Disclaimer: I do not own Vampire Knight, Yuki, Zero, Kaname, or any of its other characters. If I did, Yuki wouldn't be torn between Zero and Kaname, and Zero would be her definite choice, and there'd be another way to save Zero's life. The only person I own is Kuroma Yaseiri, so please don't steal him (when he makes his appearance in later stories)

IMPORTANT AUTHOR'S NOTE: For those of you who have not read my profile, I'd like to make this clear. I DO NOT READ THE ONLINE MANGA, THEREFORE I DO NOT KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IN VOLUME 5. I only read what is available in the store, because I prefer to read the published books. So, any store I write until volume 5 is available will be based solely on my knowledge from volumes 1-4 and my theories of what happens next, not what actually does. I DO NOT WANT REVIEWS TELLING ME WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS BECAUSE I DO NOT WANT TO READ ANY SPOILERS. THIS IS A FANFICTION BASED ON WHAT I KNOW. DO NOT SPOIL VAMPIRE KNIGHT FOR ME! I WANT TO BE SURPRISED!!

This is the second of my one-shot series, How The Rose Blooms. Inspired by a real-life fight with one of my closest friends.

How The Rose Blooms: The Will To Live

A flash of white streaked through the dark, steel-colored sky, soaring faster than a fiery comet. Rocketing through the icy air, it indifferently passed the other people packed in the crowded street and blazed straight for the tall, unfortunate figure that stood in its path. Unyieldingly, the glittering diamond streak surged forth and with the might of a falling hammer, struck the back of the figure's skull. The force of the blow snapped his head forward and his body bent forward to the point where he was almost doubled over, causing him to stumble.

When he regained his balance, pale hair lashed across his face as the boy whipped around. Melting globs of snow dripped from the fine strands and his fair eyes – framed by a fringe of dark eyelashes – narrowed menacingly.

"What'd you do that for?!" he snapped irately, almost yelled.

Like a soaked dog, Zero shook his head violently, his water-darkened silver hair fluttering around his elegant face in sensual disarray. Crystal drops of water from the remnants of the snowball flew from his hair, spraying me in the face. A gloved hand came up to rapidly rake leather-clad fingers through the wet starlight hair at the back of his head, working to remove the moisture. His beautiful, lavender-gray eyes glared fiercely at me as he scowled severely, waiting for a response.

"Because you were being grumpy," I answered cheerfully, smiling sincerely.

The vampire frowned contemptuously, tugging his green-gray overcoat tighter around his lanky body.

"And you thought that chucking a snowball at the back of my head was going to improve my mood?" he inquired snidely, his upper lip curling minutely. He sniffed frostily. "You have an odd sense of logic."

Spinning on his heel, the folds of his coat flared out behind him as Zero thrust his gloved hands deep into his coat pockets and continued forward. Roughly, he shoved by the multitude pedestrians swarming the cobblestone streets causing several indignant exclamations and dirty looks. Not that it really mattered. My fellow guardian simply ignored them anyways, treating them as if they were nothing more than invisible ghosts.

In a voice just loud enough for me to hear over the hustle and bustle of the crowd, and without breaking his pace or pausing to spare a glance at me, Zero warned, "Do it again and you won't be getting anything from me."

Like you've give me a gift anyway with the way you've been these days, I thought dejectedly, heaving a heavy sigh as I watched his retreating back. You won't even give me the time of day lately.

My shoulders slumped in defeat. That bleak fact never ceased to send me spiraling down into misery. Knowing he wouldn't wait for me, I wrapped my scarf more securely around my neck and hurried after the hunter before I lost him in the crowd. The sterling-haired vampire didn't even glance at me when I finally caught up to him, and continued on as if I were still five feet behind him. Swallowing my hurt, I bowed my head and was forced to walk silently by his side.

Three months had passed since the incident in the horse stable and Christmas was just around the corner. During that long span of time from then to now, Zero hadn't kissed me, fed from me or touched me in anyway. Nothing. Not even something as simple as a friendly punch to the arm or a hand on the shoulder. He'd been surviving solely on the blood tablets like he was supposed to, like Kaname wanted him to. No blood of mine had been spilt in recent days. What had happened that day in the barn had become a strictly taboo subject. Whenever I tried to broach it, Zero either changed the subject or walked away.

If it was possible, his heart had become more closed off to me than ever before.

I walked broodingly beside him, recalling my emotions on that fateful, warm September night.

Hope had been the first emotion to touch me. Bouncing back and forth between Kaname and Zero was wreaking havoc on my sanity. Who did I love more? Did either one of them love me? Zero's actions had instilled hope in my heart. Those things don't – or at least shouldn't – happen between a man and a woman if you don't have some level of attraction for them. And Zero had even told me – ticked them off one-by-one – how he hated thinking about Kaname and I being together in a romantic, intimate sense. I had thought that maybe, just maybe, Zero had feelings for me, feelings that went deeper than just friendship. I'd hoped that my decision between him and Kaname would be made easier if Zero gave me a clear-cut answer.

But later that day, after I had showered and changed my clothes, Zero completely ignored me when I saw him in class. He wouldn't walk with me, speak to me, or even look at me. For three days, Zero treated me as if I didn't exist.

I was devastated. No matter what way I examined it, I couldn't understand why he was giving me the cold shoulder. Those first three days were the longest ones of my life. Never did I think any amount of time could be longer than the two days I'd spent pacing outside of Kuroma Yaseiri's doors, waiting to learn if Zero had made it through the final transformation. But I was wrong. I had never been more miserable in my life. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't focus.

Once, I had encountered Kaname during the second black day of Zero's absence. My heart couldn't even muster up the willpower to start beating faster as it usually did whenever I encountered my pureblood savior. After I exchanged a few brief, stale words with him, I had walked straight by him and continued on my way. As numb and heartbroken as I was, I didn't even feel guilty when I felt Kaname's sad, lonely eyes on me as I slumped away.

Forty-eight hours of me being unresponsive to questioning and feeble attempts at conversation, most of my peers had given up on tried to pry answers from me about why Zero and I weren't speaking. Several of my teachers had quit calling on me in class to solve problems because even then, I wouldn't speak. Yori and the Chairman were the only ones who didn't give up on me. Both did their best to console me, even if I gave no indication that I heard a single word of what they were saying. Unable to bear Yori's concerned gaze, I'd retreated from the girl's dorm in favor of my old, childhood bedroom where I could cry undisturbed.

At the end of the third day, Zero finally spoke to me, prodding me awake in class. He acted as if nothing had happened. But clearly, something had. He didn't tease me like he used to, playfully shove me whenever I pulled a ditsy moment, or help me struggle through my math homework. It was as if we'd traveled five and a half years into the past when the Chairman first brought Zero to live with us, broken and bleeding. If I was being honest with myself, the moonlight-haired vampire was more withdrawn now than he had been as a child.

Three months later, I still couldn't understand it.

All I wanted was the Zero Kiryu I knew and loved back.

I sighed woefully, hoping I'd get a reaction of some kind out of the stoic boy beside me, but to no avail. There wasn't even the tiniest shift of his twilight eyes toward me as he stared ahead unblinkingly. He kept on marching in quick, powerful strides so that I had to jog to keep up with his long legs.

With a mountainous effort, I directed my focus away from Zero in attempt to force myself to enjoy the outing. With Christmas only a few days away, I had convinced the Headmaster to allow Zero and me to make a day's trip to town in order to do some holiday shopping. Zero, of course, hadn't wanted to come, but the Chairman and I all but shoved him out the Academy gates.

I loved the town at this time of year. It always reminded me of lost, magical palace hidden in the depths of a remote, snowy mountain. Thick layers of the crystal powder heavily blanketed the sloped roofs of the shops and houses. The sky was a stormy gray from which cottony tufts of snow gracefully drifted down to the frozen earth. A chilled breeze blew around us, rumpling Zero's and my hair. The gentle wind danced and swirled away from us, catching the falling snow in an invisible, spiraling whirlpool.

Boughs of fresh, emerald pine branches hung from every door, decorated with strings of vibrant scarlet cranberries and gold beads. Lit candles winked from darkened windows, their tiny flames flickering welcomingly. The icy, cobblestone street was packed with shoppers bundled up in their heavy winter coats, hand-knit scarves and woolen hats, their arms laden with brightly wrapped packages and bags.

Turning my head every which way, I took in the sights, almost forcing the smile on my face. The wintry town was something I saw once every year, the thing I looked forward to most in the month of December (except for maybe Christmas). However, try as I might, I couldn't shake the morose black cloud that hung over my head. A small section of me was enjoying the trip, but it wasn't enough to overwhelm my depression and fill me with unspeakable joy.

"So," Zero began grumpily, snapping me out of my reverie, "What's the first stop you're dragging me to?"

I drew a blank. "Uhh…."

The vampire glared angrily at me, his dusk-colored eyes narrowed and dark with irritation. "You've got to be kidding me," he snarled dangerously. "You haul me out here to go shopping with you – something I hate to begin with – and you don't even have a clue where you want to go which is going to drag out this little outing of yours even longer!"

"No…." I murmured, my cheeks flaring in embarrassment at the icy tone of his voice and his harsh, condescending words. "I know what I have to get. You just caught me off guard. I wanna get Yori this dress that I saw, and I know that the Chairman would love some more cooking supplies." I was about to add that I wanted to find something for him (if he wasn't so hard to shop for) and Kaname as well if I had enough money leftover, but thought better of it. My eyes landed on a cooking shop, and I figured that would be as good a place as any to start. Without waiting for Zero, I headed toward it.

At the mention of the Chairman, Zero frowned, his moonstone eyes disapproving. "Is there any particular reason why you're encouraging him?" he questioned irritably, following sulkily behind me. "Are you trying to provoke him into cooking something that's potentially lethal?"

"I don't understand why you're making such a big fuss about all of this. You rarely eat with us anyways, so if anyone has the right to worry, it's me," I told him, doing my best to keep the sigh out of my voice as I pushed the door of the shop open. Overhead, a tiny bell tinkled, announcing our arrival. Even though cooking wasn't exactly… a strong point of mine (putting it lightly), I was always fascinated every time I walked into this store. The Chairman loved to come here all the time, and whenever he brought me with him, I just loved to explore the shelves and examine all the jars of spices and herbs, the exotic ingredients, and the state-of-the-art utensils. I managed to rein my curiosity under control and tear my eyes away from the multitude of bottled spices so I could focus on the task at hand.

Striding for the back of the store where the cookbooks were located, I glanced over my shoulder to check if Zero was still there and then said, "Anyways, the main reason why I'm coming here is so that I can buy him a recipe book. That way, he wouldn't be able to mess things up."

Even with my back turned to him, I could almost see the starlight-haired vampire scowl at me. "What makes you think he's going to follow it exactly as it's written?" he demanded, his lavender-gray eyes boring into me. "You know what that man's like. He's got to make everything into 'his' style."

"Well, if I get him a cookbook, at least he'll have the correct recipe instead of making it up as he goes along," I reasoned sensibly, running a finger along the spines of the books. "He can tweak it however way he wants afterwards, just so long as he's got the basic gist."

Zero huffed and rolled his eyes, but didn't say anything else. As I scanned the bindings, checking the titles, my partner leaned petulantly against the bookshelf, arms crossed over his chest and his head bowed, silver bangs obscuring his eyes.

"Don't lean against the shelf," I scolded quietly, selecting a book and quickly leafing through its pages, searching for a recipe that appeared appetizing. "You'll knock it over."

"Would you shut up and let me do what I want to? You're not in charge of me anymore," Zero drawled indifferently, eyes glued to the exit sign. "Just finish up your shopping so we can leave already."

Keep up with that attitude and I'll take my own sweet time, I thought bitterly. But three months of Zero's snappy, standoffish behavior couldn't soften his harsh, cutting tone. His words sliced through me and I couldn't bury the pang of hurt in my heart.

Why did I bring him, again? I asked myself, opening up another book and scanning its contents. I paused for a moment to think. Why couldn't I remember? Oh, that's right. I'd hoped that doing something familiar would coax him out of that cold, hard shell he's adapted. Guess I was wrong.

Suddenly, Zero pushed away from the bookshelf and stomped toward the door. Alarmed, I spun around and called after him, "Zero! Where're y-"

"It's obvious that you're in no hurry to complete your errand in the next twenty minutes and I'm not going to stand around here doing nothing while I wait for you to finish," the nightwalker deadpanned dryly without breaking his stride toward the door. "Besides, I just remembered that there's something I have to do while I'm already here. No point in wasting time by coming back here again."

"Wait, Zero!"

But he was out the door before I had even moved. The cookbook hung limply in my listless fingers as I stood there numbly, staring out the glass door. Shoppers past by me, eyeing me with confusion and curiosity.

He…he left, I thought blankly. I… I can't believe it. He just left. He knows I'm afraid to be in town all by myself.

Tears of hurt prickled the corner of my eyes and my throat tightened, making me feel like I had a noose around my neck that was slowly tightening. My heart throbbed deeply and painfully, and I clutched at my chest with my free hand. I was almost surprised to discover that there wasn't a knife lodged between my breasts.

Zero left me…. How could he…?

Glancing down at the cookbook in my hand, I decided that the recipes I saw in it when I flipped through quickly appeared to be edible enough and that the Chairman would be happy with it. Hurriedly, I paid for the book, and then rushed out into the chilly, snowy street.

My head turned left and right as I scanned the roads and faces of the people passing by, searching for my silver-haired partner. But he was nowhere to be seen.

Wrapping my arms around myself, I shivered as a frigid breeze whispered past me. I didn't know what to do. Zero had vanished and now I was all alone, standing outside in the freezing cold, waiting for him to return. The haunting, creeping sensation I got whenever I wasn't in the school, the one that made an appearance only when I was in a foreign place unaccompanied, began to pervade my senses. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, not from the cold, but out of fear. Fear of the past, fear of my memories, fear of the nameless, bloodthirsty creatures that wandered in the shadows.

In attempt to stave off my growing panic, I all but sprinted down the street towards the shop I had wanted to stop at after I'd gotten the Chairman his gift. My heart thudded in my chest and adrenaline pumped in my veins, fueling my speed. Memories of that dark, snowy night surged to the surface and I ran harder, picturing imaginary monsters behind me, stalking me.

I burst through the door of the shop, trembling from head to toe and breathing heavily. The bright, florescent lights of the store chased away the invisible shadows, banishing my fear – temporarily – and filling me with the warmth of the light.

Doing my best to remain calm, I combed through the clothing racks in hopes of locating that one dress that caught my eye, the one that reminded me of Yori. As I searched, I couldn't help but wonder what I was going to do now. Zero had vanished without a trace and it was glaringly obvious that I wouldn't make it back to the Academy with my sanity intact if I returned alone. But at the same time, I certainly couldn't stay in town all night either. It was a dilemma, and I wasn't sure how I was going to solve it.

I threw a glance out the window. The sky was just beginning to darken as the sun set behind the clouds, staining them with a fuchsia and lavender color. If I hurried, I could buy Yori's gift and then book it home before it got too dark and all of my nightmares came roaring to life.

Sifting through the clothes, I nearly sobbed in relief when my hand landed on the dress I was looking for. Plucking it from the rack, I held it up to examine it. It was a cotton sundress with a wide U-shaped neckline. Emerald green and topaz spirals swirled around the dress from its sleeveless top to its pleated bottom. Yes, this was the one. It would fit Yori perfectly. Granted, she wouldn't be able to wear it until summer time, but I figured she'd love it. The topaz in the dress would really bring out the gold in her eyes.

Hurrying to the cash register, I waited in line at the checkout counter, keeping an eye on the fading light outside. Thank goodness I didn't have a lot to carry. Just the Headmaster's cookbook and now Yori's dress. They wouldn't slow me down any when I made a break for the Academy before darkness fell.

With only one person left in front of me, I reverted my attention back to the line and found myself examining the rack of jewelry perched atop of the glass counter. One piece in particular sparked my interest, and for the time being, I forgot all about the impending night and the frantic run I was in for.

From where I stood in line, I examined the necklace, liking it more and more the longer I stared at it. It was a delicate, silver chainlink necklace that looked like it would fall midway down someone's chest when worn. Hanging from the chain was a dragon charm about the size of my thumb. Despite its size, the dragon was intricately and expertly detailed. Its head was bowed forward and its wings were half-open behind its back. Tiny, miniature spikes ran along its spine and delicate scales were etched into its metal body. Its tail made a long, corkscrew spiral straight down and ended in an arrowhead-shaped spike.

Suddenly, two visions came to me. One was Kaname, dressed in black shirt and the dragon necklace hanging around his long, swan-like neck. The other was Zero, wearing the exact same chain with the dragon pendent resting quietly against his pale, bare chest.

Edging closer, I peered at the necklace, hunting for its price. The good news? It would look great on both Zero and Kaname and there were two of the same necklace. The bad news? I only had enough money for one, which meant I'd have to choose which boy to give it to. Kaname? Or Zero?

I wanted to give Kaname something special in thanks for the beautiful dress he'd presented to me on the night of the ball. That way, I'd feel like I was repaying him for a debt that I owed, since clearly that gown was far too elegant and lovely for a girl like me. But at the same time, I longed to have a present for Zero in hopes that it would charm him out from behind his apathetic mask.

I was still debating with myself by the time I got up to the counter to pay for Yori's dress. As I placed it on the countertop, I turned to examine the necklace once more….

…And reached my decision without the slightest question.

Now that I could get a close-up view of it, I could spot a certain aspect of the dragon charm that I hadn't been able to see before. Two pale gems took the place of its eyes and their unique color was one I saw every day. There was no mistaking the silvery, lilac-blue sheen of the jewels.


A pure, silver dragon with moonstones for eyes.

My mind was made up. There was no question as to whom this necklace would go to.

I lifted the necklace up from its rack and laid it down on top of the sundress. The clerk rang up my purchases and I surrendered what money I had left in my wallet. As soon as he handed over the bag containing the dress and the necklace, I made a B-line for the door, hoping I'd be able to beat the sun home. Bursting out the shop entrance, both bags in hand, I had just started to run when a familiar voice said, "Why do you look like you're heading off to the gallows?"

I skidded to a stop and whirled around, my eyes wide. Sure enough, there stood Zero, leaning up against the wall of the shop as if he didn't have a care in the world. The silver-haired vampire stared expectantly at me with his twilight eyes, waiting for an answer. Like a fish out of water, my mouth flopped open and closed, but no words came out. Then, the anger rose inside of me, and I suddenly had an uncharacteristically large number of words I wanted to say, none of which were entirely pleasant. Unfortunately, I couldn't seem to string together my words well enough to get them out of my mouth. So, instead, I settled for, "You jerk!"

With my free hand, I swatted at Zero, fully intending on slapping him across the face with all of my might. However, I nearly landed face first in the snow instead when Zero dodged the blow at the last second. Fuming, I spun around and glared at the tall boy.

"Where were you?!" I screamed, jabbing my finger into the center of his chest, standing on my tiptoes so I could get right up in his face. "I cannot even believe that you did that! Do you have any idea how terrified I was?! You know I'm afraid to be alone!"

My fellow guardian just stared uninterestedly down at me, moonstone eyes bored. "You survived, didn't you?" he inquired coolly.

I had to bite back the intake of breath at his icy words, willing myself not to cry. Averting my gaze from him, I stood numbly by his side, battling the pain that was tearing a hole into my heart. I felt like I was standing next to a stranger, rather than my best friend. A stranger with Zero's face and Zero's voice, but a completely different demeanor.

The thought made my throat constrict and tears well up in my eyes.

We would've continued to stand there like a pair of statues if my stomach hadn't voiced its protest and growled audibly and hungrily. A pink blush erupted over my face as I clutched a hand over my midsection. Try as I might, I couldn't avoid the scornful stare that the wintry-haired vampire turned on me, one slender eyebrow arching over his pale eyes.

"Great, just another thing to draw this out longer than it needs to be." Flicking his silver bangs out of his stone-hard face, Zero let out a long suffering sigh, one that sounded more like an annoyed growl than anything else. Propelling himself away from the wall, he began striding away. "Let's go"

Having no desire to be left alone again, I dashed after Zero despite my bewilderment. When I caught up to him, I slowed to a jog and panted, "Where are we going?"

"To get something to eat," he answered brusquely without looking at me. "By the time we get back to the Academy it'll be extremely late. And I really don't feel like lugging you over my shoulder the whole way back because you passed out from lack of food."


The knife twisted deeper, and my brisk pace faltered. Quickly, I hurried to catch up before Zero noticed. Recalling the last time we'd come to town, I thought about how I'd dragged Zero off to my favorite café, the Corazzo. Of course, in my excitement to order my favorite parfait, I'd completely disregarded what Zero had wanted to eat. I wasn't about to repeat the same mistake. Maybe this would soften him up a little.

"Um…. So… where do you want to go?" I asked timidly.

Another irritated sigh issued from the nightwalker. "I don't particularly care. I'm not hungry. Let's just stop by that little café of yours, order your parfait and leave so you can stop wasting my time."

I winced.

When will Zero's words stop slicing these invisible wounds into my skin? When will I reach the point when I've become completely numb and his cold attitude can't hurt me anymore? I wondered, my heart throbbing.

On automatic, I took the lead as my feet guided me through the now darkened streets. Like a moth drawn to a lantern flame, I headed towards the lit windows of the Corazzo that promised food and warmth. Most of the pedestrians had abandoned the roads and returned home after a long afternoon of shopping. Only a scattering of people, much like Zero and I, remained outside, strolling to and from restaurants. Silent as a ghost, Zero followed wordlessly behind me.

When we were five feet away from the café door, my tolerance suddenly snapped. Suddenly, I realized that I'd had enough of the silence. I was weary of the cold attitude. And I was sick to the point of tears from not knowing what I'd done to cause Zero to treat me this way.

Before I had taken another step towards entrance, I dropped my plastic shopping bags onto the snow-covered ground and whipped around. With all the strength I could muster, I threw myself at Zero's middle and locking my arms around his stomach. The force of my sudden, unexpected movement propelled the tall boy backwards, his upper body bending over me as he staggered. Backpedaling in attempt to regain his footing, the silver-haired vampire's arms instinctively snapped away from his sides to close around me, intent on catching me as he always did.

The second Zero's feet were firmly planted into the ground once more, he seemed to remember his "no contact" policy, and froze, his hands suspended uncertainly over my back. His slender frame stiffened, reverting back into obstinate, icy marble and let his arms fall to his sides.

Straightening his body, my fellow guardian turned his head away, lilac eyes to the ground. "Let go of me, Yuki," Zero demanded coolly.

"No," I said stubbornly, my voice muffled by his coat from where my face was buried in his chest.

"I said let go," he growled, placing his gloved hands on my shoulders and attempted to shove me away from him. Constricting my arms tighter around his middle, I hugged him closer, refusing to release him. I never thought I'd be able to resist Zero's vampire strength, but this time, it appeared that my determination to get through to him was stronger.

"No!" I repeated, louder this time, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a few curious heads turn in our direction. Then my vision was blurred as tear prickled my eyes. "What happened to you, Zero? Why are you being like this?"

He laughed callously and with an absence of humor. "Because I'm a vampire," he answered icily. "Have you forgotten that? Perhaps this is my true face, the vampire that I am. A violent, cruel, bloodthirsty beast that doesn't care about anyone or anything. Now I'm not going to say it again. Let. Me. Go. People are staring."

"I don't care!" I cried, my voice cracking on the last word. "I don't care…. Let them stare all they want. Don't you dare tell me that this… this alternate personality of yours is who you really are! You never were like this three months ago! You're still Zero! The same Zero Kiryu I've known for my entire childhood! Even if you are a vampire now! That doesn't make any difference! I know the real you is in there somewhere, somewhere under that mask you've been wearing, and I'm going to get you back no matter what it takes!"

Zero remained silent and tilted his head back, gazing up into the sky. Peering up at the lavender-gray-eyed vampire from this low angle, I couldn't see the expression on his face. Only the sharp, strong line of his jaw and the long expanse of his throat. A muscle in his jaw jumped as he clenched his teeth, something usually did whenever he was faced with a tough decision or a strenuous situation.

When he made no comment, no move to push me away, I dove into my next inquiry, the one that was laying most heavily on my mind. "What did I do wrong, Zero?" I whispered as my fingers clenched, fisting great handfuls of his coat into my tiny palms.


Taking a shuddering breath, I murmured tearfully, "Three months ago… that day… in the stables…. You haven't been the same since that day…. And… and I want to know what I did wrong…. Afterwards, for three days, you didn't speak to me… and you haven't been the same since. W-what did I do?"

The hot tears that had welled up in my eyes had bubbled over and were now streaming down my face. My hands had the back of his overcoat trapped in a death grip. I couldn't let him escape without getting to the bottom of this. "Please, Zero," I begged, weeping uncontrollably. "Was it something I said or did? Tell me, please! I can't stand this separation from you! I want the old Zero back!"

Great, ceaseless sobs shook me as the restrained tears finally flowed free. I did my best to stem the flow, but it was too little, too late. The dam that held back the my tears of these past three months had reached the breaking point of the strain it could handle and had finally ruptured. I knew there was no way I'd be able to repair it fast enough.

For what felt like a decade, I stood there, crying incessantly into Zero's chest. Then, tentatively, his lithe arms encircled and he drew me against his warm, muscular chest, holding me to him. He bowed his head and touched his forehead to the top of my skull.

"Stop crying, Yuki."

I gasped at the sound of Zero's voice and froze in his arms, a fine trembling overtaking me. For the first time in what felt like years, his voice hadn't taken on that terrible detached, dry tone I'd become far too accustomed to. It was Zero's voice. My Zero. Deep, husky and sensual, the beautiful sound was soft and tender. As if I hadn't shed enough tears, a fresh stream of the salty liquid cascaded down my face. Only this time, instead of sorrow and loss, they were tears of joy.

A cloud of fragrant, warm breath stirred the hair at the top of my head as Zero sighed. Not in frustration or irritation, but in regret and shame. "You didn't do anything wrong," he murmured quietly, one hand sliding along my back to twine in my hair. "So, please, stop crying."

"D-don't lie to me to make me f-feel better," I sobbed, ducking my face against the crook of his neck. "I had t-to have messed up somehow, otherwise you w-wouldn't have shunned me for so long."

Unwinding one arm from my back, Zero's willowy fingers snaked up to timidly tuck under my chin and gently coaxed my face up so I had no choice but to look at him. Blinking through the tears, I met his moonstone eyes and was shocked to see the angst that twisted his face. Taking my face in both hands, he touched his forehead to mine, his twilight irises capturing my gaze. His leather-clad thumbs swept under my eyes, wiping away the paths of warm tears. The gentle, familiar touch soothed me, and my hysteric sobs quieted to soft hiccups.

"It wasn't you, Yuki," Zero whispered, his silver bangs mingling with my chocolate ones. "I swear it. The one who is to blame is me. My attitude these past months was not your fault. It was solely me."

My brow creased in confusion. "I don't understand…." I trailed off. My voice was still watery and trembled when I spoke.

"Then allow me to explain," he murmured, releasing my face to embrace me once more. "After what happened in the stable, the reality of what I did began to sink in and I became livid with myself."

I tilted my head back so I could examine his face. "Why?"

"Three reasons. Strike one was that I lost control of my anger. Then I couldn't contain the bloodlust that emerged from my rage and I ended up feeding from you, something I'd sworn that I'd never do again since becoming a true vampire. Especially since I no longer have a need for it now that the blood tablets don't make me sick anymore. So that was strike two. And strike three…." Zero broke off, his eyebrows drawing together in a tormented expression. "What I did… I had no right… no right at all to touch you like that…."

The vampire's dusk-colored eyes squeezed shut, his face contorting in agony. "If nothing else, that was what I hated most about myself after that day. I used you, Yuki," Zero whispered, and when he opened his eyes, the moonstone irises were laced with pain. "I let my… emotions get the better of me and I took advantage of you. Haven't I tainted you enough by drinking your blood? But to do that…." He shuddered. "It's a wonder you're still so pure. I'm always taking things from you, Yuki, things that aren't mine to take."

"Zero…" I began, but he shook his head, cutting me off.

"Let me finish," he pleaded.

Gazing up at him, I could detect the urgency in his eyes. "Alright."

Picking up where he left off, Zero said, "I was so disgusted with myself, with the creature that I am, that I decided that you would be better off if I didn't interfere with your life. Distancing myself from you seemed to be the best option where your well-being was concerned. That and I couldn't bear to be in your presence, knowing that I had betrayed you and your trust. My logic was that if I acted as if you'd never known me, you'd be safe from the danger that I present to you."

Zero chuckled humorlessly. "As usual, my plan to protect you backfired on me. Staying away from you proved harder than I could've ever imagined. And when I learned how hard you were taking the separation, my level of self-hatred escalated because, yet again, I was causing you more pain. Your health was my first concern, so that's why I came back."

His moonstone eyes met mine, sadness reflected in the pearly irises. "However, it seems that I made another fatal error. Yes, I knew that you didn't want to be away from me, and I had no desire to be away from you, but I believed – and still do – that you would be safer and happier if I was no longer in the picture. I'm sorry to say that my aloof behavior was an attempt to make you want to stay away from me. And for the record, I never left you completely alone today. I really did have something I needed to do, but I waited – hidden – until you had gotten inside the other store. I'd never leave you completely alone. Just because I wore cold and standoffish mask on the outside doesn't mean I stopped caring about you and hated myself every time I pushed you away."

If there had been any words I'd wanted to hear that that moment, those were it. The words from Zero's lips that admitted that his character these past weeks wasn't real. It was an act, a façade, a mask, whatever you wanted to call it. The real Zero had been in there all along, wanting his true self to shine through the entire time, just as I did. And the joy that filled me was so overwhelming that – if it hadn't been for my partner's strong arms around me – I would've floated away.

My vampire's arms tightened around me and he whispered, "Please understand, Yuki. All that I've done, all the errors that I've made, I've done in attempt to protect you, to do what's best for you. I never meant to hurt you and I know that's a clichéd phrase, but I honestly from the core of my soul mean it."

"I know, Zero," I told him, unwinding an arm from his midsection so I could touch his warm, porcelain cheek. "I believe you. You don't have to explain."

Thick, dark eyelashes swept closed over his pale eyes as he sighed, and a large, gloved hand engulfed my smaller one, keeping it pinned to the side of his face. "Can you ever forgive me for what I've done?" he whispered.

Even though he couldn't see it, I smiled at him. "There's nothing to forgive," I said softly. "You may interpret it differently, but to me, you didn't use me or take advantage of me or taint me and you certainly didn't betray me. And even if you had done all those things, I still would've forgiven you, no matter what. So, what do you say we forget about all this, put it behind us and just pretend these past three months never happened?"

Lavender-gray eyes opened, and for the first time in ages, they were gentle. A small, rare smile curved his lips, and Zero breathed, "I like the sound of that." Bending forward, he placed a tender kiss on my forehead and my limbs transformed into Jell-O. When he pulled away, the spot where his lips had touched my skin was tingling.

Smile still in place, Zero released me and I dropped my hand from his face. "C'mon," he murmured, lifting the discarded shopping bags from the ground before I could grab them, "Let's get some food in you before you faint."

Lightly, he nudged me toward the café, opening the door for me and ushered me inside. The hostess greeted us warmly and led us to a booth, which I promptly slid into, slumping against the cushioned seat as I tugged my scarf off. With the all-day shopping excursion, the stress of Zero's - former - uncaring demeanor, my panic attack, and now the shocking revelation that everything had been an act and Zero was back to normal, I was exhausted. Much to my surprise, instead of taking the seat across from me, Zero sat down next to me, placing my shopping bags under the table by his feet and peeling off his leather gloves. I guess he was trying to make up for how he'd been behaving, fake or not.

The pretty blue-eyed brunette waitress from before arrived to take our orders – decaf coffee for Zero and vanilla almond tea with a parfait for me. Having learned from the last time Zero and I came here together, the waitress said nothing about the silver-haired vampire's appearance, the Night Class, or Aido. She simply smiled cheerfully, brought us our orders, and left us alone.

A comfortable silence stretched between Zero and I as he sipped his coffee and I dug into my parfait (not exactly the best thing to be eating this late at night, but considering the day I'd had, I figured I deserved it). As I ate, I pondered this sudden turn of events. This whole time… Zero was distancing himself from me to protect me…. He didn't hate me. It was all an act. I didn't do anything wrong….

"Why are you smiling?"

"Huh?" I blinked in confusion, glancing at Zero. The vampire hunter was watching me, one eyebrow raised. Then I realized that my mouth was curved up into a wide grin, beaming as if I'd just won the lottery.

I blushed. "Oh. Just thinking."

With one last sidelong glance at me, he shrugged and said, "Okay," then returned his attention to his mug of steaming coffee.

Out of the corner of my eye, I studied his elegant features in between bites of parfait. I wondered….

Laying aside my spoon, I shifted my body towards him and quietly murmured, "Hey, Zero?"

His silver head turned towards me. "Hmm?"

I fidgeted, wringing my scarf between my hands. "Can I ask you something?"

He regarded me with caution, his moonstone irises guarded. "That depends," he warned cagily. "What's it about?"

My courage faltered, and I hesitated. Maybe this isn't such a good idea to ask him that…. I reconsidered, picking up my mug of tea and drinking from it to distract myself.

Zero frowned slightly at my indecision. "If you've got something to say, Yuki, just say it."

Oh, cripes. What did I get myself into? I bit my lip. "I'm afraid you'll get angry at me."

My partner simply stared at me, eyes expectant and one fair brow arched. It was an expression I had seen an infinite number of times. Without him even speaking, I could clearly read by his face what was going through his head: 'I'll be angrier if you don't just spit it out.'

Great, I thought woefully. Now I've got no choice. I have to say it.

Heaving an enormous sigh, I set my mug down on the table and neatly folded my hands in my lap. Keeping my head bowed, I began, "Umm…. well… about that day… you know…." Zero stiffened fractionally, but his face remained unclouded by emotion. I took that as a positive sign and plundered on forward. "…I…I wanted to know why… why you…. did that…. Those things…."

By the time I had finished stumbling and stuttering my way through what I wanted to know, I was blushing madly. It embarrassed me to no end trying to get the words out without actually saying anything, but the meaning was there regardless. I knew what I meant by saying them, the story that hid behind the innocent words, and Zero did as well. And if that wasn't enough, my stammered question stirred up countless memories of that hot fall day. Of course, that only magnified the carnation blush on my cheeks until it was – no doubt – cherry red.

Apparently, I was still anticipating that Zero would revert back into his secure, aloof shell because I was taken by surprise when he wasn't angered by my question. He didn't snap at me, didn't glare. His eyes didn't even narrow. Instead, he merely stared at me, wearing his are-you-really-that-stupid? expression, the one he saved for me whenever I pulled a ditzy, blonde-moment.

"Do you really have to ask?" he inquired finally, his voice barely above a whisper, keeping his gaze level with mine.

"Well… I…." I hesitated, thinking quickly and rewording what was on my mind. "I'm entirely not sure why you did…. And I wanted you to clarify it for me."

That wasn't what I was originally going to say. The first thing that had come to my mind was 'I don't want to get my hopes up' or 'I don't want to jump to conclusions'. However, that would've sounded… suspicious, like I was hoping that there was some deeper meaning behind his actions. Also, I was ninety-nine point nine percent sure that – had I worded it that way – I would've made Zero uncomfortable.

Leaning back against the booth, Zero balanced his foot over his knee and folded his hands behind his head. Through the fringe of moonlight hair, his twilight eyes directed at me, boring into mine. I shifted uncomfortably under his intense, scrutinizing gaze, but I couldn't tear my eyes away from those beautiful, unearthly irises.

"If I remember correctly, I think I was pretty clear on the reasoning behind my actions," Zero murmured, and I blushed as a memory rose to the surface.

Finally, Zero spoke. "Do you understand now, Yuki, why I hate Kuran so much?" he asked, his voice strained. "He made it very clear to me what he wishes to do with you. And I can't stand the thought of him making love to you"

Standing up, Zero brushed off the seat of his pants, deliberately keeping the front of his body turned away from me. Swiftly, he buttoned up his shirt, adjusted his tie and plucked his discarded jacket and vest from the stable ground. Throwing his coat over one shoulder, started toward the barn door, then paused to pet White Lily. Quietly, he stroked the horse's long nose for some time.

Then, he tossed a glance over his shoulder at me. He stared at me with his beautiful, moonstone eyes, appraising me silently.

"I believe that…" He waved his hand vaguely at me, motioning to my disheveled appearance, "…sufficiently answers your question of why I hate him. If that doesn't, I don't know what will, short of spelling it out for you. So now you know why when it comes to Kaname Kuran, my tolerance level is the same as my name," Zero said smoothly.

A zero tolerance level for Kaname, hatred when imagining the pureblood and I together intimately, and all the sinful, wonderful things he did to me while lying sprawled out in the hay. All those facts tied in together and added up to one assumption… that Zero was in love with me. But I had no way of knowing if it was true because he wouldn't come out and say it. Only hint at it.

My thoughts wandered. What if it was true? What if Zero really did love me? What would I do? How would I react? How would I feel?

I didn't have the answers to any of those questions. I'd thought about it often, long and hard. There was no question about it. I did love Zero, but that love was torn between him and Kaname. Yet, ever since that day, it was as if something had awoken in me, as if Zero's actions fanned the flames of my affection for him, bringing out the heat of my true feelings. I wasn't sure. I'd never thought my adoration for Zero was at the same level with my worship for Kaname until that day. Afterwards, that was all I'd been able to think about. Had it been because I'd tasted the forbidden fruit of passion and pleasure? Or had that magnitude of love always been there, buried deep within me?

Again, I had no answers.

"Anyways," Zero said, interrupting my thoughts, "You're an intelligent girl. You'll figure it out eventually. Let's drop the subject and talk about something else."

Saw that one coming, I mused with a sigh. Maybe he'll tell me when he's ready…. Maybe… by then… I'll have an answer to my questions about my own feelings….

"Alright," I agreed without complaint. "Like what?"

He shrugged his broad shoulders, the fabric of his coat rustling. "I don't know," he said. "Anything."

"Hmm…." Spooning another bite of parfait into my mouth, I cast around my mind for a subject to discuss. It was surprisingly difficult. One would think that after three months of Zero saying little more than five words to me or all together ignoring me whenever I tried to talk to him, that I would have at least something that I had to tell him. But I came up blank. Either not much had happened in my life since September or I was just too heartbroken to notice them occurring.

Then, my eyes fell to the shopping bags at Zero's feet and an idea struck me. Zero had no clue that I'd bought him a Christmas gift and since I'd never asked what he wanted, he probably assumed that I wasn't going to purchase anything for him. Also, I wasn't even sure if he'd like the necklace. Having a back-up gift that I knew he'd appreciate sounded like a wise decision.

"I know it's a little too late to be asking this now, but," I started, capturing the pearly-haired vampire's attention. "What do you want for Christmas?"

He was thoughtful for a moment, and then shrugged again. "I haven't really given it much thought," he admitted, pausing to down another swig of coffee. "To be honest, after my family's murder, I rarely gave the holiday much thought. Then, once I finally transformed for the first time and bit you, I never thought of it period. On no account had I ever imagined that I'd still be alive today, recalling how many times I'd been tempted to shove the Bloody Rose's muzzle under my chin and pull the trigger."

Zero continued to sip from his coffee as nonchalantly as if he was speaking about something as simple as the weather. Unintentionally, he completely ignored my horrified expression. Yes, I was no stranger to Zero's suicidal moments, but hearing about them never ceased to strike a deep and cutting fear into my heart.

Lowering my spoon, I asked, "Not that I'm supporting the idea – because I hate it – but why didn't you, if you hated yourself so much?"

The second the words left my mouth, I instantly wished I'd kept my morbid curiosity to myself. They were almost identical clones – word-for-word – of what Kaname had said to Zero when he was interrogating him in the argument that had started it all.

"A beast in human form…." the pureblood murmured thoughtfully, peering up at Zero through his long bangs. "You speak of vampires as if you weren't one."

"Once a hunter always a hunter," Zero responded frigidly, his hands curling into fists.

"Then tell me something, Kiryu," Kaname said casually, approaching Zero with measured steps. "If you detest vampires so much, then why did you allow Kuroma Yaseiri to permanently fix you into the night clan? Why not allow yourself to fall to a Level E for an aristocrat or hunter to finish you off? Why didn't you turn your Bloody Rose gun on yourself and pull the trigger?"

Zero's eyes narrowed. A muscle jumped in his jaw as he clenched his teeth.

"I have my reasons," he ground out through gritted teeth, tensing as Kaname neared.

Mentally, I sighed, resigning myself to hearing those words again.

However, Zero snorted amusedly instead and a sarcastic smirk tugged on the left corner of his full lips. "Well," he mused, cradling his jaw in his hand as he propped his arm up on the table. "According to Kuran, the only reason I'm still breathing is because he allows me to live."

Bewildered, I frowned at him. "What makes you think that?" I inquired, confused. "I know you don't like him, Zero, but-"

The moonlight-haired vampire cut me off by placing his hand over my mouth. "Do you remember the night Ichijo's grandfather, Asato, came to Cross Academy? The night you told me you'd never wanted Kuran to drink your blood?" he questioned, removing his hand to allow me to speak.

I nodded. "Yeah…. What of it?"

"Well, just before you woke up, Kaname dropped by on a visit to the Chairman and encountered me. He so dutifully informed me that the reason he allowed me to live was because I was to act as a shield for you in his place." A humorless laugh bubbled from his lips. "How typical of a pureblood. Arrogant and conceited, as always." Zero paused for a long moment, then murmured softly. "Kuran isn't even remotely similar to the person who's kept me alive all these years."

"Who is, then?" I inquired quietly, and I was shocked to discover that the words coming out of my mouth sounded… almost hopeful.

Moonstone eyes met mine, and I felt my heart contract in my chest. "We've gone over this before," he murmured. "It's you. Don't you remember what I said?"

Me? How…?

Then, I remembered….

"I think…" Zero whispered, his warm chest pressed firmly against my back, "I was able to live on… because you were beside me, Yuki."

I blushed. "Yeah, I do remember," I admitted quietly, my face still flaming. "But I don't see how you came to that conclusion."

"Are you really that blind?" Zero whispered, his voice strained. "How could you not know?"

I fished around for the right words, but none came to me. So I settled for shrugging timidly, pink still staining my cheeks.

The hunter sighed and shook his head, rustling the fine strands of spun silver hair. When he lifted his head again, he wore a faint smile and his lilac eyes were warm. "You really are oblivious when it comes to certain things, aren't you?" Zero murmured affectionately. Breathing in deeply, and then releasing that breath in a slow, drawn out rush, my partner said, "Yuki, I live because you won't allow me to die. No matter what, you've always kept me alive, whether you realized you were doing it or not.

"Obviously, there have been times when you were actively aware that you were saving me. Like the time when… when we were kids, you prevented me from tearing my throat to shreds so Shizuka's bite wouldn't throb. Or when you stopped me from pulling the Bloody Rose's trigger after I lost my human side. Or the countless times when you selflessly offered up your blood to me without the slightest bit of hesitation, keeping me sane. You've shielded me from my master's gun with your own body, putting your life in danger. You were willing to sacrifice yourself to Shizuka in order to save me from becoming a Level E. And you were the one who found Kuroma. Ultimately, you were the one who saved me, the one who actively kept me alive."

Zero paused for a moment, holding my captive with his twilight eyes, as if their unusual, enchanting color had cast a binding spell on me. But even his eyes couldn't still the frantic hammering of my heart, and I knew there was no way his vampire hearing wouldn't detect it. When the starlight-haired boy ever-so-slowly shifted closer to me, breathing became abruptly difficult. All I could do was stare wonderingly into Zero's moonstone eyes, and listen to his deep, husky, velvety voice.

"However," he continued, inching even closer to me, "I believe that the infinite little, unintentional actions were what drove me the most to continue on living. How you've wept for me, how you've worried about me and how you've begged for me to not leave. Whenever you would ask me about my past, I always felt unexplainable joy to learn you were curious about me. No matter what kind of situation I'm in, whether I'm hunting a Level E or skipping class, you've always come searching for me. All of that… realizing that someone does care for a monster such as me…." He shook his head in wonderment. "It's incredible…. I thought I'd lost that kind of devotion and love when my family was murdered."

Zero slid his hand against my face, cupping my cheek. The heat of his alabaster palm was nothing compared to the fire rising in my cheeks. All of a sudden, a powerful desire overcame me. Right now, I longed for nothing else but to have Zero to kiss me. Just once, at least. I wanted so badly to kiss him and not concern myself with who was watching.

"You determination, your compassion, your smile, your laugh, even your clumsiness… all of the qualities that you possess have tied me to this earth, causing me to be reluctant to leave all of that behind," Zero breathed, his fingers stroking the skin on my face. Each touch of his slender fingertips felt as if he was trailing a path of fire over my skin, radiating heat throughout my body. I shivered, and I knew it had nothing to do with the cold weather outside.

"I've realized that I need you, Yuki," he whispered, his angel's face so close to mine now that our noses were nearly touching. Staring into his moonstone eyes, I could count the flecks of silver that circled his pupils and locate the streaks of darker lavender around the outside of his eyes. I could feel his breath on my lips, warm and moist, carrying a faint aroma of cinnamon. "That's why I couldn't stay away from you. That's why I shoved Master's gun away from me before he tried to shoot me… because I saw you standing in the doorway, calling out my name. And that, is the real reason – my reasons – for allowing Kuroma to permanently fix me into the vampire world. I've become an entirely selfish creature, Yuki. I crave your company. I thrive on your friendship. I ache to see you smile. There has to be some middle ground. I have to return the kindness you've shown me over the years and I must protect you at all costs."

Again, he broke off, and an uncertain expression seeped into his eyes as his fingers danced across my face. I ached for him to continue. Then, his lips parted again to continue, and I held my breath, suddenly extremely anxious to hear what he had to say. "If I'm being honest with you – and with myself, for that matter," Zero whispered, his voice softer than a light breeze, "my own emotions have played a part in why you have kept me alive. My… my feelings for you are stronger than any hatred I feel toward vampires." He halted, doubtful, and then, with a Herculean effort, took another deep breath and said, "There's no one else like you, Yuki. No one else who even comes close in comparison. And… and… I…."

Zero hesitated again. I very nearly groaned. The suspense was killing me. My heart was racing a mile a minute, my face was beet red, and I had a thousand thoughts and emotions running amuck in my head, wreaking havoc on my sanity. Or more importantly, my patience. I didn't know what Zero was trying to say, but an unexplainable hope was swelling in my chest like a balloon.

"And…?" I prodded breathlessly.

Suddenly, Zero smiled so widely that I was nearly slammed against the back of the stall as all the breath in my lungs came rushing out in one big rush, as if someone had hit me in the gut. To say that his smile – when he really smiled like that, without worrying about someone seeing his fangs – was breathtaking would be the understatement of the next five centuries. His entire face lit up when he smiled. His moonstone eyes gleamed, his milky skin glowed with an unearthly aura, and even his silver hair seemed to shine brighter like the stars it reflected. "Beautiful" didn't even come close to describing him at this moment

"And…" Zero murmured, drawing closer so that our lips were only a hair's breadth away, "You have chocolate on your mouth."

I blinked.



Three times.

Then I understood… and felt the hope inside of me fizzle out and deflate, bitter disappointment replacing it.

Talk about anticlimactic, I thought mournfully.

"Oh…" I muttered, attempting – and failing – to disguise the disappointment and regret in my voice. I tried to smile sheepishly at him, but my lips seemed be frozen. Stretching my hand across the table, I reached for a napkin… only to have a willowy-fingered hand grip my wrist, prohibiting my movements.

Questionably, I peered at Zero. The brilliant smile from before had dimmed, but a tiny, gentle one remained in place.

"Allow me to take care of that for you," he whispered, leaning in.

My heart thudded unevenly against my chest as Zero's lips touched the corner of my mouth. Ever so lightly, his tongue flicked once over my lips, licking away the speck chocolate sauce.

Then, he drew back for a fraction of a second before swooping down claiming my lips fully. This kiss was nothing like the heated, frantic, passionate ones we'd shared in September. It was slow and gentle, completely loving and unhurried. Zero's hands lightly held my face, slender fingers entwining in my hair, tilting my head to the side so he could have better access to my mouth. His lips were soft and yielding against mine as he kissed me, and I melted in his arms, wrapping my arms around his neck.

All too soon, Zero broke the kiss, leaving me breathless and wanting more. He smiled softly at me, and brushed my bangs aside to kiss the top of my forehead.

"Close your eyes for a second," he requested quietly, his lips brushing over the skin of my brow.

Without questioning him why, my eyes slid shut. The sound of rustling cloth reached my ears, as if he was digging around in his coat pocket for something. There were several other ambiguous noises that I couldn't quite identity, and then, Zero picked up my hand and placed something that was both soft and hard, warm and cool, into the palm of my hand.

"Okay, you can open them now," he told me.

I did, and glanced down at my hand. My mouth fell open.

It was a necklace unlike any I had ever seen before. More appropriately, it was a choker crafted of delicate, intricate black lace, patterned with tiny angels dancing throughout the fragile material. A tiny silver clasp at the back held the two ends of the fabric together. But what captured my attention most was the pendent that hung from it. It was deep, blood-red garnet, roughly the size of a golf ball that had been carefully carved into a full, blooming rose. Each of the petals were masterfully created and four leaves of blackened metal sprung out from behind the beautiful flower.

Awestruck, I lifted my gaze to Zero, unable to form the words I wanted to say. I could only lift a trembling hand to his face to lightly touch the satiny strands of moonlight hair, doing everything I could to convey to him with my eyes how precious this gift was.

"I told you I had something I needed to do here," he explained quietly, nodding toward the necklace. "I had it on reserve so no one would snatch it before me. It was meant to be your Christmas present, but… it seemed more appropriate to give it to you now."

Tears welled in my eyes and I wrapped my arms around Zero, hugging him tightly. "Thank you," I whispered, smiling brilliantly as the touched tears rolled down my face. "Thank you so much. It's beautiful."

The vampire returned the embrace, holding me firmly against him. "I'm glad you like it," he said sincerely.

"I love it," I gushed, pulling away from him, beaming.

He returned the smile, in a lesser form, and gently lifted the necklace from my palm. Unfastening the clasp, he brushed my hair aside and latched the choker around my neck. His hands drew away and I touched the rose at my throat.

"Good," he said, then stood up. "C'mon." He offered his hand to me. "We should get back to the Academy before the Chairman has a panic attack."

"Wait, Zero," I said, scooping up the shopping bags from the floor and sneaking a peek at the dragon charm necklace inside. "You still never told me what you want for Christmas."

Zero shrugged. "I don't need anything," he answered softly. "To me, you've already given me a gift. You gave me a reason to live. Though I don't deserve you or your kindness or your friendship or your concern, I have you. And that's all I need."

He started for the door and I followed him, his words ringing in my ears. As we stepped out into the street and Zero guided me toward the school, his arm around my shoulders, I suddenly had an odd feeling. It was a gut sensation that told me – that after what had happened tonight – I wouldn't need to buy Zero another Christmas present. He'd be happy with what I gave him.

Either the necklace…

…Or myself.

Zero really wasn't that hard to shop for after all.

Ugh, finally. Kinda odd putting out a Christmas-themed story in the middle of June, but, whatever. I was never known as one to follow traditions anyways.

Still not entirely happy with this story, considering I changed a good 70 percent of what I'd originally wrote. Even after the seventh revision, it still didn't come out the way I wanted it to. Especially since I had to cut out a scene that I had a huge soft spot for, but it simply didn't fit in with the seriousness of the story. :( Oh well. Perhaps I can squeeze it into one of my other three or the prequel that I'm planning….

Also, I must send my thanks out to my favorite store of all time – Hot Topic – for inspiring the idea for Yuki's and Zero's necklaces.

If there are any errors, please let me know and I'll fix them immediately.

If you enjoyed this story and wish to continue reading, then keep an eye out for the third in the series Angel in Disguise. - Des