A/N: I really apologize for the shortness of the chapter. This whole beginning part is difficult to break up, but eventually the chapters will start getting longer again, I promise. Don't forget to check my bio or the appropriate Review Response thread in my forum for individual responses to all my wonderful reviewers. :)

Chapter Two: "Dust to Dust"

Kaname gazed at the legal brief on his desk without seeing it. He'd read the same sentence five times and still didn't know what it said. The oppressive silence was disrupted as the pencil in his hand snapped, and he turned his head slowly to look at the splintered wood, unaware he'd been holding it so tightly.

A few of the sharp splinters had dug into his palm and the pureblood dropped the pencil, numbly plucking the splinters from his flesh and licking the wound absently. It wasn't bleeding. It should hurt, but he didn't even feel the pain. He was numb, almost completely emotionally shutdown and that bled over even into the physical.

The Moon Dorms were quiet and still around him, everyone else was at class. Kaname didn't go to classes anymore. He still had, after the Chairman's death. The vampires were there for voluntary learning, they could leave any time they liked, but Kaname had tried to keep things as normal as possible for everyone during the initially somewhat bumpy period after Cross's death. Over all, the new Headmistress had handled the school well and for a while, everything had worked beautifully. Kaname had been at Yuki and Zero's graduation. He'd seen the first generation of young, pre-adolescent hunters arrive at the school for their first term, wary, suspicious and wide-eyed amid the other fawning humans when they passed the Night Class every evening. He'd helped Yuki look at colleges and watched Zero start to blossom in his hunter training. And then... then...

Kaname hadn't been back to class since they realized the seriousness of Yuki's illness. He couldn't concentrate, couldn't hope or want to learn anything. The teachers were too afraid to give him bad grades, but he knew if he were anyone else he would have flunked out. But it didn't matter because he'd simply removed himself completely and dropped all his classes. He couldn't bring himself to walk the familiar path from the Moon Dorms to the class building anymore. He couldn't bear to see the two new prefects trying to control the Day Class students, couldn't bear to look around when it seemed that each building and blade of grass around here held some memory of either Yuki or Zero. Every brick and twig condemned his hideous failures and broken promises. School held no appeal anymore. This place held no appeal. It wouldn't be long now before he left for good. There were far, far too many ghosts in these halls.

Looking at the papers on his desk made him sick. For the second time in only a little over a year, Kaname was struggling to save Cross Academy, but now he hardly knew why anymore. Yuki's death meant that the Academy's ownership once more fell into doubt, even if she had been owner in name only. Kaname had little patience to go through this whole mess again. He did it only because he knew Yuki would have wanted it, would have wanted the dream to continue. It was continuing around them, every day. The school was flourishing, providing that neutral ground for the different races to glimpse how the other side lived and try to find some similarities amid the differences. But as much as Kaname took a certain numb satisfaction in all that, it also seemed almost cruel, that life should go on, should continue to blossom and unfold with beauty for others when darkness was all that encompassed his world now.

This time, Kaname simply took ownership of the school himself. He was still Yuki's legal guardian, as he had been since Cross's death. Ergo, he was also her executor and it wasn't that hard to do. He would own the place, but he wouldn't run it. Headmistress Wren could continue doing that, he would leave everything to do with the school in her capable hands; he'd simply continue to supplement the budget if needed and keep it in his sphere of protection and support as far as the vampire world was concerned. As wretched as he felt personally, he was trying to keep the bigger picture in mind, trying to go through the motions and do the right things, the things that were expected of him, that only he could do... Trying to go on as if he didn't lie in bed every evening, staring at the ceiling and trying to find one damn reason why he should want to get up and start another night. Usually he couldn't. But he got up anyway. Because it was expected of him. Because so many people depended on him. Sometimes... sometimes he wished they'd all go to hell and leave him alone, let him be a person instead of a pureblood. Sometimes, he wished he wouldn't wake up at all.

Once he had finished with what needed to be done here legally as far as the school was concerned, then Kaname was leaving this place. There were always matters demanding his attention and it was time he started paying more attention to the rest of his business affairs. In the past, the elder Ichijo had managed much of his estate for him, although that was not by Kaname's choice. Since Asato's death, Kaname had had to take a more active role. Now, he would be more active still. He was going to expand his holdings until he had his fingers in everything, especially bio and pharmaceutical research and development. The disease that killed Yuki had been no fluke. It was engineered by someone. One day he was going to find out who, and why. The fact that whoever it was had been so successful at covering his or her tracks that even the pureblood hadn't been able to find them meant that they were either connected and powerful, or brilliantly clever. Either one constituted a grave threat. Kaname was going to amass such a fortune and such a broad reach that he could keep the search going for as long as it took to find the truth. It was the only goal worth living for anymore.

There were some details though that were... problematic. Kaname closed his eyes. That was a euphemistic way of thinking of it. What he meant was... there was Zero to consider. Zero wouldn't want to come with him, Zero couldn't stand to look at him, but he couldn't leave the boy here either. Kaname flatly refused to dwell on the real, deep-down reason that he couldn't leave him behind. There were plenty of other reasons and concerns more easily articulated.

The ex-human had refused to feed from him for weeks. Kaname knew Zero must be starving and was almost certain he'd gotten blood from someone else, or he wouldn't have lasted this long. No one from the school of course, Zero wouldn't do that, and he was smart enough not to let Kaname or any of the other vampires catch him wherever he was foraging. Technically, the Night Class code of conduct didn't apply to him, since he'd never been made part of the Night Class, but Kaname still had a responsibility to him and to the safety of the nearby town. Put crudely... Zero was his problem to manage. Kaname was certain that the ex-human wouldn't have killed anyone, but this development was still both dangerous and disturbing. Yes, Zero was a special case because he couldn't handle the blood tablets, but Kaname still couldn't let him start sampling off any random human he pleased. Worse though... the pureblood knew it would eventually destroy the boy inside to know what he was doing. Zero wasn't made to be a vampire. He didn't have the instinct of a predator, of a killer, ingrained in his soul.

Kaname refused to admit to the worried concern he had for the hunter's state of mind, or the jealousy he felt at the thought of Zero drinking someone else's blood. He had been shocked, and more than a little hurt when he'd figured it out. Zero really hated him enough to go against his own nature and seek a human victim rather than the blood Kaname would have willingly offered him? It was about then that Kaname had truly stopped allowing himself to feel or care about anything. Numbness was so much better than the constant, unrelenting pain of which he could never be allowed to give expression.

Kaname knew though, that without his uniquely powerful blood, Zero would eventually start succumbing to the madness again. He couldn't have that... he was bound to Zero, their fates were intertwined. Of course that was the only reason he was concerned... he told himself the lie, despite the fact that it would never feel true.

"How could you do that to her without even talking about it? How could you violate her like that, without considering the danger?!" Zero was shouting in his face, pain and anger in his seething eyes.

Kaname's chest was so tight he couldn't breathe. He was still reeling in shock. All he could see in his minds eye was Yuki's body convulsing on the bed as the doctors crowded around, trying to stabilize her. He'd done that to her. His fault... Oh God... his fault... Rage, quick and hot flew up to cover the unbearable agony and his eyes were icy steel as they locked on Zero's.

"It shouldn't have been dangerous!" he snapped back angrily. "There's no reason her becoming a vampire should have precipitated something like this! And I didn't violate her! She consented..." his voice rasped raw, anger only just covering his broken and shattered insides, but Zero couldn't see that, they were both far too blinded by pain and anger at life, anger now being directed at each other.

"She'd do anything you asked her to, you know that! You should have known better. Maybe once in your friggin' life you should have thought you might just not have all the answers," Zero almost trembled from the rage and hurt tearing him apart. They were going to lose her. They were going to lose her and there wasn't anything he could do...

"Shut up," Kaname ground out through his teeth, too worked up to even come up with a better retort. He just wanted Zero to go away and stop grinding his own crushing sense of guilt in even deeper, like twisting glass shards in a bleeding wound.

"You should have at least told me! Or the doctors, or somebody!" Zero's throat was threatening to close off. He was willing himself not to start crying. "Maybe they could have done something when things started to go wrong! You damn son of bitch, you owed her that much! You owed me that much!"

Kaname rounded on him, hands snapping up, moving on instinct before he could stop himself, the air expanding violently between them as he threw Zero backwards into the wall.

"Shut up, Kiriyu! I don't owe you anything! Don't think you can presume to have some kind of claim over me just because you've warmed my bed. You drink my blood; I keep you alive; I've paid for your services. So don't you dare talk to me like that..."

Zero slid down the wall, hugging himself and curling over in obvious pain. Kaname was too angry to feel remorse, but he moved towards him, drawn to check on the hunter's wellbeing despite himself. Zero's head snapped up and the look in his eyes told Kaname to keep his distance.

"I hate you, Kuran. Stay away from me. You ever touch me again and I swear I'll try to kill you."

Kaname absently rubbed the base of his throat. For weeks now, he'd been feeling Zero's emotional turmoil roiling through their bond. It was too much for him to deal with on top of his own and he'd tried to clamp down on it and ignore the input. It was odd though, because he realized with a small start that the bond wasn't throbbing anymore when he stopped to pay attention to it. It was quiet for the first time in a long time. At first, Kaname felt a small sensation of relief, like he'd been freed from an intense, nagging headache which had been his constant companion. But relief quickly faded right back into wariness because he realized it was an artificial quiet, as if the bond had somehow been muted or muffled on the other end. Kaname had been lost in work and he wasn't sure when the change had occurred.

His brows furrowed in a small frown, not sure what it meant.

Agitated, disturbed and not knowing quite why, Kaname rose and left his bedroom, pacing out onto his balcony to feel the cool night air. Zero had been in an increasingly dark and depressive mood the past few days. He shouldn't care, after the way Zero had treated him, after the things he'd said... but he was worried anyway. Ironically, it was the one feeling that seemed to be able to penetrate Kaname's blank emotional numbness.

Suddenly the pureblood froze and another emotion finally pierced through the thick walls surrounding him – fear. Stark, intense, overwhelming fear. The night wind had carried the faintest whiff of a scent to his keen senses.

Blood.

Zero's blood.