AUTHOR'S NOTE:

Hey guys - so, we've finally reached the long-awaited end!

My holidays only began a week ago so I only started writing this then - been super busy at school, AND - you know what? My laptop is dying. Dying. I'm not even exaggerating, the "E, A, S, P and R" buttons on the keyboard get stuck easily and have to be punched to work, so that took literally made me take double the time to type! I'm afraid I haven't been able to avoid writing a cheesy ending, but frankly I think the characters deserve some schmoopy fluff after all that I've put them through!

I have a rough plan of what the sequel will be about, but before embarking on that - I think I might dabble in a few other fandoms to replenish my ideas. Hopefully a few of you will try reading some of these too, but if you don't and you have to wait till the sequel to read my stuff again - let me say a big thank you while you're still here for joining me on this epic adventure. I never thought I'd write so much, or write one story for so long!

Though I try not to bore you too much about my personal life, I would like you to know that honestly - I have benefited so much from your feedback. I've never been a very confident person, and in these past couple of years I've had a lot more downs than ups. It's been a constant battle against a seemingly never-ending stream of bad news and more bad news, and sometimes I found myself stuck in a really dark place - (forgive me for being over-dramatic, but I am an artist after all) and just having somewhere to go where I could escape from it all and create something that people could enjoy was so uplifting.

To those who have criticised me -you take credit for making me stronger and keeping my feet on the ground. Yes, I have been over-sensitive and it has hurt me at times, but I have come out with a much thicker skin in the end, and with the career I have in mind, that is very important - so thank you.

Every time I write in my notes - "thank you for waiting" - and I mean it - you are so patient. Thank you for reading, waiting and replying! I can't tell you exactly when the sequel will be written, but hopefully in a couple months I may start it (if I'm being optimistic - it depends on exams).

Okay then… off we go!


"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you."

~ Lewis B. Smedes


He'd been standing there for god knows how long and still - he had no idea what he was actually supposed to be doing.

He was waiting for the big show to start and yet part of him already knew that this was it. There was nothing more for him but this, and if he kept waiting for something else to happen he'd be waiting forever. Zero stared into the bleak, unfamiliar landscape with a deep scowl carved into his face and a dull ache in his chest.

When Zero tried to remember what his life had been … he found that he just couldn't - and no matter how hard he tried, all he remembered was that his name was Zero and that was it.

Bizarrely enough, he knew how he had died - it was by a simple process of elimination. With the pain in his chest he naturally thought - heart attack, heart failure, suffocation - something that would relate to the pain he felt every time he breathed. But none of those fit - the ache in his chest remained a mystery - for when he peeled back his skin and flesh and cracked open one side of his ribcage he found his heart was still there and in perfect condition. It didn't beat - he was dead, after all - but it was a healthy and intact heart nonetheless.

Zero kept searching for what killed him, and only when his fingertips caught the raw edges of a terrible wound on his neck did he find it. There was no way anyone would survive something like that - he wondered if it had been a bear attack or something, but then reasoned that a bear wouldn't leave the rest of him intact. No, when he poked around the wound, he reckoned the size of the teeth marks would fit a man's.

And then a dizzying wave of memories crashed over him like the sea filling his lungs - he remembered how he died - his heartbeat puttered out like a flame, his breath rattled to a whisper and everything around him blurred and slowed to a stop till he was in complete darkness.

When he next opened his eyes he found himself lying flat on the ground staring up at a ceiling with holes gouged into it - the image coaxed wisps of a memory back to him, but they flickered by too quickly and he could not piece them together fast enough for them to make any sense. Mist. Vines. Anger. Something shiny on the floor -

He turned his attention to the star-studded night sky he could see peeking through the ceiling - and he realised that this had to be the last thing he saw as he was dying - he couldn't move his head, and was left watching the change between morning and night as the Sun rose and the stars begin to fade.

But just as the sky began to become rosy his vision began to dim.

And the ceiling faded out too - and he was left with a pale blue sky with no Sun and not a cloud in sight.

So - this was death.

He'd expected… he didn't know what he'd expected, but standing in a wasteland where nothing was too extreme and everything was so plain was not what he'd expected. He was bored. His hand kept drifting back to his chest where the ache emanated. It throbbed under his touch and he would try to stop, but it was like an itch he just had to scratch, and soon enough he'd be prodding it again.

For some reason it intrigued him.

Maybe it was because it was the only thing he could feel. Not knowing how else to describe it, it was between wanting and needing. Zero didn't know what he yearned for, but he wanted something badly - he needed -

"Zero?"

The voice came from seemingly nowhere - but then he saw a figure in the distance. He squinted to see better, and even though he couldn't possibly compare her with anyone else, he could honestly say she was the loveliest woman he had ever seen - pale as moonlight with a stunning (if slightly shaky) smile. He knew that it was rude to stare, but it was unusual for a person as young as her to have white hair and -

The sight of her triggered something and he suddenly remembered that he had white hair and pale skin too. The more he stared at her, the more Zero got the feeling that he knew her - and clearly since she had just called out his name, she definitely knew him.

"You are… not at peace,"

Maybe that was the ache explained to him - maybe he longed for peace. It made sense.

It would seem so.

"But I don't understand - we won," the woman insisted, though truth be told - she didn't look very satisfied by whatever this victory was either. In fact, under closer inspection Zero could see her eyes were red-rimmed and she looked very tired, "You should be happy," she added, but then -

She jerked backwards a whole step - much to his surprise.

"You don't… remember?" she asked hesitantly. He shook his head uncertainly. She recoiled again and started muttering under her breath - "How… I don't understand… " then Zero watched her pause, her face twisting as she apparently strained to work out his problem. He saw the same frustration in her eyes as he felt himself when she came up with nothing.

"Oh Zero…" she closed her eyes dejectedly, "…even after all that you have done, you don't know that you're a hero,"

A… a hero? He floundered at the thought - really? Me?

He clutched his chest. For some reason, the word 'hero' didn't sound like praise to him.

If anything, it made him want to hide.

…so what then? He was a hero - big deal. A dead hero. What was so great about that? Lots of people die, even… even heroes eventually have to die. It was nothing really to cry over.

To his horror, she began to cry.

"It wasn't meant to end like this," she sobbed, "You were meant to remember. At the very least, you were supposed to remember what you had done - what you sacrificed for the world. You've saved everyone, Zero,"

'You're a hero' - again the words blazed through him - he couldn't understand the guilt that followed, only that it was tied to something important in his past - something he was hesitant to investigate further, yet something he knew he had to find out. Somehow he could sense that learning more about his past would only bring him more pain. He couldn't have sacrificed without suffering.

"But for a terrible price - you made a great sacrifice, Zero - one that forced you to lose the person you loved the most,"

That was the unlikeliest sacrifice he would have ever thought up for himself, just because it made such little sense. Even though he didn't know much about himself, Zero guessed that he was a rather difficult person to love - that love didn't come naturally or easily to him. Whoever he had 'lost' … had to have been someone pretty special to have loved him. And now they were gone.

Zero scowled at her, even though it wasn't her fault that she remembered everything, he needed someone to blame for the fact that he had forgotten so much - he'd even managed forgotten the person he'd loved.

Who are you?

She finally smiled at him, "Someone who loves you," but she quickly blurted out - "But not the one you lost,"

And try as he may, he simply could not picture the person he could have fall in love with. They were as elusive to him as a shadow. Apparently he had been thinking about them too long, because she soon cut into his thoughts.

"It will only cause you more pain if you dwell on it - let it go. You have to move on now, Zero,"

Even though there was nothing more that he wanted to do than that, he knew that he couldn't. Not yet, at least. How can I move on… when there's nothing to move on from? At least give me their name, he insisted, It will help me. She shook her head apologetically - and just like that, Zero knew nothing would get an answer out of her. He would've taken his anger out on her - if only he wasn't so afraid of being left all alone again - so he swallowed it.

But how do I move on?

She shot him a rather bemused look, "You… you just have to follow the crowd," she answered slowly, as though he was hard of hearing. Zero spread his arms out in a slow shrug.

What crowd?

Her face drained of colour, "What do you mean 'what crowd'? Don't you see them?"

No, there's only us. He did a full one-eighty check but as he'd previously said - just us.

"What do you mean 'just us'?" she almost squawked, "Your family are supposed to be here waiting for you. Your mother, your father - aren't they here? Can't you see them?"

Zero sort of wanted to smack her for that - because what a way to break the news to him - if he'd been under the false assumption that his parents were alive, that was all shattered now. He shook his head roughly. Just us.

She sort of… gaped at Zero for a few minutes.

"…um, well…" she frowned, "I don't… I don't know,"

Zero stared at her.

You don't. Know?

She shrugged, "I don't know!" she waved her hands around helplessly, "They should be here. There's no reason for them not to be," she paused, "Unless -"

"Excuse me?"

They both turned around - behind the woman, a young man had appeared out of nowhere. He looked just as out of place as Zero felt, his eyes flitting around as though he was looking for more. The woman smiled and went to the newcomer, clearly thankful for his interruption.

"I've been waiting for you," she said softly. Zero fought an irrational burst of jealousy from hearing her say that - oddly disappointed that she'd been waiting for this guy all along and came across him by chance. He watched her embrace him tenderly. The boy looked confused by her familiarity, but accepted it nonetheless.

"You were?" he asked uncertainly. His bright blue eyes swept around them again, "Is there no one else here, or is it just us?"

At first Zero was indignant - this boy who had come out of nowhere and stolen this woman's attention had the audacity to complain that her company was insufficient? How dare he - especially when Zero would be content to have even one person waiting for him.

But then - he noticed that the boy's eyes passed through him with each turn - and he realised he didn't see him. The boy thought it was just himself and the woman, he didn't know Zero was there.

What the hell was going on?

"Where's my mom?" the boy continued, his voice trembling - much to Zero's confusion. Why did he almost sound afraid?

The woman's smile softened further as she reached out to stroke some hair from his face, "You're fine. She can't reach you here," he nodded, his whole body visibly relaxing at this information.

"-nd my… my father? Is he here too?"

"No, he's gone. People like him don't end up here," the woman said, "It's just us," her eyes flitted towards Zero briefly.

Zero was so, so confused.

So basically, what she was saying was - the boy's mother and father were dead, Zero's mother and father were dead too - but she knew where the boy's parents were, and why they weren't with him - but as for Zero… she had no idea why where his parents were or why he was alone.

"We have somewhere we need to be actually, so we'd best get a move on whilst life is still fresh in your mind," she almost imperceptibly tilted her head towards Zero, "Those who linger tend to forget. It does not do to dwell on the past,"

The boy's face scrunched up, "So we have to go right now?"

"Yes," the woman glanced at Zero again, thoughtfully this time, as though she was trying to think of a way to tell him something, "That would be best. Take my hand,"

He did so, and then she began to lead him away. Zero was completely aghast by her sudden decision to leave him behind - what was he supposed to do now?

"…rmally someone as young as you will have their loved ones to take them away, but special cases such as yourself exist. It just means that we have to find you your own waiting place-"

He could still hear them chatting as they walked away, and then he understood what her little glance had meant - it was an invitation for him to follow (or at least he was gonna interpret it that way).

"Maybe… maybe I wasn't loved by anyone else. Could that be why I am alone?"

She wrapped an arm around his shoulders, "Don't be silly. The one you love hasn't passed yet, which is why we will find a place for you to wait for them. They will come eventually-"

"But will I remember them?" he grasped her hand, forehead creased in worry, "Already I… I can only remember that… he looked so sad. He didn't get to me in time…"

"When you are reunited you will remember the love you had together," she promised him, carefully turning them back onto their path.

Zero had stopped walking, halted by her words.

Was she still talking to him too? Did that mean he would be reunited with his lost love eventually and he only had to wait? Was this his waiting place? Was that why she was leaving him?

"And on you will go," she continued, "Everyone must find their own way out of here, but that is more easily done with loved ones by your side,"

So you could technically leave this place by yourself - and she had told Zero to move on before, suggesting he didn't have to wait… Zero looked around, seeing no obvious exit in their surroundings, only… a path. He was standing on the path - had been for some time - but it was barely more than a dirt track, and it lead all the way up a hill, and then he could see no more of it. Was that his way out?

A sudden flare of panic hit Zero as he glanced back at the other two and spotted them already a distance away. Wait! he called desperately, hoping the woman at least would listen to him. She did stop, and turned to him slowly.

Give me their name, he pleaded, hoping she would. If what she had said before was true, perhaps if he remembered a bit of his loved one - of the love they shared - he could move on more easily. Her own logic defeated her, since apparently she seemed to realise this, and she finally nodded in defeat.

"Kaname,"

At first all Zero could take in was how smoothly the name rolled off her tongue, but then it slipped into the hole in his chest and he couldn't help but gasp as it filled him like a breath of startlingly cold air. A maelstrom of different scenes flooded his mind, each one blazing with some raw emotion - anger, joy, fear, jealousy, desire - Zero saw himself as a child, he saw a mountain, a castle, a knife -

Darkness. Cold darkness - this memory came as the biggest shock to him - it was a dirty, cold shack (easily one of the ugliest places he had ever seen) and yet… he was warm, warm like a fire had been lit inside him and it was bright and soothing. There was something wild and passionate hidden in the fire that made the flames dance and his skin prickle with want. He felt like something beautiful - something precious and loved.

There were dark memories - ones he couldn't imagine himself having - of wanting to kill his beloved, of wishing him ill and wanting him to suffer. Those were heavy ones that almost brought him to his knees - they circled his mind like hungry sharks and ate at his sanity - he saw himself battling with an ancient hate and a new-found love.

The brightest of his memories were the rarest - they were so few and so short that Zero wondered how he could have lived through so much pain only to find such meagre happiness - but that was the point, wasn't it? The scarcity of these memories made them even more precious - like a candle flame burning in the dark - they were treasures to be found. They were worth everything -

Then - without knowing how he got there - Zero found himself a hundred yards from where he had been standing a split second ago, at the top of the hill looking down at his shadow which brushed the toes of the red-haired boy. The woman wasn't there anymore - in her place was a white horse which chuffed at the boy, coaxing him onto its back. Zero watched the two of them prepare to ride off, when it hit him - if they still had a choice to move on to death or go back to life - this had to be some kind of purgatory. They weren't dead or living yet, and if he was heading off one way towards the living, and they were riding the other way -

He cupped his hands around his mouth.

"Wait!" he shouted, but he must have been too far away, because the boy was climbing onto the horse and hadn't heard him. Zero sucked in another huge breath, but felt something tugging at him - something pulling him from behind. He realised belatedly that he hadn't even looked over the hill to where he was going since he was busy trying to gain the boy's attention.

The thing pulling him away grew stronger, to the point of being painful - but just as a yelp tore out of his throat, he saw the boy twist around - fear and realisation clear on his face. He reached out a hand towards Zero and his mouth opened as he yelled something. It was the last thing Zero saw before he lost his footing and fell backwards out of sight.


The falling didn't last forever - in fact, it was almost as quick as tripping - there was the devastating feeling of losing his balance but then, instead of catching himself like he normally would have, Zero felt the impact of the 'ground' all too well. He woke feeling more dead than when he was dead (or near death) - and everything down to the last hair follicle hurt. He felt like he could sleep for years and years and still not have rested enough, and the room was freezing - but the sort of cold an AC generated - the air tasted stale.

Zero's first movement involved a finger twitch, and then he let out the quietest of groans, hoping it was enough for someone to notice. He needn't have worried - in a flash he was accosted by someone's weight and a wild cacophony of elated noises that frightened him because it was too much too soon from the silence he had endured.

"-et off him, what's the matter with you?!"

"Oh god! I'm so sorry Zero -"

He felt the person on top of him shifting around in an attempt to get off him - and felt it even more so when they slipped on the bedsheet and their knee slammed right into his -

"Whoops!"

"Fuck, Ichiru! Get the fuck off of him now, you dumbass!"

Ichiru finally scrambled off the bed, due care given this time to extracting his limbs from Zero's without causing more damage than he already had. Zero didn't even need to have his eyes open to know exactly the expression on his brother's face, and that he was likely backing away into a corner like a kicked puppy. If he wasn't in pain before, he certainly was now - the same crippling pain every guy underwent after being slammed in the gonads. From the sounds of people sucking in sympathetic breaths, he deduced that his other visitors were all male and that there were four of them in total.

There was a collective pause as they all held their breaths, no doubt seeing if he would react to the abuse.

If he could move he'd be rolling around in pain, cursing his brother's existence, but for some reason he couldn't move. His previous finger-wiggle had taken all his effort and energy. Now, all he could do was lie there in agony, bemoaning the fact that for all he knew, he could be medically classed as female now.

"Well, he doesn't… seem to be in any pain," came Ichiru's hesitant voice.

"That's cos he's in a freakin' coma, asshole. I bet he's gonna be surprised when he wakes up as a girl," that was definitely Kaito.

"What made you jump on him like that? Are your cogs loose, boy? You might have very well broken his ribs!" Yagari roared from his left side.

"Or his dick-"

"Enough!" Kaien barked from further away. Kaito yelped after a resounding thwack echoed around the room. Zero tensed in surprise, not used to him sounding so pissed, nor expecting the Headmaster to be there at all - the last time he'd seen him he'd been badly injured. He wondered how he was now - the sound of him moving towards the bed came in steady footsteps, much to Zero's relief. He felt the mattress dip and a cool, familiar hand on his forehead.

Zero wanted to laugh, because despite everything that had happened he realised that these four people - his family - would always stay the same. Kaito would always be a crass bastard, Ichiru would always be a klutz, Yagari would always disguise caring with insults, and Kaien would always mother-hen him (even if he wasn't 'awake' to witness it). His chest suddenly felt too tight, and though he tried to ignore warm fuzzy feelings were taking over him, Zero relaxed in the safety of their company. His groin throbbed like he'd been castrated with a spoon, but he somehow managed to summon enough generosity to forgive Ichiru for his enthusiasm.

"Should we check?"

Again - Kaito broke the lull in conversation Zero hadn't been paying attention to. He realised, with some trepidation, that somehow his bed covers had been removed without him realising it and he was uncomfortably aware that he was wearing nothing but a hospital gown. He was concerned about this because it was Kaito who had voiced the question - and he wanted to check -

What did he want to check?

"Maybe we should," he heard Kaien say, "Just in case you know… in case you ruined anything, Ichiru,"

No.

No.

No they weren't checking that. They weren't going to check his -

Before he could summon the right amount of horror for what was about to happen, someone flipped up his gown and Zero could feel eyes on parts of him that they should never be on such display. He could practically feel their eyes judging him, and cringed when Kaito made a particularly impressed sound. All those fuzzy feelings from before shrivelled into a mass of indomitable wrath - Zero was going to kill them.

"Well… there's still two-"

"- kinda… bruised but not swollen,"

…but even though he was completely and utterly mortified by this whole ordeal, Zero had to admit he was sort of glad to hear the damage wasn't all as bad as it felt.

"Why did you jump on him anyway?"

"I saw him move!" Ichiru exclaimed, though he seemed to be having trouble convincing the older Hunters, since Zero could sense they were beating him down with their blatant stares of disbelief. "His finger twitched - I'm telling you!"

"So you thought suffocating him was the best way to welcome him back to the living? Baka!" there was the clear sound of Yagari whacking Ichiru and him whining. "I bet you imagined it anyway - he's in a coma, Ichiru. It was probably just a muscle spasm. He's not awake,"

"Man, can you imagine how awkward it would be if he was though?" Kaito asked gleefully (the bastard). But then he burst out laughing, and much to Zero's horror, he yelled, "Shit - he is! He's awake - look - he's blushing!"

There was another pregnant pause, in which Zero was plotting Kaito's slow, painful demise, because to add insult to injury - his blush refused to cool off. Goddamn it! He didn't know if he would prefer passing out just to escape this torture or dying -

"Maybe we should get Kaname to kiss it bette-"

Die. He wanted to die.


They didn't get Kaname to kiss it better, but they did fetch him.

At the sound of Kaname's shoes squeaking and skidding on the polished floor as he turned the corner, Zero also heard his fellow Hunters make various sounds of disgruntlement and exasperation as they got shoved out of the way, and then the click of the door closing signalled them leaving, and then it went completely silent aside from Kaname's gasping breaths.

Even that quietened down, and then it was truly as silent as the grave. Zero didn't know how all the excitement rushing through him wasn't upping his heartbeat on the monitor - because he felt like he would literally explode in excitementat any second. He eagerly awaited Kaname's voice, or his touch or something - it felt like he hadn't seen him in years and years… but then Zero's previous excitement was quickly snuffed out as doubt began to set in. What was the matter? What was taking so long? Why was Kaname staying away from him?

He strained his ears, even attempted to lift one eyelid to see what was going on, but there was nothing to hear and his eyes were glued shut.

Kaname was still at the door.

Zero grew restless as his patience dwindled.

There was literally nothing he could do but wait for Kaname to make the next move - and though he tried to convince himself that Kaname was probably just checking his medical record in that painstakingly thorough way he analysed paperwork, or he might be stopped in his tracks - aghast by the sight of his beaten up body… or he could be waiting for the doctor's permission to enter his room -

Who was he kidding? Each excuse was less likely than the last because Kaname never beat around the bush - when he wanted to be somewhere he'd be there in a flash - much like how he'd zoomed into the room with the speed and care of a hurricane. There was no stopping, nor even delaying him in reaching his goal.

But now there was something was holding Kaname back.

And the only reason he could think of for that was that - he didn't want to be with… with him.

The betrayal - how could he have forgotten? It was no doubt still fresh in his mind - the cruelty of his cold-hearted abandonment, the knowledge that he hadn't been important enough to Zero in the scheme of things - he didn't even want to know if Kaname forgave him because he didn't forgive himself. He didn't deserve Kaname, and the part of him that knew this bet on the fact that Kaname must have left him already - after not even having fully stepped into the room, he'd surely already decided that Zero wasn't worth his time.

But then he heard a shuddering sigh which validated Kaname's presence.

And Zero suddenly ached fiercely again. He was always aching for Kaname - whether it was out of passion or compassion, he lived and breathed for this man - he knew that now. And if Kaname chose to leave him in the end, he would continue to cling onto life, if only for the fact that he still selfishly held onto a piece of his heart that he refused to let die.

It was only after he heard Kaname's footsteps fading away that Zero realised that maybe in the time he'd been feeling sorry for himself, Kaname had already made a decision.


The next time he awoke he was a lot less sore downstairs - but physical pain was less of importance to him now that he was certain in the knowledge that he'd been left for making his gravest mistake.

"-et me do it,"

"… of course, Kuran-sama,"

There was the click of high heels leaving and then suddenly Kaname - Kaname was there by his side, his presence was almost a tangible thing in itself and he wasn't imagining him beside him. The plastic chair legs creaked and his breath gusted over Zero, and he knew for sure he was there - startlingly close and there, in reach of him. Kaname took his limp hand and pulled his arm out straight, pushing the loose gown sleeve up and dragging a warm, wet cloth over his skin.

Come to think of it - Zero did feel rather grimy.

Not in the usual groggy sense - not the cotton-mouthed, gritty-eyed griminess that came from sleeping for too long - it was like he'd literally taken a tumble in some dirt and was covered all over in it. Kaname even scrubbed under his nails - an odd sensation, but Zero was bizarrely amused (and touched) by the care Kaname took in getting to every speck of dirt.

But then he understandably panicked with that thought - oh shit flew through his mind as he considered what lengths Kaname would go to make sure he was clean all over in every nook and cranny, because Zero knew he would quite literally go that far. He was only in a flimsy hospital gown and Kaname did not understand boundaries. He had an alarming tendency to quite happily breeze through them as though they didn't exist at all. Zero loved Kaname, but pigs would fly before he'd ever receive a sponge bath from him if he had any say in it. He'd had enough of embarrassing himself, so with all the energy he had he tried to bat Kaname away - but clearly he misjudged his strength (which must have grown tenfold since he'd passed out) because he lunged at Kaname and manage to slap him upside the head loud enough for the sound to echo around the room.

There was brief silence before Kaname burst out laughing.

Zero's eyelids fluttered out of time with each other like a broken doll's. It was admittedly not his best look, but fuck it he'd tried - and from his limited view, he thought Kaname looked pleased enough to see him awake despite his malfunctioning eyes. He must have hit him square on the cheek because Kaname was laughing and jokingly clutching it as though it actually hurt.

Eventually Kaname sobered and then watched Zero with his usual piercing gaze, the corners of his mouth twitching up every so often as though he was trying not to smile. Zero knew why Kaname didn't want to appear too happy - that laugh told him he already had Kaname's forgiveness pending, but Kaname didn't want to make it look like he was giving in too easily. There were rules to be followed for an apology to be done right - and given the scale of Zero's betrayal, his punishment ought to last much longer - yet they were both struggling to stay angry, struggling to stay apart.

Zero felt constricted, like his happiness was dictated by these unspoken rules - it was like controlling the Sun, wanting nothing more than for it to burst through the clouds and shine, but afraid it would burn everything out by how powerful it would be. And when he looked at Kaname, all he could see was impatience, not anger, prowling like a caged tiger in his eyes. It broke the tension between them - their mutual recognition of what they both truly wanted more than anything else - reconciliation.

"Zero," Kaname finally said in an admonishing tone, "I shouldn't be laughing,"

He said so as if it were Zero's fault - his lips clenching to hold it all back. He lifted Zero's hand up to kiss it tenderly. "I should be mad at you - I am - will you stop looking at me like that? I'm not even exaggerating, Zero - you almost - just look at this," Kaname lifted Zero's hands into their line of sight. He didn't get what Kaname was pointing out at first - only when he swept the wet cloth over his skin again did Zero realise what he was dirty from. The cloth had a smear of pale grey on it.

It wasn't regular dirt - it was dust.

When a lowly Vampire dies, they turn to dust.

And Zero was covered in it.

The humour had left Kaname by this point. His mouth was a tight line and his brow was furrowed. Kaname looked like a ghost, white-faced and gaunt. He didn't know how long he'd been unconscious for, but in that time Kaname looked like he'd aged more than Zero had seen in his whole lifetime - worry lines on his forehead, sadness in his eyes. He was even dressed in mourning black.

"I was preparing to bury you," Kaname explained, "Or - I suppose I might have scattered your ashes somewhere meaningful to you,"

Zero couldn't think of any place that meaningful to him. He didn't regard any particular place as his home - he was a true wanderer at heart. That would logically suggest him being scattered across the ocean or a river, but for some reason the only place that made sense to Zero was a mountain. A tall, unmovable mountain.

"I hope you will never know what it's like to be forced to do that - to have to choose what flowers will adorn your grave, what music we'd have for your funeral march, Zero,"

Kaname's voice had shrunk down to a bare whisper, his eyes were untrained on some spot in an inconceivable space - he was stuck somewhere unreachable, lost. Zero reached out slowly and missed Kaname's face by several inches, his arm flailing ridiculously over the side of the bed. Kaname caught it and carefully placed it exactly in the warm spot Zero had smacked earlier.

"Each time I touched you I thought you would break," he continued, revealing to Zero each of his fears one by one, "I thought you would turn to ash. The blame, Zero? It's all on me. I should have never…" his voice cracked at the end, and he leant back in his chair, ignoring Zero's imploring gaze. "I'm sorry,"

"K-Kaa…"

Without saying a word, Kaname helped him drink some water and wiped up all the spills, and then he returned back to his seat. Zero wet his lips and opened his mouth to speak, but all that came out was an embarrassing croak. With that - his mouth snapped shut. Kaname didn't even seem to hear him - so lost was he in his melancholy.

"You will never do as I say, and forcing you to do so only drives you further away. The only option this leaves me is to let you go,"

He laughed harshly - it was a terrible sound, like nails on a chalkboard - and Zero couldn't bear to hear the sound of it. He also surprised himself by how repulsed he was by Kaname's deduction - where he thought he would have greeted his suggestion with approval, he instead felt ashamed. He wanted to be bound to Kaname's will, but not caged by it - more like a tethered kite - he wanted to be free to move as he wanted, but have somewhere he could return to - somewhere he belonged.

"I think it's fairly obvious that I've already forgiven you. Even when I don't want to, somehow I always will," he then stood, alerting Zero to the fact that he was going to leave him once again. "I just want you to take into account that for all your strength and all of mine, we are the two people who can most hurt each other. And out of the two of us - you are the only one who will ever choose to end things. It will be by your word and your word only,"

He walked to the door neither quickly nor slowly, but surely - and it made Zero's toes twitch with the urge to walk with him. Each step was more terrifying than the last - Zero flinched as Kaname opened the door, and when it closed behind him he thought that he had grossly misjudged the situation between them. Yes, they had reconciled but now?

He was gone.


Waking up didn't appeal much to him after that. It was only a combination of his jittery over-rested body wanting to move and the fact that his visitors were incapable of keeping their voices down that forced him awake. If it weren't for these two things, Zero may have never got up and gotten the chance to put things right - so really, everything that happened next was all thanks to his patience running dangerously low.

He opened his eyes and immediately groaned.

"Oh not you,"

Zero shoved a finger into Ichiru's face, catching him right on the tip of his nose, "Stay the fuck away from me. I'm lucky my voice is still this low, you ungainly ass," Zero unashamedly poked at his junk to check it was still all there and functioning, "Be glad I didn't become your nee-san, or I would've still made sure we were still identical twins,"

"Oh god, you were awake…" Ichiru's face flared bright red and he shrank back.

"Unfortunately," Zero gave him a rather mellowed-out stink-eye (thanks to the medicine), "Your bedside manner is atrocious. Death was kinder than you,"

"'m sorry nii-san," Ichiru mumbled.

Zero graciously accepted his apology - but then he caught sight of a worse sight over Ichiru's right shoulder - and Ichiru must have sensed the outraged roar building up in Zero's lungs because he darted forwards before Zero could utter a sound. The suddenness of the movement immobilised Zero in shock, and he instinctively (and understandably) curled up like a shrimp on his side. Ichiru's hand was covering his mouth, his other finger pressed to his lips in a hushing gesture. Kaito peeled himself from the door jamb and peered down at him, then he flicked his eyes upwards to a space above Zero -

Ichiru rolled him onto his left side. Zero couldn't hold back the massive grin that split his face in two.

Kaname was crammed on one of those uncomfortable plastic chairs, his arms and legs crossed and his typical straight-as-a-rake posture had completely destroyed by the chair. His head was bowed too, chin on chest - he was asleep but more importantly - he was back. Each time Zero thought he was gone forever, he kept coming back! He was like… the strangest and best living boomerang Zero could have ever asked for. The only thing was that Zero predicted one day his boomerang would hit him hard in the face as karma for continuously pushing him away.

Kaname looked so out of place - and so uncomfortable. Zero winced at the thought of the giant crick in his neck he'd get from sitting like that for so long, and wondered how long he might have been in that position for. What was he doing there though? Hadn't he just told Zero they were 'over' and placed the blame for that on Zero? Was this nothing more than concern borne from the responsibility he had for Zero? After all - Zero was technically under his protection, regardless of their personal matters - he had taken made that pledge the second he gave Zero his blood and was therefore obligated to watch over him.

Zero noticed again how exhausted and unkempt and older Kaname looked. His skin was greyish and his hair was a tangled mess. Zero carefully shuffled to the edge of the bed, where he then stretched his arm out as far as he could. He was short a few centimetres, and the tips of his fingers only glanced across Kaname's sprawled leg.

"Just a friendly reminder, bro - you know - you're wearing a hospital gown and… we're kinda getting a view,"

They would never find Kaito's body. Not even a speck of his remains.

"Have I not told you before - eyes off what is mine,"

"Ease up, Casanova, he's totally yours,"

Zero was sort of half-way between rolling onto his back, but Kaname's voice held him there suspended in that awkward angle - naked ass be damned - the only thing that mattered was that Kaname was not in fact asleep - one corner of his mouth was lifted a bare millimetre - and one eye cracked open, landing immediately on Zero. His smile was so blasé it made Zero's blood boil.

"What are you doing here?" he found himself asking, his voice more angry than he'd meant it to be, barely a second's pause before he added, "You left,"

"I did. And then I came back," Kaname answered surprisingly calmly.

"But we broke up," Zero whispered, "You said so yourself,"

Kaname blinked in obvious confusion, "That doesn't mean I've stopped caring for you. It doesn't mean I can't come back to you - or that we can't start over again. I never meant that things would be completely over between us, Zero,"

"But that's what you said," he stared at Kaname like he was speaking a foreign tongue, "That's what 'breaking up' means, Kaname - you said we were over!"

"Do you not want me here?" Kaname's voice became abruptly colder and he began to rise out of his seat in obvious agitation, "Is that why - if you want me to leave, I will-"

"No-"

"-I want this to work," he said plaintively, "This thing between us - we can fix it. I know we can. I want to fix it, but you have to trust me,"

Zero stared at him for a long moment, his heart in his throat. He could hear his blood thudding in his ears. "I do," he admitted, "It's not you I don't trust, it's-"

"You?" Kaname asked, eyebrows raised as Zero fell silent. Kaname sighed and leant forward, placing an achingly sweet kiss on Zero's hand, he then met his eyes and held them. "I love you," he said. "I'm not going to leave you if you make a mistake. Or a couple. Or a hundred," then he frowned in concern, "Zero, you're shaking."

A hand came up to hide his face as he nodded miserably. He couldn't help it, he'd never wanted something this much before - he'd never been so happy or relieved before to have someone as stubborn as himself willing to fight for him. The intensity of that being thrown in the open was a little disturbing; and being this open with someone, even Kaname, scared him - and no matter how much he tried to ignore them, he couldn't forget that Ichiru and Kaito were still in the room too.

"So how did it happen then? H-How did I kill him?" the change in topic was so obviously a distraction from his feelings, but everyone thankfully took the cue and allowed him some time to compose himself. Zero mercifully flipped onto his back. It was getting breezy back there anyway, and he wasn't up for more over-exposure.

"You don't remember?" Kaito burst out, stepping into the room. "Seriously? You. Don't. Remember,"

"I was busy dying, asshole. That kinda made everything else a little bit blurry in the last few minutes,"

"Yes, he's dead, they're both dead," Kaname answered him, conjuring the Weapon out of seemingly nowhere. He chucked it onto the bed, little flecks of dried blood and glittering crystal dust flaked onto the pristine white mattress. Zero cringed at the smell of Rido's blood -

"Wait, when you say both dead, do you mean…"

"You know what I mean. There were two people you killed last night - Rido and Katsuo. It's really over this time - they're both gone,"

"Who are you talking about?" Kaito cut in, "Who's 'Katsuo' and 'Lady' and-"

"This isn't for you, man. Go get us some drinks or something," Ichiru helpfully shoved him out of the room but stayed at the door himself. Zero guessed he might know a little of what they were talking about, taking Lady's hijacking of his mind into account, he might have a better idea of who she was.

"It's still important that you tell us everything you can remember though, Zero. Although we have this," Kaname nodded at the dagger, "As proof, only you were present at the time of their deaths. Only you can confirm he was killed and that he did not escape once again,"

Zero gingerly picked up the dagger, nose wrinkling as a rain of blood soaked crystal particles dirtied the sheets, "This has crystals on it. Isn't that enough proof that he died?"

"Lady's crystals were all over the scene when we arrived. It looked like they fell from the ceiling - it could just as easily be hers,"

That was true - Zero remembered the thunderous crash of the crystals everywhere - how they pinned Rido to the ground, aiding in the final strike he delivered with the blade he now held in his hands. He told Kaname and Ichiru everything he could, from the moment he stepped into Lady's temple to the last thing he saw before death. The part about the vines had both Ichiru and Kaname sucking in their breaths and shooting glances over his head. Zero watched Kaname's reactions in awe as each part of the story was told, amazed that he was willingly displaying such a breadth of emotions so openly. He supposed that between himself and Ichiru, Kaname didn't feel the need to hide himself. The three of them had seen too much of each other to care about appearances anymore.

Finally Kaname nodded, a reassuring response to Zero's tale.

"Then they are definitely dead," he confirmed, the worry lines on his forehead smoothing out, "We can be certain of that from what you said,"

"What do you mean by that?" Zero couldn't help but interject, "I know I killed Rido, but from how I understand it - Katsuo is a large reason why Rido became the twisted bastard that he is - he pretty much did what Lady did to Ichiru, didn't he?"

"He didn't possess him as much, exactly - to be more accurate, you could say that his spirit cohabited Rido's body and taught him to think as he did,"

"But basically his soul survived millennia and managed to sneak its way into Rido, didn't it?"

Kaname nodded, "It sought a host and saw in Rido an ideal partner-in-crime. They shared a similar thirst for revenge, and the willingness to go to any length to get it. Their paths converged into one. They became one,"

Zero shuddered. Creepy. "So what makes you think that Katsuo doesn't still live on?"

"I see what you mean," Ichiru nodded solemnly, "We know that Rido is dead - the Weapon killed him for sure. But Katsuo?" he shrugged, "He got through death once. Who's to say he hasn't done it again?"

"But that's where you're both wrong, see - the answer lies in the Weapon itself - who made it, and who it was intended for. Remember what I told you about a Pureblood Weapons - it only works when it is used on the correct victim - the dagger was Juri's, intended for Rido,"

"So, what was Katsuo's Weapon then?" Ichiru asked.

"Isn't it obvious? It was Zero's blood,"


Zero could practically hear all the pieces slotting into place in his head, all of them clicking together and suddenly making sense.

He saw the moment after Rido gorged on his blood clear as crystal in his mind - there was the gurgle of him choking as he fell to the floor in a violent spasm, and then pools of black poison spilled across the floor. Whilst Rido struggled to fight against Zero's blood vines, Katsuo had been dying inside him -

"Zero's blood?" Ichiru squawked, "So we could have been done with all of this years ago?"

Kaname nodded reluctantly, "If we'd known back then,"

"Excuse you both!" Zero sputtered indignantly, "Are you implying you'd have fire-hosed my blood at him if you had known?"

"No - principles, Zero - anyway, perhaps all he would have needed would've been no more than a teaspoon. If that had been the case, I'm pretty sure we could've taken that from you in your sleep without you noticing," Kaname said with a small wry smile - a nod to millennia ago when he'd stolen the villagers' blood every night. "Anyhow, it worked the way it did. No point dwelling on-"

"Hold on - there are things missing in this story. How the hell did my blood become a freaking Weapon? When did that happen?"

Kaname frowned at him, apparently unable to see where Ichiru and Zero were finding difficulty in grasping this whole mystery.

"Zero, I'd have thought you would have remembered the Creation of the Hunters. You were there, after all," he withstood Zero's get-on-with-it glare for a few seconds before continuing, "Lady? She gave you her blood - is any of this ringing a bell?"

Oh, Zero literally smacked himself - of course. Lady may have sacrificed her blood to be fed on by the vengeful Humans and her heart to the Hunters' weapons - but the first blood she sacrificed was given to Isamu via injection. He remembered how it had killed him and he'd awoken as the first Hunter - what Zero hadn't ever suspected was that this was not only a sacrifice, but a re-writing of his fate. When Lady died, she passed on her legacy to Isamu and within this gift she hid her Weapon for Katsuo. It was always going to happen, Zero realised. Perhaps the reason why he'd been reincarnated and survived all this time was because of Lady intended it. He was her knight - her Weapon - and he couldn't die till his part of the deal was done.

"Let me just check something,"

Kaname shuffled onto the bed and grabbed his chin, turning his head the other way. He was touching him so lightly that Zero could barely feel it, and was even more frustrated when Ichiru - the only interesting thing to see, facing that way - decided to join Kaname and fuel Zero's curiosity.

"What are you doi-"

"Ah, that's good," Kaname flew over the bed and leant down to kiss Zero's face, "That's very good. It's really over, thank god," he babbled, kissing his face all over in between words.

"That's amazing!" Ichiru exclaimed, also scrambling over Zero's body (he winced and warily squirmed away from his brother's haphazard limbs, into Kaname's safer embrace) in his enthusiasm.

"What are you both gawking at?" Zero managed to work an arm out of the sandwich he was becoming, and gingerly patted around his face.

"It's gone, Zero," Ichiru grinned, looking to Kaname for confirmation, "Your tattoo,"

The Hunters' Seal was gone? Zero couldn't feel anything other than pain when he fingered the wound - then again, he couldn't possibly feel the ink that had stained his skin, even when it had been there before.

The Seal had subdued his Vampire back when he'd first been Bitten. For four years it had kept the monster at bay - at one point he'd even thought it would be able to keep him Human forever - but like any caged monster, over the years his grew in ferocity. His Vampirism came for him worse in the end since he had fought it down for so long - it tore his Humanity to shreds, leaving nothing behind. He became the very monster he had once feared.

The tattoo was nothing more than a reminder to him - of what happened when he fought the inevitable. The Seal tamed him - branded him a danger to anyone unsupervised. Zero hated yet needed it to keep him in check, and over time it became a part of him. And now, despite the fact that he knew it was gone, Zero dragged his fingers over the raw edges of the wound again and again, gritting his teeth as the dull throb became irritated into stinging and then burning -

"-n't need it, Zero. Let it go-"

Somebody had grabbed his wrists. It didn't take long for them to pull his hands away, since he had so little strength to fight with - all his previous strength sapped out of him as he struggled to comprehend what he was, and he was left weak and in distress. His fingers were sticky - with blood, he presumed - and he could taste his own blood in the air. It made him feel sick, and his stomach rolled as he was dragged under and dragged out to sea - that empty feeling of loss.

"-ro, come here, Zero it's okay. It's okay…"

A wash of soothing noises and comforting words rushed over him like a wave as Zero sank into the arms of his brother and lover, who were trying to hold him together between their arms and legs and voices. He burrowed into the warmth - great big sobs, all wet and noisy - rocketed through his body, the emotions and sorrows and victories bursting out of him in this one beautiful release.

He cried because there was nothing left in him to change - this was it - this was who he was now. The monster he'd been fighting for had come and swallowed him whole. Zero got his breathing under control, and the calmness of his closest family wrapped around him brought him back to shore. It took some time for him to settle, for him to realise that he had been found - he had a place to be… to be himself, whoever that may be - whether he was a Hunter, Human or Vampire, or something else altogether.

But it would still take some time for him to learn and discover and accept more of that. After all, it was too soon - he could still taste the bitter salt of the sea on his lips which had gathered in the creases of his face like tears.


"How do you feel?"

Zero grimaced. He always hated having to answer the incessant 'are you okay now?' questions that had to follow from him crying. Couldn't they just leave him alone? They always had to make such a big deal of it, didn't they?

"I feel fine. I feel the same. Can we just drop it now?" he snapped, kicking at Ichiru's elbow as he tried to put socks on his feet. "Goddamn it, I'll never cry in front of you again,"

"Crying is never a sign of weakness, Zero," Kaname intoned softly, causing Zero to roll his eyes dramatically at his fortune-cookie wisdom.

"I know that. It's you guys - stop fussing over me! For fuck's sake - and who fucking taught you how to dress like this, Ichiru? Seriously?"

Ichiru huffed, "These are your clothes, nii-san! I don't get what you're picking on me f-"

"Socks before pants is what I meant, Ichiru!" Zero gestured to his bare legs.

"No pants means no boxers either," Kaname added ever-so-helpfully.

Ichiru wrinkled his nose, "Oh hell no. That's where I draw the line. Sorry bro, I've seen enough of you naked to last me for good,"

Zero's eyebrow popped up, "Are you telling me you're never going to look in a mirror for the rest of your life?"

Ichiru snorted, not even deigning Zero with an answer - he instead went to fetch something on the far side of the room - meanwhile, Kaname continued to help Zero into his clothes. After his crying session, Zero felt exposed and raw in every way you could think of - emotionally and physically - so he demanded some proper clothing. He'd got enough grief from hospital gowns to give him a lifelong grudge.

"Ah - good thinking, Ichiru," Kaname took whatever Ichiru had brought and handed it to Zero, "Drink up. You're still healing,"

Zero held one of Kaname's bagged bloods and scrunched up his face - it was cold. He hated drinking chilled blood - it was nasty, like cold porridge.

"Is that the last one?" Kaname asked Ichiru, who nodded. Kaname frowned, moving to rise from the bed, "I'll go get some mo-"

"Kaname, that's enough," Ichiru said firmly, halting him in his tracks. The younger twin's face was uncharacteristically stern, and left no room for argument. "He's better now,"

Zero watched this in mild confusion, but even with him knowing scant details of the exchange, he quickly pieced together what it meant - Kaname's pallid complexion, the fact that he was so exhausted, the bagged blood and the fact that Ichiru said no more -

"Oh Kaname," he breathed - exasperated, yet incredibly touched by Kaname's generosity - and yet, how stupid of him to clearly overdo himself in giving blood when he needed it hiimself. Ichiru was perhaps even a little late in stopping Kaname from doing so - if they took any more blood out of him, Zero wondered if Kaname would shrivel up like in the cartoons and wither into a heap on the floor.

Kaname smiled, as if to say 'It was nothing', and simply gave Ichiru a nod as he returned to his seat. He still badgered Zero to drink the blood for strength, which he did - though reluctantly. He pierced the bag with a fang and sipped at it, uncomfortably aware that this was the first time Ichiru was seeing him drinking blood in this way - Zero bizarrely felt like a preschooler drinking a juice carton, with the way he was sucking it down. He thought Ichiru would have been scared off by now - in fact, he had hoped the prospect of helping him get dressed would have deterred Ichiru enough so he could have sometime with Kaname, but he was annoyingly resistant.

He didn't exactly want to discuss where they stood in their relationship with his younger brother in the room. He closed his eyes and let out a little moan, slurping at the blood and letting himself enjoy it - and then opened his eyes. Ichiru wasn't even looking at him! He was completely unaffected - folding away a blanket and tidying up the bedsheets!

"Aren't you even a little bit disgusted?" he finally snapped, Ichiru's head jerking up in surprise. Zero pointed at his bloody mouth. Ichiru rolled his eyes.

"Don't be stupid. You're a Vamp. Of course you gotta drink blood," he shrugged, "It doesn't bother me,"

Zero sighed, wondering if his brother was really oblivious to his hints, or if he was just playing stupid.

He decided to be a little more blunt for both their sakes.

"That's good. But I want to speak with Kaname," he paused, fleetingly despairing over the cliché of his wording, but it had to be said - "Alone,"

Ichiru scowled and shook his head stubbornly, "No more secrets. Anything you can say to him you can say to me," he stuck out his chin imperiously for good measure.

Zero barely had time to open his mouth in protest before Kaname swooped down and caught his words with his mouth. He barely noticed Ichiru's jaw drop, and only registered that he had left the room when the mattress bounced from him scrambling off it and the door slammed from his eager escape. He guessed the message had been successfully delivered, if that was anything to go by. Then Zero experienced strangest sensation of two people laughing as one - as he and Kaname laughed into each others' mouths and their bodies shook the whole world with their laughter.

When they calmed down, chuckles and quips about Ichiru's hasty departure chasing their merriment into an easy silence, Zero reached up and attempted to smooth down Kaname's unruly sorrel locks, though he just made them into a bigger mess.

Kaname practically beamed down at him, contentedly pressing into Zero's hands and basking in his attention.

"Why are you so good to me, Kaname(1)?" he murmured, his hands coming to a stop around his jawbone, "Even after what I've done, you just forgave me like it was nothing. Why can't you yell at me instead of being so bloody forgiving?"

"It wasn't 'nothing'," he corrected, "And that's exactly the point,"

Kaname fell quiet, the only sound coming from him were his slow, rhythmic breaths.

"I can keep saying it as many times as you want me to, but I fear you'll get tired of me saying it if I say it too much, or that the words will lose their meaning in time through careless repetition - but it is because I love you," he buried his face in Zero's neck, and he could feel the pattern of his words on his skin, "That is always the reason. It's because you are still alive. Do you remember when we were making love and I told you a Bond can only be forged with intent? Well, it turns out that I was wrong.

"We've been double-Bonded, maybe even triple-Bonded if you want to include me Biting Isamu. I always thought Bonding required a ceremony, but that isn't true - our souls made the decision for us before we could. We Bonded when we met, we Bonded when we kissed, we Bonded when I drained you of life and millennia later when you took my blood to live.

"We Bonded when we made love that night. You gave me back my Pureblooded soul - and without my meaning to - that was what kept you alive. You held onto me - twice through death - and through all these years. I love you,"

"Kaname-"

"No Zero," the king demanded softly, shoving his face into the crook of Zero's neck, "I've waited far too long for this. Let me be a romantic sap. For once, please," and then he caught Zero in another searing kiss. He held them close together, threaded his fingers through his hair, and almost kissed the life out of him until Zero started thrashing in his arms.

"Jesus, Kaname!" he seethed, heaving breaths, "Just 'cause you don't need to breathe doesn't mean it's the same for me!"

"Sorry," he shrugged sheepishly, "It's ten thousand years of waiting spilling out at once,"

"Well, take your time then!" Zero exclaimed, "We are not gonna test the strength this 'Bond' just for the hell of it!"

Kaname laughed, ducking down to kiss him again. He blanketed Zero's body with his own, and whispered in his ear, "No matter how many times, Zero, it will always work. I promise…"


EPILOGUE

The valley was covered in fog as usual - but instead of cloaking the mountains in a fluffy white sea, the slither of Sun rising over the Left Mountain painted the whole scene in swathes of burnished gold, and the mist scattered this everywhere as a shimmering haze of warmth and light. They were lucky that hadn't rained too much. For the last week and a half it had been hailstorms, thunder and lightning. Even during the day it had showered, but by nightfall the heavens let up.

Zero was even glad it had rained in the day - even though he now had a massive wet patch on the seat of his pants. The dewdrops clung to every blade of grass and lit up the morning even brighter than the mist alone. He ran his hands over the grass either side of him, the freezing coldness of it was barely felt - after they had spent so long already outside, watching the night turn into morning.

Thankfully, no one had questioned or followed them as they snuck off, hand-in-hand. Of course - the guests would be lenient to His Majesty and anyway - Kain and Aidou were doing a stellar job of distracting any curious guests with all their charisma finally put to good use. To be honest, Zero had just muttered to Kaname that he wanted some air - nothing salacious enough to warrant the cousins' synchronized suggestive smirks, Ichiru covering his eyes or Kaito's cat-call - but, what could he do when Kaname took him by the hand and practically dragged him out of the hall? How could he make it not look as improper as it seemed?

Their payback was that they would not be returning to the wedding. The bastards would have to fend off the angry, disgruntled crowds with flustered white lies hissed through their teeth, while he and Kaname lazed about on the grass outside - enjoying the beautiful scenery together.

At least he'd married a gentleman (of sorts) - since Kaname hadn't taken his suggestion the same way as the others had. Zero was only pessimistic because over the years he had learnt to hate surprises - so he was pleasantly surprised when instead of leading him to an empty room or god forbid a closet - Kaname took him outdoors.

It was barely pushing two in the morning at that point, so the coldness of the night had been a shock compared to the warmth of the Castle - nonetheless, Zero didn't dislike it, after being stuck in the stuffy ceremony for well over three hours! He let Kaname guide him to wherever he had in mind, content to take in the scenery with a cursory glance over everything they had fixed in the past year. The Castle was mostly fixed and in order, after all the damage it had taken from the battle - surprisingly there hadn't been as much damage as they had feared. However - as Kaname had pointed out - perhaps Juri's ingenious preservation charm was still intact over the Castle. There had been reports of things fixing themselves without anyone assigned to the tasks. It did warm his heart to think that they were still being watched over.

Kaname took him straight to Juri's Garden - which was now open to everyone - but then, instead of taking him into it, he took Zero to… a gate that hadn't been there before. Zero shot him a curious look, but followed him inside regardless - only when Kaname hushed him (when he wasn't even talking!) did he begin to worry for his husband's sanity again.

But then, as they walked into a little patch of unremarkable grass, Zero tilted his head - he heard -

"Is that… a river?" he asked incredulously - he didn't remember there being a river anywhere around the garden.

(Then again, where did the water used for Juri's fountain come from?)

"Close," Kaname grinned cheekily, "But not quite. Come," he dragged Zero on further.

Unfortunately for Zero, Kaname had regained his Pureblood grace - making things like climbing a mountainside in god knows how many layers of wedding robes look like a freaking walk in the park - whereas Zero had his numbed hands, a ridiculous amount of clothing and generally the dark (it was still very dark) working against him. Eventually he conceded and allowed Kaname to levitate him up to where he was standing.

They were on a ledge. Literally - it was a flat plot of land that apparently wrapped around the mountain as though it had been carved into it. In fact… Zero cast a dubious look at Kaname, who scratched his neck sheepishly but continued onwards, maybe it had. It was almost wide enough to be a meadow, and Zero was still wondering what this was all about - though he had an idea of what Kaname might be showing him.

And then, they stopped at a tree.

Kaname sat against the trunk and patted the ground beside him. Zero acquiesced with a dramatic sigh.

"So… what's all this about?"

Kaname couldn't help but chuckle in delight as he confirmed Zero's speculations - "My gift to you," he spread his arms out wide and leant back.

"What are you gesturing to? The tree? This weird bit of land that you've - did you carve it out of the mountain? Kaname! What the hell were you thinki-"

"My father gifted the Garden to my mother on their wedding day. It was already complete, with the roses and fountain already made. For you, I always found that you appreciated things better when you could be a part of their making, and you prefer function over aesthetics so this orchard is for you, my love,"

Zero looked around the grassy plain, "…I'm not a gardener Kaname, but I think that orchards tend to have more trees than this,"

Kaname nodded enthusiastically, "Yes, that's the point - you can choose whatever trees you want to add to it. Or plants. Or flowers. Whatever you want. Though we are on a mountain, I've brought enough soil for plants to grow here, and there is a stream…" he pointed behind them, where Zero could see a distinct groove cut into the mountain. It tapped into the rainwater that collected at the top, he presumed, and the stream cut right through the orchard and drained into a hole in the ground. "Do you… do y-"

"This is really cool, Kaname," Zero found himself admitting. It was definitely unexpected, and not something he would've chosen for himself - but he could see all the thought that went into it by the slight tremble of Kaname's voice, and anyway - he had a frigging orchard now. Totally unexpected, but still very cool. "I love it," he insisted, leaning back against the tree, "So what type of tree is this?"

"Cherry blossom," Kaname squirmed under Zero's raised eyebrow, "Come on - we're Japanese! I had to!"

Zero laughed - loudly, with snorts and all - and Kaname didn't join in it - he was far too entranced by watching it to risk missing a second of Zero's laughter.

"That's not all-" he added quickly, when Zero had finished.

However, Zero cut in "Wait! Let me appreciate this first - give me a minute, okay?"

A minute ended up being a lot longer - and they ended up simply watching the stars fade out of the brightening sky, the valley light up into a golden paradise, and - Zero was suddenly reminded of his second death - how he had lost out on the morning. This time he got to see it - and with Kaname right next to him he barely felt the physical cold of the autumn, or the chill that came with remembering death. Zero's eyes kept flitting back between this - Kaname's glowing face - and funnily enough, the disappearing moon. Kaname must have picked up on the latter curiosity, since he dropped his head onto Zero's shoulder and began another explanation.

"Do you know why I chose to marry you on this night?"

Zero honestly didn't - all he knew was that Kaname had been quite adamant on the date, whereas he hadn't really minded.

"It's the Sanguine Moon tonight, Zero - better known as the Hunter's Moon," he explained softly, "It means nothing to the Hunters we know, but for Human hunters it was the ideal time of year for hunting by moonlight because the moon is so high in the sky,"

Zero eyed the small, glowing sphere, a little more impressed by it - also touched by it. He couldn't help but remember his devastation upon realising his Vampirism was now fully a part of him - ever since the Seal was broken. He'd felt estranged from his Hunter roots - and so alarmed by how he had transformed unaware into the beast he had once Hunted - that it had felt like looking upon this Hunter's Moon. His past was so far away from him, but it would always be there - for his daytime was now the night, and he would always look up at the moon and remember it.

"That's really deep, Kaname. I think you're secretly trying to make up for the fact that our ceremony was the freaking dullest thing I've ever had to go through," Zero wrinkled his nose, "It was the most unromantic wedding I have ever been a part of. They totally used us for the treaty,"

"That is what the whole wedding was for, technically," Kaname agreed. The peace treaty was actually the main part of the whole wedding for them - they spent the most time going through the paperwork and pledging to the court. The way Zero saw it was - since he was a living representation of all three races: Human, Hunter and Vampire - he was the 'parchment' and Kaname - as the greatest power on the planet - was the 'signature'. They made the treaty, signed it and upheld it with their marriage. It was all politics, unfortunately. Love was what existed between them and no one else.

Kaname laughed strangely and shifted around a bit - drawing Zero's attention as he drew out the next surprise from his coat.

Zero couldn't help but let out a bark of a laugh - even though the object itself wasn't that funny. Maybe because it was so unexpected - he took the unpainted duck in his hands and set it on his lap. Kaname held onto the white, painted one Zero had found in the cave, and he was staring at Zero with such a tender expression.

"I hoped you would like them," he said hoarsely, cracking a small, rueful smile, "In fact, I predicted your reaction perfectly when I made these. I knew you would laugh like that - that was exactly what I had hoped you would do,"

"What are you talking about, Kaname?"

"I made these back in the past," he said, his emphasis clearly referring all the way back to the era of Isamu and Kaname, "It was for our last meeting - we'd agreed that that would be the last to spare us the pain of having to watch our paths diverge and I wanted to give you something to remember me by. So - the one you are holding, represents 'me', and would've been yours to keep," he lifted the white duck , "And obviously this is 'you' for me to keep," Kaname gently placed the ducks side-by-side, "They're Mandarin ducks, Zero - famous for mating for life. They're symbols of lifelong love and marriage and are often given to couples as wedding gifts. I would have told you all this had I gotten the chance to…"

He had taken Zero's hand without noticing it, and was rolling the gold band on his finger absentmindedly.

The ducks were a wedding gift? Kaname had wanted to part with Isamu with the promise of marriage still tying them together. But he hadn't gotten the chance to make Isamu this promise because - now Zero remembered - their last meeting had been the same meeting when Rido had forced Kaname to kill Isamu. They had no chance to… they -

He died before Kaname got the chance to give him this gift.

Zero hugged his knees, needing to squeeze something to release the tension in his whole body.

At least, now - now Zero knew. He eyed the ducks with more solemnity than before, the meaning behind them demanding more respect from him now -

"No, Zero - please don't think like that. They're meant to be funny - like joke-gifts. I wanted to hear you laugh at our last meeting - I always wanted it to be the last thing I had to remember you by, since it was the first sound I heard from you, remember?"

Zero remembered - their very first meeting, when Kaname got stuck in the mountain and little Isamu had been rolling on the ground laughing his ass off. That was the last thing Kaname wanted to remember him by?

A snort escaped from him, followed by a few hysterical chortles.

And then Kaname took him by the arm and scooped up the ducks with the other. They walked towards the stream, and suddenly Zero knew what Kaname was about to do - and he half-backpedalled. After the story he'd just been told - Kaname wanted to send the ducks down the stream, but Zero couldn't bear the thought of it. Zero's eye darted to where the currents dragged the water down a chute to god knows where. Why would Kaname want to do this? He grabbed Kaname by the arm -

But he didn't even need to ask his question - because then he got it. Kaname had such a serene smile on his face, which was reassuring enough, but Zero also recognised that this - this was them letting go - of their past and all the bad times they had suffered through. He knelt with Kaname at the bank of the stream, and watched as he tied a red ribbon around both of their beaks. They released the ducks to the waters and watched them till they dropped down the chute and out of sight.

The stream was surprisingly fast-going, and the currents pulled the two ducks under the water and crashed them against each other and the bottom of the stream-bed. Zero couldn't see it - but the stream Kaname had carved was actually a waterfall that passed all the way through the orchard ledge and down, down, down - deep into the mountain. There were pools and wells that the ducks got to rest in as the water was slowed and drained out, and then they continued on through the tiny passages till they reached the bottom. Eventually, they would reach a large cave at the heart of the mountain, and that would be their resting-place.

The water that flowed out of a passage at the other side of the cavernous chamber met an entrance facing the valley, and even though it was the first time this had ever happened, and there was no one to watch the spectacular sight - the miniature Winter Roses that clad the mountainside? They were in bloom.


Author's note:

Just wanted to explain a few things, since - as a few of you have kindly pointed out - I like to star-stud my story with lots of little details and fun extra tidbits, which I like to think enhances the story.

1) First of all - who was the boy who followed Lady into death? Why haven't I written more about that part? SEQUEL - haha! This is to keep you hooked, my darling readers! I bet you've already figured out WHO he is (and are ready to kill me for killing him), but why I've done this and what will happen because of this will be expanded on later.

2) Secondly - 1 = I took this line from Forrest Gump. I believe it's what Jenny asks Forrest, because she cannot believe his faultless loyalty and devotion to her. *sigh* I love that movie.

3) The last paragraph refers to the miniature roses that grow outside the entrance of the cave Isamu was buried at. Just a little extra detail for you - according to the Vampire Knight wiki, this

"is a miniature rose that blooms only once every ten years even in the depth of winter"

I like to merge this fact with my story by adding that - the rose blooms every ten years in honour of the ten years in total Isamu and Kaname had together. At the end of my story though - since the curse is broken, and Zero's destiny fulfilled - the rose bloomed during the Hunter's Moon in autumn. Symbolism, guys. :)

4) FINALLY - there is a reason why I keep referring to the Left Mountain and left this and left that… basically, it started out as a subconscious decision. I dunno why, but I always chose the left thing over the right thing on a whim - but do things ever really happen by chance? I don't think so - because subconsciously I think I was remembering something I read somewhere about the distinction between the Kings 'right hand' and 'left hand'.

The 'right hand' tends to be taken by some military title. It is a position of power and protection, whereas the "left hand" is the side closest to the King's heart - most commonly taken by the Queen or Royal consort - in my own interpretation, I wrote the Left Hand to be the place of Kaname and Zero's heart.

Alright then, THANKS AGAIN EVERYONE SO, SO MUCH YOU WONDERFUL PEOPLE- I love you guys!

It's not all over yet!

Till next time :D

- puui x