Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Zero and Cross.
Setting: Some months after Zero was bitten.
Summary: Zero receives a solemn gift for his thirteenth birthday.
Disclaimer: They belong to Matsuri Hino. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: For quite a while, I've wanted to write a fic about Zero getting his taming-crest tattoo. The motivation to write it finally came from the prompt of "Ink" at Fan Flashworks. In my head there is more to the story, but at least for now, I like this piece as it stands.
For most boys, their thirteenth birthday was a time to celebrate the crossing of an exciting threshold; but for Zero Kiryu, the occasion was only a somber milestone, bringing nothing but uncertainty and silent fear.
Months after that woman had stolen his family and his future, Zero still showed few outward consequences from the Pureblood vampire's bite. He healed of wounds with unnatural quickness, and had found himself becoming a bit more sensitive to sunlight, but no hunger for blood had yet begun to stir. Even so, every moment, he could feel the poison burning in his veins. Its corruption was consuming his body so very slowly, drawing out the torturous knowledge that in time, his mind and soul would become its prey as well… and after that, nothing would be left but a monster in his shape.
There was no enjoying a birthday when all he could wonder was whether it might be his last.
Yuki, of course, knew nothing of that. For all this time, the daughter of his new guardian had assumed he was simply recovering from the trauma of his family's murder. She expected the passage of time to make him better—blissfully ignorant of the horrific ways it would only see him grow worse. To her way of thinking, all he needed was some care and cheering up.
That was why she made a fuss about Zero's birthday. She would have invited classmates and tried to have a full-fledged party, but Headmaster Cross at least had the mercy to negate that. Still, over Zero's protests to him in private, Cross let her try to make dinner that night into a special occasion. She hung decorations, made a faulty but earnest attempt to bake a cake, and bought a few small gifts.
So Zero did his best to put on a brave face. He knew his lack of joy was obvious, but he tried to smile, if only in polite appreciation for the girl's efforts. He swallowed down his fear and inner pain, even when it twinged more sharply than usual at the reminder his birthday held: that his life was slipping through the hourglass with the sands of time.
Later that night, Cross found Zero in his room, curled on his side and staring dully at the opposite wall.
"I wanted to thank you for being patient with Yuki. I know it was hard, but it meant a great deal to her." The Headmaster hesitated. "And now… I have a gift that I think will be more meaningful to you."
Zero had expected, and been prepared to ignore, some form of sentimental gushing from the man who wanted to be his foster father; but those words were not spoken in the sugary tone of Cross' paternal persona. There, in private, Zero heard the voice of Kaien Cross the vampire hunter instead. It was enough to make him sit up on the bed, suddenly attentive.
Cross withdrew his left hand from behind his back, and allowed a piece of paper to flutter down onto the coverlet.
There was no writing on the paper. There was only a symbol: an elegant, thorny crosshatch, ringed by four dagger shapes that pointed inward to its center. Zero recognized it instantly, and his heart gave a sickening lurch in his chest.
It was the taming crest. The brand that was tattooed upon a bitten human to mark them as a future threat, and when that threat came to fruition, to help restrain them—even if only for just long enough to kill them.
With a stifled choke, Zero quickly averted his gaze from the symbol. His shaking right hand rose to the left side of his throat, fingertips feeling a scar that did not exist.
To have that sign of shame there, for the entire world to see…
His classmates, and even Yuki, would not know what the tattoo meant. Only vampire hunters understood the warning it represented; but Zero would know. He would have to look at it in the mirror every day, and face yet another reminder of the fate that awaited him.
Zero bowed his head, wrapping his arms around his knees.
"If you really want to give me a gift… why don't you kill me before this goes any farther."
It wasn't phrased as a question, because they had been down this road before. He already knew what the answer would be. The dull flatness of his tone was born of resignation.
"You know I can't do that. The time you have left is something precious—not to be given up, but fought for." The Headmaster's tone became harder. "You believe she stole everything from you, but what you still have is a chance to give your life meaning. If you throw that away now… then you'll only be giving her what she couldn't take, won't you?"
Cross knew all too well how to use the hatred Zero held locked in his heart.
The boy shuddered once, and slowly lifted his head. His eyes wandered back to the symbol on the paper.
When that brand was inked into his skin, perhaps it need not be a reminder of his future, after all. Marking the site of the scar that should have been, it would be just as much a reminder of his past. Of all he had lost… and all he had yet to avenge.
At least for now, that was still enough to live for.
© 2016 Jordanna Morgan