Kouji knew that he was awake, but for the first time in over a week, he felt rested and comfortable, so he didn't hurry to open his eyes and start the evening. Instead, he rolled over and curled up, glad that Jacob had brought him that blanket as promised, even if it was sort of a futile gesture – a mere blanket couldn't chase the permanent chill from his limbs, but there was such emotional familiarity and comfort in curling up with a blanket tucked all the way up to his chin. He nestled into the pillow with a decidedly satisfied sigh and a lazily vacant mind. After all his turmoil and doubt, all the fear, anxiety, and panic since his transformation, Kouji couldn't begin to grasp how tranquil he suddenly felt. So instead of wasting his time trying to analyze his situation to no end other than worrying his mood back to the frayed ends of sanity, he just laid there, far from asleep, but calm and serene all the same. Pity that vampires evidently couldn't sleep in the same way that humans could, because this would have been the perfect moment to turn off the alarm clock and snooze the night away without a care in the world.
He couldn't help but smile as he let that concept sink in a little bit. Not a care in the world. How many times did people – human people – use that phrase? A lot. He used it a fair amount when he was human, to excuse what was truthfully just a lazy day wasted trying to avoid anything that resembled responsibility, but looking back at that now, it was never completely accurate when he was human. Maybe there was no such thing as a mortal who genuinely didn't have a care in the world. There was always something. If it wasn't school or work, then it was family, or love, or money, or some other overwrought aspect of the rat race that everyone claimed to hate but embraced anyway. He knew that there was no way that a few hours had suddenly made him realize how trivial all of those details were now, but some part of him was jumping to that conclusion already. His human concerns hadn't seemed trivial last night – at least not until Jacob had returned from his trip into town and treated Kouji to one of those pivotal, reality-altering epiphanies that usually only happen in inspirational stories and overly-dramatic movies.
Was it really as simple as that? Had a little blood and that moment crushed against Jacob's chest truly been the push that he needed to quit feeling human and lost and to start feeling and acting like a vampire? Surely it couldn't be that easy. Nothing was ever that easy. Kouji was fully aware that it was virtually impossible that all of his angst and loss could be erased so quickly, but right now, laying here at this very moment, it sort of felt like it had all been that quick and simple. He had slept soundly without a single nightmare of Vivian and her horrors. He didn't wake up in that confused panic that usually bolted him out of bed. He felt no urge at all to lay here and fret over what had happened to him, or what might befall him later that night. He wasn't mourning the loss of his human future, and he didn't particularly miss his friends, and as much as he regretted this admission, he wasn't all tied in knots about what his poor mother must be going through right this very moment. He wasn't even worried about angering Isaac, or disappointing Jacob, or offending Julian.
As he ticked all those potential concerns through his head, he was able to shrug them all off and remain just as still and passive as the moment that he woke up. A mere twenty-four hours ago, any one of those issues would have been enough to drown him, but it wasn't enough to elicit any sort of response from him tonight. A little part of him wondered if some additional aspect of himself had died last night when he yielded to his new craving for blood, but he rather doubted it. He didn't fell suddenly amoral or evil, and Kouji was certain that the annihilation of his conscience or the expulsion of his soul would leave him feeling some sort of loss, but there was nothing to indicate that he had changed at all. He still felt like himself, inside and out, merely unencumbered by the weight of all of his worries.
Maybe that was the biggest change – he felt so light and so free. It didn't even matter that he knew that he was still a prisoner in this house. He still felt a sense of freedom that he probably couldn't have remotely comprehended when he was human. It was real freedom, too, not just the hope that if he caught a few lucky breaks he might meet the right person that he could spend the rest of his life with, or that if he worked hard enough he might find a job that would provide him with all the creature comforts until he retired. This was freedom from ever worrying about money again, or wondering if he would be alone for the rest of his life, or even the inevitable truth that he would eventually grow old and weak until he died and had to face whatever might await humans at the end of their mortal lives. He was free from all of that. He had always believed that knowing that his days were numbered was what kept him motivated to try to make something of himself, to live his life to the fullest, and to try to leave behind some sort of legacy as proof that he had lived and that he had lived well. But there was no need for any of that now. In the blink of an eye, he had become his own legacy. There would always be proof of his existence, because that very existence would never end.
Kouji was learning that immortality seemed to be one hell of a cure for all of life's worries. In fact, he was surprised to discover that he wasn't even particularly concerned about what he was now. He didn't fell overwhelmed by the sheer incredulity of it all. He couldn't put his finger on how he had suddenly made his peace with his new incarnation, but he felt like he had. He didn't feel like he was some sort of fictitious creature anymore, and that he would suddenly wake up to find himself in a mental hospital or mortuary someplace. He wasn't dreading spending the rest of forever sneaking around the edges of human society in the constant search for some hapless victim to bite. He wasn't freaked out that he had so much to learn and so many unanswered questions; he felt a strange sort of peace that he would learn what he needed to know as he went, and that it would somehow all work out for the best. He didn't feel cursed anymore. Quite to the contrary – he was almost willing to call it blessed, not that he had ever been a fan of that word or the flaky, overzealous concept behind it.
Of course, as Kouji lay there, curled up and comfortable, without a care in the world, a tiny little flicker in the very back of his mind still protested that while he might be perfectly fine with everything right now, he would probably still have some sort of screaming breakdown later tonight and freak out about the whole mess all over again. But that little flicker really was incredibly small, and he was even sort of okay with it. Of course he was bound to swing back in the other direction at some point, but for right now, he was just thankful to feel so at peace with everything.
It was weird, but it was the good kind of weird, and Kouji was thankful for that much.
Almost anything was preferable to the stress and terror of the previous week, and he didn't really have a better choice right now, so weird but good really was a substantial improvement. Kouji had a vague inkling that there might be an awful lot of weird but good moments in his immediate future, so he also supposed that he should get used to the idea and do his best to roll with it. After all, he was a vampire now in every sense of the word, and there was something so fundamentally weird about that concept that he was sort of willing to generally suspend his disbelief and logic and see what would happen next.
Kouji wasn't quite sure what the next step might be, though he was horribly intrigued to find out. No matter how chilled out he might be right now, he was sure that feeling would fade rather quickly if he found out that his entire eternity was going to be spent in this oppressive old place. He was sure that there was a lot more to vampirism than just this house, and he wanted to get started. After all, when you find out that you have such unfettered freedom that the whole world is practically laying at your feet waiting for you to dive in, it would suck beyond everything to have all that dangled in front of you and then jerked away right as you're ready to reach for it. Kouji was pretty sure that nothing like that would happen, as long as he didn't do anything epically stupid, but he was also aware that time didn't seem to mean anything to vampires as old as Julian evidently was, so he wasn't sure what kind of timeframe he was looking at. He was sure that he would be in this house for at least a little while longer, since he still had so much to learn, and Julian made it very clear that this was a safe place for him to start those lessons, but he also knew from experience that it was a lot easier to learn by jumping in and getting started, and that probably wasn't going to happen in a giant, derelict house in the middle of nowhere. That sort of experience only happened in New Orleans, or Paris, or some creepy old castle in Transylvania.
As he lay there lost in his meandering thoughts, Kouji was interrupted by the nagging sensation that he wasn't alone. Again. He didn't roll over to face the room, nor did he open his eyes, because he could already tell that it was Jacob. It struck Kouji as a little odd that he had no inkling of Jacob's presence when he woke up, and he was sure that no one had opened the door since, but he was suddenly aware of the easygoing vampire again.
"Were you hiding from me?" Kouji asked out loud, flopping over onto his back, opening his eyes, and twisting his neck at an awkward angle to find Jacob sitting on the rough bricks of the hearth.
"Mostly," Jacob smirked, striking a match against the bricks to light a cigarette. "It seemed a shame to bother you when you were so relaxed. I would ask how you're feeling tonight, but that seems pretty obvious."
Kouji rolled over onto his right side, curling up again but facing the room this time so that he could see Jacob right side up. From this angle, Jacob looked even bigger than he had the previous night. The hearth was a fairly low stack of bricks, less than a foot high, so Jacob was all legs sitting on something so close to the ground. He had changed into blue jeans and a looser-fitting black t-shirt at some point, and Kouji wondered if the all-leather look was something that he wore when he was working, but now that Kouji had been accepted into the vampire community, Jacob was able to be a little bit more casual around him. Or maybe denim was just more comfortable than all that leather. Whichever the case, Jacob looked even more approachable as he sat there barefoot and smoking, absently picking at the tufted end of his braid.
"Are you just going to lay there all night with that dopey grin on your face?" Jacob asked.
"Maybe. Do I need to get up?"
"At some point," Jacob shrugged. "I'm sure that Julian can't wait to sit you down and start in on some big, windy lecture about vampire history and origins and customs and whatever. He enjoys that shit more than anything else, I think, and you're a brand new audience that hasn't heard it all a thousand times before."
"Oh…" Kouji replied, closing his eyes again. It's not that he wasn't interested in all the knowledge that Julian was willing to share with him, but Jacob made it sound worse than sitting through the longest, most boring class imaginable, and Kouji wasn't too eager to jump back into that.
"You'd better not let him catch you making that face."
"What? Oh no – no, I won't," Kouji stammered, propping up on one elbow and shaking his head in an exaggerated denial. "I don't mean it that way, you know… I know that I have a lot to learn, and it's really an honor that Julian is willing to sit down and teach me everything. I mean, there's no one else to show me the ropes, but I know that you and Julian don't really have any obligation to me, and I really appreciate everything that you're both doing to help me out. I would never…"
"Damn, kid, dial it down a notch, will you?" Jacob chuckled, waving his hands in front of him as though surrendering to Kouji's gushing explanation. "I make fun of Julian all the time, but it's not really all that bad. And I'll be there to listen to all of it for the ten-thousandth time, too."
"Nothing better to do at the moment, and maybe I can keep Julian on track and moving a little bit better."
"Has Isaac come back yet?" Kouji asked quietly, glancing toward the door as though the mere mention of Isaac's name might lead him to burst through the door.
"Not yet. He'll be back when he's finished with what he's doing," Jacob offered. It was by far the most evasive answer that Kouji had ever heard from Jacob, and he took that as a sign that it was none of his business, though he had the sudden, disconcerting image of Isaac meting out his version of immortal justice to some other hapless, newbie little vampire, and Kouji desperately hoped that wasn't the case.
"Is it okay that I call all of you by your first names?" Kouji asked, furrowing his brows in sudden confusion.
"What else are you going to call us?" Jacob asked, an equally puzzled expression on his face.
"But it's rude, isn't it? I mean, you're all my seniors – by a lot – so shouldn't I call you something less informal?"
"Oh," Jacob exhaled in understanding. "This is a Japanese thing, isn't it?"
"Well, sort of – but I also don't want to make anybody mad by acting too familiar."
"Are you really going to call him Isaac-san? Or maybe Mr. Isaac?" Jacob smirked, chuckling until a broad grin spread across his face.
"If that would make him hate me a little less, then yes."
"Isaac doesn't really hate you. I'm not even sure that he dislikes you all that much."
"Could've fooled me…" Kouji mumbled with a dubious crease between his eyebrows.
"The truth is, I don't think Isaac much cares about you one way or the other. He's like that with most people, mortal or immortal, so don't get all wounded and take it personally. Julian likes you, and I like you, and that will probably be enough to convince Isaac that he should give you a chance eventually," Jacob explained bluntly, snuffing out his cigarette butt.
"Do you have something better to do for the next five or six hundred years?" Jacob teased with a friendly smirk.
Kouji could only laugh in response, shaking his head slightly against the pillow. Five hundred years. Just thinking about all the things he could do, all the places he could see, all the advancements in society and technology that he could witness in five hundred years – it was enough to make his head a little swimmy. Of course, that was also more than enough time for global warming and World War Nineteen to take their toll on humanity, provided that alien overlords didn't land first and take over everything with their terminator robots and antimatter weapons… In any case, for better of for worse, he would be there to see it all firsthand. And that was just about the coolest concept in the universe.
Kouji rolled back onto his back and smiled at the ceiling for no good reason. He stretched his oddly powerful limbs and sighed. This really was the start of a huge adventure for him, and here he was, just laying around without a care in the world. Hadn't someone told him that the world was at his feet now? Maybe he had just imagined that statement, but it was still absolutely true. And he was ready to get started.
Kouji slipped out of bed with a gaping yawn and exaggerated stretch that was much more out of habit than necessity now. He grinned at Jacob, blowing the shaggy bangs away from where they tickled at his nose.
"Come on, Jacob," Kouji urged. "Let's go find Julian."
Jacob opened his mouth as though to reply, but seemed to think better of it. He rose from the hearth, dusting himself off and tossing his braid back over his shoulder. He closed the distance between them in two easy strides and draped an arm across Kouji's shoulders as they walked toward the door.
"Just like that?" Jacob murmured, almost to himself.
"Yeah. Maybe…" Kouji replied, reaching for the doorknob. "Yeah. Just like that."
"All right, then. Let's go and get started, kid."