Wow, what is with these long breaks, right? I'm sorry guys, I have been incredibly busy lately and RL stuff has just been a bit overwhelming. But I made up for it with this extra long chapter right? Alright guys, all of you, those of you who have been reading from the very beginning and those of you who have just started, THANK YOU SO MUCH! It has been really hard, but getting all of your reviews and your messages has really pushed me to make time for this. I love this story so much and it warms my heart to hear that you guys do to.
So here you go, let me know what you think!
I Don't Have A Choice…
Ichiru's hands still gripped onto Haruhi as he watched the scene unfold, as everyone watched. She was a very attractive girl after all. She had long, flowing blonde hair, whipping out behind her as she dove at Zero, wrapping her arms tight around his waist. Her high heeled foot kicked up, showing off model legs and perfectly manicured toes. Her bright green eyes were as clear as emeralds and sparkled even brighter as she looked the boy over, a smile catching on her plush red lips.
Zero barely had time to do anything before he was engulfed by the floral scent of her expensive perfume, and her arms around him. He looked down to her blonde mop as she stepped back to smile at him. "Ayumi?"
The girl let out a small giggle, glancing around the shop. Suddenly it was alive with motion, everyone moving to get back to what they were doing, everyone except Haruhi and Ichiru. Actually, Haruhi had tried to get back to work but when she tried to step away from Ichiru, his stone-like grip tightened slightly. She tilted her head back to look at him. The shadows of his jaw were sharp and tight, and she could tell his brow was dropped into the makings of a frown. "Ichiru?" She asked softly but he did not respond.
Instead, Haruhi found herself turning back toward Zero and the girl as she laughed again. She had her hand on his arm now, her other one tucked her perfect long hair behind her ear and she peered up at Zero from her bangs. Haruhi tilted her head to the side, feeling a strange twist in her stomach. She had seen that before, where had she seen that before? As she pondered it, her eyes wandered up to Zero's face. He looked, well… he looked a little worried. When the girl's hand slid from his arm to point at something behind her, he took a careful step back. Haruhi followed the girl's finger to the figure leaning against the doorway of the shop.
He was fairly tall, probably about the same height as Zero but not quite as tall as Mori. His face was obscured by the blue baseball cap he wore, but she could tell that his hair was the color of straw where thick locks fanned out from under the cap. He seemed to catch Zero's eyes on him, giving a smug grin and nodding his head.
Haruhi looked back toward Zero, his brow was furrowed carefully as he watched the other boy. Then Ayumi said something that brought his attention back to her. She couldn't hear them talking but she could see Zero point back toward the counter, as if telling her he had to get back to work. She nodded quickly, flashing him another bright smile. Then she stepped forward, her hands finding Zero's arm again. He tensed and pointed to Tamaki, and THAT was where she had seen it before: that look, that silly giggle. That girl was flirting with Zero. She watched that slim hand, bright nail polish glinting in the store light, squeeze his arm slightly. That girl was seriously flirting with him.
The twist she felt seemed to work its way higher, a tightening pain forming from its effort.
"Haruhi? Haruhi?" Kaoru's voice finally came to her. His fingers snapped in her face and she shook her head, dropping her hand from her chest, she hadn't even realized she had it there.
"Hey, you okay?" he asked, he glanced over to where Ichiru was now arguing quietly with his brother at the pickup counter. He looked back at Haruhi as she fixed her hat and went back to preparing the banana split she had been working on before Ichiru grabbed her.
"Who is that girl?" Kaoru asked as he packed a cone with chocolate ice cream. When Haruhi looked at him he nodded to where she was waiting in line.
Haruhi shrugged. She sliced the banana in half and put it in the dish. "I don't know."
"She is the most disgusting person I have ever met." Ichiru gruffed as he stepped forward to take an order.
Haruhi and Kaoru exchanged a look.
"So you know her?" Kaoru asked.
Ichiru threw down two scoops a cheesecake ice cream, shoving strawberries and graham cracker pieces in as he crushed and whirled it together.
"Perhaps a bit more finesse," Kaoru said when a strawberry flew out of the commotion. Ichiru paid him no mind. He plopped the mixture into a cup and passed it down the line.
"She used to play with us when we were little. She was so annoying, always hanging off Zero and following him everywhere, she drove him crazy."
"Then why did you play with her?" Kaoru asked as he passed the mess to the customer with an apology, "That's his first one."
Ichiru glanced back at Haruhi, "Because, my parents worked in the company her father was president over." His eyes met hers meaningfully and she knew instantly.
Ichiru had been a lot freer about divulging the secrets of his world, both hunter and vampire. She knew that what he meant was that this girl was the daughter of the Hunter Association President. She blinked cow eyes at him and he snorted.
"Yeah, so we always had to play nice with her or we would get in trouble."
Kaoru made a noise of distaste, "That's why I'm glad my mother owns her own company. Hikaru and I never had to deal with that."
"No, you were the ones being forced on others," Ichiru teased.
Haruhi schooled her grin, checking another ticket and reading the order. She was still looking over it when Zero came back to the counter. She jumped slightly when she felt fingers on her elbow.
"Hey," he said with a smile, it faltered slightly when she turned to look at him.
"Hey," there was an awkwardness now that had not been there before, so Haruhi dove for a safe topic, "Hikaru working out better than Ichiru?"
"Well he served his first table correctly, which is more than I can say for Ichiru." he grinned when she laughed.
"That's good. Better get back to work." she said waving the ticket at him.
He nodded, from this position; he could see Ayumi in the line, talking with a couple of girls. She was smiling and laughing, looking very much like any other girl in the line. But he knew that was the farthest thing from true. His gut tightened, remembering what she had said to him. He glanced back toward Abel at the door, watching the way the boy's faded blue hat tilted to follow Ayumi around the room. He had never met this hunter before, it was not uncommon to be unaware of other trainees. However, he knew from the moment those eyes glinted from under the lid of his cap that Abel knew who he was and he did not like Zero. After gushing about how much she had missed him, Ayumi explained that she and Abel had come to train with Yagari. Apparently the veteran hunter had put in an initiative to stay full time at Cross Academy. No doubt the man had done it for Zero's benefit, but it seemed his action had put into motion far more than he intended. Ayumi said her father agreed to let them both come and stay in town and train with Yagari in the afternoons.
The idea that the president of the Hunter Association approved of his daughter coming (mostly unsupervised) to train alongside an ex-human, terrified Zero. Especially since, not too long ago, the man had gone out of his way to let him know that Ayumi was once his fiance. He wondered if Ayumi knew about that; he knew he sure wasn't going to tell her. Finding out you were once planned to marry an ex-human would not make a girl happy, especially one who had as much opportunity and good fortune as Ayumi.
What was the president trying to do? Was this yet another test for him to prove he was stable? Was he such a man to use his daughter as bait to elicit some sort of reaction from Zero, some form of proof to turn on him? Yagari had said he would probably always be on a tightrope, always close to falling into path of a hunter's gun. He thought of the boy at the front of the store. That's why Abel was here, his job was to kill Zero if such an event ever occurred.
He was so lost in his thoughts, he barely missed smacking into the manager as he came bursting out of the back room.
Zero mumbled an apology but the man didn't even notice, eyes trained on the people in the sundae bar.
"What's this?" he demanded loudly. The manager had just come from the back where he had called Mori and Shiki from their break. Mori worked tables and Shiki worked in the sundae bar, but now it was time to break Ichiru and Kaoru and both boys were in the sundae bar.
"We traded jobs." Ichiru said with a big smile. The man shot him a sharp look, Zero was beginning to wonder if Ichiru's life mission was to get every person he met to look at him like that.
"That's fantastic!" The man said sarcastically, "Only now I have to break both of you and leave Haruhi and Shiki to deal with that!" He waved his hands at the long line, which thanks to Ruka had just grown by five blushing boys. He rubbed at his temple for a moment as the kids tried to awkwardly man their stations and listen to the boss at the same time. "Alright, alright, here is what we are gonna do: Zero, you take Kaoru's job behind the sundae bar and Kaoru, you take Zero's when you get back from your break." He nodded to himself, then when he noticed that they weren't moving he added, "Right now!"
Hikaru grumbled as he took the tray from Zero, making Kaoru grin like a madman. As he walked around the counter to the back room, he yelled, "Thought you could get rid of me didn'cha?"
Zero moved back behind the counter with Shiki and Haruhi. Haruhi only shrugged, "Well it's pretty simple, they tell you what they want, you mix it up with these metal spatulas things," she waved them in his face for emphasis, making him chuckle, "Then you stick it in a cone or a cup."
He smiled and nodded, pushing away his dark thoughts, "Alrighty then."
Zero was actually very good in the sundae bar, he was quick and clean, maneuvering the spatulas as if he had been doing it his whole life. He and Shiki both had good reflexes and they were able to dodge and weave around each other as if the other wasn't even there. Where it had felt like a one inch line of space with Hikaru and Kaoru, there was an ocean between the three now. Haruhi guessed that was to be expected, having two vampires behind the counter.
That's not to say Zero did not bump into her every once in a while. But she could tell that those touches were on purpose. Like when she was using the blender and he leaned over her to pull the cinnamon stix out of the toaster oven and his chin rubbed against the top of her shoulder, giving her goose bumps. Or when they both were making ice cream on the cold bar and he bump elbows with her, giving her an innocent smile when she looked up. He could be incredibly distracting when he wanted to be, or when it was he who wanted to be distracted.
The line began to move at a much faster pace. Before long Ayumi was up at the counter and Haruhi finally came face to face with her. The girl had been eye-catching from across the room, but up close she was ridiculously pretty.
"Um, what would you like?" Haruhi fairly croaked.
Ayumi smiled pleasantly, leaning on the counter as she gazed at the many tubs of ice cream.
"You know I was standing in the line this whole time and I just knew I was going to get a mint chocolate chip cone, but now…" she trailed off, laughter evident in her voice. She had a husky voice, sultry with predatory confidence.
Haruhi gave a chuckle in response, glancing over at the boys. Zero was busy reading a new ticket but Shiki was watching Ayumi very carefully, his normally expressionless face, drawn in apprehension. When she looked back at Ayumi, she could tell the girl knew those dusty blue eyes were on her. Her vibrant green eyes turned up, immediately locking onto his. "Oh," she smiled widely, "What do you think I should get?"
Her expression was confident and sure, for some reason it made Haruhi want to step in front of the boy. Shiki barely spoke, barely participated or seemed to care about anything. But he was always very polite and nice when he did. He never seemed bothered by anything, but he was definitely bothered by her. Haruhi could suspect that there would be some obvious tension between vampires and hunters. But only Shiki looked uncomfortable here, and that didn't seem right.
"The mint chocolate chip is actually really good, I had some when I went on break." Haruhi said giving the girl an open smile as she, both figuratively and physically, stepped into the girl's line of view, "It's really good if you put brownie bites in it."
Ayumi laughed, showing off her white teeth, "Alright I'm sold." Her eyes shifted past Haruhi as Zero came back around, wordlessly taking over the next order for Shiki. He hadn't noticed Ayumi approaching the counter, it was only when he felt Shiki's aura pinch in apprehension that he looked up to see her there. He gave her a polite smile before focusing on the girls behind her.
The two girls behind Ayumi smiled like saps. One ordered something called a Berries n' Cream while her friend slurped on something with thick green swirls.
"Weren't you just working tables?" Ayumi asked as Zero began scooping out the ice cream.
"I got bumped, Ichiru is on break."
She shook her head and teased, "Still covering for him?"
Zero chuckled as he reached around Haruhi for a scoop of black berries, she could hear it perfectly in her ear. "It keeps me busy."
She felt more than saw Ayumi lean further on the glass, "Sorry if I embarrassed you earlier," then she directed her words to Haruhi, "Zero and I have known each other for a long time. I hadn't seen him in so long I got a little excited. I'm Ayumi, by the way," She shrugged apologetically.
Haruhi smiled, shaking her head, "That's okay." Then she added, "I'm Haruhi."
"I bet you were really surprised by some strange girl practically tackling Zero-kun like that." She continued as Haruhi mixed her ice cream. "We are actually childhood friends; we used to live just a few blocks away from each other. I think I played with Ichiru and Zero practically every day." She said, glancing at Zero. He was beside Haruhi, turning vanilla ice cream into a dark purple shade as he mixed in the berries, their elbows bumped slightly and they both glanced up at each other for a second before Haruhi looked back at her.
"You guys must have been very close." Haruhi said quietly. Taking a cup, she began carefully maneuvering the ice cream into it.
Ayumi nodded a giggle escaping as she glanced at Zero, "Oh yeah, we were very close. Actually," She began, her voice turning conspiratorially quiet, "Zero and I were each other's first kiss."
Before anyone had time to react, the girl behind Ayumi, the one waiting with her friend as Zero mixed her ice cream, spewed her green tea shake.
"You and Kiryuu kissed?!" the girl fairly shrieked.
"Ew! You spit on me!" her friend cried, arms up in disgust as she looked down at the pale green mess on her shirt.
Haruhi barely noticed, frozen with Ayumi's cup of ice cream melting in her hand. Ichiru couldn't have been right. If Zero couldn't stand Ayumi, then why had he kissed her? They had been real friends, and Zero probably hadn't been able to see his friends since what had happened to him. Her heart felt heavy as she thought of all the people Zero must have been cut from after suffering something so horrendous.
The girl who spewed was staring wide-eyed at Zero. Really you couldn't blame her. Everyone outside the Host Club knew Zero only as the sullen prefect with the steely glare. The only time he ever seemed to stop glaring was when Haruhi was around.
Zero felt his ears prick from agitation and probably embarrassment. He glared at the girl. "She wasn't talking to you." Then, looking at the shake clutched in her hand he added, "You already have a shake, are you going to eat more?"
The girl's expression changed from shocked to offended in less than a millisecond. Everyone around them seemed to share a group wince. That is, everyone except for Haruhi. For whatever reason, that seemed to break her out of her trance and right on cue she said, "You should try the cinnamon stix, they just came out of the oven."
The girl scoffed turning up her nose as she walked away.
Ayumi ducked her head, "Sorry for embarrassing you again." She took her ice cream from Haruhi and moved down the line to pay for it.
With Ayumi officially out of the way, Shiki came to stand in between Haruhi and Zero. He shook his head at both of them. "You two make quite a pair, you know that?"
"What?" Zero shrugged as he handed the ice cream to the other girl.
She leaned in smugly, "Uh, you NEVER ask a girl, "are you going to eat more?" especially not the way you did it."
Shiki laughed at Zero's confused expression. "Unless she is Haruhi," He put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed, "Then you say, "Is that your third plate?""
Haruhi stuck her tongue out as she swatted him away. He laughed, moving to the other side of Zero and grinning past his shoulder. The customers in line cooed over Shiki's sudden shift into ultimate cuteness, making Zero roll his eyes.
"Can we get back to work please?" he groaned out, giving them both a stern look.
Shiki shrugged, "I don't know how much work we will get if you keep calling girls fat."
"I did not call her fat!"
The study rooms of Cross Academy always proved to be the specific place where studying was not happening. Even now, the occupants of study room 2-2, were more focused on the newest additions to their young lives than the English vocabulary due on Monday.
"Zero, you can't honestly think that the only reason why they are here is to train with Yagari?" Ichiru said in a pleading tone.
"What else could they be here for?" Yuuki asked innocently, fingering the pages of her notebook. She had legitimately thought they were all in here to study, she was not doing that great in English right now. With the nightmares still plaguing her, she was getting even less sleep at night and was that much more tired during class.
Plus, until walking into this room, she had had no idea about Ayumi and Abel.
Ichiru rolled his eyes as he stood and moved to sit on the edge of the large study desk occupying most of the room. "Oh I don't know Yuuki, what reason could they possibly have to work so closely around this school owned by a former supreme hunter that caters to vampire nobility and houses the rarest of all pureblood lineages along with the one and only ex-human hunter?" He was only an inch from her face and Yuuki shrank back in her chair.
Haruhi reached up, putting an arm between them and pushing Ichiru back gently. When he looked at her, she shook her head patiently, trying not to smile at him.
She said, "You have both told me that Yagari is one of the best hunter trainers alive, I'm surprised there aren't more lining up to train with him. And," she began hesitantly, "maybe there is more to it, like maybe they are trying to make amends. They were all once your family, your friends. Yagari-sensei came around."
Zero couldn't help smiling at the girl beside him, even as Ichiru groaned.
"Geez Haruhi, you have to stop thinking about these guys like it's some romantic brotherhood of heroes. They don't care about people, they care about soldiers. That's why they made sure to send their little secret weapon to sink her claws into Zero." Haruhi looked away at that, feeling that uncomfortable tightness again.
"Stop it," Zero warned, getting up and moving to the window nook. "The point is that they are here, and there is nothing anyone can do about it, except try to be civil."
Ichiru made as if to say something else but Haruhi reached out again, this time grabbing his forearm.
"He is right, we just have to try to live with it. At least they aren't staying on campus." Yuuki tried to buffer. Of course, them not staying here had more to do with the lack of space than spite.
Ichiru huffed, jumping from the table and heading out of the room, "What would we do without your unhindering positivity, Yuuki?" He grumbled as he left, shutting the door behind him.
Yuuki felt a blush spread on her cheeks and she looked down at the table, spotting Ichiru's English notebook. "I better go and take this to him." She explained awkwardly as she gathered all of their things. Before she stepped out she turned back to look at her best friend, "He's just worried for you that's all. Please don't be angry with him, Zero."
The silver haired boy smiled tiredly at her, "I know he is. And I'm not mad, I just..." he trailed off, shaking his head.
Yuuki nodded in silent agreement before turning and leaving the room, carefully closing the door behind her.
Haruhi got up from her seat, moving to sit next to Zero in the window. She nudged him with her shoulder. "Are you worried about them being here?" She asked, looking up at him and trying to read his features. His jaw was drawn taught.
Zero sighed, reaching down and taking her hand and lacing their fingers together. Haruhi felt the now familiar tingle run through her from his touch, and she leaned against his arm.
"Yes." He rubbed his thumb along the back of her hand, "I'm worried about what it means for them to be here, about what they could be looking for."
He blew out a breath, "I'm worried about Ichiru and Yuuki and why they seemed to wait until Kaname wasn't here. I'm worried about you." He said, looking down at her.
Haruhi lifted her head, making a surprised sound, "Me?"
He smiled, leaning his forehead on hers for a moment, "Yes, you." He said as he pulled back, "And your incessant need to throw yourself in front of anyone you think has been wronged."
Her brow furrowed in confusion.
"Don't give me that innocent look, I was there. I saw the way you stepped between Shiki and Ayumi at Sweet Treats."
Realization dawned in her brown eyes and then she looked up at him defensively, "What was I supposed to do, she was purposely making him uncomfortable." As an afterthought she added, "And Shiki never does anything to anyone. He just minds his own business."
He chuckled. "See? You just cant help yourself."
Haruhi stuck her tongue out in response, making him laugh again. Then she sighed, turning to face him, she said, "I get it though." When he looked at her, she nodded, "with them here, tensions are always going to be high. It's unavoidable. And I'm not supposed to know about vampires or hunters so if I constantly keep jumping in..."
He grinned, "Pretty and smart."
Haruhi rolled her eyes as she leaned back against the window, looking out over the school grounds. Students mulled around in the extensive courtyard below, some studying intently while others were goofing around, chasing each other and flirting unabashedly in the warm sun.
After a moment she asked carefully, "Even though there are all these things to be worried about, are you, maybe just a little excited about it?"
There was a hesitant smile growing on his face, "It feels wrong to be," he leaned his head back on the window, feeling the cold glass through his hair, "Ichiru would call me a naive idiot."
Thin fingers curled around his cheek, guiding him to look down into her beautiful eyes. The sun from outside sent those flecks of gold into hyper drive.
"It's not wrong," She said earnestly, "I think it's great. Show them Zero. Show them they were wrong about you."
Zero bit the inside of his cheek, feeling the familiar ache of belonging radiate through his heart, "I want to," he said softly, "I just don't know how." What if all I show them is that I am even more of a monster than they already think I am?
Haruhi couldn't help smiling, "Just be who you are."
"The one and only ex-human hunter?" He quipped, making her frown.
"No," she grumbled, "the one and only Zero Kiryuu. When they can see what you can do, how great you are, they will be blown away." She would have to hit Ichiru for putting that stupid phrase into his brother's head.
Zero snorted, "They will be something."
Haruhi groaned, flicking his ear, "You're fixing to be something."
"Ow" Zero whined, "Why are you always hitting me?"
She smiled sweetly, "I can't seem to show you any other way." She tried to flick him again but he grabbed her wrist and pulled his head back out of reach.
His pale eyes went wide, having his own words used against him. Then he rearranged his face, flashing her that openly mischievous smile, "Actually I find that this works best." Then he thumped her on the forehead, instantly bringing up a red mark.
Haruhi yelped, yanking her arm free and covering her forehead. Before she had time to retaliate he quickly leaned forward, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her back against his chest. She could feel the deep chuckle go through him when she made a half-hearted attempt to pull free. "Jerk," she huffed, feeling her heart quicken when he dropped his mouth against the back of her shoulder.
"I'm sorry," he murmured, only earning an indignant, humph. But she didn't pull away so he just kept holding her, breathing in her scent and letting it calm him. It felt good to have her this close to him, listening to her heartbeat quicken and slow, matching the erratic tempo of his own. It sped up the closer he got to her, egging him on. It was becoming difficult to be anywhere she was without wanting to touch her.
He glanced down at her, watching that adorably serious look take over her features. "What are you thinking about?"
Haruhi didn't look up at him as she shared her musings. "I was thinking about whether or not I could finish my English work after dinner or if I should plan to wake up early and finish it in the morning."
Zero groaned, falling back against the window and making Haruhi laugh. "Let's just do it now and get it over with."
Ichiru made his way to the Chairman's house, intending to gripe at the man for letting Ayumi worm her way back into their lives and letting those two sneak in and spy on the man's so called safe haven. Cross could be such an idiot sometimes, especially when it came to young people, but this had gone too far.
His heart began to pound in his ears, making him feel a little dizzy and his chest feel tight. The boy grinned self-reproaching as he stopped to catch his breath. He knew he couldn't let himself get worked up like that, this body couldn't take it anymore.
He was still standing there when he heard Yuuki calling his name. He turned to jealously watch her bound over to him, she didn't even look winded. "What?"
"You forgot your book." Yuuki explained, waving it for emphasis. She had seen Ichiru head down the path to the Chairman's house and had to break into a sprint just to catch up with him. Now she was working desperately to keep from wheezing in his face.
"Thanks." Ichiru said in-genuinely. He took the book from her, resting it under his arm.
"Are you going to see the Chairman?" Yuuki asked, trying to keep him still for a moment. Now that she was up close, she could see how flushed his face was.
"Someone needs to tell him how stupid he is being." He said matter-of-factly.
"Ichiru," Yuuki began carefully, "I know you are worried, and the truth is I don't trust the hunters either, but do you think… Maybe that's not the only reason you're so upset."
Ichiru's brows furrowed, his pale eyes scanning the girl's face. When he didn't say anything Yuuki said, "I'm scared too."
"I'm not scared!" Ichiru snapped back.
Yuuki shook her head, "I'm scared, just like I was when Yagari came, just like I was when you came and Haruhi too."
That seemed to cut through his haughty demeanor, the look in his eyes softened marginally as he watched her rub her arm.
"I was scared of all of you, scared you would take Zero away." Yuuki admitted.
His voice calmed. "And you aren't scared anymore?"
"No, I'm still scared." she said solemnly.
He looked down at his hands, they were clenched tight, his knuckles turning white. When he looked up again, he let his eyes take in all of Cross Academy, seeing the tall green trees, the way the sun turned the buildings a creamy orange as it bared down on them. He heard the birds chirping excitedly and the water from the fountain rushing loudly. "I'm scared of a lot more than just Zero being taken away." He said finally.
Yuuki frowned in confusion, about to ask what he meant when his features morphed into outrage, pale eyes shining on something just behind her. She turned to see a tall blonde girl in heels walking next to a boy wearing a baseball hat. They were coming from the Chairman's house. "Who are they?" she asked Ichiru, but he did not answer. Instead he walked past her, making a beeline right for the pair. Yuuki ran after him.
"Hey," Ichiru called sharply, easily getting their attention as he stopped in front of the them. "Look, I know it's suddenly become socially acceptable to come and gawk at the association's little freak, but-"
"Stop," Ayumi interrupted, a glare cold enough to freeze the sun settling on the boy. She scoffed, "Is this the part where you tell me to leave your brother alone?"
She flashed him a challenging smile, laughing to herself, "That's rich coming from you."
Ichiru grit his teeth, watching the way those green eyes looked condescendingly over him. For a moment, the silver haired boy felt like his old self, the sad and dejected child that lashed out at everyone to keep from getting hurt. But that wasn't him now. He may be weak yet again, but he was strong in his heart. There were people who cared about him, people that didn't just feel sorry for him. They were people who mattered. He thought of Haruhi and Zero, about how everyone cared about them, how they wanted to protect them. It wasn't because they were weak, it was because they were loved. That was how they cared for him and he wanted nothing more than to care for them in the same way. So instead of being petulant and nasty, instead of going for the easy jab, he squared his shoulders and said, "This is a place of peace and coexistence, it benefits all of us. We don't need anyone coming in and trying to mess it up."
Beside him, Yuuki tried to hide her look of surprise, whatever she had been expecting to come out of the usually flippant boy's mouth, that had not been it. She felt something akin to pride surge within her, proud that Ichiru seemed so calm and in control.
Ayumi felt a surge of something as well, and her lips twisted into a scowl as she shot back, "We?" She shook her head, causing her long blonde curls to shake around her face, "No, no you should not even breathe the same air as us, let alone try and tell me what to do you filthy traitor!" She rushed forward only to be caught by Abel just as she was an inch from the ex-hunter. He called her name in a warning tone, still holding her arms.
This was the first time he had spoken and Ichiru caught the faintest hint of a foreign accent. He took a moment to really look at him, realizing for the first time that he was American. Under his cap, Abel had dark eyes that contrasted against his yellow hair, and a strong brow that gave way to a slightly crooked nose. He looked more like a bookworm than a hunter, but Ichiru could tell he had a deceptively athletic build. He smirked confidently at Ichiru, still holding onto Ayumi.
Yuuki came alive at Ayumi's reaction, her voice stern as she said, "Excuse me, fighting is prohibited at Cross Academy. If you try that again, you will be escorted out."
The blonde girl seemed to just realize that Yuuki was standing there and she gave the girl a small smile. "My apologies, Prefect Cross," her eyes shifted back up to Ichiru, "It's just hard to stay quiet with all the injustice that walks around this school."
Yuuki tried not to feel flustered at the fact that this girl knew her name. "I don't think that that is for you to decide. Besides, Ichiru is only trying to look out for his brother."
"What does he know about protecting Zero?" she asked, crossing her arms.
"What do you know about protecting him?" Ichiru shot back, he leaned forward, making the distance between he and Ayumi that much smaller. His eyes grew dark as he whispered, "What do vampire hunters know about protecting vampires?"
"Ichiru," Yuuki chastised, pulling on his arm.
Abel let out a tired chuckle, shaking his head as he yanked Ayumi back, "Alright I have had enough of this. I'm sure Zero has told you already that we are here to train." He looked at them both as if to make sure that was the case, "Right, so that's why we are here. Touga Yagari is our sensei too. We aren't here to cause trouble. I couldn't care less about the "injustice" walking around, I don't give a damn about protecting vampire Kiryuu, and I don't care for having another fit of words with traitor Kiryuu."
Ichiru's grin was challenging, "Don't worry, vampire Kiryuu has a way growing on people."
The other boy only shrugged, seemingly exhausted with this conversation. "Have you had your fun, Ayumi?" He asked impatiently. Then he turned away and began walking toward the exit of the school, obviously expecting the girl to follow.
Ayumi gave one last icy glare, "Better get him inside Cross-chan, the poor thing looks like he might pass out." Then she strutted past Ichiru to catch up with Abel.
Ichiru only rolled his eyes at her remark as he continued to watched the boy walk away, a grin growing on his face.
Yuuki looked up at Ichiru, "Well that was definitely not the civility Zero was talking about."
Ichiru couldn't help laughing, "No, definitely not."
The auburn haired girl stretched her arms over her head, reaching for the warm afternoon sun as the group headed out of the Academic building.
"Have a good nap Yuuki?" Yori asked from beside her.
Yuuki stopped mid-stretch, blushing slightly, "Oh- I um-." Her stuttering made everyone laugh.
"You should be more like Zero, Yuuki-chan," Kaoru said with a smile.
Hikaru nodded, throwing an arm over the prefect's shoulder, "He takes his naps proudly."
Zero shoved him off, "But I actually pass." He knew he shouldn't have said it once it came out. The others all seemed to make the same shocked noise, Yuuki flushing red from embarrassment.
"Well that was rude." Kaoru said, the astonishment clear in his tone.
"It's alright." Yuuki tried to interject.
Hikaru recovered faster, looking over at Haruhi, "Hey, tell your meanie-head to-"
Immediately Zero let out a loud groan, "I'm sorry! There, are you happy?" Even as he tried to glare at Hikaru, he couldn't help chuckling at the way Haruhi was smiling at him. She was beside him and he leaned back into her shoulder, nudging her slightly. Haruhi laughed, reaching out and squeezing his arm.
Yuuki was grinning wildly, "It's okay Zero."
"You know Haruhi and Zero both make the best grades in class," Ichiru said offhandedly, his tone immediately catching everyone's attention, "Maybe, Yuuki, you could join them on their little study sessions."
Instantly Haruhi blushed, avoiding everyone's eyes while Zero glared at anyone who met his gaze. Ichiru chuckled to himself, shaking his head, "Alright, maybe not."
"Cracking jokes at another's expense?" A voice asked from behind him. Ichiru turned to find Abel and Ayumi walking up. Ayumi was wearing the largest, fakest smile he had ever seen. Abel still looked just as uninterested as before, bored even.
"I have yet to find a better source of humor." He said, even as Zero separated himself from the group and moved to stand between them and the hunters.
"I didn't realize I would need an escort." He muttered to himself. The training sessions wouldn't start for another thirty minutes, he figured he had time to at least walk Haruhi to the library before having to run across campus to Yagari's training area.
Ayumi was looking at all of them with great interest, having recognized them all from her time at Sweet Treats. "Hi, I'm Ayumi Inaba and this is Abel Gance." She introduced cheerily. Abel gave them all a passing glance.
"We should get going," He said to Zero.
"Where're you going, Zero?" Hikaru asked suddenly.
"What are you his girlfriend?" Abel quipped, earning a steely glare from both sets of copper eyes.
"Abel," Ayumi chastised, giving the others an apologetic smile. Yuuki just stared at her, trying to make this girl fit into the version she had met yesterday.
"Why, are you some sort of rival suitor?" Ichiru immediately launched back, making the other's laugh. Kaoru high-fived him but Haruhi frowned.
"Stop." She said, shaking her head.
They might have listened if Abel hadn't come back with, "Sorry, not my type."
The Hitachiins leaned toward him. "Hmm, that's what people usually say when someone is out of their league." Kaoru mused.
HIkaru chuckled, giving Abel an appraising look, "Which, clearly Zero is."
"Will all of you stop," Zero said sharply, looking at his friends. "You all need to be heading to the library for study hall." His voice was stern and authoritative as he tried to get them away. Seriously, these idiots usually lined up to take verbal shots at him and now all the sudden they were his personal bodyguards. It used to be only Ichiru who was allowed to hate him and no one else. Hikaru and Kaoru had somehow been initiated into this most exclusive club.
They were all looking at him, eyes wide, betraying their emotions. He groaned inwardly as they all seemed to remember in unison, that they hated him.
Someone tugged at his sleeve and he looked down into a pair of green eyes. "C'mon, Zero we are gonna be late." Ayumi said apologetically. She looked back at the others, "Sorry for rushing off like this, it was nice meeting you."
For a moment the others stood dumbstruck, mutely nodding their heads at Ayumi's goodbye. Then the twins started to back away, still very confused and slightly irritated by Zero's sudden abruptness. "Fine, Mr. Prefect." Someone bit out, probably Hikaru. "Bye." Haruhi's voice called softly as Kaoru grabbed her arm and led her away. Yuuki gave him a shrug before moving to catch up with the others. Ichiru was the only one who stayed, silently glaring at Ayumi as they three walked away.
Sweat dripped from his damp silver locks, running into his face and burning his eyes. He flicked his head, flipping the wet strands away as he looked up to his destination. The gates of Cross Academy. He stood at the bottom of the long, winding path of stairs, taking one deep breath before shooting up the steps. He made it to the second landing before he heard the whiz of an arrow fly through the air. He ducked low, managing to roll up three of fours steps, smacking his hands down on the fifth and pulling himself right side up.
"You see how fast he recovered?" Yagari called from the top of the stone stairs, "You have to get faster on the reload."
Just as he said it another arrow whizzed by Zero, this time grazing across his chest as he side-stepped out of its path. There was a fine line of chalk dust across the front of his t-shirt. "Zero, use your senses, I know you can hear them coming! Even a shallow cut like that could affect your healing." Yagari said sharply.
He looked down at the arrow where the bubble head had exploded blue paint on the steps under him. The yellow practice arrow was made of a soft rubber, it's tip replaced with a small bubble of paint and coated with chalk dust. The rubber helped redirect the impact but they could still leave some nasty bruises, especially with the way Ayumi launched them.
"Alright, Abel take your mark." Yagari instructed, waiting for a thumbs up from the boy before turning to Zero, "Remember no matter what's happening in front of you," he pointed to where Ayumi stood at the very top of the gates, "there is always something else going on that you aren't looking at."
With that, Zero took off again. Only to be caught by Abel's sweeping foot, knocking him in the ankle and sending him crashing to his knees on the hard stone.
Remember Zero, approaching the enemy on lower ground means harder evasion.
He deflected a hard jab to his gut, spinning and knocking Abel off balance. The other boy had to shuffle down a few steps to gain his footing.
From up above, Ayumi watched the two spar, "Which one am I aiming for this time?" She asked Yagari.
"Go for them both," the man said with a shrug.
Ayumi huffed but did as she was told, firing arrows as fast as she could, alternating shots between boys.
Zero heard the arrow and ducked down only to catch an uppercut in the jaw from Abel. He had tried this move before. Usually the higher ground was the advantage, but having Ayumi firing from even higher ground, made the hunter more vulnerable as he hovered above Abel. The other boy shadowed his moves, avoiding the arrows with little thought and saving his mental energy for attacking Zero. It was an almost perfect move. Except he was about a half a second off from Zero, and the ex-human could hear those arrows cutting through the air, he just had to wait for the right moment...
"Aah!" Abel yelped in pain and surprise as the arrow hit him in the ribs, splattering him with blue paint. He hopped a step down from Zero, "Ow, Ayumi which one are you firing at?"
"Both," Ayumi called back in a cutesy voice that made Yagari roll his eyes.
"Remember, you will not always be fighting mindless level E's. Other vampires are just as quick, and strong, but they think cognitively, they make careful decisions. A level C vampire is almost no different than us. They don't have gifts like aristocrats and purebloods, they will have other means of attacking." He nodded to the bow in Ayumi's hands.
Abel rubbed the sore spot on his ribs, bowing his head and nodding.
"Alright, that's good for today. Clean up and head in."
"Yes, sensei." The young hunters said in chorus.
Zero placed his finger over the hose, making a stronger spray as he hosed down the paint. Ayumi came up behind him, picking up more yellow arrows.
"So that girl," She began conversationally, "The one I met at Sweet Treats... Haruhi. You two pretty good friends?" She asked.
Zero frowned, glancing at her through his peripheral vision. "Why do you ask?"
Ayumi's eyes went wide and she shrugged, "I was just wondering." She picked up an arrow in the grass, "It's just that you two seemed pretty close and then that joke that Ichiru made when we came to get you."
"Sounded like you might be more than friends." Abel interjected, picking up a shell from the paintball guns he and Zero had been using. He looked back up at Zero from where he was crouched, combing his sweaty hair back while taking his cap from his back pocket. He put it on his head with the same gumption as he had when he smirked up at the other hunter.
Zero scowled back at him.
"Of course, we know that's not true." Ayumi said quickly, "I mean, dating a human is not, not right. And not, not because of what happened to you. It's-"
Abel started to laugh loudly and Ayumi shook her head, her cheeks blushing a deep red as she glared at him.
"No, I just mean that, there is a lot to our world that a human wouldn't understand. And if we are being honest, even more so with you, Zero. I mean you are even more out of bounds than we are." Zero looked away, feeling even more like a creep knowing that not only was he more than just Haruhi's friend, but he was also once this poor girl's fiancé.
Ayumi watched the way those pale eyes turned dark and moody and she bit her bottom lip, "But you take the blood tablets right? You don't need to sustain yourself on real blood." There might be others who could accept at least this, her eyes seemed to say.
"But then, if the tablets worked so well, how come so many vampires are still attacking humans?" Abel asked contemplatively, he scratched the bottom of his chin for a moment before turning to Zero, "They do work, right Kiryuu?"
Zero swallowed when they both looked at him expectantly. He moved down the steps, spraying more paint. "They do work, for most anyways." When they both looked at him curiously, he said, "They don't really work on unstable level E's." And they taste a bit like chalk but he wouldn't tell them that because he knew it weakened the tablets credibility, and therefore weakened his.
Abel nodded, "And you are stable now?" Zero hesitated and Abel smiled, "We all know you killed her, Kiryuu. I was just wondering if you were smart enough to use the opportunity to stabilize yourself. The truth is, everyone is just assuming that you are." He stood up, surveying the area one last time, "Me though, I like to be sure. Especially since now we are working so closely together." He put his hands on his hips, his dark eyes watching the other boy carefully, "So, are you stable?"
Zero felt his jaw tensing, feeling Abel establishing superiority and categorizing Zero as less than. Ayumi was looking at him intensely, head almost nodding involuntarily.
"Yes." He said softly.
Abel nodded once, "Good." Then he moved down the steps to pick up more shells.
"Kaoru c'mon! I am not missing breakfast again!" Hikaru called from the front porch of the chairman's home. Honey and Mori had left almost twenty minutes before and the chairman had gone to his office in the academic building when it was still dark outside. Only the twins remained, and as such Hikaru was not at all worried about screaming at his brother, "KAORU!"
A second later the boy came fumbling through the door, kicking his school shoes on the rest of the way. "I can't find my tie," he whined, his fingers working on the buttons of his collar.
Hikaru huffed, smacking his hands away so that he could fit the buttons on the high collared shirt for his brother. "I told you to stop dropping it on your desk like that. It's probably buried under all of your junk."
Kaoru groaned, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet, "Gah! I'm gonna get another demerit, I'll have lunch detention if I get one more!"
"Alright, alright," Hikaru hushed, "I think I left my extra one in my desk in the classroom, but you have to get there before the class rep."
Kaoru nodded, "I'll go now before anyone gets there."
He went to head toward the Academic building but Hikaru grab his arm, "Oh no you don't. We have missed breakfast two times in a row now. You can go after you eat."
Kaoru seemed like he might argue but when he turned around he found the blonde girl from the day before, watching them with a peculiar look of interest. She was dressed in the same stylish flair as the day before, a flared mini dress in some pinkish floral pattern and 3/4 length sleeves and freakishly high, high-heeled sandals.
Hikaru and Kaoru both instantly recoiled, feeling anxious that she had witnessed such a private moment.
"What do you want?" Hikaru demanded.
"Come to mock us again?"
The girl had the decency to look ashamed, "No, of course not. I actually came to apologize."
"Well we are already late for breakfast."
"Actually I was hoping I could join you. I would like to apologize to everyone for Abel's behavior."
Kaoru frowned, "Isn't there a saying that the people we hang out with are a reflection of who we are?"
The girl sighed, "My father and his father work together. It's kind of a default setting: if one of them decides something for their child, the other one lumps in his child as well And then we end up stuck with each other."
"That sounds an awful lot like something Ichiru said about you."
Her green eyes turned dark for a moment, then she blinked as the look faded, "Well I guess Ichiru would think that. He has never really been quite fond of me." She looked up at them, her lips pressed tight as if she was trying to keep from frowning.
Hikaru and Kaoru glanced at each other then looked back at the girl. In unison that gave a short nod.
"Alright then," Hikaru began. "We better hurry up if we want to make it in time." Kaoru finished.
In the dorm cafeteria, Haruhi sat between Yuuki and Yori on one side of the long table. Honey, flanked by Mori and Zero sat on the other side.
"And then Usa-chan ate all of the cake and he didn't even save me a piece." Honey was saying sadly, earning a gentle head rub from Zero.
"Is that why you didn't bring him with you today?" Haruhi asked with a small grin.
Honey nodded resolutely, eyes turning sharp, "No one eats my cake, not even Usa-chan."
"What's wrong with the Chibi doll?" Ichiru said in greeting, dropping his tray down next to Yori. He refused to look at Zero, clearly still upset about Zero blowing them off yesterday (Even though Zero did not blow him off!). "He's not turning into Chucky is he?"
Haruhi laughed, "Honey only goes dark-side if you mess with his baked goods."
At that the small boy gave a devilishly toothy grin, making them all laugh. Ichiru snorted, only half looking as he watched something over their shoulder, gaze growing stormier by the second, "Speaking if the dark-side." He groused.
"Hey everyone," a husky voice greeted cheerily. Ayumi came bouncing up with a tray of food in hand, quickly sliding into the empty seat beside Zero.
He stared at her, completely flustered. Ayumi only smiled, waiting until the Hitachiins were seated to say, "I just wanted to formally apologize to you all for yesterday. I'm sorry for the way Abel acted. I know it's not an excuse, but we were both very tired still from traveling and were a little surprised to find out we would be jumping into our lessons so quickly."
They were all quiet, glancing uncertainly around the table. Finally. Haruhi cleared her throat, "Uh, that's okay, you don't have to worry about it." She said awkwardly.
Ayumi beamed at her, green eyes sparkling. "Also, I hope you don't mind. The chairman said we were welcome to eat at the school. Is it alright if I join you guys?"
Haruhi and Ichiru looked at each other. Actually it was more like glared at each other as the others watched in amusement.
Haruhi, this girl is the devil, Ichiru's look seemed to say.
Ichiru, we have to try to get along with her for Zero's sake. Her look replied.
Yori shook her head, speaking to the blonde girl. "I think it would be alright if you ate with us. I'm Sayori Wakaba, it's nice to meet you Inaba-chan."
Ayumi shook her head, "Oh please, call me Ayumi."
"Ayu-chan," Honey suddenly spoke up, he reached across Zero to touch her arm with his index finger, "What happened to your arm?"
"Mitsukuni," Mori was about to admonish but Ayumi shook her head.
"No it's alright." Carefully she pushed her sleeve the rest of the way up, revealing the rest of a pink scar that extended along the back of her forearm. It was like a patch of pink, tender looking flesh, that splotched a small portion of her arm. Beside her Zero's eyes widened. Without much conscious thought, his fingers delicately wrapped around her wrist as he pulled the arm towards him.
"It's still looks so red." He commented, mostly to himself.
There was a small blush on Ayumi's face as she said, "It's not so bad." Looking at the others she said, "It's a burn scar. I got splashed with boiling soup when I was little."
"It was your own fault. I told you not to go in the kitchen." Ichiru huffed, stabbing his steamed rice with a chopstick, "but 'no' you just had to go whoever Zero went."
"You guys were there?" Yuuki asked, she was looking intently at Ayumi's scar.
"It was at their old house." Ayumi explained. There was no need to explain that she and the Kiryuu's had grown up together, it was already all over the whole school that she was Zero's first kiss. In fact, she was pretty sure she heard some of the students whispering about it when she came into the cafeteria. "Ichiru had gotten a cold, or something. So Zero and his mom were in the kitchen making him some tomato soup while I was playing cards with him."
"You weren't playing with me," Ichiru snapped, "you were cheating. I was sick and you still wouldn't let me win."
"I was not cheating," Ayumi groaned as if this was once a fight the two had had often.
"Uhuh, that's why you wouldn't let me deal the cards."
"I tried, you dropped like half of them trying to shuffle."
The Hitachiins laughed at that, pointing at Ichiru and making sympathetic mewls. Ichiru flung rice at them.
"Anyway," Zero cut in, unable to keep from grinning, "They were in there fighting and yelling so loudly that our mom told me to go check on them."
"Zero," Ichiru began in a teasing tone, "the first fully realized ten year old prefect comes in there all high and mighty. And tells us that we both need to stop acting like babies or neither of us were going to get to try his soup."
"I did not say it like that," Zero growsed. Haruhi and Yuuki exchanged a look, and giggled.
"Well that's what he would have said," Ichiru corrected, "If crybaby over there hadn't immediately burst into to tears."
"I was crying cause you practically yanked my hair out of my head!"
Ichiru shrugged, "Thought it was an elaborate wig."
Hikaru rolled his eyes, "You're such a jerk."
Ayumi forced a polite smile, deciding to ignore Ichiru, "Of course after that, I didn't really want to stay with Ichiru so I followed Zero back into the kitchen."
"And that's how you got burned?" Honey asked, eyes still stuck on her arm.
Zero muttered. "Not even two seconds later, Ichiru comes bursting in, demanding that she leave the kitchen. Then they're fighting again and somehow someone hits the bottom of the pot and I'm trying to catch this huge pot of boiling soup and it's flinging everywhere."
Ayumi nodded, "We all got burned by it. The insides of Zero's arm were really blistered from catching the pot." As she said it she reach out and grabbed Zero's hand, using her other one to push back his sleeve.
"Wha- no." Zero tried to protest but she was already looking at the smooth, clean skin above his wrist.
"Oh," Ayumi said, a little stunned, "I guess yours is practically faded away."
Zero bit the inside of his mouth. Being a vampire has a way of doing that, he wanted to say, but he knew he couldn't. "Yeah," he said, almost guiltily.
Ayumi looked up at him a mix of shock and embarrassment, "Oh no, that's a good thing. It- it wasn't your fault anyway."
Haruhi watched them look at each other, years of stories and feelings seeming to pass in a single look.
Ichiru caught her watching them and tapped the side of her tray. When she looked at him, he smiled widely. "One time when we were playing baseball, Ayumi was playing infield and she got pegged so hard with the ball in the stomach that she threw up."
Ayumi turned a bright red as she cried out, "Ichiru!"
It wasn't an easy thing, managing a school where vampires, humans, and now hunters milled about. The vampires were antsy about the hunters being here and the hunters weren't any better, but luckily there was no real contact between the two. Both Yagari and Cross had been very clear about either party trying to create hostility. And so the days wore on with little excitement. Zero would go with Ayumi and Abel every other day to train with Yagari. Ayumi began to make a habit of eating breakfast in the dorm cafeteria, talking amicably with the other students. Abel never came with her, and after a few days he even stopped coming with her to get Zero. It wasn't an act of aggression or rebuff against Zero, the best way he could describe his relationship with the other hunter was simple indifference. Abel just didn't care about any of them. He came in to train, talking or joking with them when necessary, he borrowed books from Cross' library and was for the most part, dutifully polite. Anything else, he just didn't bother with.
In all, everyone seemed to be trying to adjust to the new arrivals. Everyone, that is, except Ichiru.
"This is ridiculous," Ichiru muttered to himself as he scratched out the numbers he had been working with.
He had already spent ten minutes on this problem, dragging out the answer with angry scribbles and frustration, only to check the answer and find out he was wrong. For Ichiru, five minutes on any problem was far too much time and his irritation showed as he snatched the paper up and looked closer at the numbers, as if this gesture would somehow make the answer clearer. But it didn't help, it didn't matter how close he held the paper or how much time he spent on the problem. He couldn't focus and he knew exactly why.
Zero was supposed to be back from his hunter training half an hour ago. After each training he would stop in the room to get a towel and then rush off to shower. Then he would inhale his dinner while Ichiru sulked at him before rushing out to go patrol. It was annoying him that he was not here yet, which only made the urge to sulk at him worse.
When he threw his pencil down for the millionth and one time, Zero trudged through the door.
"Did training run late?" He asked harshly, not even looking toward him, "You are already so late, do you even have time to eat?"
Zero didn't answer him, in fact he didn't say anything. The only thing that filled the room were his oddly drawn out breaths and the sound of him easing himself down on the bed. Irritation high, Ichiru spun in his chair, intending to gripe about being ignored but he stopped short at the look of his brother.
"There is a bruise on your face," was all he managed to say, and that was definitely an understatement.
There was a bruise, it was red with freshness and darkening very quickly. But he also looked very pale and almost, withered. His silver locks were still wet with sweat and they stuck to his damp forehead. He looked very much like he had been put through a rigorous training. Which is what Ichiru would expect him to look like coming back from training, if he were a human. Only problem was, Zero was not human and he shouldn't look like that. In all this time he had never come back from training, looking like that.
"What the hell happened to you?" Ichiru finally asked, earning a sharp look from Zero.
"I was training." Zero said it matter of factly, as if it explained everything.
"What were you training with Superman? Kryptonite?"
Zero gave a thin smile to this comment, grabbing up his shower caddy and a towel. "Something like that."
He turned to head for the door, just as realization hit Ichiru. He had only been joking, trying to get a rise out of his brother, but it was he who had risen, thin fingers snaking around Zero's arm. The action jolted Zero's arm and he bit back a growl as he wrenched free of Ichiru. It was too late, the damage had been done.
Ichiru was all fury as he spit out, "How'd they do it? Yagari shoot you again?"
"It was my idea," Zero tried to explain, "I figured it would be useful to me to know what kind of strength I would have if a stray weapon caught me."
"And those bastards were all too happy to see how much you could take when you were suffering from their poison eating away at you." He spun away from Zero, his hands crossing over the back of his head.
"It wasn't like that. It was my decision. In the field, there could be a chance that-"
Ichiru spun around, "That one of them will try to take advantage of the situation! Dammit Zero, can you not see how messed up this is? You are training on the off that chance that they either get spooked and attack you on accident or they turn on you. Why can't you see how screwed up the hunters are?"
Zero stepped toward him, refusing to back down. It had been his decision, he knew perfectly well not all hunters would be like Yagari, that they wouldn't trust him. He had to know that if they were threatened by him, if an accident happened and they found themselves with a hyped up wounded vampire that it was still Zero. It was still another hunter. And for them to know that, he had to know that.
"You're the one who always says you can't see things as only black and white, how can you blame them for something that could be an honest mistake?" Zero tried to defend.
"It will ALWAYS be an HONEST mistake!" Ichiru found himself yelling, he was always yelling lately. He gave his brother a hard look as he fought to lower his voice, "Just like it was an honest mistake that the president took you into the records of fallen hunters. There will always be a reason, a logical reason: preventive measures, to test how much you can withstand, to know your boundaries, your weaknesses, or 'for you own good and safety,'." There was something desperate in his eyes, his voice pleading as he barely whispered, "Don't you get it Zero? They don't care about you. They don't care about anyone or anything except the strength and stability of the hunter race. You aren't a person to them, no one is. Not even his precious daughter. She is here to do what she had been there to do when we were little."
Zero's retort died on his lips as Ichiru's words struck a chord in his mind, "What?" He couldn't hide the shocked disbelief in his tone, but even in this state his mind worked to put the information together. "She knew."
Ichiru didn't say anything, watching as Zero processed the information. He seemed to be equal parts shocked, relieved and incredibly hurt. When he spoke it was clear the hurt had succeeded as the dominating emotion.
"Did everyone know except me? Was I made out of glass or something!" He fairly yelled, spinning around to knock something off his desk.
"Hey, no one told me." Ichiru said indignantly.
Zero's fist shook at his side, "Right," he said bitterly, "that's what it was. Stupid, naive little Zero. It was my own fault for not knowing, you probably thought I deserved to not know."
The other boy didn't say anything as he glared at a spot just past Zero's shoulder. It didn't matter if he'd spoken anyway. Zero did not turn back around, instead he stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
Ichiru did not see Zero again, not until that morning when he came storming into the breakfast hall.
The cafeteria was abuzz with the normal morning chatter of students, getting ready to start their morning. Oddly enough, it was probably one of the things Haruhi would miss most about being at Cross Academy. Back in Tokyo, the students ate breakfast before arriving at the school, it meant that most mornings she at alone as her father often left for work before she woke up.
"So you aren't in school right now?" Hikaru was asking Ayumi. She sat beside him, nodding as she cut into her rolled egg with a chopstick.
"I finished early this semester. My father is having me look at prospective high schools but right now I'm taking a break."
"How did you finish early?" Yori asked.
Ayumi smiled shyly, "Well, I was getting into trouble at school, mainly for skipping class and my father was afraid it would get put on my record so I just took my exams early."
Honey laughed, "Wow, you are just like Zero-kun." That made Ayumi blush, her green eyes darted to Haruhi across the table and the short haired girl forced a smile.
Ayumi had become a regular at the breakfast table. Haruhi couldn't blame her, she didn't think Abel was much for conversation.
Ayumi had a very excitable personality and it was easy to fall in and feed off her energy. It made it hard not to like her. Along with her undeniable beauty, she was wickedly smart and funny, she was nice and she listened well. Kaoru and Hikaru were completely infatuated with her. Honey even let her play with Usa-chan. They had whispered and giggled like old friends about how cute he was.
And yet through it all, Ichiru still managed to hate her.
"At least Zero actually goes to class," Ichiru muttered, stabbing at his food. Something devilish passed over his face and he looked up to smile at Ayumi, "Why were you missing so much class, juggling all your sweethearts taking up too much of your precious time?"
Haruhi shoved him lightly. Ichiru loved taking digs at Ayumi and the girl did her best not to rise to his challenge. Haruhi was sure that was one of the reasons that he did it. She didn't really know what the boy had against Ayumi but it wasn't especially surprising that he didn't like her. Ichiru liked maybe three people in the entire school.
The girl look flustered, "No!" Her shoulders slumped, "I was trying to prove a point to my father. I had been working for the company in secret. Anyway it kind of blew up in my face. So in order to fix it I just graduated early."
The truth was, Haruhi didn't know what to make of the blonde hunter. She was nice and funny, there was no reason not to like her, even if Ichiru didn't, especially if Ichiru didn't. But he wasn't necessarily the only one cautious of the girl. Yuuki, who was normally naively inviting and friendly, was very careful about what she said around Ayumi. She had tried to talk to her about it but Yuuki seemed very distracted lately. Again there was no blame, Yuuki was still having her nightmares, only now she wasn't sharing the dreams with Haruhi anymore.
And then there was that other thing, that awkward thing that always seemed to happen when Zero was around, or even mentioned. She always seemed to look up to find those green eyes on her, assessing her. It was a look she knew well having dealt with some of Tamaki's groupies. Part of her tensed, waiting to find her bookbag thrown in the fountain again. But then she would feel bad about being irrational. Ayumi hadn't been anything but nice to her, and here she was acting only slightly better than Ichiru.
Haruhi shrugged, trying to help the girl, "Well at least you tried to fix it."
"What were you trying to prove?" Ichiru asked suddenly.
For once, Ayumi looked him straight in the eye, no hint of the playful smile she always seemed to have. "I was trying to prove that I wasn't a child anymore, that I was mature enough to make the hard choices."
Ichiru's eyes narrowed, "But it blew up in your face."
Haruhi was going to elbow him again, when a tall figure coming into the room caught her eye. Zero.
He looked haggard, face paler than usual. Instead of walking, he rather marched up to the table, eyes fixed on Ayumi. From beside Haruhi, Ichiru tensed up.
"I need to talk to you." His voice sounded rough, like he was trying to control his temper.
Ayumi looked a little frightened as she looked back at him. Her green eyes alight with apprehension. "Okay, but I need to go put my tray up."
"I'll do it for you," Yuuki suddenly piped up. Something about Zero's urgency leaked into her and gave her focus. Zero nodded without looking at her, flicking his hand for Ayumi to follow him. She left without even sparing the group a glance.
"Seriously, what is with those two?" Hikaru demanded. He turned to glare at Ichiru like it was some how his fault. Ichiru only glared back, shaking his head as he huffed sharply.
Ayumi twirled one of her perfect curls around her finger, green eyes watching as Zero stood mutely on the roof of the Academic building. He hadn't spoken at all since he drug her up here, instead looking over the grounds of the school and grinding his teeth. She sighed moving up beside him and sitting down on the ledge.
"It's beautiful out here." She commented quietly, looking back to see his face.
His lips parted and he sighed through his teeth, "How long did you know?"
Her brows knit in question so he added, "About us."
That definitely cleared up her expression. She crossed her arms in front her, "Oh that."
His expression seemed incredulous as he watched her, "You were really okay with it?"
She frowned at him before looking out at the lake glittering ahead of them. When she spoke, her voice was soft and full of nostalgia, "Do you remember the night that I kissed you? I was playing at your house and your parents got a call from the association about a couple vampires terrorizing a nearby town."
He stayed quiet, instantly remembering every moment the association had called, the feeling of being both proud of his parents for what they did and terrified that they might never come back.
Ayumi continued, "They put you in charge and Ichiru was being such a pain. He ended up stomping upstairs and locking himself in his room the rest of the night."
"He called you the Evil Queen Medusa." Zero said, the memory slowly coming into focus. Zero had tried to reprimand him and Ichiru had gotten so upset, he had stormed away.
Ayumi laughed, "You were standing there with this helpless look on your face, trying to apologize for him and you just looked so adorable. I couldn't help myself I had to kiss you." She swallowed looking up at him, "I found out that day. I was okay with marrying you because I already loved you."
Zero felt sick. They were little kids when that happened. The boys were barely ten and Ayumi was nine. How could she possibly be sure she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him then?
But it wasn't as if they had a choice. It had already been chosen for them. Their whole lives had already been planned out for them. How could she be content knowing her life wasn't her own? All night Ichiru's words had floated around in his head as he wandered around the campus, and now they were back. It wasn't about them, no one person mattered, only the hunter race. Power trumped everything, even the freedom to choose.
"When you were bitten," Ayumi began with a tremor in her voice, "I wanted to be there. I wanted to... But my father."
"Stop." Zero said, lifting his hand to quiet her, "I don't want-"
"Zero please," Ayumi pleaded, she grabbed his hand in hers as she stood, "Please listen to me. I have never stopped- Zero!"
He jerked free of her, hands clutched at his sides as he tried to breathe evenly. He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. He shook his head, "You shouldn't say it. It won't matter anyway."
"So, what you're saying is, she and Zero were going to get married? Like, for real?" Yuuki cocked her head to the side as she spoke.
Ichiru nodded. He sat back in his seat in the study room, watching Yuuki and Haruhi try to absorb this. Yuuki looked like he had just told her the sky was actually yellow and not blue. Haruhi, on the other hand, was being very quiet, scary quiet.
"And Zero was okay with that?" Yuuki could not even fathom stubborn, bullheaded Zero being okay with that.
That made Ichiru smile, "Zero was not the Zero you know. He was trusting and naive, he didn't understand that my parents were pushing them together for that."
Yuuki looked down at her hands, "If he did, do you think he would have..." She paused to look at the shorthaired girl, but Haruhi would not meet her gaze. "Well, do you think, if nothing had changed, he would have... Well, married her?"
The smile on the boy's face faded as he spoke, "I don't know."
"Did he like her?"
Ichiru shrugged, "I don't know. We were only eleven you know. He was nice to her, but Zero was nice to everyone."
"Do you think that's why she's here?" Yuuki asked, eyes darting over to Haruhi who doggedly kept her focus on the paper in front of her.
Ichiru growled in irritation, "I wouldn't put it past them now that Zero is stable. Sick bastards."
They were quiet for a long time. Then Ichiru turned to Haruhi, watching her bite her pen lid.
"What do you think, Haruhi?" He asked curiously, tilting his head toward her.
The short haired girl blinked at him for a moment. Clearing her throat, she said, "Um, I don't think we should be talking about this. We should be trying to finish our history assignment." She turned back to her work, biting harder on the lid.
Something flashed in Ichiru's eyes as he grit his teeth, "Fine. Just tell me what you think and I will stop talking about it." He picked up his notebook and waved it at her, "and get back to work." If Ichiru was the only one who was going to accept that these hunters were here doing more than just training, fine. But he refused to let Haruhi get away with saying nothing about how sick it was for Zero to have been in an arranged marriage.
Haruhi huffed loudly and countered with, "What do I care if you finish your work or not?"
"C'mon, I know you have some thoughts on it, on the depravity of it," he grinned when he said 'depravity' but it faded as his look turned to steel, "And you keep making this face that makes me want to punch my brother. Tell me, Chibi-tan." Tell me you find these people as repulsive as I do.
Haruhi ran her fingers through her hair, shoulders slouching deeply, "It sounds like it would be unpleasant to be denied the right to fall in love, but it's still sad too."
"Sad how?" He demanded.
"That they called it off, not because-"
"You think it's sad that Zero doesn't have to marry her anymore? What the heck, Haruhi?"
Haruhi glared at him, annoyed with the way he was twisting her already confused thoughts.
"That's not what I meant. Ichiru, all of this, every bit of it was decided because of some perceived idea of the worth of a human being." she felt her lip quiver and she grimaced with the effort to control it, "They called it off because Zero suddenly becoming a vampire meant that he was worthless. That's why it's sad."
She inhaled sharply, shoving up from the table, her voice rough. "Maybe it was wrong for them to set up this kind of thing, but maybe Zero and Ayumi wouldn't have gone through with it anyway. The point is, when they canceled the engagement it was more than just lost fiancés, it was lost friendships, lost lives: loved ones, yours and his. It's not right to throw out opinions and judgments so easily on those that can't defend themselves."
She gathered her things carefully, the edge to her voice dropped away, "I know you never liked her or any of them, but just because you didn't, doesn't mean that Zero didn't either. Don't force him to hate people just because you do."
Ichiru looked down, glaring at the table as she turned to leave.
This time when she spoke she sounded defeated and tired, "I'll see you later, okay."
But Ichiru just couldn't let her leave like that. He had had enough of the people he cared about walking out on him, so just before she stepped out into the hall he said, "She isn't his friend Haruhi, not like you guys, and especially not like you. No one is like you and not matter how ugly it sounds, I'm glad they think he is worthless."
She paused for a minute, as if thinking to reprimand him. Instead she ducked her head and left the room quickly.
It was a warm afternoon, the sun leaving golden trails of light through the trees of the academy. The birds chirped excitedly, chasing each other from branch to branch. It was a peaceful day, the perfect antithesis to the turmoil that rolled inside her.
Why did Ichiru have to do that? Why did he feel the need tell her about all the ways that she was completely out of place with Zero?
She shook her head. No, that wasn't fair. That's not what he was trying to do. He was trying to help her see, trying to make her feel the way he did about Ayumi and the hunters. But in doing so, he was inadvertently feeding her doubt.
Zero and Ayumi, they were in a whole different world than her. Ayumi understood him, she could be there for him in ways that Haruhi would never understand. The most she could do was offer support, a place to turn to. But Ichiru was right, she didn't understand those people, their way of life, she couldn't help him find his way as a hunter, not like Ayumi could. And Zero earnestly hoped to be able to be a hunter, to make his parents proud. And that was what they wanted, he and Ayumi to be wedded.
It was hard not to think of her own mother when she thought of Zero's parents. She couldn't help thinking of what she would do if she found out that her mother had such a plan for her. Would she be mad? Could she be mad? Her heart ached. Maybe she would do it for her mom, marrying the man she chose. But she also knew that she had changed a lot since her mother had passed away and maybe her mother's choice would no longer be right for her.
In her mind's eye, she saw Zero on the hill, talking about not wanting to disappoint his mother and father. Would not marrying Ayumi be part of disappointing them?
She wanted to scream. Marriage? They were all still so young, still in high school. Marriage was something that came later in life, not now. But perhaps that was another thing that she didn't understand about the hunter society. Maybe they did marry young, maybe they didn't live to be very old. That thought made her sick.
You're being so selfish, she thought to herself, Zero is finally being accepted back into the hunters, his people, his family. And here you are, feeling sorry for yourself and thinking about what it means for you.
Zero didn't deserve that. He had lost everything, absolutely everything. For four years he lived a life without hope, but now he had a chance. Ayumi and Abel, were it they were how he was going to get his life back. And one thing Haruhi knew for sure, was that she was not going to be the one to mess all that up. She would do whatever she could to help him get what he deserved, even- even if that meant letting him go. She could do it if she had to, she could... Couldn't she?
Mindlessly, she found herself walking to the gala building. She climbed the stone steps of the veranda, glancing underneath the lip to the spot where she had found Ichiru. He was so different then, he hadn't wanted anything to do with her or anyone else. He had been so angry and skittish, so lost.
Again she felt sick, but this time for the way she had snapped at him. Ichiru had been so alone, but he had opened up to her and to Zero. He had invested in them. And in his own pushy and rude way, he was trying to show that he cared. Ichiru only liked three people and Haruhi was one of them. He liked her and he liked her with his brother and that's why he kept pushing her. Ichiru believed that she was enough for Zero. That had to mean something, right?
Haruhi nearly jumped off the edge of the veranda, spinning around with a yelp.
Zero gave her an apologetic smile, lifting his hands placatingly, "I really didn't mean to scare you that time."
Haruhi cleared her throat, looking down at her shoes. "Right." She tried to keep a playful lilt in her voice but Zero could practically feel the tension coming off of her. He watched her for a moment, noticing how she would not meet his eye.
Slowly he lifted his hand out to her, palm up. She finally looked up at him, her brow drawn in question. "Will you go for a walk with me?" He asked shyly.
Her lips tugged up as she took his hand. When their palms touched he could feel the quickening thud of her heartbeat, his instantly jumped up to match. Twining their fingers together, he gave her hand a small squeeze before pulling her back down the stairs.
They walked along the edge of the lake, talking about nothing in particular, both silently agreeing to keep from talking about what was really on their minds. They made it to their favorite tree as the sky began to shift into its usual deep oranges. It was almost time for changeover.
Sitting down at the base of the tree, Haruhi finally managed to muster courage. "So, Ichiru told me something today, about you and Ayumi."
Zero sighed, flopping down beside her and leaning heavily against the tree trunk. "He shouldn't have."
Because it's none of my business, she wanted to say.
"That was a long time ago." He added, things were very different now.
Haruhi pulled her knees to her chest, tucking them under her chin as she nodded mutely.
Zero frowned, not feeling like he was getting his point across. "Ayumi is a really nice girl and all, and at the time I'm sure my family thought they were doing what's best for me."
"She is nice," Haruhi agreed quietly, "And beautiful and smart and funny. It would not be hard to fall for someone like that."
Zero huffed a laugh, grinning as he teased, "Someone sounds jealous?" But when he looked up at the expression on her face, he frowned, "Haruhi?"
She swallowed thickly, still not looking at him, "Look, Zero if- if there is something. If I'm in the way-"
Zero's frown deepened, "What are you saying?"
"Zero, all you have ever wanted was your life back. After everything that has happened, after all that you went through... If you can see your future, if your path is finally clear, the last thing I want to be is standing in the way of that. And Ayumi is your friend, its not as if you don't mean something to each other. She was your first love right? And if its what you want-"
Zero lifted up onto his right arm, a frustrated noise escaping his throat as he pushed his face up to hers. His lips met hers, earnestly begging her to stop talking. He poured everything into the kiss all the emotions he couldn't seem to make her understand.
After everything with Ayumi, all of these deep ugly feelings that had bubbled up, the one bright light was knowing that Haruhi didn't think like that. This thing between them was special, important and it was completely untainted by all the dark things that surrounded his life. Politics and power, guilt and sympathy; they poisoned everything in his life except for this one thing. It was supposed to be safe from that.
No Haruhi, that is not what I want. I don't want to be with her or anyone, no one but you.
All these emotions he tried to pour into the tender kisses he pressed to her soft lips. "There you go again," he growled between kisses, pale eyes glaring at her, "trying to meddle in things you shouldn't."
His finger caressed her jaw, feeling the frantic beat of her heart as he nuzzled against her nose. He inhaled her sweet scent, allowing her closeness to ease the aching feeling in his chest.
"Listen to me Haruhi," he begged, "Please. Please don't think those things. What Ayumi was or is, that doesn't matter, okay. That is not what I want. I didn't... I never," his jaw tensed as he tried to get the words out right, he had to do this right, "Haruhi I have never felt about anyone, the way that I feel about you." He took her hands in his pulling them to his chest as he sat up straighter against the tree. His eye were shot, pupils blown wide as he looked down at her, completely open to her. "The truth is, she is not my first love. You are."
Haruhi blinked at him, her mind wrapping around what he just said. Unshed tears began to sparkle in those beautiful brown eyes, her mouth broke into an uncontainable smile. Then she was laughing, a sweet happy little laugh that pulled at his heart. "What?" She asked, unable to control the huge smile on her face.
Zero grinned back, ducking his head as he met those doleful eyes, "I love you, Haruhi."
Her eyes were still bright with laughter as she gripped the front of his vest, tangling her fingers into the rough fabric and pulling herself up to kiss him deeply.
Zero made a noise that sounded pleasantly surprised as he kissed her back. His hands slid from her shoulders wrapping around her waist and splaying out along the small of her back and her shoulder blades.
His chest felt tight with emotion as he held her close, nuzzling and kissing along the side of her jaw, listening to her murmur his name.
He felt her hands slide up his chest, caressing his neck. Nimble fingers curled into the hair at the base of his neck, intensifying the heat that was emitting from his entire body. Her little laugh sounded in his ear as he nuzzled lower, feeling her collarbone with his nose. But the laugh turned into a sharp gasp when he took an experimental lick along the column of her throat.
"Zero," she said with surprise. Her hands were now flat against his chest, as if she was debating pushing him away.
The surprise in her voice caught his attention, and he opened his eyes.
With a sickening start, he realized that he was tracking the blood flowing through the veins along her neck. The tightness in his chest suddenly intensified into a painful hunger. A lust filled desire to drink every ounce of her blood. He gasped sharply, jerking back and flying to his feet so fast that he practically knocked her over.
Haruhi pushed up to her elbows and let out an unsteady breath, wide eyes finding Zero. His eyes were clenched shut as he stepped back from her. Slowly, she lifted a shaky hand to her neck. The skin was cool but it tingled hotly from the memory of Zero's tongue.
Zero's head was spinning and his heart was threatening to pop out of his chest. The unbearable pain of blood lust took hold of him with merciless force. His mind was reeling with utter shock and despair. No! No, no, no! It hadn't worked, they had been wrong. He was still slipping into insanity and a half step away from devouring the girl he loved.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." He began to rant. He felt hot tears managing to escaped from his clenched eyelids. Oh God, what had he almost done?
Haruhi seemed to find her voice then, "No, no it's okay Zero. It's gonna be o-"
"No!" He interrupted miserably. He opened his eyes, glowing red orbs looked down at her. Haruhi held her breath, unable to look away from those glowing eyes.
Zero shook his head, trying desperately to control the tremor in his voice as he said, "It's not okay. I'm so sorry."
Zero spun on his heels, intending to run away but instead coming face to face with the end of a gun barrel.
"Step away from her, vampire." Abel's voice a cold growl as his dark eyes glared at Zero.
Darkkami: I'm glad that you enjoyed it! Sorry for taking so long to respond to your review!
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Awsome: Thank you for the support, sorry I took so long! I hope you liked this chapter too!