other girl’s more playful ulterior motives like a bloodhound’s nose.

“Uh... This is... um... Diana...” Akko stuttered, doing what she could to pick and choose her words.

“Well I got that much...” Amanda rolled her eyes. “How’d you two meet? You don’t exactly seem like two peas of a pod.”

“H-hey!” the performer blathered, “What’dya mean by that?!”

“I believe I can answer that question...” Diana breathed. “My carriage had a broken wheel and Akko here was willing to lend my servant a hand in repairing it so we could complete our journey through town. I even rewarded her quite handsomely for it.”

A thought connected behind Amanda’s eyes and her mouth drooped into a perfect circle.

“Here’s your sweets,” Sucy broke in, dropping a well wrapped bag on the counter. “That will be forty-one Marks and twenty-one cents.”

Diana reached into her cloak and liberated a coin purse from the folds. With a flick of her fingers six well polished coins clattered to the table, which Sucy immediately collected. Amanda shifted her lips to continue the interrogation, but a pale hand cut her off.

“Normally I’d just take this kind of money and let you go,” Sucy droned, picking at each silver platelet, “but if you have this kind of pocket change to throw around that means you could probably come storming back in here and tie this shop up with lawyers if you wanted. So I need to ask if you meant to give us an incorrect amount of money.”

The coin purse disappeared behind the folds of the robe, as did the bag of cinnamon rolls.

“I know for a fact I gave this shop the exact amount I felt it was due, though your honesty in the matter is appreciated,” Diana declared. She nodded her head in time with her words, “Now, if it is all the same, I must be on my way. However it was... nice to see you again, Akko.” The blonde drifted to the door, flinching slightly as the sunlight invaded the confines of her hood, but otherwise propped the exit free without issue. She stopped and craned her eyes towards the brunette, those oceans churning for lost sailor in such a way that made Akko’s land-locked legs tremble. “Tonight I hear there is going to be a fantastic full moon. I do recommend keeping an eye on the sky before bed.”

“Umm... okay?” Akko cheeped. She lapped the words over inside her head. The only thing that was immediately obvious was that Diana was still playing at their little roundabout conversation game from earlier, but this particular innuendo didn’t quite hit where it needed for her.

Before a follow up question could be asked Diana was out the door and into the rapidly approaching night, just as ghostly as she had arrived.

Lotte, however, was far clumsier in her movements, and stumbled into the shop, fresh book in hand.

“Oh, Lotte, welcome back!” Amanda cheered, slinging her arm over the bookworm’s shoulder. “You’ll never believe it; Akko made a friend with a rich chick and never told us!”

 “R-really?” Lotte jolted at the American’s touch, putting her book down on the counter to keep it unharmed. Only now did Akko notice the dusting of pink on the ginger’s cheeks, most likely from the cold, especially with the way she fidgeted. The brunette would have questioned her health had she not stepped away from Amanda to address the other employee, “Sucy, have mom and dad come home from the second shop yet?”

“No, they should be back soon though. At least they better be, I’m leaving when my shift is over regardless,” Sucy sighed.

“But yeah, this really good lookin’ blonde, just walked out the door while you were coming in! Apparently Akko did some on-the-spot repair work for her carriage and now she has an in!” the redhead laughed.

Akko clenched her fist and bit back the roiling fluids crawling up her throat. The lie, as convincing as it was, only added more disparity between herself and her friends; she didn’t know how much more her stomach could take before anxiety either prevented her from eating or made any attempt moot five minutes after the fact.

“Amanda, we’re not really friends,” the brunette growled, “It was just the right place and the right time. I didn’t even think I’d ever see her again after that...”

“Well, I’m not surprised you thought that. Not many people see the Cavendishes in town...” Lotte crooned.

Both Akko and Amanda blinked.

“Who?” they asked, almost in parallel.

Lottel nodded, “That was Diana Cavendish, one of the Barons in this province. They’re a bunch of recluses so it’s weird to see them out and about. I’ve only seen her once or twice because Finnelan’s their bookbinder...”

“Ehhh....” Akko wheezed, “...EHHHHHHHHH?!”

Amanda slapped her on the back, “Way ta go Akko! The girl’s got deeper pockets than I thought!”

“I... but... no, you don’t, she’s....” the performer sputtered. She gripped her forehead and groaned, letting it fall to the countertop, “None of this is making any sense...”

“Ah, don’t worry over it,” Amanda slapped her again. She jumped back from the wooden barrier and waltzed back to the door to the kitchen. “Next time you see her, though, don’t be afraid to squeeze some of that sweet baron cash out of her, yeah?”

Lotte slid her way past as well, following after Amanda, “It’s nice you made a new friend Akko. ‘Scuse me though.”

Akko grunted and let her by, leaving her alone with Sucy. The heather girl looked between the door and the Asian girl before scooting next to her and leaning down close, eyes glued to the front of the shop.

“I have to say, I’m impressed; I didn’t think the first one you’d snag would be a princess like her. And she seemed really eager to see you tonight to boot. Maybe you can make it a regular thing so you don’t have to do it for anyone else.”

Each word hammered into Akko’s head until the recoil had bounced her into a standing position.

“...Wh-h-hat are you talking about Sucy...?” she mumbled.

Sucy just shrugged, “If you want to deny it for your pride, you can, but we’re all friends here Akko; we won’t think less of you for the truth. Just try not to get hurt, will you?”

The clock on the wall ticked six and a small bird flew from its belfry, signaling the change of hour.

“Well, there’s my shift. I need to go home and make sure my brew didn’t boil over,” Sucy buzzed, throwing her apron to the counter. “Tell Lotte to close shop for me.”

Akko watched her go, all questions and retorts dying on her tongue.

Sucy knew? SUCY KNEW?!

O/o\O

“So that’s what you meant...” Akko goggled.

“Yes, this is what I meant,” Diana replied, her voice distorted both by glass and strain.

After the (incredibly alarming and anxiety inducing) revelation that Sucy knew about Akko’s moonlit profession (well... probably about as much could be assumed, considering Akko’s current track record), the brunette had forged her way home, the shawl she’d chosen to wear that day too thin against the chill of the night for her tastes. It was amazing how being in her performance gear, a dress far skimpier and less protective, kept her warm even better than a shawl designed to do exactly that. That was ignoring that much of that heat came from the rush of the art, from the acclaim of the (admittedly meager) stage, but the irony was too amusing in it and of itself.

All that said, the night was a rather tame one, with a quiet, somewhat awkward dinner with her family (a normalcy from this point forward she assumes) and then some light reading before bed. It was when she was finishing an adventure novella, one of her favorites from her childhood, when Diana’s advice from earlier popped out from her mind and prompted her to stand to look out the window. Like the blonde had said, the full moon was out in force, dominating the skies above the town with a spectacular shine.

And it was there where Akko also noticed the figure perched on the flagpole below her window. It took her a minute to actually register exactly what (rather, who) she was looking at. And this was where their conversation had begun.

“...And you couldn’t just come to the front door because...?” Akko asked, opening the panes.

“It would be undignified. The last time I visited was on a spur of the moment decision and thus I had not clearly thought such an action through. As a result I’m sure we both suffered some form of embarrassment,” the blonde coughed.

“So... the window?”

“The window.”

The two shared a moment of understanding, the wind whipping past them and sheering at Akko’s cheeks.

“W-well? Aren’t you going to invite me in?” Diana asked, tightening her cloak around herself.

Akko’s brow creased, “Do... Do I need to?”

Pink ran along Diana’s cheeks, “While some of the... proclivities of my relatives are certainly false or misleading... others are quite accurate...” The smile she gave was rueful, almost pained, “Were I to enter your home uninvited I would feel ill at ease for the remainder of the evening, and seeing as that’s most of my time awake...”

Akko snorted, smiling genuinely for maybe the first time around Diana, “You know you’re not too bad at being funny. Maybe not ‘haha’ funny, but ‘fun’ funny. Maybe I should add you to my act?” The musings were met with a grumbling when another frozen gust whizzed by. Akko rolled her eyes, “Yes, yes, please Miss Cavendish, come inside where it’s warm.”

Diana sighed and deftly stepped along the flagpole, springing into the room as quietly as a cat and with just as much grace. That much was enough to wipe the smile from Akko’s face and remind her that she wasn’t dealing with a human here. She was dealing with someone, no, something more sinister, something from the shadows, and it reminded her of what this woman was most likely here to do. The levity left her in almost an instant, replaced by a crippling suffocation in her bosom.

“So, you’ve learned my last name, have you? I suppose that was inevitable given our run-in at the shop. I should figure one of your friends may know me,” she scoffed, throwing the hood off now that she was inside.

“Y-yeah,” Akko choked. “Y-y-you’re not going to hurt any of them, right?”

Diana paused as she unclipped her cloak, looking at Akko with a confused tweak to her eyes, “I have no intentions to hurt anyone... Did I somehow threaten them?”

“N-no, no, that’s... It’s just... I thought maybe you might be mad about being recognized,” Akko, sputtered, rubbing the back of her head. “You’ve got this whole... vampire thing going on, and considering you’re like royalty and there might be more of you  that don’t want to be known and... Uh... yeah...”

That earned an amused huff. The cloak was hung on the chair behind Akko’s desk, revealing a finely tailored dress jacket and well hemmed slacks; dashing, almost princely which mesmerized the brunette’s eyes as Diana began to speak, “Firstly, I am not royalty; I am a Baroness. Its nobility, not royalty and that is an important distinction for you to learn. Secondly, I abhor violence and avoid it at every possible step, reserving it only for necessity. And thirdly, if you have been avid in keeping your promise, I should have no problems with my secret escaping us...” The last sentence trailed and the ponds lasered in on Akko’s hot coals, cooling them to ice in a second, “Unless for some reason you feel the third prong has been poorly upheld...”

Akko gulped and shook her head, “N-no, I... Everything’s good. I’ve kept it tight... People just think that we’re... y’know...” She bit down on her molars, shifting quickly to the inside of her cheek as she leaned on another leg, “S-so... Did you come here again to... uh...”

“Feed?” Diana asked, brow quirking. “Indeed I did. I have brought comparable compensation to our prior exchange, if that pleases you.”

“Mhhmm..” Akko nodded, pinching her lips together. “Sh-should I sit down again?”

“Yes, that would be safest,” Diana agreed. Akko’s heart rate skyrocketed as those manicured hands landed on her shoulders and eased her to the bed. This was almost more intimate than last time; Diana was no longer some stranger with a name. Those little tidbits she’d picked up from the other woman were beginning to build atop a welling familiarity she intrinsically felt the moment they locked eyes to make the candle light and furnace heat more stifling and... arousing.

Akko swallowed when her hide touched the mattress. A beat passed before that warm breath skimmed her skin for the second time, her spine jolting just as it had the last time. And then came those four solid pikes pressing down gently on that pulse point, the one still sore from the last feed, the adrenaline strolling through her outlining those precariously leveled prongs. After another hot breath the world flashed white, her hand scrabbling to Diana’s back, clenching into the blonde’s uniform as holes were ripped open in her skin. The pain lingered for a short while, but soon enough a release bubbled up her chest and towards her throat, burbling over at the cradle where a hot, sticky muscle pulled and swashed over each hole, where eager lips rubbed into the skin and the flow of vital fluids was turned into a geyser of life.

Her eyes began to glaze and her breath hitched as the punctures in her neck tingled, mixing with... something almost magical, allowing all the viles of her body to escape in one glorious spot. Akko curled her toes and tightened her grasp, feeling the same done to her as Diana pulled her closer. The lips encircling her collar latched like a lamprey but felt as gentle as a feather, each miniscule bump and rivulet massaging Akko's twitching skin. Her legs reflexively clenched as Diana's hot breath escaped onto her neck in some small measure, her nightgown growing uncomfortably warm as the vampire pressed herself even closer. Akko's crown felt lighter and her eyes began to flicker, those beautiful golden locks obscuring her vision blurring into the most beautiful rays of sunshine she'd ever seen.

Then, all at once, the blood stopped flowing and Akko's vision began to crystallize, albeit quite slowly. There were a number of gentle scrapes against the punctures, the steamy syrup from Diana's tongue filling the openings and leaving her damp shoulder exposed to the open air. A numbness carried down her arm, mostly to her pinky, and she had to frantically warble her lips to prevent a globule of drool from escaping.

Diana leaned back and used a crimson handkerchief to dab her lips. The last time this happened her face had been a cavalcade of emotions, making it easy for Akko to know that the vampire had been just as surprised (and maybe more) as she was by the raw power of their encounter. Now, though, Diana's face was completely schooled, as stoic and cold as a free cobblestone on Traum Pfad. There was some fog misting over the blonde woman's eyes, but it was impossible to tell if it was a natural effect of feeding on blood or if there was something more complicated to it along the lines of what Akko was feeling, because boy did she feel something after that!

"Th-that was sh-sh-shorter than-an last time..." Akko shuddered. Something about those lips on her shoulder left her words fluttery and disjointed and she cursed every face-burning second of it.

Diana's brow arched, the world's softest inchworm that Akko had to resist reaching out to pet, "I'm surprised you noticed. You are correct, though. Our first... exchange, let's call them, was an unusual circumstance, hence my more flustered state afterwards. This is more in line with what a standard feed for me is like."

"O-oh," Akko jittered, gently sliding her nightgown's disheveled sleeve back up to her shoulder.

"You sound disappointed? If you're concerned about payment, then know I do not intend to lower the compensation you are owed..."

"It's not... It's not that... I'm just still coming down from... whatever you do to me when you bite me..." the brunette forced a wry smile, "The head rush is kinda overwhelming."

Diana nodded, her eyes and lips widening just a touch, "I... see. I suppose I can't say I empathize; I've never had the pleasure? I find it strange since from my knowledge being fed upon is frowned upon... I always assumed it was an unpleasurable experience but I admit I never gave it much consideration..."

"So am I special or something...?" Akko asked, scratching her head. Immediately she regretted her choice of words, "N-not that I'm saying I am special, just that if it's not supposed to feel nice it k-kinda does and I kinda feel like anyone w-would jump at the chance to d-do that for you. I'm s-sure there are plenty of nicer girls out there you coul-ld hav-."

"Akko, you're rambling."

Immediately the Japanese girl shut her mouth, covering it with both hands for extra insurance that not a single sound would escape. All the while Diana watched, that visage of hers so damnably calm and confident; Akko swore she saw an upturn to those fresh, rosy lips! How dare she be amused by Akko's embarrassment!

She took in a breath and let it out, dropping her hands.

"Wh-what I'm trying to ask is... Why me?”

And that stony demeanor faltered, each wingtip of her lips curving down and her eyes narrowing to a glare, though one not directed at Akko. The vampire paused, long enough for Akko to start worrying. Just as she was about to dismiss the question, the stoic woman finally spoke.

“...You remind me of someone I once knew," Diana breathed. "I could not, in good conscience, not extend you the same dignity I would have extended them. It would have felt as untoward as it would invading someone's house unbeckoned."

"And... doing this to me is... better...?" Akko shrunk back. She tried not to let it escape but some malice crawled free from her lips. Truth be told though there was some bewilderment over the... surprising pleasure from their first time, there was more than a healthy amount of fear that lingered; first the fear of death and almost immediately after the fear of much the opposite. Mixing in with those blissfully confused moments in Diana's arms were genuine spikes of terror that had yet to be forgiven.

Diana's face remained schooled, her eyes closing, a mark of defiance if the lift in her chin was anything to go by, "I saw myself in a troublesome predicament and you in much the same. It was a far more dignified alternative for yourself and alleviated a concern of mine. I would see that as more than amenable."

"Y-You... You... YOU SCARED ME HALF TO DEATH!" Akko exploded, shredding the tension webbed around them. "I thought I was going to end up dead or... or... like you!" she continued, her arms blurring as they flailed at the tattered air of unease, "That's how all the stories end! Or maybe I'd become a vegetable or something! You just said I'd be fine and left and I was so scared I'd wake up a cactus or something!"

At last the stoic façade was breached as Diana backpedaled, her eyes flickering wide, "A ca-!? I'll have you know that I have far more tact as a Cavendish and deception is beyond us!" She gave her back to Akko, a physical rebuff of the accusation, "Either we attain what we want through diplomacy or force of personality. No other option is suitable for our status!" Diana's scowl was completed with the bite of her lip, single sharp incisor glinting in the candlelight, "And a cactus? Truly? Ludicrous..."

"Look, I don't know what you just said, but it sounded like you were calling me crazy, and I'll tell you that it's not crazy when a vampire comes out of nowhere and starts drinking your blood!" she snapped back. "Normal people don't mess with vampires! I heard all kind of horror stories about them and all the other kinds of monsters coming here through England, what am I supposed to think!"

Diana's face locked up, "M-monsters?! You're calling me a monster?!"

Akko's chest squeezed as those blue irises bore through her, the harsh bite causing her muscles to freeze.

Diana's lip twitched. Then, with a fluent twist she snagged her cloak and brushed open the window open, the icy winds knives against Akko's skin. "Well I'm sorry if my presence is that distressing. I had thought I found a mutual benefactor but I see now my observation was uncharacteristically flawed," she snarled, pulling a coin bag from her cloak. It was discarded to Akko's desk where it sagged quite comfortably under its own weight, "Here, I hope this is enough to compensate for our dealings. I shall refrain from contacting you in the future."

The blonde leapt onto the window sill, her cloak fluttering in the wind. The moon outside was framed by golden locks and the lithe, majestic curves of Diana's body were perfectly silhouetted in return. Akko's muscles chose that moment to work and she had just enough time to lunge for Diana's cloak, wrapping her fingers in the plush, wooly material.

"D-Diana, wait, I'm sorry!" she sputtered. It looked for a moment as if Diana's footing faltered, but her stance ultimately remained resolute upon the ledge. However cold this shoulder was, Akko threw out a moment of thanks for the vampire not simply casting her away and vanishing. "Th-that came out wrong, I swear. You're not a monster!"

The baroness turned to leer at the shriveling Japanese girl, "And how exactly was it intended to 'come out'?"

Akko bit her lip and pulled the cloak to her forearms, shielding the exposed flesh from the winds digging into the room, "I... I-I meant that... I was scared... and I don't know a lot about you which made me even more scared. You didn't give me any warning that first time and I didn't know anything about it... Heck, I still don't know much about it, b-but my point is that... when I didn't see it coming I was terrified."

A thin cloud drifted from Diana's mouth as she sighed, "I... suppose a proper apology should be given." She drifted forward and slipped back into the room, shutting the window. Her arms crossed she squeezed herself, the corner of her lips tucked under her upper row of teeth, "The truth is that I'm not so used to doing this on... amicable terms. As a side effect I suppose I lost my manners. I'm... sorry, Akko, for scaring you..."

"It... it's okay. That's all I really needed to hear..." Akko muttered, scratching her neck. The not so sore part of her neck. "I'm sorry for snapping at you..."

"I suppose I can't blame you for it. I imagine this whole affair is just as much a whirlwind for you as it is for myself..." Diana nodded. "I... would rather like to continue this engagement, if you were open to it. Knowing though that you didn't enjoy it, however, do not feel any obliga-."

Akko felt the fire in her cheeks steam away what little cold lingered in the window's wake. "I... I didn't say I didn't enjoy it..." she squeaked, looking away, "I just said you scared me the first time. I... I'm still up for it if you are..."

Flashes of that intimacy, those needles dragging across her skin, that tongue on her collar-. She could feel Diana's eyes tracking her but dared not look at them for fear of her thoughts being betrayed.

A soft knocking interrupted them, jolting them both alert.

"Atsuko, is everything alright...?"

Akko's eye twitched in time with the creaking door, her face becoming the very picture of marble. She and Diana craned their necks towards the intruder, finding her father's ghostly shape in the doorframe.

"Oh... you... have a visitor..." Dad mumbled.

Words traveled to Akko's lips, all from her native tongue, "D-D-Dad?! You're home, like, super early!"

"I didn't take the extra hours tonight, to spend time with your mother..." he replied, matching her language. Akko winced silently at every implication; that he didn't need to push himself to get more money, that she was the reason they were suddenly better off, that he was probably coming home to her mother to have se-. She shut down her brain on that train of thought before it could derail. Thankfully (...thankfully?) her father kept talking, "Who is this? Is this...?"

"Uhh... yeah... ummm, Dad... This is the... person mom and I mentioned..." she chuckled, switching back to German for Diana's sake. She sent a sideways glance to the blonde, doing everything she could to convey 'Hey, I told my family I'm your prostitute, please play along!'. This wasn’t lost on her father whose eyes became drawn and his cheeks gradually enflamed. Maybe she bit off more than she could chew with trying to convey that silently. She would have to find a way to pare that down later. For now she'd just have to hope Diana was quick on her feet.

Which, it appeared she was, because in a flash she had crossed the room and was now giving her father a very firm handshake.

"It's wonderful to meet you, Mister Kagari, you have a delightful daughter."

Akko locked still just before her jaw rocketed through the floor. It was rare for her father to be caught off guard, but just like that the rage mounting in his features was outstripped by something else entirely; confusion. She'd lost count of how often she had been called bold, but Diana had just blown past every measure that Akko had ever achieved. Well, okay, Akko still had the baby goat incident that probably topped it, but her point still stood!

"Ah... Th-thank you. Atsuko has always been very... err... excitable, so it's not very often we get to hear that, even with how true it is..." he nodded.

Akko rocked forward, "Wait, why do I feel insulted?!"

"Yes, I can see how that might be the case," Diana agreed.

"Hey!"

Dad rolled his shoulder, awkwardly glancing at the brass hinges tethering the door to its frame, "Uh, though I appreciate your compliments to my daughter, I have an understanding as to your... dealings with her, and I'm afraid, that despite those words in her favor I am compelled by decency's standards to ask you to leave... and to never speak with her again, lest more damage be done."

Akko's heart leapt to strangle itself with her lungs. Even putting on his most respectful tone her father refused to pull punches.

"But D-Dad... the money..." the mewl was weak and was squelched by the intensity building between her father and her... friend...? Love-? N-no, not that... Boss?

"I see, and I respect your position as her father," Diana nodded, straightening her posture, "but I must plead your ear on this matter." Her feet carried her towards the window, embracing the full effect of the nightly silhouette that had so enamored Akko not minutes ago, and for a brief moment that same brunette wondered how much of Diana's staging was intentional. "You see there is a... condition which I am afflicted with, and your daughter has proven to be the only salve," she rested the pads of her gloves over the glass. "Such arrangements are unbecoming of my station so discretion is as much in my favor as yours, and Akk-... Atsuko here has lived up to that discretion. That is a rare quality, and even rarer that it is the one person who I feel can help me find a meaningful solution to this problem."

Dad shook his head, Akko wincing with every stroke, "I'm sorry to hear you're having problems, but the purity of my daughter's soul is paramount." He shot Akko a sideways stare, "Having her tainted in any way scares me more than anything. Especially when the taint is compounded by... other factors."

"I'm an adult, Dad," Akko stomped, "I can make my own choices!"

"Under my roof, those decisions reflect your mother and myself, and I have every right to object to them!" he snapped. Akko withered; despite how tame his demeanor was, it was all an act, meant to keep the argument civil. He was furious right now and that terrified her.

"There is no need to raise voices," Diana trilled, raising a peaceable arm. Frozen skies needled at him, "I will ask one more time, as Baroness Cavendish of the territory of Rosenheim, are you absolutely sure your daughter's purity comes before the desires of your lordship?"

"...Baroness...?"

Dania nodded, "I wished not to reveal my full identity, but I am to stress the importance of Akko's service to me. Believe me when I say her compensation shall always be fair and her dedication to the nobility will be remembered fondly."

"I... see..." he choked out.  "Is... is this 'condition' really so serious...?"

"Incalculable," Diana smiled.

Dad's jaw locked and unlocked, his teeth gridning against each other. He grunted, "If that is the case..." The minute she heard him sigh her chest unclenched, "Please, just... Don't hurt my little girl, Miss Cavendish."

"For the peace of mind she has given me I could never imagine doing so..." the blonde curtsied.

Dad spared two or so more glances between them and hung his head, pulling himself from the room, "P-please... Have a good night, Miss Cavendish. And Atsuko... we can talk more in the morning. Sleep well..."

And the door was closed, leaving them both alone once more.

Akko watched with awe as Diana slumped, the energy visibly leaving her body. The blonde gripped her forehead and let a low growl escape, "...He most likely thinks me a nymphomaniac now... Oh sweet mother how I have abused our name..."

"So..." the brunette started, "that was a worst case scenario I thought I'd never see..." Akko stared over at her companion, "...How did we both come out of that alive?"

Diana recovered, throwing a lock of hair over her shoulder and mounting a confident smile. That look, that proud upturn to her lips and the keen glimmer in her eyes, made Akko's stomach do a back flip, a reaction so distracting it took her a moment to realize the other woman was talking, "Conducting intimate business may not be my strong suit, but traditional business and diplomacy are where I excel."

"You aren't kidding!" Akko gaped, her jaw unlatched in equally unrestrained awe. "I guess being a baroness really comes in handy!"

It was strange. It had been meant as a compliment but Diana didn't seem to take it all too well. In fact she seemed kinda... uncomfortable, lapping her arms over one another like she had at the tail end of their fight.

"...Among other things..." the blonde added, an index finger noiselessly pulling at her elbow. “It’s not in my nature to… push my station quite like I just did…”

Akko said nothing in return, leaving the two in a simmering silence. She just...watched for a minute, tracing the contours of Diana's face, each zip of her eyes tapping fruitlessly at that hardened skin.

"So, I suppose my business is concluded here," Diana finally spoke, sobering the mood to a more tolerable anxiety.

"Uhhh, uhh yeah, I... I guess..." Akko coughed.

However Diana did not move, cradling her arm as she had before.

She spoke, "And you are not opposed to continuing this?"

"...No problems whatsoever!" Akko nodded, more enthusiasm seeping in with each bound of her head.

The baroness exhaled, that sweet, tiny smile gracing her features if only for a moment, "Good, good. I suppose a more regular arrangement would be preferred? Would every fortnight, on this day of the week, around this hour, be agreeable?"

"Y-yeah," the brunette smiled back. As her mind scanned to that date to make sure it was clear she felt some kind of giddy fire welling in her stomach. Or maybe it was her intestines. Her kidneys? It didn't matter; the thought of seeing Diana again was making her sick in a way so strange she couldn't quite put it to words.

"Excellent," Diana took a few strides towards the window, but stopped. "Ah... I suppose him walking in on us renders the window a moot exit..."

"Oh, yeah, probably..." Akko chuckled.

The blonde... well, 'floundered' was an extreme term for Diana's refined posture, but it was the closest word Akko could think of as the woman's attention flipped between both potential exits.

"Um... Well, if you wanted to be cool and mysterious, the window is kinda obvious..." Akko shrugged.

"That's a very childish way to look at it," Diana replied, eyes digging into the brunette. "Were it not necessity I'd have come through a more acceptable venue."

"Well, duh, but life's so much more fun if you can be childish from time to time!" Akko bounced.

Her elation sank, though, when Diana's gaze did not falter. The woman snapped her chin away and made decided movements towards the door, "I hazarded the embarrassment once, I can do so again, especially after having established myself."

Akko puffed her cheeks, "Well, I certainly think it'd be cooler..."

Honestly, for being a vampire this woman had absolutely no flair!

O/o\O

Ink stained the page, the onyx liquid smoothed and scraped into purposeful shape by the quill's refined tip. Seeping was minimal as each stroke was quick and light, applying just enough to define a mark but not enough to sop the parchment. Words curled and swirled in shapes carved from memory, rehearsed like a ballerina or some other dancer. Perhaps even a different type of performer, one bound with unfathomable energy that was barely curtailed by an unrefined grace.

Diana resisted a grin. Something was pleasant about the act of writing, watching as your thoughts were seamlessly planted from mind to page; it was arguably one of the few pleasures she could take in her duties as baroness.

A knock at the door pulled her from her work. She lifted her head towards the polished fir barrier.

"Enter," she called. Three heads popped into her study, topped by black, bronze and charcoal. Two belonged to rather lithe women and the third an obnoxiously tall, lean man; Hannah, Barbara, and Andrew. The trio were, for lack of a better term, old friends of Diana's, the progenies of three other Vampire families that had crossed the channel with the Cavendish clan during the vitriolic turn of tides in England. A number of other vampire tribes had banded together during the exodus for the sake of safety, but the England, Parker and Hanbridge families in particular kept close ties, either through trade (the girls) or through blood relation (Andrew). The friendships this fostered were something of a necessity for socializing into proper society, but she had never found the interaction quite as fulfilling as the other three did. Or perhaps other two; Andrew had never seemed quite as enthused with the idea of friendship as Hannah and Barbara. Maybe in him Diana had a kindred spirit.

"Diana," Hannah called, stomping towards the desk, "You're coming out with us tonight!"

The blonde blinked, "Did... Did we make plans...?" She pushed a small stack of forms off the calendar on her desk, "I'm sorry, I did not mean to forget I-."

"You didn't forget, Diana," Andrew sighed, "We're being kidnapped. A veritable shanghai."

"Hey, don't say it like that," Hannah balked. She looked back at Diana and motioned to the wide array of contracts and deliberations flooding the desk, "You and Andrew have been all so caught up in those new trade deals you haven't had time to hang out with us!"

She paid no mind to Andrew approaching and leafing through a number of different stacks of paper; the trade deal was a joint venture between the Cavendishes and the Hanbridges to expand trade routes passing through the alps with several noble families in Italy. There was nothing sensitive between herself and her cousin.

"...It has been several weeks..." Diana admitted, submerging an urge to bite her lip, "But as Andrew can attest, these deals are very intricate. They require a hefty amount of scrutiny and thus my time has been unfortunately monopolized..."

"That isn't healthy Diana!" Barbara chimed in, "This is exactly what happened to my uncle before he went crazy!"

"...Uh, Barb, his country was being invaded, this isn't exactly the same..." Hannah interrupted.

Barbara stomped, "D'oh, you know what I'm getting at Hannah! After that he started kidnapping girls and that Dutch guy popped up and killed him! I don't want that to happen to Diana!"

"I... I have no plans to seduce a harem..." Diana twitched.

"And you're the one's kidnapping us..." Andrew added.

"It's not kidnapping, and you're not a girl," Hannah shot back.

Barbara slammed her hands on the table, her long inky locks flittering through the air like Diana's scrawl made live, "That-! You-! You know what I mean! Me and Hannah were worried about you (and Andrew... a little)!"

Diana looked between them and gripped her forehead, "I appreciate your concern, earnestly, but I have much more to get done regarding these deals. I cannot waste my time on frivolous nights out... with... you..."

By the time she had started trailing her words she knew she had already messed up. Hannah's eyes were split with shock and Barbara's were on the verge of tears. Even Andrew seemed unsettled, his posture skewing to a slant on his left leg for the briefest of moments. Individually the three would leave her unphased, but combined they rivaled the most powerful point she had ever been on the receiving end of.

"I..." Diana shuddered, "I may see your point..." It didn't quite have the desired effect, but the two girls seemed to soften their dreary façades. "All the same, though, there is quite a lot more to be done..."

"That's not entirely accurate," Andrew noted, thumbing over two different stacks of paper. "You've eclipsed my father and I in our paperwork; if I'm reading this correctly your end of the trade agreement is weeks ahead of our own and neither of our families can go forward without the other... This would seem like an apt time to take a break..."

The blonde let her eyebrow perk, "I thought you too were against these escapades?"

"I was until I saw how alarming your behavior truly is. In all honesty I was only humoring these two until you'd done so," he explained.

She sighed and pushed off from her desk, setting aside the page she was penning, "I suppose there's no choice but to concede; fine, let us spend the night together." She gave a skeptical stare to Hannah, their normal organizer, "I do hope you have suitably entertaining plans for us."

Hannah nodded, "While it's not exactly something I entirely enjoy alone, word along the grapevine says that there's quite a show we've been missing out on. I think going together might disperse some of the more childish aspects of attending..."

Childish? Just what did Hannah have in mind?

"Well, with your confidence in the evening assured, I'll go and dress myself for a night out," Diana nodded.

"You two go ahead," Andrew smiled, "there are some small matters I need to attend to with Diana before we depart. We'll congregate in the foyer."

The girls cheered, waving themselves out the study door, leaving the duo isolated. After a second passed, drawn out to ensure true isolation from the girls, Andrew spoke.

"You're trying to distract yourself," he stated, reclasping one of his cuffs.

Diana scowled. It was rare for Andrew to speak so sharply and it was only done when he was confident in his points. To challenge him on the matter would be like prying teeth, even if she herself was confident he was wrong. Instead, she decided to briefly relent his point and change the conversation's angle.

"I've recently found myself with a healthy sum of excess energy," she replied, "Using it productively has become a priority."

"Don't avoid the topic," Andrew hissed. Diana grit her teeth and let a small 'tsch' stretch into the room. He was adamant, wasn't he? "First during the move from England, then with your Mother; you're trying to avoid something."

"I don't see how it is any business of yours," Diana snapped. Chocolate flashed at her memory and cinnamon ghosting the edges of her nostrils, fostering a silent damnation, of Andrew, of her thoughts, of that insufferable little-.

Andrew gripped her hand, tight, "Evidently, it is." His eyelids tightened in time with his fingers, "We may live long beyond normal humans, Diana, but that doesn't mean you can't drive yourself towards an earlier grave."

It took an inhuman amount of self restraint not to immediately cast his hand aside. His fingers were longer than she recalled, softer with bonier arches. No, no wait; it wasn't Andrew's grip she was recalling. Defeated, she slumped her shoulders and returned the small gesture, raking his palm closer to her own. These little moments of skinship were rare and it would behoove her to wring what she could from it.

"I fear you are too observant for your own good..." she relented.  "Lately I have been... preoccupied with matters that escape my understanding...?" Diana leaned back and reclaimed her hand, folding it alongside it's sibling among her lap, "No, no, I feel that is inaccurate. Comprehension? Judgement?" She felt her lips quirk in an unfamiliar way as a more wry spirit possessed her words, "As you can see even quantifying the issue is quite a chore."

"It takes quite an event to deviate your thoughts, so I had hazarded that would be the case. I understand if you wished not to make me privy to the details, but if you're looking for advice it would make both our burdens that much lighter," he explained, resting his thigh to the desk.

Diana craned her neck at the ceiling. She bent into a stretch and curled down to open one of the drawers of her desk. She pulled a small wrought tome and passed it to her cousin, "Are you familiar with the concept of soul donors?"

"Distantly," he replied, flicking through the few marked pages.

Diana watched, eyes meticulously tracking which tab he was on and reciting from memory the texts that line each leaf, "I've had quite some trouble finding a scientific explanation to the phenomenon, and I believe it is my best lead. In this I trust some compromising information to you. Effectively I have become unable to feed from anyone but a few select individuals."

His brows knit, "You've been cursed."

She smiled, "By the very nature of my birth, unfortunately."

"So you are taxed to find a donor?" he asked. She could see that sharpness to his eyes, the same steel glint shared by his father whenever there were deals to be made. "I know not what resources you need, but consider myself at your disposal to find one. To starve is a most pai-."

"Death escapes me yet, Andrew. I have a donor, a willing one at that," she cooed.  His shoulders slumped with relief. Her mood shrunk, "No, my dilemma stems from some of the theorized complications of such a connection. Page 137, fourth paragraph." Her finger flicked to the leather volume and he quickly rifled his way there.

And almost immediately he shut the book, abandoning it quickly to the table.

"I... I see," he coughed, his boney cheeks flaring red.

"To see is not to understand, sadly," she frowned.

Andrew nodded, "Indeed. So, this gentleman-."

"Gentlewoman."

The man blinked.

"Gentlewoman... you are conflicted about...?"

Diana gripped her forehead, "And thus I reach the stem of my problems; I know not what about this arrangement unnerves me, but I know it is a compelling force and with each visitation my desire to do... something, not even something untoward, increases tenfold..."

"And you feel that throwing yourself into your work is the only way to drown such impulses?" he asked, bringing the conversation back on topic with all of the grace of a rapier piercing flesh.

"I was not lying when mentioning that excess energy..." the Baroness winced, "Were I not the act of inhibition would be... herculean in the best of terms..."

"I see... How long has this arrangement been maintained?"

"Since the latter half of fall, about two and a half months now..." Diana steepled her fingers, "However, I believe that is all I am comfortable speaking of. I have been researching the matter thoroughly and while I do appreciate the concern you are proving yourself... intrusive."

Andrews lips parted, the drying skin popping as it peeled free of itself, "I... suppose I have been." His shoulder sagged only an inch yet it was more than enough for Diana to know she was in the clear, "Just know that the three of us are worried and are readily available to help if need be... Though I'm sure it might take a little more discussion with the girls. I think they’ll need to be acclimated to your… preferences."

Perhaps she wasn't quite as clear as she thought.

Diana felt the hair on her neck stand and blood rush to her cheeks, "Andrew Hanbridge, do not imply such sultry things! I am cursed to these feelings, nothing more, nothing less!"

Andrew chuckled and leaned back from the desk, "I'll respectfully disagree and posit an observation that you and those two are more alike than either of you would like to admit."

"What are you insinuating?!" Diana balked.

"I insinuate nothing," he smiled, "Aside from the observation that we've been chatting for ten minutes and leaving those poor girls to rot while you still need to get changed."

Diana choked, glancing at the clock to confirm what he said. She sent him a glare and stomped from her desk to the door, leaving him to reconvene with the girls. Dozens of petty revenge plots floated in her mind, from intentional faux pas to returning fire with scandalous accusations of her own.

But what he said...

She gripped her chest as she collected a proper outfit for a nightly jaunt. These feelings were completely foreign, intoxicating. She had never been a fan of romance, especially with the allure of supposed lore built up around her kind in the minds of humans. Was it possible that she was genuinely falling for Akko? She had no reference, no experience; everything with the brunette was infuriatingly new and uncomfortable and the fact it made Diana's chest shudder so pleasurably and awaken an unsung warmth in her abdomen did everything to drive her to the point of madness.

Or perhaps beyond it, as even thinking about the girl made her somewhat lightheaded.

Focus, she told herself. Right now was time to focus on friends and festivities. She would go out, spend an enjoyable evening with her friends (and Andrew), and she could leave this conundrum for another time.

In short order she made herself presentable and donned her cloak, swashing out into her foyer with her normal composed grace (though with an added touch of flair that had wormed itself into her muse). After a brief deliberation the four departed, taking a carriage drawn by one of Andrew's innumerable servants. Entering town was an hour-long ordeal and traveling there was uncomfortable as the sun began to set only minutes before their leave. The light of the daystar wasn't as fatal to vampires as popular belief let on, but that didn't mean it wasn't a hazard. Careless figments exposing themselves to too much, especially at peak hours, often became ill and could often become plagued by any number of other ailments due to a lapse in their preternatural immunities. Short exposures, meanwhile, were second of note and were often compared by former humans as an equivalent to the chill of night suffered by the living.

Diana found it a shame; the sun, from what she could glance of it in those rare twilit hours and from the inane number of paintings featuring it, was gorgeous. She was left wanting to bathe in its radiance without fear of sickness and rashes breaking out across her skin. The scant slivers that filtered in through the shutters of the carriage made her ache for its caress, much like soft fingers along her chin she would imagine.

But alas the sun was not long for this world and the telltale shades of night descended on the cabin shortly before they arrived in town.

"Oh, I'm so happy to have everyone together tonight! It feels like ages since we've done this!" Hannah stretched, her feet bouncing on the pavement. Barbara was right beside her, nodding in agreement, a hardcover book tightened between her crossed arms. The copper girl spied the volume and frowned, "Barb, I thought I told you to leave that at home!"

"S-Sorry, but I just got to a great part with Ella and Edgar doi-!"

"No! No excuses! We discussed this, it’s 'relax with Diana and the grouch time!'"

"I'm right here, you know..." Andrew sighed, tapping his foot. He shook his head and gave his servant instructions to be at the ready for departure in a few hours, providing funding for a temporary stable and some feed for the horses.

Watching the whole exchange Diana smiled. There was an energy here that she found familiar but didn't quite remember. For some reason the images of the three had been rather stiff in her mind, but now they felt so animated, so enthused...

Perhaps this little jaunt into town was for the best after all.

The quarrel continued as the nobles descended deeper into the recesses of the town, with Hannah ultimately winning out and taking the book from Barbara in order to force the bookworm to socialize normally. It took them another half hour to reach wherever it was Hannah was taking them, and halfway through that trek alarm flags started cropping up. Like how the buildings and pathway were eerily familiar, or how the activity they were bound for didn't have a consistent staging ground. Even the date became suspect, as she remembered the one person who would be performing this late at night.

When they finally found Hannah's roving performers, Diana decided to amend her observation; this jaunt into town was definitively not for the best.

"It's a magic show, just like the one we went to when we were kids!" Hannah laughed, spreading her arms to present the growing crowd. "I mean, it's nothing compared to what we can do, but I hear that they can almost convince you it’s real! I've been meaning to check it out so why not make it a group activity? I think watching humans blunder with magic would be a good laugh!"

"An inspired choice, certainly," Andrew drawled, "Especially considering the lack of seating..."

"Aww, you can stand for a few minutes lazybones!" Hannah teased.

Barbara clapped her hands together, "I think it was a splendid idea! What about you Diana?"

Diana trailed her eyes over the improvised stage, suddenly dreading the next hour. The coming performance would be brilliant, and she had to applaud her friend's ability to find quality entertainment, as crude as its construction might be. But these performances were something she had resolved to only ever witness on her own, where her own gasps and coos would fall among a stranger crowd. But now she would need to harden her features to prevent the embarrassing exposure of her guiltiest of pleasures.

"While I find such judgments questionable," Diana lied, "I cannot deny that I am intrigued. I hold no objections."

There, now she was locked in; no turning back, especially when she saw a perky brunette strut out to the center of the fold. It only took a few seconds for her eyes to latch onto those subtle curves and to feel that newly familiar warmth leak through her pours, blurring the conversation of her surrounding friends.

“See, that’s how you thank someone for taking you to a show, Andrew. Maybe one day that’ll come in handy when you finally find a bachelorette,” Hannah puffed out her chest.

“I have other priorities on my mind, there’s no need for such affairs,” Andrew scowled.

“Shush you two! It’s starting!” Barbra hissed.

Akko waved her hat in the air, its wide brim catching the eye of each and every attendee and even a number of passersby, “Hello one and all and welcome to the Shiny Tales; a show of magic and adventure, hopes and dreams, and all of the other wonderful things that make our lives a little less boring!” She smiled at a group of children, punctuating the last three words with a waggle of her finger, each shake showering the giggling gaggle with a cropped flurry of crackling sparks. Her hands flew to the air and she spun in place, jumping and clicking her heels in tandem across the stone, sending out a sharp clap across the street, “Tonight’s story follows the dangerous darings of Amanda, American Scourge of the Atlantic!”

The redhead debonair, Amanda, hopped on stage and took a bow, a sash around her waist and a cutlass neatly tucked inside it.

“The scoundrel has just made off with the daughter of the king of the land, the young and fair Lotte, and has stolen away to her vessel The Drudgedigger, hoping to escape the king’s guards!”

And with this prompt two more figures entered; the blonde book worm Lotte from the left, tripping up to Amanda and the pale girl shopkeeper Sucy from the right, wearing a ratty looking pointed hat and a dour frown.

“However the King has asked the aide of Lotte’s friend, Akko the Shiny Witch (that’s me!),” she winked, leaning forward as if letting the kids up front in on a well worn secret, “And her erstwh-erst- her trusty companion Sucy the potions maker to track the girl down!” Akko nodded to Amanda and the redhead swished, effortlessly scooping Lotte into her arms and jumping ‘off stage’. The remaining two took center stage, “We pick up with our heroes hot on the trail, embroiled in the forbidden Arcturus Forest, a shortcut to the ocean! So sit back, relax and enjoy!”

And with a rare composed twist to her hips, Akko twirled and rebuilt the fourth wall of the act, sinking into a wide-eyed caricature of herself without missing a beat.

Of course she'd seen this act before, half a dozen times now; she'd made it a point to watch Akko perform each night she would feed, though as another face in the crowd. The way the girl worked was too captivating to pass by and to know her friends were intrigued by the sight only made her (questionably present) spirit even lighter. Diana wondered if it was because Akko was already prone to those long bouts of rambunctious emotion, no doubt they played an inspiration in the role, but it was more a question of whether Akko merely was the caricature and this was her natural state.

But no, that wasn’t right. She’d seen Akko at her lowest point, or at least she had assumed as such when they met, seen those red eyes dulled brown, bloodshot and worn. Oh how desperately she wanted to just lunge forward through the crowd and snap her arms around the performer, to hold her so that she could maintain this glee forever, a glee that fit so well in a wrought cavern below the catacombs of Diana’s memories. The ache rang of tin.

There was something more as well, the plague that had languished over her the last few months and mixed in with that hollow ring like caramel and chocolate poured into a weathered bucket. Akko... her shoulders, her eyes, her... her rear!

Diana’s ears enflamed as the performer wiggled her hips in time with a childish incantation, the saliva all but evaporating from her tongue. It didn’t take any kind of deep, personal reflection to understand what this feeling was, even if she had never experienced it before. Was it always so overwhelming, enough to make her hands jitter and her knees shake? How many times had she used her mother’s lessons on luring in men to feed? Had all of her victims felt this way before she struck? Had any of them felt that way after she struck?!

It clicked into place how one tiny emotion could end up causing any number of the world’s problems simply by existing. This had only started happening after she befriended Akko, but each and every time she was reminded that she could feel so... aroused her mind flew right back to square one, as though it had never once graced her mind before, locking her in an almost perpetual standstill.

By the conclusion of the act Diana’s focus had almost been completely hijacked by Akko’s ever-moving hips, the urge to hold the girl almost completely overtaken by a far less virtuous urge altogether. She was thankful, then, when Akko called the story to a close. It was fairly easy to piece together the story as all of the Shiny Tales ran off a clear format, at least the bigger shows Akko and her troupe did. Amanda would kidnap Lotte, Akko and Sucy would be sent out to rescue her, and along the way Akko would run into a number of small situations where she’d get hurt for a laugh or Sucy would crack a joke at her expense (which, given Akko’s unmaskable surprise, were genuinely off the cuff), followed closely by an encounter with some imaginary beast that never actually appeared but was instead enough to scare the girls from off stage, using the girls’ reactions to sell the figment (which didn’t quite work more often than not, but the crowd didn’t normally seem to mind either). They’d recruit one of the kids further back in the crowd to come up and help them defeat it with some goofy phrase or other nonsense, playing into the kid’s performance the whole time through. All of this culminated in a confrontation with Amanda where it is always revealed she had a good, but misplaced heart, and Akko returns to the kingdom with all four in tow, chanting a phrase burned into the back of Diana’s eyelids.

“And remember folks! A believing heart is your magic!” Akko pranced, hopping up on one leg (which was almost criminal with how much that exposed) and waving the crowd a good night. To a row of applause the performance came to an end and the crowd began to shrink, a smattering of souls stepping forward to drop off a donation in the brunette’s upturned cap.

When she’d first met Akko the size of the performances had been smaller, but their scale took a noticeable uptick after their arrangement came to pass. Even then, it was fascinating how much Akko could achieve using only the bare minimum of materials, no genuine staging, and only a handful of compatriots. That resourceful attitude only made the glee on her face all that more... enjoyable? Rewarding...?

“That was... childish, but I suppose harmless as a time waster,” Andrew finally spoke up.

Barbara ribbed him, exposing a rare wry smile, “Aw, admit you had fun. I think it was adorable.”

The man rolled his eyes, “Adorable, childish; interchangeable in this instance, I suppose.”

“I heard that on these nights they do bigger shows,” Hannah smiled, rubbing her nose. No doubt the somewhat pleasant reception from Barbara and the minimally lukewarm reception had her ego boosted, “After seeing that I’m actually kinda curious what the smaller shows are like...”

“More intimate,” Diana smiled, recalling some rather fond memories of huddling in close to listen to some of Akko’s half-whispers. And then she realized what she said. “...I imagine,” the baroness amended, “She seems like someone who would involve herself even more with the crowd the less audience she had.”

The pause went over Hannah and Barbara’s heads, as they both nodded in agreement. Andrew’s eyes sharpened. Diana cursed.

“It was a pretty good act up there,” Barbara hummed, scratching her chin, “For a minute there I really did think there was some kind of minotaur just down the street.”

“I know, right,” Hannah broke in, giving her own chin a rub, “Especially the way she tripped, it really sold how panicked she was. As low brow as slapstick is, she’s really good at it.”

It wasn’t an act, Diana wanted to say, her brow twitching with that passing moment of frustration. Diana had seen enough of Akko’s shows to know a genuine gaff when it presented itself, and this was certainly the case here. Her opinion on Hannah and Barbara’s observational prowess sunk three measures that night... and it was already ‘in the tank’ so to speak, so that was impressive.

“I suppose, then, that this calls the night out?” Diana asked, resting her fingertips together, “Unless there’s something else here in town you’d like to do?”

Hannah hummed, biting her lip, though Barbara beat her to the chase.

“I know!” the raven girl cawed, “Why don’t we pick up some sweets from that shop you went to a few weeks ago Diana? We can share them over tea back at your manor!”

“Oh! That sounds wonderful!” Hannah cheered, clapping over Barbara’s hands as though the suggestion was something to be proud of together.

“You know the way from here, right?” Barbara asked, cocking her head towards their blonde companion.

Diana gripped her nose. Of all the things to ask, the one that would put her perilously close to exposure came first! She needed to cover for this. Fast.

“Yes, I do, it is a short distance, but...” her words were failing her so she took a moment to breathe. This, for once, elicited a confused crane of Hannah and Barbara’s heads. Words came to her, “The sweets will be cold by the time we arrive home if the horses aren’t ready to go right away. Perhaps it would be best if I go off to get it while you three get the carriage prepared?” A blatant lie and it weighed on her tongue like tar. The sweets were made in the mornings and were already cool by this time of night; she’d heated the last batch in her ovens with the assistance of one of her servants so they’d be enjoyably warm for the group when she first accrued them.

Thankfully, the duo bought the fib. As expected, Andrew did not.

“That’s not a bad idea,” he interjected. He turned to the two, “Girls, if you could get my driver to ready the horses, I’d be very appreciative. I believe I shall accompany Diana to the shop. I take it the two of you can fare for yourselves?”

“Don’t take us for damsels, Hanbridge, we’ll be just fine,” Hannah huffed. She turned to leave, “Let’s go Barbara.”

“You and Diana just hurry back with the sweets, okay. And stay safe!” Barbara added, looping her arm into Hannah’s and plodding along the cobblestones towards the stables.

Once they were away Diana felt free to scowl, “They took that rather well. I hope this isn’t another harebrained scheme to pair us off. They do realize we’re cousins, yes?”

“I think they just wanted a little time alone in town,” Andrew laughed, “Though I wouldn’t put it past them with how terrible that lie was.”

Diana sighed and rubbed her temple, “Tonight has just been one headache after another.”

“You seemed to enjoy the show at the very least... though by the looks of things you’re already quite familiar with the troupe. Am I wrong?”

Growling, she turned and began to walk towards the sweet shop, the man falling into step besides her, “One day my restraint will fail and you’ll be robbed of those eyes, Andrew... but yes. It seems our conversation was rather timely given this escapade... It would have been awkward to explain everything here instead of in the study.” Andrew said nothing but nodded, patient, quiet. She looked up and saw the first glimmers of snow flittering in from above, her mouth parting with delight just as much as with words of anxiety, “The girl, her name is... Akko. The performer we saw tonight. Coincidence, would you not say? The day you wring out of me these secrets is the day you see them on full display...”

“I’ll contest that assassination of my character; you’re offering much of this willingly,” he grinned.

“Because I know how well you would do to pry them from me anyway,” she moaned, “Her friends are workers at that bakery, so I have no illusion you may very well meet them. I was hoping to avoid such circumstances, but it appears fate does not have that in the cards. If luck is on my side, though, they’ll still be busy cleaning up their performance.”

Andrew stopped, the lack of footfalls alerting Diana she was the only one left walking. A glance back found the man contemplative, brow knit and the broadside of his index finger clasped between his lips.

“Is everything alright?”

He looked up and his feet resumed their stroll forward, “Quite. Don’t mind me.”

Diana mulled over whether or not to press him on the issue, but instead decided to take his suggestion. The walk to the store was imminently brief after that point and soon Diana found herself at the entryway, her breath stilling for the awkward introductions that were to ensue. She was about to give some clarity to the situation and how it had been presented thus far to the cabal of rascals when Andrew leaned against the mortar of the neighboring building.

“I will do you this favor and not pry,” he looked at her and nodded, “Go in, please, and be quick about it. Can’t catch my death, but I’ve never been a fan of the cold.”

Her breath released and she permitted him a brief smile, “Thank you, Andrew, that’s... well... very gentlemanly of you.”

The jab forced a scowl onto his face, “And look what I get for putting your nerves at ease...”

“No insult intended, I assure you...” she said, pulling the door’s handle.

And she laughed as the door tugged tight.

“Well, this is embarrassing...” Diana muttered, her cheeks dusting pink. She looked to her compatriot and did her best to give a smile that only ended up dispelling her illusion of composure completely.

Andrew blinked, “It’s closed?”

“It’s closed,” she confirmed.

They stood there for a few moments, basking in the rare instance of Diana’s memory escaping her.

Finally, Andrew spoke.

“...Well... Shall we head home then?”

“...Please?”

O/o\O

Diana licked her lips, the remnants of ruby syrup scooped into her mouth without issue, leaving not a stain behind on her pristine skin. Another feeding with Akko, another brief stint of euphoria, leaving her both satisfied and still somehow completely unquenched. She let her teeth linger over the woman’s neck a brief second longer, enjoying the proximity, the smell, the lingering taste of her sweat and blood and skin against her tongue. Her fangs no longer trembled, and yet her arms were left shaking.

“H-h-haaa...”

The brunette’s gasp was enough to wake Diana from her stupor, enough to jog the reminder that Akko would only be trapped in her haze a moment longer. Diana leaned back and let Akko rest back on her bed, the quiet filling in between them quite nicely, just as with the warmth drifting in from a vent attached to the fireplace downstairs.

Even then, the silence did not last.

Akko’s labored breaths, a background noise that Diana had come to find endearing, ended with the words, “I saw you.”

Diana, dabbing her chin with a kerchief, stopped.

“At my shows. I saw you. I mean, I’ve seen you. You’ve come to almost every single one since we met,” Akko continued, shuffling so her feet were on the mattress.

She coughed, specks of Akko’s blood spotting the cloth in uneven layers.

“I don’t have the foggiest what you’re on about,” Diana rebutted, steeling her lips.

Akko gave her a loose smile and pulled her knees to her chest to hug them, the nape of her nightgown exposing her collarbone. Diana’s gaze flickered to the rapidly healing red marks before whisking back to Akko’s red gaze.

“Don’t be embarrassed,” Akko muttered, resting her cheek across her knees, “I’m actually kinda happy you keep coming. It’s... really flattering to have someone from high society so interested in my shows.” The rush of blood to the girl’s face was inescapable, leaving her to bury her features in her twisted arms and legs.

Diana knew she wanted to bite into Akko’s cheeks at that very moment, to drain them of that excess blood or to see if they tasted as sweet as the Yanson bakery’s pastries, she couldn’t tell.

“I’m especially happy you brought your friends to watch last week. I don’t know how much they enjoyed it, but I’m always glad to at least get the opportunity to try! It makes me feel like I’ll reach the same heights as my idol way sooner than expected!” Akko cheered quietly, finally reconnecting her eyes with Diana’s.

Realizing she’d been outed, Diana groaned and grabbed at the bridge of her nose, “Why is it I surround myself with the most obnoxiously observant people?”

“Hey, I’m not obnoxious!” Akko pouted.

Diana smiled, “It’s endearing I suppose. It’s that personality of yours that has me coming back again and again...”

“...Because I remind you of someone, right?” the brunette asked. There was a flash of something that vanished in almost a blink that Diana didn’t quite have the speed to question. “Who is it? Is it a friend, or someone?”

“No, no one like that,” the vampire shook her head, “If your choice of outfit is anything to go by, I think it’s a mutual inspiration of ours...”

“My outfi-... Do... Do you mean...?” Akko’s eyes widened, her knees falling forward so she could prop herself on all fours across the surface of her bed. “You’re... you’re a fan of Shiny Chariot too?!”

The smile was almost blinding, so much so that for a second the Japanese woman resembled the sun, practically burning Diana alive with her aura.

“Y-yes, well...” Diana muttered, “’was’ would be a more operative word. She was an aspiration as a child that never quite maintained itself going forward. You’re the first I’ve heard of her in at least a decade.”

Akko lunged forward and grasped Diana’s hands, her teeth fully exposed to the open air, “I’ve been waiting so long to find another Chariot fan! None of my friends ever saw one of her shows, so they don’t know anything about her beyond what I tell them! I thought I’d be going to the grave without ever meeting someone else that shared that with me!”

Diana coughed and detached herself from the eager girl’s grip, “Well, as childish as the magic was, I cannot deny she left an impact on me as I grew up. Though I have to ask, how is it you know about her? Didn’t you say two weeks ago that you moved here from Japan when you were young? I wasn’t aware her circus took to the international theatre.”

The brunette shook her head, “Oh, it didn’t. I only got to see her once while waiting in London for a ship to take us here. But that’s all I needed in order to decide how I wanted to live my life forever!”

“Fascinating,” Diana hummed, her mind beginning to buzz. There was a likelihood, as implausible as it was, that the two has shared an audience at one point. As far as she was aware, Chariot’s show in London had been shut down after one day, officially because of health problems with concessions, but rumor had it that a number of vampires were hidden in the lot and that called down the rage of the government much like it had been called down on the Cavendishes, the Hanbridges, the Englands, the Parkers and scores of other families.

“Wait, did you say ‘childish’?” Akko paused, her head quirking. Instantly those red pools narrowed, “Hey, if Chariot’s magic was ‘childish’ then what does that make mine?!”

The blonde stifled a snort of laughter.

“‘Entertaining’ is what I call it,” she giggled. “The effort and heart you work into it is admirable and to the untrained eye it’s certainly spectacular, but when someone can do real magic it dulls the flair.”

“Y-you... you can do real magic?!” Akko balked. “Like... no strings or pulleys, real, actual magic?!”

Diana nodded, letting her fingers slip loose. A trill shot to the tips, jittering to life a small flame that flickered and flimmed in the dim room. A roll of her knuckles and the warmth traveled, a gelatinous ball of heat bouncing from palm to palm across her hand. She pulled her hand close and admired the strength binding at the edges of the flame, sharp orange that dissolved into a pleasant golden hue. “All vampires can,” she explained, flicking the fire forward to make a floating orb hover between them. Ethereal strings tugged in her wrists, pulling at the underlying sinew as a counterweight to suspend the vessel, “but few seldom hone it beyond the basics, as there are diminishing returns with larger spells.” Upturning her palm the orb shuddered and cracked as an egg, the shell peeling away in pieces to expose a festival of colored sparks below, “I’ve kept a soft spot for it though... So I’m a little more refined than most of my kind.”

She expected some sort of compliment for the display. As egotistical as that expectation was, she rationalized it as Akko having never witnessed genuine magic before. Most mortals, as she understood it, were typically wowed by such displays and being a fan of Chariot’s she thought some kind of verbal acknowledgement would come quickly.

But no, she was left in silence.

Diana chanced a glance at Akko’s face, dangerous since doing so risked the stability of the spell. But when she did she came to the sudden realization that not all compliments had to be vocal. Her breath stopped the minute her eyes glanced into those sparkling red windows, the pupil blacker than the night sky and almost doubly as wide. And that smile, those rosy lips stretched wide to reveal the uneven whites of her teeth, lord!

The fire at her fingertips died only to burst forth from inside. As the projected cinders splashed into nothingness across the floorboards Diana stepped forward, eyes still firmly locked with Akko’s.

Akko blinked, that beautiful innocent look of awe replaced with an innocent look of confusion, eyes tweaked tighter, her mouth wider and unbent. Yes, innocent, that was a good word for it, but also... earnest. That look missing from her friends when she was ten, that look only her mother had ever shown her when she was so young, that look which had eluded her the last half of her meager, immortal existence.

“Dian-?” Akko’s mumbling stopped when Diana’s fingers latched onto her cheeks, the pads coming to rest along the length of the girl’s jaw drawing down from her ears.

It was gentle, but there was no control as Diana’s lips came to rest over Akko’s, soft supple flesh over cracked and untended... but lovely, all the same. There was a small stiffening in the brunette, a jolt in place that moved her not an inch before she reciprocated, pushing back just as Diana slid away. She stayed close, though, lingering just out of reach of the performer’s supple brims.

“I’m changing our arrangement...” Diana choked, the flare of her skin lost to the candlelight, “if that’s alright...”

Akko’s eyes were glossy, not empty but lost. Her response came as a mutter as those wide, doey pupils rose to meet Diana’s cerulean irises, “...It’ll cost more...”

Diana leaned down to deliver another kiss, pulling back just long enough to mutter in exchange, “...That is acceptable...” After that was another kiss. And another. And another.

And as Akko fell back unto her sheets the night took on the most pleasurable of blurs.

O/o\O

Akko yelped just as her skin was pricked.

She glared at the thin sliver of metal between her fingers, muttering, "Stupid needle..."

Throwing her thumb to the corner of her mouth she set the needle down, appraising her progress so far. Her performance costume had gotten torn in the last show, an acrobatic trick that Amanda had trained her in being to blame. It wasn’t anything new, costume malfunctions were par for the course and she was plenty experienced in repairing her outfit. She'd made it purely on that sole memory of Chariot's show back in London after all; she could probably fix it in her sleep.

But this time around fixing it was proving more and more difficult, mostly because the nature of the tear was... well... distracting...

Akko wasn't normally embarrassed by how skimpy her outfit was. She understood why Chariot's had been designed the way it was; the adults deserved a pleasant show just as much as the kids and hemming it the way she had kept it modest but alluring. Even though she didn't quite fill out as well as Chariot, the revisions she made prompted at least some level of envy and attraction out of her crowd.

But all that confidence had been before she actually started sleeping with someone. Now it felt like letting someone peek on those secretive spots meant more than it had back then, like she was giving a gift away that she had already gifted to someone else. It had been stomachable, but then her skirt decided to split along her thigh. Normally this would just be a small gaff, embarrassing but funny.

But... ever since Diana decided to 'supplement' their arrangement (her words, not Akko's) the two had become rather... comfortable bedmates, indulging in whatever debauchery crossed their minds. Diana, when thrumming on one of her moods (which was almost always when she was stopping in on Akko) had a penchant for getting... bitey. Which, she supposed, made sense. Vampire, duh. And it wasn't like Akko didn't like it; to the contrary, after having been Diana's bloodbag for so long the feel of teeth was actually oddly comforting.

Just thinking about it made Akko knock her knees together and bundle her skirt between her thighs. Something about Diana was just so alluring, like the way the sweat on her skin shimmered in the moonlight or the way her eyes only got hungrier the more heated their kisses became; the barest thought of those moments sent Akko spiraling into a soup pot of memories and imagination. It was like being hunted by a big cat, a stalker that wanted to devour her whole but wound up cuddling her instead. And more. And now that she thought of it, the cat analogy wasn't the best. She wasn't very good at this. But that didn't mean she didn't feel that thrill every time they came together!

Back on point though, that... proclivity ended up leaving marks and one faulty performance later she was sure most of the audience had caught at least a glimpse of one of the many bruises purpling along her hip.

The worst though was that she was SURE her friends had caught a glimpse, prompting her to skitter away the minute every tip had been collected so as to avoid the slew of humiliating questions that were bound to follow. She managed to avoid them the rest of the night, but simply by virtue of her normal routine she would be completely exposed to her friends' curiosity. Maybe she could have stayed inside, but the sooner the outfit was repaired the better and Lotte had the best sewing set for the job between them all.

So there she was, working on her outfit, waiting until Amanda and Sucy would arrive for their shifts. She'd gotten there early to get as much work done as possible before the wave of questions came to port, and thankfully, as she suspected, Lotte was reserved enough to not ask any right away. That would probably change the minute Amanda got there, especially since the curiosity was practically leaking out from behind those well rounded spectacles, but for now Akko had her moment of quiet.

Moment of quiet. Odd how only a few months ago the same kind of quiet would drive her almost crazy. Ever since she was young noise and chaos was her element so this sudden shift was... alarming? No, it wasn't bad, just different. It was nice to slow down, she guessed, smell the roses like some people say. Just like the perfume Diana uses. Though sometimes its lavender. Oh and on the week of Christmas it was peppermint!

With that memory firmly lodged in her nostrils she made the final stitch of her outfit, sealing the gash in the skirt, her arm flying through the air with unrestrained glee. Akko cut the strand and tied it off properly to leave as little evidence as possible. Her skills might not quite measure up to a master's, but she was proud of how seamless the dress appeared after such a horrible tear.

She lowered the dress to her lap, reveling in the material between her fingers with the trace of peppermint tickling at her nose.

She was sure this was breaking the rules. Akko had only been an escort for a few months, and only to one client, but there were some unspoken rules that were fairly easy to understand. Number one on that list was 'don't fall in love'. Sighing the dress was discarded, right next to where her elbows came to rest. It was impossible not to fall in love with that blonde temptress. Beautiful, graceful, with eyes as deep as the ocean. Sure their humors clashed from time to time, but the two shared quite a few jokes now, especially after Diana had been outed as a fan of Chariot's.

Her cheeks squished against her fingers as another sigh ebbed its way out. The more she learned about Diana the more her heart beat in yearning for her, and while the sex was great (no, mind blowing), there was more that Akko wanted but could never in her right mind ask for. There came a point of resignation, painful, painful resignation that someone of Diana’s standing could not, in any feasible way, return her feelings, and it was with this gloomy thought that she had been captured in a funk these last few weeks, torn between enjoying every carnal pleasure she could with the woman she loved and knowing beyond almost a shadow of a doubt that it was only that carnal pleasure that Diana sought. And her blood, of course, though their time these days were spent more so beneath the sheets than above them.

And for all this heartache Akko was awarded a mountain of wealth to bolster her family, a cascade of bills and coins that all felt like lead in her hands and was worth just as much to her now. Her gut reaction to cave to Diana’s desires, to test her with an increased price for increased pleasure, was a painful cost indeed.

There was a distant jingle and her head snapped up. She didn't need the rambunctious voice from the storefront to tell her who was here. A grinning redhead burst through the door, her emerald eyes narrowed and sly.

"Kagari," Amanda smiled.

"O'Neill," Akko sighed.

"Spill."

Right to the point, as always. Akko gripped her forehead, "It was my pet cat."

"You don't have a pet cat."

"I do. I took her in the other day."

"I was at your house yesterday morning, where was she?"

"Mom said I couldn't keep her."

Amanda rolled her eyes and slammed her palms to the table, "You're a terrible liar Akko."

She avoided the redhead's gaze, deflecting her own to a rather nice plant the Yanson's had potted in the kitchen corner. She could hear shuffling from the doorway and almost intrinsically she knew Lotte and Sucy had finally slipped in behind Akko's boisterous cohost.

"Akko, we're not going to judge you for telling the truth," Lotte cooed, taking a seat at the table across from her.

She shook her head, "You might say that Lotte, but this isn't something that's easy to talk about..."

Sucy slithered over to the plant and observed a fine film of sap that coated its leaves like she had many times before. She didn't even look up while she spoke, "Simple; you whore yourself out to that Baron-lady. Was that so hard?"

Akko felt her hair stand on end, quickly matched by actually standing and shrieking so loud the bakery's windows the next room over actually began to rattle. "SUCY!!!" her voice cracked so hard it actually made her wince almost as badly as her friends did. It gave her only a moment's pause, "Don't talk about it so casually! It's... It's totally different then that!"

"Hoy, hoy, that Brit from a few months ago?" Amanda hummed, "Damn Akko, that's some ritzy clientele! Though breaking the law by takin’ on a woman? That’s ballsy, but I admire that kinda spunk!”

“Of course you would,” Sucy groaned.

“And what’s that supposed to mean!” Amanada snarled.

The alchemist shrugged, “I mean that if walls could speak, this house would have so many stories to tel-.”

Lotte shot up where she sat, her words hurried and poorly composed, “So Akko, how long have you known the Baroness?!”

Amanda leaned over and picked up from where Lotte’s question left off, “I figure it’s been at least a month,” her fingers trailed the repaired seam of Akko’s outfit, “because, from what I can tell, you don’t get that comfortable with someone right away. It takes a while before you can start whipping out those kinds of kinks…”

"Sh-she's not like that! Don't make her sound so perverted!"

Lotte looked over to the pale woman still fawning over her family's fern, her face slowly returning to its natural hue, "Sucy… you knew about this?"

Sucy shrugged and looked back at the blonde, "She was being really obvious what she was doing after some of our shows, I actually don't know how you two didn't see it."

"I mean, she acted a little weird here or there, but nothing really too out of the usual for her," Amanda placed a finger to her lips.

"Uh, hello, still here! Don't talk about me like I'm not!" Akko huffed.

"Right, right, sorry, sorry," the redhead blundered. "Still, I mean, the Cavendish girl being a horndog is kinda surprising. But it would explain how well your family's been doing Akko, girl probably pays like a prince... er, princess."

"She's not... She's not that kind of creep though!" the performer floundered, "We only started doing that stuff two months ago!"

Akko could practically feel her face melting off and it was for this exact reason she didn't want to talk about it. She wasn't exactly ashamed but it almost felt like a... betrayal of Diana's trust to talk about their deal so casually. It also didn't help that her friends knowing her sex life, independent of how much, was simply mortifying.

"Really?" Lotte muttered, "Because weren't you buying nicer things earlier than that?"

Amanda perked, "Yeah, you two had that whole flirting session before even Christmas, what were you two doing before grinding humps?"

Akko's neck began to melt as well. Couldn't Amanda use less embarrassing words!?

Wait. Oh no. No, no, no.

"Uh..." Akko mashed her lips together as lie upon lie dribbled into her brain, "She... had stiff shoulders so I'd give her massages when she asked."

Three blank stares wore on her nerves, making every hair prickle over her skin.

"Yeah, no, my bet is that you guys have been shagging the whole time and you're too embarrassed to admit it," the redhead declared, falling into the last dining room seat.

Blood boiled at the accusation, Akko started a retort only for Lotte's lyrical voice to chime in over her, "Amanda, it can't be something so crass! I bet it was an affair this whole time, with Baroness Cavendish torn between a betrothed and her one true love Akko!"

Okay, well, that one might have a little validity to it on Akko's end; she was pretty sure that her infatuation with Diana had started when they first met. Still the idea of an 'affair' was crazy! Diana wasn't betrothed to anyone and as for the one true love thing-

"Maybe she was sucking Akko's blood."

Akko blinked.

Amanda blinked.

Lotte blinked.

Sucy picked at the wax in her ear.

"EhhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHH!!!???" another screech bounced around the house from the resident dolt.

"Uh, well, uh, yeah, what?!" Amanda gaped.

Sucy just cocked her head at Akko, "I mean, she's a vampire, isn't she?"

And with that the force of Akko's vocal chords finally gave way, dying off with a choked squeak.

Lotte raised a brow, "Sucy, that's ludicrous! The baroness of the district couldn't be a vampi-"

"H-how did you know...?"

Again, all eyes fell to Akko, shaking quite literally in her boots.

"My aunt is a vampire; she comes around for the holidays," Sucy shrugged, "We have to get rid of all the garlic in the house. It’s really annoying since it’s the best time of year to make choking powder. You pick up how to identify annoyances; vampires are annoying."

Amanda almost fell back in her chair, leaving her to scramble against her own balance to regain her posture, "Wait, shit, Akko, she's right?! Blondie's a vampire?!"

"I... I'm... I can't say..." she mumbled. Her cheeks inflated and the tips of her fingers pressed into each other as she looked away.

"You literally just did!" the redhead cried.

"It's not my secret to tell!" Akko blurted back. Her breath labored with her raised voice and she could feel her face morphing and moulding between any number of distressed looks, trying to find one that fit the strange mixture of panic and anxiety just right. Her friends seemed to pick up on this, as they only watched while she slowly composed herself. Ultimately she settled on some variation of 'depressed' and sagged into her seat like a lump, "She-she trusted me with her secret and now I've gone and blown it."

Quiet settled into the room, barring a few small hicks popping up from Akko's throat.

Lotte stood and worked her way over to Akko's seat, wrapping the brunette in a tight hug, "Akko, don't worry, we're not going to tell anyone, we swear."

Amanda rolled her eyes, "Oi, I didn't make any promises." Akko might not have seen it but she could feel the glare Lotte sent the swashbuckler's way. "Alrigh', alrigh', I won't say nothin', promise."

"I couldn’t care less," Sucy shrugged.

Lotte pulled back to let her friend breathe. The brunette wiped at some premature tears before replying.

"Thanks guys," Akko sniffed, "But that's not the point. You guys found out because of me and that'll hurt her trust in me, a-and I want her to like me b-because... Uh... Well, I mean..." Her fingers found her brow and her nose to her palms, "She's just... Uh! Pretty and funny and when we're done for the night we just have these quiet moments that are really nice and I don't want that to end and I actually want to spend more time with her like that and if she learns I screwed up like this she'll get mad, I just know she will and-"

"Calm down Akko!" the blonde pleaded, shaking her friend's shoulders, "You're rambling."

The performer sucked in a breath and stilled the thumping in her chest, fingers sliding into her bangs, "It’s just, she could probably go anywhere and get what she gets from me, an-and from someone prettier and less annoying. With how much this has helped my family, my performances... and... and more, I don't want her turning her nose up and going to someone else..."

Lotte gripped Akko's hand and Amanda, after a brief glance at the Finn, mirrored the action on Akko's other side, with the smaller girl speaking loudest, "Akko, you sound really smitten with her. I'm sure she wouldn't just abandon you. You weren't even really to blame for your slip up, Sucy is just really observant..."

"It... I just realized I like her more than even as a friend," Akko sulked, "Now I'm scared of losing her..."

"Why not lie?" Sucy asked, bobbing up behind them.

Akko shook her head, "I can't do that... I'll break down the minute I see her..."

"Well, at least you're self aware..." Amanda muttered.

"I guess I'll just have to hope she forgives me. Maybe if I'm lucky things will just go back to normal," she sighed, slowly forming a wry grin, "It really isn't so bad being her plaything..."

"Don't undersell yourself," Lotte rolled her palm over Akko's knuckles, "From the way you talk about her I'm sure she feels the same way."

The brunette perked, but Amanda's retort soured that optimism, "Lotte, this isn't one of your romance novels, this is real life." She clenched tight on Akko's hand and stared her down, "Look, by the sounds of things you've got something good going for you. I know I'm normally the one to be crazy, but if it meant supporting my family back home... Stick with what works."

Akko's positive bob was cut by a bite to her lip.

"If it's stressing you so much why not just cut the deal and move on?" Sucy asked.

"Sucy!" Lotte harped.

"Yeah, geez, isn't that kinda extreme Sucy?" Amanda parroted.

Sucy shrugged, "Not really. Actually it might be healthy since it sounds like she has Akko under mind control."

Amanda and Lotte starred at her.

"Mind con-?"

"MIND CONTROL?!" Lotte squealed.

"You're worse than Akko," Sucy groaned, using her pinky to pick at her eardrum. "Vampires can mind control people who look in their eyes. Her paying you is probably just to keep up appearances so you won't figure it out. My aunt stopped bothering with that kind of sneaky stuff years ago, though. No need being subtle, just straight up manipulating us in for one of her... Uhg... 'Hugs'."

Normally the sight of the usually unflappable Sucy shivering in disgust would be entertaining, but Akko was too busy wrestling with the rock that had rolled into her gut. The minute mind control was put on the table everything sunk in, everything became confusing, everything became suspect. Who she had been sleeping with, the unphrasable feelings every time their eyes met... and Chariot, her obsession with becoming the next Chariot.

It was killing her. Slowly. Painfully. But only now was she really feeling the pain.

"Akko, are you alright?" Lotte squeezed.

Akko opened her mouth, then shut it. She stood and grabbed her outfit.

"I... I need to be alone for a while. I'll... I'll talk with you guys later."

They called after her as she opened the door but she shut their voices out as tightly as she could. Those memories of the last few months were flipping completely upside down and she knew that there was only one person who would be able to right it.

O/o\O

Diana thumbed at the parchment between her fingers as the carriage slowly came to a stop. It was unprecedented; to get a brazen call from your... prostitute? Lover? Whatever her relation with Akko, being summoned by her, especially with the discrepancies between their social standings, was entirely out of the ordinary.

Her eyes trailed over the rough handwriting; despite the uneven lines there was a method to Akko's scrawl, a definitive pattern that lent itself to some semblance of formality and order. But what really stood out to her was the curtness of the message and despite being keenly aware of Akko's overactive tendencies (or maybe even because of them) she could only feel a gnawing sense of dread over the lack of general exuberance in the note.

Still, to ignore it would have been rude, and while anxiety was seeping into the back of her head the chill of her manor made the prospect of seeing Akko far more inviting.

She stepped from the carriage and instructed her driver to wait until she returned; there was no knowing how long she would be but she didn't foresee Akko's matter taking longer than an hour or so to settle, whatever it may be.

The walk to Akko's home was brief and she enjoyed the warming signs of spring carrying on the air. There was an energy about the town, a trill of voices as the day reached its end. She adored the season, as she did all of them, though it was here that she began to lament her sensitivity to the sun, as moonlight hours waned when summer neared. Even now she could feel the heat basking on her collar from under her hood and an uncharacteristic layer of sweat percolated along her brow.

Arriving at the door, she knocked, waiting patiently for someone to open it. Ever since Mr. Kagari had interrupted them all those months ago Diana had taken to going through the front door and had even become quite familiar with Akko's parents to some degree. It was a perplexing situation; if her relationship to Akko defied explanation, then her interactions with the elder Kagari's was even more nebulous. Occasionally she would be offered tea and share a short, enjoyable conversation with the mother and on the rare occasion she crossed paths with the father she would pry him about his affairs at work, as her mind was wont to focus on professional matters. All talk of her relation with Akko and what happened when the door closed was left untouched.

Mrs. Kagari answered the door, her face morphing from neutrality to confusion, "Ah! Lady Cavendish! I didn't know you were coming!"

Diana raised a brow and mirrored the confusion, "Odd, as it was your daughter that summoned me. I came at my earliest convenience..." Namely when the sun was on the cusp of edging below the horizon, but she left that unsaid for obvious reasons.

"That's... not very normal..." the woman replied.

Diana nodded, "My thoughts precisely, though it must be an urgent matter if she sent for it so suddenly since our last meeting. If I may?" She gestured to the door and the elder Kagari nodded, stepping to the side.

"Yes, please, please, come in. I'll go tell her you've arrived," the woman bobbed, slipping towards the staircase.

"No need," Diana interjected, stepping through the house's threshold and overtaking Akko's mother. "I see no problem in announcing my own presence."

She barely registered each step under her soles, the familiar path calling forth equally familiar feelings; a thrum in her teeth, a skip to her pulse, an ache to her stomach. Each was pleasant, tickling her body with adrenaline and all the other sweet juices that made unlife worth living.

But now there was a taint to those feelings, anxiety underlining them with the abrupt note seated in her jacket's breast pocket.

The door appeared far quicker than she anticipated, allowing just enough time to recognize the uneasy emotions boiling beneath her skin but nowhere near enough to settle them or even let them digest. There was a scant thought thrown at delaying until her thoughts cleared but she knew there would never be ample time; only confronting the problem would allow her to rest easy. So she took those niggling emotions and curbed them to the side, a practice borrowed from her time as the key negotiator on behalf of the entire Cavendish clan. Admittedly doing so was more strenuous than normal, but Diana's resolve struck through against those roiling feelings. She would need all the energy she had focused on withstanding Akko's jubilant greetings.

Her knuckles touched the barrier and her fate was sealed.

"It's open."

Diana blinked. Now that was even more alarming. No smiles. No quips or jokes.

Just a voice from beyond the door.

Every anxiety haunting Diana's spine came crashing down on her chest like a tidal wave.

Carefully she pushed the door open with the same delicacy she would prescribe a bottled ship's construction.

The sinking sun filled the room, leaving swaths of Diana's exposed skin prickling under the sharp rays. But Diana didn't care. Haloed by the sun was Akko, garbed not in her Chariot outfit as their first encounter or in her nightgown but in a well hemmed dress that fit to her body all too well. Even in this hellish heat her visage was beyond angelic, perhaps even rival to the fallen allure served by Lucifer.

Her eyes, however, were not the vibrant red Diana had found so mesmerizing, but bloodshot crimson, dull and tired. It almost physically hurt to see that pain and Diana would swear it did physically hurt when the shorter girl immediately averted her gaze, clutching the skin of her shoulder like a lifeline.

"I... came as soon as I was able. I hope this matter wasn't time sensitive..." Diana started, doing what she could to shrug off the light glancing off the curves of her body.

"Uh, n-no, don't worry," Akko replied, her eyes struggling to find purchase anywhere but on Diana, "I... just wanted to talk."

Despite the light drowning her in fire her blood started to run cold with Akko's dour intonation. It was eerily similar to when her servant Anna had told her about her mother's decline in health.

"I see... Could we perhaps do so with the curtains drawn?"

Akko blinked and for the first time since allowing Diana in looked at the youthful vampire, her eyes wide.

"Y-yeah, that's not a problem, sorry!" she blabbered, throwing the curtains closed so quickly the wall shuddered!

Well, at least Akko was just as anxious, that was a saving grace she supposed.

With the sun all but smote the two were left in relative darkness, save a few slivers of that sickening light edging from around the heavy cloth. Akko sat on her bed and Diana decided to do so as well, keenly aware of how Akko would worm further away on the comforter the closer Diana tried to sit. Thusly, she kept her distance, ending with the two squeezed to opposite ends of the mattress.

"So," Diana coughed, "What is this matter you wished to discuss?"

She could hear Akko swallow while she nodded, "Right... Uh, well, I was... That is to say..." The woman's jaw clenched shut and seemed to be wired closed for the briefest of moments before it finally unhinged again, "I'm calling off our deal. I'll... be taking a job with a shipping business and leaving Germany."

Diana jolted to her feet, for the first time in years genuine fear clawing into her muscles, "What?!"

Akko winced at the shout but did not look up, her eyes otherwise glued to a pillow she pulled into her thighs for comfort.

The logical side of her mind pleaded with Diana to let her talk. The logical part of her mind was not in control.

"A-a-am... Is..." Diana trembled. Any number of things were to blame; the thought of starting without Akko's blood, the loss of the other woman's touch across her skin, but most of all the very thought of never seeing Akko again rocked her to the core of her being, be it a soul or something else. Her mind raced from cause to effect to reparation, immediately latching onto the first possible catalyst for the brunette's decision that she could. "Am I not providing enough money? I can double the amount!" No, peasantry would salivate over what she had given Akko in the last few months, "Or do you find me unfit as a lover? If I have done you a disservice I assure you it is only by virtue of you being so proficient!" But was Akko that shallow? No, she was flighty but never judgemental and she never would be. The only logical conclusion was that... "Am... I deficient in character in some way..." she pawed at her elbow and threw her head to the side in shame. The only time Akko spoke of hate was born of the grindstone of personalities. Perhaps she only tolerated Diana for the money and the gains made were enough to finally free her from Diana's overbearing nature.

"D-Diana, shut up!" Akko shouted, completely derailing the vampire's cluttered thoughts. "It's not over any of that!" The performer's voice dipped as the words trailed away, leading Diana to believe there would be more said. However, the minutes grew longer in time with the stagnating air, leaving the two in silence for what was quite simply an eternity that Diana never wanted to experience again.

She knelt at Akko's side, sliding her manicured fingers around Akko's chin and bringing her face to bare, "Akko, please... I... adore you." Inch by inch those rubies came into view, "Tell me, what ails yo-" Red met blue and Diana found herself sprawled on the floor, an actual physical ache in her jaw.

Akko was standing now, raw rubbed knuckles drawn taut and her eyes locked to the floorboards, "Don't look in my eyes ever again!"

"Akk-ko...?" Diana mumbled, rubbing the bruised flesh above her teeth.

"This... this whole time..." Akko shuddered. Against what glimmers of light flittered into the room another set of sparks glimmered as well, marking a twin set of trails dragging down Akko's cheeks. "I thought... I thought we had something special. But Sucy was right, you were just using me this entire time, weren't you?!" The brunette was struggling, her body pulling to look Diana in the eye while it appeared her internal monologue was vying against it. The brunette shook her head, droplets sprinkling to the dusty boards below, "Are any of these emotions mine? I... I can't tell anymore!"

"Akko, where is this coming from?!" Diana gaped.

"Don't play dumb," the performer snarled, "You've been mind controlling me, tricking me into thinking I agreed to any of this..."

Mind control? Diana never even considered-

"The blood, the money, the sex, all of it has just been a game to make me your toy!"

"That doesn't make any sense!" Diana sputtered.

"A baroness vampire making a deal for regular blood to keep her secret safe?" Akko growled, "So she wouldn't keep risking her truth getting exposed because you're paranoid after coming from England; tell me that doesn't make sense!"

It did, surprisingly, at least in the broad strokes where Akko operated best. But there were plenty of factors that Akko didn't, no, couldn't take into account, such as, "Akko, I love you!"

Oh, she said that out loud, didn't she. Had she... even admitted it to herself?

The cry acted just like the punch to Diana's jaw, cutting Akko's theories off at the source. The brunette jounced, her balled fists digging further into her dress.

"D-don't lie to me!" Akko's teeth were almost feral at this point with how gritted they were.

Diana stumbled to her feet and grabbed the performer by the shoulders, "I have never lied to you! Not once!"

Her gaze was refused a dozen times as Akko kept her eyes averted each time Diana tried to get a better angle, "How could I ever trust you after knowing you could do that to me whenever you want?!"

That wave of pain in her chest became as vast as the Atlantic, "Akko, please, look at me!" She pawed at Akko's chin and gripped it, maybe more brusquely than she intended. With her face captured by much stronger fingers Akko finally matched gazes with Diana, defeat written in every facet of her eyes. "Akko," Diana breathed, letting some of the tensions fade.

"I..." Akko hicced, "I just want everything to have been real."

The vampire shushed her, stroking her cheek. To know everything was real? An idea sprouted in Diana's mind. A horrible idea, but it was the only option she had to save Akko... and herself, this pain ever again...

"Akko, I love you," she cooed, brushing away a few scant tears, "and I'm sorry."

The brunette only got one second of surprise before Diana felt her eyes contract and that inherited magic flow into her irises.

The sallow reds of Akko's eyes dulled almost to brown as the power took effect.

"Akko, stop crying."

With two blinks the stream of tears ceased to flow.

"Good. Now," Diana paced back three steps, and opened her arms, "come and give me a hug."

And like that Akko wordlessly obeyed, stepping forward just enough to wrap her arms around Diana's waist. Diana looped her arms over Akko's shoulders to match and took a brief moment to take in the smell of Akko's hair, the smell of cinnamon and fireplaces. Diana relaxed her eyes. Normally a victim of hypnosis would awaken from their daze after a few minutes, but that was a limitation set by most vampires of their own volition. Being such, Diana willed Akko aware as soon as possible. The girl slumped into Diana's arms only a moment before she was standing under her own power and shaking the stupor away completely.

"Wha-...?" Akko drooled.

"So, did the mind control feel as good as you thought?" Diana snickered.

The brunette looked to their embrace, her face heating in a split second as she pushed Diana away in panic.

"Y-you-! Th-tha-! That was-!"

"Uncomfortable? Forced? Awkward?" Diana smiled, doing her best to seem warm, "Akko, mind control doesn't play with the pretense of emotions, it doesn't need to. That is and will be the only time I ever will use it on you."

Akko stumbled back to her bed, collapsing to the comforter, her face locked in shock. She dug into the plush material, blood draining from her face as those red eyes drilled into the wall. Diana decided to join her, leaving a healthy gap between their thighs to give the performer a little room to breathe.

The first sign of movement came when Akko lifted a hand to her chest, nails encircling the cloth and scrunching it over her sternum. Diana hazarded a comforting hand to the girl's shoulder only for the motion to be stopped by the short whine that escaped the brunette's lips. A blink later and Akko was a complete mess, her face scored with tears so numerous it was hard to distinguish individual streams and her voice reduced to the most pitiful of protracted mewls. She curled to her side, rolling right under Diana's hesitant arm. The blonde pulled her in close, allowing the bawling girl to let all of that bundled energy loose on her coat.

"Shhh... Shhhh..." Diana rocked the girl, petting down the fraying hairs on Akko's scalp.

Akko pawed at her collar, the action lost in the shudder of her chest, "I-I... I thought...! I thought y-you didn't...! D-D-Dianaaaaaaa!"

"It's okay," the vampire cooed, "It's okay, I'll never hurt you Akko. I could never do that on purpose."

Akko's wailing continued for quite some time, leaving Diana's jacket well weighted and soggy. Eventually the smaller girl's shuddering slowed and her vocal hics quieted, leaving the two tightly embraced in the waning hours around them. The brunette pressed herself tighter into the hold, her hair a brush tickling the underside of Diana's chin.

"I'm... sorry I never told you about that particular trick," Diana sighed, threading her fingers in Akko's tangled locks, "I didn't consider it pertinent... I'm regretting not being more... forward with it..."

"Yeah, you should have been," Akko whined, giving Diana a playful punch to the abdomen. "But I... should have trusted you about it too..."

The blonde hummed, "A mutual lesson I suppose... Though I am curious how Miss Manbarvaran knew I was a vampire in the first place?"

The performer let out a sheepish giggle, wiping away an errant stream of tears with her finger, "She's uh... My friends cornered me... It's a long story, but the end of it is it wasn't my fault but I'm sorry anyway." The Japanese girl's nose pressed into Diana's ribs to (rather uncomfortably) hammer home the sincerity.

"It's... fine," Diana sighed. "In all honesty I'm impressed it took this long for the shoe to drop on the matter."

"Hey!" Akko groaned, leaning back to pout at her, "What's that supposed to mean?!"

Diana smiled and gave Akko's runny nose a tap with her index finger, "A comment on your luck, not your character."

Red eyes trailed the digit, a meek "Oh... okay," drifting from their owner.

The two shared a quiet stare, a comfortable warmth settling between them as the minutes dragged on. In that short span Akko wound up much closer than Diana had anticipated, forcing a familiar heat up the vampire's neck. There was no time to process this as chapped lips found hers, leaving that familiar, pleasant tingle across the balmy skin. The kiss was left chaste, just enough to convey everything that couldn't be conveyed through words.

But there were things that could yet be said. Words that Diana, impulsively DID say.

"Marry me."

The brunette blinked and the world went quiet. Diana, her brain only just catching up with what she said, scrambled to collect her own thoughts. It just so happened her lips were still just as loose as when she'd said it. It occurred to the small fraction of her mind that remained sane during this that Akko had worn off on her more than she had initially thought.

"Y-you said you were leaving, and when you did my chest just... Akko... Getting to know you, to be with you... My life was derailing before I met you and... It’s even beyond just what I feel. I quite literally can't survive without you..." she winced, shrinking in on herself. "I'm... addicted to your blood in such a way that anyone else would be poisonous. It... It is a rare but known problem for natural born vampires..." Realizing the implication of her words, the detached dependence in her tone, Diana lunged forward and gripped Akko's hands, "But even before that I knew that, I could always tell you were special and I need you by my side; you make life so much more fulfilling each day I see you, I cannot go another without knowing that you are well and truly mine..."

Akko's jaw closed and she swallowed, "...How long have you felt that way towards me?"

Diana listed her thumb over Akko's, drawing gentle circles across the skin, "I knew I was infatuated with you by the third feeding... And aware of my dependence only a week before we... consummated the rest of our contract..."

Akko tightened her grip and looked the vampire in her eyes, "Wh-why didn't you tell me? I would never have asked for money if I knew you felt the same..."

"I'm not blind, Akko; you were taking care of your family with it, you were making your shows bigger and brighter..." the blonde crooned, "your smile was brighter, and I didn't want to see all of that go away... I guess in a way I really was your biggest patron."

"You're more than that," Akko sighed, leaning in to nuzzle Diana's neck. Her breath coasted Diana's collar leaving her oddly calm but her skin with a pleasant tingle and for a moment she wondered if this was how the brunette felt each time the vampire fed. The pressure leaned back and red met blue once more, punctuated by the brief meeting of lips, "I guess I haven't given you an answer... I'll...” Akko sucked in a breath and smiled against the dampened stains on her cheeks, that confident glint returning to her eye, “I'll marry you."

The girl's voice was so soft, so wonderfully sincere that Diana shuddered into her smile.

Then Akko's face twisted in confusion, "Wait... c-can we even get married...? Can you even go in a church?" The girl's face scrunched even more, "And what about the 'happily-ever-after' part? Aren't you immortal? It'd be super weird to be married to an old hag when the years pass..."

Diana had to stifle a chuckle.

Wait, she was with Akko. Diana snorted out a chuckle, "Yes, I can step in a church, it's just uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable, but doable." She rubbed her lover's cheek, "As for marriage, it wouldn't be anything official, but Vampire kind rarely operate in official terms with our private affairs..." She dipped Akko's head up and planted another kiss, "There is a ceremony much like it… however it is arguably more... permanent."

The brunette quirked a brow, "'Permanent'?"

"You would become a Vampire like me or become a vassal of my bloodline... tying your life to mine... You would become immortal, just as I..." she explained.

"Oh... I... I see..." Akko muttered, "Immortality..."

Seeing the glassy look in her eye, Diana lent a reaffirming squeeze to Akko's arm, "Such prospect must be alarming, and I would not want you to feel pressured; you can make your decision later. For now..." She pulled Akko into another, almost suffocating, hug, "I just feel happy finally having my emotions off my shoulders... and especially happy to have them reciprocated."

"Thanks..." Akko replied, slipping into the hold, "I'll need to really think on that. I want to be with you, but... my friends... my family..."

"Then be with me, if only in the interim of your life." The curious stare she received was more than slightly amusing, "While I have a fondness for this room and your... rustic home, my manor is rather lonely. I'm sure you and your family could fill it out quite nicely."

Akko's face became as bright as a nova and for the first time she wondered if this was what normal humans felt when they basked in the rays of the sun; not a burn to their skin but a reaffirmation to their soul.

"I love you Diana!" Akko squealed, ringing herself along the blonde's neck.

Diana pressed a kiss to her girlfriend's lips, "I love you too, Atsuko."

O/o\O

Days passed for the two, the move arranged and explained to both family and friend in some uncertain terms; both were ill-at-ease with the true nature of their relationship reaching ears beyond Akko’s friends. Diana had quite a visage to upkeep as the Cavendish heir and thus betrothing herself (be it real or just a grand gesture of emotion) to a peasant, a glorified beggar girl, would have been questioned by those within the noble community, to say nothing of the local vampires who saw her as quite a powerful figurehead. Akko, likewise, was uncomfortable exposing Diana’s true nature to her family, fearing they would take up arms or flee. And so they established for themselves a small little alibi, a fib to pervade the ranks; to the nobles Diana became patron to a talented young performer, giving aide to her rise to stardom among the southern borders of Germany, and to the vampiric courts a trusted friend fallen ill became the ward of the estate and would be granted status as vassal to give her a second life, so to speak.

Luckily, Akko’s fears were less grounded. A week before the official move Diana and Akko sat with her parents and explained not only the true depth of their relationship as lovers but also the secret hanging over the Baroness Cavendish. There was some shock, some fear, but ultimately after some coaxing the parents were at the very least happy Akko found herself someone who was more than willing to care for her so earnestly. It was not without disappointment though, as they declined moving with Akko, deciding to stay in the town as they were wary of Diana and her now-questionable staff. Understanding as such, Diana graciously accepted their refusal and instead struck up a financial support system for the two; not to make them wholly dependent on the tithe of the county but to allow the Kagari’s to work more agreeable schedules.

Diana’s colleagues had… mixed reactions. Andrew, to Diana’s chagrin, was openly accepting of Akko, especially after conversing with the girl, and the jeers he sent her way were almost as painful as jabs to the ribs. Barbara was largely happy for the two, though disappointed Diana had kept quiet about the affair, most of which bled over from Hannah’s vehement condemnation of Diana’s surreptitiousness around the affair as well as Akko’s unrefined presence among their court. The auburn girl was dealt with tactfully behind closed doors with a verbal lashing from Diana for insulting not only her house and honor but also her guest and lover. It was left in no uncertain terms that Hannah would need to deal with Akko’s presence and her role in Diana’s life, especially considering how vital she was to sustaining it.

From there, life was peaceful; Akko would take rides into town during the waking hours and plot her performances with her friends, giving a show a week as she had always enjoyed. Meanwhile Diana would remain sequestered in her manor to work on deals and trades, making life more than easily sustainable for them both. When Akko arrived home the night would have only truly begun for the two, with each night being a whirlwind in each other’s company, of giggles and laughs and more far enticing sounds.

Yes, life was good, but as the clock moved forward Akko found herself seeing the hands move too fast, age beginning to slowly sink its claws into her acrobatic past. Likewise Diana, thumb to the pulse of politics, felt a heady storm approaching Germany, a shadow passing over the world that had weight like no other before. One quiet night among these building anxieties the two came to a quiet, unanimous decision.

The ceremony was held in the light of the full moon, upon a cliff face overlooking the manor’s vast lake. Andrew, dressed as the head of his clan in robes befitting his station, oversaw the proceeding, giving prayer to a pair yet bonded who had lost eyes for all but each other, leaving their audience unhindered to observe this last serene moment before the world would burst forth into chaos.

After the final prayer was read Diana took her lip between her fangs and bit, allowing a small dribble of red to slid towards her chin. Akko was hesitant at first, her face inching forward to capture those lips, that thin crimson streak, and yet she had no idea how to angle herself for such a claim.

Diana saved her at the last minute, tiling her head in presentation; a show of submission, a show of trust that allowed Akko to finally lean in and capture those lips, that dripping morsel of her lover. Breaths mixed, blood with tongue and soul with soul. Something changed inside Akko, but it wasn’t something physical. Her bosom was warmer, Diana’s presence more defined, almost like the woman was an extension of herself.

Akko pulled back, the weight of her decision mounting. This was it. She was tied forever with her beloved. Sickness and health and every responsibility that came with it. There was something in Diana’s eyes as well, something that glittered, a mirror of thought she assumed.

As the applause of their company slowly seeped into their world alone the two were left smiling, trapped by destiny or their own selfish desires; neither could say which, neither could say they cared.

“So,” Diana whispered, resting her forehead to Akko’s.

“Hey,” Akko whispered back, tugging her hands tighter behind the blonde’s neck.

“This is the strangest day of my life,” Diana admitted, “Ask me just a few years ago where I’d see myself and this wouldn’t have even crossed my mind.”

The brunette pouted, swaying in her lover’s arms. The words held no malice, but it was too tempting not to play it like they hurt, “Aww, am I getting in your way as big bad Baroness?”

A gloved finger came up to tug on Akko’s cheek, “You get in the way of plenty of my duties as Baroness…” That same hand pushed a strand of hair out of the Asian woman’s face, “That however means nothing when you are a distraction I’ve been sorely missing all these years.”

Akko giggled and nuzzled into her… wife? Her wife’s cheeks, the two lingering just a bit longer before the alter.

“So, when should I start feeling something…?”

“Tomorrow morning at the earliest,” Diana replied, “Though I think we should get down from the alter; everyone is probably itching to get the banquet started.”

Akko nodded, pulling back just a touch, “So am I. I mean, if the big hit’s coming in the morning…” She pressed a finger to Diana’s sternum, “That just means we need to make the most of the night…”

Diana slipped her own fingers through the seductive hand, smiling, “Then, shall we start now?”

The brunette giggled as she was pulled down the aisle, her dress fluttering behind her as the two melded into the growing throng of friends, family, food and music.

There was not a care in the world between them. Both had been left searching for an end to the hungers of their lives, and in one another they found that which fulfills. Come hell or high water that truth would stand the test of time.

O/M|A|K\E

Sucy’s clapping stopped and the ceremony came to a close, leaving the audience and the happy couple to disperse to the affair of partying the night away. The alchemists’ eyes trailed the two as they stole forth to a table set just for them and their maids. Sucy would join them later, but for now she was content to stand where she was and observe.

“I think they’ll do well for each other.”

The voice belonged to a smooth, refined young British man with unearthly pale skin. During the wedding preparations the two hemispheres of Akko and Diana’s friends group had bled into one another, during which Andrew had stood out as one of the few voices of reason to really be present between the two collectives, with Sucy, Lotte and Barabara taking up such a mantle as part-time duties.

She appreciated the boy, even if did seem to have a rock of coal shoved up his ass some days. Hmmm… Coal from the rectum of a vampire… Disgusting, but it’d be an interesting alchemical ingredient.

“They’re sickening,” Sucy buzzed, “So is everyone else.” Her eyes careened around to the different tables, watching as families collected and how other couples were siphoning off the romantic atmosphere for their own perverse pleasure. In the distance she spied Lotte and Amanda trying to be discrete by a tree along the shoreline. What they assumed was out of sight was privy only to Sucy and Andrew’s eyes. In contrast were Hannah and Barbara, taking to the dance floor with each other, caring naught for those that saw them. Sucy smiled, remembering the pleasant moment they came out together and all the wonderful teasing that it spawned. Of course the two kept it very kosher, nothing obvious except to those in the know. Even at a private party they had images to maintain, though Sucy wondered how effective it was considering how giddy and blatant both Diana and Akko had been. The mood was infectious and that alone left Sucy’s shivering with discomfort.

“I find them all rather entertaining. A pleasant trill in the air, wouldn’t you say?” he replied, motioning to the movement of bodies along the portable flooring.

“Who wants to get all sweaty dancing,” Sucy grumbled, “I could think of a dozen other things I’d rather be doing in order to get sweaty than wasting energy on some tramping wooden planks.”

“Sounds like someone’s not enjoying themselves.”

“I’m not; I’d rather be home brewing something.”

A small figure appeared at Sucy’s side, holding three plates in her petite fingers. Flat blue eyes looked up at her, offering one of the plates to the alchemist and another to the vampire lord, an impressive feat considering how the calluses on the smaller girl’s hands must have made dexterous lifting difficult.

“Oh, hey Constanze,” Sucy droned, taking one of the plates laden with cake, “You haven’t been around lately. Busy, I presume?”

The dwarf nodded, finally passing off the other plate to Andrew.

“Still working on that golem thing you’ve been raging on about?”

Constanze nodded again, though it was matched with a frustrated huff and a roll of her eyes.

“I see. Well, if you need help, just ask. I’ve got a few concoctions that might help make it work,” she hummed, scooping a piece of cake to her mouth, “I’ve always been curious about interactions between constructs and alchemy. It’d be a fun experiment.”

The small girl flashed her a smile and a thumbs up before dashing off to join Jasminka near the food table, most of which was probably prepared by the Russian herself.

“An interesting figure, that one. What’s this about a golem?”

Sucy shrugged, shoveling another scoop into her mouth, “Long-term project.” She swallowed just as Andrew took his own first bite, “Constanze has been working on it for around four years now. It’s probably about half done.”

“I see, I see,” he mumbled, leaving the two in relative quiet. A few minutes later the dancing had slowed to more graceful waltzes and their cake slices were polished off completely, leaving the two standing there with empty plates.

Andrew was the first to speak again.

“So,” he started, flickering eyes to all the different couples, “Would you like to share a dance? I can’t imagine it’s very interesting sitting of to the side so often.”

Sucy almost flinched. The mood, the atmosphere, she knew what he was trying to do. All the coupling and smooching and blech… It was actively making her want to vomit… but it also made her feel a touch out of place with the world around her and awakened a natural but pestering urge she had not felt in some time. She gritted her teeth and sighed.

“I don’t like dancing,” she snarled.

She dropped her plate to the ground, letting the fork clatter to the grass, and began to wade off towards Diana’s manor where most of the guests were staying for the ceremony.

“Oh,” Andrew sighed, dejected, “I see…”

Sucy blinked before rolling her eyes and stopping. A crane of her head and her eyes were locked with his.

“Hey, Romeo. I said there were better things to do in order to get sweaty,” she thrummed, “My guest room. Five minutes. Bring a change of clothes.”

Andrew’s mouth slowly peeled open, his tongue apparently dry behind those two sharp fangs.

“Why… why do I feel like my life is suddenly on the line…?”

Sucy shrugged and continued her walk, “You’re the one that wanted to dance. Don’t ask if you’re not ready to tango.”

The vampire lord swallowed and his plate soon joined hers in the grass.

An eventful night was had by all.