Lucy sighed, looking out the school window at the dreary weather that seemed to match her current mood quite well. She had long since tuned out the near constant drone of her teacher, her mind elsewhere.
It had been, what, a week? Two? She had lost count of how long it had been since she last saw her boyfriend Zero.
She blinked as a piece of paper landed on her notebook, a message scrawled in messy handwriting, and Lucy had to smile, not because she was happy, far from it, but because of how he was still looking out for her, even now that she had Zero to take his place.
She couldn't decide if Paulo was jealous, sincere, or just being Paulo, but she gave him a quick glance, smiling slightly, not happy, but hopeful. He had never let her down.
She hoped he never would.
"Lucy, babe, tell me what's going on!" Paulo asked, and Lucy briefly reflected on how he was using everything he knew to get her to open up; leaning over her with a paw on the wall in that protective way of his, that roguish grin, she wouldn't be surprised if she looked away for a moment only to discover he was carrying a rose between his teeth again.
Some things never changed.
"It's Zero." She replied, tone bleak, and too late she realized what bull headed Paulo might think from that statement in that tone.
"What did he do." Paulo asked, suddenly all business, his tone ice cold. Lucy was his closest friend, possibly rivaled only by David, and if some guy was making her upset, he was in for a world of hurt.
Providing said guy didn't know of his weakness...
"No, it's nothing like that Paulo." Lucy informed him, "He's been gone for a month now! He never said anything, he's just... gone!"
Paulo performed a emotional 180, once again the concerned friend. "You try calling him?" He asked.
"His phone is off." Lucy sighed in defeat, "What if I did something-"
Paulo knew that line of thought, and what it would do to his friend, much too well, and he cut her off, "Lucy, he's probably busy, alright? Have you tried his house?"
Lucy shook her head, blushing lightly, "Zero was always driving me home..."
"Tell you what, Lucy, after school, I'll drive you to his place to see if he's there, alright?" Paulo smiled softly, "Don't you worry your pretty little head about it."
Lucy smiled, "Thanks Paulo."
"This... is his house?" Paulo asked, stunned. Lucy smirked as she noticed that his expression looked very similar to when Mike showed him that picture of Sandy.
"Yeah." Was all Lucy said as she opened the door on the right hand side of Paulo's flatbed truck and walked up the steps to the front door, Paulo close behind. She knocked once, twice, thrice...
"Zero? Are you in there? Hello?" She called, hope and sadness competing for dominance in her tone.
"I am so underdressed..." Paulo muttered, and Lucy rolled her eyes.
A minute passed, then she heard a crash from inside, a curse, feet padding to the front door.
She wasn't prepared for what she saw.
The cat who opened the door looked nothing like the Zero she knew and loved. His eyes were bloodshot and red, deep purple bags nearly blending with his black fur. His left eyelid twitched, the paw on the outside of the door shook slightly, and his stance was one she herself was acquainted with much too well. Immense depression. She gasped, stepping back.
Zero stood, half in the doorway, and for a moment he appeared to be confused, not quite sure of what was going on, before shaking his head and speaking. "What is it Lucy. If it's not too important, can we do this later?"
Lucy recovered from the shock quickly, stepping up and standing taller, puffing her cheeks out in defiance. "Where have you been for the past month Zero? You just drop off the grid, don't tell me anything! I was worried!"
Zero sighed, opened the door, inviting the pair in, and in an instant he was swallowed up by the darkness that shrouded the room. Blinds drawn, lights off. The only thing lighting the room was a pair of solitary candles placed before two photographs.
Lucy felt Paulo's hand tighten on her arm protectively, and she looked back, shaking her head.
"Feel free to close the door." Zero scoffed, venom dripping from his tone, his paws clasped together before his face as if in prayer while he looked at the photo before him.
"Hey, don't be an ass man, Lucy was worried-" Paulo began.
"I know." Zero cut him off. "I know. I shouldn't snap at either of you like that... I'm just..." He sighed, dropping his head, fur nearly touching the flame of the candles. Lucy slowly walked over, sitting beside Zero on the couch, examining the photos before her.
The photo on the left featured a midnight black cat, a lopsided grin on his face, bowler cap sitting on his head, and a cello leaning against his side, eyes the color of jade. To the right was a delicate grey cat, a gentle smile on her face, her purple eyes content as she held a smaller cat's paw in her own. Lucy's eyes widened, and she looked over at Zero.
"Are these?" She asked, letting her statement hang loose in the darkness.
"Yeah. These are my parents, Trip," He pointed to the black cat, "And Dawn Starlight." He pointed to the grey cat.
"Your father played the cello?" Paulo asked, ever the elegant conversationalist. Zero chuckled.
"Yeah... Dad was always bringing me to his shows, people loved him. He had this... magic to him, his music made you want to dance. He made a fortune, but he was always giving back to his fans." A sad smile stretched across Zero's face.
"I remember meeting one of them after he passed. The poor sod had been a drunk and an addict, no one would help him, not even his own family." Zero chuckled, "But dear old Dad saved him. Got him a job, helped him off the booze and the drugs. He told me that when he heard the news, he almost lost it again, but he remembered all that my dad had done for him."
"And your mom?" Lucy prodded, leaning up against Zero gently.
"Doctor." He paused, "Well, on paper she was a nurse, sexism and all that jazz was in vogue at that time, but she handled a scalpel like a pencil. Precise, never cutting more than what was needed. She always had her paw on the metaphorical pulse. She saved people's lives, saved the hospital money and so the administrator of the hospital turned a blind eye."
Lucy smiled at Zero, holding her paw in his. "They sound like they were great parents, so why are you so upset?"
"It's the anniversary of the day Mom died..." Zero replied, and Lucy squeezed his paw.
"What happened?" She asked.
"Doctors don't know, she was in peak physical condition." Zero sighed, "I think she died of a broken heart, actually. Dad was in an accident on his way back from a show, died on impact, the doctors said it was painless, but how would they know what it feels like to be crushed by an oncoming truck?" Zero clenched his fist tightly, breathing hard.
"After my Mom passed, my Dad's will was found, and the clever devil had exploited a few loopholes, given me full ownership of the house and what money we had. For a few years, things were OK. One of my father's friends would check up on me ocassionally, make sure I was OK. And then..."
"The fire?" Lucy asked hesitantly.
"The fire." Zero nodded, grimacing. "I had just gotten home from a friend's birthday party. While I was gone, some idiot had set our house on fire. The blaze was enormous, you physically couldn't get within ten feet of it. I lost nearly everything in that fire..."
Lucy felt a tear drop on her paw.
"Every picture but these two was destroyed, gone thanks to a spark lit by some asshole who wanted to play with fire." Zero shook, "All I had left where those pictures and some memories. Now I hardly have that..."
With those words, the floodgates seemed to open, and for a time, Zero released the emotions he had kept sealed away for so many years overflow.
"You sure you're going to be OK?" Paulo asked again as he got into his truck.
Lucy waved back, smiling softly. "I'll be fine. Good night Paulo. Thanks for your help."
"Anytime, babe. Anytime." Paulo called as he pulled away.
"I'm sensing some old sexual tension there..." Zero teased from behind Lucy, who jumped.
"Don't DO that!" She whined, pouting. "What are you, no! Don't you dare do that Zero Starlight or I swear I'll NOOOO!"
Lucy screamed in mirth as Zero pulled her into a hug, paws roaming along her white fur, tickling her in all the weakest spots.
"Your..." Lucy panted, still giggling quietly, "You're an idiot..."
"Yeah, but I'm your idiot, and there's nothing you can do about it." Zero smiled and sealed his lips with hers.
A/N; I'm surprised I actually managed to make a somewhat decent trilogy out of this series... If you enjoyed this, feel free to give me a shout, let me know! The support keeps me going, and I'll see you all in the future!