Jonathan didn’t know he wasn’t human. But then, even if he had, it wouldn’t have changed a thing.
He’d always painted what he saw, out of mud or food, or whatever came to hand. He had to; these visions pushed him, bled out his eyes and filled his ears until all he could even taste was weird unraveling of the future, and the only cure for augural blindness was to splatter it out in colors, shapes, forms.
He’d done it since he was a child. Since he could remember. For all he knew, he’d done it in the womb.
Childhood would have been bad enough without that, but his father was Portuguese, too. That kind of thing could get a small child killed.
In 1636, the Tokugawa ruled that all offspring of the “Southern Barbarian” must either leave the country or be put to death. Whether they had someplace to go was someone else’s problem.
Hundreds of mothers and children left that year, but when he was put on a boat heading to Macao, it was without his mother.
She couldn’t go with him. Wouldn’t? He’d never know.
Jonathan tried to forget, to purge those memories, the echoes of screaming children and weeping women, the shouts in foreign tongues as the ship left harbor and left family and left everything he knew behind.
He was four, maybe five or six. He couldn’t be sure. He’d tried to forget, because it was on that ship the Bad Thing happened, and he had a hard enough time reliving the future.
Jonathan’s name used to be Eiji. It could mean second-born or peace or prosperity, depending on how it was written. It could also mean eternity.
His mother had taught him to hide his painting, to do everything he could to keep it safe from any prying eyes, and he tried. The problem was he couldn’t help what and when he painted.
He couldn’t not get it out, vomiting brain-matter through his fingers and hands until it existed outside himself and not cluttering his head anymore. It had to happen or he’d go blind with it, deaf with it, writhing and screaming on the floor and gripping his skull until he had the chance to draw it out. So the day they left port, his cheeks still stinging from the passage of many tears, he wandered down into the hold.
Already shaking with too much sight, he searched for and found a relatively smooth place on the hull. He only had a few small inks with him—nothing much, but his mother (whom he later realized was a prostitute) had little to give. He knew to use it sparingly; to be cautious, careful, economical, but the images spilled from him even as he spilled his precious ink.
Eiji-who-would-be-Jonathan gasped and tremored, threw up the weak rice and water porridge in his belly, and drew with shaking hands until the invasions left his head to sit in black strokes on the wood. They were frightening images: a woman, unlike anything he’d ever seen and scarier than the yokai he’d imagined, a woman who could eat the world, killing everyone on board this vessel.
A woman who would do just that. He was four, maybe five or six, but already knew what he painted came true.
He cried then, alone and too pale and very small, taken from his mother and sent to who knows where. There was nothing he could do but wait for the monster to come.
She came alone.
Why she chose this ship was anybody’s guess, arriving in a swirl of unseen particles and taking three sailors before anyone knew what was happening.
The alarm sounded then, loud and panicked, though it was muffled in the hold. Eiji-who-would-be-Jonathan cried and hid as the monster came close. Screams; strange sounds, ripping and tearing, thuds and the crash-crack of breaking wood—it all lasted too long, as if this monster played with her food, but in the end, there was silence.
He waited. He knew she’d find him there, and it made no difference that he cried.
He hadn’t known she’d be beautiful.
“Well, what is this?” She smiled and knelt beside him, features strange and foreign but utterly entrancing, blood in her hair and her clothes and all over her skin. “Have you drawn me, little one? I like the likeness.”
Her Nihongo was flawless, the dialect modern and familiar, and her green eyes so bright in the dark hold that all he could do was stare as his whimpers died away.
“How did you do this, littleling?” she said sweetly, smearing blood across the dried ink as though to erase its existence.
“I saw you.” Calm had taken him, taken him to wherever the power of her green eyes slept, stealing away his fear and his loss and his hope. “I saw you before you came, so I drew you.”
“Before I came.” Excitement twisted her features, made her more like the thing he’d drawn. “You see what is to come?”
“Yes.” He couldn’t remember the face of his mother right now. Nothing mattered but the monster and her happiness.
She stroked his cheek, smearing it with blood. “Your name?”
She laughed. “I don’t like it. We’ll fix that later. I have a place for you, littleling.”
She never saw the rest of the paintings he’d made, cleverly hidden behind some cargo. Those told too much, too far—far beyond her plans for his life.
It would take forever.
He tried to think of it as three: three times, three phases, looming ahead before the good things started.
As she somehow turned him to dust and flew away, taking him like embers in the wind, the deck caught in fierce and violent fire, and all evidence of her existence and his visions were reduced to ash.
She called him Jonathan the next day, and when he denied it as his name, she broke the pinky on his left hand.
She asked for paintings of the future, and he’d never done it on command before; he tried to tell her between sobs, but in response, she bit his neck and made him feel weak and sore and terrible.
It hurt. His hand hurt. Everything hurt. But he discovered that very evening that he could, indeed, see the future and paint it on command.
Using his right hand (his left was purple, swollen, and stiff on a bamboo splint), he drew the arrival of a handsome, strong man, a monster like her, arriving and bringing good food.
She let him sleep. When he woke, the man he’d drawn was there.
“This is Seishirou,” said the woman, who’d cleaned off all the blood and scared him with her beauty. “He will care for you.” She left.
This was the moment. “I’m Eiji.”
“Your name is Jonathan,” came the response.
“Okay,” he whispered.
Pliancy reaped its reward: she rarely came back after that. She didn’t need to. Seishirou told her what he painted, and she’d never been personally interested in Eiji-who-was-now-Jonathan.
He still cried before sleep. It would be so many years before the good times came true.
Seishirou played games. They were bad games, terrible ones that always somehow ended in pain—in cutting or breaking things or bruises—and he only seemed happy if he could make Eiji-who-was-now-Jonathan cry.
“Pain is important,” he said one day, gently strapping a paintbrush to Eiji’s hand because his swollen fingers couldn’t hold it. “It teaches us strength. It teaches us discipline.”
Jonathan-who-was-once-Eiji didn’t need to be told Ravena had taught Seishirou that. He shook his head. “Pain is painful. I don’t like it.”
“You don’t have to like it,” Seishirou said, and made him paint for an hour before bed.
It wasn’t all bad.
Seishirou had to stay with him much of the day, per the monster’s orders, and as old memories faded, Jonathan began to dislike when Seishirou was gone.
There was no one else to talk to. Nobody else to listen to or practice Mandarin with. There were books to read and paintings and scrolls to study, brushes to use on canvases, and pillows when he wanted to sleep—but that was all.
Seishirou’s games changed. He began to let Jonathan-who-was-once-Eiji win.
Of course, Jonathan didn’t get to hurt him, but he got other things: treats. Toys, candy. Pretty things he could put on the shelves (there were plenty of those because there were no windows). Jewelry. Lovely fabrics he liked to play with between his fingers, learning and loving the textures.
Jonathan painted and painted. His visions became clearer, and often more violent. Sometimes, after painting something big or hard, he had trouble staying upright.
The day he painted the man made of fire exploding into several pieces, it was too much, and he passed out.
He woke in Seishirou’s arms, head throbbing, blood trickling from his nose, and Seishirou didn’t make him paint anymore that night, or the next day.
Seishirou let him rest.
He never told Ravena.
Sometime around what was maybe his tenth year, Jonathan—who had not seen the sun since Ravena took him—came to the realization that Seishirou had been a little bit right: pain focused his work.
It cut off distractions, shielded him from wants or desires or grief or fear, and narrowed his thoughts to one simple channel at a time. He could use the pain to draw better, to see clearer, and to do it fast.
But their games didn’t lead to pain anymore, and so Jonathan realized he’d need to take care of this himself.
He tried slamming heavy books into his toes or upper arms. He tried holding the underside of his forearm over a candle until it burned, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t the same. He had to do something else.
Jonathan thought he’d found the way when Seishirou arrived for their next session, but Seishirou could smell blood, no matter how carefully Jonathan had tried to hide it.
The reaction wasn’t what Jonathan expected.
“No! No! Never yourself! Never yourself!” Seishirou took all the sharp things away, yelled at him in Japanese (they’d been practicing Spanish, so this was weird), and then refused to let Jonathan paint anything with the pain he’d generated for that purpose.
Seishirou bit him that night for the first time. It eased the pain—eased all the pain—and kept him relaxed while Seishirou stitched his side, muttering the whole while in something that sounded like Japanese but old and odd and not fully understandable.
Jonathan slept. Weirdly, Seishirou slept there, too, and didn’t leave for two solid days.
Everything changed after that. Seishirou’s games suddenly had consequences again, but not severe ones—he’d take a toy, or Jonathan had to do something stupid like making up a song about the color blue.
One day, Seishirou lost, and Jonathan asked a question: “Do you remember your mother?”
He didn’t think Seishirou would answer.
“I was young,” he said, and told of being a samurai during the tumultuous transition between emperors Go-Daigo, Kōgon, and Kōmyō. Seishirou confessed how Ravena found him in that time, making Jonathan blush with the details of seduction, transition, and change from a creature of day to a creature of night, from human to so much more.
“Is it good to be a blood-drinker?” Jonathan asked.
“You’ll never know. You’re not human. You’re Kin, and you can’t be turned.”
That hurt, weirdly.
Seishirou brought him cake to make up for it. Also weirdly.
Jonathan painted that night, not something from the future, but the past: Seishirou’s face as he recited his tale, recalling the taste of blood, defining the power and passion of becoming a predator forever instead of prey.
It was a beautiful, terrifying portrait.
Jonathan hid it under his straw mattress and showed it to no one at all.
By the time Jonathan turned sixteen (or fifteen or seventeen—who knew?), he no longer remembered Eiji.
He barely remembered blue skies and green grass and the smell of the ocean at dusk.
He painted; he had to, on command and by order, had to create and see and stretch and warn his mistress of the future, whether good or bad, but he did it without passion.
Sometime in that year, he stopped eating.
Seishirou made him do it. Forced him, even though he fought, and they made such a mess that sometimes, Jonathan would find dried-out bits of stew weeks after he’d had it for dinner.
At last, after all this time, after all the fear and pain and loss and isolation, Jonathan grew angry.
It was the carrot that did it—dried out, withered, not even recognizable by color or form, trapped in this one room just like he was until it no longer resembled itself.
No more. This was the moment.
After finding the carrot, Jonathan cut himself for the first time in years. He focused, using his blood, using his pain, to see what was coming in his own future.
When Seishirou came back eight hours later, Jonathan was gone. The door was off its hinges; the boy had somehow figured out a way to lever it off using boards from his bed and a pile of books.
The escape didn’t last. Ravena had tasted Jonathan’s blood, and so had Seishirou, so both could track him with ease. But that night, Seishirou made a mistake.
He told Ravena.
Seishirou had thought it was funny until he saw his maker’s face. Until he saw her apathy turn to rage, her green eyes blaze like lightning behind glass.
She went after Jonathan with death in those eyes.
Phase two: Ravena caught him.
Jonathan knew it would happen.
She did not take him back to his room, his cozy little prison, but instead took him to her own home somewhere in Europe. To a real, filthy, damp dungeon.
As he knew she would.
She kept him there, never well, never fed enough, always bleeding. She kept him there and threw his “ingratitude” in his face, showing him off to visiting dark dignitaries and rebellious underlings as an example of her power and what it meant to cross her.
And naked, bleeding, shivering and weak, Jonathan painted at her command.
He’d hoped it would all blend together, become a dull, numb experience, but it didn’t. She was too good: the right amount of food and recovery and pain and deprivation. The right moments of humiliation and the blessed reward of private shame.
Sometimes, when he forgot about what was coming, he thought about trying to choke himself with his chains, but they were too short—he was only given slack when others came to see him.
Seishirou never came.
Jonathan knew why not. It was important, it had to happen, but it hurt more than anything else. He said nothing. If he used that name even once, he’d give it all away, so when he screamed, he used no name at all.
Jonathan held on. He waited.
Four years was so very long.
Ravena went away one night, far away to some great, grand meeting of big magical beings, and that night—the one he’d waited for—Seishirou finally came.
Seishirou took him out of that chamber. Cleaned him. Said nothing, for tenderness here was anathema.
This was the moment. Jonathan asked.
“I can’t. You aren’t human.” Delivered flat, cold, hard, from a place of heart-broken survival.
Seishirou inhaled through his teeth.
Jonathan lifted one arm, and it trembled like a branch in high wind. “Please help me do this.”
It was a risk. Every kind of risk for them both—their freedom, their lives, their everything.
Seishirou touched his lips, and there was heat in his eyes. “Play me for it.”
They rolled dice.
Jonathan won, just like he knew he would.
“This will hurt,” said Seishirou.
“I don’t have to like it,” Jonathan said, and closed his eyes.
Ravena returned from her meeting in a terrible mood, breaking things because she could and hitting servants because she wanted to spill blood. But the castle already smelled of blood.
She found Jonathan dying in a pool of his own. It seemed his chains had worn sharp, somehow, against the stone of the dungeon, and he’d managed to cut himself—badly, deeply, repeatedly, until he’d nearly found an escape even she could not pull him back from.
She was about to lose her tiny glimpses into an uncertain future forever.
Ravena raged. She killed two servants; she broke walls in the kitchen and dining hall, but in the end, there was nothing for it: she had to try to turn him to save his life.
This was the moment. She was so surprised it worked that she went speechless for an hour and a half.
Exchanging blood, forcing him to swallow, taking what little remained of his own—it should not have worked, but it did.
And she should have tasted Seishirou on his skin, but she didn’t. Their secret stayed hid in blood and drama, Jonathan became a Night Child.
Turned, strengthened, mad with hunger, Jonathan lost the ability to paint for nearly two years. That, too, was expected. The Beast was not an easy thing to quell, and Jonathan had a reason to avoid returning to himself: pissing off the woman who’d taken everything and given him new life.
When he could finally hold a conversation again (without simply demanding blood—the Beast was a petulant child), she told him to paint.
This was the moment. Jonathan said no.
She did not take it well.
Vampires were much hardier, and pain came at a far greater cost, but still, he said no.
And still, he never screamed Seishirou’s name.
Jonathan suffered. Suffered as he said no. Suffered as he said it again, and again, refusing to paint even though the night before she’d torn his fingers off so he’d have to reform them, suffered as she deprived him of blood and set his veins on fire, suffered as Seishirou could not and dared not come near for any reason, and in her rage, she did not think to involve him.
The night Notte came, Jonathan had been in Ravena’s hands for more than thirty years. Thirty years without the sun, thirty years of pain and sorrow and grief.
“This is unacceptable,” said Notte, pulling wooden stakes from Jonathan’s thighs.
“He’s mine! You can’t take him!”
“Then you should have taken better care.”
Jonathan laughed, or tried. He had no voice to give it.
It was over. At last, it was over.
Notte took him away, took him and gave him his own blood, changing true mastery and beginning a long, slow process of healing. And Jonathan wept for joy, as he’d known he would.
Seishirou did not say goodbye.
They both understood. It was all as it had to be.
Without being asked, Jonathan painted, and slept, and waited.
He waited for the day he could say Seishirou’s name.