Hi! I'm back with (miraculously enough) an actual one-shot for Vampire Knight. The friend who was supposed to let me know if it was any good unfortunately shares in my procrastination problem, so I have no prior input on this thing...which is why you should leave a review! n.n Anywho, hope you enjoy, and let me know what you think.

Standard Disclaimer Applies...fine, I'll say it: I do not, in any way, shape, or form, own Vampire Knight. Just my sugar cookie and its guacamole dip.

A Night Off

"Alright, Seiren-san," Yuuki declared, "it's been decided."

Seiren resisted the strong instinct to run for cover. In the ten years she had been protecting Yuuki-sama since Kaname-sama's death, she had quickly learned to identify this particular stance and tone with ideas the pureblood was determined to see come to fruition. More often than not, these ideas involved "helping" someone. Seiren quickly ran through her mental list. Whose lives had Yuuki-sama not meddled with in the past year?

Let's see, Senri-san was finally "encouraged" enough to propose to Tooya-san, with Yuuki-sama all but using her pureblood status to order him to do it. The human, Yori-chan, "agreed" to take a position as a Day Class teacher at Cross Academy. Souen-san "volunteered" to go out recruiting more students for the Night Class. The headmaster "decided" to hold a Spring Formal for the Day and Night Classes together. Kain-san wisely stayed away during the helping frenzy. And Kiryu-san made it through an entire night without touching his gun. Miracles happened.

Still, that only left a very few people that Yuuki-sama could mean. In fact, it only left two people close enough to the family that Yuuki-sama would feel entitled to interfering with their lives. Seiren began praying with all her might that her charge was referring to the other, although she didn't harbor much hope as Yuuki-sama had mentioned frequently in recent days how "Seiren-san is too serious…she needs to relax, maybe get a boyfriend."

"We're giving you the night off!" Yuuki announced.

Was that all? Hallelujah, her prayers had been answered! Not that Seiren would even consider leaving the last of the Kuran line alone for one night, using the time for herself, but at least her fears about Yuuki-sama's intentions proved completely unfounded.

"And to make sure you actually relax," Yuuki continued, oblivious to the pained, frozen expression on Seiren's normally stern face, "I've asked a friend of mine to take you out."

Yuuki was grinning happily from ear to ear. Seiren couldn't believe this: Yuuki-sama –last of the Kuran, the person Seiren had sworn to spend her life protecting –had set her up on a blind date. Okay, she could believe it. This was the type of mischievous match-making the pureblood princess thrived on, but it was still enough to make Seiren reconsider her self-imposed life of servitude. But she was a soldier and she would follow her orders, no matter how much she loathed them.

The sun was barely down, the dirty breakfast dishes had yet to be cleared from the table, and Seiren was already deep in the midst of her worst nightmare, sitting on the front steps of the Moon Dormitory, waiting for her "date." She imperceptibly cringed at the very word. Still, things could have gone a lot worse. As it was, she was still wearing her usual capris and a t-shirt instead of that horrid, pink dress Yuuki-sama forcefully suggested.

A simple black car pulled up the drive. Seiren stretched out her senses, trying to get some idea of who was inside. She got nothing, not even the slightest indication of a presence. This wasn't necessarily bad: it meant that whoever Yuuki-sama had called was at least a high-ranking aristocrat among vampires. It took more than the average bloodsucker to hide from Seiren.

Yuuki rushed out the large front doors, small backpack swinging from her arm, calling, "Seiren-san, wait a sec!"

At the sight of Yuuki, the mysterious stranger finally gathered the courage to leave his car. And who should arise from the driver's seat but Ichijo Takuma?

If Seiren had been any other vampire, this situation might have pressed her to violence. Instead, she merely stood and turned a glare to rival that of Kiryu on Yuuki who, having much experience in evading such signs of displeasure, innocently looked elsewhere. It figured that Yuuki-sama would try to kill the last two "unhappy" people on her list with one blow.

Meanwhile, Ichijo had walked up to the steps and stood directly behind the glowering vampire. "Seiren-chan, it's been a long time!" he greeted.

After Kaname's death, Ichijo had not stayed long at Cross Academy. His visits were frequent but always impossibly brief, and often, years passed between Seiren's actual conversations with the former vice-president.

"Yes, it has, Ichijo-san," Seiren replied in her typical tone of formal severity. "I apologize for the long trip you must have taken. Had I known of Yuuki-sama's intentions beforehand, I should have cancelled this excursion."

Yuuki was sweating profusely, unsure of how even easy-going Takuma-kun would respond to such a blatant "I don't want to do this."

After a short moment of shock, Ichijo's smile returned, and he countered, "In that case, I'm very glad Yuuki-chan didn't tell you. It's been too long since I last visited, and this surprise gave me the perfect excuse to get away from business."

Throughout the entire conversation, Seiren had not once removed her fixed glare from Yuuki. For a moment, all was still.

Seeing this awkward silence as the perfect chance for a clean getaway, Yuuki hastily thrust the small bag into Seiren's hands. "Have a good time, you two!" With that, she dashed back into the Moon Dormitory, slamming the door behind her and effectively crushing Seiren's last hope for escape.

Seiren couldn't tear her searing gaze from the closed door, hoping she might burn a hole in it. She could feel the beginnings of what was sure to be a monstrous headache. Fights to the death and constant danger she could handle. Dates? Relaxation? This was completely uncharted territory.

Kaname-sama never gave her this much trouble.

"Well," Ichijo coughed. "Shall we go then?"

Finally turning to face him, Seiren caught her first glimpse of Ichijo-san's face in years, shining in the moonlight. And her first thought was to permanently wipe that ever so slightly teasing smirk off his face, preferably by means of a few well-placed punches.

He opened the car door for her like the gentleman he was raised to be, and she got in without protest though her knuckles were white as she clutched the bag Yuuki-sama had given her.

Ichijo-san hadn't changed much since the old days. He wore his blond hair in the same style. His green eyes still sparkled with some inner joy. Although, he seemed to be more reserved than he was before Kaname-sama died.

"So, Seiren-chan, are you ready for a fun night?" he asked, bouncing into the driver's seat, his smile blazing a little too brightly.

Scratch that. He was still every bit the overly energetic goofball he had always been.

Taking her silence as an affirmative, he started up the car and pulled out of Cross Academy, the smile never fading from his face.

Seiren was mortified beyond words. Not only was she on a blind date, but she was on one with her former superior. Technically speaking, he still outranked her. It didn't help that the car he drove was obviously the latest model equipped with every convenience. It screamed "spoiled rich boy"—the type she had always avoided.

The tense silence was making Ichijo uneasy, so he ended it. "Ah, Seiren-chan, what did you do for fun as a kid?"

The female vampire turned a bewildered stare on him in disbelief. The idiot was still beaming cluelessly, speeding the car down dark country roads. Her childhood was absolutely none of his business. Besides, he had never shown much interest in her personal life before, and he had no right to start now. However, she could be civil and make conversation. She would be civil, if only for Yuuki-sama's sake.

"I trained," Seiren replied succinctly. She would speak, but no more than necessary.

Undeterred by her lack of responsiveness, Ichijo plunged on. "Me too! Actually, I still dabble with the sword a bit here and there." He motioned to the back seat with his head, and Seiren glanced at the sheathed samurai blade. "Besides that, I mostly hung out with Kaname-kun and the others." Here, he paused. His smile drifted into sad memories. Seiren did not consider herself an emotional person, but the sting of losing Kaname-sama was still fresh. She could only imagine how much more Ichijo-san felt the pain, but he hid it well.

Silence reigned again, but now the two vampires were connected by their loss. That common bond helped lessen Seiren's discomfort over the whole situation, if only a little.

But Ichijo never could take quiet, especially permeated by grief and sorrow. He forced his cheer to reappear. "But I don't remember seeing you when we were younger. In fact, I don't think I met you until we entered Cross Academy, Seiren-chan."

"Of course you never saw me before Cross Academy, you idiot, because I was unworthy," was what she wanted to say, but Seiren knew how to remain composed, even when greatly vexed. "Our families ran in different circles," she cautiously explained, the weight of their social differences bearing down on her like a great burden. While she was still certainly of aristocratic heritage, Seiren's family had long since occupied the lowest level of that sphere of influence. Her blood was barely tainted with human ancestry, but the formermain line of her family had developed a trend of marrying mortals that displaced them from high vampire society. As a penance of sorts for this dishonor, Seiren's line had taken it upon itself to always protect the few remaining purebloods, hence, her position as bodyguard to both Kaname-sama and Yuuki-sama.

Completely unaware of the open wound on which he was dumping truckloads of salt, Ichijo kept at it. "But I'm sure I must have seen you at least once or twice at those huge holiday parties or something."

Either he did not sense how displeased Seiren was with this train of thought, or else he was ignoring it. There was no way he could have run into her before the Academy because her family was, not only never invited to those gatherings, but they were purposely excluded. Seiren wasn't even allowed near Kaname-sama to perform her duty until he moved into the Moon Dormitory, outside the influence of traditional vampire society. There was a reason she never revealed her family name at the Academy. It would have created too much animosity among the Night Class, and she did not want to trouble Kaname-sama with her family's dishonor.

"How much farther?" she asked. The surrounding scenery had held no interest for Seiren before, but now she realized that they were far from any place she recognized. And there were no other cars on the road.

"Only a few more minutes," Ichijo gauged. Glancing at the bag his companion still held in a death grip, he inquired, "What did Yuuki-chan give you?"

Seiren had completely forgotten about the parcel. Now that she looked at it, she realized that, tonight, anything from Yuuki-sama should have been unceremoniously dumped in a bush on the way out. Fearing the worst, and knowing that no optimistic stronghold could prevent it, she tentatively unzipped the top. A bundle of black sat bunched up inside. When Seiren felt the material between two fingers, her eyes widened in horror.

Ichijo couldn't stand the suspense. "So, what is it?" he pried, voice as happy as a chipmunk's.

Well, there was no way in this world or the next that Seiren was going to tell Ichijo-san that Yuuki-sama had packed a black swimsuit for her. Miraculously, it appeared to be a one-piece instead of a revealing bikini, but that made no difference in the grand scheme of things. Feigning absolute indifference, she quickly re-zipped the backpack and tossed it into the back seat without taking her eyes off the road. A thousand demons could not possess her to wear that tonight.

Ignoring the driver's queries, she redirected the conversation with her usual lack of tact. "Where exactly are we going, Ichijo-san?"

His smile grew even wider and more mischievous, if that was possible. "Isn't it obvious, Seiren-chan? We're going to the beach!" Ichijo chirped.

"Furious" seemed too tame a word to describe Seiren's current mood. After all, could Yuuki-sama have planned anything more romantic than a night swimming expedition, most likely in complete privacy? Promptly drowning herself upon arrival was sounding more than a little tempting.

"We're here!" Speak of the execution grounds. There was no parking lot or anything else to mark where the long country road first found the beach. Ichijo just pulled the car off to the side near the water.

Seiren wanted to wring Yuuki-sama's skinny neck for how picturesque the whole setting was as soon as she left the safety of the car. Warm, white sand surrounded her bare feet and stretched off into the distance in either direction. The dark waves quietly lapped at the shore, and a full moon illuminated the wide expanse of sea. It was nearly enough to drive Seiren to grand auto theft and desertion.

Ichijo grabbed a bundle from the trunk and set up the cooler and large blanket a short distance from the water. Seiren half-expected him to start shouting loudly, begging her to come play in the ocean with him or something equally ridiculous. However, Ichijo-san's whole demeanor had changed the moment he stepped foot on the beach. Seiren didn't know if this place held special memories or what, but Ichijo-san was exhibiting his more serious side. It was one she'd seen increasingly since Kaname-sama's death, but it still seemed a little out of place: a reminder of how much things had changed. Or maybe Seiren just never had the opportunity to see this Ichijo-san when they were both at the academy.

He tore his gaze from the moonlit sea when he felt her stare. Had she been staring? "It's peaceful here, isn't it?" he asked softly, as if afraid of breaking some fragile dream.

Seiren nodded mutely. The quiet was something they could both appreciate. It was rare to find moments like these in the midst of work and business, especially with Yuuki-sama. Ichijo looked back to the waves, and Seiren's eyes followed. Every shadow and glimmer held her spellbound, the wind lightly teasing at her face, pulling her towards the water.

Apparently, Ichijo felt the same pull for he walked directly into the breaking waves, still fully clothed. It was a warm night and time wasn't an issue, but Seiren had a feeling he'd be more than a little cold later. It would serve the idiot right. Besides, didn't he know that swimming alone at night could be dangerous, even for a vampire? But he did look majestic, taking long strides through the shallows, the waves crashing against his legs…until he tripped on something and fell face first into the salty ocean, arms flailing wildly for balance that refused to be found. Was this really a powerful vampire aristocrat?

Even though there shouldn't have been any danger within a few square kilometers, Seiren kept the spot where Ichijo-san went under in her peripheral vision. A few minutes passed. He hadn't come up for air. Not even an extra bubble marred the gently swaying water. Seiren began casually scanning the surface, searching for some speck of the blond moron. A few more minutes passed.

He was nowhere to be seen.

Badly wanting to mutter something about the evils of men in general and Ichijo Takuma in particular, Seiren reluctantly waded into the shallows towards her "date's" last known location. He hadn't gone out that far. She must be close. It couldn't be much—splash.

Her legs were literally pulled out from under her. By hands. As Seiren sat there, the water swirling around her shoulders, a head popped up in front of her. There sat the former vice-president in all his drenched glory, grinning like a buffoon—a buffoon with a small blue straw sticking out of his mouth.

After he took the breathing apparatus out of his mouth and shook his head like a dog, spraying droplets of water across Seiren's dry hair and face, he said, "Isn't the water perfect, Seiren-chan? I'm so glad I brought this straw with me! It's so much fun staying underwater that long!"

Seiren was completely speechless. Words had completely abandoned her. What insane twist of fate left her alone with one of the stupidest men in the world for an entire night? She was still in a state of utter shock.

A cold wind gusted through the air prompting the two swimmers to shiver in its wake. This was exactly why Seiren had not wanted to get wet, and now they were both completely soaked with no spare clothing to change into.

"We should probably get out and start drying off, Seiren-chan," Ichijo suggested. Not waiting for a response, he stood up and tossed his beloved straw into the dark depths, his wet clothes clinging to him. He littered! Then, without any warning, he took two steps forward, bent down, and easily lifted Seiren out of the water in his arms.

On the one hand, saving her the trouble of walking back to the beach was the least Ichijo-san could do after playing that stupid prank. He probably didn't even realize that he'd played a prank. And it was much warmer being held by someone in the rapidly cooling night air that was conspiring against Seiren with its now constant bursts of freezing wind. But even if this was a "date," she was no damsel in distress that needed to be carried around. In her current position, she was not a happy vampire.

Mistaking his sack of potato's trembles of anger for shivering, Ichijo held Seiren more tightly against his chest. He had never been this close to her before. In fact, he doubted anyone had. The thought made him a little nervous but excited.

He should have listened to the nervous side of his brain for at that moment, unable to contain herself any longer, Seiren lashed out for a kick at Ichijo's head, using the momentum to spin out of his grasp. Her landing in the water was less than graceful and managed to re-soak her entire body. Ichijo, meanwhile, had fallen back into the ocean as well while avoiding the foot aimed at his face. If he had been a second slower, she might have caught his eye or nose. What would the Day Class fans have said if they saw their beautiful Takuma-kun after so many years with bruises and blood?

Seiren rose from the water, wet hair hanging in her eyes, satisfied that the "no touch" message was sufficiently conveyed. Ichijo sat there for a moment longer before pulling a resigned half-smile back to his face and following her back to the shore.

He should have known better than to pick up the temperamental vampire, but it wasn't as if he had agreed to this night out just to please Yuuki-sama. He was here for reasons of his own, rest assured, all of them completely honorable. Still, it was hard to hold back and tiptoe around all Seiren's emotional and physical barriers.

She carefully sat down on the far edge of the blanket, her predatory grace returned from its absence in the water. This night was turning out to be one hundred percent the total disaster she'd predicted, and they weren't even an hour into it. How was she supposed to survive this? Now, this was no time to panic. Really, as long as Ichijo-san didn't do anything else stupid, how bad could things get?

It was at this point that Ichijo realized just how cold the night was and just how long it was going to take him to dry off in his soaked clothes. So, he did what any rational guy would do in his situation: he took off his shirt. He figured it would help his skin dry more quickly and thus, allow him to warm up. It wasn't outside the realm of genteel behavior for a guy to remove his shirt at the beach. In fact, he probably would have been well within the realm of courtesy to strip down to his boxers, too, but thankfully, some small corner of his brain reminded him that Seiren would have been less than pleased at that prospect. Well, that's what the rational part of his brain thought.

Seiren was by no means a boy-obsessed fangirl who drooled at the sight of a hot guy, but even she was a little stunned to see Ichijo-san in such informal attire, or lack thereof. Sure, she knew he was a boy, but she had never really pictured a lean body of hard muscle underneath his preppy clothes and childish laughs. It was hard to think of him as an annoying kid she was forced to go out with when a man sat not three feet away. Life would have been so much easier if he'd just left his shirt on.

The wind was back with a vengeance, and despite her best efforts, Seiren found herself shivering nonstop. Hey, even vampires can catch cold. Ichijo didn't look like he felt a thing, and once again, Seiren was sorely tempted to either steal his car and desert him or wipe the smug look off his face. Sadly, her loyalty to Yuuki-sama was still strong enough to prevent her from following either course of action.

She was cold. It wasn't that hard to tell. She was shaking enough to create her own miniature earthquake. Okay, he had forgotten to bring towels since he hadn't planned on actually swimming, but Ichijo could still help her get warm. They could wait in the car for a while and turn on the heater! No, that would make too much sense. He had it!

Seiren felt her corner of the blanket shift slightly. In one smooth motion, Ichijo pulled it out from under her, sending sand flying into the wind, which promptly dumped it all over Seiren's head.

"Oh, sorry!" Ichijo cried out a little too happily. "Here, let me help you." The blanket thoughtlessly tossed aside, he started to lightly brush the sand out of her hair, but as soon as his hand touched her face, Seiren stopped him.

"Do not trouble yourself Ichijo-san," she ordered, firmly removing his other hand from her person.

While Seiren was busy swatting away the rest of the sticky sand, Ichijo recovered the blanket, sat down behind her with his legs spread out to either side, and wrapped the blanket around the two of them, holding it closed with his arms crossed around Seiren's shoulders. Never had a braver vampire walked the earth.

Torn between quickly tearing off Ichijo's head and slowly torturing him to death, Seiren slowly asked, her voice barely controlled, "Ichijo-san, what do you think you are doing?"

Smiling his goofy grin, even though he knew the girl in his arms couldn't see it, Ichijo replied, "I'm keeping you warm, Seiren-chan! Doesn't this feel better?"

Okay, it was a lot warmer inside a blanket, and Ichijo-san's body against her back was like a portable oven, but that did not make this position acceptable. She could just see Yuuki-sama's smug face if she ever found out. This was exactly the kind of romantic stupidity the pureblood wanted to see happen which was why Seiren was going to end it before anything else went wrong.

"Ichijo-san, I appreciate the kind thought, but could you please get off of me?"

Ichijo loosened his hold and stared at the dark horizon for a minute or two. "No." He was enjoying her discomfort too much. A moment of silence passed.

Seiren tried again. "May I ask why not?"

"I'm comfy," he stated.

The furious girl started muttering incoherent wishes for Ichijo to be struck by lightening, and he just nuzzled his head into her neck. Seiren froze. Before, he had been a little too familiar with her, considering that they had never been best friends or anything, but this had unquestionably crossed the line. She tried to get up, but she couldn't move. His wimpy arms, which she had only seen for the first time tonight in all their muscular glory, held her fast with no intention of moving.

"Besides," Ichijo continued, "it's easier to talk this close instead of shouting over the wind."

The poor girl sighed in defeat. Not to worry, though: she would bide her time, and when the opportunity presented itself, she would make Ichijo Takuma wish he'd never agreed to this date.

They sat like that for a while, staring out at the ocean, content with the peacefulness of it all, or at least, unable to escape from it. For someone who wanted to be closer for conversation, the boy was unusually quiet. Ichijo would stretch one hand up to fiddle with the ends of Seiren's hair every so often, but his firm grip holding her down never wavered. She tensed at the slightest touch from him at first but gradually came to ignore it.

She could have reached up and pried his hands away. Ichijo was many things, but he wouldn't force unwelcome touches on a lady who whole-heartedly refused. That seemed to be the problem: Seiren knew that, though she never outwardly expressed interest in "normal" relationships, as opposed to her duty-bound devotion to Yuuki-sama, some minuscule, hidden part of her actually wanted to know what it felt like to care for someone and be cared for. Unfortunately, dimwitted, ditsy Ichijo also appeared to have this figured out, which would explain why he was taking so much liberty in touching her. It wasn't anything inappropriate, but just enough to put her on edge. She hated that man.

"Seiren-chan?" he whispered into her ear.

How badly she missed the loud, obnoxious Ichijo who shouted everything from across a room! However, despite her internal raging, she noticed that Ichijo-san sounded a little hesitant, or nervous, and his arms were holding her with slightly increased force. He paused for what seemed like an eternity.

"Yes?" she prodded. She didn't have all night for this! Okay, technically she did, but that meant nothing.

"Seiren-chan, did you ever offer Kaname-kun your blood?"

That was the last question in the world she had ever expected to hear from Ichijo-san. It was too serious! Seiren had no delusions regarding Ichijo-san's intentions for this night. She was still his subordinate, and he was still her superior. Everything he'd done so far was just a big game to him, a joke, boredom relief. But that question popped her sturdy perceptions like a paper bag in the hands of a madman next to the perfect soufflé. No one could ask a question like that and pass it off as "making conversation."

She answered carefully, as she always did. "Kaname-sama never asked, so I never offered."

"But if he had asked, you would have given it to him?" Ichijo already had Seiren so close that there was no room to breathe, but he seemed unwilling to loosen his hold in the least, as if afraid she would disappear. He was afraid she would disappear, not physically, but mentally and emotionally. Ichijo was deathly afraid that the dutiful, reticent girl in his arms would hide away behind her barriers and excuses and never give him a chance. His fears weren't exactly unfounded either considering Seiren's outstanding track record of keeping everyone at arm's length.

Both vampires were acutely aware of how strained every second of silence felt. The soothing sound of the waves crashing on the shore now roared and resounded like a thundering waterfall. The shining moon stared down with unfaltering scrutiny. The warm blanket was feeling more and more like a straitjacket. Seiren had been in there long enough.

"Thank you for your assistance, Ichijo-san, but I am warm enough now." She tried to move again, but to her great astonishment, Ichijo's steadfast hold on her did not give an inch. This was ridiculous. He may have been her superior, the son of one of the most powerful families in the vampire Senate, and a fairly strong man in his own right, but he was not going to hold her there against her will any longer.

Well, that was her plan. Ichijo had other ideas. He swiftly shifted his arms to pin Seiren's arms against her sides while bringing one knee into the air, so he could brace the struggling girl's body against his leg. She was strong, but he was stronger, as long as she hadn't packed any of her needles. Those might present a small problem. Luckily for him, Yuuki hid every last one of them a full five hours before even mentioning the date to the volatile warrior.

Seiren was weaponless and, much as she hated to admit it, stuck. This wasn't exactly how she planned on spending the night, especially since she'd been dealing with an Ichijo she barely recognized ever since they set foot on the stupid beach.

For once, Ichijo's easily distracted and amused mind was dead serious and zeroed in on one question. He repeated, "Would you have given it to him?"

Sighing and forcing her body to relax, which meant she was all but leaning against Ichijo's chest, she quietly answered, "It would not have been my place to refuse."

It took a few minutes to digest that. Seiren never gave transparent answers. There was always a riddle or two to be untwisted. Still, Ichijo surmised that Seiren never wanted to give her blood to Kaname-kun, but if a pureblood demanded it of her, she couldn't say no, especially with her family's position. The thought lifted his spirits the tiniest bit, but it didn't make his hold on Seiren any looser.

The dreaded silence returned, only slightly less ominous than before. "Kaname-kun always used to say," Ichijo interjected, "that we only drink other vampires' blood to forget about what we really want, but can't have. And it never lasts. Sooner or later, the pain returns."

He turned his head into Seiren's neck again, but this time, he pressed his mouth to the little hollow where her shoulder began. He could hear the blood pulsing just below the surface. His fangs lengthened, and he lightly scraped them across the skin, tongue darting out to catch a taste before he pulled away. Only when the rush of blood faded from his hearing did Ichijo realize that, throughout his bloodthirsty episode, Seiren had sat completely still. The guilt and shame that should have washed over him did not come. Instead, he felt oddly elated. His guard was down: she could have thrown him back into the ocean, and he would have deserved it for giving in to the blood lust, even if he didn't actually take anything. She just sat there. Either she was warming up to him, she didn't want to explain to Yuuki-chan how he mysteriously drowned, or she couldn't drive a stick shift and needed him to get back to the academy.

"I'm sorry, Seiren-chan," Ichijo apologized. What else could he do? Buy her an apology gift basket? However, as long as they were on the topic of drinking vampire blood, he figured he might as well ask. That, and it didn't look like Seiren was going to say "apology accepted" with a smile and move on like nothing happened. "Seiren-chan, if I asked, would you give me your blood?"

The silence stretched on and on, and Ichijo strained his ears for some whisper of an answer. At length, she said, in a voice louder than a whisper, "If it would help lessen your pain, Ichijo-san, I would allow you to drink my blood."

The poor boy almost leaped for joy, but he restrained himself. If he got up, now that Seiren was on guard, he probably wouldn't get to hold her again for a few decades.

He schooled his expression into a mask of seriousness, lowered his mouth back towards her ear, and murmured softly, "There's only one problem with that, Seiren-chan: I don't want your blood." It was a good thing Ichijo couldn't see her face, because he would have laughed hysterically at the confused expression she wore. Why was he asking about drinking her blood if he didn't want it? "I want the heart it flows through," he clarified.

Seiren was absolutely speechless. Unless Ichijo-san was a closet cannibal with a special affinity for hearts, he had just said he loved her. What was she supposed to say? She knew that tonight had awakened the part of her that longed for a friend, the annoying part she kept locked away. Ichijo-san's words promised her a life-long friend, but she wasn't going to commit to anything recklessly. Vampire society hated her family enough as it was. The last thing she needed was to be accused of aiming above her station. For all she knew, his words came from the heat of the moment and would mean nothing tomorrow.

"If you are looking for an answer, Ichijo-san, I'm afraid I can't give you one right now."

"I know, Seiren," he breathed out, slowly turning her around in his arms until they were face to face, "but you have all the time in the world to figure it out. I'll wait." It was odd. From a distance, Ichijo's face had always looked so delicate and carefree, but up close, there were nearly invisible stress lines and a hard, stubborn set to his jaw. He meant it: he wasn't going anywhere. "But," he continued with the old mischievous glint back in his eyes, "in the meantime, I expect you to call me Takuma. Not Takuma-san, not Takuma-kun. Just Takuma."

"Idiot" sounded much more appropriate at the moment, but Seiren could compromise. She'd call him by his first name, and he would let her stand up. Her legs had fallen asleep hours ago due to poor circulation. "Very well...Takuma," she acquiesced.

Finally hearing his name in her voice broke the last of his restraint. Takuma laid a long, gentle kiss on Seiren's lips. He intended to have her heart someday, and her maybe her blood as a bonus, but for now, he was content with a simple kiss.

"Ichi--I mean, Takuma, I believe we should return to Cross Academy now. The sun will be up soon."

He glanced at his watch and groaned in dismay, his forehead dropping down to Seiren's shoulder. It figured that the sun would threaten him with third degree burns just when he was finally getting somewhere. Oh well, who was he to argue with Mother Nature when he had forgotten his umbrella? The two slowly stood, stretched out their stiff limbs, gathered up the forgotten blanket and cooler, and trudged back to the car. Despite doing very little during the night, they were tired and looking forward to a good day's sleep.

The drive back passed all too quickly for Takuma's taste. He would probably stay the day in the Moon Dorm, but after that, it was back to work and business as usual with no idea of when his next visit would be. It wasn't as if he planned to leave Seiren alone for years at a time again to wonder whether or not he'd been serious. His commitment and dedication would be made evident in the effort he exerted to see her as often as possible. Besides, if he didn't make time for more frequent trips to Cross Academy now, he'd probably be welcomed with a few broken bones upon each reentry. Seiren was being perfectly silent, but for once, he didn't force conversation on her. She had a lot to digest, and he had a lot of mental rescheduling to consider.


Yuuki had been anxiously glancing at the front gates and listening with all her might for strangled cries of pain all night. What good was it setting up two friends on a date if she was this worried that one of them would wind up dead? Unsure of whether the date was going well or Seiren needed extra time to find a properly secluded spot to hide the body, the pureblood princess kept a constant vigil at the front windows of the dorm from the moment classes ended. She wanted to skip school for the night, but Zero made her go; he said something about slacking off too much as a human and needing to break bad habits, though she hadn't been paying much attention to him at the time.

Just as she was beginning to lose hope of ever seeing poor Takuma-kun again, the car finally pulled up to the front steps. It was a good thing, too, considering how close they were to sunrise. Luckily for her not completely unexpected guest, Yuuki had kept Ichijo's room open for him during all the time he'd been away. You never knew when he would decide to pop away from work.

Ichijo rushed around the car to open Seiren's door for her, but she beat him to it and slammed the hard sheet of metal into his gut as a result, only to realize that she needed an extra second to reach into the back seat for Yuuki-sama's bag anyway. His whimpers of pain had mostly subsided by the time she got out. This clear exhibition of hostility had Yuuki worried beyond all reason. Not only did it appear that the date had gone horribly, but Seiren-san seemed to be unusually displeased; and an unhappy Seiren-san almost always meant the entire Moon Dorm walking on eggshells for the next week or so.

Not bothering to park his car in a less obvious location where it wouldn't inspire gossip for the Day Class, Ichijo followed Seiren into the quiet dormitory where most of the students had already retired for the day, maintaining a safe distance from the gently swinging bag she clutched in one hand, fearful of its possible use as a weapon. Back on academy grounds, Seiren was one-hundred percent soldier again and unwilling to allow the smallest display of affection, at least in front of anyone, and she knew for a fact that Yuuki-sama would be watching them like a vulture.

Sure enough, no sooner had they closed the front door behind them than Yuuki sprang into action, hugging Takuma and begging to know how the date was. Seiren was silent as the grave, but the glare she gave Ichijo, warning him not to give the pureblood any potential blackmail material, made Yuuki sure that something big happened. She gave Takuma-kun the big, sad puppy dog eyes he could never say no to.

Knowing that the overly sentimental boy would crack in the next few seconds, Seiren decided if it was going to happen, she had best disappear and not risk being driven to kill in front of a witness. "Forgive me, Yuuki-sama, but it has been a very long night. Good day, Ichijo-san."

She was halfway up the stairs when the sound of high-pitched giggles reached her ears. Whatever they were talking about, she didn't want to know. Seiren had enough to worry over as it was. Thank goodness she had forever to think over the former vice-president's proposal: with her dense head and even denser heart she would need it, especially since the guy in question was theforemost idiot in the world, Ichijo Takuma.

Wait a second! Why in the world did Ichijo like her anyway? And why did it take him ten years to work up the nerve to say it? Oh well, she could pound that out of him in the evening after a good day's sleep, and after she found her mysteriously missing needles.