Title: After the Fall
Fandom: Vampire Knight
Warning: Slight reference up to chapter 40 of the manga.
Disclaimer: not mine.
Notes: This is an AU in that Ichiru didn't die, and Zero didn't eat him in chapter 41.
Summary: It's Ichiru's turn to take care of Zero.
Wake up, a voice says. Please wake up..
It's not until later that Zero feels something tug the back of his mind, as if trying to remind him of something. He glances around; spacious place, bland gray walls, small windows way up, the smell of stale air – all screams abandoned warehouse at him. There's something here though, something untoward, something that didn't belong, something that he could almost taste on his tongue.
You stare into the darkness, and the darkness will stare back at you.
When he turns back, he finds Ichiru looking at him with an expression that he doesn't quite know how to place.
"Something's wrong?" Ichiru asks, voice strangely bland.
Zero frowns slightly. "Nothing."
"Really." Ichiru says, and doesn't look away.
Zero's frown deepens. "It's just… are we forgetting something?"
For a moment, Ichiru doesn't answer; he just keeps staring at him with that indecipherable look that Zero finds quite unnerving. He looks away, and the next thing he knows, Ichiru's kissing him; his hands are on either side of Zero's face, his eyes the usual shade of gray, nearly identical to Zero's own.
When he parts his lips, he tastes the metallic tang of blood on his mouth.
Oh, Zero thinks, and then stops thinking altogether.
"Just say the word." Kaname says. "And I'll come for you."
"Go away. I don't need your help." Zero says. He's huddled in the corner, hugging his knees to his chest. He's cold; how's that even possible with his vampire abilities, he doesn't want to know. "Besides, I'm still not sure you're not a figment of my imagination."
Kaname smiles. It looks cold. Amused. Everything Zero hates Kaname for, and more.
"When you change your mind," Kaname says, "you know how to find me."
He disappears in a flutter of hundreds bats, like the show off he really is.
Zero closes his eyes, and just breathes.
Somebody's screaming, and it takes Zero a while to realize it is him who is screaming his lungs out. It also takes him another while to realize that his body's moving, struggling, all pure instinct in retaliation, like it's trying to defend itself, like someone's trying to fight him, trying to restrain him, their hands pinning his own up above his head. He doesn't know why he's screaming, just that he feels agitated, restless, and unreasonably scared, like he is being chased by something dangerous, like the hounds of hell themselves are after him. He trashes wildly, trying to release his captured wrists, trying to find leverage, trying to find something – anything – to dislodge whoever it is trying to restrain him.
" – ro! Zero, calm down! Zero!"
Through his clouded mind, he knows he recognizes that voice, and he tries to still his movements, tries to make his body to stop, tries to tell his instincts to just quit it.
"Zero, it's okay, now. It's okay. You'll be fine." Ichiru says. "You'll be fine." the last bit's uttered in a whisper, like he's trying to convince himself as much as Zero with it.
There's wetness on his shoulder, where Ichiru is laying his head on. It smells strangely salty.
With much effort, he turns his head to the side, facing his twin brother. "Why are you crying?"
Ichiru laughs. It's a horrible sound - like broken glass under one's foot, sharp and painful. "It's the only thing I can do properly, it seems."
He's facing away from Zero, so Zero couldn't see his expression. But his breaths are labored, and his body's trembling slightly – something that Zero wouldn't notice if not for the fact that Ichiru's unable to stop himself from crashing his whole body weight on Zero.
Gently, he shakes off Ichiru's hold on his wrists. Wraps his arms around Ichiru's back instead. Feels him shudder. Feels him let out a shaky breath.
"Tell me," Zero says. "Tell me what's bothering you."
Ichiru turns his face toward him. His eyes are shining, unmistakable tear tracks lining his pale cheeks. One corner of his mouth curves upward, pulling a tight line across his lips.
"But you can't fix this." Ichiru says. "No one can. Not anymore."
Zero only looks at him. "Tell me anyway."
Ichiru sighs. Closes his eyes. Breaths against Zero's neck. And then, "I never regretted having our parents killed."
Zero blinks. "I know." Zero says. "And I also know that's not what's been bothering you."
He feels a rumble emanating from Ichiru's chest, like a halted laugh, like a failed attempt of exhalation. "You have no idea." Ichiru's voice sounds strangled, like a sob.
He presses his lips against Ichiru's forehead, because he's at a loss of what to do.
"I never meant for her to do this to you," he hears Ichiru say. "I never meant for you to be this way. I never meant for any of this to happen to you."
He keeps his eyes shut. Listens to his brother's nearly inaudible breaths. He feels intrusive, somehow. He doesn't think Ichiru means for him to hear it.
"I'm sorry." Ichiru whispers. "I'm sorry."
And then quiet, quiet, quiet.
When he regains consciousness, his senses are immediately attacked with the strong smell of blood – so much of it, actually, that he thinks he might throw up because of it. He looks down, and realizes he is drenched in blood; his jeans is stained with something dark, and his white shirt appears to have changed color into red. His feels his eyes go wide in shock, his heart hammering painfully inside his chest; every beat sounding so loud and clear in his ears.
Dimly, he's aware of another presence – a human – in this blood-covered room, and when he turns around, he finds Ichiru leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest, eyes carefully fixed on him, watching him.
He blinks. "…Ichi…ru?" he spells the name uncertainly, not knowing why he feels awkward and out of place all of sudden. "What did I..? Where are – "
Ichiru pushes himself off the wall and walks towards him, something resembles worry etched in his features. "Come on," he says, tugging Zero's arm urgently. "We need to go."
"What?" Zero furrows his brows slightly, uncomprehending. There's a fog clouding his mind, making him unable to think properly. But he gets up from his crouching position anyway, because Ichiru keeps tugging his arm insistently, urging him to move.
Please-stay, a voice says. Please don't leave me alone. Please, come back to me-
By now, he's lost count of how many times he regains consciousness in a pool of blood. By now, he's learned to just remove his ruined clothing while Ichiru hands him new ones.
By now, he's stopped asking questions.
"One of these days, you're gonna tell me what's going on." Zero says, quiet.
Ichiru smiles. It looks painful. "Then let's just wait for that day, shall we?"
"You can't keep this up forever."
"I can try."
Zero looks away.
A few seconds later, Ichiru's hand slips into his; tentative, yet determined. It feels warm against his own cold one, so naturally he laces their fingers together.
Ichiru sighs. Zero tries not to notice how much it sounds strangely like a relief.
His memories are patchy at best, with consistent holes filling every nook and cranny. It should worry him, he thinks, the way he could recall his black-outs better than his waking moments.
Ichiru is annoyingly tight-lipped about it. This is unusual, since he used to share everything with Zero. Then he remembers Shizuka Hiou, and realizes Ichiru's never one to tell when it really matters.
He's not sure what it says about him that after everything—their parents, Shizuka Hiou, Kaname Kuran, Rido, everything—he still expects things to go the way it was when they were children; that nothing would change, even when it's clear nothing is as it should be.
But then Ichiru smiles at him, this little quirk up at the corner of his mouth, and he—
It feels like he has never grown up.
He likes it, he thinks.
What does it feel like to fall into Level E? Ten-year-old Zero asked.
Master Yagari gave him a thoughtful look. It's…never been documented, actually.
Zero frowned. But-
We have plenty from observations, but nothing from a Level E themselves. They're never aware of their surroundings, so of course it's impossible to ask them to give a detailed report on the procession of being a Level E.
They can never go back?
Master Yagari looked at him sadly. It would be merciful to just kill them, Zero.
Zero opens his eyes. There's a glass window on the far wall. He goes to it, pressing a palm against the dirty surface of the glass. Outside, the night has fallen. He's but a dark shadow reflected on the glass.
But even among the dark shadow, his eyes glow a ruby gleam.
Oh, Zero thinks. Oh.
When Ichiru comes back, he takes one look at Zero, and his face hardens in an instant.
"I'm not going to apologize." Ichiru says.
"True." Zero says. "After all, to apologize would imply you regretted it."
There's a dull thud as Zero's back hits the wall, as Ichiru claims his mouth with his tongue, as he winds his arms around Zero's neck, as Zero's arms find their way around Ichiru's back.
It's gratitude, a hidden desire for approval—something he never realizes he needs as much as Ichiru does.
He remembers Master Yagari put him in the basement prison of the Academy. Remembers the way his left hand changed shape, the way his nails turned to claws, the way raw energy thrummed under his skin. Remembers the hunger, the sick feeling on the pit of his stomach, the constant pressure inside his skull.
He remembers Ichiru showing up on the other side of the bars. Remembers Ichiru picking up his Bloody Rose. Remembers Ichiru pulling the trigger. Remembers the searing pain as the bullet penetrated his skin. And then—
"Zero." Ichiru says. Soft, but insistent.
Zero looks at him. Sees the bleak look in his eyes. The demand for attention. The underlying concern behind layered fronts.
He holds out a hand. "Come on."
He takes it.
"She's still looking for you, you know." Ichiru says. "The Cross girl."
Zero looks at him. At the guarded look in his eyes. At the casual way he holds himself. At the slight smile in his lips. And then thinks How could I be so blind-
But then there's blindness, and then there's not seeing things you don't want to see.
"I'm not leaving." Zero says. "Besides, it's been so long. Yuki's bound to stop eventually."
Ichiru laughs. It's not a nice sound. "And here I thought you knew her."
"She's got other more pressing concerns now." And that's yet another matter he tries to avoid. It's one thing to hate yourself for what you represent; but when your bestfriend also turned out to be a member of those creatures you despise? An elite one, at that?
He doesn't want to think about it.
"I'm not leaving." He repeats himself.
"So you say." Ichiru says, his lips a thin line.
There's no way to save a Level E, Zero Master Yagari's voice keeps playing in his head.
Zero looks away.
There are moments, when he drinks straight out of Ichiru's neck, that he's reminded of Kaname Kuran. Not so much the act of it rather than the taste. A certain flavor, perhaps. Something peculiar. Something that doesn't belong, but feels right.
"He's the one who killed Shizuka-sama." Ichiru says quietly.
"Oh." Zero says. Of course. Shizuka's blood.
He tries not to think about it.
Ichiru's hair is shorter, now. Much like Zero's. At the first glance, they're perfectly indistinguishable.
Why don't you two have the same hair style? A girl in their class at the Academy had asked, he remembers Yuki telling him. He also remembers Yuki describing how Ichiru had expertly deflected the question into something else entirely.
"What are you looking at?" Ichiru asks. His chin is on Zero's shoulder, his arms snaking themselves around Zero's middle from behind.
"It's holiday season." Zero says. But his eyes are not on the shop's cheerful decorative display. On the large glass windows, he could see their reflections clearly, down to the color of their eyes.
Why don't you two have the same hair style?
Because without Ichiru's distractingly longer hair, it would be too easy to really tell them apart – a fact that Zero knows Ichiru's perfectly aware.
They're identical; starting from their facial structure, their heights, the shape of their ears, the color of their eyes, their habits. But how they wear their expression is something else entirely.
Ichiru could smile with the best of them, could grin and act all happy, but he could never entirely banish the cold look (disdain) from his eyes. Just like Zero, who could scowl and growl and be all stern and hateful, but could never erase the hurt (longing) in the depth of his eyes.
Having the same hair style in a place where they had to wear the same uniforms would force people to focus on something else, something to tell them apart, and that was just-unacceptable.
"You're thinking too loud again." Ichiru whispers into his ear.
Zero puts a hand on top of Ichiru's. "It's been a long time since we look exactly alike." He tells him. And then, "I missed this."
"Yeah?" Ichiru says eons later. "That's unexpectedly sweet of you."
His tone is dry as dust, sharp as knife, and he pronounces 'sweet' the same way people pronounces 'cholera', but.
Zero's eyes are still on their reflection, while Ichiru's are focused on Zero. Ichiru's tone might be hurtful, but the expression on his face says different. He's smiling that little smile, with just one corner of his mouth lifts up, too inconspicuous to be a lie. He's looking at Zero the way he never did their classmates, their parents, and even Shizuka. He's looking at Zero with something… fond, genuine, vulnerable.
Zero feels intrusive, somehow. Again.
He could hurt him right now and Ichiru won't even blink.
He tilts his head to the side. When Ichiru meets him halfway, the kiss is awfully tender.
He has never felt more unsettled.
"You're getting worse." Kaname says.
"I'm nowhere near Yuki." Zero says. "You're no longer obligated to care about my well-being. Go away, Kuran-senpai."
"But you amuse me so." Kaname says. "Look at you; all weak and pathetic because you're too proud to ask for help."
"Oh god." Zero says. "Even my own subconscious is mocking me. I really am worse, am I?"
"As much as it flatters me how often apparently you think about me, I must tell you I'm very much real."
Zero pauses. "Isn't that what they always say?"
Kaname sighs. "It pains me to say what a relief it is to see that you're still as irritating as ever." He leans against the open window. "Well. You know how to find me."
"This is so getting out of style real fast, you know!" Zero shouts at the hundreds of bats scattering through the window.
Once, Zero wakes up to the sight of Ichiru slashing a person's chest open, before thrusting his sword upwards in a sweeping stroke, effectively severing another person's head.
Even from the opposite side of the room, he could hear the loud thump thump of Ichiru's beating heart, his harsh breathing, the residual panic on his face – which doesn't disappear even as he walks back to Zero.
Zero frowns. Why would—
It is then he feels a weak thrum of energy around the place, something familiar, something that definitely wasn't there before. Oh, he thinks. The place is warded.
"They're hunters." Zero says, numb.
"Are you alright?" Ichiru asks, kneeling in front of him, sweeping his bangs out of his face. When Zero doesn't answer, he presses his forehead to Zero's, his hands tender but firm on either side of Zero's head. "You're fine. We'll be fine."
He just sounds so sure it's hard not to believe him.
"Okay." Zero says.
Ichiru takes a long look at his face. And then presses a kiss to his forehead, before dragging him to his feet and leading him out of town.
Zero is sitting against the wall, while Ichiru rests his head on Zero's lap, eyes closed in sleep. After all, despite Shizuka's blood running through his vein, he's still a human.
"I don't understand," Zero says to the stillness of the room, stroking a hand over Ichiru's hair. "I don't understand why you would make an enemy out of the Hunter Association just for me, whose time is counted. Why? Why would you—why would anyone do that? Even Master Yagari thinks Level E's are hopeless."
He waits for an answer. It never comes.
Please don't leave. Please don't leave. Please don't let me go. Please don't-
After that first time Zero caught him, Ichiru doesn't bother hiding his encounters with the hunters anymore. That is the reason Ichiru always disappears after they settle on a place: to shake (kill) off their tails.
Zero wonders why Ichiru never told him that.
"They're human." Ichiru shrugs. "We don't have time for your moral conflicts."
It's rather surprising then, when the first thing that pops into his mind is I wouldn't mind killing them for you.
"I keep waiting for you to leave me." Zero says.
They're laying side by side in a darkened room, Ichiru's sword and Zero's Bloody Rose right overhead.
"Why?" Ichiru asks, soft, low. His face is unreadable in the darkness.
"This isn't fair. For you." Zero says. Feels like the words are choking him. "You deserve better than this."
Ichiru laughs. It sounds bitter and wretched. "Even after everything I've done to you?"
Zero remember their parents and Shizuka Hiou and Ichiru's little smile and his open expression in front of that shop and—and.
"You should go; leave me." Zero insists. Because I don't think I could. Leave you.
Ichiru smiles his complicated little smile. "You're a fool."
And then he swallows Zero's response with a kiss.
They still travel from one place to another, never staying long. They can't afford it, with the Hunter Association right after them.
Zero still doesn't remember anything from his more frequent black-outs, and Ichiru never tells him. He just cleans up after him, before giving him directions to go.
"Come on." Ichiru says, holding out a hand.
Zero thinks of refusing to take it. Of stopping. Here, right now. Then he looks at Ichiru's face, the way he bares everything for Zero.
He thinks of stopping.
A/N: Please tell me what you think?