/ / Chapter Eleven: The Ambiance of Emptiness / /
Disclaimer/Notes: Two words. Chapter 43. Finally! Inspiration in the form of delicious tidbits of Zero. Gack, so my brain has been on the verge of exploding lately for various reasons, some of which include trying to help a drunken neighbor who had crashed himself and his three-year-old son off the side of one of the nearby roads, and me coming down with a random, wretched flu which prevented me from getting on the computer for several days. Anyway, with Yuuki regaining her memories in recent chapters, there should definitely be more opportunities for Zero x Yuuki. Also, though this chapter does have some important plot developments, I have to say that it's mostly much-needed development for the two of them. But I promise that the plot will pick up significantly in future chapters. (gulps) And perhaps at the end of this chapter, a little...
"Zero... what's this?"
Yuuki held a small glinting trinket by a single finger, dangling it half-in and half-out of the canvas sack that Cross had given them. Yuuki had poked her finger on one of its sharp edges while searching the bag. She pulled it up for closer examination, and found a small string with a piece of paper looped over it.
This is for you, Yuuki; the note read. Then, find the letter I left in the bottom of the bag and please read it.
Yuuki dug through loaves of bread that Cross had purchased for them, and shifted boxes of matches aside until she found a small, yellowed envelope in the bottom of the bag. Quickly, she slit the envelope and removed its contents. Her eyes caressed flamboyant cursive writing that raised a spark of familiarity inside of her. She smiled. She had known this handwriting, once upon that forgotten time. Jolting to the stop on the last line, Yuuki tried to take in the implications of what she'd just read.
She lifted the trinket once more; an intricately designed silver bracelet. Glints of sunlight shot off of it and glittered against nearby green leaves.
Zero had remained silent while she read. "Is everything all right, Yuuki?"
She thought so. If it was true... "It's from Cross."
She handed him the letter, and he read through it without pause, handing it back to her a minute later. "That sly old fool," he said.
"Sooo..." Yuuki murmured. "The instructions... they said..."
"Instructions," Zero met her stare with a raised eyebrow. "Like we're putting together a toy model."
Yuuki had forgotten about the presence of his sword, but he withdrew it smoothly and slid one long finger over the sharpened blade, splitting skin and beginning a running rivulet of scarlet. "The bracelet," he said.
His left hand took her wrist, and Yuuki felt an inexplicable shudder run the length of her body. His skin was pleasantly cool, the fingers long as they cupped around her warm flesh. His free hand took the bracelet from her loose grasp and wrapped it around her slender forearm, clasping it smoothly. Yuuki felt small drops of hot scarlet blood fall onto her skin as he lifted the bleeding finger over the now-clasped bracelet. He turned her wrist with one hand and let the final drop of blood fall onto the elaborate design in the center of the piece of jewelry.
Yuuki watched as the liquid wound through the lines and corners.
"Is... that it?" she asked.
The scarlet droplet finished its course around the edges, completely filling the perimeter of the bracelet's center.
Then, in front of her eyes, the blood seemed to sink into the cold metal. Yuuki lifted her finger to the previously chilled surface, and was surprised to find it burning with warmth.
Slowly running her fingers over the warm metal, she felt her cheeks warm with an absurd happiness. She couldn't explain it, but the warmth from the bracelet, which contrasted so starkly with the cool skin of Zero's hands, felt like her link to him. Yuuki brushed a long strand of vivid brown hair behind her ears. It felt somehow odd, and she made a decision, impulsive but practical, its motives buried deeply in her heart.
"Zero," she said softly. "Before we go, I need your help."
"What?" he said.
"Cut my hair, Zero," she said.
Deep brown locks tinted with the color of red fire fell wispily to the ground. "You don't have to be so careful, Zero..." Yuuki said. "In case you don't know, hair doesn't hurt."
His voice was endearingly serious when he spoke, and laden with a childish focus and determination. "I don't want to mess it up." It was odd how everything reminded her of what used to be. He wasn't cutting it as short as it had been when she had arrived so many years ago; he was carefully severing the locks in red-brown layers straight down her back.
Yuuki felt sort of relieved. This wasn't the Yuuki of the early years that had been forgotten, but she could also no longer be the Yuuki who had forgotten and lived a fragmented life. The falling strands felt like an expression of what she was now, the Yuuki who had risen from the brokenness of two completely different remembered lives—the her she chose to be, and not one she was made into.
"Close your eyes," Zero said. "I have to get the front."
Yuuki faithfully closed her eyes, but shuddered suddenly when she felt the touch of his fingertips on her forehead. He lifted the hair away from her eyes, and she heard the whisper of a blade severing the ends. Then again; another brush of his fingertips, and more of her hair slipping down the coat he'd wrapped around her body. His coat. She felt kind of bad that her hair was all over it, actually...
"Don't move," Zero reprimanded when she shivered at his touch again. "Almost done."
Yuuki wondered why those barely-there brushes of his fingers made her feel so tinglingly nervous. She peeked up from under the gently tapering curtain of hair in the front, and examined Zero's expression. He looked completely involved, but she was sure she saw the slightest gentle smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"Do you remember when you tried to cut your hair when you were little?" Zero said. "Cross had business in the city, and asked my parents to watch you for a few hours. God only knows why, but you took the scissors and attempted to cut your hair on the back steps with my mom's beloved mirror. I ended up fixing the uneven bushy mess so no one else would see it. You were crying like a baby because you were sure that my mom and dad would be angry at you, and tell Cross."
A name flashed into Yuuki's mind. "I remember," she said softly. "Cross was so terrified when he found what had happened. He even cried. It was hilarious. And...Ichiru," she whispered, as if the name was both familiar and unfamiliar, and somehow forbidden. "Ichiru was the one who saw me first." The reality rushed back to her. "He was your brother."
There was a pause that made Yuuki's stomach sink. She mentally slapped herself.
"Yeah." Zero's voice broke the awkward silence. "He laughed so hard he couldn't stand when he saw you sitting there wide-eyed looking like a mutant dandelion. Which naturally led me back there to see what was going on." His voice still held the reminiscent happiness, but now present was the sad nostalgia of a past that could not be returned to. "When Cross brought you over to visit, Ichiru would sometimes tag along with us, remember?"
Yuuki remembered something else, and wasn't sure if it made the whole situation better or worse. "They never found his body when they looked," she whispered.
Zero's expression froze. "No, they didn't."
And the memories clarified themselves with the sensation of being submerged in cold water. The realization sent a convulsive shudder through her body. "And, that day... I found... you..." All the breath in her body came out in a shuddering exhale. Yagari had lived in that town, once. Touga Yagari, Zero's teacher; only a solder, then, and not the commander of the Royal Guard. He always passed by Cross' house on his way to visit Zero, and Yuuki always watched for him so that she could accompany him to Zero's. On that day, she'd done the same thing, running out to meet him as soon as she saw him passing by. Skipping ahead of Yagari—clueless of the carnage just over the hill—she'd come on the scene first. Hot tears burned her eyes at the memory.
And suddenly, Zero's fingers weren't on her face just to lift the bangs away. The pad of one thumb swiped the unshed tears from her eyes. "Stop it, Yuuki," he said softly. "It's worth nothing to dwell on those things." The gentle whisper of one last slice sent a wispy cloud of red-brown hair falling to the ground. "See? It's all done." He pressed a small mirror into her hands.
He unclasped his coat from around her shoulders, and remained silent. Yuuki shook her head to rid it of clinging severed strands, and looked into the mirror. Her bangs were, at the shortest, halfway down her face, getting longer in a smooth transition downward, where they ended by embracing her chin. The rest of her hair fell in straight layers to just a couple inches past her shoulders. Zero had cut her hair many times back then, even after it had grown back from the atrocious self-snipping she'd given it. He hadn't lost his touch.
"I like it," she said, and felt new. "I like it a lot."
Zero nodded, and Yuuki thought she saw a childish smile of satisfaction, but it disappeared before she could verify its existence. "Good. It'll help to camoflage your identity, as well. It's not as insanely long as it was before, and the style is different."
Yuuki nudged the strands with the bottom of her fingers, and smiled. "We should probably get going, now, shouldn't we?"
"We'll make a short stop in the nearest town," Zero said. "It's market day; we should be able to hide in the crowds."
Yuuki walked over to Lily and stared contemplatively at the horse for a moment. She looked back at Zero. "Aren't you coming?"
Zero looked away for a moment, his expression elsewhere, and finally seemed to come to a decision. "Come here for just a second, Yuuki. I have something for you."
She laughed nervously. "What?"
"Just come over here," he said.
She did. "So..."
Zero unclasped a loose strap from around his waist and lifted it away, holding it out. An elaborately wrought metal sheath dangled from the slender leather strap. The size of the sheath assured that the weapon it housed was no larger than a dagger. "To protect yourself. You need to have a weapon with you," he said softly.
"But where'd you get this?" Yuuki asked.
Zero's eyes fell for a moment. "When I went into my house to get the scissors, I looked for it. It used to be my mother's."
Yuuki backpedaled. "No way! I can't take something that belonged to your parents! It's yours..."
Zero put the strap of the belt into her outstretched hand. "You should have it. You need to be able to protect yourself if there comes a need. That bracelet... isn't a cure-all, Yuuki. There will be a day when I won't be here."
Yuuki ignored that last part. It wasn't something she was ready to address. Slowly, she pulled the dagger from its sheath, and gasped. The blade was engraved with elaborate characters etched carefully into the metal. Every inch of the silver-colored weapon glowed with the reflections of sun on the intricately decorated blade. "What is it?" Yuuki asked, running her fingers along them.
"Ah..." Zero blinked. "It's actually in the ancient language that was spoken before the nobles and their knights even existed. My dad taught it to himself; he was actually pretty interested in history. He made those carvings on the blade."
"What does it say?" Yuuki asked.
"Um... Nothing much," Zero said quickly. "We should get going. The people looking for us will search this place soon. The next town is only about four miles away. Strap that blade around your waist, Yuuki. Use it whenever you're in danger. Even if the danger is from me. Especially if it is."
Yuuki clenched her teeth and prayed that the day he spoke of would never come.
When she climbed onto Lily behind him, she wrapped her arms around his back and held on without him having to tell her.
The town was a small one, with old houses built around the thriving market in the center. The life in that town spread out from the market. Not only food, but comfort and companionship and the beautiful noise of people interacting came from that place.
On market day, the entire population of the small settlement came outside into the burning sun to refresh themselves with the presence of life. It served Zero's purposes well; even if guards were searching the towns, they would not be able to find Zero and Yuuki in this buzzing crowd of people.
He walked so close beside her that she could feel the cloak he wore brushing against her shoulder. He was too protective; she sighed. Too worried. She should be the one worried about him.
"Are you starving for fresh food, or is it just me?" Zero asked. "Cross left a bag of coins in the sack. What say we blow it on something that's not ancient and canned?"
Yuuki laughed. "It sounds good to me."
"Excellent. Let's go, then."
Yuuki caught herself smiling, and wondered if it was all right. So many things that she had remembered; so many things that remained forgotten, and there was no way she could ever completely understand the pain of the boy beside her. Was it really okay for her to be happy right now?
She didn't realize that she'd stopped walking until he stopped, too. "Is something wrong, Yuuki?" Zero asked, worry flitting over his features.
"Yeah! I'm fine." She smiled naturally, honestly, in response, and Yuuki caught a fleeting glimpse of contentment on his face when he saw it.
Yuuki decided that if smiling could make him look like that more often, she would not ever stop smiling. They both came to a halt in front of a fruit stall piled high with ripe produce. The older man behind it gave them a welcoming grin. "And what can I do for you two, today?"
Zero looked at Yuuki, urging her to choose. "Hmm..." she said to the vendor. "I don't actually know! I've never really gone shopping before. What's best?"
The elderly man pointed to a pile of lush, round pink fruits. "These are freshly-picked."
"Can I touch?" Yuuki asked.
The man smiled widely. "Of course, dear," he chuckled.
Yuuki turned to look at Zero. His attention had, for a moment, been drawn somewhere to the left, so he didn't notice her scrutiny.
Suddenly, the light-hearted expression that had been on his face evaporated into something like terror.
"Zero?" Yuuki said, forcing his attention toward her. "What's wrong?"
"Yuuki... please stay here for a bit," he said, and it was near enough to a plea to send fear coursing through her veins.
"Where are you—?"
Zero leaned over Yuuki and passed the man several bills. "This is for whatever fruit she chooses. What's left is for you. Make sure she doesn't wander. Please."
He turned and disappeared into the rushing crowd, and Yuuki lost sight of him.
The man looked at her apologetically, and picked out about six of the pink fruits. "These are the best ones, dear. And I'll give you two of these others if you want. Your boyfriend gave me far too much money. It's a pleasure to give these to a kind girl like yourself. Pick whichever ones you want."
Yuuki wasn't sure which to stutter about first; the fact that he was offering her far too much fruit for the money Zero had paid, or the fact that he had just called Zero her boyfriend. "I—!"
Yuuki felt a vise-like grip on her shoulder, and spun around. A tall woman stared down with a slow, gentle smile. "Hello. I'm a friend of Zero's. I would quite like to speak with you, Yuuki."
The woman's voice, lulling and beautiful, nonetheless sent shudders rolling through Yuuki's body. "Zero asked me to stay here," she said defiantly.
"Of course," the woman said, turning around. Yuuki was entranced by the woman's movements, purposeful and graceful, not unlike the loping stride of a predator. "I'll take that as an indication that you don't want to know how to save Zero."
Yuuki felt her heart skip a beat. She meant to say something, but her lips would not move. Did this woman really...?
"Haven't you noticed the way he's acting around you lately? More open with his feelings, with his actions? It's not like him; you know that. Why do you think he's letting his guard down around you?"
Yuuki felt like desperately asking the woman to stop speaking, because she somehow knew what the answer would be.
"It's because it doesn't matter," the woman continued inevitably. "He knows better than anyone that he's dying." The woman paused, savoring the painful silence, and spoke right before Yuuki could bring herself to do the same. "If you want to find out how to save Zero, you'll follow behind me right now. If not, it's on your head, little one."
Watching the woman's departing back, Yuuki made her decision.
Zero raced through the crowds, desperately trying to catch a glimpse of the face that had been so clear only seconds ago. Every time he got close, it disappeared, and every time he was far away, he spotted the familiar head, visible in the crowds, and pursued it. Only when his feet stopped beating easily giving dust and clattered against stone did the person he followed finally stop.
Stone archways that had no purpose grew from cobblestone ground, and the person he had followed stepped absent-mindedly through one without turning around.
Barely comprehensible for lack of breath, Zero gasped desperately, "Ichiru." Willing the figure with the familiar eyes and face and hair to finally turn around. Willing him and so desperately needing him to prove that he was someone else, but at the same time needing him to be Ichiru; his brother, his twin.
The boy turned around, and Zero stared into a sharper, twisted reflection of his own face.
"It's been a while, hasn't it, Zero?"
Zero fell to his knees, gasping for breath. "What's going on? What are you doing here?" he demanded.
A smile lit across Ichiru's face, but the most terrifying part of it all was that it wasn't happy, and it wasn't sad. It was resigned and inevitable.
"You're too late," Ichiru said.
His meaning sank into the pit of Zero's stomach, and a single word passed his lips with reverent fear.
The woman's footsteps finally stopped in front of an old building, stone-hewn and once-lived in. Time had left it neglected and cold. It was into this house that the mysterious woman walked, and Yuuki followed.
The strange, silver-haired stranger had carefully avoided any questions, urging Yuuki to wait until they arrived, so as soon as the woman stopped, Yuuki stood in the doorway and defiantly repeated herself. "So how do you know how to help Zero?"
The woman smiled cruelly but beautifully, like sunlight glowing on silver gunmetal. "Didn't I mention it?"
The pause was intentional; dangling food over the mouths of starving animals.
"...It's because I'm the one who changed him."
The woman was faster that Yuuki could have anticipated, and long, cold fingers wrapped around Yuuki's arm, pulling her into the darkened doorway of the shack. Before she could process what was happening, restraints were wrapped around her wrists and ankles, and a cold incision cut through the fear and made her scream. She felt the drip, drip, drip of warm blood trailing down her neck, and in the light, she saw a small vial dangling from the woman's fingers. It was full of something vividly and intoxicatingly red, while tinted at the same time with an ethereal, silvery glow.
"Do you know what this is, Yuuki, dear?" said Shizuka Hiou. "This is my means to Kaname Kuran's end, and you will bring it about."
Tears filled and rolled down from Yuuki's wide eyes. No, no, no, no, no...
She prayed for Kaname.
He did not come.
She prayed for Zero.
He did not come.
Silver-scarlet liquid was lathed onto the already healing wound on her neck, and everything went mercifully, terrifyingly...
Notes: Gack! Please forgive me for the long update time. I hope that things will be more regular from now on, since those odd sorts of life-emergencies don't happen on a regular basis. This chapter was a challenge to me, especially with bringing in Ichiru and Shizuka. I had a great time with both of them, and hope to flesh out their motives, as well as what the heck just happened in the final scene as soon as possible. I'd absolutely love any comments. Please Review?