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.

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 fourth of my one-shot series, How The Rose Blooms. Inspired by Colbie Caillat's song Realize and very much by events in my life and my own complicated relationship with a boy that I love.

How The Rose Blooms: Realize

"Zero! I said wait for us!"

The silver-haired vampire didn't even bother to look back at me as he stomped off ahead, leaving me and my charge to hurry on after him. Huffing exasperatedly, I glared at his retreating back, wondering what had jerked his chain. He'd been acting like this ever since we got back from town.

Maybe the stress of the day has put him in a sour mood, I thought, considering the possibility.

It certainly wouldn't surprise me. Even I felt a little irritable and grumpy after the day we had. And boy, was it far from over.

It was the final week of May and there was a mere three days of school left at Cross Academy before the vacation. Normal classes had been cancelled this week to provide for the numerous exams that would be taking place. Naturally, each different teacher acted as if his or her exam was the only one that mattered. So, each teacher expected that we should spend all of our time focusing on his or her test and disregard all our other classes. There was no escaping it. All of our professors were giving out exams left and right as if we had nothing else better to do.

And today had been the worst of them.

There had been two, three-hour long exams, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Incidentally – or typically, depending on which way you looked at it – both were my worst two subjects: chemistry and math, with only an hour in between for lunch. Of course, I'd been a nervous wreck the night before. I had tossed and turned in my sleep for countless hours, running through the facts Zero had drilled into my head the day before.

My partner had been coming over every evening after classes to help me study, and for once, we actually did study. The two of us were so stressed and peevish that we simply didn't have the stamina for anything else.

Worse yet, Zero had flatly refused to take any blood from me. The excuse was that I needed to be as strong as possible, and a blood deprivation wouldn't help me in the slightest when it came to sitting still and concentrating during the exams. No point in senselessly draining me dry when he could survive on the blood tablets. The deficiency of any kind of sensual act with my sterling-haired vampire was literally driving me up the wall, even more so than the endless studying and worrying. However, my motivation was the ironclad promise from Zero that he'd make up the lack of physical contact to me when exams were done. That just made light at the end of the tunnel all the more appealing… and me more impatient.

So this morning, I'd been a hysterical mess, flipping through my notes in a frenzy, my stomach knotted into a queasy mess as I attempted to force down some breakfast. Then came the mind numbing, draining tests. Chemistry was first, followed up by math. I was nearly in tears during our hour lunch break. My brain was already fried, and there was still one more test to go, the one I'd dreaded most.

Math had been horrible. I'd been in the classroom until the last possible minute, scrambling to understand the numbers and equations, and I still didn't finish entirely. By the time I'd staged my escape from the stifling hot prison chamber, I was ready to keel over and die and not move for the remainder of the day.

But of course, that dream was out of reach since Zero and I had to guard the Night Class at twilight's approach. The vampires got it easy. Since their classes were more extensive, they had two weeks worth of exams. Sure, it was tedious and a lot of additional work, but that meant they got an extra week off from normal classes and they didn't have to double up on tests like we had to. As if the Day Class didn't have enough reason to envy them.

Anyways, the end of the year was always the worst. The Day Class girls were always frantic, trying to snag pictures of the Night Class before school ended. They were rowdier than ever, and today had been no exception. After I'd been knocked over for the fifth time from rambunctious girls, Zero had completely lost his cool and snapped at them as he helped me to my feet. Under normal circumstances, I would've scolded him for terrorizing them, but at the time, I couldn't've cared less, and allowed him to drive them back as far as possible.

Afterwards, Zero and I thought we could relax a little, but then the Chairman informed us of a Level E vampire that was supposedly roaming the streets of town. There had been a letter from the Hunter's Association for my fellow guardian. They had a mission for him, and his assignment was to hunt the former human down.

Though it was an irrational fear since he was more than capable of defending himself, I'd always been uneasy whenever Zero departed on hunting missions alone. So, exhausted though I was, I accompanied him.

A small part of my brain had questioned why I was doing this. I knew there was little I would be able to do to help him, and if anything, I'd just get in his way. When it came to facing Level E vampires, I was next to useless. My deep-rooted fear of them never ceased to incapacitate me when confronted with one of the blood-crazed monsters. I'd only be complicating things for Zero. But I also knew that if he vanished from my sight for however long it would take to destroy of the creature, my mind would start dredging up all kinds of scenarios, primarily where Zero was hurt or killed. I just wouldn't be able to handle it. Not tonight.

Despite my concerns, it went well. Okay, maybe not perfect, but considering our history with Level Es, there had been minimal complications with disposing him. It had been a quick, clean process… other than a slight mishap where the vampire started after me, involvement of the Night Class and… Kaname.

I winced at the memory, but forcefully shoved it aside.

That was when Zero's inexplicable temper flared and he'd been in a black mood ever since. No matter how much I poked and prodded, the vampire hunter wouldn't tell me what had set his teeth on edge.

At last, I had been fully prepared to welcome sleep with open arms. I very nearly screamed with frustration when the Chairman, once again, knocked on my door. By then, there were some very nasty things I would've loved to say to him, especially when I heard what he was requesting. A new Night Class student, who would be joining us in the fall, had arrived. My adoptive father thought it would be a wise idea for Zero and I, the school Guardians, to escort him around the school and introduce him to the Night Class. That way, he'd be familiar with everything and everyone to make the transition easier when class began again.

As it turned out, that was the best thing to happen all day.

Sighing, I withdrew my mind from my memories, allowing the present to drift back into place. When it became clear that Zero wouldn't speak to us anytime soon, I reverted my attention from my fuming partner to the quiet vampire walking beside me.

Smiling warmly at him, I asked kindly, "So what made you decide to attend Cross Academy?"

Kuroma Yaseiri returned the smile as he answered in his soft voice, "Well, I decided it was high time that I made myself a little more well-known in the vampire world. Though I do love the peace and quiet, hiding in isolation does have its drawbacks. I fear I have been labeled as being 'anti-social', which most certainly is not the case. Not to mention, I support your father's vision and wish to promote his pacifism in any way I can."

The words that came out the pureblood's mouth really shouldn't have taken me by surprise. It was just like Kuroma to spell out his reasoning, even so something this minor. From the second Zero and I had waltzed through the door to his remote, hidden manor, the vampire had insisted that he had nothing to hide. Therefore, he never minded explaining himself to those who were curious because he had nothing he would need to lie about. Not to mention, he was the kind of person that would help those in need, be they vampires, humans, or somewhere in between. My adoptive father's cause certainly suited his personality.

Even for a pureblood, Kuroma was a unique individual. He was young – younger than even Senri Shiki and Rima Toya – and he looked it, too. Kuroma the smallest vampire I had ever seen; a mere inch taller than I was. On top of that, he was extremely thin. There was almost no muscle mass under his flesh – just skin and bone – yet he never appeared sickly. Skin as pure and white as snow was heavily contrasted by the shock of midnight black hair atop his head. The inky locks stuck out at odd angles, constantly in spiky disarray. It carried a feathery, windswept texture to it as his hair wisped delicately over the right side his face and one eye.

Kuroma's face tended to be a distraction for me. His facial features had very androgynous appearance. One quick glance at him captivated most people as they tried to classify him, sorting through his soft, elfin – almost feminine – appearance in hopes of determining whether he was male or female. There was certainly a female quality to his overall appearance: the high, chiseled cheekbones; a gentle, rounded chin; a soft jaw line; sculpted eyebrows; wide, innocent eyes; and slender, shapely lips. However, the way he carried himself; the face-splitting grin; the defined, tendon-y hands; his buoyant laugh; his deep, velvety voice; and his interest in sports and any fast-moving vehicle were all distinctly masculine.

And if his face was a distraction, then his eyes were downright spellbinding. When gazing into them for the first time, it was impossible not to ogle for at least several minutes. Kuroma's eyes were pale – paler than Zero's – almost to the point of being white. Upon first glance, one would think that he was blind. But in their depths swam an ever-changing rainbow of pastel colors, swirling and twisting around each other in the most hypnotic way. Light only served to amplify his irises' exotic colors until they gleamed with an iridescent glow. Just like opals.

Despite his height (or rather, lack there of), his willowy build and pretty boy appearance, Kuroma commanded an authoritative air of undeniable power. There was no questioning his lineage. Any vampire who stood in his presence would know that he was a pureblood.

"Tell me," Kuroma began, unleashing the mesmerizing power of his beautiful, ghostly eyes on me, "how has Zero been fairing since the last time we met?"

A peaceful, grateful smile spread across my face. "He's been wonderful," I told him. "His violent bloodlust attacks have stopped. The blood tablets no longer make him sick." Still smiling, I inclined my head toward the tiny pureblood so that he knew it was meant for him. "Zero is stable because of you, Kuroma. I couldn't possibly thank you enough for what you've done for him."

A pale flush colored the ebony-haired vampire's ivory cheeks. "It was my pleasure," he murmured, pleased, but a tad bit embarrassed by my gratitude. "Really, it was no trouble at all. There is nothing more satisfying to me than saving the life of someone who truly deserves it."

Kuroma glanced at me, his pretty face almost glowing in the night as he smiled sweetly. "Zero had a very noble reason for living. That was why I did not hesitate to spare his life."

It was my turn to blush and I averted my gaze from his knowing, iridescent eyes. I, too, knew what Zero's reason for living was. For a moment, I wondered what he had told Kuroma that he might've edited for me…

Changing the subject abruptly, I hinted playfully, "So you still won't tell me how you saved Zero's life?"

Kuroma laughed, a beautiful, deep sound. "Unfortunately, no," he apologized ruefully. "I may not conceal anything else in my life, but when it comes to my powers, I'd prefer to keep those confidential. Perhaps, some day, if I father a child, I shall teach him or her my secrets. However, until then, they shall remain known only to me."

As we labored to keep up with Zero's Olympic-worthy speed, Kuroma and I drifted into comfortable silence. The argent-haired nightwalker hadn't once reduced his pace or paid any attention to us since heading off for the Moon Dorms. He'd been surprised to see Kuroma, no doubt. Friendly even, but that hadn't been enough to curb his rancid mood. However, my partner had staved off his temper long enough for the two of them to exchange a few quiet, brief words.

Looking back, the fact that Zero was able to be civil enough to engage Kuroma in polite conversation was an accomplishment. When we first arrived at his manor last year, my fellow Guardian had been completely hostile and antagonistic towards Kuroma. As usual, Zero hadn't bothered to disguise his detest for vampires, especially purebloods. But after those long two days, when the two of them reemerged, the moonlight-haired hunter was quiet, almost as if he was humbled.

Though he hadn't spoken much to Kuroma since leaving the Chairman's office, there was an indisputable atmosphere of respect surrounding Zero when he addressed the smaller vampire. It was something he had never openly shown to another nightwalker before, let alone a pureblood.

Kuroma's quiet voice tugged me from my musing as he whispered in my ear, almost too low to hear, "So, why is Zero in such a bad mood?"

Sighing, I pursed my lips and shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine," I whispered back. "He was fine this morning, but ever since we returned from a hunt, he's been biting everyone's head off. Including mine."

"Hmm… I wonder what could've caused the sudden mood change…?" the jet-haired pureblood wondered. "Perhaps you should go to him. Speak with him and discover what the matter is."

Desire to unravel Zero's inexplicable temper was mixed with uncertainty when I thought of abandoning my duty to escort Kuroma. I glanced back and forth between vampires, worrying my bottom lip between my teeth. Kuroma smiled encouragingly.

"Go on," he persuaded, shoving me lightly. "I'll be fine. I'm not going to lose my way. If I got lost while following behind you two… well, maybe my eyes really are as sightless as they appear." Kuroma laughed a little at that.

Grinning appreciatively at him, I murmured, "Thanks," before sprinting off ahead to catch up with Zero. It took longer than I had expected. Zero had gained some distance on us while Kuroma and I had been talking. By the time I finally reached the side of his lanky frame, I was slightly out of breath. The moonlight-haired vampire glanced at me briefly, silently acknowledging my presence, but didn't say a word. The platinum dragon necklace swayed faintly from around his throat, swinging in sync with his footsteps.

"You gonna tell me what's grating on your nerves?" I asked, peering up at him.

Zero's velocity picked up, his lithe, powerful legs stretching in front of him with increased speed and fluidity. Maybe I was paranoid, but it seemed to me that he was trying to escape me. Jogging lightly by his side was the only way I could keep pace with his much longer strides.

"There's nothing to tell," he insisted curtly his brisk stride was abruptly cut off as he halted at the Moon Dorm gates. Owlishly, I blinked up at, startled by its sudden appearance. I'd been so absorbed with talking to Kuroma and then Zero, that I hadn't realized how close we were to the vampires' dorm room entrance.

Using the opportunity my temporary surprise presented, Zero brushed past me. In three swift steps, he stood before the heavy brass, double doors of the Moon Dorm gates. With the strength that only a vampire possessed, he wrenched the right door open, ushering Kuroma and I through. The second the two of us had passed under the impressive gates, Zero heaved the metal door shut again before hurriedly marching past us to claim the lead once more.

I scowled at the display, sprinting after him before he could distance himself from me. If he thought I was going to leave it at that, he was sorely mistaken. I slowed my dash to a walk-run as I caught up with him, ignoring the way he seemed to tense up again.

"Nothing to tell? That's such a lie, Zero," I chided reprovingly, subconsciously walking closer to him.

During the day, I had no problem with the Moon Dorm grounds. But at night, it was a different story entirely. The towering, graceful trees that lined the cobblestone path became dark, ominous and looming without the light of the sun. When twilight fell, the gentle breeze that caressed the leaves and ghosted over the grass became a baleful whisper, tugging at my clothes like long, clawed fingers. At night, the sunlit, cheerful path became murky and oppressive. And without the aid of streetlamps or the inadequate light of the crescent moon, the short walk seemed to take ages to reach the end rather than a few short minutes.

Shivering in fear, memories of that snowy night twelve years ago rushed back to me. Purposefully, I carefully averted my eyes from the shadowy, black spaces between the tree trunks. Though it was silly, I dreaded the sight of luminous, hungry eyes opening unexpectedly in the gloomy void.

Sensing Zero's dusky eyes on me, I glanced up at him, locking eyes with his milky lavender-cloud irises. The strangest expression distorted his face. Unquestionably, anger was the predominant emotion, so powerful it almost overwhelmed the others. However, I knew Zero well enough that I could pick out the others that he attempted to hide, ones that were invisible to anyone but me: agony, indecision and want.

Then, I realized with a jolt that I'd seen an expression similar to this one before. It was almost exactly identical.

Kaname paused, as if allotting Zero the time to consider his words. Then, suddenly, his burgundy irises flared, turning a bright, brilliantly glowing scarlet red. Zero's eyes widened and an expression of pain distorted his fine features. The next second, his face was warped with fury, crimson flashing through his eyes as his upper lip curled back, menacingly baring his fangs.

Glancing up at Zero, I didn't even need to see that his face was still hard, contorted with ire, abhorrence, and agony. I could feel his body shaking against mine, seething with barely contained fury.

Just like it had then, his expression tore through me. Only this time, it was stronger as it drove straight through my heart like a stake, shredding my soul into ragged, indistinguishable pieces. Because unlike last time, I knew how I truly felt about Zero. Now all that concerned me was what in the world was contorting my beloved vampire's beautiful face in such a way?

Sighing resignedly, Zero broke our fixated gaze and refocused his eyes to stare straight ahead. Without even so much as glimpsing at me, the wintry-haired vampire hesitantly searched out my hand, entwining our fingers together. Though the familiar roughness of his slightly calloused palm and the heat of his fingers instantly chased my fears away, it felt off. My partner's posture was too taut, too cold. The tapered, graceful fingers that were laced with mine were tight with a rigor-mortis-stiffness, rather than a loving squeeze.

Peering up into his face, I studied Zero's handsome features, desperate to pinpoint the cause of his distress. The line of his jaw was sharp and cutting, indicating that he was clenching his teeth. That was never a good sign. The slayer's face was stony and his silvery eyebrows were low over his moonstone eyes, drawn into a tight V. Although Zero held his head high, he allowed for his starlight hair to obscure his eyes, hiding them from me.

His attempt was feeble, for it was his eyes that told me the most. Under the fringe of silver bangs, they were narrowed dangerously and were as hard as the gemstones they imitated. Crimson played at the edges of his irises. The menacing glow flickered in and out of existence like a firefly or a dying light bulb, hinting at barely contained rage.

Then, when Zero, Kuroma and I were five feet away from the entrance to the Moon Dorm, it clicked.

Zero was mad at me.

It all made sense now, from the way he would barely look at me to the way he forced himself to hold my hand. Five month ago, way back in December, he had learned that ignoring me wasn't a wise option. That explained the manner in which he held my hand. Though he was furious with me for whatever reason, he forced himself to retain physical contact with me so he wouldn't hurt my feelings. Zero still cared about me, but it was obvious he hadn't forgiven me yet.

As we walked up the stairs to the Moon Dorm, Kuroma close behind us I wracked my brain for what I could've possibly done to anger my argent-haired partner in such a small span of time.

Then, as Zero released my hand to open the door, the horrible truth dawned on me.

"…When it comes to Kaname Kuran, my tolerance level is the same as my name," Zero said smoothly.

"I'm always afraid that someone or something is going to take you away from me…"

"No…" I breathed, ignoring the odd looks the two differing vampires gave me. White-hot terror electrified me, coursing through my veins in a venomous stream, before sinking into the pit of my stomach and manifesting into a molten clump of lava.

He saw…

Zero didn't permit me the time to mull it over as he steered Kuroma into the dimly lit foyer. The Night Class's exams were long over, however, only one vampire was present in the entrance hall. Reclining comfortably against the high-backed couch, Takuma Ichijo had his feet propped up on the polished, cherry-wood table in front of him. An incredibly enormous stack of books balanced precariously on top of each other beside him. A particularly thick novel lay open in his hand. Upon our entry, the blonde aristocrat raised his head to examine us, his pale green eyes mildly surprised.

Then his face lit up, his lips curving into a wide, welcoming smile. "Ah, Yuki. Kiryu," Ichijo greeted in his usual cheerful manner. Delicately, he laid his book aside and stood, carefully picking his way around the mountainous pile of volumes as he approached us. "I assume you're here on Chairman Cross's request?"

He spoke to both of us, but I barely heard him, wrestling with my mounting horror. When it became clear I wasn't one hundred percent with them, Zero took command. Nodding curtly, Zero answered, "Yes."

"Ahh, excellent." Then Ichijo's peridot irises located Kuroma and his smile widened. Rushing forward, he darted around Zero to stand before the tiny pureblood, shaking his hand. "You must be the new student. Kuroma Yaseiri, right?"

The sable-haired vampire's opal eyes glimmered at Ichijo's warm welcome. A nervous, but friendly smile spread across his small mouth, and a faint flush colored his cheeks. Kuroma's pretty, elfin features seemed to glow brighter.

"That's correct," Kuroma confirmed amiably. His voice was unfailingly courteous as he smiled sincerely at the overly cheerful vampire.

"Well, it is a pleasure to finally meet you, Yaseiri-sama," Ichijo said, brushing his pale, white-gold hair out of his jade eyes. The way he was smiling, there was no room doubt his sincerity.

Kuroma blushed at the honorific term and brushed it aside. "Please, just Kuroma," he insisted, waving his hand absentmindedly.

"Okay, you two," Zero interrupted shortly, cutting off whatever the pale blonde noble was going to say. "Ichijo, there will be time for formalities later. We still have to introduce Kuroma to Kaname Kuran – " He spat out the name like acid. " – And the rest of the Night Class before we're allowed to leave."

Although my fellow Guardian spoke in clipped, impatient tones, his voice didn't seem quite so harsh. While it still lacked the quiet respect it contained when he spoke to his savior, his tone was still kinder than what most vampires heard coming from him. I suspected it was because hating Takuma Ichijo was almost an impossibility.

"Oh, of course," Ichijo recalled suddenly with another brilliant flash of perfectly straight, pearly-white teeth.

Jealously, I watched the flaxen-haired vampire glide gracefully over to the staircase and ascend the steps. Halfway up, he seemed to remember something, because he stopped and leaned over the railing as he called down to us, "Please, Kuroma, Yuki, Kiryu. Make yourselves at home. I'll rouse the others. They're all around here somewhere…." Then Ichijo's apple-green eyes became worried as he added in a lower voice, "I'm not sure where Kaname is hiding, so please, make yourselves comfortable. You may be waiting awhile."

Kuroma's faint laughter echoed off the high ceiling, bringing another grin to Ichijo's face. Nodding weakly, I watched as the name caused Zero to stiffen angrily. As the blonde aristocrat climbed the final steps, my partner growled darkly under his breath, "Fine by me. Hope the bastard takes his sweet time," as he fiddled absentmindedly with the delicate chain around his neck.

Fighting down a wince was more difficult than I expected. This wasn't good. The more watched and listened, the surer I was that my bleak conclusion was correct. And that wasn't heartening at all.

Takuma disappeared through one of the upstairs hallways, leaving the three of us alone in the foyer. Aimlessly, Kuroma wandered about the lobby, humming faintly to himself as he examined the room. His pretty, elegant face was alight with curiosity. No doubt he was perfectly content to be alone.

Which more than suited my needs.

Deliberately avoiding eye contact with his moonstone irises, I faced Zero and timidly took his hand. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" I inquired in a murmur. Without waiting for a response, I dragged him over to a remote corner of the room. The silver-haired hunter gazed down at me, anger still flitting across his face, though he tried to hide it.

"What?" he demanded curtly, barely looking at me.

Fearing his answer, I breathed in deeply and asked, "Why are you mad at me?"

This time, Zero met my gaze and held it steady, lilac-and-lunar irises fierce and remote, scarlet teasing the outside rims. For several, lengthy minutes, he stared at me evenly, unblinking and fuming with silent rage. Finally, he opened his mouth and said the very thing that I had been dreading. "Two words, Yuki: Kaname Kuran."

I visibly winced, and before I could stop it, the terrible memory from earlier this evening came flooding back to me.

"Stay close to me, Yuki," Zero murmured urgently, Bloody Rose in his hand, fully loaded and ready.

"O-okay…" I stammered quietly, failing miserably to keep the quiver out of my voice as I answered. Fervently, my eyes darted around the dark alleyway, the Artemis Rod clutched tightly in my hands.

My fearful tone captured Zero's attention. The silver-haired vampire spared a quick glance at me, moonstone eyes darting to my face before refocusing.

"I'd put my arm around your shoulders if I didn't need to be completely on my guard," he told me. His pale eyes swept the narrow passageway of the alley, inspecting the dirty windows and doors the lined the two walls and checking the roofs above us.

A weak, half-petrified smile curved my lips at this. Involuntarily, I edged closer to my partner, his tall frame providing an air of security.

We proceeded slowly through the alley, careful not to leave an area unexplored. Each step I took sent a new jolt of fear through me, a hair-raising, creeping sensation slithering up my spine. The town's streetlights couldn't reach these narrow alleyways. Therefore, we were practically blinded by the complete and absolute darkness that surrounded us. The moonlight did little, if nothing at all, to illuminate our path, lighting only the dragon pendant resting against Zero's chest. The crescent moon's soft, platinum glow cast long, sinister shadows on the walls that seemed to lurk and prowl and tower threateningly over me. I felt like a tiny mouse, jumping at every breath of wind, imagining that the shadows were the tabby cat, following me.

But for once, I knew my fears were genuine, and not just the imaginary monsters my mind dredged up from my first memories. There was a threat lurking in these shadows and dark corners. Somewhere in this shadowy alleyway, a Level E vampire was lying in wait.

Perhaps it was watching us right now.

A terrified shudder passed through me. Before I could force it out of my head, out of the corner of my eye, I caught the sight of movement. A pair of shadows actually did shift, and this time I wasn't imagining it. Heart in my throat, I swung around two seconds after Zero had already darted protectively in front of me. Bloody Rose was raised and aimed at the corner, his index finger impatiently twitching, eager to squeeze the trigger.

"Hey! Don't shoot!" a familiar, whiny voice exclaimed.

Before the sterling-haired vampire could attack, Akatsuki Kain and Hanabusa Aido, both dressed in more comfortable wear, materialized from the shadows. Though I visibly relaxed, Zero didn't. The anti-vampire gun refused to sink, and Aido – the one who had called out to us – frowned at him. Glaring fearlessly at my vampire Guardian, the blonde's frosty blue eyes were as cold and hard as the ice he commanded.

"You know," he said in an irritated voice, addressing Zero, "this is the second time we've stared down the barrel of that accursed gun of yours. And we haven't even done anything!"

Reluctantly, Zero lowered Bloody Rose. Posture rigid, he kept a guarded, distrustful eye on the golden-haired cousins as they approached us.

"What're you doing here, vampires?" the starlight-haired hunter demanded brusquely. Bloody Rose was at his side, but I could tell that he was itching to hoist it up again and level it with Aido's chest.

"Hunting a Level E," the shorter male responded, flicking his gilded hair out of his aqua eyes. "What else?"

"Kaname sent us to take care of it," Kain added as he casually leaned against one rough brick wall, lazily closing his honey-colored eyes.

From my angle, I saw with utmost clarity as Zero's long spine seized up and locked at the mention of the pureblood's name. His handsome face tightened, his expression freezing into a solid, severe mask. Had he been a cat, the fur on his back would've been bristling and a hiss would be escaping between bared teeth.

Kain, Aido and I were far used to this reaction to pay much attention to it. Zero always reacted as such when Kaname was mentioned.

However, before another word could be passed between us, Kain's amber eyes snapped open, pointed at the wall behind me. Faster than a cobra's strike, he thrust his arm forward. A thin rope of fire shot from his hand, cracking like a whip at the wall. Heat seared against my skin as the fire blazed over my shoulder and against my cheek seconds before an unearthly, spine-chilling shriek sounded above me.

Whirling around, I wrenched my head upward. Choking, my breath caught in my throat as fear seized me, rooting me to the spot as if Aido's ice had crept up my legs. There, body splayed out over the wall, clinging to it as effortlessly as an enormous insect, was the vampire we were hunting. Clothes hung in ratty tatters around his thin, gaunt frame. Unkempt ginger hair hung shaggily into his insane, burning crimson eyes. As our eyes locked with his, his thin lips curled over his teeth, snarling and hissing at us through his elongated, thick canines.

Aido started up at the creature with distaste and drawled, "Such a foolhardy move for a Level E to approach a pair of noble vampires."

Glancing at me, the blonde playboy smirked and commented, "The scent of your blood must be dulling what little sense it has left, Yuki. Why else would it so brazenly come near us when it knows it's being hunted? You could be a very useful tool, Miss Prefect. Blood bait to lure Level E vampires out of their hiding place."

That remark was all it required for Zero to redirect the aim of his gun from the Level E to Aido's forehead. "If you even so much as think of that idea again, I will be more than happy to blow you away," Zero growled warningly, his moonstone eyes flashing dangerously

Icy blue eyes narrowed menacingly. "That makes three times," Hanabusa snarled.

But before either one could exchange another word, Aido's golden-eyed cousin stepped between the two of them. Placing a forceful hand on each of their chests, he shoved the two vampires away from each other, preventing them from exchanging blows.

"That's enough, you two," Kain said firmly, his tone leaving no room for argument. "Set aside your dispute for now. We have a more pressing matter on our hands."

The three nightwalkers and I swung out head simultaneously to where the Level E adhered to the wall, surveying us with his hungry, blood-red eyes. Decisively, Zero swung the Bloody Rose around in one fluid arch, directing his trusted gun at the creature and squeezed the trigger. Bullets ricocheted off the brick walls as the Level E leapt from wall to wall, dodging my partner's attacks, hissing at us all the while.

When Zero paused to reload, in his strange, echoing voice, the crazed vampire wailed, "Blood…. Give me blood…. I want it…. Give it to me…. Give me the girl and her delicious smelling blood…."

"Over my pile of ashes," Zero snarled, firing the gun. The Level E sprang away from the bullets, bounding up the sides of the buildings and onto the rooftop, vanishing from sight.

There was a brush of wind that ruffled my hair as Aido dashed past me, started after the bloodthirsty monster. "Oh, I love it when they run!" he exclaimed excitedly, employing his vampiric speed. "Makes it so much more exciting if there's a chase!"

"Hanabusa!" Kain called, but his cousin either didn't hear him or ignored him as he whooped gleefully, springing onto the rooftops with effortless grace.

The honey-eyed nightwalker exhaled a long-suffering sigh and closed his amber irises in annoyance. Covering his face with one large, alabaster hand, he slowly shook his golden-haired head in exasperation.

Removing his hand from his face, Kain tilted his head toward Zero, who had stopped shooting but hadn't relaxed his tense stance, and warned, "Watch where you aim that gun of yours. Make sure you don't hit the wrong vampire."

"No promises," the silver-haired hunter intoned dryly.

Akatsuki let out a humorous snort, and a small smile brightened his breathtaking face. "Guess that's the best answer I'm gonna get from you, huh, Kiryu?" he asked, dark humor in his voice.

The left corner of Zero's mouth twitched into a barely-there, lopsided smirk; so tiny that I was probably the only one who noticed it. "Yup."

The two vampires held the amused, lenient gaze from a moment longer before Kain hastened off after his cousin, vanishing in a flash. Hovering close to Zero, we watched the flashes of ice and fire as Aido and Kain attacked the Level E. My grip on the Artemis Rod never loosened. From our viewpoint, I couldn't tell if the cousins were making any headway in destroying it. Between the 'fwoosh' of Akatsuki's flames, the crackling of Hanabusa's ice, and the flickering, wavering shrieks of the crazed vampire, it was impossible to tell who was winning.

Much to my surprise, though the rooftop battle continued for some amount of time, Zero made no move to help them. Instead, he remained by my side, gun raised.

"Zero," I whispered, afraid that if I raised my voice any higher, I'd attract the Level E vampire's attention. "Why are you letting Kain and Aido attack the Level E? It's your mission. Shouldn't you be the one to kill it?"

"Technically speaking, I shouldn't even belong in the Hunter's Association anymore since I'm not human," he responded, never once taking his lilac-and-pearl gaze from the raging battle. "I'd rather stay here near you and let the vampires take care of it, rather than go after it myself and risk having it attack you when I'm not here to protect you."

I smiled weakly at his concern, but still couldn't completely overcome my fear as we watched Aido and Kain's ice and fire danced around the vampire. Not even Zero's comforting presence could completely banish the old terror of my past and my memories.

Suddenly, everything went still. The red-gold flashes of fire and the white, frosty air of ice ceased. The sizzling and crackling and screaming were silenced, and a tense atmosphere draped over the darkened alleyway once again.

Then, Aido's voice called out in confusion, "Where is it?"

For five long seconds, everything was quiet.

Without warning, a dark figure landed heavily in between me and Zero, eyes blazing, fangs bared, and wild, insane laughter bubbling from his throat. I screamed, dropping the Artemis Rod in my shocked terror. Cursing, Zero wheeled around, gun steady, his necklace swinging like a pendulum. But before he could shoot, the crazed vampire swiped at his hand, knocked the Bloody Rose from his grasp, sending it skidding across the blacktop. My fellow Guardian didn't even have the chance to recover when the Level E had seized him and threw him against a collection of trashcans with an almighty crash.

Weaponless and defenseless, I backed away from the Level E, wide-eyed and trembling. One of the two cousins – either Kain or Aido, I wasn't sure which – swore loudly when they spotted my predicament from their bird's-eye-view. I could almost see them rushing towards me now.

Metal clanged against metal as Zero attempted to pick himself up, groaning in the effort. "Yuki!" he called out, obvious panic coloring his voice.

But as my back hit the solid, unmoving door behind me, I knew it was too late. None of them would reach me before the vampire tore my body to shreds.

"Don't worry, little girl," the Level E cackled, his voice rising and falling in multiple pitches. "It'll only hurt for a second… or two."

He smiled, sharp teeth gleaming, and then lunged, fangs bared.

"Yuki! No!" Zero cried.

I closed my eyes…

And yelped in shock when the surface I had backed myself up against dematerialized as the door was opened. Since I had supported all of my weight against the door, it's sudden absence caused me to stumble backwards into the unlit storeroom. I threw my hands out to break my fall. However, before I could hit the ground, someone's arms caught me around the waist, holding me steady.

There was a blood-curling shriek as the door was slammed closed with a dull thud on one of the vampire's outstretched, clawed hands. The door bounced back off of the Level E's wrist, the leftover velocity of the blow allowing it to hang ajar. Peering through the tiny space between the door and the wall, I could see everything that happened.

As the Level E reeled in pain, Kain and Aido fell on him viciously, like golden-hided lions bringing down a gazelle. The vampire was knocked from my view, and the only thing I had to tell me what was happening was the reverberating sound of fighting gunshots. Over the Level E's screeching, I head Aido shouting over to Zero about what luck I had.

But I knew it wasn't luck, and I raised my eyes to peek at my savior.

It was Kaname, and suddenly, I wasn't sure which was worse: facing the Level E… or facing the pureblood.

"Stay in there, Yuki!" I heard Zero yell out to me over the insane vampire's wails and shrieks. "I'll call you when it's safe!"

I was unable work up enough volume in my voice to answer him. There were problems of my own that I had do deal with.

"Kaname," I said weakly, my lungs failing to provide me with the sufficient amount of oxygen to extend my voice to anything louder than a whisper. Smiling faintly, I feigned relief. I had a feeling it wasn't fooling anyone, least of all Kaname. "Thank you. You saved my life. That's twice now." I had to force out the last sentence and attempted not to count how many times Zero had saved me in comparison.

"Of course I did, Yuki," Kaname murmured. There was a strange note in his tone, an emotion I couldn't quite place. It almost sounded like… like desperation.

Carefully unwinding his arms from my waist, the mahogany-eyed pureblood placed his hands on my shoulders and spun me around. Then I was in his arms once again, his lithe limbs encircling my tiny frame as he hugged me tightly to his chest. It was a very familiar, Kaname-like gesture that would've made me uncomfortable regardless, kinda like the time when he had visited me when I was ill back in February and he'd laid his hand on top of mine. The royal vampire's touch had set my nerves on end then and it did now. Only this time, there was something deeper underlying his embrace, something to do with the bizarre desperation I detected in his voice, something that pumped adrenaline through my veins and triggered my 'fight-or-flight' response.

Instantly, I froze solid, transforming into carved marble statue, unmoving and unyielding. All the while, my heart pounded fearfully and unsteadily beneath my ribs as my internal alarms continued to scream wordlessly at me.

"Uh… Kaname…" I broached restlessly, shifting in his arms in hopes of breaking loose. But he wouldn't budge.

Outside, the clamor of struggling and fighting persisted. There was the sickening, dull thud of flesh meeting flesh; the muffled thrashing of body that was being pinned down; the vampire's shrill cries had been amplified to an almost unbearable pitch; Kain was grunting with the effort it took to restrain the Level E; and Aido was snapping, yelling, whining and hissing in an almost constant stream, his words were indistinguishable.

Only one sound rang with perfect clarity.

"Hold it still for one more second," Zero's husky voice commanded, rough and stern. There was a great snarl of exertion from one of the two blondes, and after a brief pause, I jumped faintly as the deafening bang of a gunshot echoed in the night.

And then, there was silence.

Now's my chance to escape, I thought merrily.

"Umm… well… I should go…" I hinted warily, squirming unsuccessfully in Kaname's grasp. Craning my head over my shoulder, I peeked through the small space of open door at Zero's towering, slim figure. So close… but so far away. "The others are going to be looking for me soon."

"I can't lose you, Yuki," the chocolate-haired pureblood whispered suddenly, his voice a combination of fury, terror, and anguish. "I can't lose the girl I so desperately love."

And before I could stop him, he swiftly bent his head and captured my lips with his cold ones. My eyes opened so wide that I must've looked like someone with a pair of baseballs glued to her face. Completely numb with shock, I could only stare in horrified fascination at the smooth, porcelain skin of Kaname's face pressed against mine. My brain was stunned and my body was frozen. The inner sirens at the back of my head had gone into overtime, chanting "I told you so" and warning me that this was real.

The second Kaname's mouth began to pry mine open, reality collided with me. Memories of Zero and I together pounded against my like the battering winds of a hurricane, and every second that I allowed the pureblood to kiss me morphed into treachery.

So I fought.

Automatically, my hands flew up to his chest and I shoved roughly, attempting to force him away from me. Twisting my head sharply to the side, I ripped my mouth away from the Kaname's long enough to gasp, "Stop," before he dragged my lips back to him and kissed me again.

My brain was screaming at me now, yelling that if this went on any longer, I'd be betraying Zero. And that thought fueled me with the strength I needed to resist his vampiric strength, just as I had done with Zero once before.

Jerking my head away, I yelled, "Dammit, Kaname, I said stop!" and punched his chest with all of my might. The attack jarred his grip and the constricting bind of his arms slackened around me. Seizing the opportunity, I wriggled out of his arms and quickly retreated from him.

Minutes ticked by unheeded as Kaname and I stared at each other, tense and mute. His remorseful cinnamon eyes were locked onto me, his dark bangs falling into his face.

"I'm sorry, Yuki," he apologized finally, his voice quiet. "I should not have forced myself on you like that…I guess I just… I shouldn't have…"

I couldn't say anything. I could merely stare, barely containing the urge to flee from the pureblood and run into Zero's comforting arms. But a gnawing uncertainty lingered over me. Could I bear to face him with this false sensation of unfaithfulness hanging over my head?

For a long while, neither of us spoke as we stood there, unmoving. Kaname's expression was pained and appeared as if he wanted to approach me, but didn't dare to. I heard Aido's voice calling out to me, telling me it was safe.

Finally, laying a hand on the doorknob, I spoke, "Please, don't do that again. I have to go, Kaname. Good night."

Before I could turn around, a lost expression came to the umber-haired vampire's face, his mahogany eyes filled with agony. "It's Kiryu, isn't it?" he murmured, so quietly it was almost a whisper.

Before I had the chance to overcome my shock at hearing these words long enough to respond to him, he vanished into the shadows of the storeroom. Revolving slowly, I faced the partially ajar door. And what I saw made me freeze as ice crystals formed in my bloodstream.

From where I stood, I could see Kain perfectly, his sunset-haired head turned toward the door. The second his amber eyes met mine, I caught the sight of his raised eyebrows and mildly shocked expression.

With a horrible, sinking sensation in my stomach, I realized he had a clear view of Kaname and I from his location. He saw everything.

Now the only question that remained was would he tell Zero?

Like a dog with its tail between its legs, I slunk out from behind the door. Though my eyes remained pointedly averted from the slender, handsome aristocrat, I purposefully kept my chin up.

I haven't done anything wrong. He kissed me. I haven't done anything wrong. I pushed him away. I didn't want to kiss him. I haven't done anything wrong, I chanted repeatedly in my head as I passed Kain, head held high. I could feel his honey-colored eyes on me as I walked by. I haven't done anything wrong. I haven't done anything wrong. I haven't –

Zero and Aido were waiting for us by the alleyway entrance, the moonlight highlighting Zero's hair and dragon necklace. The hunter glanced at me, his face strangely blank and his dusk-colored eyes a peculiar play of emotions. The fight must've worn him out. I tried not to let the guilt show.

"You okay?" he asked flatly, looking away from me.

"Yeah," I answered, a little bewildered by his tone.

"Then let's go," he said brusquely, walking off without a glance at the blonde cousins or me.

I was so stupid. Why hadn't I seen it before? The vacant expression on his face, the ire in his voice, and the sorrow in his eyes. Kain wasn't the only one to witness Kaname's bold act.

"You saw…" I whispered, horrified, voicing my earlier thoughts aloud.

Or Kain told you… I added in my mind.

The starlight-haired vampire nodded solemnly, twilight eyes tortured and hard. "So tell me, Yuki, who's a better kisser? Me or Kaname?" Zero spat hostilely, poorly concealed wrath and misery dripping from his voice.

His words shot through me, piercing my heart as if he'd thrust the Bloody Rose against my chest and pulled the trigger. Numb, my clasp on Zero's warm hand unintentionally relaxed. Once my fingers had loosened around his, my grasp no stronger than feather on the skin, Zero sharply ripped his hand out of mine. Pain and desperation welled in my chest as I watched my vampire stormed away, angling back to where Kuroma stood admiring an old grandfather clock. As I watched him go, every beat of my heart throbbed and ached with unbearable anguish. making it throb and ache with every beat.

I needed to make him understand. Now. Before I lost him forever.

Tearing after Zero, I zipped around his elegant, slight body, and braked to a halt directly in front of him. He had no choice but to pause and pay attention to me.

"Zero, please. Listen to me," I begging, quickly darting to hinder his passage as he tried to sidestep past me. "You don't understand – "

"Understand what?" he snapped, his fangs flashing and crimson streaking through his lavender-gray irises. "That you're torn between me and Kaname? Oh, I understand that perfectly, Yuki, but I would've appreciated it if you hadn't been leading me on these past eight months. And here I thought I was actually making some progress, that I actually stood a chance." He laughed bitterly, and his words cut through me. "Guess I should've known better than to get my hopes up. How can I compete with the pureblood now that you've kissed hi – "

"Zero! I pushed him away!" I interrupted loudly, tears splashing down my face. The warm wetness on my cheeks surprised me. I hadn't even felt them build up in my eyes.

The wintry-haired vampire eyed me critically, his face an array of torn emotions: doubt, resentment and hope mingled with the intense need to comfort me and stem the flow of tears. From behind me, I could feel Kuroma's pale, milky eyes on me. The tiny pureblood was watching us carefully, concern etched into his androgynous features, opal eyes cool and calculating.

Breathing in deeply, I attempted to control my voice and prayed I wouldn't completely lose it. Blinking the tears out of my eyes, I continued, softer this time, my voice wavering, "He kissed me, Zero. I wanted no part of it and I tried to push him away. I really did."

"Didn't look that way to me," Zero murmured inaudibly, voice raw with pain. The enmity had leeched out of his face. All that remained was the wild anguish. His moonstone eyes were downcast, agony contorting every muscle in his beautiful face. It made me feel like my heart was being ripped in two.

"I did, Zero! Please! I'm telling you the truth!" I cried urgently, my forced serenity shattering at the expression on his face. "You have to believe me!"

Fine strands of spun-silver locks ghosted over the vampire hunter's porcelain cheeks like cobwebs as Zero shook his head, disbelieving. "I don't know if I can, Yuki," he whispered, voice strained.

A fresh wave of suffering washed over me at his words, and the weeping and tears intensified. Burying my face in my hands, the sobs rattled my body, shoulders heaving as my body trembled. For a brief moment, Zero reached out, almost as if to touch me. But before his graceful fingertips contacted my shoulder, he withdrew his hand and twisted his head to the side.

"You can't have both of us, Yuki," the pearly-haired nightwalker whispered, so quiet I could barely even hear him.

Lifting my face from my hands, I peered up at him incredulously, no doubt with red, puffy eyes and thoroughly miserable. In a shocked murmur, I questioned slowly, "After all this time, you still haven't realized who I've chosen?"

Without glancing at me, Zero responded quietly, a hint of that cutting, razorblade-edge creeping into his voice once again, "When you're lip-locked with Kaname Kuran, it's a little difficult for me to tell."

Before I could open my mouth to respond, from the landing above us, a deep voice interjected, "Don't go making judgments when you were only there for half of it."

In harmony with each other, the three of us raised our eyes toward the source of the voice. And there, leaning against the railing, dressed in the same clothes he was in earlier, was Akatsuki Kain, observing us with his honey-gold eyes. His eyes were on Zero, clearly addressing him.

"Obviously, we both saw what happened, but unlike you, I stuck around to see how it would unfold," Kain said calmly, arms folded over the polished railing and gazing down at my partner. "Cross is telling the truth, Kiryu. Right after you left, she tried to escape from Kaname. She eventually managed to push him away, and with quite a fair amount of vehemence for one so small, I might add. And, if I recall correctly, Kaname's parting words when Cross refused him were, 'It's Kiryu, isn't it?'."

A watery smile spread over my face as I stared up at the tall, blonde vampire. I could've kissed him at this moment, but given the current situation, deemed it a stupid idea. But, I never expected that Kain's attendance to Kaname's folly could possibly benefit me. Having a witness – an ally – was most welcome.

Kain's words of reassurance did the trick, accomplished what my tears and promises alone could not guarantee. By backing me up, I could see the willingness and anticipation in Zero's eyes as he turned to me.

"Is that the truth?" he murmured softly, almost pleadingly.

I sighed, but allowed a patient smile to split my lips. Balancing on the balls of my feet, I stood on my toes to gain a few extra inches of height. Stretching my hands up little by little, granting the moonlight-haired vampire plenty of time to back away, I cupped Zero's face in my hands. When he didn't recoil from my touch, I took that as a positive sign.

"Yes, Zero. It's the truth," I told him gently, brushing his moon-colored bangs from his eyes. "That's what I've been trying to tell you all along. Kaname kissed me and I fought against him with all my might. I could think only of you and how I felt like I was being unfaithful to you."

Now that I had his attention, I slid my hands from his face to hold his larger hands in mine.

"Listen to me, Zero," I urged insistently. "How can you not know after all this time who I've chosen? Do I have to spell it out for you?"

"Could you?" he murmured, gazing at me with morose eyes.

Sighing again, I smiled reassuringly up at him as I explained, "We're good for each other, Zero. We're best friends. We understand each other and know each other like the back of our hands. There are times when I feel like you're reading my thoughts or could finish my sentences if you really wanted to. I know what your expressions and actions mean, and you know mine. We take care of each other, whether it was when I allowed you to feed from me to keep you sane or when you nursed me back to health three months ago. We're comfortable with each other. You trust me enough to tell me things about your past and yourself that I know you'd never confide in with anyone else. I can't imagine being so at ease with anyone besides you, you who I don't have to try to impress because I already know I have your full attention. And let's not forget the lengths we've willing to go to in order to save each other's lives. That's kind of important."

The skepticism in Zero's eyes was fading as hope grew more predominant in the moonstone irises. Glancing over my shoulder at Kuroma, I saw the petite, charcoal-haired pureblood nod encouragingly at me, a full smile curving his pretty, Cupid's-bow lips. The muted, rainbow of colors swirling in his ghostly, opal eyes seemed to gleam brighter and more vibrant. Then I peeked up at Akatsuki from his perch on the balcony. The blonde was completely still, except for the faint hint of a smile that twitched on his lips.

Summoning my courage, I took a deep breath and returned my gaze to Zero. I had to make him understand. Fear of rejection was something I could not longer afford. Zero needed to know how I felt about him and why I felt that way.

Releasing his hands, I wrapped my arms around Zero's neck. Carefully, I drew him down to my level so I could touch my forehead to his and gaze directly into his twilight eyes. The silver-haired vampire encircled my waist tentatively with his arms and held me against him. Studying my face with intense scrutiny, he awaited my next action.

I began my list: "I like how you're protective of me, even if you tend to overreact a little. You always are placing me first, like when you were concerned about how drinking my blood would affect me, even though it was painfully obvious how badly you needed it. I'm drawn to your smile, the way it lights up your eyes and how I'm the only person who can coax it out of you. I look forward to hearing your rare laughs. It really is music to my ears, Zero. Your personality intrigues me, how it's always changing. One minute you're in a pleasant mood, the next you could send a tiger cowering in fear. It keeps me on my toes."

Now came the harder parts. Beating down the blush that spread across my cheeks was an impossibility. All too aware that we weren't as alone as I would've like to be for this confession, my voice refused to be anything louder than a whisper.

"I crave your warmth. It shows when you smile at me when no one else is around or when you hold me tightly in your arms. I feel so safe, knowing that it's for me alone. I adore it when you kiss me, lovingly and slow or quick and passionate." I paused there as my face turned brilliantly red, recalling last September. "And finally…" My voice was barely even a whisper now, no more than the faintest breath of wind, "I'm addicted to the way you make me feel: loved, wanted – no… needed – and beautiful. I feel like a woman only when I'm in your arms."

Releasing Zero's stunned face from my grasp, I allowed him to straighten up. Slipping my hands into his, I stepped back several inches so I could monitor his shocked, moonstone eyes, half-hidden by his silver hair.

Without breaking eye contact with him, I said with a quiet sigh, "Our relationship has never been easy, Zero. We've bounced around from strangers to friends to enemies to… lovers…" Saying the word made me blush. It really wasn't the right word, but I couldn't think of anything else that described what we were at this moment. "We've never really been sure where the other stood in this. It's all been very chaotic, and I don't think you'll disagree with me on that.

"But now I have a solid, definite answer on at least one element of this relationship of ours. I realized this a while ago – a few weeks back, maybe – but I'm never going to find anyone who comes close to you. Even if I live to be a hundred and search for all those years for someone who is even remotely similar to you, I'll never find your match."

I paused to catch my breath, then hurriedly continued before I lost my nerve. "What I'm trying to say, Zero, is that I've chosen. Subconsciously, my choice was decided long before the events of that day. My belief is that its purpose was to bring that verdict and those emotions to my full attention and force me to examine them carefully and critically. And now I know. I wasn't lying to you when I told you I never wanted Kaname to drink my blood, because those feelings of love you sensed weren't for him, but for you."

There was an intake of breath from the argent-haired vampire, his dusky eyes impossibly wide. I had a feeling Zero would be requiring CPR soon because I was pretty sure that he wasn't breathing anymore.

"I've made up my mind, Zero," I whispered, my speech drawing to a close. And I was more anxious than when I had begun. "I don't have romantic feelings for Kaname anymore and I never will again. You are the only vampire I ever want to drink my blood and you are – and always will be – the man that I love."

For an immeasurable amount of time, I held Zero's gaze, anticipating a reaction that wouldn't come. The starlight-haired hunter continued to stare at me, shell-shocked, lavender-gray eyes wide and lips slightly parted in astonishment. Vaguely, I wondered if I should ask Kuroma to call an ambulance, thinking he'd gone into shock. When my partner still gave no response, I sighed, disheartened, and freed his hands. Bowing my head, my shoulders slumped and I wrapped my arms around myself.

Maybe this wasn't a good idea after all, I thought sullenly. I shouldn't have t –

The remainder of my thoughts was quickly shattered. A pair of strong arms jerked me up against a hard body, long fingers tilted up my chin and a set of familiar, warm lips crashed against mine. Sighing in relief, I smiled into the kiss as I wrapped my arms around Zero's neck and kissed him back with equal force. Tightening his arms around my waist, the moonlight-haired vampire straightened up entirely, lifting me up so that my feet dangled a full foot from the ground. I wrapped my legs around his slender waist, not really caring that I was still dressed in my Day Class uniform skirt or that we had two pairs of vampiric eyes watching us. All I was concerned about was kissing Zero.

He broke away from my mouth then, moonstone eyes surprisingly dark and his silver hair pleasingly mussed. "Do you have any idea how long I've been waiting to hear that?" he breathed, his voice rougher and huskier than usual.

I thought back on my memories, recalling everything he had done for me up to this point, and smiled. "I have an idea," I whispered, stroking the side of his face with the pads of my fingers.

Kissing me swiftly again, he murmured against my lips, "Sorry I didn't believe you before."

"Don't be," I told him breathlessly. "You've already been forgiven."

After that, there was no more talking as our lips mashed together once more. There was nothing gentle about this kiss. It was purely raw passion. Lips, teeth and tongue met in wild abandon in our frantic desperation to taste each other. Zero's hands clutched my back firmly, clutching me to him, the metal of his dragon pendant digging into the soft flesh of my upper torso. My hands tangled into his hair, twisting and tugging on his wintry locks.

We would've carried on this way indefinitely, lost in our own little world, were it not for the tap on my shoulder.

Reluctantly pulling away from Zero's mouth, we glanced down in confusion. Kuroma was peering up at us, standing on his tiptoes in order to reach me at this height. Now that the tiny pureblood had our attention, he grinned apologetically at us as he brushed the shock of feathery black hair out his iridescent eyes.

"As much as I hate to interrupt such a beautiful and passionate moment," Kuroma began, sinking back to his level as a sheepish expression crossed his feminine face, mingling with his embarrassed grin, "but you two have a bit of an audience." He gestured above us.

A bit was a HUGE understatement.

While Zero and I had been… preoccupied, Ichijo had returned. And just as promised, he'd rounded up Kaname and his fellow vampires. The entire Night Class was there to witness it, all of them wearing varying expressions as they stared at us. Aido appeared shocked, Ruka horrified, Shiki and Rima were amused, and Ichijo and Kain wore matching expressions of mild contentment. I didn't have to look at the towering, dark figure of Kaname Kuran to see the pain and anger that reflected in his eyes, but was absent from his otherwise stoic face. Only Seiren seemed completely indifferent to the whole affair.

Embarrassed, I unhooked my legs from Zero's waist and dropped to the floor. Though my face was beet red, I held my head high. Zero, however, couldn't have been happier. His angelic face was positively glowing, his silvery-lilac eyes alight with joy and a smile on his lips. Aido and Ruka took note of the impossible sight and exchanged a shocked glance with each other.


There was only the slightest hint of disappointment in my euphoric high when I realized I was going to have to be the one to do the introductions. The pale, handsome vampire beside me was too wrapped up with staring at me, enraptured, too thrilled to focus on anything that wasn't centered on me. Not that I was complaining.

Swallowing the resigned sigh, I smiled widely as if none of them had just witnessed Zero and I making out in the middle of the foyer. Then I gestured to the ebony-haired vampire standing on my other side.

"Everyone, this is Kuroma Yaseiri," I announced cheerfully. "He's a transfer student and will be joining you all at the beginning of the next semester. The Headmaster thought it would be a good idea to introduce him to you all now so he won't be completely lost when school starts up again. So please, make him feel welcome and show him around the Moon Dorms so he'll be familiar with it."

By introducing Kuroma, I was relieved that the Night Class's attention had been redirected to him instead of Zero and me. The vampire girls, especially, took a great deal of interest in the attractive, elf-like pureblood. Ruka, Rima, and even the mysterious and cold Seiren, eyed Kuroma appraisingly. Shiki frowned at Rima's sudden curiosity in the new vampire, his former humor fading. Similarly, Kain's expression soured as he stared wistfully at the dun-haired Ruka. The blonde and auburn-haired males glanced at each other, cerulean and honey eyes meeting with a shared expression of irritation.

I had to stifle a giggle and bite back my smile. They were so transparent.

"Welcome, Kuroma," Kaname greeted pleasantly, descending the winding staircase. Seiren followed directly behind him. "I'm glad you've finally agreed to attend Cross Academy. Our cause will greatly benefit from your presence here. After all, your skills and powers are unmatched."

Smirking, Ruka leaned over to whisper something in Rima's ear, and the two girls dissolved into giggles. Shiki's eyes narrowed and Kain scowled.

"Always so formal, old friend," Kuroma remarked lightly, smiling up at the taller pureblood. "A simple 'hello' would've sufficed."

Kaname smiled, but made no other comments. As he raised his eyes to me, I saw Ichijo slide around Kaname to engage Kuroma in conversation, to which the tiny vampire took to eagerly, beaming up at him. A faint smile touched me. Something told me those two would be fast friends.

"Thank you for bringing Kuroma here, Yuki and… Kiryu," Kaname said politely, though he couldn't completely hide the venom in his voice. "We can take it from here. Ichijo seems more than happy to show our new student around."

"All in a day's work," I quipped, forcing myself to smile. Searching quietly for Zero's hand, I linked my fingers with him and tugged him towards the door. "Well, our job here is done. We'd best be off."

"Good night," he murmured. I just smiled, and hurried toward the door.

On our way out, I saw Ichijo ushering Kuroma up the stairs, introducing him to the Night Class. The pureblood glanced over and our eyes connected. Smirking hugely, he winked slyly, his opal eyes glittering. I grinned back and waved.

Then, I saw Kain out of the corner of my eye. He caught my gaze and his amber eyes locked with mine. Smiling shyly, I mouthed 'thank you' to him. A tiny, crooked smirk upturned his lips, and he incline his head in an 'anytime' manner.

Turning away, Zero and I walked out the Moon Dorm doors into the silent, black night. The second the double doors closed with a resounding thud, I groaned, "Ugh! That was supposed to be private! I can't believe the entire Night Class was there to witness it!"

"Were they?' Well-known, slender arms snaked around my waist and warm, full lips grazed the shell of my ear, making me shudder in pleasure. "I never noticed them," Zero murmured huskily, lowering his head to brush his mouth over my neck. "I only had eyes for you."

Blushing, I twisted my head back so I could find his lips, and he kissed me softly, gingerly.

"So…" he murmured, lips brushing against mine, "there's this girl that I know… and she has beautiful, silky bronze-colored hair…" His fingers threaded through my tresses. "… and wide, cinnamon eyes…" Zero tilted my head back to plant a kiss on each eyelid. "… and soft, pink lips that curve into a breathtaking smile." He kissed me chastely, but with enough passion to leave me breathless and panting when he withdrew.

"Hmm, she sounds lovely," I murmured, playing along as I grinned.

"She is," the moonlight-haired vampire agreed, nuzzling the side of my neck. "I'm extremely attracted to her. Head-over-heels for her, if you must know. In fact, I'm so devoted to her that I surrendered my humanity for her, let some pureblood fix me permanently into the vampire world so I could never leave her."

"Wow," I breathed, giggling slightly as I slid my fingers through his satiny silver locks. "Have you asked her out yet?"

"What do you think I'm trying to do?" he growled playfully, and I laughed. Drawing back a ways so that he could see into my eyes, Zero asked, "Now that I know I won't be cut down like a bunch of weeds, what do you say we put an end to the confusion and make our relationship official?"

"Sounds good to me," I murmured, leaning contently against my boyfriend's chest. The word made me smile. "I've waited a long time for you to ask that."

"And I've waited a very long time to hear you say that you loved me," Zero countered, kissing the top of my head.

Okay, I'll give him that one. "Touché," I murmured, kissing him lightly. But before he could deepen it, I pulled back with a smirk and added, "For the record, of the two of you, you are the better kisser."

Zero laughed. I mean actually laughed. With a gleam of silver hair, he threw his head back and roared with laughter, his shoulders shaking from the power of it. The sound warmed my heart to hear him be so liberated, open… joyful. When his hilarity died down, he hugged me closer to him and chuckled, "Well, that's comforting to hear. Wouldn't want my girlfriend to think my kissing was inadequate for her."

Girlfriend. Man, does that sound nice.

"So…" I began. "What do you want to do now?"

"Hmm…" Zero swung me around, grinning down at me, moonstone eyes gleaming with a mischievous, hungry light. "I can think of a few things."

And as he swooped down to plant kisses along the side of my neck, my head fell back with a sigh as my eyes slid shut.

Okay, so more than anything, this main purpose of this story was to spell out Yuki's decision to select Zero over Kaname. That way I could get all the confessions out of the way and settled for the final story. Now, the REAL fun can begin. grins hugely

Just an interesting little side note: Kuroma's name means "wearing away black" and his last name means "night-blooming jasmine".

Hehe, also threw in a teeny tiny tribute to my current obsession, Devil May Cry, so small it'll be indistinguishable to anyone who's not familiar with the games. If anyone loves Dante and DMC, they might be able to pick it up…. lol. And yes, I did borrow a line from Stephenie Meyer's wonderful book Breaking Dawn. It just fit so perfectly that I had to use it.

As always, if there are any errors, please let me know where they are, and if you enjoyed this story, look for the final installment of this series, Alive At Last. Hope you enjoyed the story! - Des