Hi all, I'm back! I'm so sorry for taking so long to update. I won't go into details, but I'll just say that life got really crazy for a while. Anyway, I wrote this chapter relatively fast and its also the longest chapter I've posted by far, so please forgive me for any word usage errors or grammar issues (I don't think there's any spelling mistakes, at least!).

Separate Author's note: I've been slightly AU with this story, but I am trying to bend the manga/anime storylines to fit my narrative. I am aware that new chapters of the manga are coming out monthly, and so I would like to warn readers that if the ending doesn't go like I want it to, well...I'll just have to go totally AU. Sorry to you purists! Also: a warning for this chapter, which contains explicit references and imagery of self-harm. In previous chapters it was hinted (or maybe a little more than hinted), but in this one it is dealt with directly. I apologize if this turns away some readers.

Disclaimer: I don't own Vampire Knights or anything else related to them, even the cool bedsheets. I really want some of those though! (Who wouldn't want to sleep on Zero, really?)

(Because I've been gone) Summary: Asraella has come to Cross Academy to start over after the traumatizing episode of her friend May's suicide in the United States that still haunts her to this day. She was attacked by Takuma Ichijou during a dance, and was saved by Zero, who subsequently bit her. She has no memory of Zero's loss of control, but knows from his admission that he is a vampire and so is the night class. We leave her at the end of Chapter Ten asleep in the Chairman's office, with Zero sitting on the floor next to her.

Asraella shifted between her sheets as the late afternoon sun streamed through her window and cascaded across her face. It threw her features into sharp relief, making every ridge and curve seem like it was drawn in marker across the canvas that was her skin. She breathed in deeply and opened her eyes, peering at the ceiling through a slight mental haze.

I should get up. What time is it? If the sun's coming in…wow. I must have slept most of the day. She remembered that she had fallen asleep in the Chairman's office, after what seemed to be a nightmare.

I was in the office before, so why am I here now? Who brought me here?

For some reason, Zero came to mind. She closed her eyes again. Zero. I don't understand completely. Was he serious? Are the Night Class student who visited me and Takuma really…vampires? Her reasoning mind wouldn't let her believe it, but something deeper told her that it might be true. Zero hadn't been lying; whatever he said he believed wholeheartedly. His expression and his sincerity proved that to her. Asraella's brain took off with her again, making connections to try and sort everything out. If Takuma and that other student were vampires, does that make the whole Night Class vampires? The thought of many sets of eyes all glowing red made her shiver. Zero said…he was a vampire, too, and that he bit me. Unlike the thought of the Night Class vampires, this mental statement imbued no sense of fear. Her impression of Zero didn't mesh with her violent memories of Takuma or the incident with the other Night Class student. She couldn't tell if this detachment was because she couldn't believe it or because she trusted Zero. Too many things had happened lately. Her world was getting thrown out of orbit. Ugh. What the hell am I going to do after this?

Asraella once again opened her eyes and cautiously lifted a hand to her face, relaxing when she felt no pain from her arm. She gave a small smile and sat up, arching her back and rolling her neck. Ouch! God, I'm stiff! She slowly crept out of bed, swinging one leg over the side, then the other, taking her time. She felt cool air brush past her torso and goose bumps sprung up on her stomach and shoulders. Surprised at the sensation, Asraella looked down. Holy shit! What am I doing in my underwear?! She grabbed the edge of her sheet and pulled it up, effectively hiding the matching red lace ensemble from the nonexistent audience in her empty room. She purposefully didn't think any more on how she was unclothed as she dropped the sheet and dashed across to her dresser, wondering why the heaters weren't turned up farther. She yanked the drawers open and grabbed a random pair of jeans and a t-shirt, which she proceeded to throw on. As she was pulling on the right pant leg, she noticed several large bandages, and many exposed little scratches scattered over the length of her leg. The smallest of the scratches had scabbed over already, and so she assumed that whoever had undressed her also had taken off those dressings. Upon further inspection, she realized that her arms were the same way. She reached to brush the gauze on her neck, and found it still there. Her gentle touch unconsciously became almost a caress as she got lost in her own head yet again.

Could Zero really do this? I just don't see it, but he told me himself. He's just…just not that way. Takuma was an animal. Zero is no animal. He's saved me twice, now. His face swam into focus, an exact replica of the moment when he said he was a vampire, the same kind of being as the ones who attacked her. His eyes made her heart want to drop out of her chest. They were sad, hurt, tortured, and behind it all, they were afraid. No, Zero wasn't like them. He was different.

Her hand dropped to her side and she finished dressing, sliding her drawers shut with a fraction of the force she used to open them and grabbing her hairbrush. She went over to the bed and started to work through the knots that had been created since the preceding evening. If Asraella had to guess, it was Sunday, late afternoon. She gazed out the window at the slowly setting sun as she worked through her long, dark blond hair one piece at time. Almost all of it was done, draping down her back in shining, well-ordered waves when her door opened. Asraella dropped the brush and whipped around, only to see three familiar people standing in her doorway, all but one looking rather surprised.

"Asraella!" Yuuki's pleased exclamation was paired with a large smile from Yori. The two brunettes stepped into the room, Yori joining Asraella on the bed and Yuuki dropping onto the floor. Zero remained in the doorway, leaning against the frame with his eyes closed. He could have been asleep. He very well might be. Yuuki opened her mouth to speak, but Yori managed to beat her to the punch.

"How are you? You look like you got in a fight that the other person won. You've been asleep almost all day!"

Asraella smiled back; a small, serene expression. "I'm fine, thank you. What's up with you guys?"

Yuuki and Yori exchanged a quick glance that puzzled Asraella. What was that? What are they thinking about? Yuuki spoke first, her smile fading into a blank look.

"Nothing really. Just hanging around, and waiting for you to wake up." Asraella wasn't fooled. They weren't telling her something.

"Yuuki, Yori, you're not being honest with me. What's going on? What happened?" Both girls shared another look before they turned back to Asraella, moving so closely in sync that she would have laughed in different circumstances. She waited expectantly for their response. Yuuki took a deep breath.

"Well, we've been out patrolling since the dance, ever since Ichijou almost bit—"

Asraella's mind reeled. She didn't know how Yuuki knew about the events of the dance, but how did Yori know? She was scrambling, her thoughts coming in rapid progression as she tried to make sense of the situation.

"Wait!...Um…" Yuuki stopped at Asraella's sudden interruption and looked at her, confused. "What is it, Asraella?"

"How did you find out what happened? Yori, do you know everything?"

Yori gave Asraella a smile and nodded. Yuuki started her explanation again, but this time from a different point.

"Anyway, as I was saying, when Zero brought you back to the Chairman after he bit you and Takuma attacked you, I ran into him, and heard the story. I helped get you cleaned up, and left you unconscious in the office with Zero. I went back to get a shower and think things through but I kind of went to sleep instead, clothes and everything. Yori found me like that an hour later when the dance got over, and woke me up, asking where you were. I tried to lie to her, but it didn't work. I am a horrible liar." Suddenly Yori laughed out loud, making Yuuki blush slightly. "Okay, so I'm worse than a horrible liar! Whatever. You take over from here, Yori. This is your part of the story."

Yori cleared her throat slightly and picked up where Yuuki left off. "I went to the Chairman's office directly to find out what happened. I knew that something was up, because I hadn't seen you for hours! I got there only to find you passed out on the couch, all beaten up and bruised, and Zero asleep against the wall on the other side of the room. As I was leaving, I ran into the Chairman, and he asked me what I had seen. I told him that I saw you hurt on the couch all bandaged, and then I asked what had happened. I told him I was worried, and we went downstairs to a smaller office where he sat me down and told me everything. I learned all about the vampires in the Night Class and how Takuma tried to bite you, and the fact that Zero's a vampire, too. So yes, we both know everything."

Asraella was sitting very still, trying to go through all the information she was just given. Parts of Yuuki and Yori's statements were repeating over and over again, making the experiences of the weekend go from something resembling a nightmare to a startling and harsh reality. They know Zero bit me. The Chairman knew everything. The Night Class…is all vampires? Not just the two I've seen? They know about everything. They knew all along. Everything. They didn't tell me, just left me there, asleep and ignorant. She tried to feel some sort of indignation at being left out of the loop, but couldn't muster up enough emotion. To see all three of her visitors walking around with this knowledge like it was normal, or standard, or anything other than earth-shattering was awkward, to say the least. She wanted to go back to sleep. This was way too weird. She ran over the story in her head again, oblivious to the concerned looks both Yuuki and Yori were sending her way. When she reached the end of her mental recitation, she realized a small detail was left out of the narrative. "Um, so…if that's what happened, how exactly did I get to my room? You guys kind of left that part out." And why was I in only my underwear when I woke up? Yuuki cocked her head to one side and looked at Asraella like she was an alien. What is that look for? Oh…I just heard something that would send most people running and I'm asking about unimportant details. That might do it. Yori answered this question, her matter-of-fact tone reflecting none of the insecurity or shock that Asraella had to believe was there, for her own sanity. She didn't think that anyone was capable of handling the news that there was a class full of vampires living in the vicinity that well.

"Well, this morning Zero came down from the chairman's office holding you and said that you should be back in your own room. The Chairman wanted to argue but Zero insisted, so he gave in. Chairman Cross told us to meet Zero here to get you into bed. As soon as Zero got here, he dropped you off. We managed to get you out of that dirty dress, at least. To be honest, we were surprised to find you awake when we came up to check on you."

Asraella felt a nervousness she didn't know she was holding slip away. Thank God. Zero didn't see me almost naked. Asraella gave a small laugh when she realized the content of the thought that ran through her head. Why would I worry, anyway? It's not like he would take pictures or anything! Asraella could just see the image in her mind, with a strange, caricatured Zero holding a huge camera over her just-in-underwear form, snapping pictures like some deranged Hollywood paparazzi photographer. She found this mental image to be beyond funny, and her small giggle turned into hysterical laughter, tears coming to her eyes. She didn't see Yuuki and Yori's startled, frightened looks and Zero open his eyes from his spot by the door. She did, however, feel it when Yuuki's hand landed on her back, and her voice carried to Asraella's ears as the prefect asked if she was okay. Asraella nodded slightly and wiped her eyes, letting the remnants of her fit of semi-hysterics fade. She met Yuuki's gaze and shrugged off the other girl's hand, suddenly feeling rather silly for her outburst. "I'm perfectly fine, Yuuki, don't worry. I just had a really, really funny thought." Yuuki returned to her seat on the floor mumbling something unintelligible, but Asraella thought she heard something about "not that funny" and "scary". At that moment Yori spoke up, and the discussion was diverted to another topic.

"So, anyway, fall break is coming up, starting this Wednesday. Are you going home, Asraella?"

Asraella's smile faded and she tensed, any sort of relaxation leaving her body. She prepared to force her voice to remain steady and not give her away. As she was about to respond, she was hit with a thought—what did Zero tell them? Did they know about May, about the ghouls that stalked her past? Her eyes flew to Zero's figure in the doorway to find his eyes already locked on her, and she hoped his mind thought along the same lines hers did. She silently pleaded with her eyes for him to not have told.

After a second that seemed like a millennium, he gave a miniscule shake of his head. Asraella let out a breath. He understood what I needed to know. He didn't tell them, either. Thank you, Zero. Thank you so much. The gratitude she felt toward him at that moment was overwhelming, and she gave Zero a small smile, one that Yuuki and Yori didn't notice as they waited for her answer. The tension drained from her form as she responded.

"No. I have already talked with Chairman Cross, and I won't be going home for the fall break." Yori gave her a sympathetic look. "Is it because of the cost of a plane ticket? I'm so sorry, Asraella. It must be hard being so far from home and unable to go back."

"Yeah, that's it. It's way too expensive just to go home for only a week." It was true; it was too expensive. But Asraella didn't want to admit the real reason she wasn't going home, back to the United States. She couldn't admit that although her parents would be ecstatic to have her back, there were too many memories, and too many people who she couldn't face. Asraella wouldn't have gone home over break if the school burned down.

A sense that the conversation had ended fell over the small group that surrounded Asraella, and Yuuki got up to leave, followed by Yori. She said goodbye as she went. "Well, we're glad to see that you're up, Asraella. We just dropped by to pick up Zero, really, so it was a great surprise to find you awake."

Yuuki's statement struck her as odd. "'Pick up Zero'?" Her tone made the statement an obvious question.

Yuuki responded innocently, "Yep. He's been up here outside your room all day."

Asraella looked to where Zero stood to see only empty space. He's gone. She was pondering this tidbit of information as Yuuki pulled a waving Yori out the still-open door.

Zero was outside my door all this time? The thought gave her a strange sense of comfort as she set about getting ready for Monday.

Wednesday had come quickly, the days between that Sunday and fall break slipping by before Asraella could get a handle on them. When the morning arrived, Asraella dressed in jeans instead of her uniform and went to the main foyer of the Sun dorm to watch everyone leave. She was perched on the foot of a large statue of a lion, one of a pair that guarded the main central staircase, sitting on top of its stone paws and leaning back into the solid hardness of its sculpted mane and chest. She had originally tried to sit on the stairs, but the constant flow of luggage and people made that position a precarious one at best. After she was jostled for the umpteenth time, Asraella decided that she was going to climb up into this new spot, one where nobody would come by and accidentally hit her with yet another rolling suitcase.

As she watched the mass of people mill about the main foyer, greeting each other, loading cars or even limos, and reuniting with family and friends, Asraella was hit with a wave of homesickness. She tried to suppress it, however she couldn't help but feel some shred of hope that her parents would walk in those large doors to get her, and she couldn't stop the hollow pain as she realized that they wouldn't. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back, feeling a carved ridge of stone dig into the back of her head. I chose to stay away from home. I didn't want to go back, and I know that if I did return today I'd regret my decision halfway across the Atlantic!

"Asraella! Asraella, come on down! I want to say goodbye!" Yori's voice broke Asraella from her thoughts and self-pity, and she slid down the rough stone to land gracefully on her feet, facing a smiling Yori and a couple that Asraella assumed to be her parents. Her assumption was quickly validated.

"Asraella, these are my parents." Asraella smiled slightly and reached forward to shake Yori's father's hand first, then her mother's. She tried not to notice as both of them hesitated when they saw her still-bruised face, and the last few bandages on her arms and hands, not to mention the one on her throat. She'd been getting that a lot lately, always from other students at school, who didn't know what had happened. She had also become aware over the course of the morning that several parents who arrived to pick up their children also looked at her strangely. Asraella just hoped that Yori's parents wouldn't ask her how she got hurt; everyone in classes asked her that.

She didn't have to worry. Mrs. Wakaba simply smiled back. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Asraella. I'm glad Yori has found another friend." Thank you! I don't have to try to pull off that stupid lie that "I fell down the stairs".

Asraella didn't answer but nodded with a larger smile, and she was soon wrapped up in a hug from Yori. "Alright. I've got to go now, but take care over break, okay? Don't get too lonely!"

"It's only a week, Yori. I think I'll make it." Yori turned away and grabbed her mother's hand, pulling her parents out of the foyer and toward one of the many waiting cars. As she stepped over the threshold, she looked back and waved. Asraella waved back, and kept waving until Yori turned around again.

When she disappeared from sight, Asraella let her hand drop, and the smile faded from her face. She started to return to her spot on the statue, climbing halfway up the staircase then vaulting over the handrail to land on the pedestal the lion sat on. She slid around the front of the statue and tried to get comfortable again, nestled under the big cat's chin.

"You shouldn't be there." A soft tenor voice that was all too familiar came from behind her, and brought Asraella's head around. She craned her neck to try to see where it was coming from.

"Up here." She looked straight up, only to see Zero perched on the lion's back, looking down at her with those violet eyes once again behind a wall of impassiveness.

"Well, if I'm not supposed to be sitting here, why are you up here as well, Zero?" Her comment did not have the desired effect as he simply blinked and answered her as though she asked about the weather instead of being a smart-aleck.

"I'm a prefect. Get down off the statue." Asraella couldn't see any reason to argue, although there probably wasn't anything wrong with sitting on the thing, and for the second time in just minutes she slid down the stone figure. Once she was safely on the ground, she turned back to look up at Zero. He didn't say anything, but suddenly leapt off the top of the statue and landed perfectly in front of her. Asraella's mouth fell open. What was that? That had to be 8 feet! He just jumps and lands as though that's normal!

"What?" Zero had noticed her amazement.

"Nothing." She wasn't going to tell him that his little stunt had her in a mild state of shock. Is that what comes with being a…vampire? She shook herself mentally. She had to just get over it. This was no big deal.

"Why are you here?" Zero's question caught Asraella off guard.

"Because I'm not going home." Duh. Come on, Zero. You're smarter than that!

"No. Why are you here, watching people leave?" Oh. She didn't want to say that she was here to reminisce, to watch as people went back to their families and other friends and try to think of what it would be like. She made something up.

"I was waiting to say goodbye to people."

"Yori left five minutes ago, but you stayed. Who else is there?"

Damn. He had figured out there was something wrong in her explanation. She wasn't close to anyone else at Cross Academy, really, besides Yori, Yuuki, and to a degree, Zero himself.

"Are you insinuating that I don't have any other friends? I may have some you don't know about, okay?" Her indignant tone was accompanied by Asraella turning her back to Zero. There was a short pause when she realized that he wasn't leaving; he didn't accept her response. She sighed. He wanted to know the truth, did he? Well, he already knows my story. It can't hurt. "I wanted to watch people leaving. I almost wish I was going home just like them." There, she said it. She took a step forward, intending to go back to her room, when his next question stopped her.

"Why do you 'almost' wish? You could just go home."

But I can't, Zero, I can't. And you wouldn't understand, anyway. With this thought in mind, Asraella started walking again, leaving Zero's question hanging in the air between them as she proceeded back to her room, which seemed dim to her eyes even with the morning sun streaming in her window.

Asraella was sitting at her desk, her hands in her lap, staring out the window. She had done nothing else for the entire day, after her encounter with Zero. She sat perfectly still, relaxed, with eyes half closed as she surveyed the darkened campus. There were no lights outside, and no moon donated its radiance to the depths of the night. The dorm was silent, beyond the normal quiet of the evening, and in her mind Asraella could hear wisps of hollow laughter, tiny ephemeral clicks of doors opening and closing; she thought she saw ghostly light creep around the corners of her vision. She was distanced from these intangible things, and she knew that they were taunting her, drawing the line between her existence and theirs, pouring an ocean into the gap that separated her current life from what she had known, and what she yearned for.

She wasn't actually seeing the view before her, of the expansive grounds draped in black, nor did she feel where she was, sitting on a hard wooden chair in front of a virtually empty desk. She was lost in the recesses of her mind, brought there by the darkness that rested within her own soul. She couldn't care that the hours had slipped by as the sun sank below the horizon, and didn't appreciate the view as the school was bathed in golden twilight. She wasn't thinking in coherent thoughts or even putting much effort into bending her thought patterns to a recognizable blueprint. She was drifting, letting her cognizance glide with no direction in darkness. Minutes, hours, passed.

A four person family, with no room for the fifth.

A school, with an empty locker that no one would fill. A play, a classroom, a restaurant, a room, a desk, a chair, that exists without aid. They are complete the way they are. The world needs nothing else, it will continue.

Why does she not fade away?

A family, her family, celebrating a holiday with a meal and friends, happy and normal.

Normal without her.

A class, her class, the professor teaching and other people answering questions.

Normal without her.

For the first time in hours, her fingers twitch. They beg for a metal edge, sharp and strangely beautiful in its simplicity. The top desk drawer is opened by the arm that moves as if it has a mind of its own. Fingers dance around a plastic handle, and during their gentle caress a fingertip is gouged by the edge of the blade, a small line of red appearing instantly, slicing the fingerprint in two, invalidating the existence of the hand and the person connected to it, by desecrating the only truly individual part of the body. The hand returns to the handle and draws the object out of the drawer, into the dim night that has saturated the room, making it a shadow, a shadow with an edge. Her wrists call but she skitters away from the song that beckons her into the unknown. Instead, her whole body shifts, one hand pulling down the waistband of her jeans, and her torso twisting around to achieve the angle she needs. There is no light on in the room and so the only knowledge of her actions to any observer would be the hiss of releasing breath, the slight arch of a back, and the metallic scent of blood.

Zero's head snapped up as a familiar scent laced the air, and his throat constricted slightly. It was very faint; at this point he was fine. He took a deeper breath, letting the air that tasted like the sweetest dessert but also felt like the most bitter poison flow into his mouth and lungs. Asraella. She's bleeding. Why would she be bleeding? He remembered the slashes on her hips, the ever-present scent of blood that hovered faintly around her, and her actions that morning. He didn't understand why, but what she was doing frustrated and worried him. He wanted to rush to her room, where he was sure she was, but held himself back. He was in Yuuki's room two floors down, and if he could smell it from there then actually going to Asraella would end very badly for the both of them. He had already lost control once. Zero tried to ignore the cloying scent and everything it symbolized. That has nothing to do with me. She's her own person and can do whatever the hell she wants! She can deal with her own problems! But he found that he couldn't ignore her, and not just because of her blood. He wanted her to stop, wanted to make the pain she must be feeling to go away.

Yuuki was getting some clothes from her room, and was quietly humming a song Zero didn't recognize. She was going to be staying with the Chairman for the break, and it was taking forever to get her things together. She didn't notice as Zero froze and looked vaguely upwards. She hadn't sensed the change in him until Zero spoke, breaking the comfortable relative silence that had reigned over the last several minutes.


"What is it, Zero?"

"Go stop Asraella." She shouldn't be doing this, but I can't stop her myself.

"Huh? What do you mean?"

Zero let his anxiousness add a slight edge to his tone. "Just go up there to her room, alright?"

Putting on a pout, Yuuki dropped the clothes she had in her arms and marched out the door. "Fine. You could have just gone yourself, you know!"

Zero just closed his eyes and sighed. Thank you, Yuuki.

Five red lines marched angrily across the pale skin of Asraella's hip. She inhaled shallowly as a sixth began. She wasn't thinking, just feeling, finally allowing herself to feel everything, everything she had to keep locked up inside herself.

A soft scream made her eyes fly open as a shaft of light fell into her room, and in that instant, she put herself away. She put away all her pain and fears, and once again shoved all this out of her conscious mind and thoughts. She focused her eyes to see a stunned Yuuki, standing in her doorway with an expression of shock and horror. Damn. I guess this had to come sometime. Turning from the prefect, Asraella looked out her window again, not bothering to pull her pants waistband back into place or slide her blade back into the drawer of her desk. It was too late at that point.

"Asraella, what were you doing?" Yuuki's voice was low, and it shook slightly. Asraella didn't answer, but moved to pick up the knife from the desktop. She was stopped by a small hand, which pulled the blade out from under her fingers. "No. Let me have it. It's a good thing that Zero told me to come and check on you. I saw the marks when you were hurt but I didn't make the connection…I need to go talk to the Chairman."

"Yuuki, wait." Asraella forced the words from a disused throat, and they sounded rough. "Please don't tell the Chairman." I need to avoid what this would mean—the shrink, the possible drugs. I'm not sick! I'm not crazy! She wanted to scream this at Yuuki, and make the strange distrustful expression leave Yuuki's face.

"I have to tell him, Asraella. You need help." No! I'm fine, seriously! Leave me alone!

"Yuuki, you can take that…I'll stop. I won't do it again, just please, don't tell the chairman." She had been reduced to bargaining, but she didn't care. The Chairman could not know. She twisted around so that she could face Yuuki once more, and watched as the small girl's shoulders fell slightly and her face lost some of its tension.

"Fine…I feel like I'm making a huge mistake here, but as long as you stop completely from this point on, I won't tell the Chairman."

"Thank you, Yuuki." With that, Yuuki left the room, flicking on the lights as she passed over the threshold, and closing the door behind her. She left a relieved, temporarily blinded Asraella sitting at her desk, where she had been all day. Asraella got up as her vision returned to normal, and set about bandaging her hip, with a strange sense of trepidation. Why am I now anxious? Yuuki said she wouldn't tell. She then realized that she was worried about what Yuuki thought of her. She tried to shove the feeling to the side, but it would not be ignored. So where are we now, Yuuki?

The next morning arrived with the usual hints of sunshine that fell on Asraella's bed, causing her to roll over onto her stomach to shield her eyes. Damn sun. Give me a few more hours, honestly! After several unsuccessful attempts to go back to sleep, she gave up, and hauled herself out of bed into the cool air of her room. After the previous evening's events and a decent amount of sleep, Asraella felt slightly guilty. She couldn't avoid the thoughts running around her head as she changed into leggings and an oversized sweater, having to be careful around the new pad of gauze that covered the cuts on her hip. What will Yuuki think? I shouldn't have been doing this, not again. I thought things would change, and that when I left home all of this would be gone. Man, was I wrong.

After she was dressed, Asraella set about cleaning her room, dusting the sparse furniture and making her bed. She hadn't brought much with her to Cross Academy; she only had clothes, bedding, towels, shoes, makeup, and school supplies. Having just the essentials made cleaning go a lot quicker than she was used to, and it gave her a simple sort of pleasure. After setting the small dorm room in order, she gathered up her laundry and her homework and went down to the laundry room. She gave herself a mental high-five as she walked in to the room filled with washers and dryers. Ha ha! No one's here! I can take all the time I want! She loaded some of her clothes and then climbed on top of another, unused washer, sitting Indian-style. Getting comfortable, she pulled out one of the assignments she had brought with her and got to work. Several hours later, with all but one load of laundry done and that last load being in the dryer, Asraella put away her now-finished homework and started to fold the piles of clothes that surrounded her. She had moved to the top of the working dryer, and the subtle shaking of the machine combined with the warmth of the laundry around her soon lulled her into a nap.

"Asraella!...Asraella!" A girl's voice woke Asraella immediately, but she didn't want to give whoever it was the pleasure of waking her up. She was quite comfortable.


"Asraella, wake up! The Chairman's invited you to dinner with me and Zero!" Oh, it's Yuuki…wait…Yuuki?! Asraella's eyes snapped open, to be met with two large brown orbs staring right into her face.

"Gah!" Too close, too close!

Yuuki giggled. "Sorry. Hop on down, okay? We're having a great dinner tonight!"

Asraella observed Yuuki for a second. She wasn't acting any different than she was before last night, and a spring that had been wound tight deep inside her unwound. With a small smile, Asraella started to move her laundry out of the way, taking down the walls she had constructed around herself with clothes. "Sure. Give me a minute to put this away."

They were walking from the Sun dorms to the Chairman's house, having put Asraella's clothes back in her room and grabbed a jacket. Asraella was feeling alright, and she allowed herself a smile. Surprising…it is really nice to have some company. I've been kind of lonely today. She felt Yuuki looking at her, and turned her head, only to catch Yuuki peering at her with narrowed eyes.

"What is it, Yuuki?"

"You're happier today." She sounded perplexed.

"Yes. What of it?" Yuuki didn't answer, but a smile came back over her face and she grabbed Asraella's hand.

"Come on! They're waiting for us." Yuuki pulled Asraella along as she started to jog to the small light that had just become visible at the end of the road. In a matter of minutes, the two girls arrived at the front door of the Chairman's house, both slightly out of breath and laughing. Yuuki pushed the door open, and Asraella followed her in. Chairman Cross saw them first and practically skipped over.

"Ah! My darling daughter and favorite new student! What were you doing?"

"We raced here, Chairman. Asraella beat me—but only barely!" Yuuki stuck her tongue out at her competitor.

"Wrong! I totally beat you by a mile!" Asraella playfully reached out as if to grab Yuuki's offending tongue, and Yuuki ducked away. Asraella stalked forward.

"Chairman! Get her to stop!"

"My dear Yuuki, I can only help you if you call me Daddy!" Yuuki was running out of room as Asraella advanced.

"Fine! Daddy, can you tell her to stop?"

"Perfect! Dinner's on the table!"

Yuuki, Asraella, and the Chairman were seated around a medium-sized table, each to a side. There were four place settings, and the empty chair glared at them. With the food on the table, they were all waiting for one person—Zero. A minute ticked by, and then two. The Chairman and Yuuki were engrossed in a conversation, and Asraella just watched the scenery outside the windows. Finally she got fed up with Zero's game. She pushed back her chair and rose to her feet, completely unnoticed by the other two people present, and left the kitchen/dining room. She walked down a hallway that led farther into the depths of the house, until she saw a light emanating from underneath a door to her left. She approached it slowly, moving almost silently except for the soft swish of fabric rubbing against itself and the muffled scuff of her ballet flats against the short carpet. She stopped outside the door and simply looked at it. Taking a deep breath, she laid a hand against the wood doorframe.

"Zero, we're waiting for you." Her voice was barely a whisper; something inside her knew that he was here to avoid the noise and commotion of the Chairman and his…exuberance. She'd be here, too, if she was in his shoes.

The door opened slowly, and Asraella looked up to come face-to-face with deep violet eyes and mussed silver hair. Zero was wearing a white long-sleeved collared shirt and loose black jeans, with just socks on his feet. Asraella's hand fell from the doorframe and she took a small step back. He was standing very close to her, making his height stand out. She was taller than many of the girls at Cross Academy, but Zero still bested her by a good five inches.

"I'm sorry for keeping you waiting." His face hadn't changed from its normal carved-from-stone state, but Zero seemed relaxed. Asraella read it in the slope of his shoulders, his posture, the slight tilt of his head. She stepped back further and to the side, giving him a small smile.

"Come on, before they eat everything themselves."

Zero proceeded by her, and Asraella followed him to the table, watching the way Zero walked, and observing the angle at which his torso met his slim hips. Realizing where that was going, she dragged her eyes away from him as she returned to her place at the table, directly across from Zero. She shook her head slightly, hoping to disperse the images that were presenting themselves to her. Dammit! Why am I thinking that way! Stop it, Asraella! Head out of the gutter! Without much ceremony, dinner commenced, punctuated mostly by Yuuki and Chairman Cross's conversation, with one word answers from Zero and Asraella as they were dragged into the discussion.

After the meal, Chairman Cross drove the three teens out of the kitchen, and Yuuki led the way to the small living room. The main feature of the space was the relatively large coffee table in the center, with a chess board prominently positioned on it. By the board rested a worn deck of cards, the box tattered and barely holding together. Yuuki did not stop at the table, however. She went right past it to the television, pulling a box out from under the stand it rested on and going through it.

"Asraella, Zero, let's watch a movie!"

Asraella sighed. She wasn't a huge fan of movies, in general. She enjoyed very few. But to appease Yuuki, she nodded. Zero was being his stoic self, and gave no answer.

"Awesome! We're going to watch this one!" She held up the DVD case, and Asraella barely bit back a groan. It was a chick flick; a silly romantic comedy, no less. This is going to be torture! She wasn't given time to complain about it, though. As soon as Yuuki had the movie picked out, she shoved both Zero and Asraella down onto the large couch and flicked off the lights. In less than a minute, the opening menu was bathing the dark room in dim light and Yuuki was seated between Zero and her. Great. I can't escape now.

After almost an hour and a half of silly misunderstandings, trivial arguments, and more mush than a jar of applesauce, Asraella was struggling not to scream. Well, perhaps not scream. She was trying not to get up and leave, though. If it wouldn't be extremely rude, I'd be running as far from here as physically possible. Instead, she kept trying to tune the movie out, and was as unsuccessful as she had been since it started. After a few minutes, the fated couple finally got together, and credits started scrolling down the screen. Asraella looked at Yuuki, who was sitting next to her. The small brunette wasn't moving, and had her head leaned against Zero's shoulder. Zero was still as well, and he had his head tilted back, with eyes closed. They're both…asleep? And I sat through that movie, too! To be honest, she wasn't upset, and she recognized that this situation could have been funny…if she hadn't been involved. Tired of hearing the movie's less-than-impressive soundtrack, she slowly got up from the couch and proceeded quietly over to the television, meaning to turn both the DVD player and the TV off. She managed to turn off the television, but she was having trouble with the DVD player. I pressed stop, and then eject, so the DVD should come out…I could do this at home, so why isn't it working now? Damn player is so—

"It's broken. Just turn it off, and then pull on the disk tray. It'll open right up." Zero's whisper startled Asraella, and she jumped like she'd been bit. Damn him! At least now I know that it's not my lack of skills making this difficult. She followed Zero's instructions, and soon the DVD was safely in its case. She turned to the couch with movie in hand to see Zero extricating himself from the couch and Yuuki. He approached her, and took the case out of her hands.

"I'll put this away."

Now devoid of a purpose, Asraella moved out of Zero's way and back towards the couch and coffee table. Her gaze fell on the chess set. It's been ages since I last played.

"Zero, do you play chess?"

"No." His tone was biting, and Asraella faced him, surprised by how…angry…he sounded. He did not look at her, but was staring at the chess set. She saw his features twist into something like a grimace, and Asraella was sorry for asking. She turned away from him.

"I'm sorry. It's none of my business." She turned her attention to the deck of cards. She reached forward and grasped them, sliding off the old box and running the thick paper cards between her fingers. They were well used; the waxy coating on the paper had almost rubbed away, and the edges had dulled slightly. They handled well, and did not stick together as Asraella cut the deck several times. It had been taken care of, as well. There was not one stain or fold, or a torn edge, on any card. Who plays with these? These seem to be strange games to have lying about on a coffee table. She heard a soft click as the cabinet shut behind her and glanced up, to find Zero looking at her. His expression was indecipherable, and Asraella felt compelled to break the silence.

"Do you play BS?"

"What is it?" She shrugged off his monotone.

"A card game. Do you want to play?"

"Sure." With that, Zero walked out past Asraella back to the kitchen. As she followed, Asraella was mentally kicking herself. Where did that come from? Why did I ask about BS, of all games? Now I'm going to have to explain it to him…what possessed me to ask Zero to play a game? And why did he say yes? That's so not his style. Damn. Better get this over with. They reached the kitchen and sat down at the table, across from one another. Asraella cleared her throat slightly and started to explain the game, and Zero seemed almost to be listening.

"Okay. This will be a little unwieldy because there are just two of us, but it'll work out alright. The entire deck gets dealt, and then we start to place cards face-down in a discard pile. The goal is to empty your hand, so this is where 'BS' comes in. We start by placing cards in the discard pile moving up in value: Aces, twos, threes, and so on. If you don't have a card of that value, you still have to put a card down. In that case, you would put a card face down and announce it as the card or cards you need, but in reality it's a fake. If the other person thinks that you're bluffing, they call 'bull' or 'BS'. In the situation that you really were bluffing, then you have to take all the cards in the pile and add them to your hand. If you were telling the truth, then the other person does. Got it?"

"Hn." Well, I'm glad we're clear. Could you have been more explicit in your answer, Zero?

Asraella still had the cards in her hands, and so she began to shuffle them, the rhythmic tapping and sliding of cards donating a soft backdrop to the silence between her and Zero. Once the deck was shuffled, she quickly dealt two hands, and passed one across the table. She watched with a strange sort of fascination as Zero's thin, pale fingers dug underneath the small pile of cards and lifted them from the table, spreading them between his hands as he surveyed his cards. Forcibly changing her thought patterns, Asraella also picked up her hand and quickly evaluated what she had to work with. This is a decent hand. I've got a nice spread here. She decided to take advantage of the opportunity to get ahead of Zero.

"I'll go first. Two Aces." She actually had two Aces, and so felt secure as she put the two cards facedown on the table. She observed Zero as he glanced at the cards and quickly drew three cards out of his own hand.

"Three twos."

Asraella quickly checked, and she had one two. He wasn't lying. The secret to playing this game with only two people is how to keep track of what's been played after several rounds. Has he realized that yet? She selected her next cards, satisfied that she didn't have to bluff—yet.

They played for several minutes, saying nothing but the cards they were placing facedown and the occasional "BS". Asraella decided to break the monotony.

"Four threes. Is Yuuki staying here over break?" A moment's hesitation followed her question.

"Yes. She's staying here with the Chairman. Two fours."

"Three fives. Are you staying here as well, Zero?"

"Two sixes. No. I'm in the Sun dorm. Does BS stand for what I think it does?"

Asraella was thrown when Zero questioned her back. She had been expecting to have to keep talking in order to maintain something along the lines of a conversation, but Zero was…participating. Wow. She considered his question, and blushed slightly at the answer she'd have to give.

"Um…actually…it's…" Asraella sighed. "Bullshit. Three sevens. Is that what you thought it stood for?" Zero's lips turned up slightly at her answer and Asraella could only stare. What's he smiling about? And wow, his face totally changes when he shows some emotion. She didn't want to think it, but Asraella couldn't deny that Zero was reasonably good looking on an everyday basis, and with that little half-grin thing on his face, he only looked better. Asraella shook her head a little and concentrated on the game. Her efforts were ruined when Zero continued the back-and-forth questioning.

"Yes, it is, actually. Two eights. Why did you come over for dinner?"

For the second time in as many minutes Asraella was left gaping. She decided that instead of thinking too much about it, she would just see where this new verbosity was going.

"Yuuki asked me to. And strange as it seems, I was a little lonely in the dorm by myself all day. One nine. Why do you hate chess?"

Zero looked down at his cards and didn't answer, the silence between them becoming almost palpable. Asraella waited expectantly, kind of anticipating some sort of outburst, if his earlier reaction was any guide. She didn't know why she asked that question, but was now regretting it. It had just popped into her head, and currently was paying for not thinking before talking.

"Two tens."

No outburst, no glare, just a monotone announcement. Asraella could have started swearing, if she was in different company. She had shut him down, and made him withdraw again. And it was just getting interesting! Well, it was her own fault. She continued the game. "Three Jacks."

"Two Queens." This was killing her! Now it's all uncomfortable. I've got to try and correct this.

"Four Kings. I'm sorry, again. I shouldn't have asked. You seemed upset before, and I was an idiot and brought up the subject once more. I should have learned."

"Hn. I don't like chess; you don't want to go home. Four Aces." Zero reached forward to put down his cards, and when they were on top of the discard pile, he didn't remove his hand. Asraella didn't notice as she selected her next cards, still pondering his answer, and only realized what he was doing when her fingers landed on the back of his hand. She withdrew quickly, her face turning a light shade of pink. She raised her eyes to Zero's face and was quickly caught in his penetrating gaze. His eyes were glazed with some sort of emotion, and if Asraella had to guess, it would be pain. What's going on? As Zero spoke, she never looked away.

"Do you know how dangerous it is to cut here? Do you know what it does to the people around you, especially your friends who end up worrying?"

Where the HELL did this come from? Why is he asking me these questions? "Dangerous"? "Why are you saying these things to me, Zero? What prompted this sudden concern?" She couldn't keep the defensive tone out of her voice. What business was this of his? Was he worried for her? A moment went by as Zero was silent.

"Yuuki told me she was worried about you. You shouldn't make her worry. Do you mean to keep your promise to not cut anymore?"

Asraella looked down to avoid the violet orbs that now had become almost accusing. She could act up a storm, but this was no act, and she couldn't stare someone down and purposefully lie while doing it.

"Yes. I mean to." She tried to move on, and so went to put her cards down next to Zero's hand. "Four twos".

Zero grabbed her sleeve as she was pulling back, and Asraella froze. She almost stopped breathing as Zero caught her chin with his other hand and forced her to look at him.

"Bullshit." Dammit, dammit, dammit!

A mumble came from behind Zero, and they broke away from each other, Zero letting go of Asraella, and Asraella sitting as far back in her chair as she could go. The mumble turned out to be Yuuki, who was dragging herself off the couch and towards the kitchen. She entered the room, totally oblivious to the scene she almost walked in on, and came over to the table.

"Hmm. Are you guys playing a game?"

Asraella remained silent and Zero answered. "No. We just finished."

"Aw man. Who won?"

Asraella just looked at Zero, and he ignored her attention. He didn't sound satisfied when he responded. "I did."

"Cool. Anyway—"A large yawn interrupted Yuuki's statement, and Asraella smiled at her as a parent would to a small child. It was late, but it wasn't that late!

"Anyway, I think I'm going to go to bed. Zero, be nice and make sure that Asraella gets back to her room, okay?" She waited for Zero's slow nod, and then proceeded to her room after wishing both of them good night. Asraella avoided Zero's eyes as she turned to face him.

"I'm going to head back to the Sun dorm. You don't have to make sure I get there; I can get back just fine." With that, Asraella walked toward the front door, snatching her coat on the way. As she stepped out into the cold night, she turned to shut the door and found Zero's hand holding it open, as he came out with her.

Why is he coming outside too? Asraella was puzzled, but then it clicked. Oh right. He's staying in the dorms, too. Satisfied with this knowledge, she started walking back to her room. After a few feet, she sensed Zero beside her, but she didn't say anything. What was there to talk about? Asraella wanted to ignore him. She wanted to forget the whole card game fiasco, wipe the movie from her mind, and pretend that she popped popcorn in her room for dinner while reading ahead in one of her textbooks.

But she couldn't.

Why had she acted the way she did? Why did he actually entertain her whims and questions? Zero walked almost silently a few feet from her, and even out of her peripheral vision she could see that although he walked casually with a hand in his pocket and slouched, he moved with a grace that belied his stance. He had realized that she was lying to him about stopping her "habit", and he seemed almost…upset. But what did it have to do with him? He seemed so cold and totally reserved, but Asraella had seen another side of the prefect, just in flashes here and there: the moment in the Chairman's office, and when she lied to him. Asraella knew that there was always more to an individual than meets the eye, knowledge made even clearer given her history, but what was Zero's back story? There must be so much that the world doesn't know.

After a few minutes of silent walking, they found themselves in front of the Sun Dorm. Zero reached the door before Asraella and opened the door for her, standing aside so she could enter first. She couldn't bring herself to look him in the eyes, and so slid past him, articulating a soft "thank you" before turning down the hallway that lead to her stairwell. In the sound-dampening enclosed walls of the old hallway, she didn't notice Zero's soft footfalls on the carpet behind her, and only became aware of his presence when she stopped in front of the window at the foot of the stairs, appreciating her favorite view when there was no light to bounce off the leaves of the trees or birds to add a soundtrack to its beauty. It had a barren sort of surrealism, and Asraella stood there for a little longer than she planned for. When Zero came up beside her, she was startled, and stared at Zero for a second. Holy shit. Where did he come from?

"What are you doing, Zero?"

"Making sure you get back to your room." I really don't need your help, thanks. I think I've embarrassed myself enough already!

"Well, as I'm sure you're aware, my room is just down the hall from the stairs, so I think I can get there myself." Asraella turned to go up the stairs, but she had only climbed a few steps when a thought occurred to her.

"Zero, why is it…" She didn't want to say the words. She didn't want to make them a tangible thing. She would be admitting that she had a problem, and Asraella couldn't—no, wouldn't—do that. "Why is it dangerous…to do what I'm doing? Besides the obvious, that is?"

Zero looked at her as though she was an idiot. "At a school infested with vampires it's not the best thing to smell like blood all the time."


Well, that would explain it. Asraella wondered at her apparent stupidity. Really, why didn't I realize that before? Right. Because a week ago vampires didn't exist. The thought of vampires, their eyes red, implanted itself firmly in her mind and she shivered. Without a word to Zero, she started climbing the stairs and didn't even hesitate until she reached her room and locked the door behind her.

Thank you so much for reading, and I hope this chapter was up to snuff. After so long with not writing, it was surprisingly difficult to get back into the swing of things. If you feel lead to, please review! Thanks! TTFN, Slomiti Andeo