This one-shot was written in response to a challenge that Nami-San24 (at DeviantArt) issued: "I'll write a Mao/Okamura fic if you will." This is my favorite pairing and one that a lot of other fans claim, as well- so where are all the fan-works?! If you're an M/O fan, I extend this challenge to you, too. We need more fanfics and fanart for this couple!

This fic takes place during the year that Mao and Okamura were traveling around Europe together. Also, this is my first Blood Plus fanfic and it has not been edited as much as it should be; please pardon any verbal clumsiness. Thank you!

Blood Plus - ©Production I.G. / Aniplex

Story - ©Destiny 'Dalliann' Lauritsen – (2008)

Rules Are Rules

Akihiro Okamura had attended quite a few New Year's Eve celebrations in his thirty-one years but, until now, never in a foreign land. Amsterdam really knew how to throw a party.

It wasn't even midnight, yet, and already streamers and fireworks were exploding in the streets and alcohol was flowing freely. A percussive dance beat flooded the square from a central stage where an audience had formed around it, swaying as one fluid body, while the softer sounds of small, traditional street bands played on the outskirts of the plaza.

Frosty clouds of breath filled the air but no one in attendance seemed overly concerned about the chill; the bombardment of music and light was a marvelous distraction from the bitter temperature.

Still, Okamura wished he'd remembered his gloves. And his cigarettes.

Hands tucked deep in his coat pockets, he stumbled on a loose cobblestone as Mao pushed up against his back, trying to steer him elsewhere in the pressing crowd.

"I can't see anything!" she complained. "And the countdown's going to start any minute!"

Amsterdam had been her idea. He would have been perfectly content to spend the day back in Rotterdam, holed up at the inn with his freelance piece almost finished, but Mao had more glamorous plans for the New Year.

"Look!" she'd gasped, thrusting a wrinkled roadmap and a neon-print advertisement in his face.

Pushing her hands back so he could actually see what she was shoving at him, he'd taken a moment to study the flier. It had been printed in several languages and he finally found one that he could comprehend: "Best New Year's Party in Amsterdam!"

He raised his brows at her. "And we care about this why?"

"Look how close we are!" she said, pointing out the route on the map. "We should go! It'll be fun!"

It had been weeks since he'd seen her so excited, so he took the map with a placating sigh.

"You know," he began, still calculating the distance, "There'll be parties here, too. Amsterdam's not much bigger than Rotterdam. A couple hundred thousand people- and most of them tourists, probably."

Mao leaned against the arm of his chair and gave him a look that meant he was being absolutely absurd. "We're in the Netherlands. You can't go to the Netherlands and not visit Amsterdam- it would be ridiculous!" His responding smirk set her own mouth into an irritated line. "More importantly," she said, snatching the map from his hands, "if you don't take me, I'll hitchhike."

As he knew from experience, Mao's threats were rarely idle so the matter had been settled quickly. His story put on hold, Okamura growled and swore while he packed the car for their side adventure. Mao simply smiled, another victory in battle.

And now, here they were in Nieuwmarkt Square, two in a crowd of thousands.

It was an odd sensation, this holiday both foreign and familiar. Food was being cooked on the perimeters and the smell of sausage, bread, potatoes, and something sweet mingled oddly with the sulfur-infused air. All around them, people greeted each other in loud, drunken voices. The majority seemed to be Dutch and Chinese but (over the music, shouting, and fireworks) he caught snippets of English, French, Russian, and even the welcome tones of his native Japanese.

As they squeezed through the crowds, ever alert for stray fire-crackers that randomly sizzled passed their feet, Mao was jostled into a state of irritation. She tugged on the reporter's sleeve, pouting, and he leaned down to better hear her over the noise. His shoulders tensed in surprise as she pushed her nose against his cheek and yelled, "I still can't see the stage! Let's go somewhere else!"

"Where?" he shouted back.

"I don't care! I'm just sick of people stepping on my feet!"

He was tempted to point out that Rotterdam was far less crowded this evening but he knew she'd punch him; Mao did not tolerate being chided. Instead, he simply rolled his eyes. "Fine," he conceded, taking her hand. "Let's try over there!"

Her fingers were warm in his grasp, welcome in the biting air, but he pushed that thought aside as he pulled her through the thick of the crowd. They emerged (each with a breath of relief) on a less busy sidewalk. The revelers here were still many but more loosely packed than the street concert audience- and the reason for this became apparent as several errant firecrackers raced into a line of bystanders. A squawking of surprised shouts and laughter came from the potential victims as they jumped around, trying to stomp the sparks out.

Okamura reached for the camera around his neck. He snapped a few shots (wide smiles and frenzied feet dancing around sparklers) and recalled similar pictures his father had taken in years past. One memory in particular made him laugh out loud and he was just turning to Mao, ready to tell her how his cousin Hiro had lit his hair on fire while balancing a firecracker on his forehead, when she interrupted with a tug on his arm.

"I'm freezing! How much longer 'til midnight?" she asked, impatient as he'd ever seen her.

He sighed and checked his watch for the hundredth time that night. "About four minutes. Stop asking, brat."

She huffed and crossed her arms over her chest, the pose she most often assumed for a tantrum. Okamura stuffed his hands back in his pockets, bracing himself for the oncoming storm, but the petulance suddenly drained from Mao's face as her eyes locked on something behind him. He'd encountered few things that could completely neutralize Mao's temper so he turned, curious as to his savior's identity.

Ahhh, he thought. Free alcohol, of course.

Winding along the sidewalk, a procession of girls in furry ski-bunny uniforms handed out plastic glasses of complimentary champagne, playfully reminding revelers not to partake until the clock struck midnight. Mao was already heading in their direction when Okamura grabbed the collar of her coat and hoisted her back.

"What part of 'under-age' don't you understand?" he asked, eyebrow quirked.

"Come on, they're not even checking for I.D.!"

"That's not the point, Mao."

Suddenly, the ski-bunnies were right behind him and a glass of fizzing amber was passed over his shoulder to Mao's outstretched hand.

He turned to the server with a frown. "She's only eigh-" he began, swallowing the last of his words as Mao's hand clamped over his mouth.

"It's one glass!" she hissed against his shoulder. "Don't be such a jerk!"

The ski-bunny gave him an odd look before handing him a glass of his own and continuing down the street.

He turned back to Mao, scowling, and she let her hand slide from his mouth.

"Don't look at me like that," she scolded. "I know you've been sneaking cigarettes. This just makes us even." She raised the glass in mock toast and took a small sip, scrunching her nose at the bubbles. "Hmmm. The wine in France was better."

Okamura processed this last bit of information with a growing suspicion. "And when did you have wine in France?"

Mao grinned at him sheepishly but, before she could string together an excuse, a loud cheer went up from the spectators. "Oh, good!" she said, avoiding his gaze. "It's starting!"

Just out of their sight, someone on the concert stage was giving a speech in Dutch, deep voice reverberating through the packed square. Okamura listened with mild interest to a monologue he couldn't decipher while Mao shifted on her feet beside him, champagne balanced carefully in one hand. The speech came to an abrupt end with another round of applause and then the countdown began.

All around them, in a steady chant that combined countless languages, the hour was drummed out. As the countdown reached its final digits-- "three, two, one!"-- the air erupted with booming light and a collective roar from the spectators.

They both flinched at the sudden pulse of light and sound, and the champagne sloshed out of Mao's glass. The reporter laughed, expecting another tirade, but when she turned to him her eyes were bright.

"Happy New Year!" she said, laughing. He leaned forward, catching her contagious smile, and was just about to return the greeting when she threw her arms around his neck and pulled him down to her lips.

If the indecent idea of kissing this girl had ever caused his brain to spasm in discomfort, then the very act must surely have fried his nervous system. He stood absolutely still for several seconds, awkward and unaccommodating, with her arms fastened around his shoulders and her lips tucked warmly against his. Strawberry, he noted her lip-gloss and was only slightly dismayed at enjoying it.

While the two hemispheres of his brain argued over the proper course of action (push her away or go for it) a rowdy group of celebrants took the choice out of his hands. A sparkler screamed passed Mao's ear and she jerked forward in surprise, teeth and noses clashing against each other painfully.

Her hands dropped from his shoulders and flew to her nose, checking to make sure it hadn't been broken. Satisfied, she whirled around and pointed a finger in the direction from whence the firecracker had come, demanding to know who had almost killed her. The few who took notice merely blinked in confusion while she rattled off a mouthful of threats.

Still a bit dazed, Okamura pressed a finger to his mouth. Her teeth had nicked his bottom lip and the taste of strawberries was quickly being overtaken by the coppery tang of blood. However, the tingling sensation of her kiss lingered and he tried to memorize it before it faded away completely.

The ride back to their Rotterdam hotel was particularly uncomfortable. Well, Okamura thought it was; Mao seemed content as ever, humming quietly with the radio.

He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, trying to think of something to say. She seemed oblivious to his nerves and was instead focused on trying to make sense of the tour brochures she'd picked up, her bare feet pulled up to rest on the dashboard heater.

Okamura cleared his throat loudly and Mao looked up.

"My throat's kind of raw, too," she said, an unusually sympathetic expression upon her face. "All that yelling. I know concerts are supposed to be loud but that was just insane!"

"Yep. Pretty noisy," he agreed, trying to think of a suave segue into the topic that was really on his mind. He glanced at her again. "It was definitely one of the most memorable New Year's parties I've lived through…"

She nodded. "I hope the pictures turn out all right."

"Yeah, should be some good ones…" His mind strained for the next question. "So… everything you hoped it would be?"

"Mmm, I guess."

"Those fireworks were really something, huh?"

"Really? I've seen better back home."

Well, this is going nowhere fast, Okamura thought, trying to reign in his frustration. Proper communication with Mao had always required the most direct approach, he realized. Taking a deep breath, he decided to take the plunge.

"Sure wasn't expecting that kiss," he said and almost winced at how shaky his voice sounded.

Mao glanced up from the brochure again but he couldn't meet her gaze; he didn't know what else might burst from his mouth. Instead, he stared fixedly on the road ahead and held his breath while he waited for a response.

She let out a short laugh and the material of her coat made a soft 'whrsshh' sound as she shrugged. "Doesn't everybody get kissed on New Year's Eve?"

He risked a quick look at her. "Obviously I haven't been going to the right parties."

"No, doesn't sound like it." She smiled again, catching his eye for just a moment before he turned stiffly back to the road. "What's with you? You seem nervous," she noted, and he imagined the wheedling look she sometimes wore when she was trying to pull information from him.

"Not at all," he defended.

"Right," she said, clearly unconvinced.

Aside from the soft volume of the radio, the car remained silent for a few minutes. Then Mao ventured forth with, "It wasn't a real kiss, you know."

Okamura swerved slightly in his lane and shot her a bewildered look. "What do you mean it wasn't a real kiss?" he demanded. "I was there. It happened. It was real."

She stared back at him, startled, and suddenly he was aware of how indignant he'd sounded. His neck grew warm in embarrassment and he fought the urge to bury his face in the steering wheel. Wonderful, he thought, I haven't blushed since I was fifteen.

However, he was somewhat satisfied to see that Mao looked a bit unruffled herself now. She turned away, gazing out her window. "I didn't say it didn't happen."

"Really. Then what are you saying, exactly?"

"Nothing." She fidgeted with one of the pamphlets, bending the corners. "It just wasn't… you know…?"

"Good?"

"Shut up! I'm a great kisser!"

The vehemence in her voice was so unexpected that he couldn't contain a loud burst of laughter. Mao scowled at him. "Well, I am," she insisted and puffed her shoulders up, challenging him to deny it. He couldn't.

Apparently feeling more settled, Mao relaxed back into her seat and sighed. "It was just a celebratory kiss. A traditional thing."

"I don't remember celebrating any other holiday with you that ended like that."

"Disappointed?"

He squirmed. "Confused."

"Then let's make it simple. Nothing that happens on New Year's Eve counts."

"Says who?"

"Come on, everyone knows that."

"I've never heard of that rule. I think you're making it up."

"You're so out of the loop, it's sad…"

"Fine," he said, frowning at her. "Nothing counts before midnight. It's a rule. Got it."

An uncomfortable quiet had just settled over the car when Mao decided that the subject had not yet been closed. "Since we're talking about this anyway, why didn't you kiss me back?"

For the second time that night, she'd left him speechless and pondering which road to take- the noble lie or the unseemly truth? He could feel her stare upon him and knew his answer could change everything, for better or worse. Hedging his bets in routine cowardice, he settled for something safely in the middle.

"You surprised me," he explained.

"That's all?" She seemed rather surprised herself.

"Well, you didn't give me any warning!"

She laughed and nudged his arm playfully. "So next time you'll need a warm-up or something?"

"Are you saying there's going to be a next time?" Okamura turned just in time to see a pink heat creep into her cheeks before she looked back down at her hands and her hair obscured her face. Emboldened by this unusual display of meekness, he was about to taunt her further when her eyes suddenly flashed back up to his. He waited, entranced.

"If we find Red Shield again, you're not going to mention this to Kai, are you?" she asked, looking anxious and a bit guilty.

Okamura's face fell; this was not what he'd wanted to hear. "Yeah, Mao," he said, rolling his eyes. "That's exactly what I'm planning to do. How would that conversation even come about, exactly?"

"I don't know. I just want to make sure you don't open your big mouth and say something you shouldn't. You do that a lot." Her eyes turned suddenly bright and Okamura knew a profound thought had just occurred to her. "Unless…" she began, tapping a finger against her chin, "…do you think it would help things along if I made Kai really, really jealous?"

Okamura scoffed incredulously. "Let me get this straight. We kissed and it's hereby void because it happened on New Year's Eve. But some vague addendum to this 'rule' allows you to raise it from the dead whenever you like in order to make your absent boyfriend angry?"

"You make it sound terrible when you say it like that," she pouted.

He shook his head, trying to keep his frustrations in check. "No way, princess. It happened or it didn't. The kid knows or he doesn't. What's the verdict?"

"Ugh," she complained, slumping back against the seat. "Fine, it never happened. Happy?"

"Yes." A lie.

But admitting it aloud would only open a can of worms they obviously weren't prepared to deal with, yet. For now, Okamura decided, they just needed to find their way back to more familiar territory. With this thought in mind, he leaned toward her conspiratorially and whispered, "So, do I even want to know how you've rung in previous years?"

She slugged him in the arm and huffed, "Pervert!", while he cradled his soon-to-bruise injury and grinned at her. Though she refused to look back at him, he could see her smile reflected in the driver's side window.

It'll be enough for now, he thought.

An upbeat song filtered through the car's speakers and Mao turned the radio up, smothering any lingering awkwardness with pulsing bass and silly pop lyrics.

The remainder of the trip passed quickly and they were just pulling into the hotel's parking lot when a church-bell several blocks away chimed out the hour. Though his mind didn't need much prompting to return to the evening's earlier events, the tolling bell suddenly brought something new to mind- a realization.

Mao was unlatching her seatbelt when she noticed the odd smirk on his face. "Do I even want to know what you're thinking?" she asked, one brow raised critically.

Okamura smiled a little more widely. "Probably not."

They'd agreed to abide by her rules, after all. A kiss that happened on New Year's Eve was a trivial thing and not be discussed further.

However, a kiss that happened after the stroke of midnight-- a kiss on New Year's Day-- well, that was another matter entirely.

He considered revealing the flaw in her edict but instantly thought better of it. Perhaps he'd surprise her with it next year.

-End.-