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Chapter One: "Blood Debts"

Kaname tipped his head to the side, dark raven hair shifting soundlessly across his cream colored skin as he allowed the ex-human vampire to suck on his neck. He could feel the warm trickle of blood down his collar and knew what that scent would be doing to the rest of the dorm. But it couldn't be helped. This was the only way. The only way to make sure that Yuki stayed safe… and to appease his own conscience as far as this boy was concerned, although the pureblood would never admit it.

Kaname's long fingers threaded loosely in Zero's pale hair as the boy leaned into him, half desperate, drinking deeply, almost savagely, the bloody rose gun pressed up under Kaname's graceful chin. The throbbing pain across Kaname's temple and the blood dripping slowly down the side of the vampire's face, meant he knew exactly how dangerous that gun was, although it was not quite as dangerous as the boy holding it thought it was. Not to a pureblood, anyway. It was an amusingly vulnerable feeling though, to be taken like this, even though Kaname knew he was in full control of the situation. He could kill the little ex-human like squashing a bug if he so chose. But of course, he didn't. He was trying to save Zero, not kill him. He'd had to practically force the vampire hater to drink.

Kaname grimaced and winced slightly; glad the other man was too engrossed in his neck to notice. Zero had no finesse. He was taking the gift Kaname offered him brutally, practically tearing a chunk out of the pureblood's neck. Zero didn't need to be spilling so much of his blood all over to do this… Kaname could have bitten the younger man and sucked him dry while hardly wasting a drop. But then, Zero had not been raised a vampire, had never learned the delicacies of his new race. He hadn't even drunk blood until the past year. Kaname did not fault him his inexperience, even though he had a creeping suspicion that perhaps, Zero was being particularly rough because of his loathing for the very man whose lifeblood he was drinking. He certainly hoped that Zero had not been this ruthless when Yuki so selflessly shared herself with him. That thought sent a spire of anger rising through him and Kaname's fingers tightened in the pale silver hair he was holding.

The pureblood calmed himself almost immediately. No. Zero would never hurt Yuki willingly. Much as he disliked the other man, that much he knew with certainty. Because Zero loved Yuki, even as Kaname did, and although that made them rivals, Kaname knew that it kept Yuki safe. Because Zero could be with her all the time, when Kaname could not… and Zero would die for her. That was why he was letting this boy ravage his neck and gorge himself on the heady strength of the pure vampire blood flowing through his veins.

Kaname's eyes fluttered closed, a faint rush of lightheadedness beginning to blossom. Zero needed a lot of blood… more than Kaname would normally give away. Only through force of will did the vampire control the slight shiver that ran through him as Zero's fangs worked his neck, the other man's lips and tongue unintentionally caressing the sensitive, torn skin as he lapped up the escaping blood. The brutality of it was painful, but Kaname had felt worse pain in his life before, much, much worse. More unsettling was the natural sensuality of the act, the shivers of pleasure that ran down his spine at the soft, lapping caresses of the youth's mouth. Sucking blood from humans was merely a source of food, or at least, in most cases it was so. But sucking blood between vampires was an intimate act, much more intimate than kissing. Kaname knew this quite well, but had still not been entirely prepared for just how intense these sensations could be.

Kaname had never let anyone drink his blood before. Not even his closest friends, although with some of them, he had drunk theirs. It was an honor to have a pureblood take from you. They offered it to him, wanted him to have it, like poor Ruka… he knew he shouldn't have accepted that one night, back at the start of the Academy. Knew it would make her yearn for him… an affection that was unrequited, but he'd had to… little Yuki was sleeping in his bed and his instincts were screaming for her. He'd needed blood, real blood to keep his control from wavering.

A faint smile ghosted across the elegant lips. Did Zero realize he was Kaname's first in this kind of contact? Did he know it was a virgin neck he was biting? Kaname knew it would make the young man blush as red as his blood thirsty eyes if he told him that, in those terms. That was an amusing and vindictively pleasant thought, but Kaname had no intention of telling him. Zero didn't know the ways of vampires. The more he thought of this act as a simple transaction of nourishment and healing, the better. Zero Kiriyu had not asked to become what he was. He'd been born a vampire hunter. His choice had been stripped from him, raped by the vampire who killed his family and made him one of them by force – a cruelty that only a pureblood could inflict. In Kaname's mind, perhaps it was justice, that the blood of another pureblood should be offered to help, to stave off the inevitable decent into madness. No one else would see it that way. Purebloods were sacred; they were gods that could do whatever they liked. But Kaname Kuran knew the truth. He was not a god. And no one had the right to play that role. He'd drunk the blood of the woman who had done this to Zero, he'd taken her strength and ripped out her heart. No. Not gods. Gods didn't die, and even pure bloods did, if they were killed.

Kaname was getting dizzy. He'd let his mind drift, lost in the indecently arousing sensation of having his own blood drained from him and in his jumble of thoughts. The scent of Zero's blood, spilled all over the boy's body from their previous confrontation, was a heady, delicious smell and Kaname ached to bite the pale neck that was bent right before his face, but that, Kaname would not do. As long as Zero merely fed on him, no lasting damage was done. If he returned the bite, they would be letting themselves in for a blood bond on some level and Kaname had no intention of entering into such with this crazy young man. Kaname did shudder, tipping his head back against the wall, the gun still pressing up against his chin, although with less force now as Zero lost himself in the thrill of drinking. Too much. Zero was taking too much. Kaname needed to end this now. Truthfully, if Kiriyu shot him now, after draining him so… he just might have been able to kill the pureblood. But Kaname would definitely have taken the lad with him. Fortunately, Kaname knew that they were not that bitter of enemies, not yet. And Kiriyu, despite his nature, was not given to needless cruelty or killing. Kaname could have just jerked Zero's head away from his neck, but he didn't.

"Do you want to kill me, Kiriyu?" he murmured softly, impassively, his lips very near the other boy's ear. "You will soon. You need to learn restraint. It's very rude to drain a willing donor so harshly." His voice was calm, collected as always, displaying that faintly amused, almost mocking tone that drove Zero up the wall. Hazy with bloodlust and gorged with Kuran's incredibly intoxicating blood, Zero's vampire instincts were full up and he growled softly, jerking his teeth in the open wound and vindictively tearing Kaname's pale skin.

This, Kaname had not been expecting and the pureblood stifled a small, sharp groan of pain and surprise, head jerking back, his fingers knotting harshly in Zero's hair.

Wiping the smugness off Kuran's face, even if only for a moment, sent a dark thrill through Zero and he barely felt the sharp tug of the other's hand in his hair. He had no intention of killing Kuran, much as he'd like to. In truth, he held the vampire a grudging respect and would normally not have treated him so ill, but he was drunk on blood and reeling with the power he'd just absorbed from the pureblood. Zero took one last deep drought before pulling his head back, Kaname's blood covering his lips and mouth and dripping from his still extended fangs. His eyes were glazed with an almost drug-high kind of ecstasy and his lungs heaved slightly as he looked at Kaname, pupils dilated large in red irises.

It was a disturbingly compelling sight to a vampire and for half a moment Kaname was mesmerized, watching his blood dripping down Zero's chin, his head spinning from the loss of that same blood, his neck burning with a strange, fiery pain-like-pleasure. It was, perhaps, the only thing that stilled his rage long enough for it to cool, so he didn't tear the stupid little human to shreds for what he'd just done. No doubt about it being intentional this time.

Kaname smiled faintly, the cool arrogance back in his gaze again. "You really are more vampire like than any vampire…" he repeated his words of earlier, his hand sliding up to stanch the flow of blood still dribbling from the ragged wound to his neck with every pulse of his heart. The wound should be closing, and the pain should end with the contact, but it didn't, his body just kept bleeding.

Zero'd sunk back against the other wall, still looking dazed and glazed, holding himself like he thought he was going to break… or maybe explode. His chest heaved. He was glaring silently at Kaname as if the vampire had made him do something dirty. It was obvious he was both intoxicated and disgusted.

It must be hard… hating what you are…

"The spot where the bullet nicked me still hurts," Kaname remarked, the cool sheen of irritation in his voice as controlled as ever. He hadn't expected Zero to be grateful. Hadn't expected any other reaction than the one he was getting. This wasn't about Kiriyu, after all, it was about Yuki. But it was a little galling, the look in Zero's eyes, after what he'd just taken from the vampire. Of course, Kiriyu didn't actually know what all he'd just taken. And Kaname would make sure he never found out.

"This is why I dislike anti-vampire weapons. And thanks to it, this bite wound isn't healing," Kaname continued, fingers sliding from his neck to look detachedly at his own blood. He knew to others, it was an irresistible scent, but to him, it was just plasma and hemoglobin. His own scent held no appeal. "I'm a bit annoyed that you bit me without any restraint."

Zero's fingers curled into a fist as he leaned against the wall. A bit annoyed… Kaname said that with as much feeling as if he was complaining of a bug bite. Yes, because that's exactly how he thought of Zero, and all humans. Bugs. Damn the smug, blood sucking bastard. And damn how incredibly, intoxicatingly good his blood tasted. How good it felt coursing through Zero's system, making him feel like he could take on the world. Zero didn't want it to feel good. He didn't want to like blood. It was disgusting. He was disgusting… an abomination…

Before he knew what he was doing, Zero'd slammed his arm into the wall in sheer frustration. But instead of Zero's arm giving way, the wall did, his blow leaving a deep indent crunched into the plaster and brick. Zero was shocked, and yet… he wasn't. It was the blood. The power he'd absorbed from Kaname. Freak.He was an absolute freak. And Kaname had just helped make him more so, had distanced him even further from his humanity. Damn him.

"I'm the one who should be annoyed," Zero rasped quietly, his glare steely.

Aidoshould not have entered without permission. Even Seiren, Kaname's unofficial bodyguard, would not have done so without his leave. But he'd gotten to Kaname's rooms first after scenting the blood and, impulsive as ever, had started to let himself in. His friend could be hurt, and he'd a vow to keep, regarding always keeping the other vampire safe.

He froze when he saw the two figures on the floor. Neither noticed him. The fact that Kaname didn't notice, was highly disturbing. But then, he was obviously somewhat busy right now. Aidoquite literally saw red for a moment. The scent of Kaname's blood was highly inflammatory, but it wasn't that. It was the filthy little ex-human, bending over his lord's neck, slurping up that pure blood without restraint… his gun pressed under Kaname's chin.

Aido could have killed him on the spot.

The only reason he didn't, was because Kaname hadn't. Kiriyu would never have gotten near the pureblood without Kuran's consent; there was no vampire of lower station that could take Kaname, certainly not an ex-human.

Aidowithdrew quickly, shutting the door behind him and positioned himself outside to make sure that no one else dared do what he had done. They probably wouldn't, but… Kaname was very lenient; most in the night class took personal liberties with him that they wouldn't dream of taking with any other pureblood. Not that there were that many out there.

Aido was good at keeping Kaname's secrets, even when Kaname didn't know he was keeping them. He'd kept it to himself that Zero was a vampire and he'd die before ever confessing that he knew it was Kaname who had killed Shizuka Hioh.

"Kaname will be all right," he told the others, exuding a calmness that Kaname would have been proud of and not giving away his own inner concern as the group of students stood outside the closed door, unable to pull themselves away.

Takuma fixed a questioning gaze on him, and Aido sensed uncomfortably that he knew something was wrong, but the dorm vice-president said nothing.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two: "Give and Take"

Only after Zero finally left through the window did Kaname try to rise from where he was sitting. He wavered slightly, gripping the wall beside him for support. Could never have let Zero see that, couldn't let anyone see that. Of all the things that Kaname Kuran was expected and required to be… weak was not one of them. No one could see him weak.

He was still bleeding. Damn that boy and his stupid gun. Slowly shrugging out of the dark, now bloodstained shirt he was wearing, Kaname threw it into the fireplace, letting it burn, like he'd burnt the white school uniform stained with Shizuka's blood after he killed her. Kaname ran his hand through his hair, stumbling to his wash room to clean up. He could feel and smell the presence of the other night class students gathered outside his door. Silent, confused, worried. They could smell his blood… a scent they had never smelled save by accident before. Their instincts and perhaps their friendship drew them like a moth to a candle, instinct telling them to protect him, to protect the pureblood. But they also respected him and none would enter without his permission.

Good. They couldn't see him like this. The respect he demanded from the others here and the vampire world in general demanded that they never see him as anything but in control. It was a heavy weight, this responsibility, but one he'd learned to bear since childhood.

Kaname turned on the tap and let the water run, cupping it in his hands and washing the blood from his face, letting it disappear down the drain. Blood was still dripping down his chest and back from the wound to his neck and he reached for a washcloth. He needed to get rid of the scent of blood, for the others' sake. He was going to be subjected to enough questions later as it was.

A wave of dizziness swept over him and Kaname dropped the washcloth, gripping the edges of the sink tightly to retain his balance. His lips curled in a silent snarl of frustration. This was very unusual. He'd expected himself to be much stronger than this. He told himself, it was only because he'd never given blood before that it was affecting him so, and Zero had needed a lot. The pureblood had been shot with an anti-vampire weapon and then drained harshly - his reaction shouldn't have been a surprise. Kaname expected too much of himself. He felt ill, blood hunger seeping through him in a way he'd not felt in a very long time.

Suddenly, Kaname was aware that he was not alone. Someone had trespassed upon the border of his room without permission, and even though his keen sense of smell told him exactly who it was, he still started to turn sharply to face the intruder. That was a mistake. The action was too sudden for his weakened body. To his deep mortification, the world blacked and Kaname wavered and started to fall.

Supportive hands caught his shoulders, not letting him crash to the tile floor, holding him and offering stability. "Kaname!"

Kaname held onto consciousness stubbornly, recovering quickly from the brief spell. His dark eyes flashed angrily and he held in the urge to tear the interloper to shreds, especially for forcing him to show such weakness. With extreme effort he wrenched away from the hands that deep down, he knew only wanted to help. Leaning his hips back against the sink and gripping the edge with his hands, Kaname glared daggers at the tousle-headed blond trespasser.

"Aido. We may need to have a talk about you entering my rooms without permission. This is the second time tonight, is it not?" Kaname said coldly, the ice in his voice and in the dark, stormy aura hanging around him much more chilling than that which Aido could summon at his command. Kaname may not have seen Aido earlier, but he'd smelled him. He simply hadn't wanted to alert Zero to the fact that they had a witness, and he trusted Aido's discretion, or at the very least, his fear, to keep him silent. Now, Kaname was furious and the very real danger of that fury burned in his dark eyes.

Aido tensed instinctively, half expecting Kaname to slap him again at the very least. He felt his heartbeat accelerate through the roof at seeing that kind of fury in the pureblood's eyes, directed at him. That look could have stopped lesser men's hearts completely. "Forgive me, Kaname," he said quietly. I was worried about you… he didn't say it, but his eyes did.

Kaname knew. He knew that was why Aido had crossed him. It just angered him to be seen like this. And most of all it angered him that right now he was almost glad to see his friend. He almost… needed… Aido. And that was wrong. Kaname Kuran did not need anyone. He couldn't afford to. Even Yuki… he tried desperately not to need her, although he knew he failed on that score, and that's why he worried so about keeping her safe. Why tonight had been necessary in the first place.

Kaname turned his back on Aido, facing the sink again. He said nothing.

Silently, Aido picked up the fallen washcloth and reached around Kaname, running it under the tap. Without a word, he washed the blood from the dorm president's back, cloth sliding up to gently dab at the raw, ragged wound on the side of his neck.

Kaname's fingers tightened on the porcelain sink edge. That hurt and the area was also provocatively sensitive still. "You going to let everyone in here to gape, Aido?" he asked between his teeth, focusing on anger to keep the other sensations at bay.

This time, however, Aido did not tremble at Kuran's wrath. He was too transfixed in his own angry horror at the mess that had been made of Kaname's graceful neck. "You know I'd never do that," he said quietly, maybe a little shortly. "I told them all to stay outside and that I'd make sure everything was all right. They'll not disobey. Kain and Takuma are making sure."

Aido dabbed at the wound again, at a loss over what to do with blood that wouldn't stop flowing. That was just… wrong, unspeakably wrong. It wasn't so easy being near Kaname's blood like this either. It was the sweetest scent he'd ever inhaled. He tried to only touch it with the cloth, but some got on his fingers and it seemed to tingle against his skin. Enticing. Almost seductive. Aido finally pressed the cloth tight to the wound, waiting for it to stop. He'd never looked at Kaname that way, his interests ran towards the ladies, but there was no denying the intense draw of that pureblood scent. At a moment like this, he almost couldn't blame old Ichijo so much for desiring Kaname's blood… even though he'd still try to make a frozen popsicle out of the elder vampire if he ever tried, no matter the consequences.

Kaname gasped softly at the press of the cloth against his torn flesh. He could sense the trouble Aido was having being near his blood. He turned towards his friend, trailing his fingers through the blood still wet on his chest and holding it out towards the other vampire, an unreadable expression on his face. "Do you want it? Aido?" he asked quietly, his look indecipherable. "I am weak; you could take it from me with little resistance. For an aristocrat like you, the power you would gain would be immeasurable. It would be easy to blame it on Kiriyu. The council would never know what you'd done."

Aido stared at Kaname as if he'd grown a third head. Yet there was no denying that his instincts deeply desired the temptation Kaname was dangling so perilously before him. It was, after all, the vampire way. Weakness, meant opportunity. Even the laws protecting purebloods could not stand against such strong desire. But friendship, could.

Aido swallowed hard and tore his eyes from Kaname's bloodstained fingers, keeping the cloth pressed gently against his friend's neck. "No, Kaname. I desire no such thing," he murmured.

Kaname's gaze softened and his hand dropped. "You're lying," he murmured, but his voice was soft now, almost fond. His usual reserved but approachable manner was returning. He could see the desire, the blood red lust lurking in his friend's eyes. But he also saw it being controlled and contained, being chosen against. "You're a good friend, Aido," he murmured softly, closing his eyes as his friend continued to carefully clean him up. His relationship with Hanabusa had never been particularly simple. It was like they were always stepping the wrong way around each other in a dance with no music. But ironically, Kaname sensed that Aido was one of the last people who would intentionally betray him. In the world Kaname lived in, that was something.

Aido was gratified by Kaname's words, and implied forgiveness, but still inwardly seething over what had happened here tonight. He knew. He knew this was Kaname's first bite on the receiving end, and it burned him right down to the ground to know it had been so rough and meaningless. That that little… insect… had dared hold a gun to Kaname as he drank, had hurt him, had torn his neck so badly knowing Kaname would be unable to heal after the wounds inflicted by that stupid toy. It was obvious that Kaname had been nicked by an anti-vampire weapon, or else the wound would already have closed and there would be nothing for Aido to be tending. Aido couldn't know, of course, that Zero had had no idea Kaname wouldn't heal, and had in fact been utterly clueless about the whole thing, really.

"How could you let him, Kaname?" Aido whispered somewhat huskily after a moment, unable to stop himself. He felt as if his friend had allowed himself to be raped, and he just couldn't understand it. "How could you subject yourself to that? I know you want him to protect that girl, but to do such a thing… I'll kill him!"

Kaname put his hand on Aido's shoulder, silencing him with a faint, enigmatic smile. "That would be rather a waste of my blood, don't you think? It was necessary. I will heal, Aido, this…" he waved his hand dismissively. "This is nothing." He paused, brows furrowing slightly, voice taking on a sterner tone. "Stay away from Kiriyu. He took nothing I did not allow him. He does not know our ways, Aido."

Aido didn't like it, but he gave a small, clipped nod. He would obey. He always obeyed.

The blood finally stopped flowing and Aido washed it all away, running the cloth under the water until it was clean. But it was still stained, and the scent of it lingered until Kaname took the cloth from him and cast it into the fireplace.

Kaname managed to make it to his bed on his own, sitting down heavily on the edge and letting his head sink into his hand. The hunger was gnawing at him, pain running through his insides and stabbing in his veins. His fangs had grown partially, simply from his need and the nearness of Aido's scent. He squeezed his temples.

"Aido… blood tablets please, get me a glass…" he requested faintly, willing his friend to hurry as he pressed his eyes shut, dealing with the pain. Blood tablets wouldn't enable his body to heal, or give him what he really needed and wanted, but they would take the edge off his aching need and his body would eventually recover on its own. "Then go," he added softly, for Aido's own safety, his free hand curling into the bed sheets. He couldn't have anyone near him much longer. He was starving and although his control was great, he was weak right now.

Aido didn't move, looking down at Kaname's hunched form.

Kaname's head came up in slightly desperate irritation, his dark hair framing his pale features, blood red tinting his irises. There was no hiding that his fangs had extended. "Now, Aido!" he snapped, not sure how much longer he could hold on.

"Blood tablets aren't going to help you, not enough," Aido said softly. Sure, he knew Kaname would survive. Kuran was strong. He was a pureblood and even now he was not in any serious danger. But the pain he would endure tonight, the tormenting hunger until his body finally replenished itself in its own sweet time… Aido would not see him go through that. Especially not like this. Kaname had given away the right to have the pleasure of choosing someone he wanted, someone he liked, to be his first bite. Aido would not see him suffer so terribly for his generosity.

Kaname frowned up at his friend, impatient, not understanding.

Aido's hands were already undoing his school tie, pulling it off and putting it in his pocket. He tugged his sweater jacket off over his head and unbuttoned his shirt partway down his chest, pushing the collar away from his neck. He'd never offered Kaname his blood before, and Kaname had never asked or shown interest. But Aido knew that his friend needed blood, real blood tonight, to help him heal and recover.

Kaname stared at him, reddened eyes sliding inexorably to the exposed curve of his neck. A deep, dark hunger flared in that passive face. "Aido…" he whispered softly. "I am too hungry. I might hurt you. Get out while you still can," he urged softly, long, pale fingers knotting harder into the sheet he was sitting on as he struggled with his instincts and his desire. Last time he'd drank a friend's blood when he was stirred up with need he'd hurt Ruka. He hadn't been able to stop when she'd told him too and he had yet to completely forgive himself for that. That kind of loss of control bothered Kaname greatly. He knew he was stronger than his friends; they didn't have a chance against him. He knew he could control them with his will as well as his strength. He could kill them. And he wouldn't even be blamed. Kaname feared what he would do to Aido if once he got his teeth into the other man's neck.

If Aido had any sense, he would run now, and leave Kaname to suffer through the path he'd chosen on his own. But Aido wasn't moving, damn him…

"You offer this to me, as your duty to a pureblood?" Kaname rasped, his voice hard-edged, almost haughty were it not for the strain of controlling himself. His gaze bored into Aido.

"No," the answer was soft as Aido knelt down in front of Kaname, putting his exposed neck in easy reach. He was perfectly aware of the risk he was taking. Just as Kaname had been aware of what he was doing for Kiriyu, Aido realized. It went against nature, but it was a choice. "I offer this, to my friend," he murmured. Aido sliced his own skin with his fingernails, drawing a fine line of blood across the junction of his neck and shoulder. He knew the smell would be too much for Kaname to resist in his state, and the rest would follow naturally.

Red completely engulfed Kaname's eyes, his pupils shrinking down to pinpoints, fangs growing out fully at the scent of blood. Before he could stop himself, he'd fallen upon Aido's neck, teeth sinking deeply into his friend's flesh, drinking hungrily.

Starved as he was, Kaname was skilled at blood drawing and he wasted none of Aido's, quickly and easily lapping up the stray drops that escaped as he sucked the other vampire's blood. His friend's blood was delicious, strong, and regenerative. One hand gripped Aido's shoulder, the other sliding into his friend's tousled gold hair, pulling his head back and to the side a little more as Kaname sank his fangs deeper, wanting and needing more.

Aido's eyes closed as he tipped his head willingly. Even ravenous, Kaname was not rough, his mouth naturally skilled at giving pleasure even as he took what he needed. Save for the depth and amount of what was being drawn from him, Aido felt no displeasure at the contact. Actually, it was quite stimulating and he groaned softly into Kaname's hair as the other vampire drank.

The groan rung a shudder from Kaname as he buried his face in his friend's neck, receiving sustenance and breathing in his scent. The intimacy that had been sorely lacking from his earlier contact was disturbingly easy to find here, even though there was nothing but friendship between he and Aido. Silently, the gouges in Kaname's neck healed shut and the gash across his temple disappeared.

He could feel Aido weakening in his arms as he drank, but it didn't matter. Aido wouldn't fight him. Even if he would have, he couldn't, and Kaname needed more, needed… the sudden vision of Ruka, sliding limply from his arms, of the terrified look in little Yuki's eyes as she understood for the first time that all vampires had a dark side flashed upon him, and with a great show of will, Kaname stopped drinking.

Gently, he lapped and caressed the bite wound on Aido's neck with his tongue and lips until it had healed up completely. He'd taken a lot, but he'd not drained his friend critically. It meant that Kaname was still hungry, but no longer critically weak himself. He could deal with the rest on his own.

Aido shivered slightly at the touch of those warm, sculpted lips and he gave a glazed, rueful little smile as they finally separated and he straightened up again. Kaname had not taken as much as he'd been a bit afraid he would, given the other vampire's state, and although Aido felt a little light headed it wasn't serious and he had no trouble rising easily to his feet.

He touched Kaname's cheek, cupping it and turning his friend's face up towards him, fingers brushing gently through the long dark locks that cascaded across the pureblood's features. "You didn't have to stop," he murmured, well aware that Kaname was still quite hungry.

Kaname smiled faintly up at him. "Yes, I did. I'm much better now," his fingers brushed across his healed neck. "Get me some of the blood tablets now please, Aido. I need to rest a while and I truly shall be fine."

This time, Aido did as requested, mixing up a drink and dissolving the tablets in it. He gave it to Kaname. Re-buttoning his shirt, he pulled his sweater back on and re-knotted the tie. No doubt, his fellows on the other side of the door had smelt the scent of his blood as well, even though Kaname had not spilt much of it. But he had no intention of answering questions if asked.

"Aido… tell them it was nothing, a small accident with some sharp glass if they must know," Kaname said quietly from the bed. He downed the red water and lay down, letting his head sink back into the pillow. The others probably wouldn't entirely believe it, but if Kaname Kuran said it, they would accept it.

Aido nodded and slipped from the room.

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Don't ever forget. Who it was that gave you this blood.

Zero pressed his face into his palms as he stood beneath the shower. The hot stream had long ago washed away the mix of blood – his own and Kaname's – from his body, but it couldn't wash away his problems. Couldn't wash away the disgustingly amazing sensation of Kaname's blood flooding through him. That… poison… that incredible poison.

Don't forget… how could he ever forget? How could he ever forget what he had been made to be? A creature in a quasi-human shell, lusting for blood in order to sustain his pathetic life. Just waiting for himself to go mad. For his life to have to be ended by Yuki's hand… or maybe Master Toga, or even the Chairman… or one of Kaname's pets perhaps. He'd seen the way they dealt with mad "Level E's". The creatures that their own kind had created.

Zero nearly punched his fist through the wall of the shower. He managed to catch himself in time and only cracked the tile a little. It was going to take time to get used to this new power he seemed to have acquired. The bruises and cuts Kaname had inflicted upon him when he slammed him into the wall and slashed his neck with those unusually sharp nails of his, were already gone as if they'd never been. Hell, Zero practically glowed with health, thrumming with an almost nervous, pent-up energy as a result of drinking Kaname's blood.

Kaname…

Just thinking of that bastard disturbed Zero. He couldn't understand him at all. It bothered him when vampires tried to act like they had hearts, like they could be good people and not just monsters. Zero knew he himself was a monster. It was galling for them to think they weren't. Zero didn't understand the pureblood. He'd killed Shizuka and Zero had been blamed by everyone. But although he'd not cleared Zero, Kaname had not let him take the fall for it either, when it would have been so easy to do so. All he would have had to do was nothing. And now this… strengthening him, prolonging his life and giving him an indefinite ticket to avoiding the madness that had been creeping up swiftly upon him...

Damn it, he would not be indebted to that bloodsucking son of a bitch!

But he was. And that's why he was angry. Sure, he knew Kaname wouldn't have cared if it'd just been about him; it was all for Yuki's sake and the vampire made no qualms about making sure the ex-human knew that. But that only made Zero more miserable. Because Kaname had as much as admitted he loved Yuki, and Zero was perfectly aware that Yuki had been infatuated with the vampire since before he met her. What kind of hope did that leave him? None. And that was probably as it should be – he could give Yuki nothing. Nothing. It was her, always giving to him. If he really loved her, he'd not tie her to his hopeless future. But neither could he stand the thought of her and Kaname… because inevitably, that bastard would turn her into a…. no. No. He'd never let him do that. It didn't matter how much Yuki liked Kuran. Didn't matter how much the pureblood had done for them. He'd kill Kuran before he let him do to Yuki what Shizuka had done to Zero. Before he let him strip her of her humanity and her choice.

That's why he hated Kaname Kuran.

That's why it made no sense, the incredibly intense pleasure he'd taken in sucking Kuran's blood, in playing his lips and tongue against the vampire's tender, torn skin, in wringing from him that small gasp of shock that seemed to reverberate through Zero's soul. Zero wasn't a vampire by birth. He didn't understand the kind of connection caused by drinking another vampire's blood. Didn't know it was normal. To him it was very un-normal and disturbing. All he could do was hate himself for how he had felt and feel guilty. Guilty, angry… and grudgingly, very grudgingly… grateful.

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When Kaname awoke, he could tell there were still people waiting outside his door. He pulled himself to his feet and crossed to the dresser, donning a clean, white shirt which he didn't bother to button all the way. He was feeling much better, although still a bit hungry and he made himself another blood-tablet drink, standing by the window and looking out across the Academy grounds. He was going to have to get his room fixed up. He and Zero had made quite a mess of it earlier. Zero… His hand slipped to his healed neck and he sighed quietly. The area where he'd let the other man bite him was still sensitive, even fully healed. He knew that happened sometimes after a bite from another vampire. The sensation lingered, sometimes tingling when the other was near. He'd rather hoped it wouldn't in this case. He didn't want to form any kind of bond with Kiriyu, but what was done was done. It was a minor annoyance and would pass with time, he imagined.

He caught sight of dark hair and a dark uniform bounding across the courtyard from the girl's dormitory. He knew at a glance that it was Yuki and his gaze followed her attentively until she was out of sight. He ached for her. Ached at how formally she treated him, how she didn't seem to be able to just be herself with him as she had when she was a child. How she always, always took Zero's side over his. Did Kiriyu have any idea how much he envied the ex-human? How much he envied the casual way Yuki clung to him, protected him… loved him. No, not romantically. At least… he didn't think it had turned into such on her part, although to be honest he sometimes worried about that. Zero was a brother to Yuki, and she'd do anything for him. But Kiriyu didn't love her as only a sister, Kaname could see, even if Yuki was still blind. Yuki was such a sweet, innocent girl, in many ways still a child. She'd yet to give her heart away to anyone. But sometimes, Kaname feared who it was she would choose if both he and Kiriyu laid forth their hearts.

Most would think that insane, as he was the obvious choice, given their respective positions and prospective futures. But Kaname knew that the heart wasn't a rational organ. His love for Yuki was proof enough of that. No one would ever understand him taking a human bride, would never completely forgive him for so grievously diluting his pureblood line when all the daughters of the aristocrats and even another pureblood princess would all have welcomed him with open arms. Yes. Life was ironic to the point of absurdity sometimes.

If only Yuki could really understand what it was he wanted to give to her. It wasn't a matter of stealing her humanity, it was giving her something so much better. Humans were like a brief breath of wind on the earth. They were here then they were gone, while the vampires, especially the purebloods, simply went on and on. Why anyone would want to remain human when offered the choice was beyond him, but he wasn't callus to Yuki's probable fears and concerns. Especially given what Zero was going through. It wouldn't be the same for her though… He would drink Yuki's blood, and let her drink his freely, as much as she wanted, and she would become a full vampire, still an ex-human, yes, but she would never have to live in fear of becoming a Level-E. The blood bond, so much deeper than a normal marriage vow, would protect her, and bind her and Kaname together for life in the deepest kind of intimacy.

Kaname sighed again. Yes, that was his wish, his deepest, most personal wish. Only time would tell if it would be Yuki's wish as well. He just hoped her heart was not so blind as to lead her into Kiriyu's arms. He wasn't worthy of her and he had no future. Kaname knew she cared for him, wanted to help him… but he would be seriously tempted to kill the frustrating little upstart if Yuki really considered throwing her life away on him. If... he hadn't known that that would make her hate him forever.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: " Dark Destiny "

Some time later, after almost everyone has returned to school after break…

A young man and an older man sat across from one another in the comfortable back of a long black limousine, the world rolling by unheeded beyond the darkly tinted glass. It was daylight outside, meaning they would rather be sleeping than traveling about, but they had much to do and were not wasting any time. Despite the apparent age difference between the two vampires, it was the younger one who obviously was the figure of greatest power, which was apparent from the way the older one addressed him.

The younger one had an odd bearing, as if he was in fact older than the almost boyishly youthful body, and his eyes were two different colors. The body belonged to Shiki Senri, but the soul inhabiting it was that of his father, Rido Kuran.

The other vampire was Asato Ichijo, head of the Council, one of the oldest and most powerful of the Aristocrat vampires.

The current topic of conversation between the two focused on someone that both of them had a relation to in one way or another. Kaname Kuran. The young pureblood was Rido's nephew and Ichijo's former ward. Kaname had been more than eager to shed Ichijo's guardianship as soon as he was of age, although the older man still controlled the younger Vampire's estates in part - out of kindness, so that Kaname wouldn't have to be bothered with it. There was no love-loss between ward and guardian. The same would have been mutually true of Kaname and his uncle Rido… if Kaname had known that the other vampire was alive. Or at least, as alive as he currently was. But Kaname did not know that yet, and Rido intended to press that advantage. He had plans for his nephew. Very important plans.

"Kaname is too strong and too well protected. He's ensconced himself at Cross Academy with quite a loyal following. Shizuka was a fool to think she could get to him. It is difficult to topple a pureblood with no weaknesses," Ichijo observed grimly.

"It is," Rido smiled coldly with Shiki's body as he agreed. "But you give my nephew too much credit. He has one weakness, and it is quite large and vulnerable. Why do you think it is that he stays at Cross Academy? Do not be fooled into thinking that his pathetic, pacifist goals are the only thing at work there, nor even his desire to stay away from you…" the smile took on a slightly mocking tone for just a moment. For having been out of it as long as Rido had been, he had caught himself up to date on everything quite quickly since taking over Shiki's body. "Is it not obvious that Kaname remains there at least in part to watch over that human girl? Yuki Cross… his weakness."

Ichijo snorted derisively. He had no idea what his former ward saw in the foolish little girl, or in any human. It was an offense to think that he might actually be serious about her. That was stooping low even for a common vampire, and Kaname was a pureblood. He should realize he had a responsibility to spawn the next generation of strong vampire blood, not destroy his line with his own folly. But then, his ward had always been a strange one. Ichijo had given up on him. Now that Rido was back… they had no need for Kaname, and he could be used for… other purposes.

"Amusing, how like Shizuka he is in that regard," Ichijo replied. "Her weakness was also her ex-human lover. I don't know what it is they see in those creatures. Yuki Cross is well protected. We could still kill her easy enough if we chose… but I don't see how that would help us get to Kaname. Would it not merely be jabbing a sleeping bear with a sharp stick? Your nephew is disturbingly placid for a vampire, but harming the Cross girl will surely bring out a blood vengeance in him, if he is as serious about her as it appears."

"No… killing the girl would be counter-productive, as it would remove my nephew's one weakness. Removing our best pawn too early in the game would be wasteful. We must not harm her. If harm befalls her, it must be by Kaname's hand. The dear boy would never forgive himself…" Rido smiled cruelly. "But our ticket to making Kaname vulnerable still rests with his affection for her. Just in a more… roundabout way. To get to the king through the queen… we'll topple a knight."

Rido was obviously very pleased with the plan he'd devised and he was enjoying giving it a good build up. Ichijo was silently just a bit impatient with the somewhat cryptic manner of their conversation, but he did not let such show. Rido held his absolute obedience and deference. So he merely listened and waited for the plan to become clear. "My lord?"

"Well, admittedly, I elevate their titles too high, but the analogy holds true for pawns as well. To get to Kaname through his weakness, we must attack Yuki Cross through her weakness. And her weakness… is the boy whom she lets drink her blood, despite the human taboos they break in the process." Rido's eyes were bright with pleasure at the cleverness of his own plan. He was disturbingly well informed about what was going on behind closed doors at Cross Academy, and he intended to use all that hard-earned information to good effect now. "Zero Kiriyu. Ex-human vampire. He grew up with the Cross girl, they're very close. What's interesting, however… is that my nephew is so intent on protecting the boy, I assume for the girl's sake."

"He did defy the council to prevent his execution after the Shizuka incident," Ichijo agreed.

Rido laughed. Ichijo still believed that Kiriyu had actually killed the pureblood. Well, let him believe that. Rido had no proof but his own suspicion, but he was silently quite sure his nephew had killed the woman and drunk her blood. He did not disapprove. Actually, it was quite a gutsy move for the nephew he considered such a disappointment. The fact that Kaname's tiresome principles were still in place, however, showed in that he hadn't simply let Zero take the fall for him. It was not an entirely selfless move, however. Obviously, Kaname had some use for the ex-human for which he wanted him preserved.

"Yes, yes he did. But even more interesting, and much less known…" Rido paused, this was his piece de triumph and he was savoring the moment.

Ichijo managed not to look irritated.

"…Is that my dear nephew has let that ex-human drink his blood in order to stave off the boy's decent into Level E madness." Rido smirked, enjoying watching the shock register on his companion's face.

Ichijo was floored and did not bother to hide it. Rido had not been building up to that revelation for naught. It was a truly shocking thought. Kaname's blood was protected by law; anyone who took it without permission would die. It was that simple. It was the only thing that had kept Ichijo from sliding into his ward's bedroom when Kaname was young and more defenseless and taking what it was he so badly craved when there was no one around to stop him. Of course, Kaname could give his blood to whomever he wished, although it was understood that this was reserved only for persons of the highest honor, or whom he was seriously considering spending his life with. It was part of the responsibility, and restriction, of being a pureblood. Lower class vampires were much freer about such things amongst themselves, and there were plenty who drank each other's blood willy-nilly. Even in the noble class these days, societal norms and morals had relaxed significantly in that regard over the years, although the attachments it tended to form between the vampires involved was certainly a consideration. But purebloods were some of the few still expected to adhere to the older, more draconian social codes, and not entirely for no reason. Pure vampire blood was precious and powerful. It was also a matter of honor. Kaname could drink from whomever he pleased as long as they were below his station, and society would happily turn a blind eye, but to allow someone else to have his blood was a serious thing.

There was no containing the deep, dark rage that flashed through Ichijo like wildfire at the knowledge that Kaname had let some ex-human brat for whom he couldn't possibly have any feelings partake of that pure blood and the power that it possessed. Let him drink that incredible gift that Kaname had always denied him, even though Ichijo was the most powerful Aristocrat around. If there was anyone who had been worthy of Kaname making exception for, whom even society would have understood, as long as it was discrete, it had been him. Now this…

Rido had expected the reaction, and sadistically, he enjoyed watching it play out across his subordinate's features. Rage, of course, at the dispensing of what he'd craved for himself for so long, as well as deep disdain… it was obvious that Ichijo felt Kaname had in essence whored himself to the ex-human, a disgrace so deep there was no forgiving it. Many would feel that way if they knew and believed that it had actually happened. It truly had been a risky move on Kaname's part… he could lose a lot more than just respect and status if word got out. No one would believe it though. No one would think a Kuran would stoop to that, no matter how sickeningly 'noble' the goal. They'd laugh at the notion. Rido wasn't laughing, but neither was he disgusted. To him, this was simply a golden opportunity.

"I thought you might find that interesting," he remarked when Ichijo appeared speechless. "As degenerate as it is, however, I think that fact shall be very useful to us. Kaname has already proven that he is willing to go to lengths to preserve the boy, even if it is just for the girl's sake. The girl is a human, she can't drink Kaname's blood and for some reason, he hesitates to change her. But Kiriyu… if he were damaged badly enough… mortally wounded perhaps, but not quite dead, and if the girl should find him… it would distress her to no end, I'm sure. It would be interesting to see what Kaname would do then, and to what length he might be willing to go, when his blood is perhaps the only thing that can save his dear girl's best friend."

Understanding finally dawned in Ichijo's eyes, but he looked a bit skeptically at the other vampire. "My lord… do you really think he'd go to such drastic lengths?"

"I am unsure," Rido admitted. "But he has done the unspeakable once… the second time should be much easier, I would think. And even if not, we lose nothing. The boy's life is of no concern so long as the girl survives to continue being my nephew's weakness."

Ichijo nodded. The logic was sound and the plan was clever. He was, quite frankly, impressed. Getting Kaname to a weakened state was their only hope of taking him, and this just might work. A thought came to him though and he frowned slightly.

"Takuma might be useful to us on the inside…" he ventured, although even his own eyes betrayed doubt he hadn't meant to show. He didn't want Rido to think less of him and his family because of his grandson, who would play his part and honor his family. He would do his duty by the Ichijo name and forget his childish sense of loyalty and friendship to Kaname, or Asato would see that he was well and truly punished.

Rido shook his head. "No. I do not want to involve him yet. His loyalties are divided and I fear, Ichijo, that he might very well give away our plans." The words were cold. Rido did not take lightly the fact that they had a possible traitor in the fold.

"My lord, my grandson is young and sometimes foolish…" Ichijo hastened to intercede upon seeing that look. "Since Kaname was my ward, the two of them grew up in the same house together. He is merely confused, but he is an Ichijo, he will order his priorities accordingly, I promise you."

"I hope you are right," Rido said simply, his cold smile managing to be unreadable and menacing at the same time. "For the time being, however, I think it is best that he remain at the mansion or somewhere else, safely out of the way until he has had a chance to, as you say, order his priorities." He was aware that Ichijo had locked his grandson in his room before they left. Takuma's reaction to Rido's possession of Shiki, and their initial plotting against Kaname had not been outright treason, but had not engendered much trust either.

"Who will take care of Kiriyu?" Ichijo inquired, partly wanting to know, partly to change the subject.

Rido smiled. "Oh… I've already got someone in mind. Someone already at the school who will be only too happy to help."

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Ichiru Kiriyu glanced at his watch. Time was passing away. Where was Zero? His twin brother should have come out already and made his way towards the boy's dormitory. But he was still in the school building. The Night Class had already left, returning to their dorm without the escort of either of the school Guardians, so the Cross girl was still in there as well. He also hadn't seen Kuran leave with the others. What were the three of them up to? If they loitered much longer he would lose his chance this morning, and the plan would have to be put off to another day.

He'd not been at the school very long yet, only since the start of the term, but he'd already made himself meticulously familiar with the grounds, schedules and routines of almost everyone, or the important ones at least. Seemed he would soon get a chance for all that to pay off.

Morning was already starting to tentatively streak the sky. Finally he saw Zero leave the school building, looking as if the world had crashed down on his shoulders. Ichiru started forward… then stopped as Yuki and Kaname followed Zero out a few moments later. There was a strange air hovering around all of them. Yuki seemed somewhere between pleased and conflicted and Kaname was unreadable as usual.

Yuki fled away to the girl's dorm without looking back, looking as if her mind and heart were too full to make sense of. Kaname stood, his gaze following her away for several long moments, then he started towards the Moon dorm, but Zero stopped him, calling his name sharply. Ichiru watched from his concealed spot, curious now, what was going on. Kaname looked distracted. Zero looked furious.

Suddenly, to Ichiru's intense surprise, the ex-human rounded and swung at Kaname, slugging the pureblood squarely on the jaw and sending him stumbling back a pace. What on earth? Had his twin already gone batty?

"How dare you?" Zero shouted at Kaname, simmering with rage now that Yuki was safely away and out of earshot. "How friggin' dare you? You've no right to force her into a relationship with you. I thought even you had more honor than that! You… you freak!"

Kaname registered a moment of surprise at the blow, but not very much. He recovered quickly, but did not retaliate; his fingers sliding up to lightly touch his lip. It was bleeding. He looked at Zero icily, but calmly. "I forced Yuki to do nothing. Do you honestly think she would have agreed if it wasn't what she wanted? You really think she's some kind of tramp to do such a thing?" His eyes flashed with anger. The way Kaname saw it, he'd been the one trapped, backed into a corner he'd tried to avoid. He couldn't fault her for it, but Yuki had forced his hand by confronting him like she had and in front of Kiriyu too. He'd tried to distract her the first time, even confessed his love to her. But she'd been insistent this time, even knowing how he felt. What else was he supposed to do?

Zero was too furious to speak. He launched himself at Kaname again, but the blow didn't fall this time. Kaname caught his wrist tightly, catching his arm and swinging the ex-human around, pulling him in close so they were face to face. "You give her far too little credit, Kiriyu. Yuki is not a child; she can make her own choices."

Zero continued to struggle, trying to wrench away from Kuran. "Then why didn't you let her make her own choice instead of giving her no alternative if she wants to know about her past? Or do you always have to blackmail the people you love." The ex-human used the word contemptuously. He seriously felt that Kuran didn't know the meaning of it.

That blow hit Kaname harder than the physical one had. Had… had it really sounded like that? Did Yuki think that she was paying him with her affections? That wasn't what he wanted. He simply… he needed her to love him, needed to be sure of her love… before he could tell her what she wanted to know. Selfish maybe, but he could not live if he revealed the truth and it made her hate him. If she was already his lover… she would know, without a shadow of a doubt, that no matter what he revealed his heart was hers and only hers, she would know that she was all he wanted in this world. But the whole situation had been so awkward and difficult… Yuki had forced a confrontation he had been trying hard to avoid and he'd hardly known what to say. That was a very unusual situation for him. He was used to giving orders, to being obeyed. Had his words come out sounding like a command? A threat?

Kaname was so put off for a moment that he didn't notice Zero had pulled away until he found himself reeling backward again, slamming up against the wall of the building behind him, head and jaw ringing from Zero's second punch. Damn… the boy was very strong, thanks in no small part to the power he'd gained from having drunk Kaname's blood. That. Really. Hurt. The pureblood's fists bunched at his sides.

It took a great deal of control to not strike back. It would gain him nothing to hurt Zero, and in honesty, Kaname could not blame the other vampire for his anger or his heartbreak. Would he have taken it any easier if he'd just watched Yuki agree to be Zero's lover? Probably not. Although he felt he would certainly have controlled his temper better.

With a growl, Kaname pushed off the wall and caught both Zero's wrists before he could continue his assault, squeezing them hard enough to almost snap the bones, but stopping short of actually doing damage. He shook Zero firmly once. "Stop it. You think this resolves anything? I would never force Yuki to do anything she didn't want to, ever!" he growled angrily, his eyes dark and stormy… but also shadowed with doubt.

"Right, but you'll quite happily strip away her humanity and turn her into a nice little ex-human slave that you can have all to yourself. That you can play with until you're bored with her. That's what you high and mighty purebloods see us as, isn't it? Your servants? Your slaves? How can you even pretend that you love her?" Zero seethed. He was absolutely livid and cared nothing for the sharp pain Kaname's crushing grip was causing. "You could never do that to her if you loved her!"

Kaname practically trembled with rage. For a moment it looked like he really might snap Kiriyu's wrists, but instead he just gave a shove, flinging the boy away from him. "Do not speak to me about what's in my heart! You know nothing about it," he growled. "I tell you, I would never hurt her or force her. Becoming my lover does not mean I will bite her, not if she doesn't want me to. I would never, EVER change her unless it was what her heart truly desires. And if I did, I would be making her a queen, do you understand that? How dare you insinuate that I would keep her like some kind of… of concubine! I want her to live beside me forever. She would be respected and loved by everyone because I would make sure they did so, unless they want to reckon with me," he seethed. That would be a tall order, and he knew it, but Kaname meant what he said.

Did Zero have no idea, the sacrifice he was making in taking Yuki as a lover without expecting her to let him bite her? Without that perfect intimacy? Without being assured that she would ever want him to… having to live with the fear that she would want to live out her short days as a mortal, and die before they had hardly breathed a handful of breaths together? Did Zero have no idea what that would do to him? Kaname felt that when he mated, it would be for life. He would never desire any woman but Yuki. If she did not choose to be his completely, to become one of his kind… it would be the end of him when she died. Perhaps literally. It was usually when they lost a mate, that pureblood vampires committed suicide, unable to deal with the prospect of an eternity without their beloved.

Zero seemed unappeased, but perhaps he read the dark turmoil of emotion in Kaname's eyes… or at least had enough sense to read the danger there, because he did not attack again. It would do no good. He couldn't stop Yuki, couldn't protect her from this disastrous folly. It wasn't just about her choosing someone else… he could have dealt with that, so long as she was happy, but he felt Yuki trusted Kuran far too much for her own good and he truly feared for her. Right now his heart was broken and he had so many feelings flooding through him he didn't know what to do with himself, but he couldn't let the arrogant pureblood bastard see him break. Zero turned and disappeared swiftly.

About the same time, Ichiru faded back behind the building and also disappeared. He wondered at the explosion he'd just witnessed. Obviously it had something to do with that whimpering little Cross girl. He had no clue what those two saw in such a child. He wondered if this conflict between Kaname and Zero were going to affect the plan, though… but he decided things would carry on anyway. After all, it was no skin off his nose if it didn't work. He didn't care a whit what happened to Kuran. His brother, however… that was a different matter. The chance was lost for now, though. Zero was already gone and Ichiru couldn't afford to make a move with Kaname so near anyway; the vampire had possibly already scented him, although he'd obviously been…pre occupied with other matters. He would have to wait, bide his time for later. Perhaps tonight…

Chapter Text

Chapter Four : "Sacrificial Lamb "

The sun was riding low in the sky, but the day students had not yet finished their classes. Ichiru had gotten himself excused from the last class, claiming a severe stomach ache. After fooling the nurse and being sent back to his room to rest, he'd promptly slipped back out of the dorm again and made his way out here. In a few hours, Zero would get out of class; he always got out ahead of the others in order to have time for his guardian duties, so he could pretend to protect the Day Students from the Night Students… ironic and despicable, considering he himself was exactly what he was supposed to be protecting them from. But they didn't know it, of course.

His brother, the vampire… such a darkly fitting fate. For awhile, that'd been enough of a revenge on the brother who outshone him in everything, whom he hated. But then Zero had killed Shizuka, the only person Ichiru ever recognized as loving him, treasuring him, treating him like he was the special one… and so now it wasn't nearly enough. No. His twin needed to suffer and suffer greatly. Ichiru had been given a chance to make that happen and he was going to make the most of it. He was forbidden from killing the other boy outright, but then, he wouldn't have wanted to anyway. He'd always wanted Zero to live. The dead could not suffer any longer, like Ichiru continued to suffer with everything he should have had, and everything he'd lost. No, simple death was far too easy.

Ichiru could not afford to wait for his brother to get out of class, however. That would be cutting things too close. This was much better accomplished while the Night Class students were still safely in their dormitory. Not to worry, he'd sent a note to Zero via a fellow student over break a few minutes ago. It was an urgent, almost pleading summons indicating that there was trouble and entreating his brother to meet him behind the dorms as soon as he could get away.

Ichiru was sure Zero would come. The sap had a protective streak a mile wide, always had. Even with their history… he wouldn't turn away from his little brother when it sounded like he was in danger. A dark, unreadable look flittered through Ichiru's eyes for half a moment. Zero… his eyes quickly hardened again. Yes, he would come. The fool.

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Zero rounded the back of the boy's dorm quickly. It was the shortcut he always used on his way to meet and usher the Night Class along, although he would not need to do that for another few hours yet. He had no idea what to make of the note he'd gotten from Ichiru, and more than suspected that his twin was up to something, but even if that was true, he couldn't ignore the requested meeting. Even if it was just to make sure Ichiru wasn't stirring up trouble, which he probably was.

Zero's jaw was set. He didn't need this right now. He was still angry and hurting in ways he couldn't begin to put into words. Really, it hardly mattered that he'd just cut class and not returned after break. His mind had been absent all day anyway. He'd been able to think about nothing but the conversation between Yuki and Kaname that morning. Why had she insisted he be there? Of course he'd gone at her asking, he'd support her in any way he could, but he wished he hadn't heard. It'd been so, incredibly hard. It had been cruel of Yuki to have him there, although he knew she hadn't intended it. She was simply… oblivious… of his feelings for her. Kaname wasn't though, and Zero wanted to rip the head off. Fine. So Yuki chose him. Like there'd ever really been a doubt who she'd chose. She'd been bloody in love with the vampire since before Zero met her. The pureblood didn't have to rub it in.

Kiriyu… from now on, I will also cherish and protect Yuki… but this time, as her lover.

Zero could have shot him. On the spot. Damn, he almost had. Because Yuki going down that road meant only one thing for her future, and it made him fuming furious. But it was worse than that, because Zero couldn't even feel that Yuki had really been given a choice. Despite what he'd said earlier, despite what he maybe even thought, Kuran had blackmailed her into the agreement pure and simple as far as Zero was concerned, holding Yuki's past ransom in return.

Maybe… Maybe Zero really would kill him. Yuki would be sad and he'd no doubt be executed by the Vampire council… but maybe it was worth it, if it kept Yuki safe. A small, niggling part of Zero's mind whispered dissent, however, questioning how safe Yuki would be if he were gone and Kuran was no longer around, watching over her from a distance. He'd begun to realize ever since Yuki began looking into her past that there might be more going on than just Kaname hiding the fact that he was probably the one who had erased Yuki's memories and removing Kuran did not necessarily mean she was going to be safe.

Ichiru came into view and Zero's scowl deepened at the sight of his twin. The boy was a more tidily attired mirror image of him, sans tattoo and vampire fangs of course. Seeing his brother brought a sick, slightly anguished knot to his stomach. He'd never understand where they had gone wrong, how the little brother he'd loved and protected could have betrayed their whole family so hideously. No, a confrontation with him was definitely not what Zero needed right now. "What's so important it couldn't wait until tonight?" Zero snapped brusquely, in no mood for small talk.

Ichiru tried to look hurt and affronted, but it wasn't like he was actually surprised. There was no love-loss between the two of them. Still, he played his part, putting on an edgy, frightened air.

"Look, I hate you, you hate me, I know how we stand, okay?" he said quickly, glancing around nervously. "But this isn't about that. There's something going on… the school's in danger."

Zero looked decidedly skeptical, so Ichiru continued hastily. "I may hate you, but I agree with what's going on here at this school. Humans and vampires can live together; Shizuka and I are proof of that," it was a convincing, if disgusting argument, and Zero's lips pressed together tightly at the mention of that woman.

"I saw something, and now they're trying to kill me! I saw…" but Ichiru, conveniently, did not have time to finish. Because at that moment a huge, dark shape dropped from above and landed on Ichiru, pinning him down with inhuman speed.

Zero swung into action swiftly, instinctively protecting his brother, even now. He charged the shadowy figure, pulling his gun. His instincts had already told him that the intruder was a vampire. Not one of the Night Class, a stranger. Another dark-clad vampire dropped down behind him and Zero just barely ducked in time to avoid a swift blow to the head. The two intruders were dressed all in black and heavily hooded so that their faces were indiscernible. Zero spun around with unusual speed, leveling a sharp kick to the side that sent his would-be attacker stumbling backward, bringing his gun up in warning at the same time. But Zero was distracted by a desperate, strangled cry from his brother that made him spin around yet again.

Ichiru was being strangled, or so it appeared, and Zero quickly lunged for him again, having to ignore the other hooded vampire now behind him. A sharp blow between his shoulders knocked him forward, but he rolled, springing back up like a top. He was proving far more resilient than his assailants had expected. He reached Ichiru and shoved the gun up into the side of the hooded vampire strangling his brother, about to pull the trigger. But Ichiru caught his hand, as if clawing at him in panic, and the same moment the vampire behind Zero nailed him with a hard, swift blow across the back of the head that made the world fade and spin. He dropped to the ground, stunned and almost senseless. Almost. He was conscious enough to see the vampire suddenly release his brother, all of them stopping, looking at him. Groggily, he felt the strong hands of the two vampires pinning him down to the ground as Ichiru knelt over him, pulling a long, gleaming knife from his belt.

Zero only had time to look up at his brother in bitter betrayal, wondering how he'd managed to fall victim to his twin's deadly malice a second time in his life, before the face so closely mirroring his own twisted in a cruel smile and Ichiru plunged the knife down into Zero's chest. The pain was intense and jerked the ex-human partially back to consciousness again, but he was held down too tightly to struggle and the knife plunged home a second time, and a third, puncturing his lungs and brutally wounding him, although avoiding his heart. Full-blown agony ripped through his body.

Zero started to scream at the white-hot pain, but a hand clamped ruthlessly over his mouth, jerking his head back and exposing his pale throat. An instant later, he felt the terrifying chill of the bloody blade at his neck, and then a slick horrible pain as his brother slashed his throat from ear to ear. Not cutting too deep, not enough to kill him right away, but enough to keep him from making any sound, and to make him bleed terribly. That seemed to be the goal, because Zero's pinned wrists were slashed next, spilling more of his blood onto the swiftly darkening grass beneath him. But Zero was already fading, rapid blood loss making him woozy. Another swift blow to his head finished the job and the three conspirators rose. The two vampire assassins disappeared almost immediately, their task done, but Ichiru lingered a moment, watching his brother lying still on the grass, bleeding his life out. A human could not have survived this. A full vampire might have. Zero was not such. Without intervention, he would die.

A faint flicker of something darted through Ichiru's eyes before he grimaced darkly, then turned and hurried off. He already knew Yuki would be passing this way very shortly, on a trumped up summons supposedly from the headmaster. He could hear her approaching even now. It was good. His brother didn't have long to live. The girl had better move fast if she was to play her unintentional part in this little drama.

Yuki rounded the corner at a run barely a moment after Ichiru disappeared, although she didn't see him. This was the fastest way back to the headmaster's office, and she had better hurry if she intended to see him without missing too much of her class. She was tired of being ragged about bringing down the overall scores…

For half a moment, the scene before her didn't register. Then it did and she faltered to a stop, almost falling as she very nearly tripped over a body on the ground. The body was surrounded by blood, a vast field of crimson seeping out across the grass, staining her shoes, filling the air with its sick, cloying scent. Yuki felt a shot of sheer terror slice through her at the vast field of crimson, her face paling white. As white as snow. So much blood…

Then, the true horror set in as she got over the first shock enough to see whose body it was she'd almost tripped over. Who it was laying there on the grass looking like he'd been butchered.

"Zero!" The first time it was a whisper, then it turned into a shriek as she repeated it, dropping down beside him, clapping her hands to his slashed wrists, which were seeping blood the fastest of his wounds. She couldn't even bring herself to look at his neck. Oh dear heaven… could anyone be hurt this badly and survive?

Yuki fumbled for the utility knife she knew Zero kept his pocket, popping the blade open quickly and cutting herself a little in her haste. She didn't notice. Using the knife she half cut half ripped the hem from Zero's shirt, using it to bind the cuts to his wrists and trying to place pressure against his seeping chest wounds, her eyes filling with tears and nearly obscuring her vision as she quickly became covered in his blood.

She retained her head enough to know that the most important thing right now was trying to stem the blood loss, and she dare not leave him, but her screams for help quickly brought others running and the Chairman was fetched immediately.

His face ashen, Chairman Cross quickly scooped the boy who was like a son to him up in his arms, despite the heavy weight the tall boy proved to be, and carried him home at a run, telling Yuki to get the on-campus doctor, swiftly.

-----------------------------------------------

Yuki knelt in the dark corner behind the girl's dorm, sobbing. The scent and sound of her sorrow told Kaname exactly where she was. He could practically feel the grief and turmoil radiating off her and his pace quickened to a run. Night students shouldn't be outside the Moon Dorm yet at this hour, but that rule had never quite applied to Kaname, although he usually kept it as a good example to the others. But the smell of Yuki's blood had sent him vaulting the garden fence and hurrying towards the source of it. He smelt Kiriyu's blood too. A lot of it, and the combination was making his heart race in fear.

He was ready for a fight when he finally reached Yuki, but even before he caught sight of her hunched form, perfectly visible to him in the shadows, he already knew that she was alone. He could smell no one else nearby. He relaxed just slightly and his steps slowed to a more reasonable pace, although he remained alert and concerned as he knelt gently beside Yuki. She was covered in blood and his heart skipped a beat in his chest.

Reaching out he wrapped his arms around her as he had since she was a little girl, wishing he could take away anything that caused the beautiful face to do anything but smile. Yuki was momentarily surprised by Kaname's appearance, but she seemed to accept it swiftly. Kaname always seemed to be around when she needed him. She threaded her slim hands into his shirt, stained fingers crushing the white jacket as she clung to him, chest heaving, tears streaming down her face. She wasn't just crying, she was sobbing as if her heart had been torn from her chest and she was never going to smile again. Kaname's heart pinched in deeply sympathetic sorrow.

"Shh… shh…" he soothed, holding her head to his chest, never mind she was soiling his uniform with her tears and her blood stained hands. He rubbed her back comfortingly, tipping his cheek to the top of her head. "Such a face, Yuki… and tears… what is it? What's wrong to hurt you so?" he inquired tenderly. Although she was splashed with blood, it was not hers. He could tell now that the scent of her blood was coming from her hand. Her palm had been gashed by something sharp. As he held her, Kaname tenderly but quickly bound the wound up with his handkerchief. The smell was distracting to him, and it would tend to draw the attention of his fellows. Yuki's blood was uniquely appealing to vampires. He couldn't tell though, if she'd hurt herself, or someone else had hurt her. He could smell Kiriyu's blood on her – it was his blood that coated her so disturbingly.

Then Kaname saw fresh bite marks on Yuki's neck and his blood seethed in his chest like a coiling serpent. Zero should be more than safe from madness for a long time after the gift he'd given him. More than that, Zero knew that Yuki was with him now… it was nothing short of malicious to for Kiriyu to remind Kaname that he could still have a part of Yuki that the pureblood couldn't. That wasn't what made Kaname angry right at the moment, however. It was the fear that Zero had done something foolish in his anger over the way things stood that made a red haze descend upon his mind. If that damn little ex-human had hurt Yuki… he would rip him to shreds with his bare hands. And Kaname could, too.

He knew better than to accuse Zero to Yuki. That boy could kill her and she'd still defend him from the grave, he was certain. So Kaname simply held her, waiting for her to calm down enough to speak.

"It's Z-Zero…" she finally sobbed out, words coming in a rush fast enough that she didn't give Kaname time to form any further mistaken impressions. "They said… said he's dying…" Yuki was swallowing her sobs, almost choking on them as she tried to calm down enough to relate her story.

"He was a-attacked. I don't know who. I found him behind the boy's dorm. There was so much blood…" her eyes were wide. To Kaname, they reflected the huge eyes of a little girl, sitting in the snow, drenched in blood. He held her tighter, worry clamping his chest at his next question.

"Yuki… was he bitten? Was it a vampire who did this to him?" he asked gently. Kiriyu was a hard nut to crack, always had been. Should have been even harder with the powers he'd inherited from Kaname. It would have taken a hell of a lot to bring him down as badly as had apparently happened.

Yuki shook her head against Kaname's chest. "No. His throat was slashed… but not bitten," she whispered. The answer relieved and yet confused Kaname. His thoughts immediately sprang to Zero's twin Ichiru, whose hatred for his brother was no secret, and who, although not a vampire, had been drinking the blood of a pureblood for the past four years. It was a possibility, but now was not the time for assigning blame. Some things, at least, were coming clear to Kaname now.

His fingers closed tenderly over the raw puncture marks on Yuki's neck. "You tried to save him," he murmured, his heart clenching.

Yuki nodded, gulping. "I-I thought… if he could have blood, he could heal. Vampires are supposed to be able to heal, even from really bad injuries, right?" she asked pleadingly, looking up at Kaname with her huge brown eyes swimming. "But it wasn't enough… He was too weak to drink much, and he – he's so stubborn! He said he'll hurt me…" anger flared briefly before the anguish returned.

"He's right, Yuki," Kaname murmured gently. "To heal from such wounds as you've described… he would need to kill you, and it still would not be enough to save him. Ex-humans do not have the same level of regenerative powers as those born vampires," he whispered softly, sadly.

This brought on a fresh bout of sobbing. "I don't care! I don't care… anything to save him… anything… I'd die to save him. Father and the doctor say he's dying and they can't do anything. Father sent me away." Kaname knew Yuki was upset to voluntarily be calling Chairman Cross, her adopted father, by his paternal title to another member of the school.

Yuki looked up at the vampire with huge, red-rimmed, tear-filled eyes. "Please, Kaname… save him," she whispered, looking up to him with complete, absolute trust and innocent adoration. Like the little girl who brought her broken toys to him, because Kaname was clever with his hands and creative in his solutions, he always found a way to fix things up for her. Now she was looking to him for this… and Kaname didn't know if this was something he was going to be able to fix for her this time.

She must have read the uncertainty in his gaze because Yuki clung to him, her hands twisting in the front of his now rumpled jacket as she looked up at him, absolute desperation and pleading in her face. "Please, Kaname… you're a pureblood, you're special, everyone says so… you can do something for him, I know you can…" she begged, having no idea what she expected Kaname to do, but desperate for somebody to do something. She couldn't imagine losing Zero. She felt like she would be losing half of her heart. Like she would forever be empty. And that showed in her eyes.

"I'll do anything…" she continued, nearly hysterical and not thinking rationally, or about what she was saying. "I'll do anything you want me to Kaname, I already said I'd be yours, I don't know what else I can give. But you can have my blood, I'll stay with you forever, you can have anything you want, just please… don't let him die…"

Kaname stared at Yuki, feeling as if she'd just stabbed a stake through his heart. What had she just said? I already said I'd be yours… oh God. Oh dear God… was Zero right earlier? Had she only agreed because she felt forced, coerced into accepting him? How could he have been so very, very blind? To have her offer herself and her blood to him this way, like it was a sacrifice, like she expected him to need a – a payment or a bribe… and that she offered it for Zero to save his life… There was no bottom to the abyss of pain that opened under the pureblood's heart. Yuki…

"I would never take advantage of you that way, Yuki. You never have to bargain with me to help you…" he murmured softly, trying and failing to hide his heartbreak. How had their relationship changed so much? Had he misread her feelings for him so badly?

The absolute hurt registering in Kaname's deep eyes suddenly made Yuki realize too late how her words had sounded. She hadn't meant it that way, truly, she hadn't. She cared a lot for Kaname. She always had and she'd accepted his offer of her own free will. She was shy and frightened of what that meant, and yes, she wondered what she was getting herself into, but it was still what she wanted. Right now, however, she was desperate and over-reacting. Zero would have understood that about her, would have smacked her with a pillow for talking that way. He always seemed to know exactly what to do and say to make her calm down and feel better. But then, Zero had spent every day by her side for over four years. He knew her like few others did. Kaname was there only sometimes.

"Kaname, I…" she tried to explain, to retract the way that had come across to him, but he didn't give her a chance to do so. Kaname's graceful fingers pressed gently to her lips.

"Shh, it's all right, Yuki. Calm yourself." He smiled gently at her, burying his own pain. He thought he saw how things were. As deeply as it ripped him to the core of his heart, he would still do absolutely anything for her. Give anything it took to wipe the tears from her beautiful face. His thumbs slid under her eyes, brushing the salty moisture from her skin.

"I can't promise I can save him, Yuki… I don't know what kind of power you think I have. But this I do promise you: if it is at all within my ability, I will not let Kiriyu die," Kaname swore softly, rising to his feet and pulling Yuki up with him. If all he could do for her was save him, then… so be it. "So don't cry anymore. It will be all right," he promised. Her hands held lightly in his, he bent his head and kissed her eyelids tenderly, tasting the salt of her tears. He hadn't meant to, but his mouth slid down, lips caressing hers lightly, briefly in an almost-kiss.

He straightened up before the move could really register, before the blush had a chance to form on her tear-flushed cheeks. He squeezed her hands and then released her, heading towards the Chairman's rooms. "Get inside and clean up, Yuki," he added quietly as he left. "You know it's not wise to be alone outside, sporting so much blood with vampires about."

Yuki stared after Kaname, feeling she ought to say something, but not having a clue in the world what. She trusted him though, trusted him with her life, and with Zero's. She believed with all her heart that Kaname could save her brother. She had to believe it. If anything happened to any of them - Zero, Kaname or the Chairman… her world would fall apart. She needed all of them too much.

Numbly, she stumbled into the dorm to clean up. Tears were still streaming down her cheeks, but she dared hope now. Kaname had never let her down her whole life. She hoped and prayed this time would be no different.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five : " Vulnerability "

Kaname made his way swiftly to where Chairman Cross and the doctor had moved Zero. It wasn't hard to find. Kiriyu must have been badly hurt indeed; the scent of his blood was strong and completely unmistakable. Cross and the doctor were too busy working to answer the door, so Kaname let himself in, Cross wouldn't mind, he never did.

Kaname frowned as he made his way to Zero's room and saw the damage. Kiriyu hadn't just been attacked… he'd been bloody butchered. His throat had been slashed, his wrists had been slashed, and he'd been stabbed multiple times in the chest with apparently no restraint. His dark uniform and white shirt, completely stained with crimson, were in a dirty heap on the floor. The doctor had stripped him to the waist and bandages wrapped his wounds, but it was too little, far too late. Whoever had done this wanted Zero to bleed to death, that much was obvious.

It made Kaname sick to think of Yuki finding Zero this way. And yes… it made him sick to see the boy, so normally healthy and vital, if irritating as hell, laid out looking so pale and broken. It hadn't even been done by someone looking to feed… as far as Kaname could tell; it had been done for nothing but pure, evil spite. It was despicable. Yuki had not exaggerated. Kiriyu was dying.

Cross, kneeling by Zero's head, wiping his pale brow and looking suddenly a hundred years older than the last time the vampire had seen him, noticed Kaname first. He rose to his feet, looking exhausted and pained. The red rim to his eyes, hiding behind his glasses, betrayed that Yuki was not the only one who had shed tears for Kiriyu. He simply gestured to Zero. "It was not a vampire," he said quietly, for Kaname's ears only. He assumed that was why the Night Class president had come. Of course, the vampires would have smelt Zero's blood. He was a school guardian, and Kuran would undoubtedly want to be sure his people were not involved. Kuran was good about keeping on top of things like that.

But Kaname shook his head. "I know, I have already spoken to Yuki," he returned just as quietly. The Chairman hadn't seemed to notice the red smudges Yuki had left crinkled into Kaname's white uniform. "I'm here to see if I can help Kiriyu."

The Chairman looked surprised, but there was an unmistakable flicker of hope that sprang to life in his worn eyes. Kaname smiled faintly. "I don't know if I can do anything for him, his wounds are severe, but I will try," he half-clarified, half promised. "Please see the doctor out and shut the door. I need to be alone with Kiriyu."

Chairman Cross did as he was asked without question, escorting the doctor out and starting to close the door. He hesitated with it halfway shut, clearly wondering what exactly Kaname was up to. Kaname fixed him with a steady, even look. "Lock it," he said quietly. "Let no one enter until I leave." His tone and his gaze brokered no disagreement, even from the Chairman, who merely did as Kaname said.

Once he heard the key turn in the lock, Kaname made his way over to Zero's side. The boy was deathly pale and barely conscious, although his eyes were open. He'd awoken a few minutes ago, but he had not been able to speak. He was aware enough to turn dull, glazed eyes towards Kaname, however, and even managed to put a faint hint of dislike into the glare. But it was so weak, it was sadly pathetic.

Zero was in agony – blind, consuming, nerve-shredding agony. The doctor had tried to give him something for the pain, but he'd reacted badly to the medication and they'd had to quickly abandon the idea at the risk of sending him into shock. There was nothing to dull the raw, throbbing torture of his wounds or ease the agony of his blood loss, and the savage, hopeless hunger that accompanied it. Everyone had been trying to avoid saying anything, but Zero already knew… he knew he was dying. He could read it in their eyes. Zero wasn't afraid of dying. He danced with death every day. It was an unavoidable eventuality that he felt was closer to him than most. But he hated to leave… he feared for Yuki, when he was gone and worried what his death would do to her. The pain was so intense, however, so horribly unbearable that right now, he just wanted death to come swiftly.

He became hazily aware of a new presence in the room. Kaname. He had no idea what the vampire was doing there. Drawn by the scent of blood no doubt, like the vulture he was. Zero wasn't aware of the doctor and Chairman Cross leaving, but the next thing he knew, he was inexplicably alone with the pureblood. Despite the pain, and his near-delirium, that frightened Zero just a little, which made him angry. What, he couldn't even die in peace without this man hovering around?

He glared at Kuran as much as he was able. The bastard better take good care of Yuki after he was gone. He talked about protecting her. He'd better really do it. He'd better not take advantage of her. Zero would come back from the grave to haunt him if he did, he swore that to himself.

He made a soft, choked sound that sounded something like 'come to finish me?' but it was hard to tell around the damage done to his throat. Just that effort was hideously painful and Zero choked, coughing, a racking wheeze rattling through his punctured lungs and damaged throat. It felt like he was being slashed to pieces all over again and he groaned in agony, his silver head tipping back on the pillows, his features twisting in torture. A normal human would already be dead, even a normal ex-human. It was Kuran's latent strength in him that had allowed him to survive this far, with these kind of severe injuries, but it wasn't nearly enough to save him. His fingers clawed weakly at the bloodied sheets. God… please… let him die swiftly, he couldn't take this pain. Silent, hideously shameful tears of pure agony escaped down his pale cheeks. He couldn't even die with dignity… damn Kuran, did he have to stand there watching like he enjoyed his suffering and humiliation?

But Kaname was enjoying nothing about what he was seeing. There was absolutely no pleasure to be had in seeing a noble spirit broken. And as much as he hated to admit it, the boy did have a noble heart. He dropped his hand down to rest comfortingly on the youth's punctured chest, stilling Zero's coughing with the indefinable strength that seemed to flow from his touch.

Zero stared up at the vampire in shock as his pain actually eased marginally, or at least, he was able to stop coughing.

"No, Kiriyu… I've come to try and save you," he said quietly as he knelt down beside the bed. "Yuki offered herself to me completely, if I would keep you from dying," he said softly, sadly.

Zero's silver eyes sparked in horror and loathing and he actually tried to pull away, struggling to sit, although it was impossible around his ruined body. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. Dying or no, he looked ready to try and rip Kuran's throat out.

Kaname quickly pushed the boy back down again with iron strength that Zero could not hope to match. His eyes flickered darkly for a moment. "I told her that was unacceptable," he said coldly. "And if you think I'd take those kind of terms, you know absolutely nothing, Kiriyu. I will save you if I can, but only for Yuki, because it will break her heart if you die. Because she is willing to sacrifice so much for you. You had better be worthy of that kind of devotion, Kiriyu," he warned with lethal quietness.

Zero was only partially appeased, but he relaxed on the bed again, mostly because he had no choice. The world was spinning and everything seemed very far away. Kaname peeled off his bandages. What the hell was the vampire doing?

The strange, hot feeling of the vampire's mouth trailing across his naked chest jerked Zero a little bit back to coherency. What in the blazes…? Zero moaned in complaint, hands batting weakly at Kaname's head as he bent over him, trying to push the vampire away. God, the guy was licking him as he lay here dying? Pervert.

Kaname patiently took hold of Zero's arms, avoiding his injured wrists, and pinned them easily down at the boy's sides, continuing his ministrations. His touch, his saliva could heal and numb pain; it was a natural part of the vampire physiology, or pureblood physiology anyway.

Kaname lapped carefully at the wounds on Zero's chest before sliding up to trace the sad, awful mess that had been made of his neck. He licked and caressed the damaged flesh with his lips and tongue with incredible gentleness. Zero squirmed weakly, obviously deeply embarrassed, but his protests were growing more and more feeble.

A blessed numbness was spreading across his wounds in the wake of Kaname's disturbing caresses and Zero couldn't pretend he didn't feel it. Couldn't pretend he wasn't desperately grateful for the relief, despite its source.

Kaname wound his fingers in Zero's silver hair as he concentrated intently on Zero's neck, because the young ex-human was going to need to be able to suck blood, and soon. That would be difficult unless they could do something about this grievous wound. Kaname's dark hair brushed Zero's chin and chest as he worked. It was not an utterly distasteful job. Zero's blood was tangy, but pleasant and the feel of torn flesh under his mouth was not at all disgusting to the vampire. Kaname went ahead and let himself enjoy it. Enjoy the taste of Kiriyu's blood on his lips and the way he was starting to respond instinctively to Kaname's touch, almost whimpering softly. From pain, Kiriyu probably told himself, but possibly from other things as well. Kaname knew he might as well let himself enjoy this while he could. The pureblood was not going to enjoy what he needed to do next.

Zero stared up at the ceiling, wondering if he was going mad. There was no explaining the weird sensation of what Kaname was doing to him. At first it'd hurt like a billion hells, but the pain had numbed quickly, and now the sensation, even in his weakened state was… disturbing. Yes, it was disturbing, that was all, having that arrogant bloodsucker licking and… and kissing all over his neck! Gross. It was absolutely gross. But… it didn't feel gross. It felt good. Disturbingly good.

Kaname would have spent more time on Zero's neck, but he knew that time was a luxury they didn't have. He was numbing Zero's pain and helping his body a little, but it was not nearly enough. Kiriyu was still dying. He could feel the boy fading under his touch, slipping away like sand through his fingers. No. It could not be allowed.

Kaname straightened on his knees. He shrugged out of his rumpled white school jacket, quickly shedding the red tie. Unbuttoning his shirt he slid out of that too. This was probably going to get messy, no need to completely ruin any more of his clothing. It felt like an odd, disassociated move though, because part of Kaname was aware that after tonight he might not need his clothes again. Kiriyu was very far gone. There was the possibility that Kaname would not have enough strength for both of them. He wondered, sadly… if his death would evoke as much sorrow in Yuki as Zero's obviously would. He had no intention of dying, however. He had far too much to live for. Too much he needed to accomplish, and avenge. A nearly eternal life was not something to be wasted. But Kaname was no fool and knew it was a possibility. A risk he took on in fulfilling this promise of his.

Kaname slid his hand along his neck, lifting his hair out of the way as he bent, placing his throat at Zero's disposal, bending close so the injured boy could reach him without straining his wounds. It was the second time he was going to let Zero bite him. And Zero was still the only one who'd ever bitten him. It would be amusingly ironic, if it wasn't so pathetic. In a twisted way, they were practically going steady.

"Drink me, Kiriyu," he murmured quietly, leaning an arm on either side of Zero's body to support himself as he curled over the other vampire, knowing he would be needing support before this was over. "It is your only hope to survive. You need to replace what you have lost, and you need to heal. My blood is strong, if there is anything in this world that can mend your body now… it will be this. You will need much, so do not hesitate to take it. But Kiriyu… understand that if you kill me… the others will not take it lightly," he warned softly, but seriously. That was an understatement. There would be no need for the Council of Elders to pass sentence of execution on Zero for the death of a second pureblood… Kaname's friends right here on campus would already have torn the ex-human to shreds by then. Not that the council would mourn Kaname's passing, even if he was the last of the Kuran line. But it would be a hideous rift that would destroy everything he and Chairman Cross had been working for here. The night class would dissolve without him. Kaname hoped that Zero could keep that in mind. If not, Kaname intended to. It was not merely arrogance alone that he counted his life as important.

It seemed to take Zero a moment to absorb what Kaname was saying and confusion flickered through his silver eyes. Drink? Save him? Could anything really save him now? But Kaname wouldn't be offering if he didn't think it would work and Zero felt a small, irrepressible surge of hope in his stomach. All this was rapidly eclipsed however by the naked neck hovering temptingly in front of his mouth. He was ravenous, famished, dying of it, and there was no way he could refuse, even if he'd wanted to. Kaname's scent was intoxicating and Zero's body clearly remembered the taste of his blood. That incredible, horrible blood.

His teeth sunk into Kaname's neck almost before the other vampire had finished speaking, biting deep and desperately seeking what he needed to stay alive.

Kaname closed his eyes as he felt the other's teeth at his throat. He held very still, resolutely letting Kiriyu take his fill. He had to believe this could save the boy, and with his chest hovering right above Zero's, he would be able to feel whether or not it was working, whether Zero's ruined body was responding. Zero was drinking without hesitation or restraint, but it wasn't making a difference yet, and Kaname's fingers knotted in the bloody sheets on either side of the boy.

It was like before... Kiriyu still had no idea how to give a proper bite, and in his condition, Kaname couldn't blame him for being desperate to the point of savage. Kaname's blood ran down his shoulder and chest, dripping down onto Zero's body as the human vampire fed at his neck. Still, the fervent, fevered working of the boy's untrained mouth and the sheer intensity that he put into his bite, as if Kaname was now the only thing in his entire world... Kaname could not pretend he did not find those at least a bit enjoyable, despite himself. Even the pain and the rawness of it as Zero devoured him, was strangely stirring and compelling. Perhaps because no one else would ever have dared take him so hard, or perhaps because his first bite had been so and Kaname's body had impressioned upon that.

Kaname swallowed and tipped his head more to the side, his elbows leaning on either side of Zero's head, one hand knotting instinctively tighter in the silver hair. He was trying to give Zero better access so the boy's fangs didn't have to keep thrusting in and out of the wound. That motion hurt like hell. If they both survived this, Kaname was going to take Zero aside later to smack him and inform him that there was no need to keep moving your fangs around inside the bite wound once the initial bite was made. It could be deeply painful to your partner if you did that. But right now, Kaname simply forced himself to endure it. In a dark, primal way, even the pain was exciting. As he felt himself starting to drain, starting to hunger, Kaname's breathing increased to a steady, controlled pant as he fought the blood urge rising in himself. He wanted to bite Zero back. Needed to sink his fangs into the soft, torn flesh his face was resting against. But he couldn't. It would form a bond neither of them wanted and in Zero's current state, it would be deadly for the ex-human.

Kaname's body was weakening as his lifeblood flowed into Zero and his weight shifted more and more to rest against the boy he was leaning over. Zero seemed to lose his place because his fangs slipped out and then dug back in nearby, overlapping the first wound. Kaname's body tightened in pain and he half groaned, half growled against the side of Zero's face. God... that hurt. Unfortunately, his response was not lost on his partner. Zero didn't have a malicious bone in his body normally, and especially under these circumstances, when he knew what Kaname was trying to do for him, he would never have consciously, rationally tried to hurt him. But Zero was neither rational nor particularly conscious right now. His torn body was weak and he had no resistance to the dark, vicious streak that the pureblood's blood brought out in him. It was not for naught that he'd called Kaname's blood poison. It was incredible, intoxicating poison that seemed to blacken Zero's soul from the first, delicious taste. Perhaps it was because of the vampire who had made him this way, because of the hate and rage Shizuka had imparted with her life-changing bite, or perhaps it was simply dark, vampire instinct at work, but Kaname's groan of pain was deeply intoxicating and stimulating… almost arousing.

Zero slid his teeth out and bit the tender flesh again, and again, the bites crisscrossing and causing blood to well and seep freely from multiple puncture points. It filled Zero's mouth, even as it drained rapidly into his body through the channels in his fangs, and the dark bliss was enrapturing as he lapped and sucked urgently at the wounds he was inflicting.

Kaname groaned again, sharply, his eyes snapping open and widening slightly at the vicious way Zero was mauling his neck. The pain of bite upon bite was breath-taking. The skin, made naturally sensitive by the first bite, screamed sensation and agony at each successive penetration and the heightened awareness of feeling it brought. Kaname shuddered, dark pain and an even darker, deeper thread of animal excitement raking harshly through him. He couldn't explain why he responded so intensely to Zero's roughness and domination. Damn this stupid little brat for doing this to him, for making him feel this way... Kaname wanted to kill him, if that wouldn't have been so ironically counter-productive.

His fingers tightened painfully in Zero's hair, giving it a sharp yank, jerking the boy's head back to give himself a small respite from the intense, searing attentions of the other's mouth. "Stop it, Kiriyu!" he hissed through his teeth, a dangerous, red haze coloring his dark eyes. "You do not need to tear me to pieces. Drink, do nothing more than that," he snapped. But Kaname's usual sheen of control and command was nowhere to be found. His chest was heaving, he was panting, his face pale and yet flushed at the same time.

Broken from the life saving connection, all the fight seemed to drain out of Zero immediately and he laid still on the pillow, ashen – a waxen doll slipping from life.

Kaname swore silently. Gritting his teeth, he dipped his bleeding neck back to the other vampire's lips, his fingers gentling their death grip on the silver hair as he pulled Zero's head back in against him, almost cradling him. "Come on, Kiriyu... don't give up," he murmured, both commanding and cajoling, his chest still heaving. Kaname's head was spinning dizzily and he tipped it to rest against Zero's.

"Come on, Zero, you're a fighter, fight..." he murmured, using the boy's first name as he so rarely did. This wasn't just about Yuki anymore, not entirely. Kaname had poured too much of himself into Zero on more than one occasion now. Like it or not, a certain part of him felt for the boy. At least, he did not want him to die. Especially not after the pureblood's efforts to save him, that would be so inconvenient and futile.

Kaname closed his eyes and drew in a deep, sharp breath as Zero's fangs found him once more. Zero soon started re-biting him again, apparently enthralled with the sensation of his fangs sinking repeatedly into Kaname's flesh, and not content to let them simply stay in place.

Kaname curled his head down tightly against the pillow and the side of Zero's face, his ragged breaths groaning softly into the other vampire's silver hair. He couldn't stop Zero again; the boy obviously was depending on this connection for his very life. So Kaname grit his teeth and endured as Zero punctured his bleeding, screaming skin over and over, the boy's teeth wringing sheer agony from his partner, and the intent, lavish attention of Zero's tongue and lips that followed wringing sheer, unwanted, but complete pleasure.

Kaname was breathing through his teeth in sharp, tense little gasps that might have been called whimpers by anyone else, but Kaname Kuran did not whimper.

"Zero..." he whispered huskily, not sure if he was even asking the other to stop anymore, his senses sliding into a strange, heady kind of overdrive.

"You like it, Kuran... I can tell you do," the soft, raspy hiss from the other boy that barely even sounded like Zero's voice sent an unexpected shudder down Kaname's back. He wasn't sure Zero was entirely conscious, and he definitely wasn't himself, but... he was right. Some part of Kaname did take dark, exotic pleasure in the pain, and in his own resigned acceptance of it.

Kaname gave up fighting and let the strange, dark mix of pain and pleasure take him, lying on Zero's chest, his heart thudding against the other boy as he let him have his way with his neck. Zero continued to bite him and drink his blood in deep, needy draughts. And soon Kaname felt himself fading. His strength was gone, he'd let Zero take far too much and somewhere without realizing it, he'd passed the point of no return. Passed the point when he still had strength to fight the other vampire off in order to keep himself from being drained completely.

Kaname could barely move; his fingers limp now in Zero's hair and in the bedclothes. Zero, on the other hand, finally seemed to be improving. Color had returned to his waxen face and the grievous, horrible wounds to his chest, neck and wrists were at last starting to heal. He had yet to come fully back to his senses, however, and he did not realize that Kaname was slowly starting to fade, in danger of dying in his arms.

Kaname was aware of his danger, but he was helpless now to prevent it. He didn't have the strength to force Zero off of him, or even to struggle. It was a feeling Kaname had never had before - this powerlessness. He would never admit it, but he was frightened.

"Zero..." his voice was soft, faint, his face ghostly pale as it lay nestled against Zero's head. "I can't... you must stop..." he breathed groggily. He didn't expect the other vampire to heed him. He didn't think Zero had enough control to not accidentally kill him, and a deep, internal shiver of fear chilled the pureblood to the bones. For him, death was not an eventuality. He could conceivably live nearly forever if he wasn't killed, or if his heart was not so broken that his only option was to end his own life. So this strange possibility was almost… bizarre. He had no one to blame but himself. He shouldn't have let it go this far. He'd intended to pull back before he himself was in such critical danger, even if it meant that Zero had to die. Kaname had never intended to have to give his life for the boy. It was, he felt, an unequal trade to say the least, but it looked like that might be what would happen.

"Zero..." it was a small, hopeless whisper.

But it punctured the blood haze around Zero's mind and suddenly, he was aware of how incredibly weak Kaname felt against him, like a candle guttering and flickering in the wind. It scared him. He'd never, never felt weakness from the pureblood before, and certainly not like this.

He realized with a jolt, that he was on the verge of killing Kuran. Much as he'd toyed with the idea before… when it came down to it, he was not ready to do so. Especially not like this.

It took more effort than he would have liked to admit, but Zero jerked his head away immediately, breaking their connection. He blinked, disorientated and giddy, almost ill. Kaname's blood had done the job intended – it had saved his life, but he was by no means completely healed. His wounds were numb, thanks to the vampire, but his body was still quaking and in shock, even as the pure vampire blood now coursing strongly through him induced a state of incredible, dark euphoria. The clash of sensations, of weakness and strength was staggering and not something his body was designed to handle. Zero felt like maybe he was going insane.

He stared uncomprehending at the raw, bloody mess he'd made of the side of Kaname's throat, feeling the heavy, dead weight of the other man's body resting upon him. He did not forget the raw, dark pleasure of drinking and tearing that flesh, it echoed strongly through him even now, but now he was conscious enough to feel horrified and disgusted again as well. How could he have done that? How could he have enjoyed it so much? The innate, internal struggle between his two natures made him feel even more ill.

Trembling softly, Zero leaned up a bit, gently pressing his lips against Kaname's bloody skin. Kissing and licking it tenderly. It obviously was not an action that Zero would have chosen of his own volition, but he was still running partially on instinct and it was what he felt drawn to do. He knew when Kaname did it, it had soothed his pain. Maybe it would do the same in return. Even if he found the actions repulsive, which part of him did and part of him didn't, he owed the pureblood that much. He'd never meant to hurt the other vampire this way. He couldn't explain what came over him the instant Kaname's blood touched his lips and his senses. Why he turned even more into the beast that he hated, who could do such things as this.

Kaname stirred faintly against him, and Zero realized with a shock that the vampire was weakly leaning into his ministrations, tipping his head to let Zero caress the tender flesh he'd so recently abused. Kaname's soft, warm sigh brushed through his hair and across his cheek. This was just wrong on so many levels, but Zero felt weirdly drawn to the vampire, out of gratitude if nothing else. No matter what he thought of Kuran… the pureblood hadn't had to try and save him. Sure, Yuki would have been sad if he died, but she'd have gotten over it eventually and Kaname would have had no rival for her affections as he comforted her through her grief. Zero would never, never understand this creature. This… oddly charismatic and compelling… creature.

He continued to lap tenderly at the wounds to the pureblood's neck, enjoying the lingering taste of the blood, which seemed to help settle his churning stomach. Why wasn't Kaname healing at all, damn it? Because you drained him too much, Kiriyu. Because you're an animal and you almost killed the man who saved your life, his inner demons condemned him.

Kaname hadn't expected Zero to be able to stop. The ex-human surprised him when he released him. Perhaps he'd underestimated Kiriyu's willpower. Good… it would be very inconvenient to die. The faintly wry and amused thought traveled through his spinning, blood-starved brain.

Kaname still couldn't move and he was almost deathly cold. The warmth radiating from Zero's body below him was comforting. As was the young vampire's surprisingly gentle tending of his neck. He sensed remorse in Zero… the boy still hadn't come to terms with what he was, or what he became when the animal side of him came out. Perhaps he never would. It was a pity… because that internal conflict was part of what drove ex-humans insane. If Zero could never accept both sides of himself, then even Kaname's blood could not save him from his fate forever. Surprisingly, that saddened the pureblood, much deeper than he would ever admit.

Kaname sighed softly into Zero's hair, the other vampire's scent surrounding him as he half floated – dazed by blood loss and sheer, debilitating weakness. He'd never been this vulnerable before, but oddly he did not fear Kiriyu. Maybe someday one of them would kill the other. Maybe. But not today, nor in the near future, probably.

Kaname was cripplingly hungry, but he almost felt too weak to even feed without help. Which was just as well, because his face was buried against the side of Zero's mostly healed neck, pressed against the soft, warm, inviting skin. Zero was still too weak to survive being bitten, even if Kaname hadn't cared about the other, more tricky consequences. This side of Zero's neck would have been an unsavory bite anyway, it was the tattoo side. The tattoo was more than just ink, and it marked Zero as a tamed vampire. Kaname wasn't sure who his keeper was, but it was probably Chairman Cross, or… Yuki. Kaname dazedly moved his lips softly against the dark lines of the design. It was a little bit like touching your tongue to both ends of a battery, there was a charge there that repelled vampires, and would have made it a poor place to bite him, but it was not unpleasant to the touch. Kaname's caress was softly sympathetic, his weakened state perhaps effecting his emotions for the moment in a way that would pass once his strength returned. He couldn't imagine being branded like this, being tamed, controlled, subjected to this kind of ownership by another, even if it was power held by people he loved. This was part of the price Zero paid for walking in two worlds and belonging to neither. Perhaps Kiriyu had more inner strength to him than Kaname was inclined to give him credit for most of the time.

"Hey… you're not gonna die on me, right?" Zero's soft, raspy voice broke the silence, managing to sound both concerned and irritated at the same time. His voice was still hoarse, his neck injury needing more time to fully heal, but his wounds now were at least survivable, even if he was still very weak. He was only a little better off than Kaname was doing right now though.

"And let people think I was bested by an ex-human? I think not…" Kaname murmured back faintly, with effort. "I need to rest, recover a little. Then I shall leave."

Kaname needed to get back to the point where he could move. Then he needed to get the hell out of here and flee back to the Moon Dorm before the bottomless hunger unfolding inside of him took over and he killed one of the hapless day students just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Safe in his own rooms, he could down blood tablets until he couldn't take anymore and find a willing donor from among his friends to help him get over the worst of it. Aido had done it for him before… perhaps his friend would do so again. If he couldn't find Aido… he knew Ruka would. He hated to do that to her, again, but even understanding that no deep affection went with it, he knew she'd do it for him. Kaname knew any of them would if he asked them. Anyone in the dorm would consider it a privilege, but it was all a matter of who did he feel safe being weak in front of. The numbers in that group were very, very small. Even with help, however, Kaname knew he was going to have a killer blood-loss hangover to deal with. A faint smile tugged at his pale lips. He didn't think he'd have any problems getting the Chairman to excuse him from classes tonight. Possibly even tomorrow night, depending on how long it took him to recover.

Suddenly, Kaname's body tensed. Even nearly fainting, he could smell the presence of intruders who had no business being anywhere near the Chairman's living area. Vampires. But not anyone from the Night Class. Outsiders. People he did not know, or at least, not know well enough to recognize by scent. There were five… no, six of them. And he couldn't image they were here for any good reason, especially since he'd gotten the council to agree to not interfere in the affairs of Cross Academy.

Zero had scented the unfamiliar presences as well, although he could not tell nearly so much about them or their numbers, only that strangers were near. His hunter senses, more than his sense of smell, told him that they were vampires.

Kaname struggled to sit up, the effort taking all his strength as spots danced before his eyes and he nearly passed out just from that exertion. Zero wasn't doing much better, but he'd also struggled upright, teeth grit against the pain that the motion reawakened in his partially healed wounds. Zero caught Kaname's arm, half supporting him despite his own state. Kaname realized with a touch of irony that Zero was shifting himself around, trying to put Kaname behind him, trying to protect the vampire from whatever danger might approach. Ridiculous and impossible of course, but the gesture said something.

The strange vampires were already in the room, silent as ghosts and much more deadly. They'd probably come in through the window. Kaname smelt no blood, so they hadn't killed Chairman Cross to get in here. One small blessing at least.

Kaname tried to draw himself up, but sitting half-slumped on the floor, leaning against Zero's bed was about the best he could manage, although his eyes were every bit as commanding as ever as he glared darkly at the interlopers.

"What is the meaning of this intrusion?" he demanded, his tone cold and disdainful as if he were talking to lower life-forms, which he was. These were not aristocrats, they were common vampires. But they had the aura of trained assassins about them, and were no doubt not to be underestimated.

Kaname already knew the meaning, however. It was only too obvious. This was check in a game he hadn't realized he'd been playing until too late. He'd fallen into a trap, not even a particularly clever one. It wasn't so different from the one he'd laid for Shizuka, and unfortunately looked to be just as effective. Kaname should have seen this coming, but his emotions had blinded him… as no doubt, whoever was behind this had intended. The attack on Zero, the fact that his assailant had been so ruthless about bloodletting, and yet had left the young man alive, if barely… it was quite the piece of architecture. Even if Ichiru had carried the attack out, it hadn't been meant for Zero at all of course, that was obvious now. It'd all been a carefully crafted ploy meant to maneuver Kaname into being forced into exactly the situation he was in now. Whoever had done this had done their homework and knew which pieces to topple in order to get to him. Knew that Yuki was his one weakness, and what better way to get to him through her, than through Zero?

Kaname felt the cold chill of ice running through his sluggishly empty veins. And so they had him. Alone. Drained to the point of helplessness and unable to fight back. Brilliant execution of a mediocre plan. But his hard, commanding eyes betrayed no hint of fear, or surrender.

Zero had no idea what exactly was going on, but he knew it wasn't good and he glared suspiciously at the silent, black clad figures standing before them. They felt a lot like the ones who had attacked him with Ichiru earlier, although no longer hooded. Their long hair was tied back in ponytails, their eyes cold and deadly. There was a uniformity to their dress and hairstyles that bespoke some kind of organized training and purpose. Their manner reminded him a little of the executioners who had come for him after Shizuka's death and for half an absurd moment, he thought they'd come because of what had happened between he and Kaname, that he was going to get blamed with harming another pureblood. But it was swiftly obvious that their attention was focused on Kaname, not him. They watched the pale pureblood with wary gazes, not underestimating him even in his obviously weak state.

This, Zero did not understand. He had yet to ever come across a vampire that didn't revere and obey Kuran… himself excepted, of course. But these strangers did not back down under the dorm President's glare. He could tell that behind the calm façade Kaname was tense, worried. The boy shifted a little bit further on the edge of the bed, a protective hand sliding down to Kaname's shoulder. Zero was a guardian here at Cross Academy. The safety of all students was part of his responsibility. And although he'd certainly never imagined being called upon to protect Kaname from anyone, he would. Or at least, he would try.

Kaname felt a vague tug of wry warmth at Zero's protectiveness, although it was completely useless. There wasn't a damn thing the boy could do, and he was still trying to figure out what exactly he could do. Not much. No one had answered his question, so Kaname answered it for them. "You haven't come to kill me, not yet," he said coldly, leveling the assassins with a haughty, contemptuous glare. "There's not a one here worthy of drinking the last of my blood, and no one would be so foolish as to risk ending the life of a pureblood without the chance to drink of them. You're just slaves who do the bidding of another. It's your master you're to take me to; it's your master who covets what I am. Am I correct?"

Kaname's words appeared to shock Zero and Kaname felt a flitter of either bitter amusement or irritation. Was Zero so naive as to believe that Kaname hadn't a single enemy in the vampire world? Power did not come without enemies. There was a whole world of intrigue out there that the people at this little, cloistered school, knew nothing about. His mind was already whirling with suspicion about who could be behind this. Especially since the dark clad figures seemed slightly familiar. Not as individuals, but in their training and the way they carried themselves.

"Come with us quietly, Kaname Kuran, and we shall not harm you," one of the assassins finally spoke. His voice was low and cool, like oil on ice. On cue, all of them moved forward, one of them on either side taking Kaname's arms and dragging him to his feet. Swords had appeared silently in their hands and all the sharp, pointy, probably poisoned blades were directed towards Kaname. It didn't matter if he was half dead. They were taking no chances. Purebloods were not to be trifled with.

Kaname could not stand on his own and they were as much carrying him as dragging him. The pureblood's fury simmered hotly at this indignation, but he submitted to them with cold, quiet dignity, having no choice but to obey and bide his time as they dragged him towards the window.

Suddenly a gunshot rang through the air and one of the men holding Kaname fell with a cry of surprise and pain. In their wariness of underestimating Kaname, they had paid little to no attention to the half-dead ex-human, who was of absolutely no importance to them. Zero had managed to get to his gun and he held the Bloody Rose steady in pale fingers, already drawing a bead on another of the men surrounding Kaname.

Brave, very brave, but suicidal. Kaname knew there was no way Zero could take them all, although the shots were certain to bring attention. The scent of his blood had no doubt already made it to the Moon Dorms, although respect for Kaname's privacy and for the rules restricting them from being out of their dorm yet at this hour would probably be keeping his fellow students away. But hearing the anti-vampire gun blasting away, combined with the scent of his blood… it would draw them, and it would certainly draw Chairman Cross and the others nearby.

Zero's second shot hit true, but he did not get a chance to fire anymore before two of the vampires were on him and he only just had time to duck clumsily out of the way before a sword would have removed his head from his shoulders. Zero blocked a punch and returned with a swift roundhouse kick of his own, exhibiting much more strength than his wounds and his state of health should have allowed. But his own sheer stubbornness and the gift of Kaname's strength kept him on his feet as he lashed out at his attackers with a snarl. A blow caught him in the ribs, sending him sprawling, his injuries screaming and his head spinning. Zero couldn't recover fast enough before one of the assassins was on him, sword jabbing swiftly through the air towards his heart.

Kaname seized the slight relaxing of the guard on him as an opportunity to act. Summoning what was left of his strength, the pureblood let an intense, powerful wave of kinetic energy explode outward from him, knocking his attackers to the floor and blasting the walls outward like a small explosion. Plaster and brick rained down in chunks and choking dust billowed around them, obscuring the air. Zero's attacker was thrown aside and pummeled by flying, falling shrapnel. The vampire that Zero had shot first was trapped where he fell, half-crushed under a huge part of the ceiling that had fallen in upon him. At least two other assassins had also been struck by falling debris and were struggling out from under it, stunned and bleeding.

Kaname couldn't see Zero amid the ruin, but that was just as well, as the assassins didn't seem to be able to see him either, or at least, had no further time to worry about him. Kaname's move had caught them by surprise, but they were skilled at what they did, and they recovered swiftly. At full strength, Kaname could have taken them all without breaking a sweat. But after his last expenditure of strength, the pureblood felt consciousness fading in a whirling black miasma of dust and angry shouting. He felt himself falling, felt strong arms grabbing him roughly, hoisting him, carrying him through the shattered window and dropping down to the ground below.

The air was cool, twilight was upon the school grounds and Kaname was just aware of the sounds of chaos fading away as he was carried along at an inhumanly swift pace. He had the vague impression of being placed inside some kind of vehicle, but after that, consciousness faded completely and he knew no more.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six: "Decent into Hell"

The last thing Zero remembered was the unstoppable blade plunging for his heart… then the world exploded. Somehow he knew Kaname was the source, but one of the falling chunks of ceiling grazed his head and the next thing he knew soft, gentle hands were patting his face urgently and a familiar voice was calling his name.

"Zero!"

Zero's eyes opened groggily and he saw Yuki kneeling before him, her shocked and worried eyes fixed upon him. He was still in his room, which now looked like the site of an earthquake, still lying on the floor covered in dried blood and plaster dust. He saw one of the black clothed assassins lying still beneath a chunk of the ceiling nearby, so he didn't think he could have been out very long.

Zero instantly pushed up to his elbows, ignoring his pain and his dizzy sickness as he forced himself upright, looking around, trying to get his dazed mind to work.

"Kuran!" he rasped. "Where's Kuran?"

Yuki was staring at him, eyes wide, obviously with no answer. But a tense, cold voice from beyond her spoke up.

"We were hoping you could tell us, Kiriyu. The scent of his blood is all over this room, but he's not here." It was Ruka Souen, the devastatingly beautiful blond from the Night Class. Only now did Zero realize that there were several Night Class students in the room, as well as Chairman Cross.

"Aido, Kain, Seiren and several of the others took off after a scent trail left by what I'm assuming is this man's fellows," the Chairman explained, taking pity on Zero's dazed and bewildered look and nodding towards the fallen vampire assassin, who was bleeding sluggishly from the hole Zero had put in him with the Bloody Rose gun.

"They must have taken him…" Zero murmured in deeply consternated worry and alarm, struggling to get to his feet. Both Yuki and the Chairman stopped him, forcing him to remain sitting.

"Zero, please… you're not well…" Yuki pleaded, although her face was pale and it was obvious she was very worried by everything that was going on. The idea that Kaname might actually be in trouble hadn't quite seemed to dawn on her yet. She was so used to him being, well… invincible.

"I'm fine!" Zero snapped harshly, trying to throw her off. But he wasn't fine and ended up slumping sideways, forcing her to catch him.

Yuki was looking at him with big, worried and confused eyes. He knew what she was thinking. He'd been dying last time she saw him. He certainly was no blooming flower right now, but he was obviously very much alive… albeit surrounded by a disaster zone and one strange, unconscious vampire.

Zero couldn't explain in front of everyone. As far as he knew, most of the Night Class didn't know he was a vampire, and certainly didn't know that Kaname had ever let him drink his blood, much less do it twice. Even Yuki didn't know that Kaname had done that. Despite his lack of full understanding on the subject, Zero had managed to get the feeling that it was not something he should share with the other vampires, for both his own and Kaname's sake.

"They took Kuran," he muttered hoarsely instead, the urgency in his tone effectively putting everything else in the room on hold. "I don't know who they are, but there were six of them, dressed like that bastard," Zero nodded at the fallen one. "Ichiru is involved somehow; it was he and two other vampires like that one who attacked me. Kuran seemed to think someone had sent them for him, someone who… wanted his blood, or something…" Zero finished with a bit of frustrated vagueness. To be honest, he hadn't really gotten what all of that had been about, just the definite impression that those men wanted to hurt Kaname. Possibly… kill him. "I think he's in trouble."

When Yuki heard what Zero said about Ichiru her gaze clouded with pain for him. His brother? His brother had done to him the horrible savagery she'd discovered behind the boy's dorm? Oh Zero… As he finished though, her already wide eyes widened a little further as whole new light of concern dawned in her tender gaze. Kaname? In trouble? It was almost unthinkable.

Apparently the other vampires present agreed. Ruka gave a small, disdainful snort of disbelief. "President Kuran would never be… taken… by a paltry force such as this," she said with certainty. It was obvious she thought Zero was either lying or stupid. Most likely both.

Zero didn't know how to answer that. Any other day, he would have tended to agree as far as Kuran was concerned. But they hadn't seen Kaname a few minutes ago, hadn't seen the drained, pale shadow of himself that the pureblood had been reduced to. Because of Zero. Because he'd saved the ex-human's life. Zero felt a distinctly unwelcome stab of guilt.

"He…he was… weakened…" Zero stumbled through a partial explanation, struggling for what to say. "I was hurt, he was trying to help me," the words were soft, almost a whisper. "It was a trap…"

"Of that I have no doubt," Ruka's voice would have frozen the sun, her aura dark and perilously stormy. "But what I want to know is why you reek of his blood, Kiriyu." The accusation was not subtle.

Chairman Cross stepped between Zero and Ruka, gesturing for silence before Zero could respond with whatever retort was obviously on the tip of his tongue and make the situation worse. Zero could see in Cross's face that he knew, or guessed, exactly what had happened between Zero and Kaname. Knew the only reason Kaname would have been vulnerable to an attack like this. Despite his sometimes irritatingly starry-eyed idealism, the Chairman was no fool.

"Now, now, let's not get unpleasant," the Chairman said with a forced cheeriness that was out of place. "Zero is a brave young man, Ruka, but as you pointed out, I'm sure he would have been no match for Kuran if he meant him harm. Kuran did come in here to help Zero, this I can vouch for personally," he said, leaving no room for doubt. No one here was willing to question his word, at least, not yet. "That something happened after that, and that strangers from the outside were involved, is obvious. That Kuran is gone is obvious. So I think we had better precede for now on the assumption that Zero is telling us the truth, and as unlikely as it seems, Kuran may have been the object of a malicious plot and a… a… kidnapping." The word felt totally incongruous to everyone, even the Chairman who was usually blissfully oblivious to his own unique choices of phrase. There was no arguing against his steady logic, however, and even Ruka had to agree that he was right. The details could be sorted out later. Right now, the important thing was trying to find Kaname. Swiftly.

Several of the Night Class students were already extracting the assassin from the rubble. When he awoke, if he awoke, they would have plenty of questions for him. Chairman Cross sent several others off try to track down Ichiru and find out what part he played in all this, although the Chairman secretly doubted that the boy would be foolish enough to still be hanging around if he was involved. This was not good. Not good at all. Kaname was in many ways like a nephew to the former vampire hunter turned headmaster, but Cross was also aware that there was much more at stake here than just friendships. Without Kaname, the dream of fostering peaceful coexistence through this school was over. Even if some of the Night Class might want to remain on their own, their families, all powerful aristocrats in the vampire world, would never allow it, not after finding out how Kaname had been taken out on the very campus where their children were staying. And the consequences wouldn't stop there. Kaname was one of the only purebloods who openly and fully supported pacifism and co-existence. His loss would be a shattering setback to the movement. Things could destabilize… there could be another war. Cross had to wonder if that wasn't actually at least in part the reason for what had happened here tonight. Pacifism was not popular with all vampires. In his opinion, Kaname's parents' fates were very likely proof of that.

Yuki still seemed a little stunned. Worrying about Kaname was so unusual that she wasn't sure what to think. But as her adopted father spoke, anxiety flooded her in a sudden, savage rush. Somehow… whatever Kaname had done to try and help Zero had left him vulnerable. She got that much. No… oh no… she was the one who had asked him to help Zero. She had begged Kaname to save his life. She had unintentionally set him up for whatever was now happening to him. A strange, cold, clinging fear gripped her heart. What would life be, if she could never anticipate turning a corner and catching sight of Kaname's tall, dark figure at the end of the hall? If he never passed her on his way to class again? If she never saw his quiet smile, or that deep, sad, soulful look in his eyes that made her want to fill whatever void it was she saw there and make him happy? Those were questions she'd never asked herself. Because she'd never contemplated losing Kaname. He was like the sun, or more appropriately perhaps, the moon… he was always just there, literally for as long as she could remember. Taking him away would leave a huge, gaping wound in the fabric of her sky that nothing could replace. If Kaname was gone… she felt she would never be able to smile again.

Zero could see the stunned, pained emotions playing across Yuki's face like an open book. He reached over and pulled her close, holding her tenderly against him as the tears came, spilling down Yuki's cheeks silently.

"I'm sorry…" he whispered softly into her hair as he held her. His words kept low, for her ears only as Chairman Cross ushered the other vampires out and oversaw the removal of the unconscious assassin. If he had only been stronger… if he'd not let his feelings for his brother blind him, if he'd not gotten so hurt in the first place, none of this would have happened. Zero didn't know how he could make this right, for any of them, but he would try. With every breath in his body, he would try. Zero wanted to be doing something. Right now. But there was nothing he could do. The ones responsible for this were long gone, as most likely, was Ichiru. Kain, Aido and others were already in pursuit. If anything could be done, they would do it. Zero was in no shape to be doing much more than sitting here and counting his blessings that he was still alive.

"Kaname let me drink his blood, Yuki," Zero whispered, voice still very low. She deserved to know the truth. And he owed it to Kaname, that Yuki should know what he had done for her. Zero was not so petty he would keep this from her, not when so much may end up hinging upon it. And if there was anyone he could trust with his secrets, it was her. "It kept me alive, but he was very weak afterwards, that's why…" he couldn't finish, there was no need to. Yuki understood fully now what had happened. His bloodstained fingers curled tightly in the fabric of her uniform as he held her close and Yuki's arms wrapped tightly around his bare waist, heedless of his messy state. "He did it for you, Yuki. You saved me," he murmured hoarsely.

Yuki could not reply, she simply cried silently against Zero's shoulder in a mix of joy and pain. She was desperately glad that Zero was all right, that he was alive. Losing him would have destroyed her. But now Kaname might be lost because of it, because of her. She was surprised to find out what Kaname had done for Zero. But yes, that was Kaname. That was the gentle, selfless side of him that no one else seemed to see, but she had always known. Yuki buried her face against Zero's chest, drawing strength and comfort from his nearness. Her feelings were so jumbled and confused and she thought perhaps she would never understand her own heart.

----------------------------------

Consciousness returned slowly to Kaname, and it was not welcome. His head burned as if it was filled with hot sand and he was staked out under the broiling midday sun. His body ached about the same and his insides were knotting with painful cramps of hunger. To put it crudely… he felt like crap.

He tried to lift his hand to his head, but that was quite impossible because his hands were already lifted and he was apparently incapable of moving them. Much slower than he would have liked, Kaname realized that he was on his knees in the middle of some kind of circle that was etched into the smooth stone floor he was kneeling upon. His wrists were encased in manacles above his head which were joined together and dangled suspended on a single, thick chain from the ceiling high above. If Kaname stood, the chain would dangle slightly, giving him a limited range of movement. But it did not stretch enough to allow him to lie down properly, hence the reason he was on his knees, dangling from his arms as consciousness returned. The room was not large, but it was not small either. It possessed no windows and only one door, which he just bet was locked from the outside.

Kaname blinked slowly, forcing himself to take stock of his surroundings and try to add up the balance of his somewhat foggy memories of where he'd been last, with the reality of where he was now in order to get a clear picture of his situation. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to nab him. He was now their prisoner. Kaname assessed these facts with a cool head. Fear or even anger would cloud his thinking and he couldn't afford that.

He studied the circle on the floor. It was writing, he realized - runes and symbols. A faint, mirthless smile tugged at his lips. Of course. An anti-vampire spell. Meant to keep the person placed inside it from leaving the circle. He could probably overcome it with a little time, if he was at full strength. Right now… it'd probably cause him more pain than it was worth. Obviously, the chains meant his captors weren't placing all their eggs in one basket and he gave a light tug on the restraints. The material felt unusual. Some kind of special alloy no doubt. He could just barely make out that there were runes etched into them as well. Meaning they were most likely also specially made for taming and restraining vampires. No measures had been spared then. His smile was grim. So… they were really afraid of him, his unknown captor or captors. Good. They should be.

After a few minutes effort, Kaname managed to drag himself to his feet. It wasn't easy, he was weak and ravenously hungry, but some significant time must have passed while he was unconscious, because his body had naturally regained a little bit of strength, although only feeding would truly restore him. At least he could stand… and only swayed a little. Right about now, Kaname would have swapped his right arm for even just a box full of blood tablets. But no doubt, his privation was part of the game being played, and he'd be damned if he played along or let anyone see him desperate. Vampires… were quite literally like sharks. They could smell blood in the water in more ways than one. Never appear weak. Never, ever appear wounded.

Kaname was thoughtfully testing the strength of the chains connection to the ceiling when the door across from him opened. He did not bother to hide what he was doing and did not immediately acknowledge the new arrival's presence, as if the intrusion were a mere annoyance in his day. Kaname had known someone was coming, and who it was, when the other man was still outside the door. He'd know that scent anywhere.

He couldn't even say he was very surprised. Disappointed, maybe, that he'd been right in his suspicions. But not surprised. He'd thought those dark assassins had reminded him of the private guards employed by the Ichijos. Kaname had always known he and his former guardian would be pitched against one another someday. The pureblood continued to ignore the elder vampire, forcing Ichijo to make the first move, to vie for Kaname's attention, making Kaname the one with the power and in effect in control of their conversation. It was subtle games of power like this one that Kaname excelled at.

Asato Ichijo was not oblivious to what Kaname was doing. He'd known the boy too long to not know that it was completely intentional. And yet… he always fell into it. He hated that about this infuriating, pacifist pureblood.

"They won't come loose. Even were you at full strength, those chains would hold you," Ichijo said coldly, although his eyes betrayed his irritation.

Kaname's eyes, on the other hand, betrayed nothing. He was much better at playing the game. He finally deigned to look in Ichijo's direction as if just noticing him, and not caring very much that he was there. "Really?" was all he said, a faint, amused smile pulling blandly at his lips, as if he found this all very amusing and childish.

Ichijo did not play the game well. His face visibly colored in anger at the younger vampire's nonchalant arrogance that took no account of his current position. This maddening, conceited upstart was going to pay, and pay dearly for this, and for all the indignities he'd committed against Ichijo over the years. That thought calmed the elder vampire enough to enable him to speak again.

"Really," he returned. "And you will not be nearly so smug by the time he is done with you, I can promise you that, my dear ward."

Kaname's ears perked up at the mention of this mysterious 'he'. So… Ichijo was not the mastermind then. That put Kaname off a little, although he didn't show it. Who could possibly be more powerful than Ichijo, that he was not the one calling the shots?

"Ah, I should have known you wouldn't have the courage or the intelligence to attempt to raise a hand against me on your own, dear former guardian," Kaname returned with cool, biting disdain, returning the insincerely meant endearment. "So this master of yours… does he intend to grant your fondest wish and let you have my blood, which you have coveted for years, or does he intend to keep it for himself, and you are merely here to bore me with your unsharpened wit?" Kaname raised an emotionless eyebrow. But something strange was tugging at his senses – a scent that was out of place, because it was familiar, and yet… strange at the same time. What on earth…?

Ichijo appeared ready to boil over again, his fists clenching at his sides. It was true; he'd wanted to sample the younger vampire's blood since the boy was a child. He'd tried, when Kaname had been his ward. He'd tried every trick in the book short of actually forcing Kaname to get the youngster to let him indulge in that pleasure. But Kaname had never let him. And Ichijo was fully aware that he could not force himself on the head of the royal Kuran family, even if he was a child.

But Kaname was no longer the head of the Kuran family, even if he didn't know it yet.

Before Ichijo could reply, another voice answered instead. The voice was surprisingly young, and yet… not. "The master has no need of your blood, Kaname. His blood is already pure."

Kaname stared at the young man who had entered behind Ichijo, and this time he did not manage to keep his expression impassive or hide his surprise and confusion, even if they were only there for a moment.

"Shiki?" Kaname's brows knit in incomprehension. There was no mistaking his young cousin and fellow Cross Academy student. The stylishly wild brown hair, the soft, perfect features that got him plenty of work as a model in the human world… even the scent was undoubtedly Shiki's. But something was off. Very off. The scent wasn't quite right and his eyes… they had changed. They were two different colors. He felt different. Wrong. Like Maria Kurenai had felt wrong when her body was being inhabited by the spirit of her distant relative Shizuka Hiou.

Of all the people Kaname might have expected to see, Shiki was definitely one of the last. He would have even expected to see his friend Takuma Ichijo, the elder Ichijo's grandson, before this. Takuma would never willingly betray Kaname, he knew that, but he'd also known for a long time that his friend's family ties were going to one day cause conflict between them. But Shiki? He'd always been a sweet soul and never shown any interest in power or politics, preferring the fashionable world of fame inherited from his movie-actress mother. He was Kaname's cousin, the son of his deceased uncle Rido, but Shiki wasn't a pureblood. His mother was mixed-blood, so his words made no sense.

And yet… Kaname suspected the truth, deep in his gut… and for the first time he felt a twist of fear.

"Yes, this is Shiki's body… but Shiki is… sleeping," the being that was not Shiki replied, the cool, mocking smile on his lips a very near approximation of the calm, collected expression that Kaname had been wearing earlier. "I'm hurt, nephew… that you don't recognize your own uncle, even if I am borrowing my son's body for now," Rido mocked, his eyes cold and deadly as a serpents as he glared at Kaname.

Rido…so, it was as he had feared then. Kaname's eyes registered the shock of it for only a moment before he quickly closed off again. The impassive calm returning to his features, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for the uncle he'd believed dead to be inhabiting the body of his cousin. "If you wanted a reunion, uncle, you could have merely dropped me a line. This whole cloak and dagger foolishness was most unnecessary."

"But nephew… you always did like playing games. Did you not enjoy this one?" Rido purred, crossing the floor and standing just outside the circle on the floor that surrounded Kaname.

"The true head of the Kuran family has returned at last," Ichijo said from where he still stood by the door, glaring at Kaname.

"Really? I think it will be hard to make anyone else see the pureblood, past his mixed-blood body," Kaname said mildly, but with well placed bite. Ichijo may accept that Shiki was currently Rido… but not everyone would. There were some physical realities and limitations that could not be ignored.

Without warning, blood whips snapped out of Rido's fingers. Kaname had seen Shiki produce them many times, it was his power, like ice was Aido's. But Kaname had never been on the receiving end of them before. The whips snapped at him, alive with their own power and more stingingly painful than any leather thong as they bit and sliced harshly across his skin. They seemed to come from every angle at once, whipping his chest, his back, his arms and even his neck at the same time, leaving raw welts behind on Kaname's pale skin.

Kaname barely held his feet under the onslaught, swaying and gripping the chain dangling before him tightly in order to not give way in front of his uncle. Everything had happened so fast… but now Kaname was left standing with as many welts as if he'd been brutally assaulted by a cat-o-nine-tails, more than once. Pain seared and rippled in waves through him.

One of the deeper welts, cutting diagonally across his chest, had gone deep enough to draw blood, and it trickled slowly down his naked torso. Kaname could see both vampires react visibly to the scent of blood and a quiet, bone deep terror dug its claws into his stomach, although he still denied it expression. He already knew, though. This was going to be bad, very, very bad.

Rido's gaze trailed the trickle of blood on its downward journey with rapt fascination. "You know… it's terribly unfair of you, Kaname. For years, you denied your own guardian the blessing of your blood… but you squander it freely on some insignificant ex-human. Truly… your parents misguided pacifist ideals have obviously left your sanity wanting. But no matter, we can rectify this matter. Ichijo…" Rido gave a gesture, indicating that .he was giving Kaname to the older vampire. No doubt, it was this moment that Ichijo had been waiting for.

He moved forward swiftly enough, crossing the circle to reach Kaname. It seemed whatever enchantment was there was specific to Kaname, or perhaps to whomever was wearing the matching chains.

Kaname was not going to take this violation passively. That despicable man would bite him only at his own risk. The pureblood bared his fangs at his former guardian, growling low and menacingly in his throat. Blood was in his eyes. Just try it… just get close enough to me old man…

Kaname was starving and Ichijo's blood would be just fine by him. The instant Ichijo was in reach, intent on getting his own fangs into Kaname, the younger vampire lunged him, grabbing the older man's shirt with both crossed hands and yanking him in close with ruthless strength born of hunger and fury. Kaname's fangs sank deep into flesh and he instantly started to draw like a drowning man gulping air.

This, of course, was not part of the plan and Ichijo howled in fury more than pain, grabbing the younger vampire's chained wrists and thrusting him back, attempting to pull away. But Kaname was relentless, frenzied by the much needed taste of blood. He struggled and clawed at the older vampire, his fingers lengthening and extending into wicked talons that caught in Ichijo's clothing and his flesh, cutting and tearing and not letting him pull away. His teeth tore at the other vampire's throat as he drank. Left unchecked, he would kill Ichijo in a matter of minutes. Even in his current state, the aristocrat had seriously underestimated him. Unfortunately, Rido had not. .

Rido's blood whips enveloped Kaname again, unmerciful, unrelenting, lashing him again and again as if they would strip the skin from his body. Kaname fought, but he couldn't hold onto Ichijo around the crippling agony and Ichijo ripped away from him, holding his torn, bleeding neck with one hand and glaring at Kaname with blood red eyes, his own fangs now fully extended and sheer murder written across his gaze.

Rido hadn't eased up on the whipping, focusing on his nephew's back, in order to more easily spare his nephew's pretty looks, which he would yet have use for. Kaname barely stifled a ragged cry of pain as the multi-tongued lashes descended across his already torn and bleeding back again and again, punishing him without mercy. He sank to one knee, unable to keep his feet under the abuse, hands curled and knotted in tight fists around the chain, holding onto it to keep from going down completely.

"That was stupid, nephew… it didn't have to be this hard, not yet…" Rido murmured smoothly as he ruthlessly whipped the young vampire with vicious strength, cutting him to the bone. He could be as ruthless as he wanted… he was well aware just how much the pureblood body could take. Kaname's body wouldn't even scar once he was allowed to heal. But Rid had no intention of letting him do that for some time. The scent of Kaname's blood now filled the room, stirring up both vampires to even greater excitement and cruelty. Kaname did cry out now, he couldn't help it. The whip was flaying his flesh and Rido gave no indication of showing him mercy any time soon.

Kaname was screaming, collapsed back to his knees, dangling from the chains that bound him, blood running freely down his back, before Rido finally stopped. It as well that his nephew understood right now that he was theirs, utterly. Any defiance or disobedience would be punished in the harshest manner possible.

Kaname's limp, dangling head was jerked back by a rough hand tangled in his long, disheveled hair. Harsh fingers pried his jaw open. Kaname was reeling too badly to resist, or even to understand what was being done to him now. Until he felt the unwelcome sensation of metal and leather sliding into his mouth. He fought them then, trying to yank his head away and reject the hideous gag-like muzzle, the bridle they were placing upon him. A couple of sharp, fiery slashes across his bleeding back put an end to his struggles, if only because he was too dazed with pain to move.

The muzzle was slipped ruthlessly into place, Rido forcing the large ball gag bit into his nephew's mouth and fastening the straps of the cruel contraption behind the boy's head to hold it in place. The hard, uncomfortable metal ball in his mouth kept Kaname's jaws pried apart, mouth open so that he could not bite. He could not speak, either.

Once the pureblood was safely subjugated in this manner, Ichijo apparently felt safe approaching him again. Kneeling down in front of where Kaname dangled, he grabbed a handful of the younger vampire's hair and jerked Kaname's head roughly to the side, exposing his neck. He intentionally chose the side still raw and injured from Zero's feeding earlier and leaned in close, sinking his fangs home with cruel delight and anticipation.

Kaname's face creased in pain, snarling, his mouth straining at the muzzle to no avail. Ichijo viciously ripped a chunk out of his neck before sinking his fangs in again, as if claiming ownership and marking his property. In a way… he was. Kaname had already bitten him. Biting the younger vampire now formed a blood bond between them. Kaname knew this and his tortured body shuddered slightly. Dear god… if there was ever anyone he wanted a connection with less…

"You let that filthy little ex-human maul you quite enchantingly, Kaname," Ichijo hissed against his torn skin, his lips and teeth playing across the wounded flesh and sending dark, disgusted shivers down Kaname's spine. "Do you like it that way?" He bit Kaname and jerked his head, again tearing the already torn, bleeding, and unbearably sensitive skin.

Kaname cried out hoarsely, the sounds of his desperate agony muffled and muted behind the gag. There was no pleasure in this raw, brutal violation as Ichijo greedily forced from him what little blood his body had to offer in his current state. With Zero, it had been rough, but in an odd, exciting way, and that had been Kaname's choice. Ichijo and Rido gave him no choice. This truly was a complete rape in many ways, and Kaname shivered weakly as the older vampire drained him of whatever he'd managed to recover since being brought here, Ichijo viciously biting and tearing him the entire time until Kaname wished he might die rather than keep enduring this pain and degradation.

Kaname pressed his eyes closed to hide the silent tears of pure agony, rage and humiliation that welled unshed in his eyes. But he didn't let them fall. Kaname refused to give them that final confirmation of his torment. He was not yet sure what they wanted, what their purpose in doing this to him was, but whatever they were after, he would fight them with every last breath in his body. They could do what they liked, they would never break him. Never.

It was a relief when he finally passed out.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven: "Nightmare to Nightmare"

Yuki started when the bell rang. She'd been gazing blankly at the whiteboard behind the teacher and hadn't realized class was wrapping up. Political Science was holding her attention less than usual today. She started to jump up from her seat, then checked herself. There was no need to rush. Not anymore. Slowly, she gathered up her books and closed her mostly empty notebook, tucking them into her bag.

Usually, she and Zero should already have been rushing outside to escort the Night Class to the school building and make sure the Day Class returned to their dorms without incident. But there was no Night Class now. Almost three weeks had passed since Kaname had disappeared. The first week almost all the vampires in the Moon Dorm had stopped attending classes, although most of them still resided on campus as a full-scale search and investigation was mounted to try and find the missing pureblood.

By the second week, the genie was out of the bottle, and the Night Class vanished like morning mist, either off in pursuit of leads that they hoped would take them to Kaname, or else called home by their families who were scandalized by the whole affair.

Yuki had never realized how odd and empty the campus would feel without the presence of the vampires in their secluded dorm.

Zero said he was glad they were gone, but Yuki wasn't so sure he was quite as glad as he let on. She felt sorry for her father too. All his hard work and dreams seemed to have disappeared overnight.

Yuki realized she'd stopped walking, staring across the campus at the dark roofs of the empty Moon Dorm. She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling. Something dreadful must have happened to Kaname that with all the people searching, they couldn't find him or even pin down for certain who had taken him. The vampire assassin that had been pulled from the rubble had revealed nothing. He'd committed suicide before he could be properly questioned. The vampires of the Knight Class had searched him of course, before tying him up and putting him under guard until he awoke, but they couldn't have known that one of his back teeth was hollow, and all he had to do was bite down hard enough to smash it and ingest the instantly lethal poison contained within. Kain and Aido had been in charge of the prisoner at that point, but they couldn't stop him from dying, much to their guilt and chagrin. Whoever the mysterious vampire had worked for, he was loyal to the point of death. It was not a comforting thought.

Yuki swallowed the hard, raw lump in her throat. This surreal, aching emptiness just didn't get any easier, it seemed. Not yet at least. She kept expecting to look up and see Kaname, even though she knew she wouldn't. It was like she was living a weird dream where everything appeared to be normal, except that something huge was missing.

"Hey," Zero's soft voice and his warm hands as they settled on her shoulders made Yuki start. She turned a little, craning her neck up to see him, but not moving enough to dislodge his hands. She was feeling very lonely at the moment, and his presence was comforting.

"Oh! Zero, I was just…" but she didn't know what she'd been intending to say, or why she bothered. He saw right through her, he always did, and she let her words trail off.

"Yeah, I know," Zero replied, voice still quiet. It hurt him to see Yuki this way. The past week or two she'd lost the sparkle in her eyes and seemed to have grown increasingly lethargic. He'd swear she was even looking pale. It was awful, seeing her so downhearted. It hurt too, knowing why. Knowing she was worrying about him. Stupid thing was… Zero worried sometimes too. Just because he felt responsible in some way, of course… or so he told himself.

Gently, Zero pulled Yuki in against him, cradling her head gently to his chest. She felt so warm in his arms… he closed his eyes, trying to keep his heart even as Yuki wrapped her arms around him in return and held on, not caring that they were standing outside where any of their classmates could have seen them. What am I to you, Yuki? Am I your 'little' big brother only? He didn't know, but if all she wanted or needed from him was his comfort and protection, then she would always have it, no matter what.

Yuki always felt safe when Zero held her and she took comfort in this remaining bit of normality, feeling his heart beat under her ear as she had so often since they were children.

"Kain's supposed to come by sometime this evening to visit the Chairman, let's go see if he's here yet, huh?" he said after a few moments, giving Yuki a squeeze before releasing her. They'd not heard from most of the Night Class in over a week now, but Kain and Aido at least made something of an effort to keep Chairman Cross in the loop out of respect for him, and for the fact that Kaname had placed so much trust in him. Besides… the headmaster was not without his own resources, and Yuki knew that although he had his hands full still running the school, he was also deeply involved in trying to unravel the mystery of what had happened here a few weeks ago.

She nodded, giving Zero a small, wan smile as they headed off together.

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Yuki tossed fitfully in her sleep, the sheets bunching around her legs. White.Red. Blood everywhere… Always the same nightmare.

The world dissolved into red… then Kaname was there. Not looking like he did now, but as he had then – his face rounder and softer with youth, his eyes not quite so distant, although already sad. The long, flyaway sepia hair whipping in the wind was unchanged. He held out his hand to her and Yuki reached for him, but her arm was so small and her fingers too short, she couldn't reach him and she couldn't move. She looked down to find that the snow was up to her waist. But it wasn't white. It was red. It wasn't snow either. No… she was mired in a deep pool of blood that was slowly sucking her under. She panicked and looked back up, searching for Kaname… but he was gone. Gone…

Yuki groaned and whimpered softly in her sleep, fists knotting feverishly in the covers. Slowly, in the corner of the darkened room, an even darker shape coalesced into being, as if the shadows were drawing together, away from the usual shapes they cast in order to form a different shape. This one was shaped like a being - a tall, person-shaped being.

Yuki, lost in her night terrors, was unaware of the nightmare taking shape in the waking world in the corner of her room.

Yuki tried to scream, but no sound other than a soft, pitiful mewling escaped her. No one could hear her, no one would come… there was no one left to come. They were all gone. All dead. She was alone. Yes… that's what she feared in the darkness of her dreams. That's the part she didn't remember when she awoke. They were all dead. There was no one left…

But there was someone there. She could sense the presence, although she could not see them. Ice swept down her spine and she struggled as she sank to her chest in the quicksand-like blood pool. No… this was wrong, there shouldn't be anyone else here. She was always alone in this blood soaked place. Always, for as long as she could remember. The presence she felt was not comforting. It was exactly the opposite and her heart raced in increasing terror.

The strange face of a man she did not recognize appeared before Yuki. He was looking at her in a way that made her want to shrink back and wish that the blood would hurry up and pull her all the way under just so she could escape.

He smiled coldly… and she saw the fangs. He was a vampire. He looked old… older than most of the vampires she'd ever seen. His eyes were cold… dead… He reached for her…

Yuki woke herself up with a short little scream of fright. There was no time to calm down and remember that it had only been a dream, however, because Yuki woke from one nightmare into another and in fact, wasn't sure she was awake at all. Because the face from her dream was still there, hovering over her. A gloved hand clamped over her mouth, choking off her cry and pressing her into the bed with painful force.

"Shh…" the bearded vampire hissed softly and Yuki's whole body trembled at the dark, terrifying aura that rolled effortlessly off of him. She was momentarily immobilized by fear and by the strange, heavy weight of his will pressing down upon her. "Be still, girl… there's an old friend dying to see you…" he murmured with an obvious hidden meaning that Yuki did not understand.

Suddenly Yuki realized that it wasn't just a glove pressing down across her mouth and nose… it was a folded cloth, the heavy smell of chemicals pervading her brain as consciousness swam sickeningly.

The jolt of the realization broke whatever spell she was under and Yuki thrashed with unexpected vigor brought on by pure terror and desperation. She clawed at her attacker's hand, fumbling fingers sliding between glove and sleeve to rake deep scratches across his wrist as she bucked and tried to roll away.

The shadowy figure leaning over her was surprised, but not thrown off. His grip tightened and his other hand grabbed the front of her thin pajama shirt, pressing down and holding her in place while the drug quickly took effect.

Yuki's struggles stilled and her body slackened, her hands falling to her sides and twisting weakly in the sheets one last time before swimming blackness engulfed her.

Asato Ichijo lifted the unconscious girl swiftly into his arms with a dark scowl. His wrist had already healed from her scratch, but he didn't appreciate her causing such trouble. He was not accustomed to dirtying his hands with this kind of work personally, but this was the best option.

Rido wanted the girl, and even with Kaname out of the way, she was very well protected. While they could simply have sent another squad of assassins after her, this was much less messy and much more efficient. With Ichijo's ability to control darkness and bend light waves to render himself or anything else invisible at will, it was simplicity itself to slip unnoticed onto the school grounds and into the girl's bedroom.

There were footsteps in the hall; someone must have heard the girl's small cry. It was unexpected that anyone should hear that, or think enough of it to come running, but it wasn't disastrous. Ichijo swiftly tossed his cloak around Yuki as he held her, and like shadows dissolving when the light shifted off of them, both of them simply vanished from view, although they remained in reality exactly where they had been.

"Yuki?" Zero knocked softly on her closed door. When he dozed off during the day, it might take a small nuclear explosion to wake him, but he was a light sleeper at night, since it was against his nature to be sleeping then although he still doggedly followed the normal daytime schedule of the human world. In any case, he was attuned to listening for Yuki's nightmares and he'd heard her cry out. Also… there was some odd, creeping sense of dread that was painting goose bumps across his skin and made him want to assure himself that she was all right. "Yuki?"

Getting no answer, he simply slid the door open, figuring she needed to be woken and knowing she wouldn't mind. She usually sought him when the nightmares were bad anyway. The empty, mussed bed made him frown and for some reason sent a dark chill up his spine. There was something wrong. There was something indefinably… evil… in the room that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He felt like he was being watched, his hunter senses screaming that there was a vampire nearby… but that wasn't possible, the room was completely empty. Even Yuki was missing. He looked quickly around… there was nowhere for her to have gone that he wouldn't be able to see her, he'd just come in through the only door and the window was shut. It was as if her nightmares had manifested and sucked her into the dream world.

"Yuki!" His call was louder, more urgent this time, bordering on panic. "Yuki, where are you? If this is a joke it isn't funny! Yuki!"

Flicking on the lights and looking around frantically, Zero knelt and looked under the bed in a last desperate hope that maybe she'd crawled under there for some reason.

Suddenly an intense cold wave passed over him, seeming to sap all the energy from his being and Zero swooned, senseless.

Ichijo stepped over the boy he'd rendered unconscious on the floor. He could hear others in the house awakening from the sounds of Zero's raised voice a moment ago and knew he had best be gone. Not that he couldn't take them all out if needed, but that wasn't in the plan and he preferred not to tip his hand too soon. Sliding open the window, he climbed out and dropped down the short distance to the ground below, carrying Yuki away at a brisk but calm pace. After all, no one could see them.

"Zero? What is it? Is Yuki all right? Another nightma…" Chairman Cross in dressing gown and nightcap, glasses perched somewhat crookedly on his nose, pulled up abruptly when he saw Zero slumped over on the floor and Yuki's bed empty. His gaze immediately flew to the open window, curtains fluttering faintly in the night breeze. He hurried over and peered out, but he saw nothing. Crossing swiftly back to Zero, he knelt by his as-good-as-adopted son's side, checking his pulse and rolling him onto his back.

"Zero, Zero wake up…" he urged, patting the youth's cheek.

Zero groaned and opened his eyes sluggishly, blinking a few times as if trying to figure out what had just happened.

Akatsuki Kain appeared in the doorway behind the Chairman. Of all of them, he alone was not wearing pajamas. Like all vampires, he was nocturnal and had been using the Chairman's study on the other side of the house when a familiar feeling of darkness and the sound of voices and movement at the other end of the dwelling had attracted his attention. After his visit, Kain had requested the use of the Chairman's library for the night, as it was quite extensive and there was a possibility that it might contain information intentionally omitted or stricken from similar records in vampire libraries.

Aido had talked Kain into helping him try to research what had happened to Kaname's parents, as it might have a bearing on what had happened to Kaname. Grasping at straws, perhaps, but as time drained away their options were dwindling alarmingly and there was no lead that wasn't worth at least considering.

Zero finally came aware all the way and he sat bolt upright, looking urgently around. "Yuki's gone!" he said as he scrambled to his feet, a trifle unsteadily.

The Chairman rose as well, lightly catching hold of Zero to keep him steady. A deep frown pulled across the older man's face. "What happened, Zero? Did someone attack you?" He couldn't believe that Yuki would just up and go off somewhere in the middle of the night without word.

Confusion blanketed Zero's face. "No… I mean… I don't know. I came in here because I heard Yuki cry out, I thought she was having a nightmare, but the bed was empty and she was nowhere in sight. I looked under the bed and then… I just blacked out. I don't know what happened… hey!" Zero had just caught sight of the fluttering curtains, pulling away from Cross and making his way over to the window. "Did you open this? It was closed when I came in."

Cross looked disturbed and deeply worried. "No, it was like that when I came in just now and found you lying here. Are you sure it was closed when you came in? I heard you calling for Yuki barely a minute or two ago."

"Before you passed out, did you feel anything out of the ordinary? Cold, perhaps? Or fear?" Kain's serious, worried voice from the doorway made both of the others realize that he was there for the first time.

Zero frowned thoughtfully, battling the panic throbbing in his throat in an attempt to think rationally. "Yes, I did. The whole room felt… dark. Oppressive. Right before I passed out I remember a kind of cold sensation," he confirmed. "I could have sworn there was a vampire in here, but there wasn't."

"There was," Kain replied, his voice quiet and tense. He crossed swiftly over to Yuki's bed, moving the covers around and bending his face down close, smelling them. "You just couldn't see him."

Zero looked at him like he was slightly off his rocker, but the Chairman knew Kain was searching for a scent that did not belong, something that would tell them who else besides Yuki had been in here.

"Some vampires have the ability to render themselves invisible to the naked eye, Kiriyu. They can command light and darkness and confound the senses of even other vampires. It is a perilous ability and there are only a handful who possess it," Kain explained. The only one whom Kain knew of by more than just reputation was the head of the Vampire High Council, Takuma's grandfather, Asato Ichijo. Actually… he didn't know for certain that Ichijo possessed this power. Certainly, no one had ever told him so in as many words. Those who had the ability did not advertise it, although such information sometimes leaked out, or was at least spoken of in rumor. But the darkness he'd felt before had reminded him of the time that the elder vampire had visited them in the Dorm. It was logical such an old vampire with such a powerful and relatively undiluted family bloodline would have such powers. And the pieces fit with what Zero had experienced.

It wasn't enough though. It was mere suspicion only, which was not enough to accuse an Ichijo, even among friends. Certainly, he and Aido had already tried to check up on the Ichijos as much as possible already, given that it was known things had not been easy between Kaname and his former guardian, and because Takuma had never returned to school and seemed to have effectively disappeared as well. His family insisted he was away on urgent family business in Moldavia, however, and so that was that. Shiki had never come back either, but the word was he'd been offered a film deal at the last minute to replace another actor and had snapped up the chance. It all seemed a bit fishy, yet weeks of effort had still provided no way to link any of it to Kaname's disappearance, and it was possible they were totally unrelated. Kain didn't know what to think anymore.

If he could just find something definite… Kain froze, nose pressed close to the sheets. He could smell Yuki, of course, the whole bed smelt like her, but there was a second scent here. It was faint, but unmistakable, and it was fresh. There was his proof.

"Whoever did this was careful not to leave any trace of themselves or their scent behind. But Yuki must have caused her assailant to touch the sheets here, or else scratched him and then touched them herself, because their scent is clear…" he said slowly as he straightened up, turning back to the other two.

"AND?" Zero prompted impatiently.

"It was Lord Ichijo," he said quietly. "As I feared."

Cross looked deeply troubled, Zero looked stunned. "I-Ichijo, but how could he… why…?"

"Not that Ichijo, Zero," Cross said softly. Zero was alarmed to see a certain light of resigned fear in the headmaster's eyes.

"No, not Takuma," Kain clarified. "His grandfather, Asato Ichijo."

"Head of the Vampire Council, the oldest and most influential non-pureblood in the vampire world," Cross sighed, suddenly looking very weary. In many ways Ichijo was older and more powerful than many purebloods. Cross had had dealings with him before over the years, especially through Kaname, and the thought that he had taken Yuki and done it personally filled headmaster's heart with fear and a shocked hopelessness that he battled hard to deny.

"Well if we couldn't see him, then that means he might not have gotten too far away! We've got to try and catch him!" Zero said urgently, not understanding why they were all just standing around here when some monster had made off with Yuki.

The Chairman grabbed him by the collar before he could rush off, holding him back. "And do what, Zero? How do you catch an enemy you can't see? And with only three of us to cover the whole school grounds? At best we will be rushing around in the dark wasting time. At worst we will provoke him and he may harm Yuki…" Cross's voice strangled off slightly, his throat momentarily swelling shut. That girl was his daughter, he'd raised her and he loved her as much as any father could love their child. Blood mattered nothing.

Zero faltered, hating to have to accept that Cross was right. His head and heart were spinning in fear and anger. Yuki... She must have been in this very room, along with her attacker, when he came in. They were right here and he'd not known it! He'd let them get away…

"Don't blame yourself, Kiriyu," Kain broke into his thoughts, apparently reading them easily in his expression. "There was nothing you could have done. Ichijo is a foe far beyond your strength. Even I would not be able to take him on alone, or resist the force of his will if he bent it full upon me. There are few who can. You are right, Chairman, we must go about this sensibly. If Ichijo has taken Yuki, it is reasonable to assume that he was likely involved in Kaname's disappearance as well."

Cross nodded, determination having returned to his gaze as he got over his initial shock and his mind quickly spun back into gear. "Yes, we must call back the rest of the Night Class Students who are still faithful to Kuran and tell them of this development. Yagari and the hunters he trusts must be informed as well…" Cross was now deep into planning and organizing mode, which was what he did best, be it school picnics or full scale search and rescue operations.

Zero felt agonizingly helpless, his stomach so knotted up that he felt sick. There was nothing he could do but wait for a part he could play in the plans swiftly being put together and enacted and each second that ticked by took Yuki further and further out of reach.

I'll find you, Yuki. I swear… I swear…

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Kaname dangled from his bonds, only semi-conscious. How long had he been living this nightmare? A week? Two? Three? He'd lost track of time somewhere in the midst of his frequent bouts of torture and unconsciousness. Between the dreaded visits of his tormentors, he spent a lot of his time in this half-dazed state. His uncle and his guardian made sure of that. They weren't stupid enough to let him regain enough strength to start plotting against them. So they kept him drained and weak. They gave him a little food and water, keeping him marginally sustained since they apparently didn't want him to die, but his true hunger was left un-sated and Kaname burned relentlessly for blood, the silent, unending torture of his body's need adding to the rest of the torment inflicted upon him.

Rido seemed to enjoy flogging him regularly for no reason except to hurt him, and spill more of the blood Kaname could ill afford to lose. Ichijo never gave his neck a chance to even start to heal, feeding on him brutally almost every day. It was disgusting… made even more so by the dark, violent bond that had formed between them. Kaname could not deny that Ichijo could make his knees weak with something other than just pain when he played his cards right, and Kaname hated him violently with his whole heart and soul for that. It wasn't fair that he should have so little control over his own body. His pure blood was a curse in this; it left him infinitely more responsive to bonding than any other class of vampire. Despite that, there was nothing but hatred in Kaname for his former guardian. Bonds tended to need to be cemented by strong emotions. Usually it was love, but in some cases, such as this, hate was just as powerful.

The worst of all though was when they would both work him at the same time, Ichijo at his neck, violating him, sucking away his lifeblood and touching him in places he did not wish to be touched while Rido whipped him mercilessly, making Kaname scream himself hoarse behind the muzzle gag, choking and gagging on the bit in his mouth. The muzzle he was always forced to wear cut him badly and his mouth and lips were raw and bleeding where the metal and leather chafed him.

In moments of weakness, Kaname wanted to die, was tempted to end his own life if he'd only had a means of doing so, in order to escape the prospect of this horror going on and on forever. But he refused to let himself stay in that frame of mind.

No.

He would not die. He would live. He would live to spite them, these people who did this to him. He would live, and he would avenge himself brutally on these bastards someday. This he swore with every tortured breath as Rido whipped him repeatedly within inches of his life and Ichijo ravaged his neck – mouth and tongue and groping fingers as brutally savage as his teeth as he tormented the younger vampire with his own helpless, agonized responses. Vengeance and hatred were powerful motivators. They were a slow poison darkening his soul, but they were all Kaname had to hold onto during the long, dark, unspeakable hours of his captivity.

Well… perhaps not all. There was also her.

Drifting in an agonized daze, Kaname would pull up Yuki's face in his mind. He would see her smile. He would remember the way she bounded across the yard to greet him as a little girl, her pigtails flying in the wind as she threw herself into his arms. Outside of his deceased parents, she was the only person who'd ever loved him unconditionally from the moment they met and never expected anything in return. Loved him not out of respect or fear of what he was, not because of his status, not even because he had saved her… but simply because it was the way she was. It was in her heart to care about everyone. She was the only one who could give him warmth… even now, even here.

Holding Yuki in his heart was Kaname's only balance against the deep, dark abyss of vengeance that consumed him. But as time passed, her face was fading from his memory and the more he was tortured, the darker and colder his resolve became. So much was being taken from him… before this was over, would he even have anything left to offer her, should he survive? Sometimes, especially after Ichijo had been having a go at him, it didn't feel like it.

Kaname heard the door creak as it opened. He'd been too out of it to scent the approach of his tormenters, but his body immediately tensed at the sound of their footsteps. He tried not to let them see how deeply their appearance cut fear into his heart, how much he dreaded and hated the sound of movement at the door of his prison. But he didn't always succeed. He was too weak, and they hurt him too grievously, too often. He couldn't help the way he shrank back slightly, as far as his bonds and the imprisoning circle on the floor let him. His heart raced in sickening fear.

No… damn you, no… he was still bleeding sluggishly from his last beating, it hadn't been that long ago. He couldn't take another right now… he just couldn't. But he always thought that. And they always proved to him that he could, and if they wanted him to, then he would. Why…? Kaname was given no reason, no explanation for his unending torment. They didn't question him, they weren't after information and there was nothing they seemed to want him to do except suffer and suffer...

He knew there had to be a purpose though, and this must be part of the game - to deny him even the right to know why he was suffering, to make him utterly powerless to even effect his torment by cooperating or not. Then perhaps, when they thought they'd broken him enough, maybe then they'd finally get to what they wanted, figuring by then he'd jump at the chance to escape this hell. Some part of his mind was dully able to appreciate the dark effectiveness of such a tactic, although they would be in for quite a disappointment. Kaname would never give them the satisfaction of breaking to their will. They could destroy his body; he would never give them his soul.

There was of course, another possibility for the reason behind all this… but if Rido thought he could break his nephew down bad enough to gain Kaname's consent to allow Rido to possess his body, the way he was currently possessing Shiki's… then the other vampire was sorely mistaken. Kaname would definitely die first. No matter how horribly painful the process was looking to be.

Kaname steeled himself, his fists clenching angrily into fists as he breathed slowly through his teeth. Please… no. No more… his mind pleaded, but those words would never escape his lips. They could beat him forever; he'd never beg them for mercy.

Suddenly, he realized that Ichijo and Rido's were not the only scent that had entered the room. They were not alone… his head jerked up suddenly, eyes wide with completely shock and horror as they met with the large eyes staring back at him with a matching expression.

Yuki.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight: "Too High a Price"

Aido scowled in irritation and turned up the collar of his long, black, cloak-like overcoat as a light, but persistent patter of rain began to fall, making the leaves of the trees dance and jitter around them as he and Zero trudged swiftly through the thick woods edging the north reaches of the Ichijo estate. "It would have to rain..." he muttered.

Zero wasn't nearly so bothered by the weather, or was at least far less inclined to whine about it, and continued on silently. His thoughts were fixed on Yuki. Why had she been taken? It had something to do with Kaname, that was almost certain, but what? He had no idea if the pureblood was even still alive or not. That... actually worried him, more than he would admit. But right now, most of his concern was being taken up by Yuki. She hadn't been missing that long, only a little over a day. But Zero felt sick if he let himself think of what might be happening to her. How had he let this happen? His job was to protect her... the one thing in life still worth doing... and he'd failed. But he was going to find her. And he was going to bring her home, even if he had to die to do it.

The Ichijo mansion had been discretely investigated for any sign that that was where Kaname had been taken weeks ago. But there was no one on their side who had the kind of authority needed to pull off forcing a full search of the estate and all discrete, sneaky investigations had turned up nothing.

With Ichijo's scent clearly having been found where Yuki was taken, however... that changed things. They didn't just think he was involved. They were certain of it. Which meant that Ichijo manor was again a target of interest. There were many targets of interest, unfortunately. So many that it was difficult to check them all out. The Ichijos owned massive amounts of property everywhere. Warehouses, shipping yards, factories, offices, foundries, and so many seasonal homes all over this country and several others that it had made Zero's eyes boggle just looking at the list when Chairman Cross had produced it.

The elder Ichijo had completely dropped off the radar right after Yuki's disappearance, and they had no indication where out of the many possible locations he could have taken her. There were a few reports that placed someone of his description driving towards the airport, so a lot of attention was being focused on searching out of the area. The common assumption was that wherever Yuki was being taken, was probably where Kaname was being held, if he was in fact still alive, which gave renewed urgency to the search for the pureblood. Given the lack of luck they'd had searching for him thus far, it was easy to assume that Kaname was probably being held somewhere out of the country.

With so many leads to chase, the only option was for all of them to split up. The Night Class, most of whom had been searching for Kaname since his disappearance in one way or another, now split up into twos to spread out and check every single Ichijo holding for any trace of either Kaname or Yuki. Toga Yagari had already organized the hunters they could trust and they were dispensed all over the world. It was a good plan since they were trained to be ready to hunt vampires anywhere on the globe at a moment's notice. Their task was unique this time of course, as they were trying to save a vampire rather than kill him. Only Chairman Cross and Yagari had been able to swing that one with the hunter's association, but they'd made a good case and won it.

Zero would much rather have been with Master Toga than Aido, but Chairman Cross seemed to be one of the few who felt that it was quite likely Ichijo was keeping his prisoners nearer at hand than it seemed possible to believe, and he'd insisted Zero stay close. Zero had a suspicion he'd been paired with Aido because Aido already knew he was a vampire and even if they didn't like each other, they'd had more personal interaction than he'd had with any of the others in the Night Class, save Kaname.

Whatever the reasons, they were mutually stuck with one another and at least trying to make the best of it. That is, Zero was trying to not want to shoot Aido if he didn't friggin' shut up and Aido was trying to not want to freeze Zero solid just to see if it was possible for the ex-human to get any colder. It was obvious, however, that their priorities lay in very different places. Aido's chief concern was finding Kaname. Zero's was finding Yuki.

The noble and the ex-human had arrived at the outer perimeter of the massive Ichijo estates earlier in the day and spent the past several hours trekking in, having decided to take up a position in the woods near the mansion in hopes of seeing if there were any signs that this might be the right place.

Then, it'd started raining.

By the time they were in view of the house, the rain was really starting to come down and Zero and Aido were competing for whose mood was the foulest as the water ran down their collars and soaked through their long overcoats, slowly starting to wet them through. The trees provided no cover, sometimes actually funneling more water onto them than away from them.

Standing in the rain, watching a house that wasn't doing a single interesting thing except sitting there, being... house-like... was definitely not either vampire's idea of a good time.

"This sucks," Zero finally muttered after a while, shifting somewhat impatiently from foot to foot and trying in vain to find a dryer place to stand.

Aido seemed to have given up trying to keep dry and was staring with resigned, moody moroseness up towards the house on the top of the hill. Night was falling. He'd been up all day and that certainly had not improved his mood any. He yawned, trying to keep tiredness at bay. He was about to suggest that they take turns keeping watch and getting a little rest – as nothing interesting seemed in any imminent danger of happening – but he stopped as the sound of a car approaching along the long, winding road threading through the estate caught at his sharp hearing.

Zero heard it after a few moments too and both of them watched as the dark limo finally came into view, driving straight up to the house and pausing in front long enough to disgorge its occupants before pulling away and heading towards the garage.

"Well, well, look who's here," Aido said quietly, a slight bite that sounded more like betrayal than anger edging into his tone as he nodded towards the figure getting out of the car and hurrying up the walk towards the house, trailed by a set of large bodyguards and a servant bobbing along with an umbrella.

Zero squinted a little to see what Aido saw through the drizzling rain. When he did, he understood the reason for Aido's tone.

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The rain was really coming down in earnest as Takuma Ichijo made his way swiftly up the front steps of his ancestral home, the neck of his jacket turned up against the chill. A servant ran along beside him, holding up an umbrella that did little to keep off the rain that was being driven about by the gusting wind rushing up the hill upon which the house sat.

Once inside, Takuma looked around. He realized that he was looking for some kind of greeting or welcome after his long trip, but of course he knew none would be forthcoming. Wherever his grandfather was, he wouldn't appear until he wanted to grill Takuma on how things had gone, and the younger Ichijo was certainly in no hurry to see him. As for Rido... Takuma would be more than glad to never see him again... save for the fact that he was holding Shiki captive.

There was no one else here to make this huge old tomb feel like a home, except for the servants. Takuma wished he could go back to the Academy, but he doubted now that his grandfather would ever let him go back.

Of course, for a little while, he'd doubted that his grandfather was ever going to let him out of his room again after the days he'd spent imprisoned in there. Oh he'd been treated fine, the servants bringing him everything and anything he could have wanted... except his freedom. Totally cut off from the world, he'd had no idea what might be happening elsewhere.

Then his grandfather came with a 'chance to redeem himself' by way of a trip to Moldavia of all places to look after the Ichijo interests in a deal that was going down there. Seeing it as his only chance to escape becoming a permanent prisoner in his own house, Takuma had quietly accepted. He'd thought once he was away, he would be able to catch up on what was going on... but it was not to be. His grandfather's bodyguards went with him and they were as much his jailers as his protectors. He'd been whisked straight off to Moldavia on one of the Ichijos' private jets, and had remained there, with no way to contact anyone from home for the better part of two or three weeks now.

Finally, business was concluded there and he had just come back from the airport. He was trying to ignore the silent, restrictive presence of his bodyguards as they followed him into the house, but it wasn't easy. Takuma was, to put it mildly, thoroughly depressed and feeling very alone. Heck, he even imagined he could smell some out of place, lingering trace of Yuki's scent here in the main hall. Yuki, of all people. Talk about completely random. Obviously, he was missing the Academy and his friends there more than even he knew.

He made his way to his rooms in silence and slammed the doors in the faces of his guards. He'd tried to be polite to them, tried to be cheerful and friendly as was his nature. But by now he was thoroughly worn out and he gave up.

Discarding his overcoat carelessly on the floor and flopping onto his bed, Takuma let his face sink into his pillow.

When they were children, Kaname often referred to this house as 'the prison' and his guardian as the warden. Takuma knew he'd always felt trapped here, always felt like the elder Ichijo was watching him. Which he was. He'd certainly paid more attention to Kaname than he ever had his own grandson. Although... it was not the kind of attention that Takuma had ever been inclined to feel the least bit jealous about – quite the opposite, actually. Takuma had always wished he could get his grandfather to just leave Kaname alone. The pureblood had never wanted to live here, although he and Takuma had subsequently become very close friends because of it.

The prison... it hadn't really seemed a prison to Takuma back then. He would laugh when Kaname said that and tell him he was being melodramatic again... Now, however, Takuma found he agreed completely. This place was one great big gilded cage, and he wasn't sure how he was going to escape. Certainly, he could just run away... he could try, but it wasn't that easy. The Ichijos owned practically everything. There was hardly a pie anywhere they didn't have their fingers in, from business to politics. There was no way you could really run from them. Even Kaname hadn't been able to entirely escape, although he'd certainly managed to gain more freedom than Takuma ever had.

Kaname... where was his friend, right now? Was he at the Academy, wondering if Takuma had turned against him? Was he all right? He knew Ichijo and Rido had been up to something before he was forced to leave, but he didn't know what exactly. He couldn't image that they could get at the pureblood very easily. He hoped not, anyway.

Takuma sighed into his pillow.

Outside, thunder crashed and lightening painted a vivid flash against his closed window shade. As night deepened, the storm was starting to pick up into a howling, swirling gale.

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Yuki's blindfold had been removed at the bottom of the stairs, right before she was manhandled into this room by the two vampires escorting her. She'd awoken only about a short while before, dizzy and disorientated with no idea how long she' been kept unconscious. She had been bound hand and foot and blindfolded with no idea where she was or why. She was finally untied, but the blindfold was left on as she was dragged stumbling down a long flight of stairs, shivering slightly because the night clothes she had been abducted in did little to keep out the dungeon chill. The stone floors were cold under her bare feet.

The room she found herself in now looked like a cell and the scent of blood was heavy and oppressive in here, the dark, brooding atmosphere like a lead shroud. She expected that this was meant to be her prison... or worse... her tomb and she was about to verbally lash out at her captors in frightened anger, when she became aware that this room already had an inmate. On his knees, strung up by chains from the ceiling...

Yuki froze, all thought suddenly deserting her as shocked horror rooted her in place. The sad figure in the center of the room was so badly abused it took her a moment to even recognize him... but she knew Kaname too well to not recognize those dark eyes, and the familiar face beneath the pallor and bruising.

"Kaname..." she whispered, her voice sounding small and tinny in her own ears and in the oppressive expanse of the empty room. Tears welled instantly in her eyes as her heart clenched in horrified pain at seeing him like this.

Kaname was deathly pale, his dark, wavy hair disheveled and clinging to the blood that caked the side of his face and his neck. His neck... oh God... his long, beautiful neck was a complete mess. It made her sick to look at. It was obviously he'd been repeatedly and brutally fed upon. Both sides were torn and scabbed with wounds new and old that had not been able to heal. Kaname's body was resistant, almost immune to infection; else he would surely have succumbed to his mistreatment already. His captors had made no effort to bind or treat the wounds they left him bearing.

The rest of the pureblood had fared little better. Welts and bruises crisscrossed his chest faintly. And from the three-quarters angle she viewed him at, Yuki could see that that was mild compared to the state of his back. Kaname's back was so cut and welted, so covered with blood from shoulders to waist that she couldn't even see his skin. Again, old injuries were overlaid with new, some of which were still bleeding sluggishly, speaking of repeated abuse over time.

But the main thing that had almost rendered him unrecognizable was what Yuki's gaze slid back to with sick shock. A horrible contraption contorted Kaname's beautiful face. It looked like some kind of demented horse's bridle, with a thick bit that was locked over his tongue, fastening to a ring on either side of the pureblood's mouth, leather straps pulled tight across his cheeks and disappearing back behind his head. It was a muzzle, Yuki realized with shock. The large, round bit kept her friend's cracked and swollen lips pried painfully open. She could see his fangs glinting dully in the faint light.

There were no words to describe the heartbreak of seeing how badly Kaname had been hurt, nothing that could explain the breath-stealing pain that tore Yuki's heart out of her chest. Fear for herself, for the fact that she'd been kidnapped, was forgotten. She gave a soft, inarticulate cry of sorrow and rage and wrenched away from her captors, running to Kaname. She dropped down on her knees in front of him, her hands gently cupping either side of his face. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.

"Kaname..." Yuki repeated softly, having forgotten everything else for the moment.

Kaname was stunned. The last thing he'd thought or expected to see was Yuki standing before him in this dungeon, barefoot and in her pajamas of all things. He thought he was dreaming. Hoped he was. So often, he'd seen her in his dazed dreams... but he knew, this time she was really here. And true terror threatened to suffocate him. He couldn't protect her here. Couldn't keep her safe from whatever designs Rido and Ichijo had in bringing her to this place. Kaname trembled softly as Yuki's gentle, warm little hands held his face. Her fingers caressed him tenderly, the first gentle touch he'd felt in an eternity. He'd almost forgotten what it felt like, to have someone touch him softly, to not expect pain from every contact. As much as he hated to see her here... he couldn't help leaning his head into her tender caresses, desperately craving the sweet gentleness of which he was completely starved.

He ached at her tears and silently burned with shame that she should see him this way. He felt a strange, tense hitch in his chest that traveled up to create a hard, heavy lump in his raw throat.

Yuki's fingers slid over the rough straps of the horrible muzzle, seeing the way it had so severely cut and damaged her friend's gentle face and intense anger spiked up to join her heartbreak.

"How could you? How could you do this to him?" she raged, glancing over her shoulder towards the two vampires responsible with burning malice that few would have expected from such a sweet looking girl.

Not waiting for, or perhaps not expecting an answer, Yuki's gaze immediately refocused on Kaname and her arms slid around behind his neck, fingers tracing the straps of the gag back to the buckle which she swiftly started to undo. She couldn't stand to see it on him, it was too terrible, too degrading and painful and her only thought was to try and ease his suffering anyway she could.

As usual, Yuki thought nothing of her own danger. As usual, she trusted Kaname implicitly. The thought that he could hurt her never even crossed her mind.

It crossed Kaname's mind though, and his heart sped up as he felt the buckle of the gag sliding loose behind his head. He tried to jerk his head away. Much as he loathed the hated contraption, right now he wanted it to stay in place. Because Yuki's scent, so close to him, completely filled his starved senses and the blood lust cramping intensely in his insides screamed instantly for her. Her, whose blood had always been the most tempting and intoxicating scent in the world to him.

Yuki didn't understand and thought that she'd been too rough and accidentally hurt him in her haste. "Sorry, I'm sorry... it's okay..." she soothed gently as she pulled the clasp free and eased the straps tenderly away from his cheeks. The muzzle had only been removed on the few rare occasions when Kaname's captors had allowed him to drink some water and eat a little bread, and then it went right back on. It'd not been removed in days now and it almost felt like it had fused to him. The relief was undeniable as Yuki eased it away, even despite his fear. Her gentle fingers caressed the indents and raw skin that the gag left behind as she pulled it carefully away. Hooking her fingers in the rings, she eased the ball shaped bit carefully out of his mouth, her fingers lightly brushing his fangs as she did so.

A deep shiver ran down Kaname's spine and his pupils dilated sharply. His eyes were already blood red, but Yuki showed no signs of being afraid. She was far too busy being worried about him.

Kaname's mouth closed quickly, savoring the freedom to move again, to be able to close and ease the excruciating, leathery dryness of his mouth and tongue. He swallowed raggedly, trying to wet his aching mouth and lips. But there was only one thing they wanted to be wet with. Blood... he needed it; was beyond ravenously starving for it... and Yuki was so... damn... close...

Why hadn't Rido or Ichijo stopped her? Why would they allow him to be unbound...? Kaname's gaze snapped up over Yuki's shoulder, towards where the two vampires stood silently watching the scene unfolding before them. He saw the looks in their eyes... and he understood. They had no reason to stop Yuki. This was their whole intention for bringing her here. They would finally allow him the blood he so desperately needed... but only her blood.

Yuki was touching his face again, gently. Her tears had stilled, but still sparkled silently in her eyes. She leaned in and tenderly kissed the raw, broken skin at the corners of his mouth where the gag had hurt him. Her usual shyness with him seemed to have momentarily evaporated under the burgeoning weight of her deep concern and sorrow. Kaname inhaled sharply, the electric jolt that sang through his weakened body both delightful and completely unbearable as her lips brushed his.

This was perhaps the most horrible thing his captors could have done to him. Putting him into this state where he was near dying of need, and then bringing Yuki here. Every fiber of Kaname's being ached for her... in a way that he knew he dared not take her, not if he truly loved her. And he did. More than life, he did.

"Yuki..." he rasped, his voice raw and broken from abuse and long disuse. "Get away, please... get away from me, Yuki..." he murmured urgently, his pained, haunted eyes holding her with a desperate pleading that she did not understand.

Yuki blinked, staring at him in incomprehension, obviously wondering what she had done wrong, how she'd managed to hurt when all she wanted to do was help. Fresh tears welled and Kaname felt helpless anguish knife through him. He didn't want to hurt her, but she had to get away from him, now, before he lost his control.

"Now, Yuki!" he snapped, making her jump.

Infuriatingly, she didn't obey; instead she rose, reaching swiftly with trembling fingers for the cuffs around his wrists, trying to figure out how to undo them, desperate to get him free, despite the watchful presence of the other two vampires.

The cuffs shocked her, painfully, when she touched them, throwing Yuki sprawling backwards on the floor, wincing and blinking in surprise.

Rido grabbed her wrists in his powerful grip and dragged her back up to her knees, shaking his head with a mocking smile. Yuki shivered a little at seeing that expression on Shiki's face.

"Now, now... little girls shouldn't touch dangerous things. And those cuffs are quite dangerous. The best quality anti-vampire restraints that money can buy... incidentally, humans can't touch them either. Only those who were bonded to the charm, like myself and Ichijo can do that," he said in a mockingly scolding voice. He pulled Yuki up until she was kneeling in front of Kaname again, holding her there. He held her shoulders, dipping his head and teasingly caressing the curve of her neck with his bared fangs. Yuki's cheeks colored and she scowled, twisting a bit in his grip.

Kaname's eyes snapped murder and he growled, for the first time completely unafraid of whatever the other would do to punish him. He would not suffer that Yuki should have to endure his uncle's loathsome touch. He glared at Rido and Rido grinned back, letting his teeth linger threateningly against Yuki's jugular vein before he withdrew his head and shifted his hold to Yuki's wrists.

"You're so hard to please, nephew," Rido scolded. "Here I bring you a tender little morsel, and you turn up your nose and push her away. So very rude of you..." Rido yanked Yuki's arms around Kaname's waist, forcing her to hug him as she knelt in front of where he was chained. Ichijo moved around behind and bound Yuki's wrists together tightly behind Kaname's back, binding her into the embrace so that neither could let go. Rido was slightly surprised that this was necessary. He'd been more than expecting Kaname to fall on the girl as soon as she'd so foolishly removed his muzzle. His nephew was literally dying of thirst, he was well aware of that. The fact that Kaname was resisting so strongly, even in his condition, was a surprise, but it also made this all the more fun. His nephew was undeniably strong of will, but he would cave eventually. Eventually he would have to drink. Eventually, he would kill the girl. Even if he could keep himself from drinking her dry, at the least he would turn her into a vampire. But they'd make sure Yuki would not be drinking Kaname's blood to stabilize her. They would not allow her any blood at all and the hunger would ravage her savagely. She would eventually go mad and die. And Kaname would have to watch it happen. Then he would have to live with what he had done to the woman he loved, and it would destroy him. Drive him insane, like Shizuka, only more so. Once his mind was unbalanced enough... then Rido would no longer need Kaname's consent to claim his body for his own. The younger vampire would be all too ready to fall into the blissfully forgetful realm of deep sleep where he could dwell for eternity, a silent prisoner in his own body as his uncle claimed the pureblood shell for his own and regained his rightful place in the world.

"Didn't your mother ever teach you not to play with your food, Kaname?" Rido said with dark amusement as he straightened up.

Yuki was trapped on her knees now, arms wrapped around Kaname, her neck vulnerably and temptingly presented right by his mouth. Her eyes widened slightly at the way Rido was talking about her like she was food. They had... brought her here, for Kaname to eat her? She couldn't restrain the faint, dark shiver that ran down her spine.

Blood... so much blood... You don't mind if I eat you, do you, little girl...?

The fear was old, from that time, so long ago. But it had never completely left her. Perhaps the scar of that day would remain forever across the deeper reaches of her consciousness.

Kaname saw the sparkle of fear play through Yuki's eyes and his bruised jaw set tensely. No. He would never do that to her. He couldn't. These past weeks, he had been abused unspeakably by Ichijo and Rido... it was a travesty he could not and would not repeat upon this tender, innocent child. He breathed raggedly through clenched teeth, fighting the intoxicating nearness of her presence, and focusing instead on the warmth of her arms wrapped around him. Yuki's bound hands and arms rubbed painfully against his torn back, but Kaname was already in so much agony, it hardly mattered.

"I won't hurt you, Yuki..." he whispered hoarsely, gently, squeezing his eyes shut tightly. "I promise."

Yuki's gaze caressed Kaname's face gently. Her fear had not been of him. It had been of the past, that old, old terror that still haunted her. She did not fear Kaname. Well, maybe she always had, a little, but not... not for this reason. Not because she thought he'd hurt her. On the contrary... that was one thing she'd never feared.

"Shouldn't make promises you can't keep, nephew," Rido sneered. "Don't be fooled, little girl. I don't care how much you think he cares about you. You have no idea how deeply he's starving right now... it's unbearable, isn't that right, Kaname?" Rido ran his fingernails cruelly down Kaname's lacerated back, making the captive vampire tense in pain and bite back a sharp, agonized groan.

"He'll die if he doesn't quench his thirst. Not right away, maybe not for a long time, purebloods are very strong, after all. But eventually he will fail... and he will not choose your life over his." Rido was darkly amused by the defiant glare that had sprung to life in Yuki's gaze. She wasn't frightened at all, and he thought maybe she was a little stupid. Kaname still had his eyes clenched tightly shut, as if he could deny what was right before him and pretend that none of this was happening.

Instead of struggling to pull away from Kaname as might have been expected given the circumstances, Yuki slid her arms further around him, hugging the pureblood gently and voluntarily, regardless of the ropes that held her there. She bent her head, tenderly kissing the undamaged skin on the front of Kaname's shoulder, not wanting to touch or aggravate the wounds along his neck.

"He doesn't have to," she whispered softly. "Because I choose. It's okay, Kaname..." she murmured, tipping her head to the side and resting it lightly against his shoulder, willingly presenting her neck to him, as she'd done on more than one occasion for Zero. She knew... with Kaname it was different. It represented a step she could never come back from. Yes, she even knew that he might kill her. But she doubted that. It'd always been a possibility with Zero too, and he never had. Yuki wasn't really afraid of becoming a vampire. Okay, maybe she was, but not completely. Kaname had been hurt so badly... she could tell he was starving, she knew the symptoms very well. He needed blood to survive and to heal... she would gladly give him hers, without hesitation.

Yuki closed her eyes, drawing in a slow, deep breath, her hands clasping together behind Kaname's back as she held him. "It's okay, go ahead, drink..."

A half sob caught in Kaname's chest. Yuki's offer was too incredibly precious, and he couldn't bear that it was under these circumstances. Yes, he longed to bite her, for more than just to save his life. He wanted her by his side, forever; he wanted to share with her the deepest intimacy possible, the sharing of blood between two hearts that loved each other. But that would not be this. This would be animal feeding – practically raping the woman he loved in order to sustain his own life, even if it was with her consent. And he had no illusions about what would happen to her afterwards. Rido would never let her have his blood to complete the bond and stabilize her. Kaname would be responsible for her torment and her slow, slow death.

Kaname couldn't do it. Despite what Rido seemed to think, he was not such an instinctual beast that he had no choice, no force of will that remained his own no matter what was done to him or what kind of pain he was in. If it was a choice between their two lives, Kaname could, and would, chose hers.

"No," he whispered softly into her hair, burying his face against the side of her head. "Not like this, Yuki. You do not understand. I can't do that to you."

Yuki's grip tightened earnestly and Kaname restrained a wince of pain that she thankfully didn't notice. "Kaname, it's okay, honest, I want you to... I'm not afraid..." she pleaded softly, tenderly, desperate to ease his suffering.

Kaname kept his face buried in her hair. She had no idea how hard this was for him. He needed her to just accept his decision. "I'm not Zero, dear one," he murmured softly. "I can't just drink and leave you as you were before. The change will be hideously painful and eventually deadly for you, and they will not let me help you as I would otherwise. This is a trap, they want to use you against me, you mustn't let them Yuki, please," he murmured, knowing that the last appeal was perhaps the only one that would get her to stop tempting him with that which he could not afford to take.

Yuki fell silent, but Rido bent, raking his fingernails across her neck, drawing blood and making her wince. He grinned as he saw Kaname's whole body respond to the scent, the wounded pureblood coiling like a wound spring. Cruelly, he dragged his fingers through the crimson drops, reaching forward and painting it across Kaname's dry, cracked lips.

Kaname licked the blood off automatically, ravenously, he couldn't help it. The sweet, sweet scent was driving him insane and the taste... the incredible taste... was torture. He'd made his decision. He'd not go back on it... but dear heaven... it was almost impossibly hard. His chest heaved and he pressed his face tighter into Yuki's hair, a soft, strangled sob escaping him at his own, intense inner struggle.

Rido's cruel smile was amused. This was much more fun than he'd expected. By the time Kaname finally broke... he would be easy prey. Rido bent behind Yuki, leaning forward so she was trapped between him and Kaname, and tipped her head to the side. "Well, Kaname, don't say I didn't give you first chance," he said with a small shrug as he dipped his head and sunk his fangs into her slender neck.

Yuki started and winced, biting her lower lip in surprise and pain. It was not an unfamiliar feeling, but Rido hadn't been gentle about it and she hadn't been expecting the bite.

Kaname's reaction was much more violent. There was nothing on earth that could have incited his anger more deeply than having to watch anyone hurt Yuki, especially his ill-begotten cur of an uncle. His eyes snapped open, blazing with an inferno of rage that not even the fires of hell could hope to match and the room turned icy cold, the very air seeming to swirl with a dark, stormy aura.

"Get your hands off her! I swear Rido; I will rip your heart out with my bare hands and make you eat it before you die!" Kaname snapped viciously, his own pain and fatigue momentarily eclipsed by his wrath. It was not an idle or a fanciful threat either. Kaname could and would carry it out exactly as stated if he ever got the chance.

Rido just smiled, running his tongue visibly along the side of Yuki's throat, withdrawing his fangs to let her blood spill freely, staining the pale collar of her nightshirt darkly. His eyes twinkling maliciously, he bit down again, roughly, wringing a small gasp from his victim as Yuki scrunched her eyes shut. Rido was sucking her hard and fast, much more ruthlessly than Zero ever had, even when he'd been half out of his mind. Her heart was hammering wildly in her chest, pounding against Kaname as she held onto him tightly. Everything was white and red... it was like her nightmares... she was unreasonably terrified.

Kaname went berserk at Rido's actions and at the feeling of Yuki trembling like a leaf against him. He yanked powerfully at the chains around his wrists until blood oozed down his arms from where the manacles cut into him. Above them, dust filtered down like dark, anemic snow as Kaname's struggles actually managed to slightly shift and warp the enchanted chains where they were fastened securely to the ceiling. He howled in pure, inhuman rage, the dark, piercing sound ringing through the room and penetrating even the thick stone walls of the mansion, enough to make the outer windows vibrate faintly.

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Takuma, sprawled despondently on his bed, sat bolt upright at the faint, unearthly sound that seemed to shudder through the old mansion, as if the house itself had screamed in rage and pain. He couldn't tell where it came from, but the chill it sent down his spine was undeniable. It was a sound that could have been ripped straight out of hell.

The wind was howling at a lower pitch outside his window as rain pelted off the glass. Could it have possibly been the wind? Was I dozing off?

But even as he wondered... he knew the truth. That hadn't been the wind. The feeling that accompanied it was too familiar. It felt like... Kaname. His face paled. What if he hadn't just imagined Yuki's scent in the main hall earlier? Why exactly had his grandfather and Rido Kuran wanted him out of the way? Takuma was not a suspicious person by nature. Sometimes his friends told him he wasn't nearly suspicious enough for his own good. But his head was certainly filling up with questions now. And he didn't like them. Not one bit.

His heart twisted and thudded in his chest in unfounded, but undeniable apprehension as he slid to his feet and crossed over to the door. Opening it, he stepped out to find his bodyguards stationed on either side of the doorway. He was used to that by now and started to make his way down the hall, but the guards stopped him, moving to block his path rather than simply following him.

Takuma frowned. "I've had a long trip. I'm hungry and thirsty and I want to go to the kitchen and get something. Get out of my way."

"Not a safe time to be wandering about," one of the guards said simply, taking Takuma by the shoulder and steering him back towards the bedroom. "You should rest after your trip. We'll have food sent in to you right away." The tone was polite, but firm. Despite the show of serving him, it was he who was in their power and all of them knew it.

Takuma's neck muscles worked angrily, but he simply gave a clipped nod and spun on his heel. "Fine. Tell them to make sure it's something hot. It's freezing in here," he said in icy tones before slamming the door again.

Crap... what was he going to do now?

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Out in the wet, darkened woods, gazing up at the faintly twinkling lights of the mansion on the hill above, Zero and Aido froze. For half a moment it seemed like the dark night had grown even darker and a chill wind rushed by them, making the rapidly falling rain drops feel like icy needles against their skin. The faint, distant sound that stirred them could have been the howl of some nocturnal creature perhaps... or maybe even the wind... only no wind, no animal and no human could sound like that. Zero wouldn't have thought anything could sound like that. It chilled his blood.

Zero looked towards Aido, his hand over his eyes to keep out the sheeting downpour. "What was that?" he whispered in low tones, just audible above the lashing of the wind and rain.

Aido was staring at the house, a dark look on his face. He appeared heedless of the relentless rain plastering his wavy blond hair to his face and neck as he turned a half haunted, half steely gaze upon Zero. The ex-human realized that it wasn't water beading on Aido's shoulders now, it was ice, forming like a thick crust, like the silent anger in his cool blue eyes. Aido had the fingers of one hand pressed against his neck, as if he felt something there, in the bite area. "You already know."

Zero's jaw set tightly. Yes, he guessed he did. He'd just been hoping that he was wrong. He didn't want to know what kind of anger or torment could wring a sound like that from a living being. Zero realized that he felt a weird tingling in the back of his mind that felt a lot like the throb he'd felt in his neck when Shizuka was near. Only this was different... Suddenly, Zero realized instinctually why Aido was holding his neck, and why the look in his eyes was so sure. Kaname must have bitten him at some point, and now he felt the other vampire there, pulsing faintly in the old, completely healed wound, even as Zero felt him curiously pulsing in his blood... for it was he who had bitten Kaname, not the other way around. The thought that this was possibly what Shizuka had felt when he was near her, was not at all welcome and he did not dwell on that.

"Kaname is here. It's a good bet Yuki is too," Aido said darkly, already reaching quickly for the radio under his sopping jacket in order to contact the others.

Zero followed suit, but even as he was pulling his out, he heard Aido cursing sharply and looked over, eyebrows raised.

"Piece of crap won't work! It's wet to hell," Aido growled in uneasy frustration, whacking the communication device's shell a couple of times to try and get a response. "I don't know if the rain's drained the battery or if the whole thing's just shorted from being wet..." he muttered, bending over to create a small area that was at least a little less wet beneath his body as he quickly pried the radio apart with his fingers, scanning the innards. Aido was more than moderately intelligent, much more, and he was quickly scanning the internal circuitry of the device, trying to see if there was a way to salvage the radio.

Zero's radio still turned on and he keyed in the correct frequency quickly, calling for someone to come in. Chairman Cross, reluctantly, had remained at the Academy to keep things as normal as possible for the oblivious Day Class students and to act as the main contact point for all the teams in the field. But Zero couldn't raise him. All he got was wailing static. A minute later, his radio too shorted out and went dead as the omnipresent moisture of the driving rain interrupted the electrical connections.

Scowling, he tossed the useless object away and grabbed Aido's arm, pulling him back upright. "Forget it, it's no good. Mine was working, but we're not getting any signal. The storm must be causing too much interference!" he raised his voice to be heard over the wind.

For a moment, the aristocrat and the ex-human's eyes met and held in the terrible realization that they had at last found what they sought... but there was no way to get the word to anyone else. It was half a day's hike from here to the nearest road. They hadn't dared take a vehicle, since they were trespassing on private property the whole way and they had needed to avoid the estate guards. They were only supposed to watch and report... but of course that plan was out the window.

So now it was up to them. That's all there was to it.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine: "To Risk it All"

Yuki felt so weak... but she continued to cling to Kaname, her head pressed against his shoulder as Rido took from her. To her, it did not necessarily seem a violation, but it was hurtful and draining and she was more scared than she wanted to admit. It had never, never been like this with Zero. In a way it'd been... enjoyable... actually... with him, although she'd never wanted to tell him that, knowing how he felt about it all. Scared as she was though... Yuki was not completely terrified. Because as long as she could hold onto Kaname, even if she knew he was powerless to help her, she was all right. She focused on the rapid thudding of his heart against hers, on the warm way his skin felt against her cheek.

However, the pureblood's anger was a tangible, palpable force in the room - lowering the temperature down to nearly freezing and physically seeming to suck away the light like raging storm clouds.

Yuki shivered and cuddled closer, the cold chilling her to her bones and the storm of his rage buffeting her as much as everyone else. "Kaname..." she whispered softly against his neck. "Just hold me," she pleaded quietly.

Only then, knowing that there was nothing he could do and realizing he was causing Yuki discomfort, did Kaname let the burning flame of his rage fade back to a red-hot simmer. His hands were bound over his head, but did hold her, as tightly as he could with his will and his care, face pressing once more into her hair as he tried to give her whatever strength and warmth his own failing body possessed. "I'm sorry... I'm so sorry..." he murmured hoarsely into her hair. She wouldn't be here, wouldn't be going through this, if it wasn't for him. He ruined everything he touched, even this pure little flower whose innocence he'd tried so long to protect from everything, even her own memories.

After Kaname had finally stilled, in what Rido mistook for defeat, Rido finally released Yuki. He didn't want to actually damage the girl after all. Although he'd hurt her neck pretty badly and left her fairly weak, he hadn't left her in any serious danger. It was Kaname who had to kill her, after all. She was just a pawn and Rido was merely playing with her.

Wiping her blood slowly from his lips, Rido smirked at Kaname, tipping his nephew a careless nod as he turned to leave, sweeping Ichijo up with him in his wake. "She's delicious, nephew... you really don't know what you're missing..." he mocked as he left, the door slamming shut behind him.

Kaname continued to hold Yuki close, despite the fact that neither of them had much choice, given how they were left. She was obviously drained and her small weight rested limply against him. "Shiki's body is not pureblood, even if my Uncle possesses him. He can leave you no lasting harm, Yuki..." he whispered tenderly, wanting to reassure her. The truth, and he was keenly aware of it, was that he was the only one here who could do her unalterable damage.

Yuki sighed softly against Kaname's shoulder, feeling better now that they were alone, despite her dizziness. She'd get over the faintness, she knew that from experience. Now that they were alone, she was no longer quite so frightened. At least, not for herself. She was still bitterly afraid for Kaname.

"Next time... bite me, Kaname," she murmured softly as she closed her eyes. She knew he wouldn't now, not when she was already weakened. "You won't be taking anything I don't want to give, and I... I think I'd rather die than lose you." The whisper was so faint it was almost inaudible. But Kaname heard. His eyes stung oddly and he blinked to clear them.

He pressed a soft kiss into her hair, then against her cheek. "You won't, dear one... don't worry, everything will be all right, just rest." For her, Kaname dredged up enough persuasive power that despite their circumstances, and despite the fact that he barely believed his own reassurance, he felt Yuki relax in his arms. So trusting. Inwardly, Kaname was afraid that this time he might finally prove unworthy of that blind trust. He had no idea how he was going to save either of them.

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Zero's stomach churned. Yuki was in there... she had to be. And... that sound... he knew it wasn't her, but... His gun was in his hand and he was moving forward. "We can't afford to wait for the storm to stop or until we can walk back out and get help. I'm going in."

He didn't care if they had to storm the house, just the two of them; they had to get into there. Zero half expected Aido to try to stop him, was prepared to fend him off and go alone if he had to... but the other vampire did no such thing. Instead, he fell into step with Zero, nodding towards the structure ahead of them and laying his hand on Zero's arm to guide him around to the right, still hugging the shadows of the dripping tree line for cover.

"I've been here before. It was a long time ago, but I know a back way in that might be less guarded. Takuma showed me. He said it's one of the ways he and Kaname used to sneak out when they were children." Aido couldn't conceal the worried frown on his face at the thought of the younger Ichijo. Until seeing him enter the house a short while ago, they had heard nothing from Takuma since he and Shiki had both not returned to school after break. Frankly, Aido found it hard to believe that the happy-go-lucky vice president of the dorm had willingly betrayed Kaname and fallen in with whatever his grandfather was up to, but if he had... even if he had been coerced into taking part in whatever was going on... Aido was not going to be inclined to be forgiving.

Zero, for his part, found it strangely hard to think of Kaname as ever having been a child, although he supposed when he'd first seen the pureblood in the Chairman's house, he had certainly looked a lot younger than he did now, even if he'd still been older than both Zero and Yuki. The odd thought disappeared as quickly as it came as Zero followed Aido's lead. The aristocrat guided them around the outside of the grounds, the earth sloping sharply skyward as they started to work their way up the craggy hill towards the mansion.

The trees grew thinner and sparser as the earth became increasingly broken and rough. The rain-soaked green loam pulled away like receding gums from jagged teeth of rocky granite that started out about knee high and soon grew until in places they towered over Zero and Aido's heads. This side of the hill was more of a cliff than anything else, making it a seldom used approach. It was good cover and they scrambled quickly and silently up the punishing incline. Without trees to break the wind, the storm raged even more freely about them. Wind and rain whistled around the dark, slick crags and whipped their hair in their faces, snatching at their dark cloaks and driving rain into their eyes. Already soaked to the bone, the two struggled along in silence.

Infrequent flashes of lightening rent the sky from time to time, causing Zero and Aido to freeze and drop down into the shadows of whatever cover was most handy, lest they be spotted by a casual glance from the house now looming close above them.

Zero quickly learned to press his hand over his eyes at the first flash of light, so that his vision returned more swiftly after the lightening passed. Both he and Aido could see perfectly in the dark. Unfortunately, they knew that so too could anyone who might be guarding the house.

Blinking spots from his eyes, Zero half climbed, half slithered across the slippery, lose stones, keeping his gaze fixed on Aido's back until his eyes readjusted to the dark. Aido did not seem quite as affected by the changes between dark and light and he shot Zero a somewhat impatient look over his shoulder when the other vampire was slower to start moving again.

By the time they gained the top, their hands were scraped and bleeding from struggling to hold onto rough, wet stone and aching bitterly with cold. But neither paid any mind to that, the cuts already starting to heal. Ahead of them loomed the dark, imposing shape of the Ichijo mansion. It was somehow menacing in its own right, like a beast feigning sleep in order to lure them in. Zero had tucked his gun back under his shirt during the long climb up, but he pulled it out again now as they slid warily towards the house.

Now was the greatest danger, because the rocks were behind them and the back of the house faced them across a long, empty expanse of neatly tended garden. Pools of rain water gathered deep on the flagstone paths and verandas. The decorative trees and shrubs danced madly in the wind and rain.

Suddenly, dark shapes appeared amid the dancing trees, shapes that were neither tree nor bush. With the rain muddling and confusing all sense of smell, neither Aido nor Zero knew they had been discovered until they saw those swift shadows springing towards them.

Zero lifted his gun, but Aido knocked his arm down. "That'll bring the whole house down on us!"

Aido was already dropping to one knee, pressing his hands against the slick paving stones... and suddenly the ground turned white. Ice rushed out in a circle like a shockwave from around the vampire, freezing the soaked ground solid in every direction and turning puddles into treacherous stretches of glassy ice, made impossibly slippery by the rain that continued to beat down on them.

Zero had to agree that the less attention they raised the better, but he feared any hope of surprise they had had might already be shot. The suddenly ice-coated garden caught him a bit off guard, but he recovered quickly, having no time for wonder. The forward rush of the attackers turned into a disordered slide as they slipped, tripped and skidded on the suddenly treacherous ground.

Seizing the opportunity, Aido and Zero sprang into the fray, fists swinging as they tried to take the guards down without making too much noise. It was difficult to make much out in the storm and the chaos, but Zero noted that these guards were dressed in the same style as the assassins who had come for Kaname. As if they'd needed further proof of Ichijo's involvement by this point.

Suddenly, from inside the house, a cry of alarm went up and Zero felt his heart sink. Too late! In a matter of moments, this area was going to be crawling with guards.

Aido appeared to have the same thought because his gaze jerked towards the house. Landing a powerful kick to the man nearest him, he whirled around towards Zero.

"Servants entrance, on the left, behind the azaleas. Find Kaname and Yuki!" Aido ordered, grabbing two handfuls of Zero's soaked coat and practically throwing him in the direction indicated before he spun back again in time to cold cock one vampire and get caught with a pretty nasty glancing blow to the shoulder from another. Aido spun to the ground, but he rolled in time to avoid the whizzing slash of a saber and sprang back to his feet. His breath was coming harder than he would have liked, thudding in his chest in exertion and fear. In truth he'd spent too much time being a pampered student and not enough time at the gym to maximize the power that his noble blood gave him, but fortunately sheer determination and natural ability at least counted for something.

Zero stumbled and skidded on the slippery ground, just managing to catch his footing about the same time he figured out what Aido intended. He was sending Zero into the house in the hopes that he could find the others, while Aido remained behind to fight and cause as big a distraction as possible.

For half a moment, Zero hesitated. Already, Aido was surrounded by a mass of dark shapes closing in on him. It seemed that for the time being, in the chaos, they hadn't seen where Zero had disappeared to. The aristocrat was fighting like a bat out of hell, but Zero saw him take another hard blow to the side that he couldn't dodge in time. He almost went back as Aido stumbled and fell to one knee, in danger of going down beneath the uneven odds of the numbers against him.

But Aido was not about to be easily subdued. He grabbed the leg of his nearest attacker, other hand planted firmly on the ground, and again crystal ice formed with blinding speed at his command. Icy bonds incased the legs of the man he was holding and raced outward to trap the feet of the others. There were too many of them to completely immobilize them, but it slowed them down as they had to jerk their feet and try to break free, cursing and shouting in surprise and anger. The moment of time was what Aido needed to get back on his feet – winded and bleeding, but not nearly defeated just yet.

Zero made his decision, hoping that Aido knew what he was doing and wouldn't pay too dearly for it. He turned and ran towards the house. On a clear, sunny day, Zero probably couldn't have picked out what the hell an azalea looked like, compared to the bazillion other different variety of plant life to be found in the garden. In the dark in the middle of a gale, he didn't even bother trying, simply scouring the wall quickly until he found the hidden door near the end, made to be unobtrusive so the servants could come and go without disturbing their betters.

Just as he reached it, he heard a cry behind him. Rage or pain, he couldn't tell, but it was Aido's voice. The air shook and exploded in an arctic blast of freezing air and flying ice shards. The falling rain drops crystallized, turning into dangerous, stinging pellets of hail pelting from the sky above and Zero winced, throwing his arms up to protect his head from the barrage as he dove for the door. He looked back over his shoulder, trying to see Aido, but a searing streak of lightening knifed through the swollen clouds overhead and he had to duck his head against the glare.

Tugging the door open and throwing himself inside, Zero pushed it closed again and locked it, hoping that the lightening and whatever else had just happened out there would keep anyone from being able to tell where he'd gone. Zero sincerely hoped Aido was all right, but he knew that whatever had happened or was happening, he was on his own now. He had mere minutes until he was discovered most likely, and he had to try and find two people in a huge mansion that he had never seen before.

Oh yeah. Piece of friggin' cake.

Brushing water and ice out of his half dripping, half frozen silver hair with a quick sweep of his hand, Zero started swiftly down the hall, choosing the direction at random simply because he had to start moving, and any direction was fair game at this point. He was aware he was leaving a trail of water behind, but there wasn't anything he could do about it. He was just going to have to try to move fast.

The tingling in the back of his mind drew his attention again and this time Zero didn't try to block it out, as creepy a feeling as it was. He knew it was connecting him to Kaname, and if he could use that, then he would. Hesitantly at first, his footsteps growing swiftly more sure as he continued, Zero focused on the faint, throbbing buzz in his blood and let it draw him deeper and deeper into the heart of the unfamiliar mansion.

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Takuma paced restlessly, glancing towards the window and wondering just how bad the drop would be. His room was up in one of the mansion towers, near the top. It was a good four or five stories to the gardens below. Once, he and Kaname had crawled out his window and tried to climb down the side of the house, using their claws. It'd seemed like a good idea at the time, since Takuma's window overlooked the back of the house and there was little chance of being seen. Takuma had slipped, Kaname had tried to catch him, and they'd both fallen. He'd ended up with a concussion and Kaname had broken his arm in two places, although both mended swiftly. Takuma was the one punished, even though it had been Kaname's idea. That... had happened a lot, actually, but Takuma's easy-going nature and Kaname's quiet penitence whenever it happened had never let it seriously come between them.

Takuma gazed at the window and pushed open the curtains, watching the dark rain lashing the glass against the backdrop of the opaque black night sky. Are you really here, Kaname? Are you the one in trouble this time? He was trying to tell himself he was imagining things. That sound could not have been Kaname. He was about to go and do something rash, probably get himself completely screwed with his grandfather and he could just be chasing shadows...

Suddenly the glass in his window cracked with a sharp pop, making him jump back as the pelting rain suddenly stopped giving way against the window and instead smashed against it in a hundred small, hard points, the water turning inexplicably into hail. A faint sheen of frost iced the cracked pane at the same time as if some arctic breeze had blasted the side of the house, freezing the very rain as it fell. A brilliant flare of lightening flashed barely a heartbeat later, illuminating the bizarre scene. Fall was already upon them, but it was still too early in the season for hail, or frost.

Takuma's eyes widened and he stepped quickly back to the window, opening it and throwing the cracked storm shutter up so he could stick his head out and look around, despite the danger presented by the weird weather. He held his arm over his head, protecting it partially from the stinging darts of ice as he squinted into the storm. Already, however, the hail was failing, turning back into cold rain that whipped his light brown hair around his face as he caught sight of movement way down in the garden below. Through the driving rain, his keen eyes could see that at the other end of the house, near the edge of the drop off, there was some kind of skirmish going on. A whole section of the garden had been turned into an eerie ice sculpture more befitting some winter festival than a fall thunderstorm. The grass and the stone pathways glittered white and the trees and bushes dripped with icicles, every leaf coated with ice as if in the aftermath of a winter hoarfrost. There was only one explanation for that explosion of ice. And sure enough, Takuma caught sight of wet golden hair and the brief flash of a familiar face.

Aido!

Aido was fighting at least seven of his grandfather's hitokiri. Dark shapes on the ground indicated that some were already down, but Aido appeared wounded. He was holding his side and apparently couldn't straighten up. His movements were slowing, jerky, desperate. The howling wind brought the scent of Aido's blood to Takuma. The hitokiri were an elite fighting force that had served the Ichijo's for generations. Although usually practically invisible behind the scenes, they had handled family security for as long as Takuma could remember. He'd never seen so many of them on hand at one time though, not here at home, anyway.

Takuma didn't have time to wonder what the Aido was doing here or why they were fighting because at the same moment he heard the door opening behind him. His guards had heard the sound of his window cracking and then the rush of wind as it was opened and had hurried in, thinking their charge was trying to fly the coop.

Outside, Takuma saw Aido send one of the hitokiri sprawling, but he couldn't dodge the blow of another. The hard kick sent him sprawling and this time he was not allowed time to get up. A flurry of blows pinned the young aristocrat to the icy ground, the lethally trained hitokiri pounding and kicking him unmercifully, not about to give their dangerous adversary time to recover enough to cause any more trouble. Aido curled into himself, arms thrown up to try to protect his head, wounded and unable to fight back anymore as his adversaries beat the crap out of him.

"Move away from the window, Master Ichijo," one of the guards behind Takuma warned him. But Takuma barely even heard, frozen in place by shock as he saw one of the hitokiri raise his saber and plunge it straight downward. Aido's cry was just audible above the wind, the scent of his blood blossoming much more intensely in the chilly air.

Takuma felt like the winding threads that had brought him to this moment were finally converging on a single point of no return. Whatever was happening here, it was serious. Kaname was in danger, Aido might be dead and who knew what had happened to all the others while he was gone. Even aside from duty, part of his heart had always been loyal to his grandfather, to his responsibility and family honor. But what honor was this? Whatever his grandfather was doing... it was he who had already betrayed Takuma's trust in him. And Takuma was done. It didn't matter what happened afterwards, didn't matter if there was nowhere to run, nowhere he could hide. He was done being a pawn and a prisoner in his own life.

When Takuma did not respond, the two guards started forwards to forcibly pull him away from the window, but they never reached him.

Takuma did not turn, still standing facing the open window. But his knuckles whitened on the window sill. Suddenly lightening flashed again, but not outside this time. The bolts of light shot through the open window on either side of Takuma without touching him, striking both guards square in the chest. Aido could control ice. Takuma could control energy.

There was a terrible cry behind him, and the two vampires fell, eyes open, gaping holes smoking in their chests. The distinct smell of charred flesh filled the room.

Takuma did not look back to see what he had done. He had never killed before. Not like this. When he was younger... he'd fed on humans, of course, like the rest of his family. But he hadn't been raised to think of that as killing any more than a human thought it was killing to go to the butchers and get a fresh slaughtered chicken. His views had since changed some on that score, but in any case he had certainly never taken a vampire life before. He felt a little ill, but determined. There was no turning back now.

A rush of footsteps coming from down the hall told Takuma that the disturbance in his chambers had brought others running, more guards or hitokiri most likely. Below, Aido had stopped moving, lying still on the icy ground, a disturbing crimson stain mingling with the falling rain and spreading across the ice. It was possible he didn't have much time. It would take Takuma too long to fight his way all the way down to the ground floor at that end of the house, and he smelled the nearby presence of familiar servants and household staff whom he had grown up with. He wasn't willing to have to possibly hurt any of them.

Leaping lightly up to the windowsill, Takuma took a deep breath and jumped, throwing himself into the wild arms the dark, stormy night as he plummeted rapidly towards the ground below.

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Kaname was resting with his head atop Yuki's. She'd been very still and quiet for a while now and he could tell she was sleeping. The chains around his wrists were still supporting his weight, but as much as he could, he tried to hold her close and support her as well. He was trying to plan, to come up with a way to get them out of this. But the pureblood was dizzy, weak, and in so much pain... he could barely concentrate or keep himself conscious. The smell of Yuki's blood, drying on her neck and her shoulder, was not helping either.

Suddenly an odd, faint throb pulsed at the base of his neck. He winced, pressing his eyes shut. Given how torn up that area currently was, the strange throbbing was painful. It was not unfamiliar though. He could sense when Ichijo was near that way, after what the vampire had done to him, it was quite easy. But... this was different. It wasn't Ichijo. He didn't know why he was so certain, but he was. And if it wasn't Ichijo... it had to be the only other person who had ever bitten him. That thought didn't make sense at all. Zero? Was Zero here? Was he also a prisoner? Or...

Taking a chance with very little left to lose, Kaname reached out mentally, searching for the other vampire's presence in an effort to touch his mind, to send a clear signal that could be followed. If Zero were here, and not a prisoner... then...

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Zero's hand shot to his head as the feeling of Kaname's presence washed over him. It was disorientating, but at least he knew exactly where he was going now. Following the strong homing beacon, he easily found the hidden doorway behind the tapestry at the end of the passage, sliding through cautiously, and then taking the stairs down two at a time in his haste once he was sure no one was around. What he had felt from Kaname in that brief contact wasn't good.

The door was locked, but only with an external deadbolt, which Zero had no trouble opening. Obviously, the room was meant to keep people in, not keep them out. He could already smell the scent of Kaname's blood... and Yuki's... on the other side. Gun drawn, Zero pushed the door open swiftly, stepping into the room and sweeping it with the weapon. He was already pretty sure there were only two occupants, but he wasn't taking any chances.

He'd run into no trouble on the way here, which had him on edge. His luck didn't usually run good. But there'd been some kind of disturbance in one of the towers that seemed to have drawn everyone off in that direction. It'd sounded like lightening had struck the house, or struck someone in it, if the faint scent of charred flesh that he'd caught a whiff of a few moments later was any indication. That had been a godsend to his ability to get here undetected, but he still wasn't about to trust that luck would remain on his side much longer.

All such thoughts of caution were momentarily blasted from his head, however, as Zero finally took in the scene before him.

Kaname and Yuki knelt together on the floor in the center of the room. Kaname... was a mess, a complete, horrifying mess. Zero was not so hard-hearted that the sight didn't both sicken and worry him, deeply. The pureblood was strung up by chains around his wrists, and at first Zero thought Yuki was holding onto him, but then he saw the ropes around her wrists and realized that she was bound around him. As he quickly moved closer, he saw the blood soaking the thin materiel of the collar and shoulder of Yuki's nightshirt. Saw the dark, distinctive gashes caused by a couple of rough bites on her neck. She was so pale, and she wasn't moving, her eyes closed as she lay slumped against Kaname. Kaname... whose eyes were blood red and fangs were fully extended as he looked silently up at Zero.

Zero's gun slid up, level with Kaname's head so that the pureblood was staring straight down the barrel. Yes, Zero could tell Kuran had obviously been through hell and was clearly starving since he was so badly hurt and not healing, but that didn't make it all right for him to do this. Not to Yuki. Not in Zero's book. Fear gripped the ex-human's heart, morphing to rage by the time it got to his silver eyes. What if Yuki was dead? What if he'd taken too long to find her? And even if not... it was too late now, she'd never be the same. She'd be a vampire, locked into the same bitter fate that he was, and it would be his fault as much as Kuran's. Maybe it was even more his fault. He should have protected her…

Kaname could easily read exactly what was running through Zero's mind. What the other vampire thought had happened to Yuki. But he just looked up at Zero silently, staring down the barrel of the gun pointing between his eyes. Of course. He should have known Zero would immediately think the worst of him. Why wouldn't he? Kaname felt bone weary. It didn't matter what he did. In the end, he would always be a monster to this boy. Perhaps to Yuki too, he didn't know anymore. Perhaps they were right, especially if Rido and Ichijo were sterling examples of their race. But after the torture he'd endured, and continued to endure in resisting doing exactly what Zero's eyes now accused him of, Kaname simply did not care to have to explain himself to Kiriyu or to anyone else. Didn't care to figure out why it hurt, oddly, that Zero was so quick to damn him.

"You here to kill us, Kiriyu, or rescue us?" he asked quietly, his voice cracked and raw but his tone expressionless.

Yuki stirred against Kaname' chest, partially roused by the sound of his voice under her ear, but she did not yet regain consciousness. She was still weak, although doing a bit better after having a little time to recover. At least the movement told Zero she was still alive.

"I'm here to rescue Yuki... you can go to hell," Zero said darkly, the gun dipping back down again as he knelt behind Kaname to untie Yuki's hands. He wasn't actually intending to leave Kaname here like this... but just at the moment it was an attractive thought... so long as Zero didn't look too hard at the other vampire's cruelly torn back as he cut Yuki free. So long as he tried in vain to ignore the sheer agony radiating from the pureblood and the unwilling way it tugged at his sympathy and concern. No. Not even Kuran deserved this.

Kaname stared quietly across the room as Zero worked behind him and he felt Yuki's arms being released. He grimaced softly in pain as Yuki and Zero's hands brushed and rubbed against his raw back in the process. Kaname was too injured and too traumatized after the long weeks of torture to be able to know for sure whether or not Zero really meant what he'd just said. He hoped that Zero was just mouthing off like he always did, but he couldn't be sure and right now the thought of being left behind to the continued savagery of Ichijo and Rido was not one that Kaname could deal with. Go to hell? He was already there.

"Ah..." he said softly, a faint, hopeless tone creeping into his voice. "Then perhaps... you would be so good as to shoot me before you leave, Kiriyu," he murmured quietly.

Zero's head came up sharply and he leaned around, looking at Kaname, but it was obvious the pureblood was dead serious. He was truly asking Zero to kill him rather than leave him here alive. There was a dull, lifelessness in the red eyes that Zero had never seen before. It sent a shiver down his spine. Aw, hell... he couldn't really leave Kuran behind, seeing what he'd been through. If he had killed Yuki, then it might be different, but she was obviously at least alive still, and Zero just didn't have it in him to be that cruel and vindictive.

"Stop talking like an idiot," Zero growled softly as he quickly regained his feet, moving back in front of Kaname and easing Yuki gently away. He cradled her back gently against his chest, patting her cheek lightly as he tried to wake her.

"Yuki? Yuki..." he called her name tenderly but with concern. He could carry her out of here, but it would be much better if she could walk. He didn't know what they might run into on the way out and there was still the storm to contend with as well.

Yuki stirred again. "Kaname...?" she murmured in groggy confusion. Her eyes fluttered open and she realized whose face she was looking up into. Her eyebrows went up. "Zero?" Yuki's heart leapt and the joy in her expression registered a moment later. "Zero!"

She turned, practically flinging herself at him, wrapping her arms around him tightly in a strangling hug. Zero returned the hug gently before she pulled back again, immediately looking around for Kaname. As soon as she saw him, she realized they were still in the cell, and probably still in danger. Anguish pulled briefly through her features once more as she realized that his injuries and this whole situation hadn't been only a nightmare as she'd hoped for a moment it had.

Yuki tried to struggle to her feet, but she was still too weak for that and slumped back down again. She waved Zero off when he started to fuss, quickly gesturing towards Kaname. "Help Kaname. We've got to get him out of here. Ichijo and Shiki might come back any time!" she implored urgently.

Zero looked completely confused. Ichijo and Shiki? He thought instantly of the younger Ichijo when mentioned in that context, although he realized a moment later that she had to mean the elder.

"Not Shiki. My uncle, Rido Kuran. He is merely using Shiki's body, as Shizuka used Maria Kurenai's," Kaname's voice brought their attention back to him. The pureblood was trying to struggle to his feet, finally managing to make it up so as to put slack back into the chain. Zero's eyebrows rose at this new information, but he did not comment or question further. Now was not the time.

Zero reached for Kaname's cuffs, trying to see how they were fastened.

"Be careful! They give a nasty shoc..." Yuki started to warn, but her voice trailed off as Zero took Kaname's bound wrists - cuffs and all - easily into his hands and turned them over, studying the manacles with no ill effects at the contact.

"These bonds were made for the use of vampire hunters," Kaname said to Yuki with a hint of a faint smile as he saw her shock. "Rido and Asato needed special charms to be able to use them, but Kiriyu is a hunter. So these objects will obey him, if he knows how to work them."

Zero knew the cuffs were hunter-make, he recognized the design, although he hadn't realized they would have repelled anyone else. There was no obvious lock or hinge to the apparently seamless manacles. They were sealed by the charm in the words circling them and could only be opened by the appropriate command from the person who had put them on, or another hunter.

It wasn't a simple charm though and Zero frowned as he studied it quickly, glancing towards the circle on the floor and then back to the cuffs. He was fairly sure they were tied together. He was going to have to be careful about how he did this. Despite the fact that he had strong hunter blood, his official training had stopped when he was a child and it took him a minute or two to puzzle out in what order he needed to tackle this. It was probably the most complex charm he'd ever come across.

As he bent over the cuffs, attention fixed on them intently, Kaname leaned forwards slightly and Zero could suddenly feel the pureblood's breath brushing the back of his neck, his body instinctively going ridged.

"I didn't bite Yuki," Kaname whispered, his tone unreadable. "Rido did, with Shiki's body. She will be fine."

Zero started at the unexpected words, his gaze shooting up to meet Kaname's. He was surprised and a little angry. Why the hell hadn't Kuran just told him that in the first place? Damn him and his stupid games. But... Zero was also glad and his gaze actually softened just a tad as he looked at the pureblood. Zero knew what it was like to hunger and to fall to temptation. He had to admit that he grudgingly respected Kuran for his restraint. Somehow, he never once doubted that Kaname was telling him the truth.

"Good, then I guess I don't have to kill you after all," he muttered back in an equally quiet whisper.

A faint smile ghosted across Kaname's cut and swollen lips.

Zero's gaze swiftly dropped back to the cuffs. With a few muttered words, he pressed his hand against the metal ring that connected the cuffs to the chain. The ring clicked open, allowing the cuffs to slide free and Kaname was able let his hands drop lower than his waist for the first time in weeks. The cuffs still kept his arms crossed at the wrists, but he was no longer bound in place. Zero held up a hand for him to remain still, however.

"Don't move just yet, we have to disable this first," he said, nodding towards the circle on the floor. Zero knelt to examine it, Yuki scooting forward to do the same while Kaname watched them. He swayed slightly on his feet, but the feeling of getting at least a little freedom back was invigorating. He itched to get out of the cuffs. Looking down, he couldn't help noticing the way Zero's wet silver hair clung to his neck... the way the blood staining Yuki's collar was still so very red... Kaname took a deep, shuddering breath. With the return of a bit of hope, his hunger was coming back with a vengeance. God forgive him... both people in the room with him right now looked incredibly tasty.

Before he could stop himself, or even realize what he was doing, Kaname had dropped to his knees, his bound hands tangling in Zero's shirt as the other knelt, head bent over the inscription he was puzzling out. Kaname's face rested against the side of Zero's neck, his hair and breath brushing the ex-human's skin. The move was so sudden Zero didn't have time to react. He froze warily; very conscious of how close to his neck Kaname's mouth was resting.

"Kuran...?" he said slowly, quietly. Yuki was watching them, frozen.

Kaname's breath came raggedly. He was a heartbeat away from biting the boy. He wanted to. So badly. Yuki was completely out of the question, but he could do no lasting damage to Zero that hadn't already been done. He hadn't meant to end up here, he knew they didn't have time for this right now, but he was so hungry... so unbearably hungry and it hurt so badly...

Kaname shivered slightly and rocked back to sit on his heels, pulling away from Zero with effort. They needed Kiriyu alive, alert and on his feet. Kaname was in bad shape, and someone had to be able to protect Yuki and get her out of here. The fact that only Zero could get him out of these anti-vampire imprisonments was not lost on him either.

"I believe you have to place your hands somewhere on the circle to initiate control of it," Kaname said quietly, as if that was what he had come down here to say, before he struggled back to his feet again. The farther he was away from the other two right now, the better. He was not a safe person to be around right now.

"Yeah, thanks, I know how this works," Zero returned sarcastically, watching Kaname warily for a moment before turning back to his work. He pressed his palms on two triangle shaped runes on one side of the circle and dipped his head, muttering a few quiet words that Yuki tried to make out and couldn't. He gave a small yelp and yanked his hands back as a hot little stab of pain lanced through his palms. He looked down and found that the skin there was reddened as if burned in the shape of the rune. He shook his heads and placed them over the runes again. "Uh, guess that wasn't it..." he mumbled as he racked his brain for what he'd done wrong. Finally, he tried again, different words, and this time the runes all lit up for a moment and then dulled away, almost disappearing.

Satisfied that it'd worked that time, Zero rose to his feet and started to reach for Kaname's cuffs, which were going to be the toughest part of the puzzle.

Suddenly, they all froze at the horrible sound of footsteps on the stairs just outside the door.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten: "Unraveling"

Takuma landed on his feet with a hard thump. He'd grown considerably in talent and agility since childhood and he managed the jarring impact skillfully, absorbing it cat-like with his legs and letting them give at just the right moment, tucking and rolling on the rain soaked lawn to dispel his momentum without major harm. No human could have pulled that off, but fortunately, Takuma had his vampire resilience, grace and instincts to help him.

Still, the distance he'd fallen had been considerable and his legs burned. His right ankle had not taken the stress well and it screamed pain at him when he scrambled quickly back to his feet. Looking up through the sheeting rain, he could see dark heads silhouetted in the bright yellow square of his window high above, looking down at him with shock.

Yeah... he couldn't quite believe he'd done that either.

Already soaked to the bone even after only a few moments of exposure, Takuma broke into a limping run towards the other end of the house. The smell of Aido's blood grew stronger as he reached them and he saw the blond vampire curled on his side in a swiftly growing pool of crimson. The ice had almost all melted away under the onslaught of the rain now. Aido was lying very, very still. He looked dead.

The hitokiri looked up as Takuma approached. The one standing over Aido with a stained saber was in the middle of nudging the downed aristocrat none too gently with the toe of his boot to see if there was any response.

"Lord Ichijo, you should not be out here, there has been an incident. It is not safe," one of the men said, breaking away and heading over as soon as they recognized Takuma. Takuma wrenched away angrily and shoved him aside, trying to get to Aido.

"You idiots, what have you done?" he raged, raising his voice above the storm as he dropped to his knees in the icy mud by Aido's side. "This is Hanabusa Aido! He's a noble class and my friend! How dare you touch him?" he raged, rolling Aido onto his back and checking quickly for a pulse. He couldn't find one, but his fingers were trembling so that it was hard to be certain. Aido's overcoat had fallen open and his pale blue, rain soaked shirt beneath was quickly turning crimson from a gash across his side and two deep, penetrating wound to his chest and stomach. Rain pattered and rolled down Aido's pale face and closed eyes, clinging to his long dark lashes. Blood trickled slowly from the corner of the young noble's mouth, diluted by the falling rain. This was not good.

The news did not seem to upset the expressionless hitokiri. They were trained personal assassins from birth. Rank, class and creed did not matter to them. Only serving and protecting the interests of their master, the senior Ichijo, mattered to them.

"He was an intruder and a known associate of those who wish your family harm. His life was forfeit the moment he set foot on these grounds. We had our orders. Come with us, Master Ichijo, you are not supposed to leave the house." The hitokiri vampire was aware that somewhere in the fight, they'd lost one of their intruders, and he was anxious to begin searching. They had strict orders from the elder Ichijo regarding the younger Ichijo and would need to see Takuma back to the 'safety' of his rooms immediately.

Takuma, seething and horrified, held onto Aido's wet coat tightly, refusing to budge as the hitokiri tried to pull him away. Enemies of your family... how many of his friends had been classed as enemies of his family? How many of them had possibly already been killed while he was away and knew nothing about it? What had happened to the world, that it should go so suddenly insane?

The hitokiri were insistent and not above getting rough with their young 'master'. They jerked him upright and Takuma swung out, struggling and trying half-heartedly to push them away. A rough blow caught him in the face and he stumbled, surprised and caught off guard as they seized him and dragged him back towards the house. Somehow... he'd naively not expected them to react or to treat him like this. But they were going to take him back to his prison, going to leave Aido to die here in the darkened garden...

A bright bolt of lightning struck the man who'd hit the young noble, felling him with a cry and making everyone spin to see what had happened. Takuma stared, pale faced and wide-eyed. He hadn't meant to do that... he hadn't even realized he'd summoned the power until too late. Everything was happening too fast and he felt like he was spinning out of control. Executing Level E's on Kaname's orders was one thing; they were nothing but dangerous animals. These men... like the ones in the tower... these were vampires who had served his family for generations. What was he doing?

The hitokiri knew. They knew he was responsible and in an instant, everything seemed to change. They could not kill Takuma, he was one of those they were sworn to protect and their own lives would be forfeit, but he was a threat that needed to be neutralized until he could be safely secured. They converged on him before he'd managed to throw off his own shock and Takuma struggled blindly, panic clutching at him. Everything seemed to be happening either too fast or two slow and he felt the sharp, sudden pain of a blade slice through his shirt and across his shoulder. It wasn't a deep cut, but it was intentional. Takuma was well aware... the blades of the hitokiri were poisoned.

The pain finally jerked Takuma out of his shock and with a sudden surge of fury he threw off the men holding him, glaring at them with stormy eyes. Perhaps for the first time in his life, Takuma Ichijo actually looked like a vampire.

Lightning seared the sky, forking down with deadly, precise tongues of death to touch each and every hitokiri standing in the garden before they even knew what hit them. Takuma watched them stand there for a moment, like blackened statues in the rain, frozen in time and unaware of their own deaths. Then they toppled and fell silently to the ground.

Takuma felt dazed, numb... the quick-acting poison he'd been subjected to was already working at him, but that wasn't the reason for his reeling state of mind. Who knew it was so disturbingly easy to kill so many in a single instant? To snuff lives out like twisting the wick of a candle? A strained, wild hysteria bubbled in the back of his throat like a laugh and it made him choke. No time. No time to stand here and contemplate what he'd done. The die was cast and he had to move swiftly.

Stumbling back to Aido, Takuma bent and scooped him up in his arms. He was relieved to feel the faint, barely discernable brush of the other's breath stir against his neck as he cradled him carefully. Aido was still alive, if barely. But he was badly injured, and he'd been poisoned much more heavily than Takuma had been. In small doses, the hitokiri poison wasn't deadly. Not to vampires anyway although it probably would have been to humans. In small doses, like the one they'd administered to Takuma, it acted like a powerful sedative. Aido... Takuma didn't know how much of the poison he'd absorbed through his grievous wounds. Takuma's fingers wound tighter around the other vampire's form as he limped away as swiftly as he could, bearing the weight of the other.

Takuma knew he had very little time before the drug knocked him out. He had to try and get both of them away and safely out of reach before he crashed. He hated to cut and run, knowing that there were likely others still in danger, knowing that somewhere around here Kaname might be in danger too... but there was nothing he could do about that. His strength would soon fail him and if he simply collapsed here, Aido would die and Takuma might never see freedom again.

He could not try to navigate the cliffs in this weather, not with the burden he bore and the dwindling time he had left. But this was his home, and Takuma knew every inch of it. He knew where he could go, where even his grandfather wouldn't be able to find him. It was his private place that no one knew. He'd never even taken Kaname there, although they had shared almost everything else.

Around on the other side of the house, there had once been an old well. It'd fallen into disuse centuries ago and been covered over, a large gazebo eventually being built above it. But as a child, Takuma had discovered that if you slid aside the loose panel in the back of the gazebo and crawled far enough under the close, blanketing darkness underneath... you would find the lip of the old well, it's original cover having rotted away, its invisible shaft disappearing down into the earth below.

Trusting the rain to wash away their scent and any trace of their passing, Takuma slid aside the loose gazebo panel and crawled underneath, pulling Aido in with him and replacing the paneling behind them. Inside, he could hear the rain drumming on the wooden floor of the gazebo above, dripping down in muddy little droplets through the invisible cracks in the tightly fit planks. The underneath of the gazebo seemed significantly smaller since the last time he'd been in here as a child, but Takuma managed to wiggle his way to the entrance of the old well shaft, dragging Aido behind him.

The old ladder he'd left hanging from the lip of the well was still there. It took a lot of work to maneuver down with Aido slung over his shoulder, but as they disappeared further and further into the dark stillness of the well, and even the sound of the wind and rain faded away to muted murmurs, Takuma at last began to feel a small sense of safety and sanity returning. This had always been his secret refuge, and returning to it now calmed and stabilized him.

The well was not as deep as it had originally been when it was dug. It had filled in or collapsed years ago and now only went down about thirty or forty feet. But it was plenty far down enough to not be spotted from above, even if someone thought to look under the gazebo. Here at least, the rain did not penetrate except for an occasional drop or two.

The bottom of the well was padded with now somewhat musty pillows and blankets stolen over the years from the house and Takuma bet he probably even had a few... questionable... magazines stored down here somewhere still. He settled Aido carefully on the pillows and sank down to sit beside him with his back against the wall. The poison in his system was now well and truly starting to take effect and Takuma pressed his face into his hands, trying to clear his head.

It was pitch black down here at the bottom of the well, but after giving his eyes a minute to adjust, Takuma could see well enough and he bent over Aido, unbuttoning the other's shirt to better reach his wounds. The well was not large, and Aido had to lie with his legs bent, practically resting on Takuma's lap so they could both fit – again, it had sure seemed bigger to him as a kid – but it was dry and safe down here at least.

Takuma was worried about how much blood Aido was losing though. The poison on the blades that had injured him also seemed to be preventing his wounds from clotting and closing as rapidly as they should. Takuma dipped his head, quickly and gently licking and caressing the unconscious vampire's wounds in order to urge them to stop bleeding. Then he tore strips off the bottom of his own wet shirt and bound up the injuries as best he could. In the darkness, Aido still looked deathly pale and he was barely breathing.

"Don't die on me, Aido... Kain will never forgive me. I don't want to have to be the one to tell your family," he murmured. His vision was starting to swim. "Hey... come on Hanabusa... if you die, I'm going to let Rima's little sister have all your books..." he threatened faintly with a small smile. Aido was particular about the covers of his books and magazines. Although he himself routinely treated them carelessly, he didn't like it when anyone else bent them too much or rolled the edges.

There was still no response from the unconscious vampire and Takuma finally just propped Aido's head up on a pillow and leaned his own aching, swimming head back against the old stone wall behind him.

When Aido woke up... when not if, Takuma wouldn't let himself think if... then they would have to figure out what to do next. A lot would depend on how much Aido's body was able to heal itself, and Takuma swore he would do whatever it took to help. But right now... right now, consciousness was fading, and blackness darker than that of the well they took refuge in swirled up to claim Takuma.

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Rido was sleeping, sprawled on his large bed. It was wearying, possessing another's body for so long. But he knew it was something he had to live with, since his own could no longer support his life. It simply meant he required a lot of rest between periods of activity. Shiki's body was not doing as well as he'd hoped under the strain either. Oh, the body was doing all right, for a mixed blood, but it wearied easier and easier lately. His possession was burning it out, his soul a flame too hot for this fragile wax candle to completely endure.

That was why he needed his nephew's body. Kaname was his only pureblood relation, and of course it had to be a relative or the possession didn't work. Once the boy was finally broken and Rido could have a pureblood's body once more with all the strength and power that went with it, things would be different. He would be unstoppable once more.

Rido was awakened from his slumber by someone shaking his shoulder insistently and he scowled as he rolled blearily over to face the intruder, having half a mind to just kill them where they stood for disturbing him before he was ready.

The only reason he didn't, was that he realized that it was Ichijo trying to wake him, and he still needed that old fool for now. "What?" he growled irritably.

Ichijo did not seem to like having to engender his Lord's wrath, but he had no choice. Rido would be much more furious with him if he was not kept informed. "I apologize for waking you, my Lord, but there has been a disturbance. Someone's attempted to enter the grounds. There is no need for concern. My hitokiri are taking care of the situation, but you said you wanted to know if anything..."

Suddenly the house shook as if it'd been struck by lightning and a frightful outcry rang down passage from what sounded like the direction of south tower, where Takuma's room was.

Ichijo looked back towards the doorway sharply and Rido sat up at once, swiftly pulling on his dressing gown. "We'd better go check on this at once. I wonder what your grandson is up to now, Ichijo... I hope for his sake he is not part of this ill advised attack."

Ichijo's expression darkened, but he said nothing as he fell quickly into step with Rido as they hurried down the hall towards the tower. Takuma... if you have betrayed me, I will see you dead...

"Send someone down to check on Kaname and the girl, just to make sure everything is still secure," Rido added as he started up the stairs.

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The door of the prison opened and one of the by now familiar dark clad assassins entered to check on the prisoner as commanded. The overpowering scent caused by the amount of Kaname's pure blood that had been spilt in this room masked all others, and the hitokiri, as well trained as he was, could not distinguish that there were three people, rather than two, on the other side of the door until he'd opened it. He was already on the alert, however, because the door had been closed, but unlocked.

He sprang warily into the room, taking in the situation in a heartbeat – the silver haired intruder, the girl free, Kaname, no longer chained to the ceiling. Twin daggers materialized in his hands and he jumped at Zero, but Zero was ready for him.

The ex-human hunter side-stepped with cat-like speed, jumping out of the way and twirling around so he ended up behind the hitokiri, presented with the man's exposed back. Now was not a time for scruples or for quibbling over which way your assailant happened to be facing at the moment. Gun in both hands, Zero took aim and fired, repeatedly. It was just like the firing range, the dark shape of the vampire just like the paper shapes on the targets as Zero accurately placed two bullets to the heart and one to the head. It was not overkill. A single shot was never guaranteed to take down a vampire, even from an anti-vampire gun. But the simple, precise pattern Zero followed did the trick and the assassin lurched, stumbled, and fell dead right beside where Yuki was sitting.

She scrambled back, eyes wide as she managed to find her feet and hold them this time. Yuki glanced up and found Zero looking at her, his silver eyes fathomless for a moment over the smoking muzzle of the gun.

Kaname was looking at Zero too, those unreadable eyes seeming to pierce straight through him, although not with disapproval.

Zero shoved the weapon into his belt, not focusing on what'd just happened, or on the dead vampire on the floor. He'd done it before. It was part of what he had been born to do, after all, no matter what he was now. That meant... it must get easier one of these days.

He grabbed Yuki's wrist and Kaname's arm, dragging them both quickly towards the stairs. "Somebody's got to have heard that. We better get out of here before any more show up, we'll get the cuffs later," he urged quickly.

Kaname had to agree with how unstable their situation had just become and he followed along swiftly, shrugging off Zero's hand. Zero released him easy enough, but kept a tight grip on Yuki's wrist, not about to be separated from her until they were safe.

Kaname's head was spinning and without even the use of his hands for balance it was a real struggle keep his footing steady as they raced up the stairs. But the pureblood forced himself to a swift, punishing pace, adrenaline surging through his damaged body and giving him the boost he needed to keep moving. He'd be damned if he was going to let any mere weakness hold him back now, when escape was finally within reach. And he would not be a liability to Yuki's escape.

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Rido's fingers curled on the edge of the broken, open window as he looked out into the blackened night from Takuma's room. Ichijo nudged one of the charred body guards with his foot, a dark, dangerous look on his face.

"There's more bodies down in the courtyard. Possibly those hitokiri you put far too much trust in?" Rido's voice was cold. He didn't look away from the window. He had an inescapable feeling that things were somehow beginning to unravel and he didn't like it. Not one bit. "Even from here, with the rain, I can smell their charred flesh. This is your grandson's doing, I believe. Does he not manipulate energy?" Finally Rido's dark, stormy gaze turned towards his companion.

Ichijo met and held his gaze squarely, his eyes equally dark. "I have no grandson," he said simply.

"That's your affair." Rido brushed by him, heading for the door. "They must be attempting to reach Kaname. Get everyone you've got to the prison immediately," he ordered calmly, but his fists were clenched knuckle-white as he jogged swiftly down the stairs. "If they've already made a break for it, I want them found and stopped at any cost. Kaname must be taken alive. The girl too if possible. Kill anyone else."

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Zero, Kaname and Yuki skidded swiftly to a halt at the end of a corridor, nearly piling up against one another when Zero, who was in the lead, jerked to a halt to avoid sprinting around a blind turn before they knew if there was anyone on the other side. There were shouts and footsteps ringing down all the corridors nearby. Zero could feel the vampires all around them and his heart was pounding tensely as he tried to sense if there were any in the passage beyond. Kaname's presence was distracting. It was hard for him to sense any other vampires with the pureblood's presence flaming in the back of his skull. He feared getting out was not going to be as easy as getting in. The house seemed in a full-fledged state of alert and they were yet a long way from the door he'd come in by.

Finally deciding it was clear, Zero's death grip on Yuki's wrist tightened and he started forward quickly, meaning to make a dash for it while the coast was clear.

Kaname's hands snagged in the back of Zero's wet overcoat, jerking the boy back, and with him, Yuki. Zero tried to pull free, surprised and irritated. "What's your problem? This is the way out, we've got to hurry!" he protested in a low growl.

If he hadn't been in a pretty crappy mood because of how much pain he was in, Kaname would have smirked at that. Instead he just gave Zero a slightly impatient look. "I grew up in this prison Kiriyu; I think I know my way around it better than you do. There's too many people that way, too many passages and opportunities for them to trap us, we'll never make it. There's another way, through the kitchen. This way…" he said, tugging Zero a bit awkwardly for a few steps, as his hands were still trapped in the manacles.

Zero quickly conceded to the fact that Kaname probably knew what he was talking about and followed along with Yuki.

Kaname may have spent only half his growing up years in this house, but during them he had certainly scoped out every possible way to slide out from under the heavy eye of his watchers without getting caught. Chairman Cross's frequent, exaggerated claims of disaster that had always brought him running had certainly been good impetus to remain creative in his escape routes. His frequent disappearances had driven his guardian nuts, but of course, that had been an added bonus.

The day he'd come of age, packed up and left for good, Kaname had thought he'd never have to find himself sneaking out of this house again. Apparently… he'd been wrong.

They reached the kitchens, which rivaled that of most four star restaurants in size and trappings. The main area was bustling with kitchen staff, but Kaname led Zero and Yuki quietly past the main doors around to the second entry near the food pantries. Here, the clamor from the other room was just a distant buzz and there was no one in sight. The three fugitives slipped unseen and unheard down the passage, past the doors of huge walk-in freezers and dry goods pantries.

Kaname's jaw was flexed tensely. It was taking almost his full concentration to keep his vision from doubling and to keep moving. That had to be the reason he didn't sense the danger until it was too late. As he slid by one of the many entries in from the main kitchen, a black clad hitokiri launched suddenly through the opening, crashing into him and slamming the wounded pureblood back against the wall.

Kaname cried out in pain as his raw back was ground into the wall, his vision swimming at the impact and the throbbing in his head whirling unmercifully. His bound hands gave him little to no purchase against the vampire pinning him and before he had a chance to try and regain himself and react, the lethally trained hitokiri had a fistful of the pureblood's hair, yanking his head back and exposing Kaname to the warning blade that was pressed hard against his throat.

Idiot! The thought flashed through Kaname's mind. You're bleeding like a stuck pig… you think there's a vampire in this place that isn't going to be able to smell and track you from a mile away?

Two short, rapid bangs sounded nearby and suddenly Kaname was sprayed with blood that wasn't his own as the hitokiri head jerked to the side, two blossoming holes torn into his skull. The man's hands slackened as he slid away. Kaname didn't have to look to know what had happened. Didn't have to glance over and see Zero standing protectively in front of Yuki with the gun in his hands.

Much as he hated the idea that he might have actually needed help, Kaname couldn't resist a momentary almost-smirk. At this rate, he was going to end up owing the ex-human a debt larger than he cared to carry by the time they got out of here. If they got out of here, of course.

Kaname could hear footsteps, shouting… the scuffle and the shots had drawn attention. They needed to get out of there. But he couldn't move. The spray of blood across his face had been too much for his starving senses and even danger was nothing in the face of his sheer, unbearable need to feed. Half dropping to one knee to catch the falling assassin, Kaname yanked the vampire's head to the side and bit him viciously. It was disgusting… animal-like, to drink from the dead, even if they were only just dead, but right now Kaname couldn't afford to be picky.

Zero tried not to look disgusted. He, of all people, understood… it was just…

A bullet slammed into the wall by his ear and Zero ducked, grabbing Yuki and pulling her down with him. Their position had been found, and in a matter of minutes they were going to have the whole house down on them. If they didn't already. Pushing Yuki further down the hall, towards what he hoped was a safer direction, Zero hissed at her to find them an exit. He leaned swiftly out around the corner and squeezed off a couple of shots towards the knot of dark clad figures approaching from the kitchen. He didn't hit any, but it made them all duck for cover behind tables and stools. The kitchen staff scattered, the buzz of their chatter and activity erupting momentarily into shouts of alarm and surprise before they either beat hasty retreats or dived behind the nearest bit of cover.

A short, staccato hail of return fire peppered the doorway as Zero ducked back out of sight again, quickly popping the empty clip out of his gun and reloading it. He'd never actually had to do that before outside of the firing range but thankfully his fingers knew the motions and his hands remained steadier than his thudding heart. He'd given them a reason to keep their heads down, nothing more. This was not a defensible position.

They were too exposed here, they had to move. Zero grabbed Kaname's arm, trying to pull him away from his victim and drag him down the hallway. "There's no time! Move it, Kuran, we've gotta go!" he said urgently, yanking hard when Kaname resisted.

The pureblood's head jerked up, mouth dripping blood, eyes just as red. He snarled harshly at being interrupted. There was a wild, feral light in the glare he fixed on the other boy that actually sent a shiver down Zero's spine. This was not the polished, aristocratic pureblood to which Zero was accustomed. In that brief moment, there was nothing at all recognizable in Kaname's dark eyes. Oddly… it made Zero feel… sorry, as well as frightened and irritated. It took some pretty heartless bastards to have forced the pureblood into this state.

Kaname dropped his head back to the dead vampire's neck.

Zero was forced to lean around the corner and squeeze off a few more mostly blind shots to keep their attackers down. They were going to rush them at any moment, Zero could practically taste it and his heart leapt into his throat. Thus far they were holding back, probably more because they had orders to take Kaname alive then out of fear of the rag tag little group opposing them.

Zero didn't have time to argue with Kuran, and he couldn't risk the pureblood going crazy on them now. Kaname was probably going to hate him for this, but that's the way it would just have to be. Reaching down, Zero grabbed Kaname's cuffs.

"Obtempero!" he snapped, initiating the charm on them. The script on the cuffs flashed and Kaname's head jerked up again as he gave a small, stifled little cry of surprise and pain, eyes locking on Zero, first in incomprehension and then in fury.

These were hunter cuffs. They were meant to restrain and control the vampire wearing them. Hunters weren't always sent only to kill vampires. Sometimes renegades needed to be captured alive and tamed temporarily while they were being brought in. Zero was lacking the lead chain that should have been used for this purpose, but as long as he kept his hand on the cuffs, he could force Kaname to obey him. Perhaps only because the pureblood was already so weak, but all that mattered right now was that he could.

"You will get up and come with us, and you're not going to stop until we're out of here, got it?" Zero ordered in a low voice, rising and pulling Kaname with him. Kaname followed obediently, his body having no choice, an almost electric current running through him from the cuffs seeming to practically bind him to Zero in a way he'd never experienced before. As a pureblood, Kaname had bound others to his will before, but he'd never had anything like it done to him. For a fleeting moment, dark, seething hatred pulsed through him towards Kiriyu for doing this to him.

Then the pureblood finally shook free enough from the blood lust haze clouding his mind to become aware of what was happening, of their imminent danger, and his anger cooled reluctantly. Being controlled like this was still completely insufferable, however.

"Let me go," he growled softly, between his teeth as he stumbled along swiftly behind Zero. "So help me… let me go, Kiriyu," he warned.

Zero didn't seem to be sure that was such a good idea. But a sudden, sharp cry ahead of them made the issue moot. Several of their attackers had apparently found another way into the passage from further down, attempting to cut off their retreat and they'd run into Yuki.

Zero dropped Kaname's cuffs and sprinted down the hall. Kaname, everything else momentarily forgotten at the sound of that cry, was right behind him.

Yuki had snatched a mop from where it had been left in a pail of water by someone in the process of cleaning up and was using it to decent effect in place of her usual Artemis staff. Zero tackled the nearest man, punching his knee into the vampire's gut and slamming him upside the head with the butt of his gun. He couldn't risk firing it in these close quarters where there might be ricocheted.

Kaname hadn't had time to get more than a few deep gulps of blood, which as far as his hunger went, was almost worse than nothing, as it wet his appetite and then left it un-sated. But even that little bit did give him a boost and he was moving more sure on his feet as he swung both bound wrists around together, slamming his cuffs and clenched fists upside the nearest vampire's head, hard enough to hear the man's skull crack.

The hitokiri from the kitchen had taken advantage of chance to press in and try to trap their quarry and were now running down the passage toward them.

The three fugitives dropped their last opponent and didn't wait for more to arrive. Yuki kicked over the water bucket she'd gotten the mop from, making the floor a slippery wash of soapy water to slow down their pursuers as the three of them cut out at top speed. They tore down the darkened hallway like the hounds of hell were after them, which, in point of fact, wasn't too terribly far from true.

After a number of twists and turns, they suddenly came up smack against a dead end in what looked to be an old, mostly empty wine cellar that was no longer in use. More modern architecture gave way here to old-fashioned stone masonry, hinting at the constantly renovated mansion's ancient roots that went back well into the past century.

Zero looked at the old, featureless stone walls and empty wine barrels facing them on every side, offering no way out but the way they'd just come from. Trapped.

He rounded on Kaname. "I thought you knew where you were going? This is a dead end!" he snapped, but Kaname had already turned around and was looking back the way they'd come. He was breathing slowly, oddly, like he was gathering himself for something.

"Get back against the wall and keep your head down. Protect Yuki," was all Kaname said in response. His chest was heaving, but his calm, commanding tone was familiar. Zero was surprised to realize that he was actually a little comforted to hear Kaname calmly and irritatingly ordering him around again like normal. It gave him hope that maybe the pureblood did know what he was doing.

Having nothing to lose at this point, Zero grabbed Yuki and pushed her back against the far wall, standing protectively in front of her, not sure what was about to happen. The air seemed to be tingling, alive somehow... or maybe that was just his blood, tingling in response to whatever power he could feel Kaname channeling and summoning up to his call. Zero grit his teeth as he felt the odd weight of pressure building in his head, as if he were diving deep underwater.

The hitokiri appeared around the turn and for a moment victory was written upon their faces as they saw their quarry trapped up against a dead end.

Then, suddenly... the walls started shaking on either side of the passage. The stone actually seemed to liquefy before their eyes, and then the entire passageway exploded in a massive implosion of flying stone, dust and mortar.

Understanding Kaname's words now, Zero quickly turned around as the rolling, flying cloud of debris enshrouded them, pressing himself hard against Yuki, covering her with his body and ducking his head as the wall they were pressed against and the floor beneath them shook as if locked in an earthquake and destruction rained around them.

For a few heartbeats, it felt like the world was ending and Zero was keenly aware of Yuki's heart hammering against his chest.

Then, slowly, silence returned, broken only by the oddly echoing trickle of dust and small stones here and there. Zero pried himself warily away from the wall and Yuki, turning around to see what had happened.

Where once there had been a passage, there was now only a massive wall of fallen stones and ruined masonry, utterly blocking the hall, and having probably done significant damage to the floors above. They were now completely sealed in a small stone tomb about the size of a large closet.

For half a breathless, horrible moment, Zero didn't see Kaname and he thought he was under that mess. Then his eyes adjusted to the darkness of the lightless area they were now trapped in and he saw Kaname, covered in dust and on his knees before the wall of ruin he'd brought down. The pureblood wavered, and fell forward, just catching himself on his bound hands. Unable to support his own weight, he sagged the rest of the way down, his cheek coming to rest against the broken stone floor.

Kaname was spent. Completely. That had been far, far too much exertion for his current state. His head was spinning again and he was so tired. So tired... he just wanted to rest... to sleep for a century...

Strong hands caught his shoulders and drew him back upright. With surprising and unexpected gentleness, Zero settled Kaname against him, careful of the other's injured back, allowing the pureblood rest against the ex-human's chest rather than the cold, debris strewn stone floor.

Yuki was having more trouble with the darkness than Zero and Kaname, but the space wasn't large and she finally found the two of them by feel.

"Kaname?" she whispered softly when the feeling of the hair she'd just touched told her who it was. Her hand slid over and found different hair. "Zero? What happened? Is Kaname okay?"

"He's about had it, Yuki," Zero admitted softly. He could feel the weakness trembling in the pureblood's body and oddly... it hurt. He resisted the very strange urge to stroke Kaname's hair comfortingly in the concealing dark. That would have been way too weird.

"Yuki... there's a cave in, it's blocked the passage. We're safe for the moment, but... we're trapped," he continued, voice still quiet, collected, as he filled her in on what she couldn't see.

Kaname stirred weakly in Zero's arms. "No," he whispered a little hoarsely, shaking his head. "Not... not trapped." He knew he needed to move. It was just so... disturbingly... comfortable resting against Zero's warmth right now.

Finally, Kaname gathered enough strength to struggle up to sit on his own. "There's a passage, a tunnel, right back there. You have to move that big stone that's holding up the empty wine barrel supports and then you see it. I made it... a long time ago..." he murmured, coughing softly. "I don't think they know it's there. They'll think we're either buried or trapped in here, and they've got plenty of time to dig us out." Kaname mustered up a faint attempt at a satisfied smirk. "Should give us time to get clear."

Zero smiled in the darkness, unable to help appreciating the cleverness of the plan. The pureblood could think on his feet, Zero would definitely give him that. Maybe they had a chance of surviving this night after all.

Kaname made like he was going to try and move the stone he'd indicated before, but Zero pushed him back down again, giving him a look. "Sit before you fall. I can get it. We need you able to walk when we get out of here."

The damn stone turned out to be a lot harder to move than Zero expected, even with his enhanced strength. As he heaved against it, sweating and panting in the claustrophobic darkness and slowly depleting oxygen, he didn't wonder that no one had discovered Kaname's little escape hole. You certainly wouldn't have put this much effort into trying to move this friggin' stone if you hadn't known for sure there was something behind it.

It finally took both Zero and Yuki to move the stone, but they got it shifted out of the way and a cool, moist blast of air rushed into the small, hot, stuffy space. As Kaname had said, Zero could see a small, dark tunnel stretching away through the thick foundation of the house towards the outside. It was obviously covered in some way on the outside as well, but he could hear and smell falling rain. Apparently it was still storming outside. Great. That was going to make traveling so much fun in their current cumulative condition, but at the same point, it was a good thing too. It would hide their trail and their scent and make them harder to follow. If they could hold onto their head start long enough to lose themselves in the woods... well, Zero was ready to be at least a little hopeful.

Although it wasn't very long, the tunnel was low and narrow and had to be traversed on hands and knees. Zero crawled out first, dislodging the cover on the opposite end of the tunnel and carefully peering out, making sure the coast was clear. Crawling back, he told Yuki and Kaname to follow and crawled back out once more, waiting outside for them and anxiously scanning the area. The last thing they could afford right now would be to be discovered again.

Crawling through the tunnel was hideously painful for Kaname, because there was no way to avoid his back contacting the top as he moved and he had to stop halfway through, resting his head on his hands and breathing tensely through his teeth. He was almost out, damn it. He could not be this weak! A little further and he would taste free air for the first time in weeks.

Yuki sensed when Kaname was no longer behind her and paused, crawling back. She was the only one of them small enough to be able to actually turn around in the passage. She found Kaname by feel and gently brushed her hand through his hair and across his cheek, because that's what she happened to find first.

She didn't have to ask. She knew he was in pain and struggling. She wished there was something she could do, but there wasn't. Reaching down, she twined her fingers with his. "We'll go together," she murmured softly, crawling slowly and carefully backwards down the tunnel so she could keep hold of Kaname's hand.

Giving her small fingers a squeeze, Kaname forced himself to get moving again. He could not bear appearing so weak and useless in front of her.

Zero, waiting impatiently in the pouring rain, was about to go back in and see what was taking so long when Yuki and Kaname finally emerged. Yuki helped Kaname to his feet and then peered, squinting through the rain and darkness to try and make out where they were. She couldn't see much but that they were on the top of some kind of hill with the dark, indistinct shape of rocks around them and what might have been a forest down below.

Zero and Kaname could see more, but Zero had seen the layout of the grounds from below already and Kaname knew them all too well, so they didn't spend much time looking. The rain was still sheeting down unabated and Kaname grit his teeth silently as it beat upon his battered body, plastering his dark hair to his face.

Even after only a few moments, Yuki's thin, pale pajamas were wet completely through and clinging to her, the flimsy fabric made embarrassingly transparent. It was cold and she was starting to shiver. Zero quickly shrugged out of his dark overcoat and wrapped it around her shoulders. It was soaked through, but at least it offered more protection than her own flimsy night garments and it was dark, so it would make her less visible in the night. As Yuki slid her hands through the sleeves, having to roll them up, and tied it around her waist, Zero started stripping off his soaked shirt too, intending to give it to Kaname. It was cold, sure, but he'd be fine. Kaname was hurt badly, and should have something between him and the rain.

Kaname realized his intentions and laid a hand on Zero's arm before he could finish unbuttoning. There was a momentary flicker of something akin to softness in the pureblood's eyes as he shook his head. "Keep it," he said quietly. "It would hurt too much to wear right now."

Zero got the feeling that wasn't the only reason, but he didn't argue.

Despite his pale skin, and the fact that Kaname was half naked, he did not stick out in the darkness as you might expect. Even in his condition, Kaname naturally seemed to blend into the night shadows, as if they wanted to conceal him from all unfriendly eyes. It was simply part of who and what he was.

Silent as ghosts the three friends made good their escape, working their way silently down the opposite side of the back cliff from the one that Zero and Aido had climbed before and disappearing into the wet, dripping forests below. Zero couldn't help looking back over his shoulder as they slid into the trees. He didn't know what had happened to Aido. If he'd survived... escaped... was captured... there was no way for him to know, and nothing he could do about it at the moment.

Sending up the silent hope that wherever he was, he was okay, Zero focused down onto the little group he was responsible for as they set a quick pace away deeper and deeper into the woods. Or at least, as quick a pace as they could manage, considering that two members of the party were beginning to visibly limp.

Yuki and Kaname both had the distinct disadvantage of being barefoot. The sharp rocks on the way down and the rough carpet of the forest floor was not doing them any favors. Kaname was hiding it fairly well, considering he pretty much looked like hell in general. But the farther they went, the more Yuki was starting to significantly slow, her footsteps becoming uneven and halting as she tried to step only on soft places.

After about an hour or so, when the house was well out of view and they had at least a small, relative illusion of safety, Zero finally stopped, giving Yuki a worried look.

Kaname leaned heavily against a tree and closed his eyes. Zero realized with a small stab of guilt that the pureblood had probably wanted and needed to stop a while ago, but he'd never be the one to admit it. Zero supposed he'd have to keep a better eye on Kuran to judge where his limits were right now. Great... why do I end up the pureblood babysitter?

At least he could do something about those cuffs. They had enough time now for him to puzzle out how to remove them without hurting the other vampire, he figured. Kuran certainly didn't need any more handicaps than he was already dealing with.

Yuki had sunk down to sit on a broken log, hunched against the pelting of the omnipresent rain, and Zero let her rest there for a few minutes as he moved over to Kaname, reaching for the pureblood's cuffs and studying them again.

Surprisingly, Kaname shook his head and weakly pulled his hands away. "No... for your sakes, leave them," he whispered hoarsely. The pureblood felt like hell. He knew if only he could feed, he would feel better, and the feral way in which he found himself watching the other two as they'd moved through the woods just now frightened Kuran. He had not forgotten how he'd nearly lost it at the taste of blood back in the kitchens. He was dangerous and increasingly unstable and he knew it. He feared what he might do. Feared the thought of instinct taking over and blacking out his reason and his senses, feared the possibility of coming back to himself only to find he'd killed both Yuki and Zero. That was something he wouldn't be able to live with. Ever.

So the cuffs had to stay. It gave the other two a chance if he lost it.

Yuki, who had been watching them, started to protest, but Kaname didn't give her a chance. She was too sweet for her own good. His gaze was fixed on Zero, whom he knew would not object to this precaution.

"I am starving, Kiriyu, beyond what you can imagine," he murmured. "My body and my will are weak. You know what the hunger is like." He held Zero's gaze calmly, although the deep, blood red color of his eyes showed the truth of his words. "I do not wish to harm either of you, but it will only get worse until I can feed. This is for the best. These cuffs are Hunter craft, and you have already demonstrated that you know how to use them to control me." A deep, dark, icy blackness flittered momentarily through Kaname's eyes. He hadn't forgiven Zero for that, but at the same time, at least he knew the boy was not afraid to do it.

"If anything should happen, I know you will not allow me to harm Yuki." Kaname finally shifted his intense gaze away. This had to be the hardest thing he'd done in his life. He wondered if Zero had any idea how excruciatingly difficult it was for the proud pureblood to give over this much control into someone else's hands, especially Zero's. Kaname felt like he'd lost everything, even his pride. But he would do what had to be done to keep the others safe. Even if all he could try to do was to protect them from himself.

Zero stood very still for a moment, watching Kaname through the pouring rain. He was aware how much what Kaname had just done had probably cost the pureblood and he felt a small needle of respect for Kuran that he'd not had before. In truth, Zero had always figured Kaname for a pretty selfish person who used others for his own ends and who substituted possessing people for caring about them. But the choice Kaname had made just now was one that Zero could relate to, one he'd made himself on more than one occasion. To put those he cared about first, to hell with what it cost him. That, Zero could respect.

"No," Zero said quietly, simply. His silver eyes were equally quiet and sincere. It was a promise, not a threat. "I won't."

Kaname gave a small nod. He didn't look back towards Zero again; if he'd had enough strength and warmth to flush at how incredibly humiliating this all was he would have. He didn't, though, so he merely stared away through the falling rain as he tried to gather up some of the strength he didn't have for their next push forwards.

Zero moved back to Yuki's side, sitting down beside her and wanting to see how her feet were holding up.

Yuki tried to insist she was fine, scooting away from him and refusing to pick her legs up, but Zero was having none of it and simply grabbed her ankles as she sat and hoisted her feet up so he could get a look. They were torn and bleeding. Crap.

Releasing her and ignoring the way she was fussing at him for what he'd done, Zero ran a hand through his dripping hair, trying to figure out what to do. Kaname's feet were probably fairing little better, although he knew he'd not be hearing the pureblood complain. That was one definite thing in Kuran's favor, actually (and here Zero was remembering Aido) – Kaname was not a whiner.

They were by no means safe here, and he'd hoped they could cover a lot more ground yet, even if they weren't able to make it off the massive estate completely tonight. But he couldn't ask Yuki to walk any further like that and his shoes were way too big for her, they'd be more of a hindrance than a help.

Reaching a decision, Zero hiked Yuki up behind him, carrying her piggy-back style on his back. She wasn't terribly heavy. Zero figured he could carry her for a good long while like this, despite her quite insistent initial protests.

Once Yuki finally settled down and simply wrapped her arms around Zero's neck, accepting his help, Zero turned and looked thoughtfully towards Kaname, who had reluctantly pushed away from the tree, obviously as aware as Zero was that they needed to get a lot further away before a longer rest was viable.

Zero considered the pureblood a moment. No way he could help Kuran like he was Yuki...but... "Kaname, think you'd fit my shoes?" he asked.

The pureblood smiled faintly and shook his head. "Stop trying to give your clothing away, Kiriyu," he murmured softly, almost fondly. "One would think you're trying to become a nudist."

Zero snorted and rolled his eyes in a well pardon me for trying to help expression. But he'd seen the look Kaname had shot between he and Yuki, and he understood the unspoken. Zero was taking care of Yuki like Kaname couldn't right now – Kaname would not take anything from him that he might need to help in that.

Slowly, the little rag-tag group moved off again in the lashing wind and rain, moving through trees and struggling through dense undergrowth that seemed to go on and on for a black, wet, miserable eternity.

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"Obtempero" is Latin and means 'obey' or 'to obey' , just in case anyone was wondering.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven: "Broken Wings"

The rain had finally stopped and grey watery dawn was just starting to paint the sky above. Zero stumbled and ended up on his knees, half fallen, half collapsed. Yuki slid off his back, stroking his shoulder and hair softly with numb, freezing fingers. He'd been carrying her off and on all night. She walked a good part of it on her own, but her injured feet had increasingly refused to support her and Zero had carried her more and more, despite how she knew it was wearing him out.

Zero rested his hands against the wet ground, letting his head hang for a moment. His back and shoulder muscles were on fire from carrying Yuki so long over such rough terrain. He'd not slept in over 48 hours now and he was exhausted. Trying to both take care of Yuki and Kaname – especially trying to take care of Kuran without looking like he was trying to take care of him – had taken their toll on the ex-human and he was hitting the end of his strength.

Kaname sank silently down to sit by a tree a few feet away, tipping his head back to rest against it as he breathed slowly and raggedly through his teeth. This night had been one long, unending hell. Sheer stubbornness had kept him moving, but it wasn't going to be enough much longer. His gaze held on Kiriyu for a moment as Zero rested, exhausted, on hands and knees. The boy had done well, and Kaname wasn't above silently admitting it. Zero had shouldered the heaviest end of the burden of their escape and continued trying to take care of everyone even as his own strength failed.

Kaname almost hated to mention that they were lost.

As the sun came up, it was obviously rising to their right, which meant they weren't heading towards the road, at least not by the short route. If they had been, they'd have been there by now, or at the very least near enough to hear passing cars. But there were no such sounds anywhere near, even to his sharp hearing - only the rustling drip of the wet forest and the chirp of the wakening birds. The Ichijos liked their privacy. The estate was situated far out in the country and there were miles upon miles of trackless woodlands surrounding it. Obviously, they had ended up forging deeper into them, rather than out. Kaname's sense of direction was usually impeccable, but he had to admit he had no idea where they were. He'd been in too much pain to keep track of direction or do anything other than simply keep following Zero's bobbing back through the long trek last night, struggling to put one foot in front of the other.

Zero finally rolled onto his side and sat back up, glancing somewhat accusingly towards the rising sun. Apparently he'd figured it out for himself.

Yuki blew on her cold hands, shivering underneath Zero's still sopping coat. She was probably the only one of them who was truly glad to see the sun rising. "Where are we?" she asked, looking around. She had been brought here unconscious and had very little idea where they'd escaped from or where they were going to.

Zero rubbed his neck with a sigh, feeling utterly disgusted with himself. "Lost," he said quietly. He didn't know how he'd gotten turned around last night, but with the storm and the danger and the unfamiliar landscape he'd had so many things to be keeping track of that it wasn't that surprising really.

Zero cast glance towards Kaname, either expecting, or daring the vampire to make a crack, but Kaname wasn't in the mood to be taking jabs, he was feeling far too poorly and had closed his eyes, resting expressionless against the tree behind him.

"If we bear east," Zero continued after a moment, nodding towards the rising sun. "We should be able to find the road again sooner or later. I'm sorry."

Yuki simply nodded, giving no indication of the deep inner groan that the thought of more walking brought to her. "It's not your fault, Zero, everything was really confusing last night," she tried to comfort.

"Actually, it's not a bad thing that we did not take the shortest route," Kaname added unexpectedly, eyes still closed, arms resting on his knees. "The roads around the estate are sure to be some of the first places on which Rido and Ichijo will focus their search efforts. We are safer in here than wandering down the road without any form of transportation. I don't suppose you brought a car, Kiriyu?" he asked mildly. Whatever had brought Zero after them, alone like this, Kaname doubted it would have been very organized.

"We were dropped off and walked in. We were just supposed to watch the house; no one knew you two were there. By the time we found out, our radios were useless because of the storm," Zero muttered tiredly. He regretted now that he'd lost his. He could have at least tried to get it working now, to contact the Chairman. Surely, when he and Aido failed to report back in after a while, someone would wonder what had happened to them. But it seemed for now they were still on their own. "We improvised the best we could," he mumbled grumpily.

Kaname's eyes slitted open slightly, his attention focusing anew on Zero. "We?"

Zero looked away. "Aido was with me. He stayed behind to create a distraction so I could get into the house. I don't know what happened after that."

Kaname was silent for a long moment, an unreadable expression flittering across his face before he closed his eyes again. "If he was captured, Aido will not betray us," Kaname said quietly after a moment. He hoped the younger vampire hadn't been captured. He would almost wish his friend dead before in the hands of Rido and Ichijo, knowing the cruelty of which they were capable.

"We should get some rest," Kaname finally spoke again after the silence that seemed to have fallen over them became oppressive. "Rido will be searching for us the same – day or night, and we will move better at night." Yuki wouldn't, but that was easy to forget, and she was going to have to put up with the fact that her two companions were both vampires.

"Okay, I'll take the first watch," Zero volunteered, scooting back to lean against the nearest tree. Kaname did not miss the fact that Zero was sitting directly opposite him.

What are you going to watch out for, Kiriyu? Enemies?Or me? The thought passed through Kaname's mind. He knew the answer – both. As he sank down onto his side and closed his eyes, he smiled faintly. He couldn't blame him. Kaname wouldn't want to be sleeping across from a starved pureblood either. No sane person would.

Yuki curled up with her head resting on Zero's leg and eventually she stopped shivering and drifted off. Zero rested a hand on her shoulder as he gazed blankly across the small clearing at the trees and the sleeping pureblood. Kaname hadn't moved since he'd lain down. Zero couldn't even see him breathing, it was a little eerie and he had to resist the urge to creep over and feel for a pulse, just to be sure Kaname was still with them.

Zero was exhausted. His eyes burned and ached with weariness and his throat was sore. Crap... he was probably going to catch a cold from all this. It was incredibly hard to stay awake in the cold, quiet stillness with the others fast asleep, and Zero started pinching his thigh repeatedly in an effort to stay awake. Despite his resolve, however, the silver head soon began to nod, sliding down to rest on his chest as his body slackened against the tree and sleep stole unwittingly over him.

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Zero awoke with a start. He hadn't meant to fall asleep and for a moment he didn't realize that was what had happened until the cold ache in his bones and the slanting angle of the sun told him that several hours had passed since last he'd been aware.

Yuki was still sleeping away, pillowed on his lap, but something was wrong. He knew it immediately. Zero blinked, trying to figure what it was, and then for half a second his heart stopped as he found himself staring across at an empty patch of ground beneath the dark tree across from him.

Kaname was gone.

Zero looked around quickly, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling fiercely as he imagined the pureblood breathing down his neck. But as he shook off the sleep-fog clouding his senses, he could tell Kaname was nowhere to be seen or felt in the immediate area.

He could sense the presence of another vampire, probably Kaname, not too far away though and Zero carefully eased out from under Yuki. She must be pretty exhausted because she barely stirred as he laid her head down on the warm patch of leaves he'd been sitting on. Zero didn't know why Kaname had gone off, call of nature possibly, but something in him warned that it might not be a good sign and he figured he'd better check it out.

Leaving Yuki alone, unguarded however... he didn't like that. So Zero pulled the gun out of his waistband and laid it down by her hand. He knew she could use it, even if she didn't like to. It was mostly a precaution. He could only feel one vampire in the vicinity, which he was now sure was Kaname. But what state the pureblood might be in... Zero wasn't so sure.

Making his way towards where he could vaguely sense the other presence, Zero moved slowly, scanning the trees. The farther he progressed, the more his skin started to crawl and the woods started to darken, despite the fact that it was a little after midday. True, not a lot of sunlight was puncturing the heavy cover of the woods, but it was unnaturally dark here, and Zero's senses were starting to ring deep warning bells.

He was getting that feeling again, like someone was watching him, raising the hairs on the back of his neck and forming ice in his stomach. Zero spun around quickly, but there was no one there. The chilling feeling persisted and he spun again, continually expecting to see someone right behind him. Zero suddenly wished he hadn't left his gun behind. Deep down he knew it was Kaname that was creating this feeling in him, whether intentionally or unintentionally, but that wasn't comforting at the moment. The idea that the pureblood might have flipped out, as even Kaname had been afraid might happen, was more than mildly terrifying.

Suddenly something told him to look up and he saw red eyes glowing in the branches over his head. He'd never seen vampire eyes glow that way before and his heart leapt up into his throat despite himself as he saw Kaname crouched on the limb of a tree branch overhead - coiled, cat-like. Zero had no idea how the wounded pureblood had gotten up there.

Kaname didn't move. He was just staring at Zero, following his every movement with the glowing eyes of a predator. His fingers were strangely elongated and talon-like, almost black rather than flesh colored, as they gripped the branch.

"Kaname?" Zero asked quietly, carefully, backing away cautiously and not taking his eyes off the other vampire. He was trying hard to find a recognizable spark in the pureblood's eyes, but he wasn't having much luck.

Kaname leapt down to the ground, landing crouched so feet and hands both touched before he rose, circling Zero silently, eyes never leaving him. Anyone who had never seen the pureblood before would not have known he was half dead by watching the deadly fluidity of his movements, but Zero, who had seen him before, could tell that for him, Kuran's motions were actually clumsy and uneven, like a wounded mountain lion circling his prey. But Zero was still definitely the prey.

"You shouldn't have followed me, Kiriyu..." Kaname's voice was a soft, supple hiss. The pureblood had awoken, cramping and retching with debilitating hunger, his insides almost literally starting to devour themselves. He couldn't go back to sleep, and he couldn't stay there, so close to two defenselessly sleeping sources of sustenance. It had taken the last of his will to run away, to hide here alone in the trees, trying to put temptation out of reach. Zero turning up was more than he could continue to fight against. "I was trying to stay away from you... I was trying..." there was a flicker of deep desperation in the glowing red eyes, but it was swallowed up in hunger.

Before either of them really realized it, Kaname was on top of Zero, his weight throwing the ex-human backward and knocking him off his feet. Kaname pinned Zero to the ground with his body, bound hands twisting ruthlessly into Zero's damp shirt, clawing the collar aside as the pureblood's head dropped towards the other vampire's neck.

Near panicked, Zero just managed to grab hold of Kaname's wrists, and more importantly, the cuffs encasing them.

"Obtempero! Stop, Kuran! Stop!" Zero initiated the charm and commanded at the same time, desperately shoving Kaname backwards and twisting away from the ravenously searching fangs.

Kaname's body went ridged with a soft, choking sound. He froze, but he was obviously fighting the charm, his body starting to tremble and jerk spasmodically as he rolled off of Zero. Zero followed, knowing he had to keep hold of the cuffs or his life expectancy was about two seconds or less.

He was starting to panic for an entirely different reason though, because Kuran's eyes rolled back in his head and he was jerking like he was going into some kind of seizure. Zero felt sick knowing he was probably causing it, but he didn't know what to do because the pureblood was going to kill him if he was released. Zero'd promised Kaname he wouldn't let him go crazy on them, but he hadn't expected it to be so hard to watch the other vampire suffer like this.

Suddenly Kaname's body went limp and his eyes closed, head falling to the side, his damp, tangled dark hair hanging across his face and brushing the leaves beneath him. The unnatural darkness seemed to lift some, allowing the sunlight to filter tentatively through the branches above once more. Lying there in the faintly dappled light on the dead leaf carpet of the forest floor, Kaname looked for all the world like a broken dark angel and Zero felt a weird lump rise in his throat. One hand remained warily on Kaname's cuffs, but the fingers of the other went swiftly to Kaname's neck, looking for a pulse as he rolled up on his elbow and knelt beside the still body.

Don't be dead. Please don't be dead.

"Come on, Kuran... if you're dead after costing me all this trouble, I'll kill you..." he muttered a bit hoarsely, fingers probing desperately when he couldn't find a pulse around the jagged, unhealed wounds that still adorned Kaname's throat.

Kaname groaned softly, wincing at the pressure on his injured neck and Zero felt a deep shudder of relief pass through him. He wanted to feel angry at the way he'd been attacked, but as Kaname's eyes fluttered open, the pureblood looked far too miserable and hopeless for Zero to work up any true ire.

Kaname swallowed raggedly, glancing down towards where Zero's hand was still resting on his restraints, silently holding him captive, then up towards the other vampire. His eyes slid shut again. "I'm sorry," he murmured faintly, almost inaudibly. "I should not have done that."

Kaname knew he'd hit the end. He couldn't control himself. Even now, if Zero released him from the charm keeping him still... he feared he'd go after the boy again. Dark despair welled in him. For all his efforts, all his belief that his parents had been right, that vampires and humans could co-exist peacefully... When it came down to it, there was still this part of him that he could not control. He was just as bad as his Uncle or anyone else.

"Forget it. Wasn't your fault," Zero said with a dismissive shake of his head. He was looking intently at Kaname, seeming to weigh something before he made a decision. Keeping one hand on Kaname's restraints, Zero lifted the other to the buttons of his shirt, undoing them and shifting his collar aside.

Kaname had opened his eyes again and was watching Zero silently, intensely.

Zero took a deep breath. He was about to take a pretty big risk, but it was the only thing he could do. "Look, Kaname, I know you need blood. So you can have mine. Fair's fair. But if I let you take it, if I release you... don't kill me, okay?" Zero gave a slightly ironic little smile. "I think it was you who pointed out how rude that would be with a willing donor."

A small shiver chased through Kaname's body. His gaze was fixed with disturbing intensity on Zero's neck. He gave a small, slow nod. He couldn't worry about the consequences of forming another blood bond right now. He badly needed what Zero was offering him.

Zero slowly removed his hands from Kaname's cuffs, releasing him from the charm holding him still.

Almost immediately, the pureblood reached up and pulled Zero back down to the ground with him. Rolling them both over so Zero was on his stomach and he was on top, the pureblood straddled the ex-human's hips on his knees. He shoved Zero down almost harshly into the ground as he leaned over him, his chest pressing against Zero's back

The wet, rough earth pressed into Zero's cheek and prickled damply through his shirt, his breath escaping him in a small, surprised grunt at the unexpected impact. Kaname's body kept the other vampire pinned as the pureblood's bound hands tangled in Zero's silver hair, yanking his head back and to the side, exposing the un-tattooed side of his pale neck.

Kaname's bodyweight was like an immovable sack of bricks crushing Zero down into the ground with far more strength than he would have expected the half-dead vampire to possess. As his head was jerked back and he felt warm breath on his neck, Zero felt a zing of fear shoot through him. This might not have been a great idea.

Kaname felt Zero tensing, as if toying with resisting, and he gave the hair he was gripping a vicious little jerk of warning. It was too late now, Zero had committed to this of his own free will, and Kaname would hold him to that. The pureblood no longer had the power to turn back. He was utterly starving to the point of near death and the need to survive was overriding everything else. He would have Zero's blood, one way or another.

The way Kaname had Zero pinned on his stomach, the vampire hunter couldn't reach or activate the cuffs the pureblood was still wearing, even if he wanted to. That was obviously intentional on Kaname's part. Zero was completely his. Kaname knew it, and Zero realized it now too with another sickening little jolt in the pit of his stomach.

"Kaname..." the voice was tense, a little angry, but underneath Kaname could practically taste the overriding fear.

Darkly, the pureblood fed on the fear rolling off the other. He had been hurt and abused beyond the limits of reason for so long... the anger of it, the dark urge to lash out, to exert power over someone else for a change was a throbbing knot unwinding swiftly in his gut. Kaname growled softly in his throat, an animalistic sound, as he let his fully extended fangs graze lightly across the side of Zero's exposed throat.

"Be still..." he hissed softly in warning, licking and caressing Zero's neck wickedly with his lips and tongue, not sure if it was because he wanted to or because he knew that would make the other boy uncomfortable. The taste of Zero's skin and the feel of his neck was delicious. Kaname nuzzled the damp shirt collar aside, briefly but hungrily exploring the delicate skin from collarbone to ear and back again.

Zero gasped softly at the weird sensations that shot through him as Kaname's teeth and mouth teased the exposed curve of his neck. His shivered and tried to squirm, but Kaname's weight held him pinned completely immobile. His mouth was dry. He was much more afraid than he ever wanted the pureblood to know. Zero had been bitten once in his life, and that had been once too many. Shizuka's memory was burned into him, an indelible scar that would never heal. The hatred he'd felt as she held him still, with the same kind of inhuman strength Kuran was holding him with now... The dark rage and fear as she'd drained him, his helpless gaze resting on his parents' dead bodies lying lifeless in puddles of their own blood on the floor.

Zero realized his heart was pounding rapidly against the hard earth. In fear, certainly, and anger, but also in... other sensations. Shameful sensations. Sensations that made strange knots and butterflies dance in his stomach as Kaname moved against his back, hot mouth devouring the side of his neck.

There was a sharp, momentary flare of pain as Kaname's fangs finally broke skin and sank into his flesh. Zero jerked slightly, grimacing. His hands, resting on either side of his head, curled into the dead leaves below him as if seeking purchase.

Kaname closed his eyes as Zero's blood washed across his senses. He drank in deep, rapid, starving gulps. It tasted like pure heaven and his chest shuddered slightly against the ex-human's back. It was as if the pureblood had been walking a hundred days in the desert without water. It was impossible for him to not drink as deeply and rapidly as possible, despite what that would do to Kiriyu.

Zero gasped softly at the intense, ruthlessly rapid draw being placed upon him. He'd known this wouldn't be pleasant when he offered it. He'd known how badly off Kaname was and it was a risk he'd accepted. Zero wouldn't renege on his word. He didn't try to fight. He owed this to the other vampire. The pureblood had saved his life, had given Zero his blood more than once, and Zero would see the debt settled. Fighting would have been useless anyway. He was completely in Kaname's power and all he could hope was that he hadn't made a fatal mistake by placing himself in this position.

Kaname was slowly feeling life starting to return to him and it was intoxicating. Zero's blood filled his mouth and pounded in his senses. He groaned softly against the pale neck as deep, intense pleasure washed through him. The sensation was more intense and shattering than he'd ever experienced before when drinking another's blood. His heart pounded and his already off-kilter senses went into sensual overdrive at the consummation of the bond between them. It was bitterly ironic; Kaname had now formed two blood bonds, neither out of love, neither of which he had actually wanted. His parents must be rolling in their graves. Deep down... it made him feel cheap, like some kind of whore.

Kaname's fingers knotted tighter in the silver hair. He took a page from Zero's book, intentionally sliding his teeth free only to bite down again right beside the first wound. He was rewarded by a sharp little yelp from his partner that sent deep shivers shuddering through his body. It was a delightfully dark sensation; no wonder Kiriyu had enjoyed it so much. Kaname did it again, slowly, savoring the taste and sensation of his partner's blood and helplessness, of the feeling of power it gave him. It was intensely satisfying, but after the second time, Kuran didn't do it again, letting his teeth remain in place. Much as part of him wanted to maul Zero ruthlessly, to rip his throat out, to take his rage and pain out on the nearest handy victim and hurt someone else the way he had been hurt... at the same time, he couldn't. If he started too far down that road in his current state, Kaname knew he would lose himself. Zero wasn't remotely the one who deserved his revenge. That had to be saved for Ichijo and Rido.

Zero's fingers dug into the ground hard enough to penetrate the layer of decomposing leaves, his nails digging desperately down into the hard, damp earth. Damn... He hadn't been aware what being double-bitten like that felt like on this end. It was inordinately painful, and he had no idea how Kuran had held still while he did that to him back when positions had been reversed. If Kaname kept it up, Zero would soon be bucking and struggling in his grasp, even without intending to. But at the same time, a hot rush of heat suffused his entire body, deeper and more intense than anything he'd ever experienced. It stole his breath and formed a hard, molten fist in his stomach and groin. Oh hell no... he was not, was not getting turned on by this! But he was.

Kaname's mouth was incredibly skillful. Even as he drained Zero's life away, his lips and tongue lavished attention across the wounds he'd caused and the exposed side of Zero's neck, wringing unexpected shivers of deep ecstasy from the ex-human and giving him no chance to recover from the wild heat thudding through his veins.

Damn you, Kuran. I didn't give you permission to make me feel this way...

The strength of the bond now connecting them intensified the sensations for both and Kaname's heart thudded against Zero's back. Another low growl, this time more of a purr, escaped his throat as he pressed up more fully against the other's body. Before, Kaname had merely felt a bit annoyed at himself for the way he'd reacted to Zero drinking his blood the first time. But after what Ichijo had done to him... after the way he'd been repeatedly, maliciously forced to have these kind of feelings, been tormented by his inability to control his own reactions to the bond with the older vampire... Kaname felt angry and ashamed at the feelings raking through him now. He hadn't asked for this, for any of this... he wasn't angry with Zero, but he was angry. Bitterly angry. And it fueled his arousal and blood lust.

His hips rocked against Zero in slow but forceful motions, pressing the other down repeatedly against the ground as he drank more and more, heedless now of what kind of damage he might wreak.

Zero groaned in protest as Kaname moved against him, his pale face flushing, not the least at the reaction being wrung from his own body as Kaname's hips pressed his mercilessly, repeatedly and exotically against the unyielding ground. Oh God... it felt so disturbingly, unimaginably good, the way the pureblood was moving against him, the sensual feeling of his own blood being drained away making his head spin and spin...

...and spin... but it wasn't only arousal making him dizzy now. His tense body was slackening in Kaname's grip as deeper dizziness started to take him. Spots danced before his eyes and his head tipped limply, dangling from where the other was holding his hair. "Kaname..." he groaned softly.

Kaname was barely aware that Zero was starting to fade. Some part of his mind knew it, but was trying to keep it from the rest of his consciousness, because he was still hungry... because he could drain the ex-human dry and it would only just begin to sate him. But the part that did know was clamoring for attention and as his body started to mend some from the worst of his injuries and the pain eased, it became easier to hear.

Kaname would never know if he would have been able to shake himself out of the dark blood daze in time to avoid killing his partner. Because the soft click of a weapon cocking brought his attention up short and a familiar voice sent a sliver of painful ice stabbing through his chest. Kaname turned, his new strength enabling him to instinctively spring to his feet, pulling Zero with him, his teeth still sunk possessively deep into the neck of the limp boy he was holding against his chest as he regarded the new arrival with dark, slightly dazed and unreadable eyes.

"K-Kaname... stop... l-let him go..." Yuki's voice wavered tremulously as she stood a few paces away, Zero's gun shaking in her hands. The weapon was pointed directly at Kaname. It was not an order. It was a plea, a desperate plea. There was nothing in her pale, anguished face that told whether or not she would actually be able to pull that trigger if she had to.

She'd woken up alone and found the gun where Zero had left it for her. The sound of Zero's voice raised in a yelp of pain had drawn her towards where she finally found her two friends. Yuki's expression was absolutely torn. She knew Kaname was suffering horribly; she did not blame him for needing to feed. But neither could she let him hurt Zero. Zero was frighteningly pale and limp and to Yuki it looked rather like Kaname was on the verge of killing him. She had to protect Zero, the same as she would have protected Kaname if situations were reversed... but just the act of pointing the gun at the pureblood seemed to drive a throbbing hot poker straight through her heart. Tears welled silently in her eyes.

The sight shocked Kaname completely back to his senses and he released Zero's hair and his neck, brushing a gentle, slightly trembling caress against the bite wound with his lips as he eased the ex-human's limp frame down to the ground, letting him lean against the tree. Kiriyu was still conscious, his chest heaving softly, but Kaname couldn't meet his eyes. Or Yuki's.

Well, she knew now, didn't she? She and Zero both. There wasn't any use pretending. This was the truth. This was what he was. What he would always be, no matter what ideals he held or what causes he supported. He was feeling better after drinking, but his wounds were too severe to completely heal and he was still much weaker than normal. Stumbling slightly, Kaname backed away to give the other two space and try to let them know he was no longer a threat to them. He finally raised his gaze to Yuki's for a moment, his eyes hopeless and anguished as they darted between her and Zero.

I'm sorry.

But the words just died in his throat. He sank to the ground a little ways off, sitting down and sinking his head into his bound hands, his tousled dark hair hanging down to obscure his face.

Yuki's heart ached fiercely at the look she'd seen in Kaname's eyes, and she wanted to run to him, to apologize, to offer comfort, to do something. But she was still worried about Zero. She hurried to his side, kneeling beside him. She dropped the gun as if it were a poisonous creature that she didn't like handling.

She cupped his cheek, turning his head towards her. "Zero, are you okay?"

Zero blinked a couple times, feeling a bit dazed, but he nodded as quickly as he was able, a hand snaking up to drag somewhat shakily through his hair. The bite wounds to his neck were still seeping a bit, but they were slowly healing up on their own. Kaname had drained him deeply, but not to the point where his healing ability had been completely negated. He had no idea how to rationalize what had just happened between him and the pureblood though. Not the blood drinking, the... other parts. The parts that still had his reeling body worked up and aching with what was definitely not pain.

"I'm fine, I'm fine Yuki, quit fretting," he mumbled, not meaning to be short but feeling pretty lousy. He was hungry now, he had a deep headache... and he was mortifyingly aroused as hell.

Yuki was completely used to Zero's attitude and took no offense. Blessedly, she also didn't seem to notice the other problem he was having. Zero pushed a little further upright, his gaze straying towards where Kaname was curled in on himself a little distance away. Damn... did he actually feel sorry for the pureblood who had almost killed him just now? He did. What an absolute idiot... but he couldn't help it. Something was tugging at him, making him ache to do something about the hurt written so clearly in the hunched, pale form. But what the hell was he supposed to do? Wasn't like Kaname would care about anything he had to say... right?

"It's okay, Yuki," he said after a moment, his tone a little gentler. He was touched, and grateful that Yuki had come to his rescue, but he didn't want her fretting... or... blaming the other vampire. Not for this, at least. Zero's conscious was too honest. "I told Kaname he could drink. I'm fine, promise."

Yuki was more relieved than she wanted to admit to hear that. She would have been understanding, even if Kaname had simply attacked Zero out of desperation. After all, she'd forgiven Zero for doing the same to her easy enough. But it still set her heart more at ease to know that even if Kaname had perhaps been tempted to go too far, he had not taken anything Zero had not offered. She was proud of Zero too... for doing that. Doing what she wished she could, but neither of them would let her do. She knew how Zero felt about vampires in general and about Kaname in particular and she thought it was a very mature and practical gesture on his part.

Yuki could see though that Zero's eyes were tinged dully with red. He may say he was fine, but he was hungry himself now. Her fingers slid to her collar, tugging it down just a little. "Zero... if you need to..." she whispered softly.

Yes. Zero needed to, but not here, not now. Not... not in front of Kaname. Yuki would never have intended it so, but taking her in plain view of the pureblood at this stage would have been far crueler than Zero was willing to be. He shook his head quickly. "I'm fine," he repeated. "Maybe later, okay?" he added, dropping his voice to a mere whisper and shooting a meaningful glance in Kaname's direction when Yuki's expression said she doubted him and might insist.

Yuki's brows furrowed. Of course... how could she have been so thoughtless? She would never intentionally hurt Kaname by putting the scent of her blood in the air while he was still hungry. She still missed the real reason why it would be hurtful to him. To her it was just a matter of providing food... which she could do for Zero, but Kaname wouldn't let her do for him. She didn't understand how vampires looked at blood drawing. Zero was only just beginning to understand himself.

The base of his throat throbbed oddly where the bite wound was healing up and his fingers slid up there absently. It was funny... an odd, empty ache that kept drawing his gaze towards Kaname. Was this normal? Was this part of that bond whatever-it-was that Kaname had warned him about weeks ago? He'd not thought of that when he made the offer, although it wouldn't have made a difference. Kuran had needed blood or he was going to either die or go wild on them. There'd been no other choice.

Great... just great... just exactly what he needed, more crap screwing with his head.

With a small start, Zero realized Kaname was pressing his fingers against the base of his own throat in an almost perfect unconscious mirror of Zero's actions, although his gaze was still downcast and he wasn't looking at Zero.

Yuki didn't notice what Zero was looking at because she'd already slid back to her feet, her hand brushing Zero's cheek tenderly one more time as if to assure herself he was really all right before she made her way silently over to where Kaname was sitting. She knelt down beside him, hesitantly reaching out and resting her hand lightly on his shoulder. She was glad to see that some of the worst damage to his back was at last beginning to heal. A crisscrossing of raw, barely healed welts still remained, testament to how badly he'd been hurt and how much it was going to take to get him back up to full strength, but at least he no longer looked like he'd just been through a meat grinder.

Kaname flinched when she touched him and Yuki almost drew back, but her instinct told her not to so she left her hand where it was. Kaname had always been there for her when she needed him. Now she knew he needed her, and she wished she knew how to be there for him too. There was absolute silence for a few moments. Kaname did not look in her direction. She realized after a moment that Kaname was... trembling. She could feel the deep, slight shiver of it under her hand and her heart completely broke for him. He'd been so very hurt, and she'd just pointed a gun at him. She didn't regret stepping in for Zero's sake, but she did regret this whole, horrible situation, and that she couldn't make everything better as she ached desperately to do.

"I'm sorry," she whispered finally, her voice hoarse with heartache. "I'm so sorry Kaname. I wouldn't hurt you, I couldn't. Please don't hate me," she pleaded softly. It was all she could think to say.

That brought Kaname's head up and he looked over at her quickly, vague surprise and confusion filtering through his sad eyes. Obviously, he thought the emotion should run the other way around.

"Hate you?" he smiled wanly, hesitantly reaching out and letting the back of his fingers brush softly down her cheek, the movement a bit clumsy because of his bound wrists, but infinitely tender. "That's not possible. But Yuki, you shouldn't point that gun until you're ready to pull the trigger. And you should be ready, dear one." He looked at her with an unfathomable expression. "When you were a child... I let you see me drinking Ruka's blood." The out-of-the-blue confession surprised Yuki, but Kaname was still speaking. "I needed you to know that I can never fit the pedestal you put me on. You don't fear me and you should fear me," Kaname's eyes were steeped in so much anguish it took Yuki's breath away just to see it.

"I thought once I could offer you the world... but I no longer have anything worth giving," the whisper was soft, broken. Kaname's fingers brushed tenderly through her hair then fell back to his lap. What kind of man would he be, to ask her to accept him in this screwed up state, with blackness nibbling at his soul and already bound to two other blood bonds? Even if he intended to kill one of the bond holders the very first chance he got. Right at this moment, the pureblood felt very much like damaged goods. Hell, between Ichijo still holding certain rights to the Kuran estates and finances from his guardianship position and Rido now stepping in to take over as the head of the family... Kaname very possibly wouldn't even have a figurative roof over his head by the time they got back to civilization. He had nothing at all to offer anyone.

"Don't say that!" the vehemence in Yuki's voice surprised Kaname, as did the soft tears that streaked down her cheeks. "Don't you dare say such stupid things!" Yuki almost snapped at him. "Nothing has changed! Nothing." Her voice dipped, her tone achingly earnest. "Your heart is a treasure, Kaname. It always has been and it always will be. No one can change that or take that away. You say I should be scared of you, but I'm sorry, I can't be. I can't be afraid of the boy who saved my life as a child, who always came running every time father thought up another stupid catastrophe that was supposed to have happened to me, who risked his life to save Zero, who was ready to die rather than risk hurting me when he was in agony and starving to death..." Yuki's voice choked. She caught Kaname's pale face between her hands, her thumbs gently tracing the faded, lingering bruises there. "So just stop being so dumb," she whispered, her voice incredibly tender despite the words.

Kaname seemed transfixed between shock and other, less definable but much deeper emotions. He stared at her, silently. Then he tipped his head into Yuki's hands, leaning into her touch as his head bowed... and she felt the hot warmth of silent, salty tears sliding down her fingers, obscured from view by the dark curtain of Kaname's hair falling around his face.

Yuki realized that in all the years she'd known him... she had never seen Kaname weep.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve: " Paint you my S oul"

Yuki leaned forward and pressed a gentle kiss against the top of Kaname's head, remaining there, cradling his head as his silent tears bathed her hands, soft shudders of anguish that she would have done anything to alleviate shivering through him.

Zero stayed quietly unobtrusive by the tree he was leaning against as he watched Kaname bow his head into Yuki's hands. The silent tremors that shook the pureblood's shoulders and the faint scent of salt told Zero that Kuran was crying. It was somewhere between heartbreaking and embarrassing to witness and he quickly looked away. It was a private moment between Kaname and Yuki, Zero told himself, and he would not intrude. He wasn't even envious of the way Yuki was holding the other vampire. Actually... oddly... he was glad in a small, faint way. Glad that she could offer the comfort he would have had no idea how to attempt. Something was very, very wrong with Kaname and Zero was only just beginning to understand the depths of the depraved torture the teenage pureblood had been forced to endure these past weeks. Perhaps right now, Yuki, with her innocent heart and her deep, almost child-like affection was the only one who could offer Kaname any kind of comfort, and Zero did not begrudge that.

His fingers returned to his neck. It ached, more and more fiercely, but not with physical pain. It was as if he could feel some echo of Kaname's anguish throbbing in his own heart.

Stop it. Just stop it. I don't want to feel this. But thinking at it did no good. Zero picked up the gun Yuki had left beside him and leveraged himself up to his feet. He was still dizzy and weak, but he needed to be busy doing something, so he crept off silently to check out the area and make sure the coast was still clear.

Yuki shifted, hugging Kaname's head to her breast and running her fingers tenderly through his hair, murmuring soft, soothing things to him. It was weird, but perhaps she felt closer to him right this moment than she ever had before. Because for the first time she felt like he actually needed her.

Kaname felt like an absolute idiot. He had no pride left. None. But he couldn't help himself. Yuki's gentle words, the way she still tried to find something worth saving in him when he saw no redemption in sight... it had shattered a dam inside him and the pain of the past weeks came flooding forth unbidden and unstoppable. It was a hideously shameful display of weakness... but he was not afraid of being weak in front of her. She alone had always accepted him no matter what. In many ways, she had always been his innocence. Perhaps that was what he would always need from her the most - that innocence that he had lost in so many, many ways. And as the burning, strangely cleansing tears finally fell it released some of the tense, dark poison trapped in his soul that had been devouring him. The darkness seemed to wash away slowly with Yuki's gentle touch, the sound of her heart beating under his ear and the warm feel of her tears in his hair, as she too wept in sympathy and held him close.

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Aido was on fire. He'd never felt so horrible. He would have likened it to having the worst flu in the world, if he'd had a reference point for that comparison. He'd never actually been anything as mundane as merely sick before. But this was worse than being sick anyway. His skin was flushed, his partially closed wounds raw and feverish. The poison had left him critically weak and his body wasn't healing properly or fighting the infection spreading through him.

His fingers curled weakly against the makeshift, knotted bandages Takuma had bound him up with and the young aristocrat coughed weakly, his whole body shuddering in the pain that caused his injured lung. Where was he? What was going on? Why did he feel this way?

The somewhat cramped position he was curled up in was very uncomfortable, and he tried to shift, but there wasn't really room to do so. Confused he groggily opened his eyes, trying to make sense of where he was and who owned the cool fingers that were pressed against his forehead.

"Aido... Aido can you hear me? Hanabusa..."

Aido frowned blearily. Ichijo? Oh shit, had he been stupid enough to let Kain and Takuma get him into another one of those idiotic drinking games? No... this was definitely worse than a hangover. Suddenly everything flooded back. The rain, the fight, Zero... Kaname!

Aido tried to sit up sharply, only to fall back with a soft cry of pain that was quickly checked by Ichijo's hand clamping firmly over his mouth to muffle the sound.

"Shh!" Takuma hushed in a soft whisper. "We're pretty far down, but we still have to be quiet until we get out of here. There might be people above."

Aido was too weak to do much but glare at the other, although if looks could have killed, Takuma's skull would be smoking.

"What the hell are you talking about? Where's Kaname? What have you done with him?" Aido demanded, voice muffled behind the hand still over his mouth.

Takuma blanched visibly. He'd woken up a bit before Aido, and his internal clock told him it was around midday now, although there wasn't much change in the level of light that made it down here and it was still comfortably dark. "I don't know," he responded quietly.

A few minutes of mutual catch-up finally left both vampires knowing more about what had led them to this situation and, unfortunately, less about what they were going to do next. They could not afford to linger much longer, but Takuma was reluctant to move until Aido was strong enough to not slow them down too much.

Carefully, Takuma cradled Aido's head and lifted it up to his shoulder, letting the other's face rest against the side of his neck. Aido gasped softly in pain at being moved, clenching his eyes shut, his breath rasping softly against Takuma's skin. In his fevered state, Aido didn't understand what Ichijo was doing. He was too weak to worry about it, forced to simply trust the other vampire as he struggled to stay conscious.

"Aido…" Takuma whispered softly when the other didn't seem to get the idea. "You'll heal better with blood."

Aido finally seemed to understand, but he balked awkwardly, head still resting weakly on the other's shoulder. "Um…. Takuma…"

Takuma rolled his eyes. "God, Hanabusa, sorry I'm not one of those pretty little day class girls but it's not like I'm asking you to kiss me, just do it. We have to get out of here, and I'm worried about you."

Truth was, Aido would have done about anything at this point to escape the deep, semi-delirious fever-ache in his bones. He had never dealt particularly well with pain or discomfort of any kind. So he didn't quibble further. Softly, a bit embarrassed, he sank his teeth into Takuma's neck, sucking slowly. His throat was scratchy and swallowing was painful.

Takuma was worried about how weakly Aido was feeding. It betrayed the fact that the younger vampire was not doing at all well. He shifted carefully, hand sliding to the back of the blonde's head, supporting him as he sucked and lapped faintly at Takuma's neck. Flushed and weak like this with the usual arrogance drained away, Aido seemed somehow even younger than the mere 17 vampire years that he possessed.

After a minute or two Aido pulled back, his head resting again on the other vampire's shoulder. He licked his lips slowly, breathing a bit easier than a few minutes ago. The gift Takuma had given him was indeed helping and although he still felt weak, Aido felt like his head was finally starting to clear.

"Takuma… why are you…? I mean…" Aido stopped, not sure he really ought to be pressing his luck and asking too many questions. The fact was – he and Takuma hadn't ever been that particularly close. They were friends in a casual sense, but Ichijo's sunny personality frequently grated on Aido's nerves and Takuma was always accusing him of being mean. If it weren't for their common tie to Kaname, they probably would not have taken the time to get past their vast differences enough to even become acquaintances. So Aido was a little surprised that Takuma was taking such care with him and seemed so worried. Although… he supposed, kind-heartedness was one of those 'irritating' traits he'd often teased Takuma about behind his back.

Takuma unconsciously stroked Aido's hair lightly as the other rested against him. He was a caretaker by nature, always had been. Right now he was treating Aido like something of a younger brother.

"This is my fault," he said quietly in response to the question Aido hadn't quite asked. "I… I knew something was wrong, weeks ago, and I didn't try hard enough to act. It's my grandfather's fault that you're hurt, that all this is happening. I will atone for his sins," Takuma whispered, closing his eyes and tipping his head back against the well wall behind him. "No matter what I have to do."

Carefully, Aido leveraged himself up to sit on his own. His wounds were going to take a little time to heal. Probably not long, but longer than he was used to. They didn't have time to wait though. From what Takuma said their current position could become untenable at any moment and this would be a bad place to get trapped. Already he was feeling deeply impatient to find out what had happened with Kaname and incidentally, Zero and Yuki too.

Slowly he struggled to stand. The small space necessitated that Takuma stand also, which the other noble was only too glad to do. He'd been sitting a long time waiting for Aido to waken and his legs were pins and needles.

Aido curled his arm around his middle but his stubborn look dared Takuma to ask a stupid question like if he was sure he should be moving around, which he could just see on the other vampire's face. He was hurting like hell and it made him grouchy and irritable. "So, you got a plan to get out of here, or are we supposed to tunnel over to the next county with spoons or something?"

Takuma gave him a look that was slightly amused and slightly annoyed, but didn't ask the question. "Has anyone ever told you how dumb you are for a genius, Aido? Yes, of course I've got a plan. But I thought we'd slip out of here, make for the garage and take a car instead if you don't mind. It'll be faster."

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Kaname rubbed his sore wrists with obvious relief as the cuffs finally came away in Zero's hands and he was at last truly free. There was no need for them now. Zero's blood had sated his desperate need and he was no longer a danger. Kaname was still hungry, still injured and still much weaker than normal, but his condition was no longer critical and he was not worried about his control.

Zero didn't look at him as he disposed of the cuffs and moved away quickly. Kaname's gaze followed him for a moment before he quickly looked away as well. Both felt the awkwardness of knowing what had happened between them not long ago and neither was quite willing to face up to it. Better to put it down to blood loss delirium and not think about it, right?

Kaname realized he was absently rubbing the base of his throat again as he sat down beneath a nearby tree. He quickly forced himself to stop and rubbed his wrists instead.

"You know, I'm kind of surprised we haven't run across anyone looking for us yet, since we're still on the Ichijo estate and all," Yuki commented after a few long minutes, mostly to make conversation and break up the broody silence that had fallen over the little group. Kaname was sitting in the shade of the nearby tree again and Zero, who should have been exhausted and probably was, was tensely pacing back and forth a few feet away, constantly scanning the forest as if suspicious of the stillness. They had decided before to wait until dark before moving on, but since the incident almost an hour ago, no one had done any sleeping and Yuki was beginning to wonder if it wouldn't be better for them to just push on now.

"Not really. They probably think we're already long gone and safe. It's unlikely they would suspect us to be on foot or to be wandering around, lost in the woods," Kaname pointed out with a faint, wry smile. His color was much better and he no longer looked so much like a walking corpse, even though he was obviously still feeling weak. "They would have expected anyone bold enough to come after me to have a better get away plan than that."

Zero scowled, pausing in mid-pace. "Well excuse me for saving your sorry hide," he muttered, but his eyes said he wasn't actually taking it personally. "Next time you get yourself snatched, I'll make sure you approve the rescue plan beforehand."

Kaname smirked. Was that a joke? Kiriyu actually knew how to make a joke? Wonders might never cease.

"Once it becomes apparent that we have not turned up anywhere else, however, and they have a chance to reconstruct a better picture of what actually happened last night... I fear we may be in for some more company out here," he added a bit more seriously. He'd been trying to concentrate and pinpoint where exactly they were, and he was almost sure they weren't too far west of the main road that ran down towards the Ichijo estate. That wasn't much help to them at this point, but if they could manage to stay out of sight and hope for a passing car to waylay... well, it wasn't much of a plan, but then he didn't have much to work with at the moment.

Yuki made a face, not liking the thought of being pursued again one bit. "I wonder what the others are doing..." she murmured with soft concern, plucking at the grass poking up through the leaves beside where she was sitting.

Kaname did too, but he didn't want to focus on the question. "And I wonder why Kiriyu is imitating a wind up doll. You're wearing a groove in the ground, Zero, sit down," the pureblood remarked in mild exasperation to the ex-human, who had resumed pacing. Actually, Kaname was worried about Zero wearing himself out after everything they'd been through, and how much blood Kaname knew he had taken from him, but of course he couldn't exactly say that.

Zero glared and kept pacing. He felt edgy, and it wasn't just his headache. "Maybe we should move on," he commented after a moment. "I don't like the way the woods are feeling."

Kaname frowned and concentrated for a moment on trying to tune more into his surroundings and senses to see what it was, if anything, that Zero might be picking up on. It wasn't anything obvious, or nearby. The birds were still chirping and the insects humming, undisturbed. Kaname couldn't sense any other humans or vampires nearby and Zero would have said if he did. But... there was something, vague, in the distance, but getting nearer. He didn't know what it was but he felt it too.

Kaname pushed up to his feet, offering his hand to Yuki to help her rise. "I think you're right," he agreed. "We may not be able to afford to wait much longer."

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"Can't you go any faster? You should have let me drive..."

Takuma categorically ignored Aido as he sped them down the long drive leading off the estate. Stealing a car hadn't been all that hard. Takuma knew where the keys were kept in the garage. Getting out from under the gazebo and to the garage without getting caught and now getting off the estate grounds before someone saw them or raised an alarm – those were the hard parts.

"You don't have a license," Takuma pointed out, wondering if Aido was trying to make him regret saving his life, or if he just couldn't help it.

"So what? We stole the car, Ichijo. And that doesn't mean I can't drive. I just never bothered to take the test." One of those things he kept meaning to do and never got around to. Wasn't like he needed to, he'd always had a driver to take him anywhere he wanted to go.

Takuma didn't bother pointing out that technically these cars at least partially belonged to him. "Look, if we go too fast, we'll attract attention. Nothing screams 'chase me' like running away," he pointed out logically.

Aido folded his arms across his aching chest and slouched down in the front passenger seat a little with a sigh. He already knew Takuma was right, and he should have stopped being a brat, but he was in pain and worried and not dealing with either very well.

He turned his head to watch out the window as the trees lining the long drive flicked silently by outside.

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The threesome hadn't gotten very far when Kaname froze, his sharp hearing picking up the faint sounds first. He grabbed Zero and Yuki's arms and pulled them deeper under the trees, away from the clearing they'd been walking through.

Zero started to say something but Kaname pressed his finger to his lips swiftly, still trying to trace the sound he'd heard. "Shh!"

A few moments later, Zero heard it too. The whirring chop of a helicopter rotor churning the air. It was heading this way.

"Seems they've realized they need to change their search parameters," Kaname murmured softly, scanning the sky. The interference of the trees meant that even with his vision, he couldn't see where the chopper was until it broke into view over the treetops fifty or sixty meters away. Kaname frowned as he watched the helicopter approach overhead. The trees were so dense... and you could hear the chopper coming in plenty of time to hide. How did they expect this method to be useful? He was missing something...

Yuki instinctively pulled back further against the tree trunk beside her, holding her breath. "As long as we stay under cover, they can't see us, right?" she whispered somewhat apprehensively as the chopper passed directly over their position, winging by swiftly overhead.

Zero's brows furrowed as he watched the chopper pass. It was bulky and black, looked military grade to him, but of course it was no surprise that the Ichijos could have anything they wanted on hand. The chopper slid by, then went into a sharp bank. What was it doing? Something wasn't right...

Kaname swore softly under his breath, understanding what was happening as the chopper made a direct beeline back for their position. "Run!" he snapped, the others needing little encouragement as the large, black metal beast bore down on them. "They must have infrared trackers on board; they're following our heat signatures!"

The three scrambled swiftly through the dense undergrowth, even Yuki moving at a full pelt despite her injured feet. But the chopper kept up easily, not needing to see them physically to track them with the host of military grade equipment with which it was equipped.

A series of small pops sounded from above and clouds of light grey gas mushroomed behind them, then ahead of them, and off to the side. They scrambled to change course, to avoid the spreading clouds, but the acrid chemicals were quick and pervasive. Everyone's eyes started stinging and watering as the air became hard to breathe. More pops, more smoke... the chopper couldn't land here, but it was trying to slow them down and keep them contained until ground troops could reach them, no doubt.

Zero buried his mouth and nose in his sleeve, coughing harshly and blinking against the blinding sting of tears obscuring his vision as he scrambled forward, trying to keep track of Yuki and Kaname so they didn't all get separated as they attempted to escape the gas. He could feel the tingling warning of his hunter senses that somewhere in the distance there were other vampires in the area. He knew Kaname must be able to feel it too, or smell them, or whatever it was he did. Wherever the searchers were being mobilized from, they were unfortunately very well organized to be responding so swiftly.

Kaname wiped his eyes in annoyance. The gas was bothersome, but it wasn't enough to stop him. The others though... Turning when he sensed his companions no longer close on his heels he saw Yuki on her knees a few yards back, choking and gasping for air. Zero wasn't far behind. He was still on his feet, but he was also coughing and weaving. He was too weak to fight the fumes like he normally might have been able, he'd not had enough time to recover from giving blood and he needed to feed.

Giving his hands a small push in the air in front of him, Kaname sent a strong burst of air howling through the clearing. Yuki and Zero had to duck and cover their heads against flying leaves kicked up by the wind, but it was over as soon as it had started and the thick air was blessedly clearer than before. It wouldn't last long though, there was too much gas for Kaname to try and dispel all of it that way. Hurrying back, the pureblood took Zero and Yuki both by the arm, trying to help and urge them onward.

If it were just him, he could have masked his own presence, even his own body heat to hide from the sensors. If it were just him, Kaname could have easily fled the area and the gas in a matter of moments using his natural ability for unnatural speed. But there were three of them, so masking wouldn't do any good and leaving Yuki and Zero behind was not an option. Tactically, their options stunk. They were at a complete disadvantage down here and they were running out of time.

The chopper circled over head, coming back for another pass.

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Takuma should have felt better now that they were off the driveway and on the public road leading away from the estate, but he didn't. The road was deserted, as it almost always was since there was little reason to come out here unless you were heading for the Ichijo estate. He wouldn't feel comfortable until they had gotten farther away, someplace where it was easier to lose themselves. It was hard to resist putting on more speed, despite what he'd said to Aido.

Aido was still silently gazing out the window with unseeing eyes, apparently lost in thought. Something was bothering him, tugging at him... suddenly he gave a soft cry and pressed his fingers against the aching throb at the base of his neck.

"Ichijo, stop! Stop the car!" he called urgently.

Takuma was so keyed up that the sudden outburst rattled him and he swerved across both lanes before quickly getting back in his own and casting a deeply irritated glare at his companions. "What is wrong with you?..."

"Stop the car!" Aido repeated insistently, reaching over and trying to do it himself, which got him a good hard smack from the other vampire that knocked him back into his own seat. Takuma wondered if his companion was going delirious again.

"I feel Kaname! He's here! Somewhere close!" Aido protested, fingers still pressed at the base of his neck. "We've gotta stop and find him!"

Takuma slammed on the brakes.

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Kaname was forced to halt or end up dragging Yuki and Zero along with him. Yuki was almost unconscious, no longer responding to his urgent calling of her name. Zero was still stubbornly hanging in, but he could barely stand and was coughing so much Kaname was worried about the damage being done to his throat and lungs. The chopper was still circling them like a giant buzzard and the smoke pall it was spreading was getting thicker. Coughing against his arm, Kaname weighed whether or not he was going to be able to carry both Yuki and Zero. He probably could, but not very fast. Not in his current condition.

No, better option – try to eliminate the most immediate threat. That wasn't going to be a picnic either, but there was nothing else for it. Giving another small burst of wind to clear the air as much as possible around Yuki and Zero, Kaname eased them both down next to one another.

Stepping out into a more open spot, Kaname's gaze turned up towards the sky, staring down the helicopter as it came around for another pass and bore straight down on him.

Taking a deep breath, Kaname lifted his hands. It looked like he was throwing invisible objects up in the air at the helicopter, but the air wavered and warped as the high-pressure kinetic waves slammed into the side of the chopper, shaking it and causing it to dance crazily in the sky. It was hard to reach a target that far away, draining to summon up this much power in his still depleted state, but Kaname had no choice and he kept at it, buffeting the craft back and forth in a grim, somewhat desperate attempt to bring it down.

Kaname saw the tracer fire coming and his reflexes served him well as he hit the ground and rolled away to avoid the spate of bullets from the choppers onboard guns that tore into the earth where he'd been standing. Probably not anti-vampire bullets, but with his currently still retarded healing, he couldn't risk having any more holes punched in him. Obviously, he'd shaken the chopper crew up enough to push them to more drastic measures as they targeted him again. Moving with vampire speed, Kaname seemed to disappear from where he was standing and appear on the opposite side of the clearing, where he launched another quick volley of invisible darts. Before they could get a bead on him, he was gone again, appearing on another side, and another, launching a blinding fast attack from seemingly all angles at once. It wasn't random, he had a very precise plan, but they didn't realize it until too late.

Kaname's hands shook as he leveled what should hopefully be the last barrage. He was drenched in perspiration and his injured back was screaming. This kind of speed and energy output took a lot out of him. As he looked up, he saw what he wanted to see, however. The chopper lurched oddly, this time not as a result of an impact, but because his systematic attack had effectively disrupted the air around the chopper, completely removing the lift dynamics that was keeping it airborne. For a few seconds the large rotors seemed to claw at the air as if seeking purchase, then the chopper body started to spin in the opposite direction as it plummeted towards the ground like a stone.

Kaname watched as the clipped bird careened away from him into the trees, leaving a path long path of destruction trailing away in the opposite direction, out of sight as it crashed. He didn't wait to watch the dust settle. He'd bought them some time, that was all, and probably not much at that. The ground searchers still felt some distance away, but Yuki and Zero weren't going to be able to go anywhere fast, even with the clearing air...

Kaname tried not to think of their bleak outlook as he half ran, half stumbled swiftly back to where he'd left the others.

Zero was kneeling, supporting Yuki who was completely unconscious now. He had apparently seen what happened though, or at least enough of it because he gave Kaname a faint, wry smile. "Guess John McLain should start looking for a job, huh?" he managed to joke in a raspy voice between coughs. Kaname didn't get the reference and just kind of stared at him as if he was worried Zero might be starting to lose it. Zero chuckled and shook his head as he struggled to get to his feet. Not much of a surprise that Die Hard probably didn't fall in with whatever Kaname's tastes were in movies.

Zero tried to pull Yuki up with him and found he couldn't. Crap... he felt so weak and his head was spinning so, it was hard to tell what end was up. He wavered and started to fall. Kaname caught him.

"Zero? Zero!" The voice seemed to be coming from a long way away, although Zero was fighting valiantly to stay conscious. Not yet! Not yet... he couldn't let himself fold like this... but his body was giving him little choice and blackness was whirling up to swallow him.

Kaname felt a small swell of uncomfortable desperation well in him as he gently eased Zero back to the ground. He was exhausted to the point of trembling from his last exertion and his companions were unconscious or nearly so. He couldn't carry them both and he couldn't leave either behind. The probability of getting recaptured, of ending up back in Rido and Ichijo's hands was far too high and climbing higher by the moment. Kaname fought a tense knot of panic that was trying to rise in the back of his throat. He needed to be rational, and figure out what needed to be done. The problem was, for once, he simply couldn't see a move that would get them out of this checkmate.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen: " Latvian Gambit "

Kaname's body stiffened as he crouched next to Yuki and Zero. They might have even less time than he thought. He could sense two vampires approaching swiftly from the east, nearly on this position. The thick pall of smoke still hanging in the air everywhere was dulling and confusing all sense of smell, so he couldn't scent them yet, but he could hear their movements faintly. No chance of out running them. He was going to have to simply deal with them. He was going to have to try to kill anyone who came looking for them until he could figure out how to get Zero and Yuki out of here.

Surprise was usually the best tactic when you were at a disadvantage, so Kaname pushed himself to use his unnatural speed, despite how weary he was. He 'appeared' directly in front of one of the vampires he'd sensed approaching. His hand was transformed into a dark, wicked claw that punched directly for the other's heart, meaning to rip it out of his chest and swiftly move on to the other before they had time to raise an alarm.

Fortunately for everyone involved, Kaname's reflexes were very good. He recognized the wide-eyed, terrified face before him and diverted his attack at the last moment, yanking his hand back and halting.

Aido looked like he'd probably just seen his life flash before his eyes as he stumbled back a pace, almost fainting, into Takuma, who caught him. Takuma had his free hand up, obviously in the act of summoning energy from the air to launch at their attacker, but he too had frozen as soon as he saw who it was. He and Aido had seen the helicopter and the smoke pall wafting in the air in the distance. After parking the car on the side of the road, they had followed it in, hoping and fearing that it meant what they thought it did, but having no idea what they might encounter en-route.

"Kaname!" the relief was palpable in Takuma's voice and eyes and he dropped his hand, using both to support Aido who was quickly recovering from the justifiably terrifying experience of being suddenly faced with an angry, desperate pureblood whose sole intention was to rip your heart out.

Kaname did not lower his clawed hand as he regarded Takuma warily. Aido was injured; he didn't even have to be intuitive to smell the blood, see the stains and understand why the younger vampire was so pale. There were a multitude of different scenarios possible for what Aido and Ichijo were doing out here in the woods, many of which involved Aido having been captured and Takuma following his grandfather's orders. Kaname could not afford to take chances. He watched his former friend, unblinking, and Takuma seemed to realize that Kaname wasn't necessarily glad to see him. He also had a chance to notice what kind of shape Kaname was in. The pureblood looked a lot better compared to how Zero had found him, but he still looked pretty rough, with partially healed bite marks just visible on his neck and his back still showing raw, obvious signs of torture.

Takuma just stared in shock, too upset for a moment to even speak. Had... had all that happened to Kaname, under his roof? And he hadn't known... Suddenly Takuma felt a vice-like pressure grip his head and squeeze his chest as his eyes were drawn by a power other than his own to lock with the pureblood's.

"Whose side are you on, Ichijo?" Kaname hissed softly. He'd turned the full bend of his will upon Takuma as he faced him, seeking to force a truthful answer. Takuma could have fought him. Although it was easy to not think so because of his nature, he was strong enough to give Kaname a run for his money under normal circumstances. With Kaname weakened, he might actually have been able to even win. But Takuma didn't fight. He knew what Kaname was doing and allowed the pureblood to take control of him, so that Kaname would know the answer was indeed the truth.

"Yours... Kaname Kuran..." the answer was strange and blank, not his usual tone as Kaname forced it out of him. But Kaname knew that under these circumstances there was no lie possible, and felt a shiver of relief pass through him so deep it made him dizzy.

Aido, who had recovered by now, glanced anxiously between the other two vampires as he pulled away from Takuma's now slack grip. "He's okay, Kaname, really. He saved me," he chimed in.

Kaname mentally released Takuma and dropped his hand, letting it transform back into normal flesh and bone. He wavered and nearly fell, quickly catching himself on the trunk of the nearest tree.

Aido and Takuma both hurried forward at the same time, trying to see if Kaname was okay, which he obviously wasn't, and urging him to come with them quickly back to the car so they could get out of there. Kaname waved them off.

"Zero and Yuki... come, they're back this way," he said as he led them back as swiftly as he was able. "They were overcome by the gas. Help me carry them to the car."

Takuma bent and scooped Zero up, easily tossing him over his shoulder. Kaname started to lift Yuki, but Aido stopped him. Kaname was obviously run out and shouldn't be stressing himself further. "I can do that, Kaname, let me."

Kaname hesitated, shooting him a look that said he wasn't so sure that was a good idea and Aido flushed slightly. Sure... he had kind of a... history... of trouble with this particular girl. Her blood was delicious but he didn't like her, mostly because Kaname did and he just couldn't understand why. But for goodness sake, didn't Kuran think he could trust him with something as simple as this?

"If Kaname tells me to protect someone, even this girl, I would with my life. Let me do it, Kaname..." he said earnestly, actually looking a little hurt.

Kaname smiled faintly. Aido... always jumping to conclusions and saying whatever went through his head. "You're injured, Aido. I merely thought you should not strain yourself. But if you wish..." He somewhat reluctantly relinquished Yuki to the blonde vampire. Much as Kaname didn't want to admit it, he would move better alone right now, especially since they would all need to use their special speed to get back to the car ahead of any possible pursuit.

Aido looked suitably embarrassed that he had misread what Kaname was thinking, but he hoisted Yuki up carefully. He winced slightly at the tug on his partially healed wounds, but Yuki was not heavy and they hadn't really too terribly far to go. He carried her in front of him, rather than slinging her over his shoulder as he was naturally inclined to do, because Kaname was watching him.

One moment, the three vampires were standing there. The next, they seemed to have simply vanished. A few minutes later, they appeared by the car and everyone piled in hurriedly.

Yuki and Zero were placed carefully in the back seat and Aido slid in beside them. Takuma got behind the wheel again and Kaname took the front seat. Less concerned with conspicuousness now and more concerned with getting the hell out of there before anyone figured out what had happened, Takuma floored the accelerator and they shot off like a bullet.

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Kaname buttoned up the shirt he taken from his closet in his room at the moon dorm. At Kaname's instruction, Takuma had driven them back to Cross Academy. Once Kaname had had a chance to regroup and reorder his game, then Rido and Ichijo would have to think twice before coming after him again.

It had not been a short trip back here, especially since they'd had to try to stick to back roads until they were able to ditch the car they were using, which would surely have been noticed as missing by now, and 'borrow' another, less conspicuous vehicle. Yuki and Zero had both woken up along the way, although neither had been feeling too good. They were both in the infirmary now, along with Aido, although all of them would be fine. Kaname had refused to let the nurse tend him, as he knew what he needed already and would take care of it himself. He'd gone directly to his rooms after seeing to it that the others were in safe hands. He'd guzzled blood tablets like they were going out of style and although under his black silk shirt his back was still scored, most of the rest of his injuries had healed completely. He'd showered and changed and finally was beginning to feel more normal again, even if being back here, in his own room felt strangely surreal after everything that had happened.

Chairman Cross had been somewhat preoccupied fussing over Yuki and Zero, but had asked Kaname to come to his office as soon as he had changed. Brushing his still shower-damp hair back from his face, Kaname made his way that direction now. He'd been out of the loop for three weeks or more, and he needed to get up to speed. Just the empty sound that his foot falls made on the staircase of the deserted Moon Dormitory served to remind him just how fast things could change in a relatively short span of time.

When Kaname entered the Chairman's office he was only mildly surprised to find that Takuma, Aido, Zero and Yuki were already there as well. All of them seemed to be talking at once. Yuki was sitting in a chair and looked pale and peaky, but appeared otherwise all right. Zero and Aido looked fine now, which meant they both must have replenished. Aido had no doubt downed a gallon of blood tablets, as Kaname had. Zero... Kaname's eyes narrowed slightly. He couldn't do blood tablets and would have had to feed, but he couldn't believe he would have fed on Yuki in her condition...

The small bandage just visible above his scarf on the side of the Chairman's neck as he rose from where he was half-sitting on the edge of his desk to greet Kaname's arrival and the way Zero scowled every time the elder man glanced in his direction answered that question fairly quickly. Kaname repressed a smirk.

Cross raised his hands, trying to get the others to quiet down long enough for him to welcome Kaname back, which he did by giving Kaname a big, relieved hug – much the same way he had welcomed Yuki and Zero, actually. Fortunately for him, Zero had been feeling too poorly at that time to hit him. "Kaname, you don't know how worried I've been!"

Aido snickered and Kaname kind of froze, but then gently, awkwardly, patted Cross's back so he would consider it done and let go. Actually... despite the method, Kaname couldn't pretend it wasn't nice to be welcomed back, and to know that people had cared enough to be worried about him.

"So, I assume there is little left for me to tell you by now," Kaname, giving a nod to the others who had obviously been all telling their various stories at the same time when he arrived.

"Yes... it's quite a story too," Cross agreed, his face lined darkly with concern. Kaname got the unsettling feeling that Cross knew something he wasn't saying.

"Which is why we need to contact the others immediately and call the Night Class back together. They have to know what's happening, and that Kaname is back..." Aido pressed earnestly, obviously continuing the dropped thread of an argument from before Kaname entered.

Cross looked tired. He'd needed them all together before he could get into his reasons for why he had not yet contacted any of the others who had all been working together to try and find Kaname over the past weeks. Things had... changed, rather suddenly.

"No... We must keep Kaname's return here as quiet as possible," the Chairman countered seriously. He was uncharacteristically quiet and it drew all eyes upon him. His expression said something was wrong, very wrong.

"Why?" Yuki and Aido asked at almost the same time.

"The other elders must be informed; people have to know what those two creatures did to Kaname!" Aido insisted indignantly.

Kaname's gaze was dark, unreadable and... was that apprehensive? "No... Something's happened," he said quietly, partially in answer, partially in question. It was obvious that something had. It was written all over the Chairman's read-me-like-a-book face. "Tell me."

The command was quiet, but brokered no beating around the bush, despite the fact that the Cross obviously would have liked to beat around the whole forest if it delayed the inevitable. He did not look like he wanted to be the one who had to deliver this news.

He walked over to his desk and clicked open his laptop computer, bringing it out of hibernation to show the screen he'd had open last. It was a web page, viewable only by those having the correct decryption software. Kaname, Aido and Takuma recognized the site instantly of course. It was the equivalent of CNN for the Vampire world – all the latest breaking important news that the human world was not allowed to know about.

What grabbed everyone's attention, however, was the picture of Kaname in his school uniform, staring out at them from the top of the page. The headline beside the picture declared in bold type: "Kuran disappearance now thought linked to possible involvement in multiple Pureblood deaths. Young heir wanted by Council of Elders for questioning in regard to the death of his deceased parents." The snippet below continued: "New evidence suggests that Haruka and Juri Kuran's alleged dual suicide ten years ago may in fact have been foul play. How deep does their son and sole heir's involvement run?" A video thumbnail icon promised an exclusive report with more details.

Shocked silence reigned for about a half a second. Yuki and Zero were utterly confused and Yuki shot Kaname a puzzled look. Neither of them had heard anything about his parents' death before. Yuki realized with a small jolt that she'd never asked, never known that all those years she'd known him... Kaname had been as much an orphan as she, perhaps more so, actually, since she had had a 'father' who loved her.

Aido was spluttering with fury just from reading the headline and Takuma looked sick.

Kaname's expression was blank, his gaze lingering on his parent's names as bitter understanding started to creep darkly through him. Uncle... I underestimated you.

At a silent flick of a nod from Kaname, the Chairman clicked on the video thumbnail to play the report that had already taken the vampire world by storm early that evening.

The image of a pretty blond reporter who was quite certainly a vampire appeared in the video window that opened. To several people's surprise the distant, familiar outline of Cross Academy created the backdrop for her report.

"Young heir to the Kuran name and fortune, Pureblood Kaname Kuran, has allegedly been missing for three weeks. Authorities now suspect that the disappearance may in fact have been planned by Kuran himself as new evidence regarding the details of his parents' deaths are brought to light. Ten years ago, purebloods Haruka and Juri Kuran were found dead in their home. The deaths were both ruled to be suicide, but now that decision is being questioned as some major inconsistencies arise in the evidence, leaving many unanswered questions about exactly what did happen that night at the Kuran house.

"The couple's bodies were allegedly found by their young son and several family friends with whom Kaname had been spending the day. One puzzling piece in the whole tragedy was a missing necklace belonging to Reina Kuran. Apparently friends and family had never seen her without it, but a ll eyewitness reports indicate that she was not wearing it when her body was discovered. This necklace has recently been uncovered amid the possessions of her now allegedly missing son."

The image changed to the picture of a delicate red jewel pendant entwined by snaking golden vines that was strung on a broken golden chain. The gold was slightly tarnished, as if had been sitting untouched for quite some time.

Kaname reacted visibly to the sight, inhaling sharply.

"Most damaging of all, however, is the surfacing of a missing video tape from the Kuran estate's security cameras. We have an exclusive clip that has been verified by experts as authentic. The timestamp on the security footage clearly indicates that this was definitely filmed the night that the Kurans died."

Again the picture changed, this time to the slightly grainy black and white image of what was clearly a side-angle view of a front lawn, with the door of a large mansion just visible in the upper right hand corner. Only Kaname, Takuma and the Chairman recognized Kaname's family estate.

Kaname was watching with a silent, resigned expression, as if he already knew what he was going to see.

A moment later the door flew open and a figure dashed across the lawn, streaking rapidly through the camera's field of vision. But it was enough time to see that the figure was small, still mostly a child. He was covered in blood - his hands, his face, his shirt – and there was a wild look in his eyes. The dark, fluttering sepia hair, the smooth, angular face... even Yuki recognized him. He looked perhaps a little younger than her first memories of him, but it was obviously Kaname.

Just in case anyone had any doubts, the clip was replayed in slow-mo, pausing on one of the clearest, middle frames and highlighting the blood covered, wild looking face of the boy in the center of the screen.

"Kaname Kuran is seen fleeing from the house, covered in blood, shortly after his parents death on a night when he categorically stated he was not home, hoursbefore he allegedly discovered his parents' bodies. But it doesn't stop there. As many of you may remember, a few months ago, another pureblood tied to Kuran died under suspicious circumstances. Renegade Shizuka Hio was killed at Cross Academy by an ex-human. Sentence of execution on the guilty party was halted due to direct intervention and interference by Kuran. How do these pieces fit together? It is perhaps too early to tell. However, due to these revelations, the Council of Elders has reopened the investigation of the Kuran deaths. Individuals with information about Kaname Kuran's whereabouts should contact the number below immediately. The council urges you to remember that your duty to a pureblood does not outweigh your duty to your race as a whole and to the Council. Kuran is to be considered dangerous and a threat to other purebloods until this matter can be sorted out."

The clip ended and the Chairman closed the laptop again. Deathly silence hung in the room. Everyone was looking at Kaname in various stages of disbelief and outrage.

Cross, who had already had time to get over the initial shock upon first viewing, looked at Kaname with deep compassion. He of all people knew how cruel it was to have all this thrown back up in the young pureblood's face, to have complete strangers allege that he had possibly killed his own parents. It wasn't the first time the rumor had circulated, especially considering what had happened to his Uncle not long after, but that had been only murmurs and idle, forbidden gossip. This was something else entirely.

"Those lying sons of..." Aido looked like he wanted to hit something. No one in the room thought for a moment that a word of that was true, despite what they had seen with their own eyes, and as Kaname stared silently back at the many eyes fixed on him, he had to feel a small twinge of gratitude for that. Despite what the rest of the world seemed to think, at least the people in here were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

"Yagari contacted me shortly after the report broke. Your name has been placed on their list as a renegade, to be brought in, or, failing that, liquidated," Cross said quietly, gaze still holding on Kaname. "He doesn't know how it got there, and he's urging the hunters he knows to not follow through, but there's not much he can do. Once an order like that goes out... you know what it means. Even if some refuse, there will be hunters coming after you. I fear this situation may create a rift in their organization." The fact that Yagari and Cross had thrown around as much weight as they had before, in an effort to find Kaname when he went missing, was not doing any of them any favors now with the sudden shift in events.

Zero's jaw tightened. Blind obedience to what was handed down to them from the association was in a roundabout way what had cost his parents their lives, although he'd never really thought about it like that before. He had an eerie feeling that somehow this was all connected. That whoever was pulling all these invisible strings had been doing so for a long time.

Kaname felt numb, as if he was trying to absorb too much all at once. He finally forced a faint, ironic smile. "I should have expected my uncle to be capable of doing this," he said quietly as it started to sink in just how badly checkmated he'd been. "But I will admit I did not know the pieces he held. However, I do not think that he does either to some extent, and that may yet prove his undoing," Kaname speculated somewhat cryptically, lost in his own thoughts before his gaze refocused.

"What of the other students from the Night Class? Are they all right?" he asked Cross, his gaze intent, concern showing despite himself. Kaname was well aware that in any chess game, when you were going for the King you tried to remove as many of the other pieces as possible to clear the way and he was worried about those who had been openly loyal to him, who would now be considered the biggest threats by the powers aligning themselves against him.

"Kain and Ruka have been taken in for questioning by the agents of the Council, under suspicion that they were harboring you or knowledge of your whereabouts. Seiren, Rima and a number of the others have gone underground or been quietly spirited away by their families to escape the same fate until this whole situation blows over," Cross admitted slowly and Kaname only just managed to contain the look of deep regret and worry that flashed through his dark eyes. "I urged the Aidos and the Kains to do the same, as their anti-Council views are too well known. But after Akatsukiwas taken, they refused. They said that running would only make them look guilty of something. They're right, but..." Cross trailed off, running his hand through his hair and then rubbing the back of his neck. He was obviously quite worried.

Aido paled at the news about his cousin and his family, his fists curling silently at his sides. Kain... it seemed inconceivable somehow that something might happen to Wild. They'd grown up together like brothers and he'd never not had the older boy in his life. Was the whole world going insane all at once?

Kaname nodded slowly, his gaze sliding around the small group in the room, some of the few people he could count on in the world right now. All of whom were now in terrible danger because they were associated with him.

"I should thank you all, for not demanding to know the meaning of the so called evidence presented in that report immediately," Kaname said finally after another long moment. His gaze was starting to calm again, his tone not quite as collected as usual, but near enough. "But you deserve to know the truth. Then, you may judge if continuing to be associated with me is worth the risk it now presents."

Kaname sighed and ran his hand through his hair, settling to sit on the edge of the Chairman's desk, his gaze turning distant as it focused on an indefinable point across the room, memories washing back over him like ocean swells from a bygone era.

"First, you should know, that nothing that has officially been recorded about the night my parents died is the truth," he admitted quietly. "That includes my own 'official' account of the matter..."

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Footnote: At the time this story was written, Kaname's parents hadn't been given names yet in the manga. I originally named them something else, but have since edited them to fit with the manga.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen: "Bloody Revelations "

"I was supposed to be away that night," Kaname continued with the quiet determination of one who had a difficult and unpleasant, but unavoidable task ahead. His audience listened silently. "It was my parent's anniversary, so the idea was to give them some time alone. I'd already spent the day with some family friends, the Kimuras, and was to spend the night as well, returning home in the morning. It was not uncommon for me to do so. I knew few children my own age who were not either frightened of me or obsequies to the extent of unbearable. The Kimura family lived very nearby and they had a little girl. She was much younger than I, but ever since she was born I had enjoyed playing with and babysitting her because she was too young to care that I was a pureblood or a Kuran or to even know what that meant. I could be myself with those people. But that night I... I'd left a book I was reading at home. It was only a short distance away, so I just slipped out for a few minutes to run home and get it.

"I saw a car pulling out of the drive and heading away swiftly just as I arrived. I knew something was wrong. I could already smell blood. I followed the scent quickly into the house, to my parents' bedroom..." Kaname's eyes were getting blanker and more distant by the moment, as if utterly denying expression to any emotion brought on by the memories he was reliving. "My father and mother were both lying on the bed, it was drenched in blood, as was the whole room... My father was already dead. My mother..." he paused a moment. "My mother was still there, barely. I tried to save her, tried get her to drink from me, to restore her, but she was too weak. I was young, I did not understand that not all wounds could be healed, and she was already too far gone to be saved by the time I arrived. There was no time to call for help, even had I been thinking clear enough to do so. She died as I held her, mere moments after I found her. She was... she had been..." there were some words relating to his mother that Kaname still could not speak, out of respect and out of grief, so he simply continued.

"I dressed her in her favorite dressing gown and smoothed her hair... I could not leave her as she was. I remember very little after that. My memory of the time following that discovery is... unclear, muddled. I should have contacted the authorities then but I..." Kaname sighed softly. So many things he should have done differently, but he'd been scared, horrified, heartbroken, confused... and considering who he'd seen drive away, he had had no idea who to trust.

"I vaguely recall running from the house. I do not know where I hid or for how long. But I must have run back to somewhere near where I had been staying before, because eventually Mr. and Mrs. Kimura found me. I'm certain they were deeply concerned. I remember nothing until I was at their house again. Mrs. Kimura was holding me, calling my name. I was already washed clean of blood and dressed in fresh clothes. It was a strange feeling, as if I were living a life other than my own, as if I were caught in a dream I could not escape."

Zero looked out the window, a small shiver tracing down his spine at the words he was hearing, and the feelings, the memories they invoked in him. Blood... his parent's bodies, fallen together... watching them die... the daze he'd been in for days, for weeks afterwards, the daze he was still in when he met Yuki and she started taking care of him, coaxing him back to life... it was eerie and unsettling, how deeply he related to what he was hearing.

Kaname was still speaking. "At first I could not speak, but finally... I told them what had happened. They went quickly with me back to my house. They did not want me to go back with them, but I would not abide being left behind. So they left their daughter with a neighbor and we went. It was almost dawn by then. We found my parents, as I had left them. The authorities were immediately called for, but the sun rose before they arrived and my parents' bodies returned to dust. When the enforcement officials finally arrived, an inordinately long time later, I told them what happened, and the Kimuras told what they had seen... but it didn't seem to matter. The investigators' minds were already made up from the moment they arrived. It was as if they were merely going through the motions by being there. I remember not being able to understand what was happening. The death of two purebloods... it should have inspired grief and anger, determination to get the one responsible. But the Council ruled it a suicide before the blood had even started being washed out of the bedroom.

"Considering who I had seen driving away from the house I began to suspect that there was a complete cover-up occurring. It was my uncle I saw fleeing that day, although aside from the Kimuras, I told no one. It was obvious that either those controlling the Council already knew, or at any rate, would not believe that which they did not want to believe. My parents had not been friends of theirs, no more than I have ever been. My Uncle had always been much more aligned with their way of thinking. It was better for them, to have him as the Kuran heir. Even as a child, I understood these facts. So I never told anyone else that I had been at the house that night. Those eyewitnesses that the report referred to earlier were of course the Kimuras, and they did indeed see that my mother's necklace was gone. They saw and reported a great deal more than that as well that the authorities simply edited out of their statements for them. It didn't matter what they said, you see – they had no weight, no voice in the vampire world. My parent's friends, into whose care they would so often entrust me... were human."

Kaname's gaze slid to Yuki and for some reason she felt a strange shiver course down her spine. Her gaze was riveted on him as he spoke.

"At that time, those humans were the only ones who believed me, who knew the truth. In an ideal world I would have been allowed to remain with them, as I wished, but I knew that would never happen. Most considered it an absolute scandal that I was staying with them even temporarily. Although many lauded my parent's 'noble' ideals of keeping the peace, few approved of their regular interactions with the human world, or of the way that I was being raised. At any rate, it was certain that as my only living relative, my uncle was going to claim guardianship of me – he, whom I was certain had murdered my parents. Through me, as legal guardian, he would gain control of all my parents' holdings, estates and power and thus put the finishing touches on his plan. I could not abide it. I could not abide that he was gaining everything from my parents' death, I could not abide that he was still drawing breath. I did not care what happened to me. I did not care about anything." Kaname looked weary. "I went to his home, to kill my uncle," he said quietly. There was no remorse in his voice at the coldblooded admission, just... weariness. It would have been so much simpler if he had either succeeded or been killed in the attempt then.

"Things did not go as planned... it was almost I who perished. In the end, however, I succeeded... partially. There was a fire and my uncle was trapped while I escaped. Rido did not die, but he was left severely injured, in a deep, coma slumber in which he has rested since that time, until now. That was something I discovered later, however. At that time, I thought he was dead and I thought that was the end of it... but I was wrong on all counts. I was not as careful covering my tracks as I should have been. As a result, blame for my actions fell upon the Kimuras, with whom I had still been staying. I should have realized that could happen, that it could appear the trail pointed back to them but I... overlooked that possibility." Kaname's eyes darted for a fraction of a second towards Zero. It would not be the last time he would make that mistake, which he felt was an unforgivable lack of learning from the past on his part, but at least Kiriyu... he'd been able to protect.

"I would never have allowed a miscarriage of justice like that to stand uncontested, but everyone already considered me a disturbed child who wasn't quite right in the head after my parents' 'suicide' and my word carried little weight for anything. Even had I confessed to my Uncle's death, I am not sure I would have been believed. The council could not have afforded to permanently lose the last Kuran heir at that time and I would likely have ended up a prisoner in some kind of secure institutionalized mental care facility until I was 'better'. As it was... things simply happened too fast. The Kimuras got wind that they had been targeted. They took their daughter and fled.

"I myself was in hiding elsewhere and knew nothing of what was happening for some time. As soon as I found out, I tried to find them. They felt like all that I had left of my family. I wanted desperately to protect them... but in the end, it was the same as with my parents. I was too late. It was winter by then; the family had fled to a remote cabin in the mountains, far from the rest of the world. But it wasn't far enough. When they disappeared a pack of mad Level E's had been sent to hunt them down like dogs at the Council's bidding. Crazy as they were, they were quite effective. They got there before I did. The family fled again, but they didn't get far. They were cornered on the edge of a sharp drop-off and killed before I could reach them. They were so torn apart... I thought the whole family was dead. I killed the ex-humans who had done it, but one ran off. I chased him further down the mountain to the bottom of the short cliff we had been on before. But he was insane, he wasn't running from me, he was following the scent of blood to another victim. The little girl had survived. She must have fallen or been shoved off the edge of the drop-off as her parents were being killed. The snow was deep, and she was small and light, that's the only reason I can guess that she wasn't much harmed by the fall. The ex-human tried to kill her, but for once... for once... I was not too late..." Kaname swallowed quietly against the constricting tenseness in his throat. His gaze was still locked on Yuki and she appeared frozen as she stared back at him, her eyes wide, almost as wide as they had been on that day...

"I killed him before he could hurt her, and..."

"...saved me," Yuki whispered quietly. Her face was very pale, her mind almost frozen in shock. She felt like... she should remember, like Kaname's words should bring a hailstorm of memories with them. But her mind was still blank. She still remembered nothing. Yet deep inside her, the pureblood's words hit a deep, inexplicable cord and she knew that this, at last, was the truth. She'd expected this story to be about Kaname's parents, about his past... she hadn't realized she'd be finding out the truth about her own as well, or how intertwined the two were.

Zero, Aido and Takuma were all watching Yuki and Kaname in surprise, if not outright shock. Today was a day for revelations it seemed and the whole story certainly answered a lot of questions on many scores.

The only one who seemed unsurprised, although uncharacteristically sober and quiet, was Chairman Cross.

"You knew," Zero said quietly, not sure if he was surprised or angry as he turned a confused glare on Yuki's adopted father. "You knew all this, didn't you?"

"Not... all..." Cross hedged slightly. "Not all at once, anyway, but yes... enough of it," he conceded quietly. No reason Kaname had to bear the burden of telling this difficult story all by himself. Cross knew that Kaname looked at what had happened back then and saw only his own mistakes and shortcomings – things that he now, as an adult, would have done differently. The pureblood didn't seem to appreciate that he had only been the equivalent of around 10-11 years old when all this was occurring.

"I had also been a friend of Kaname's parents. I owed them my life, actually. I did not know your parents Yuki, but when Kaname brought you to me... you needed more than a place to stay and a family. You needed somewhere to hide, where you would be safe from any who might still seek your death on your parents' account, until enough time had passed that no one would care anymore."

"I didn't take your memories from you, Yuki," Kaname said softly, his gaze asking her to try to understand. This was not the way or the manner in which he would have chosen to finally tell her about her past, but then, nothing in life had ever turned out the way he would have wanted or chosen. "I admit that I would have, at least of your parents' deaths... but it was not necessary. From the moment I found you at the bottom of the drop-off in the snow, you didn't remember anything, not even me, although I had been in and out of your life since you were born. Perhaps you hit your head in the fall, but I tend to think that the sheer trauma of what had happened was too much and your mind simply blocked it out. All things considered, I thought it was best... if it remained that way. I am sorry, Yuki. I know it does not mean much, but I did not mean to destroy your family through my own shortsightedness." He did not expect her to forgive him for what he'd done, or for keeping it from her for so long, but as painful as it was, there was some relief in the telling – in finally letting the truth, damning as it was, be known, even if she did come to hate him now that she knew. Kaname may have made mistakes and miscalculated badly, but he'd done everything he could to protect her and give her a happy life since then, to make up for what he'd cost her. He would continue trying to do that until the day she died, if she let him. He owed it to her. She was his last link to a more innocent time, to the only warmth, the only love he'd ever known. Perhaps it had been wrong of him to hold onto her so tightly, to continue looking to her for the simple acceptance and affection he got nowhere else. But he needed that light in his life... and he hadn't known how else to fulfill his vow to take care of her.

Yuki was silent. Her mind was spinning and she really wasn't able to absorb everything that was being said. It all started seeming unreal, like some bizarre, dark flight of fancy. She'd known that whatever happened had to be pretty bad, she'd known that there had to be some reason Kaname just happened to be on the mountain that day. But somehow, she still hadn't been prepared for the truth of it all. Kimura... that had been her family name? Her parents... what had they been like? They sounded nice, from what Kaname said... why couldn't she remember them?

Kaname dropped his gaze and looked away, not daring to try and interoperate Yuki's silence right now. He'd known... known it might change things between them.

He had so many conflicting feelings running through him right now; he couldn't afford to focus on any one of them for too long. Now, of all times, he needed to be clearheaded and at the top of his game. It was the only way he could hope to try and grab hold of the unraveling pieces of his life and counter the machinations Ichijo and his Uncle had set loose against him. Ironic... that he'd escaped being Rido's ward, only to end up as Ichijo's. Of course... much as he'd despised old Ichijo, Kaname hadn't realized the old Aristocrat been so connected to his Uncle until recent events proved that they must have had a history together going back to before the death of his parents.

"The past... is the past. I regret it, but I cannot change it. Now you all know what has happened, and the kind of opposition we're up against. You can decide accordingly, if you wish to risk the possible price of continuing to be associated with me. This is not something that can be covered by duty to blood alone. You have all done much for me already, and I cannot guarantee how this will end," Kaname said quietly, his voice calm and distant again as he shifted back to the present, needing to focus on that, not on the way Yuki was staring down at her hands as if reliving that moment in the snow over again and trying to come to terms with the fact that her savior had also been the cause of her need to be saved. Zero moved over and squeezed Yuki's shoulder softly, supportively.

Aido and Takuma gave Kaname's question about 0.5 seconds of thought.

"Kaname, I can't undo whatever part my family, my grandfather, has played in all this, but I've already made my choice. There is no going back for me, but even if there was... I would still choose to stand by you, whatever happens," Takuma said quietly. He felt he had a lot to make up for, even if he had not been involved.

Aido nodded his agreement fiercely. He'd once vowed to try to protect Kaname, and he would hold to that. A dart of worry pierced his heart for his family, his sisters... but he tried not to think about that. If Kain had been taken, then the rest of his family was already in danger, no matter what he did. The best thing he could do for them was to stick with Kaname and trust that if anyone had a chance of sorting this mess out, it was him.

Kaname had perhaps expected such a response from those two, but it warmed him a bit nonetheless and he gave Takuma and Aido a quiet smile and a nod. The response that surprised him, though, was Zero's.

The ex-human looked up from where he stood with his arm around Yuki's shoulders and fixed Kaname with a strange, intent look for a moment. He should have felt angrier than he did, about all that had been revealed. About all that had been kept from them, from Yuki. He was worried about her silence, about how she was taking all this. But... it was as if he couldn't find the energy to be too angry - not now, not knowing how much everyone involved had suffered. Perhaps too, it was that familiarity he'd felt, knowing that Kaname and Yuki had also been forced to see their parents die, unable to stop it, even if Yuki did not remember. He realized that knowing that pain himself, he would not have wanted her to remember. He would have wanted to protect her, to give her a new life, would have... oh crap, he would have probably done the exact same thing Kaname had done. That was not something Zero wanted to admit, but deep down he knew it was true.

After a moment, he gave a small shrug. "Hey, I'm the ex-human who is supposedly in cahoots with you already according to that report... might as well be in trouble for something I'm actually doing, huh?" he said quietly, with attempted carelessness. The slight double-take Kaname did made him feel unforgivably like blushing for some unfathomable reason. Zero scowled instead. It wasn't as if they really had a choice after all, right? They were all in this up to their necks already whether they liked it or not after their last little adventure. And of course, he had to protect Yuki too, who would continue to be a target as long as Kaname's enemies saw her as his weakness... Zero's mind quickly tallied up a perfectly logical list of reasons why he was intentionally involving himself. Reasons that oddly had little to do with what had first prompted him to open his mouth.

"Though our options right now suck. I'm sure your uncle and whoever's in on this with him don't have to be geniuses know this is one of the first places we're likely to turn up," Zero added, seeming to feel the need to be pessimistic, although he made a good point.

A faint (slightly irritating, in Zero's opinion) smile was still playing indefinably at the corners of Kaname's mouth as the pureblood looked at him. "Yes, I'm sure they are having the place watched. They may already know we are here," he said calmly. "Which is why we cannot afford to remain much longer." Kaname would not put the school at risk. Even if it was not able to serve its original function right now, he would see the other students, and the future possibility of the dream it represented, protected.

"I know a few places you could hide..." the Chairman suggested thoughtfully. He'd not spoken before simply because he considered it a given that he would continue to be on Kaname's side, no matter who that made as an enemy. After all, he'd already known most of what had just been told, and he knew that the pacifist ideals he shared with Kaname and Kaname's parents were influential triggers for everything that had happened and was happening. It was all well and fine to have a dream, but it was worthless if you weren't prepared to fight, even to die for it.

Kaname's gaze shifted to him. "Good, then take Yuki there. Keep her safe. They tried to use her to get to me once; they will try again if they can. Get Yagari to come and run the school for you, he will be able to protect the day class students should any action be taken against them, but I doubt that with all of us out of the picture, the Council or anyone else will bother with the other humans here."

Cross and Yuki both started to protest, for different reasons, but Kaname shook his head, sliding off the edge of the desk and standing. His gaze now was clear, hard and focused.

"No. I am sorry, Yuki. I know you wish to be involved, but it is too dangerous and you are not well." His gaze shifted to Cross. "And no, I will not hide. There is no time for that. Ichijo and my Uncle have made a vital mistake they do not yet realize. I must take advantage of that while I can." Kaname was in full swing command mode now, taking over the situation and issuing orders as came so naturally to him. It was his nature... it was also his defense against those things he could not afford to feel.

Yuki set her jaw and looked away. She was not happy at the idea of being taken away and protected while Kaname and Zero and everyone else was facing danger. She was still reeling from the previous bombshell. She had so many questions tearing through her...

"Which means...?" Zero prodded for a little more information about what exactly the pureblood was obviously planning.

"Which means I need to break into Ichijo Enterprises' Corporate headquarters," Kaname replied evenly. "Knowing Ichijo, it is there, rather than at his house or anywhere else, that he will be keeping anything he holds most dear. He believes the complex impenetrable. So that is where he will be keeping the 'evidence' that he and my uncle are doubtless responsible for leaking to the press. Rido's influence is still limited while he continues to live through Shiki's body, so no doubt he has Ichijo pulling all the strings for him."

"Stealing the evidence isn't going to undo the damage that's already been done," Zero pointed out, perhaps enjoying playing devil's advocate a little too much.

Kaname didn't seem to pay much attention, there was a strange intensity burning behind his eyes. "True, but that evidence may tell an entirely different story than they imagine," he said somewhat cryptically. "The tape is of little importance. There were no security cameras in the private areas of our home, and none of the other footage showed anything useful. Rido had been to the house many times, I'm certain he knew where the cameras were and how to avoid them. I was not aware that that footage of me even existed until now. Ichijo was already head of the Council at that point, whoever found the tape must have given it to him, and he held onto it. My mother's necklace, however, is another story. That must have been in my uncle's keeping, somewhere. The marks on her neck indicated that it had been ripped off of her. I searched for it everywhere after she died. If Rido were wise he would have destroyed it, not kept it as a twisted memento. His error is our gain. I must get my hands on it, immediately." Kaname did not bother clarifying any further, not yet.

"When do we leave?" Aido asked, but Kaname shook his head.

"Not we," Kaname corrected. "Getting into Ichijo's private office will be difficult and dangerous. One or two might hope to accomplish it, but any more than that and the risk of discovery becomes too great. Besides, I need you and Ichijo to find where Kain and Ruka are being held and free them." Kaname needed as many playing pieces as possible for moving forward, but... it was more than that. He was very worried about what might be happening to those two considering the ruthlessness of their enemy. Many would see that as weakness... he wasn't supposed to care about his pawns, it would slow him up and make complications. But... they were also his friends.

"They're being held in the main detention facility in the city," Cross put in, having already dug around to find that information as soon as he'd learned of the arrests.

"Good," Kaname nodded, giving a 'there you go, your job just got easier' gesture to Aido and Takuma. Actually, that was good news to a certain extent. It meant it would be doubly hard to try and break them out, but if they were in an official detention facility that meant that the level of inquisition they went through would at least have some limits... even if not many. For Ruka's sake though, they were important ones.

"Kaname... tell me you don't mean to go to Grandfa... Ichijo's office alone," Takuma said quietly. He would follow the orders he was given, but he knew the kind of high security trap his friend was going to be walking into and was worried about Kaname. He wished that he might still have been some use in that regard, but he knew that by now his grandfather had certainly erased all clearance he had ever had from all their properties. Takuma would in fact be a liability in such a situation because too many people would recognize him instantly and, sadly, he also had no doubt that his grandfather's assassins were going to be actively searching for him. You didn't cross the Ichijos and live. Even if you were an Ichijo.

Kaname shook his head. "No, I won't quite be going alone." A faint, somewhat wry smile crossed his face as his gaze turned across the room... and landed squarely on Zero.

"Kiriyu will be accompanying me."

"What?" Aido exploded despite himself. "Why him?"

Zero's eyebrows shot up. Actually, he kind of seconded Aido's question but he didn't say it, merely shooting Kaname a quizzical look. Surely, for something like this, shouldn't Kaname have wanted to take one of his loyal to the bone noble-class cronies along?

Kaname shot Aido a slightly amused, slightly irritated look at being questioned... although to be honest it wasn't like it was an unexpected reaction. Zero didn't seem the logical choice, but Kaname had his reasons. Not all of which he was prepared to share at this moment.

"Ichijo and Rido seem to have taken an interest in using hunter technology and anti-vampire devices that they get around themselves by using special binding charms. If we encounter anything of this nature, it would be swiftest and most advantageous to have a hunter along to deal with them," he said simply, giving part of the truth.

Aido didn't look happy but he heeded Kaname's warning look and said nothing further.

"All right then, it's settled. We should all leave as soon as possible," Kaname wrapped things up.

Zero was leaning against the wall, watching him. It was interesting, how Kaname could walk into a room, start laying plans and giving orders and everyone just did what he said. Even Chairman Cross in this case. It kind of irritated Zero, but at the same time it intrigued him too.

"Thanks for asking if I wanted to help you break into Fort Knox, by the way..." he commented to Kaname as he pushed off the wall.

Kaname merely leveled Zero with a mild, slightly amused gaze. "You volunteered," he said with a look that was an almost smile, before he turned his attention to some last minute details with Chairman Cross. Kaname needed to make sure he and Yuki were going to be as safe as possible.

"Kaname, what was... is... my name?" Yuki's quiet voice interrupted them. Cross and Kaname immediately fell silent and both sets of gazes turned swiftly towards her. Kaname's eyes were incredibly gentle as he regarded Yuki, one hand hesitantly sliding out to cup her cheek. At least she didn't pull away. She was watching him intently. "I want to know," she whispered. "I want to know who I am."

Kaname heard Cross swallow silently beside him and knew the human was looking away. In some ways, Kaname knew Cross had feared this day too. Kaname knelt in front of Yuki's chair so he was eye-level with her. He took her hand in his. "You are Yuki, the gentle princess, and you always shall be," he whispered softly.

"But..."

Kaname cut Yuki off with a shake of his head. "No, I am serious. Your name was Yuki. I... I thought at first maybe we should change it, for your protection, but Cross didn't think it was necessary. He said... it fit you too well."

Yuki bit her lower lip and nodded slowly.

Finally Kaname rose back to his feet, bidding her a quiet farewell. He could not afford to linger, no matter what he felt. Time was already slipping away too fast. It was a hard parting though. Yuki was so quiet... Kaname had no idea what was going through her mind, or what she thought about what she had learned.

But as he started to turn away, Yuki rose a bit unsteadily from her chair and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist, hugging him from behind and burying her face against his back. "Come back safely," she whispered softly. "You and Zero... just come back safely."

Kaname gently wrapped his arms around over hers and gave a small squeeze. He hoped they would. He truly hoped they would. Kaname's gaze slid across the room, but Zero was gone.

Kaname turned and gave Yuki another little squeeze before releasing her. The Chairman edged closer and carefully wrapped an arm around her shoulders to support her. She was still quite weak from the gas exposure she had suffered.

"Protect her," Kaname softly charged Cross, although he knew it was unnecessary for him to say it.

The Chairman smiled gently. "With my life."

Kaname saw Yuki wind her arm around her adopted father's back, leaning into his support, before the pureblood turned away and headed for the door. Aido and Takuma followed. Zero was waiting for them outside, arms crossed, leaning against the wall and looking the other direction.

Kaname regarded the tense set of the other's shoulders for half a moment. "Aren't you going to say goodbye to Yuki?" he asked, quietly and perhaps a trifle coldly.

Zero's eyes were decidedly cool as he looked back towards the pureblood. "Why bother? You already did, didn't you?" It wasn't like it was easy for Zero to watch Kaname and Yuki together. He didn't know or understand yet what this weird draw he kept feeling towards the pureblood was either and he wasn't sure he liked it.

Kaname shot Zero a dark look. Don't hurt yourself and her just because you're mad at me. "Don't take for granted that there will always be another chance to do things left undone." Kaname's low voice was almost angry, although he had no idea why he was quite so upset. "You don't think she's going to notice that you left her without a parting?"

Kaname turned on his heel and strode away to get ready. "She cares about you, Kiriyu," he said quietly as he disappeared down the hall. Kaname had no idea why he'd said that. He should be jealous of the fact that Yuki's heart was still so divided between them; he had been for a long time, but for some reason now... he...

He needed to focus on what he was doing and what gear he needed to gather up. There was much to be done and not much time to do it in.

Aido and Takuma had watched the exchange silently, obviously considered this whole situation awkward and quickly scuttled off to take care of their own preparations as soon as Kaname left.

Zero stared after Kaname for a few long moments, then turned and slid silently back into the other room. One thing the pureblood had right, he supposed. Life didn't always give you a second chance for anything.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen: " Two Knights Defense "

Silent as shadows two dark figures slid down long, snaking black ropes like graceful, lethal spiders descending from the crisscrossing web of girders that formed the superstructure of the massive skylight crowning the tall atrium ceiling of Ichijo Enterprises' main lobby. It was night out so this area of building, the appropriately named 'human relations' or public side of things, was closed and deserted. Elsewhere, the vampire work day was just beginning and other levels of the building would be humming with activity.

"You know, I never knew people did things like this in real life..." Zero whispered with a certain amount of dry amusement as they silently reached the bottom, nearly 20 stories down. He unclipped from the belt harness he was wearing. Kaname wasn't wearing one. Zero almost wondered if the other had really needed to use the ropes at all, but he didn't ask. Kaname had been quiet and secretive ever since they left the school. The pureblood had even disappeared without explanation for almost a half hour, right before they were supposed to set their plan, such as it was, into motion, then reappeared with hardly a moment to spare and not in a mood to answer questions. As if he ever was.

Zero and Kaname were both dressed all in black. The ex-human was wearing a dark cap as well to hide his silver mane of hair. On one hand, Zero felt ridiculously like he was some kind of cat burglar out of one of those caper movies. On the other, he knew this was no game. They were walking into serious danger and if they slipped up he was likely to wind up dead before the night was out.

Kaname had replaced the carefully sliced skylight before they'd descended, and he now released the remote controlled electromagnetic fasteners at the other end of the climbing ropes, making the long cords puddle gracefully down at his and Zero's feet. They couldn't afford to leave any traces of themselves around to trip alarms or suspicions. This point of entry had been carefully chosen to avoid the security cameras which guarded the more sane and reasonable choices of ingress. Fortunately, Kaname had been in this building before. It was at least four years ago now, but he had an excellent memory for detail, so long as nothing had changed too terribly much. So far, there had been no unpleasant surprises, but then the dangerous part was only just beginning.

"Well, now you know," Kaname whispered back wryly. Kiriyu had been sullen with him ever since they had left Cross Academy and he had reciprocated. They had hardly spoken during the trip over, silently ignoring each other as they poured over the partial building schematics that Kaname had somehow procured during the seemingly endless wait for night to fall. Now that they were finally on the move, however, the slightly easier, semi-truce that had formed between them during their earlier escape seemed to have returned once more.

The ropes were swiftly bundled up and shoved into the slim backpacks they were both wearing as they silently and carefully made their way across the empty lobby. Its polished marble floors dimly reflected the distant light of the stars shining down through the skylight. They moved with vampire speed when necessary to avoid the security cameras, which recorded nothing of their passing but perhaps a faint ruffle of breeze.

"I'm confused – is this the equivalent of breaking in in broad daylight, or are we actually being sneaky?" Zero murmured with a small lift of his eyebrows, tone still dry as they slipped into a darkened hallway and slid swiftly down it towards a set of doors at the end. Kaname seemed to know where he was going.

Kaname gave a slightly distracted but amused smirk. "Being sneaky is all about hitting people when and where they don't expect to be hit. Why, are you scared?" the last was obviously a taunt.

"That you'll get us both killed? Sure, petrified," Zero retorted with a snort as they came to a halt before the doors and Kaname swiftly picked the lock.

There was a comfortable familiarity in being back to needling one another again and whether or not they admitted it, they both felt it. The lock swiftly gave and they slid into the hall beyond. The two intruders made their way silently into the more utilitarian and less opulent maintenance area of the building, looking for and eventually finding the furnace room. They had to duck out of sight and stay hidden for a few minutes as a few of the cleaning staff passed by, but then the area was clear again and they let themselves quickly into the furnace room itself.

The air in here was hot and the loud rushing of the furnace and fans covered almost all ambient sound, if they had been making any. There was a large intake register near the ceiling and Zero boosted Kaname up on his shoulders so the pureblood could reach it. He was surprisingly light and Zero again got the feeling that Kaname was defying gravity to some extent. Perhaps it was part of the pureblood's ability to manipulate kinetic energy. Or maybe Kaname was just secretly anorexic. Zero smirked despite himself, then gave a small grunt of protest when Kaname's feet shifted on his shoulders, pressing against the side of the ex-human's face and making Zero's ear-cuffs dig into his head.

Kaname pried the grate off the register swiftly and let it hang from one screw on the lower edge. Gripping the lip of the air shaft, Kaname quickly pulled himself up. He winced silently. The metal lining of the register was hot from the heated air flowing through it and it burned his hands. They healed as fast as they were burned of course, but that didn't mean it didn't hurt. He ignored it, crawling into the shaft and turning around to look back down towards Zero who was still on the floor. He scooted back to make room for the other, pulling a pair of dark gloves from his pocket at the same time.

"Come, but put your gloves on first, the metal's hot," Kaname warned.

Zero looked up at the grate high overhead. He was obviously figuring out how exactly he was supposed to get up there.

Kaname smiled somewhat quizzically at him, guessing what the problem was. "Just jump."

Zero gave him a look as he tugged on his gloves. Jump? Up there? Whatever, it was worth a try. He doubted he was going to make it, but knew he could use some of the rope from earlier easy enough.

Zero did jump, but as expected, he came far short of the lip of the shaft and simply fell back to land on his feet on the floor again. Shaking his head at the waste of time, he started un-shouldering his pack to get the rope.

Kaname gave an impatient little snort. "No, not like that... jump..." he said, as if Zero should understand, then seemed to realize that Kiriyu probably didn't understand. Kaname realized with a small shock that some things were as natural to him as breathing and he had no idea how to explain to someone else how to do them.

"Try again. Think about it as you jump. Imagine you're actually pushing down against the ground the whole time you're in the air, gaining momentum and pushing yourself up." Kaname knew that sounded lame, but it was like trying to describe walking. You just did it, you didn't think much about how you did it.

Zero paused, looking up at Kaname as if he thought he was slightly off his rocker. But... the pureblood sounded so sure. Against his better judgment, Zero re-shouldered his pack and actually tried doing as Kaname had said. He knew it was lame, and he'd just end up on the ground again, but... okay, he was curious.

To Zero's shock, almost before he realized what was happening, he'd overshot the mouth of the shaft. He would have hit his head on the ceiling if Kaname hadn't grabbed the front of his jacket as he flew by and checked his upward momentum. Losing his grip on whatever he'd just done, Zero flailed slightly, quickly catching hold of the edge of the shaft, even as Kaname pulled him in.

Zero's breath was coming hard and he didn't know why. Despite himself, his face was an open book of surprise, curiosity and interest. That had been... had he really done that? He didn't know he could.

Kaname reached around the slightly dazed ex-human and pulled the vent back up into place. He gave Zero a bemused grin. The other boy really had no idea of his own potential, did he? It was oddly kind of... endearing, the look on Zero's face. So much, Kaname took for granted having grown up with what he was. Humans shouldn't be turned into vampires, but there was no going back for Kiriyu, and Kaname thought it was a shame that no one had ever taught him anything about being a vampire except how to hate himself.

"When you drink the blood of a pureblood, you inherit a bit of their power," Kaname said quietly as he shifted around in the shaft so he could head the direction they needed to go, which was a somewhat difficult process given the close quarters. "That's part of why it's so taboo. How much you inherit depends on the recipient. I think you've already noticed the increase in your strength, but there will be other things, like this, that you can do if you know how. But come, now is not the time for this. We have work to do."

Kaname was already crawling away down the shaft and Zero followed, quietly tucking away the interesting bit of knowledge for a later date. Providing of course they survived long enough to have any later dates... which Zero began to think less and less likely the longer they crawled through the hot, winding, dusty, torturous air ducts. The claustrophobia was intense. And of course, they had to have the heat on rather than the A/C... Perspiration made both brown and silver hair damp as the two vampires worked their way deeper into the heart of the building.

It was miserable, but it was the only way to infiltrate as deeply as they needed to go. Ichijo's security was excellent and even Kaname didn't want to chance trying any other, less secluded route. It was a good thing he had a good head for direction though, because the route they traveled was hardly a straight line, nor was it mapped out for them. Now and again the main ducting branched off and they constantly had to back track and try a different path after the one they'd chosen proved to be taking them away from the direction they needed to go.

Kaname decided that he definitely could have used Aido's skill with ice right about now as this blasted heat was really getting on his nerves, although he didn't show it much.

Finally, Kaname signaled a halt, wriggling down into a vertical register to get a glimpse through a ceiling vent and try to judge their location. His instincts were good and after a moment he signaled for Zero to follow him. They pried the vent loose and dropped down into a disturbingly well lit, but thankfully empty hallway. This was as close as they were going to be able to get to their goal by keeping to the ducts. Now they simply had to move quickly. Zero followed Kaname swiftly down the hall and into an empty meeting room that branched off to the right.

In any other situation, Kaname would have preferred to use subterfuge. Would have tried to use disguise and obfuscation for he and Zero to infiltrate this building. But here was one place it wouldn't work. He was too well known to Ichijo and those who worked for him. So he had to go for a more inelegant solution. Kaname tugged his gloves off.

Without warning to Zero, Kaname swiftly and efficiently blasted a hole in the wall of the meeting room. It didn't make as much sound as might have been expected, as it was almost as if the pureblood melted the wall as much as blasted it, but Zero still jumped at the sudden action, his gaze swiveling around warily. "What the hell happened to stealth?" he hissed, his heart pounding irritatingly in his throat. He jerked his head at the gaping hole in the wall. "I think they're gonna notice this!"

"Yes, but hopefully not before we have accomplished our task," Kaname murmured distractedly as he slid through the hole he had created into the room beyond. It was a huge office decorated with antiques that would have made an art dealer swoon. Ironically, most of them had probably been purchased when they were yet new, by the person whose office this was.

They had reached Ichijo's inner sanctum.

Kaname put an arm out, halting Zero's forward progress into the room and gesturing for him to be careful. There were security cameras trained on the door an one panning the whole office. A fine latticework of almost invisible laser-beam tripwires crisscrossed the lush Persian carpets covering the floor. There were also silent alarm triggers on the door, hence why they had entered the way they did, Zero realized.

Kaname took out the roving camera with one quick burst of energy before it could pan across the hole in the wall and the two interlopers. He knew they wouldn't have much time before the off-lined camera was discovered, but it was all they could do. He'd already known they were going to be working with an incredibly thin envelope of opportunity.

Stepping with utmost care between the beams of the laser sensors, Kaname picked his way around the massive desk to the book case and flipped the hidden switch to make the mahogany case slide aside. He wasn't supposed to know about any of this, but Kaname knew a lot about Ichijo that he wasn't supposed to know. One thing he didn't know, was the combination to the safe hidden behind the book case. It was probably voice and retina printed, judging by the little scanner built in beside it. Kaname quickly slagged the small security box before it could scan him, find him not Ichijo and send up an intruder alert. The pureblood placed his hand on the front panel and it started to glow red. Ichijo wasn't a fool, this was no normal alloy and Kaname frowned, concentrating hard as he willed the metal to give under his touch, to respond to his power.

Zero shifted from foot to foot, careful to stay clear of the laser grid and glancing around the office warily as Kaname worked on the safe. He still couldn't understand how Kaname could be so sure that what they sought was here, or, for that matter, why exactly Kaname thought it was so important to recover his mother's necklace, but he had found that questioning the pureblood was singularly un-useful, so he simply hoped that Kaname knew what he was doing.

It seemed a century, although it was probably only a few minutes, before Kaname finally managed to punch his hand through the ruined safe and work the mechanisms from the inside, disabling the silent alarm wired into the safe and tugging the door open at the same time.

The smell of burnt flesh made Zero cast a small frown towards Kaname. He was relieved to see the pureblood pulling the mangled safe open, but realized with a double-take that Kaname's right hand was burnt badly. The skin was blistered, darkened and his fingers appeared frozen in a semi-bent position indicative of severe damage.

Despite himself, Zero felt a sharp tug of concern. Kaname's face was pale and lined with a fine, hard edge of pain, but his attention was on what he was pulling out of the safe with his good hand. As small, clear box held the broken gold necklace that Zero had seen in the news report. From where he stood across the room, he could only just catch a glimpse of the gold color, but from the way Kaname was handling it, he knew it must be what they were after.

Kaname cradled the box in his hand, just staring at it for a long moment. He seemed to have forgotten everything else in the room. There was a strange, indefinable look on the pureblood's face.

"Kaname..." Zero whispered, both trying to tug his companion from wherever he was lost in the past and also a bit concerned at the fact that the pureblood's injured hand wasn't healing up at all.

Kaname shook himself. His face was still lined with pain, but his eyes were distracted, distant, as if he only barely registered Zero's presence and was only marginally aware that he was injured. With utmost care, Kaname tucked the little jewelry box into an inner pocket and only then seemed to become conscious of the intense, flaming pain radiating from his right hand. He frowned at it, quickly tugging a short length of cloth that looked like a scarf or a kerchief from another pocket and wrapping the burned extremity up quickly, if not very carefully.

"Ichijo had anti vampire measures built into the safe. I should have expected something like that. Fortunately, they were not strong enough to stop me," Kaname explained quietly as he dropped his injured hand to his side, out of sight.

"You should have asked for help," Zero said quietly with a disapproving frown. "Isn't that what you brought me along for?"

"Nothing you could have done," Kaname shook his head, his good hand sliding to rest over the pocket where the necklace was as he moved back around the desk. The distant look had never quite cleared from his gaze and he appeared exceedingly distracted. His good hand slid up to the side of his throat, fingers pressing lightly as if to still an ache, his frown darkening.

"Kaname!" Zero cried out in warning, forgetting any need for quietness in his alarm as Kaname appeared totally unmindful of the laser beam pattern on the floor, his unguarded stride carrying him right through several of the beams. Zero knew that the pureblood was obviously distracted, but he hadn't thought he'd be that distracted...

A sudden wail of alarms shattered the silence outside the office and made a cold shock stiffen Zero's spine. They were so screwed...

Bars shot down from the ceiling to cover the door and the windows, intending to trap the intruders in place. Of course, they had their own door and Kaname reached Zero's side, looking singularly, irritatingly, unperturbed by the chaos breaking lose around them as he ducked out through the hole. If Zero didn't know better, he would have thought the pureblood intended to trip that alarm... Zero followed Kaname out swiftly, fuming. He did. Kaname did trip that alarm on purpose, didn't he? The ex-human did not appreciate being jerked around and kept in the dark like this.

"Kaname you're a Class A Jerk..." Zero muttered tensely as he scrambled out into the meeting room and dashed out into the hall on Kaname's heels.

Kaname did not reply. He was tracking the sound of footsteps pounding towards their location and judging how much time they had. The throbbing at the base of his neck that he'd first felt a few moments ago was growing stronger. He was definitely in the building. It had been a split minute decision in the office back there, to force the confrontation this way, but the larger cogs of the plan were already in place, and he could improvise on the fly.

Kaname skidded around a corner, evading a security patrol that he didn't wish to bother with, Zero just making it out of sight as well. They ducked through another doorway and found themselves in the middle of a large, bustling office full of divided cubicles. The room itself must be situated at the corner of the building because walls of glass windows met in a corner at one side of the room, the low maze of cubicles, copiers, computers and other sundry office equipment making up the topography of the room.

The dozen or so employees who were busy at work all stopped and looked up, drawn out of their cubicles not so much at the sound of the banging door, as at the unmistakable feeling that told them a pureblood had just entered the room. All the workers in this office were vampires.

Kaname made no attempt to mask his aura. Instead he intentionally amplified it - dark, stormy, deadly dangerous. Even Zero felt a cold shiver run through him, skin crawling with an indefinable sense of nearly hysterical dread. The effect was obviously more profound on the others in the room, several of whom looked about to wet themselves.

"Get out!" Kaname snapped the command loudly and as one, everyone in the office scrambled to obey, practically crawling over each other to flee and creating quite a racket as they disappeared down the hall.

Kaname made no further attempts to run or hide. Instead he paced silently to the window, ignoring the way Zero's questioning gaze was boring into his back. Perhaps he was asking a lot of the ex-human to expect him to simply keep trusting him, but Kaname was not used to explaining himself, and in any case, he didn't have time now.

Kaname reached into his pocket and pulled out the jewelry box. He opened it and slid the chain free. He was careful not to touch the pendant itself, only handling the chain before he slid it back into his pocket again.

Footsteps outside the door. A lot of them. But only two entered. He knew the scents. Knew them too well. Kaname didn't have to turn.

Zero, a few feet away, was as tense as a wound spring. His gun slid swiftly into his hand as two lone figures crossed the hastily abandoned office towards them. He could feel the presence of the vampire security patrol massed outside the office door, blocking any escape but obviously under orders to remain where they were.

Ichijo and Rido crossed the office alone towards where Kaname stood, staring out the darkened windows. Waiting for them.

As they approached, Zero suddenly felt very strange. Ichijo flicked his hand and Zero felt again that weird, cold sensation that he'd felt back in Yuki's room after she disappeared. He didn't pass out this time, but he felt frozen, his muscles seizing up and rendering him incapable of moving... and incapable of breathing. What the hell... He fought with his lungs, but they wouldn't move. His eyes widened slightly as he struggled, but he was stuck like a statue and a thread of true fear and anger lighted in his gut.

Kaname's gaze quickly flicked in Zero's direction, as if taking in what was happening. He held Zero's silver eyes for a moment and suddenly Zero felt like the invisible hand squeezing his lungs had been pried loose. He was breathing again and his body returned partially to his control, although he still felt strange and disorientated, as if he were moving at a fraction of normal speed while everything else was going double-time.

Fight them. Kaname's eyes seemed to say for a moment. You can do it, just try. Fight them. He was protecting Zero right now, but he knew he was going to have his hands full very shortly. Rido's being here complicated matters.

"You disappoint me, Kaname... I can understand your desire to know what other secrets we might poses, and even commend your skill in guessing where to look. But coming here yourself was incredibly foolish, and then being careless enough to be caught? That's not like you, nephew..." Rido's smooth, mocking voice barely sounded like Shiki's anymore.

Kaname finally turned around to face the two vampires as they drew close. He couldn't help noting that Shiki's face was looking subtly drawn. The different colored eyes burning fiercely from a body that was slowly wearing out.

"You speak to me of foolish, while you possess a body that you are slowly killing? You should have known, a mixed blood could never support your possession for this long. And what then, Uncle? What then will you do?" Kaname returned with equal, mocking disdain. "Maybe you'll go back to that deformed thing that was once your mortal shell and slumber for another ten years? Or eternity? You might as well, because you shall never have my body, nor any other's."

The barb obviously hit home and Rido's countenance darkened visibly. "You should not have come seeking to fight me, nephew, it is the last mistake you will make," he promised.

"On the contrary," Kaname said with a hard glibness. "I didn't come here for you at all. I was seeking Ichijo. But since I find you both together..."

Suddenly, the ground rippled. The tile floor at Kaname's feet blistered upward, the disturbance getting larger as it rushed away from him towards Ichijo and Rido, forking like twin dragons on the attack. At the same time, Kaname sent a hard wave of energy to the far side of the room, smashing a blockade of wreckage up against the door – sealing the room off from any of the security forces hovering outside.

Asato and Rido countered with breathtaking speed and the linoleum erupted as spikes of concrete sprung up, checking the forward rush of one dragon while the other was blasted to dust. Faster than sight, the battle was on.

Zero was thrown backwards into the side of a row of cubicles, which crumpled under the blast. Ceiling tiles rained down and computer equipment crashed and fizzled as it was smashed, screens exploding in bright showers of light.

Kaname, Rido and Ichijo were moving too fast for him to pick them out, enshrouded by a veritable gale of office equipment and broken masonry as he struggled to claw his way up.

Kaname was distracted for barely a split second, trying to ascertain if Zero was all right, but even such a small lapse was dangerous in a battle like this. If only because it told his enemies where his weaknesses lay.

A rending crash sounded as a blast sent a wall of twisted cubicle infrastructure flying, directly towards Zero, bent on decapitating him.

Kaname spun, sending Ichijo flying backwards into the wall even as he sent a counter blast towards the flying debris, knocking it aside enough to miss impaling Zero, although the flat, less deadly side still toppled down onto him with bruising force. The ex-human's vision wavered and dimmed as he struggled for consciousness.

The distraction had unfortunately done its job, Kaname had not been able to fight Ichijo, protect Zero and stay on top of what Rido was doing. A copy machine slammed into Kaname's back, knocking him to his knees. Kaname caught himself on his hands, his injured right one screaming bloody murder as he rolled in time to avoid another flying object and sent a kinetic wave slamming straight into Rido's chest, slamming him sideways.

Ichijo appeared suddenly behind Kaname, wrapping his arms tightly around the pureblood's waist as Kaname sprung back to his feet. Close, physical combat was not a move Kaname had expected from him, but he was already moving to respond and flip the elder vampire over his shoulder, when Ichijo's lips and teeth grazed the side of his neck.

Hot, dizzy, sickening fire seared through his senses and despite himself, Kaname faltered. Not much, but just enough to miss the opportunity to throw Ichijo off of him. Ichijo knew exactly what he was doing, and was skilled enough to know precisely how to manipulate the bond that he had with the younger vampire. Kaname wasn't experienced enough to know how to exert control over a bondmate, else Ichijo himself would have been in severe danger, but Ichijo did know how, and he turned that connection against Kaname now with every intense fiber of his will.

Kaname's head spun. In a normal battle of wills, he was incomparable, but there was something different being done to him, something he was unsure how to counter and his body was betraying him again. He punched his elbow hard into Ichijo's gut, hard enough to crack one of the elder vampire's ribs. Using the momentum to yank clear, Kaname started to whirl around, but Rido had recovered by now and was on him again in a flash. His uncle grabbed Kaname's right arm, catching and squeezing his injured hand in a crushingly painful grip as he used Kaname's own forward momentum to wrench the teenage vampire's arm around painfully behind his back.

Ichijo's arms were around Kaname again, the aristocrat's mustache scraping the sensitive skin along his neck, his sharp fangs digging into Kaname's flesh with a sick imitation of seduction as Rido's claws dug into Kaname's burns hard enough to illicit a sharp little inhale of agony. Deep, burning hatred tore through Kaname's gut, even has his knees felt curiously, hideously weak.

Kaname knew what they were trying to do, using this inexplicable vulnerability of his to disable him, throw him off his game... the frightening part was that he knew it and yet it was still working. With his head and senses spinning, he wasn't able to focus his full concentration like he should; he wasn't able to counter the forces of Ichijo and Rido's combined wills like he should... this was not going according to plan.

Rido's free hand tangled harshly in Kaname's hair, yanking his nephew's head back as Ichijo sank his fangs home for real and Kaname felt the familiar rush of his blood being ruthlessly drawn from him. Panic surged. No! He couldn't afford this right now! He couldn't afford to be weakened and he couldn't afford to be losing control of the situation like this. His traitorous body shuddered as he twisted, held tightly between Ichijo and Rido. It was a strange, horrible feeling, almost like being drugged. He could fight them... he could... why wasn't he? Why did he feel so muddled and lost? He could barely move as Ichijo violated him as he had so many, many times before...

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen: "Tiger, Tiger "

Tiger, Tiger, burning bright
In the forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
-- William Blake "The Tiger"

Zero struggled with the wreckage pinning him down. He could just see the other three from where he was trapped. The smell of Kaname's blood in the air as he saw Rido yank the pureblood's head back, as he glimpsed Ichijo's head bent over the smooth, creamy neck... it inspired a protective rage that the ex-human had never felt before. Almost without realizing what he was doing, Zero gave mental 'push' at the twisted, several hundred pound frame that had him trapped. It lifted enough for him to yank his gun arm free, heedless of the gouges that the broken metal cut along his forearm as he did so.

Zero didn't have a good shot at anything vital from this angle, but it didn't matter. He squeezed the trigger, pumping several rounds into Ichijo's back, careful only to try and not hit Kaname by accident.

"Get your hands off him you sick son of a bitch!" he shouted angrily as Ichijo roared in pain, forced to release Kaname.

The distraction broke the spell of the invisible pressure that Ichijo and Rido had been smothering the younger vampire under and Kaname jerked in shock, gasping as if he'd just been hit by a bucket of cold water.

Ichijo spun towards Zero, blood running down his back and murderous intent in his eyes. Using the distraction, Kaname tore free of Rido's grip and landed a hard punch to the other's face. He felt cartilage crunch, but knew Shiki's body would heal swiftly from the broken nose.

Zero was struggling hard to extricate himself further, but Ichijo had no intention of giving him time to do so. A lightening fast kick sent Zero's gun skittering from his hand. The aristocrat snatched up a sharp, twisted metal rod that had snapped free from the cubicle framing and raised it over his head, bring it down in a swift, deadly stroke that the ex-human could not escape.

Kaname was between them before the blow could fall. He blocked the descending blade with his up-flung forearm. The sharp, twisted metal sliced deeply through his flesh, stopping with a dull thud when it hit bone. Blood spilled freely, but Kaname didn't give under the force of the blow, his teeth grit in cold fury against the pain as he whipped around and kicked Ichijo hard in the stomach, forcing him away from Zero.

Kaname flung his arms wide and Zero felt again that odd pressure in his chest that he'd felt in Ichijo's cellars and had just enough warning to throw his arms up over his head for cover as a powerful rush of kinetic energy slammed through the room like a sonic shockwave.

There was a loud, horrendous smashing sound as the windows along both sides of the office blew outward and a rush of cool night air swept through the devastated room.

For a few moments Zero was stunned and he was only semi-aware of whatever else was happening around him. A strange, yet familiar throbbing filled his ears as full consciousness returned again and he heaved hard against the mangled office wreckage still pinning him. Sheer desperation finally enabled him to scramble out from under the mass. He looked around as he staggered to his feet, holding his bruised ribs and bleeding arm, but everything had fallen eerily still, save for the whir of helicopter rotors somewhere in the near distance. There was no sign of anyone else in the room. Zero quickly bent and retrieved his gun from where it'd ended up and tucked it back into the waistband of his pants.

A blinding spot light raked across the twisted girders of the smashed window frames and Zero threw his hand up in front of his eyes, pressing them shut and blinking away spots when he opened them again.

Zero scrambled quickly to the window, leaning out and looking around. He was momentarily staggered by how high up they were, having lost track of where in the building they were some time ago.

Where was Kaname?

He couldn't see anyone below... then the sound of movement made Zero lean out the window and look up.

Above, on the roof some eight or more stories up, Zero caught a fleeting glimpse of several figures, locked in combat and briefly silhouetted against the very edge of the roof in the shifting, panning search light of the helicopter hovering over them. For a moment, Zero felt his heart lurch, remembering their previous encounter with a helicopter. Just what they didn't need right now.

Zero gripped the edge of the shattered window ledge hard. With the door completely blocked, there was no way out of this room except the way the other three vampires had apparently taken. Zero had to get up there; he couldn't leave Kaname to face them alone...

The ex-human climbed up onto the sill and edged out, hanging onto the upper edge of the window and looking up. Fortunately, the building was not one of those completely glass buildings. It was built old-style, with decorative stone flutes, cornices and small ledges separating the floors. Taking a deep breath, Zero jumped up and grabbed the ledge above, hauling himself up and catching another toe hold in the masonry between the banks of windows, fingers digging into the moldings as he crawled slowly up the side of the building.

He was out of breath more from suppressed fear than exertion when he finally gained the roof. He'd made it a point to not look down. He caught sight of Kaname, Ichijo and Rido still hacking away at one another before he was blinded again by the sweeping glare of the searchlight from above. Shading his eyes he looked up towards the chopper, trying to see what kind of threat it presented. Then he got a better look and caught sight of the station insignia on the tail of the bird. It wasn't one of Ichijo's – it was a news chopper. It looked to Zero like they were from the same station that they'd watched earlier on the Chairman's computer. He had no idea what they were doing here or how they'd been tipped to what was going on, but they obviously figured they were tapped into the story of the century and camera men were leaning out of the open chopper doors, trying to record as much as they could of the battle unfolding on the rooftop below them.

Zero repressed a snarl. Renegade Pureblood on Rampage, captured live on camera He could just see the special news report now. It was sure to make killer ratings. He'd like to kill them, the vultures.

Zero's attention turned back to Kaname just in time to see Rido crumple to the ground, unmoving. Kaname was obviously winded, almost exhausted, but the pure fire flashing in his eyes seemed to lend him strength as he capitalized on Ichijo's surprise at Rido's fall. The pureblood wrapped his injured hand tightly around his former guardian's throat. Despite the harm it had taken, the hand was apparently functioning well enough to nearly strangle the life out of Ichijo because the elder vampire was forced to his knees.

Kaname looked up towards the circling chopper and Zero could have sworn the camera men actually flinched. But Kaname did something unexpected. He shouted up towards them.

"You want the truth about the Kuran deaths? You want an exclusive story that will really rock the vampire world? Drop someone down here. Now!" he called up. Even now, it sounded like a command. Even now, it seemed the crew above was all but feeling compelled to obey. Although Zero doubted they could have resisted the urge to capture whatever the 'crazy' pureblood had to say anyway. Two figures dropped lightly out of the chopper, landing cat like on the roof. One was one of the camera men, the other – Zero had to either give her credit for being brave or stupid – was the lady reporter they'd seen in the newscast earlier.

"I-Is there something you want to say?" the woman asked, trying and failing to keep the tremor out of her voice as she looked at Kaname with the fascination one might exhibit when staring death in the face, and finding it beautiful.

Kaname turned his smoldering red eyes full upon her and the camera man hiding behind her, never releasing Ichijo. His free hand slid inside his pocket.

"No, I don't. My mother does. You were right. My parents were murdered, but not by me. It was covered up, but not by me. In your report earlier, you mentioned my mother's missing necklace. I was in the house the night my parents died. I got there too late. But I was in time to see my mother one more time, to witness her last, horrible moments in this life. She'd been all but butchered and she couldn't speak, but she touched her neck as she looked at me. Her necklace had been ripped off by someone; I could see where it had dug into her flesh when it was torn away. I knew what she was trying to tell me. Even as she drew her last breath and died in my arms, my mother was condemning her killer from beyond the grave!

"My mother's necklace was a memory stone. They are very rare. It was gift from my father, given to her on the day they were married. The memory stone was enchanted so it would capture a fleeting impression of events whenever she experienced a strong emotion, such as joy or sadness – a randomly generated album of memories that she could always carry with her and play back later. She used to let me play with it when I was a child. It fascinated me endlessly, but it puzzled me. I didn't know why anyone would want to relieve the sad moments, but my mother said that joy and sorrow both were what life was made of. My mother was wearing the necklace when she died. Surely the strong emotions of her last moments must have burned an indelible image into the stone. But the bastard who took it, who took her wedding necklace as a trophy after he violated her, didn't know that he carried away his own condemnation with him! Didn't know because the stone will only give up its secrets to my mother's touch, or to one who carries her blood in his veins..."

Kaname's voice was trembling slightly from the intense passion and rage pulsing through him as he spoke. He pulled his hand from his pocket, holding up his mother's necklace by the chain.

"You want the truth? I give you my mother's last truth." Kaname took the pendant in his hand and closed his fist around it for a moment, before opening his hand again and letting it rest in his open palm. Even Ichijo was drawn to stare at the stone in half strangled shock... and growing horror.

At first, nothing seemed to be happening. Then, suddenly, a small, but perfectly visible image appeared, hovering over the necklace like a semi-transparent holographic projection. The images started moving with a confused jerk and then resolved themselves into a clear scene. Rido Kuran was kneeling over his brother's blood soaked body, holding Kaname's father's heart in his hand. "This is your fault, Reina," the voice was faint and tinny, but unmistakable. "You should never have chosen my brother over me." Rido snarled and as moved, other elements of the scene came into focus, including the figure of the Kaname's mother, blood already dripping down her neck and side. She'd obviously already been gravely wounded and looked barely conscious. But what surprised Kaname was that she was being held by someone else. He'd never imagined that anyone other than Rido had been at the house that night...

Kaname's hand tightened on Ichijo's throat. Because there, in the image, ten years younger but looking the same as he did now, Asato Ichijo was holding his mother's arms behind her back as she sagged, semi-conscious, and watched her husband die.

Everyone present, including Ichijo, stiffened.

Rido was obviously quite lost in a mad, compulsive rapture of bloodlust. He grabbed Reina away from Ichijo and threw her down on the bed. Ichijo watched him, seeming displeased. "Rido, you promised me..."

"It's not my fault he died too fast, and no one touches her but me. Get out of here. You can have the brat if you want, later." Rido snapped back. At this, Reina started struggling weakly, but Rido quickly put paid to that. Kaname looked away, willing the image to skip forward. He didn't care if it incriminated Rido further or not. He would not allow anyone to see what had been done to his mother before she died. He felt sick. Rido must have promised Ichijo the chance to drink pure blood, as well as getting rid of a thorn in the council's side, in exchange for his help. Only Rido had not been able to restrain himself and had killed his brother too quickly to allow Ichijo that which he had promised. Kaname's chest seethed with bitter fire. He had lived under the same roof as that monster for so long and he hadn't known...

The image blipped and skipped forward and Reina was lying still, eyes closed. Rido's fingers closed around her necklace. He yanked and the image snapped off abruptly.

Deathly silence reined for several long moments, Ichijo's desperate rasping for air and Kaname's harsh, faintly trembling breathing the only sounds. Kaname's fingers curled around the necklace again, holding it tight. Seeing his mother lying there again, as she'd been when he'd found her... seeing all that... it wasn't as easy as he thought it'd be. There was an echo of the little boy inside him still, who had never quite been able to move past that horrible moment in time and Kaname battled a stark tenseness threatening to close off his throat.

The camera was still rolling, capturing empty space and the silent flicker of emotional battle on Kaname's face. The reporter still had her microphone held forward, having captured both the sight and sound of what had just been displayed. She seemed unable to move for a moment, her professional veneer slipping slightly at the horror of what she had just witnessed.

She finally drew the microphone back and looked like she was trying to formulate a proper follow up question to such a revelation, when Ichijo moved suddenly, taking advantage of everyone's shock and Kaname's distraction.

Zero had been mesmerized by the image produced by the memory stone, like everyone else, but he saw a flash of metal in Ichijo's hand and shouted a warning.

It was already too late.

The knife Ichijo had produced from somewhere under his jacket or up his sleeve punctured deep into Kaname's stomach as the elder vampire struck fast and hard, desperation and fury lending him enough strength to wrench free of Kaname's crushing grip. He saw his world, his empire crashing down around him and could not let it happen. Everyone on this roof, who had seen that, had to die. The evidence must be destroyed. He twisted the knife ruthlessly and slashed forward again.

Kaname lost his grip as the unexpected pain knifed through him in a white hot flash. He stumbled backwards, momentarily caught off his footing as the blade caught him again in the chest, skittering as it struck a rib before sliding off and sinking again into tender flesh, slicing vital organs.

Such injury would kill a human, and would have significantly slowed lower class vampires. But Kaname recovered himself quickly. The pain was unbelievable, but much more overwhelming was the dark, rising, blood thirsty throb of his utter, unquenchable rage. His eyes glowed red as he threw himself at Ichijo. His fingers extended into claws and he bared his fangs in a harsh snarl of fury as they grappled, toppling sideways and rolling along the roof together.

The reporter jumped to get out of the way, the camera man still valiantly filming as he also stumbled backwards, trying not to get caught up in the deadly flurry of the two fighting vampires. Kaname and Ichijo had crossed almost the entire roof in the space of a few heartbeats and even as Zero was scrambling towards them, they struck up against the darkened glass of the skylight dome that covered the atrium which Kaname and Zero had used a few hours before as their point of entry into the building.

There was something dark and feral about the graceful yet animalistic way they were fighting now. It was a death match between two powerful lions – beautiful and horrible at the same time. Kaname's claws raked Ichijo's shoulder, slicing open coat and flesh. Ichijo slashed at Kaname, circling his arms and throwing the younger vampire backwards towards the skylight even as Kaname caught hold of Ichijo and pulled him down with him.

The glass gave way as the two tussling vampires crashed into it full force. For a moment Kaname was aware of the sensation of weightlessness as the glass shattered underneath him and then he and Ichijo were falling down the twenty floor drop towards the polished lobby floor, still fighting and tearing at one another with claws and fangs as they fell.

Zero reached the edge a moment later, leaning over and looking down into the darkness below. A sudden commotion and a short scream behind him jerked his attention back over his shoulder before he could see Kaname and Ichijo strike bottom.

Rido had regained himself. He had his teeth sunk into the neck of the reporter and her partner with the camera was scrambling away in a panic, trying to flag down the chopper.

Zero pulled his gun quickly and fired. The bloody rose bullet caught Rido in the shoulder a moment before Zero reached him and grabbed the other vampire, yanking him off of the woman. From the way she was squawking, she wasn't dead at least.

Rido snarled and turned on Zero punching a fist into the ex-human's gut and throwing him backwards. Wind knocked out of him, Zero hit the ground on his backside. Rido followed, blood whips extending from his fingers and flying through the air with a snapping hiss. The stinging thongs tore at Zero as he threw his arms up to protect his head from the painful assault, scrabbling backwards along the ground on his elbows as he tried to put some space between them. It was a futile attempt as Rido quickly pressed forwards. Zero brought his gun up again, firing point blank into the vampire's face. The blood whips knocked the gun aside at the last moment and the shot grazed Rido's head instead of blowing it off.

Zero squeezed the trigger again... and was rewarded only with the gut-lurching sound of a series of empty clicks. His clip was empty and he had no time to reload.

Something dark flew through the air and hit Rido in the back of the head from behind, distracting him for a moment more than hurting him. Zero saw that it was a microphone as it bounced to the ground. The reporter was holding her badly bleeding neck and looked pale, but she was scowling darkly as she launched another handy projectile in Rido's direction. The news chopper had landed on the roof and the rest of the crew was now spilling out to back her up.

The camera man seemed to have regained his courage and had procured an emergency fire axe from somewhere and was running back towards the fray.

Rido hesitated for a moment, as if judging his chances at taking them all out. In his original body... he would have bathed this roof in the blood of these pathetic fools. But in this body, and already wounded and bleeding from Zero's anti-vampire weapon...

With a dark snarl Rido leapt away from Zero, bounding swiftly over the side of the building and disappearing down it like a swift moving spider, making good his escape while he still could.

Zero struggled quickly to his feet. He hesitated for a moment, but opted not to pursue Rido. It would probably have been either a fruitless or deadly venture at this moment, and he needed to find out what had happened to Kaname and Ichijo.

"You okay?" He called in the direction of the reporter as he headed back towards the broken skylight, loading his gun as he went.

The woman was already being tended by other members of her crew, while the pilot called in the emergency to the authorities.

"Fine, I'm fine..." the woman rasped, but her companions seemed to think otherwise as they bustled her back into the chopper.

"You need to get to a hospital, Lily, he did a real number on you," Zero heard one of them saying quietly.

The reporter named Lily was protesting that she didn't need to be taken to the hospital; she wanted to go to the studio right away and get their tape on the air. "Just bandage it up, Joe, it'll add to the drama of the piece. Where you still rolling when he jumped me? Did you get a good shot?"

If she was already sizing herself up for the next Pulitzer, or whatever the hell equivalent they had for TV journalists, Zero figured Lily must be just fine and gave the news crew no more thought.

He peered over the edge down into the lobby again, but by now there was no sign of Kaname and Ichijo below. Damn it! Zero eyeballed the drop, then opted to take the stairs. Kaname may have been able to handle that fall, but Zero knew his own limits.

"Kid, where are you going? Come with us!" one of the news crew called in concern as Zero kicked open the locked access door that led down from the roof, back into the building. Zero ignored them and kept going, running swiftly down the flights of stairs ahead of him. If those camera jockeys went back to their station and broadcast the truth that had been revealed here, then they had served a useful purpose. But right now, all of Zero's concern was focused on finding Kaname.

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Kaname had used his ability to manipulate air and kinetics to good effect to cushion his own landing when they hit the lobby floor. Ichijo had not been so fortunate. He'd been badly injured and rendered briefly unconscious. He awoke to find Kaname dragging him to the corner of the room, out of the sight of the sky light above. He couldn't move; his back had been broken. Ichijo watched Kaname with silent, resigned acceptance as the pureblood leaned him up against the wall. He knew he was staring at his own death in his former ward's cold, remorseless, bloodstained face.

Kaname knelt over Ichijo. His eyes said that he knew the battle was over, and he had won. There was no victory there in his red gaze though, just cold, bitter hatred. This would be a much more satisfying kill than Shizuka had been. Shizuka he had no personal grievance against. It had been necessary, to protect Yuki, but in a way... it had saddened him a little. Ichijo... Kaname would feel no remorse over.

Kaname's breath ghosted across Ichijo's neck as he leaned close. "I made you a promise... as you violated and drained me when you held me helpless in your house. And I keep my promises," he whispered darkly. Kaname's teeth sank into Ichijo's neck as he bit down with an audible crunch. He was gratified to feel Ichijo's fear. He wanted the bastard to be afraid. His only regret was that he couldn't make him suffer for as long as he himself had been forced to suffer and that he could never inflict enough pain on this miserable bag of bones to make up for what Ichijo and Rido had done to his mother and father.

Ichijo's breath hitched, and his face betrayed both terror and pain, but he didn't bother struggling. There was no use and he had lived long enough to be prepared to accept his end when it was obviously inevitable. He gasped and gurgled softly when Kaname's hand punched into his chest, the pureblood's fist squeezing around his heart.

"You do realize what you're doing, don't you, Kaname?" he rasped softly, knowing he was drawing his last breaths. A dark, ironic smile twisted his lips. There was one last revenge he could expect to visit on the pureblood from beyond the grave, and he took a small measure of twisted comfort in that. He gave a soft, mirthless laugh. "You're a fool, Kaname. You're bound to me. You know what will happen when I die..."

Kaname's fingers tightened around his heart and his teeth tore more harshly at the other's throat before he pulled his head up, Ichijo's blood dripping down his chin as he glared at the other. "I would rather die than be bound to you," he hissed darkly. "And I am bound to you no longer!"

Kaname ripped the aristocrat's heart out of his chest with a swift, merciless tug. He leaned close, drinking up Ichijo's last, gasping moments. "But I'm not going to die, Ichijo. I am going to live, and watch everything you have done crumble to dust!" he promised quietly. He held the other's glazing eyes, gaze never wavering as he watched the life draining out of them. "Now you know what my father felt like, as you watched him die." Kaname smiled coldly. He had not forgotten the rest of his promise. "And you can also get the rare treat of finding out what your own heart tastes like..."

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Zero was panting quietly by the time he reached the bottom of the stairs, although at least he'd only had to run down them, not up. Still, after twenty flights or so, he'd decided that the elevator may just have been the greatest invention of all time.

The building was in chaos, or so it seemed from the distant sounds he heard echoing through the closed doors he passed on the way down. Fortunately for he and Kaname, this part of the building was already shut down and pretty empty during the night. The rest of the building was being evacuated and security was probably still trying to batter its way in through the blockade Kaname had thrown up in front of the office doorway some floors above. The authorities, both human and vampire, were probably going to be here soon after all this ruckus. Zero knew that he and Kaname needed to make themselves scarce in order to avoid a lot of questions and probable incarceration.

The smell of blood led Zero swiftly across the glass strewn lobby. He could see two still shapes in the shadows by the far wall, and as he drew warily nearer, he could make out that Kaname was kneeling over Ichijo. Something unnatural about Ichijo's stillness and scent told Zero that he was dead. Zero couldn't say he was sorry, although he averted his eyes when he got close enough to see the dead vampire and the state in which Kaname had left him.

Kaname didn't look up when he approached and Zero felt the first inkling that something wasn't right. Kaname was very still, kneeling there and just staring down at Ichijo. His breathing was ragged, like he was trying very hard to control it.

"Hey, Kuran, the news crew called the police. We need to get out of here," he said quietly, laying a hand lightly on Kaname's shoulder. Zero tensed in surprise and confusion when he felt Kaname's shoulder quivering under his touch in small, aborted little jerks, the pureblood's breathing hitching.

Pain. A whole new definition of pain was clawing silently through Kaname's chest – an intense, empty ache that throbbed in his heart and echoed in every pulse. As soon as Ichijo had spent his last breath, it had settled down upon his shoulders like a ton of suffocating bricks. It was utterly stupid and utterly unreal... but it felt like his world was ending.

He was so cold... so incredibly cold... Zero's grip on his shoulder was warm and Kaname's hand slipped up quickly to cover it, seeking to trap the warmth, even if only for a moment.

Zero's eyebrows went up a little as Kaname squeezed his hand. He realized that Kaname must have drunk the other vampire's blood, because the hand over his was no longer burned. The pureblood appeared to be healing at his usual, accelerated rate again. But... something was obviously wrong. The wrongness was rolling off Kuran in unmistakable waves and Zero frowned as he took Kaname's arm, tugging him to his feet.

"Kaname... come on, we have to go. Hey, are you okay?" Zero repeated, then asked as Kaname rose slowly to his feet, but continued to stare down at Ichijo.

Kaname swallowed but didn't answer. He also didn't move.

Zero was getting irritated... and worried. He grabbed Kaname's chin and forced the other vampire to look towards him. "Hey, earth to Kuran, what's with you? Are you hurt?" he demanded, his tone managing to convey both his irritation and his concern.

The look of blank, empty despair in Kaname's face shook Zero as the pureblood's gaze turned upon him. What the hell...?

With an effort, Kaname seemed to shove back at whatever was eating him alive and he ran a shaky hand through his hair. "We have to go," he said instead of answering. It felt incredibly hard to tear himself away from this spot, but the pureblood forced himself to move, brushing by Zero, who quickly fell into step with him.

Zero gave Kaname a side-ways scowl. "Oh, yeah, good idea. Wonder where I've heard it before...?"

There was a faint sound behind them and the two vampires looked back over their shoulders to see that Ichijo's body had fragmented and turned to dust. Kaname's steps faltered, but at the same moment they heard other footsteps approaching. The swift, measured tread of men who had been trained to work together. Voices buzzed in radios, reporting sectors cleared and other developments.

The authorities had arrived and police were combing the building, trying to ascertain what was going on and get the situation under control.

Both Zero and Kaname could tell that these were human police officers. This was not good, there would be far too much explaining and far too much that could not be explained. Especially since the lobby floor was stained with splashes and smudges of blood, even if there were no longer a body.

Hurriedly, the pair vanished at top speed as the police flashlights swung into the room.

Zero didn't really know where he was going, but Kaname seemed to have shaken out of whatever was wrong with him before, or at least, his survival instincts had kicked in, because he led them quickly towards the exit.

They had to divert, however, because the exits were swarming with police officers, as was the entire parameter of the building. They were surrounded. And it wasn't only human police on the scene. Kaname and Zero could sense vampire officers out there in equal measure, which meant that trying to get out, even at speed, wasn't a good idea. Kaname and Zero were both covered in drying blood, and the other vampires would smell them – especially Kaname's blood – even if they couldn't see them.

They could probably still have made it all right, but the possibility of more people chasing them and more ruckus was not something that they needed right now. It would be better to lie low some place until everything died down and then slip away.

Kaname and Zero seemed to reach this conclusion at about the same time, because Kaname led swiftly and quietly back into the building and down into a subterranean maintenance tunnel. They still had to be careful of security cameras after all, and there were thankfully few to none down here. The only place these tunnels led was to little used storage and warehouse facilities that stood adjacent to the office building. The warehouse was a holdover from the days when this building had served as a distribution center as well as an office complex and was now mostly used for storing extra office equipment and cleaning supplies.

The outside of the storehouse was bristling with security cameras and alarms, as if broken office chairs and shelves of extra toner cartridges and drums were a hot commodity, but inside there was next to no security at all. It was completely deserted and there was next to no reason for the police to come in here. And even if they did, it would be easy to hear them coming and even easier to hide amid the darkened rows and heaps of stored supplies and discarded furniture.

Zero warily relaxed a fraction as they made their way towards the back of the storehouse and he flopped down to sit on one of the discarded office chairs. His ribs ached, his lungs ached, his arms ached, his legs ached... okay, it would be shorter to list what didn't ache, he hurt all over and he was exhausted.

"You called the news people, when you left me alone right before we went in, didn't you? You're the one that tipped them off something would be going down here," Zero remarked with a wry little shake of the head. He'd been thinking about it, and it was the only thing that made sense. He had to slightly admire Kaname's ability to plan his moves out so far in advance, even if it irked the hell out of him that the pureblood never seemed inclined to share those moves or plans with those he drug along with him.

Kaname gave a faint shrug of acknowledgement. He seemed distracted again, or agitated maybe. Zero wasn't sure which but it was starting to make him jumpy.

Zero pulled the dark cap off his head and used it to wipe perspiration away from one of the stinging welts that Rido had raised on the side of his neck earlier. "Rido got away," he added quietly with a tinge of regretfully. "Got a shot into him, but he made like Spiderman down the building and took off."

Kaname nodded slowly at the news. It was not unexpected, and he could tell from the couple of welts he could see on Zero's neck and cheek that Rido had probably not simply run off without a fight. Kaname felt the odd sensation of simply being glad that Zero was all right. Amidst the other maelstrom of emotions still battering him that he was trying desperately, and failing, to ignore, it was one sensation at least that was good.

Kaname leaned down, hands resting on the chair arms on either side of Zero as he dipped his head and lightly traced the welts with his tongue, numbing them and urging them to heal.

"That's all right. He isn't your enemy to fight, I'll take care of him later..." Kaname murmured as he softly lathed Zero's injured cheek and neck, his lips brushing the other's skin. He closed his eyes, trying to lose himself, trying to escape. Oh God... it hurt so bad... but Zero was so close, so warm... Kaname's lips played against the salty skin as he traced the welt he was tending across Zero's cheek to his chin.

Zero stiffened and froze at the unexpected, silky warm feeling of Kaname's ministrations, his heart jumping oddly in his chest and hammering rapidly as his temperature shot up. For half a second he didn't know what the hell Kuran thought he was doing. Then of course he realized that the welts didn't hurt anymore and remembered the way that Kaname had tended his wounds in the past.

Completely flustered, Zero pushed back against Kaname's shoulders, shoving him away. The ex-human couldn't hide the fact that his face was flushed rosy. "I'm fine, it's nothing..." he protested, trying quickly to rise.

Kaname's grip on the arms of the chair didn't budge, forcing Zero to remain where he was. There was that look in Kaname's eyes again, that strange sorrow adding to the intensity of his gaze as he looked at the ex-human.

Zero felt trapped and his heart was still pounding, but oddly, it wasn't really from fear.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen: " Need "

Zero felt oddly like there wasn't quite enough oxygen in the room as Kaname just looked at him for a long moment before the pureblood's mouth dipped insistently back to his cheek and neck, making all kinds of heat shiver through the ex-human's body. Zero resisted a small groan, his hand almost automatically sliding up to tangle in Kaname's hair, feeling boneless as he sat trapped in the chair.

Then he seemed to come back to himself a little and his flush deepened. He quickly released Kaname's hair.

"Kuran, cut it out," Zero growled, shoving uselessly against him again before giving up and instead swiftly sliding down in the chair and ducking out from underneath the other vampire. Kaname's hands caught in the front of Zero's shirt as he gained his feet. It was as if the pureblood was unwilling to release him.

"I'm gonna go check if the coast's clear yet..." Zero was mostly looking for an escape route to put some distance between them as he tried to politely pry Kaname's fingers lose. He quickly gave up on politely because the pureblood wasn't budging. "Kaname...!" exasperation was creeping swiftly into his voice. "Come on, let me go!"

"No!" There was a strange, desperate look in the pureblood's eyes that Zero didn't understand. Kaname was trying to control himself, but that control was slipping, wearing away under the continual onslaught he was drowning under. He hadn't expected it to be this bad.

"No..." it was more of a whisper now. "You must to stay close to me... I need you to... oh God..." Kaname groaned softly through his teeth as if in absolute agony, which he was. His fists wound tighter into Zero's shirt, holding the other almost painfully close.

Zero was well and truly freaked out now. Was Kaname having some kind of nervous breakdown? What the hell was going on? They certainly couldn't afford to have him cracking up at a time like this!

"Kaname will you get a hold of yourself? What the hell is your problem?" he snapped, shaking the pureblood roughly by the shoulders, but unable to dislodge the death grip Kaname had on his shirt, which was starting to tear in the desperate vampire's fingers.

"Don't you understand?" Kaname rasped through his teeth, his throat constricting and aching sharply as if he'd swallowed a gallon of glass shards. Of course, there was no way Zero could understand, so Kaname knew he had to tell him, while the pureblood was still coherent enough to make the ex-human understand the danger.

"I had a blood bond with Ichijo," Kaname murmured miserably. He hated to admit it to anyone, but Zero needed to know. "I bit him in a struggle, and while I was his captive, he bit me, repeatedly." Kaname's voice was trembling with what Zero thought was rage, but it had a very raw, almost despairing edge to it that the ex-human did not yet understand. However, Zero did remember the multiple, grievous bite wounds on Kaname's neck when he'd found him in the dungeon in Ichijo's house, remembered what he had witnessed only a short while before back in the ruined office complex and he couldn't help the spike of deep hatred for the dead vampire that welled through him. Zero understood little really, about these vampire blood bonds, but he'd felt the effects that the one he and Kaname shared had on him, even unwilling. Kaname seemed a hundred times more sensitive to it than he was and he didn't want to imagine what that must have enabled Ichijo to do to Kaname when he was their prisoner. However, that still didn't explain what was happening now, after Ichijo was dead... shouldn't Kaname be glad? Why was he cracking up?

Unexpectedly, Kaname buried his face against Zero's chest, desperately seeking the warmth of the connectedness he felt when he was near the other vampire, because of the bond that they shared. He needed that... needed it desperately or he may very well be lost.

Zero's eyes were more than a little wide as Kaname burrowed like a wounded kitten against his chest, practically nuzzling him. Okay, this was just getting way, waaaay too weird. He grabbed Kaname by a fistful of the long, dark hair on the back of his head, but he almost didn't have the heart to try and yank him away... the pureblood seemed so desperate, and Zero just couldn't understand why.

"It doesn't matter how they were formed... blood bonds are dangerous things, the purer your blood, the more dangerous it is..." Kaname was trying hard to hurriedly finish the explanation even as he felt the humiliating and unstoppable sting of tears pressing at the back of his eyes. This was really unbearable; he'd had no idea it was going to be like this... how could his body do this to him? He was so damn angry... and yet all he wanted to do was cry. Ichijo was really having the last laugh on this one, wasn't he? Everything he'd done to Kaname... and now even his well deserved death threatened to destroy the pureblood's sanity.

"Because when a bond is broken by a death, it has a very strong effect on the other party involved. It has nothing to do with feelings or logic, it's just... the way it is..." Kaname's voice was tightly controlled, but Zero could hear the hitch of his breathing. "I hated him, he deserved to die, but apparently... that doesn't matter. When a pureblood suffers a broken bond, sometimes it can drive them crazy or... or worse..."

Kaname couldn't hold back the small, aborted tremors that he would not refer to as sobs that were starting to shake through him. His body heaved as he held tight to Zero, using the other vampire as a grounding wire to keep him hanging on, keep him half-way sane... keep him from wanting to bash his head into the wall or throw himself out the window just to make the intense emptiness in his chest and the screaming pain in his head stop.

Zero was completely bewildered by this whole situation, but whatever was going on... it had to be bad, because he could imagine nothing on earth that would make the proud pureblood break down in front of him like this... or drive Kaname to be clinging to him so desperately, as if Zero was his only lifeline. Unless... the thought hit Zero like a thunderclap. Maybe he was Kuran's lifeline.

Zero released Kaname's hair and his hands slid hesitantly, awkwardly down to rest on the pureblood's heaving shoulders. "We... we have one of those too, don't we? That... bond thing," he murmured quietly... not sure if he was horrified or intrigued. He was feeling it again, Kaname's sorrow echoing faintly in his own chest, that weird throbbing sensation in his neck.

"Yes..." Kaname's strangled whisper was just audible as he nuzzled his face harder against Zero's chest, inhaling his scent deeply, raggedly. He needed to feel Zero, needed to be close to him, taste him... needed to focus on anything other than that which was tearing him apart. Kaname started kissing Zero's chest through his shirt, his hot mouth pressing at the fabric over the other's nipple as he rubbed his face back and forth in an almost catlike manner against the shirt, whimpering softly. If he'd had enough sense about him to really realize what he was doing, Kaname would probably have died from shame, but he didn't have the mental capacity to feel embarrassed about what he was doing right now. He knew only what his body needed to stay sane, to survive... and his will to survive was strong.

Zero felt a weird, awkward but electric shiver pass through him as he felt what Kaname was doing. He jerked and tried to pull away, hands clamping on Kaname's shoulders.

"Wha-? Whoa... hey...!" he protested, but Kaname wouldn't let go and it was impossible to pry the clingy pureblood off. Kaname was like a barnacle that was completely oblivious to Zero's attempts to dislodge him.

Zero felt that strange, unwanted, but delicious heat roiling through him again as Kaname's teeth penetrated lightly through his shirt, playing against his skin while the heat of the pureblood's mouth felt like a small inferno of pleasure as it pressed against him. Zero's gaze shot around the dark, deserted storehouse they were holed up in. Geez... Kaname really knew how to pick his moments and locations, didn't he? First the woods, now here...

Zero felt his back slam up against the wall of crates behind him and realized that Kaname had pushed him back, long fingers hurriedly, desperately pushing Zero's shirt up and tearing it open so that Kaname could nuzzle and taste his bare skin. It helped, a little... when he was doing that, he could hold the darkness devouring him at bay, he could hold onto the warmth of the bond still flowing between them, could use it to fill the devastating emptiness in his chest and try to shut out the clawing fingers of night...

"T-this is why you brought me along..." Zero gulped softly, understanding blossoming slowly as he shivered under the incredibly un-ignorable sensation of Kaname's caresses. Suddenly it all made sense... this was the real reason Kaname had wanted him to be the one to come with him, or at least a large part of it. Kaname had known he might face Ichijo, had known that if he did, he would kill the Aristocrat. And Kaname had known... what it meant to break a blood bond in that manner. Zero was his insurance policy. The bond that neither of them had wanted to share was ironically now essential to the pureblood.

"I need you... I need... our bond... or I've nothing to hold onto..." Kaname whispered raggedly, but truthfully, against Zero's chest. It would have been a hard thing, admitting that he needed the other vampire so desperately, if Kaname wasn't already half out of his mind.

Maybe Zero should have felt a bit used... but it wasn't as if he wanted to hear that Kaname wanted him for any other reason after all. At least... not yet, not consciously. The blissful havoc Kaname was wreaking on his senses wasn't hurting either. Besides... there was something so incredibly compelling about seeing Kaname like this, so shaken and needy... it drew Zero to him like a powerful electro magnet. How could Zero not help him? Especially when he was the only one who could?

Kaname was trying desperately to get hold of himself. He didn't have time for this! Didn't have time, and it was so unbelievably stupid... but his body didn't seem to understand that. His knees felt weak and the aching pain in his chest was physically agonizing. The chemicals in his brain and body were firing relentlessly on their own programming, flooding his system with artificial despair that could not be explained by any logical means. Kaname himself really didn't understand why this was happening, although he'd been afraid it would. The reason pureblood suicide had claimed as many lives as it had over the centuries was almost exclusively as a result of a severed blood bond. Kaname had always assumed it was because those who formed such bonds were so deeply in love they couldn't live without one another, but now he supposed he had been somewhat naive. If this was what it felt like, even when there had been no love involved, and in fact had been only hatred... he didn't want to imagine what it would be like when the real grief for a loved one was also involved. Perhaps those poor souls left in this state had really simply had no other choice but to end their lives. How could one possibly live for an eternity like this?

Right now, he certainly felt like he wanted to die, as horrendously idiotic as that was. But it wasn't something he had any control over. He felt like he was going insane. Only the wonderful, live saving feeling of Zero's presence, throbbing in his senses, of the other vampire's skin under his fingers, under his mouth as he trailed his lips across the boy's chest and stomach, was keeping him on this side of reason.

Zero's body was mottled in places from their earlier altercations and Kaname kissed the bruises tenderly. So strange... bruises that did not fade immediately. So frightening to think of such fragileness... Kaname buried his face against Zero's chest again, holding him close as another wave of barely controlled tremors tore through him. Deep, terrible mortification was also burning through the pureblood at his helplessness to control this bizarre, chemical despair and that wasn't helping his unbalanced emotional state one bit. A moment of sanity wavered by and he realized what he was doing to Zero. Was he really this desperate? Why couldn't he just get himself under control? He shook harder; he was nearly choking as he struggled to fight both this unnatural depression and the unbearable tug to use Zero to ward it off. But he couldn't do both... one or the other was going to have to win.

Zero caught Kaname's head between his hands, feeling the pureblood's anguished breaths echoing through him and against him. He understood now. He needed to distract Kaname, keep him focused on something other than whatever physical and mental effects the broken bond was having on him until... until what? Until it passed, hopefully. Zero had no idea, how was he supposed to know these things? Damn vampires and their oddities...

"Shhh... it's okay, Kaname..." he murmured soothingly, drawn irresistibly to comfort the other. "It will be all right. This has to pass, right? It's not real, so it has to pass, and it will... shh..." Zero dipped his head and mouthed Kaname's neck a bit hesitantly, licking at the bite area which he had a feeling Kaname would like.

Kaname did. Intensely apparently, because a shiver coursed through him as he leaned against Zero and he leaned eagerly into the touch, murmuring softly in a way that encouraged continuation. Slowly, Zero complied, licking and nibbling lightly at the graceful curve of the pureblood's neck, tracking his lips and tongue up and down the flawless ivory flesh in a slow trail of what he was trying not to refer to as kisses. It was just a tactic to keep Kaname distracted, that was all. He knew the pureblood's neck was a sensitive place. His own was. Zero wasn't really sure what to do and was pretty much winging things. Maybe if Kaname drank his blood it would make him feel better...?

As if reading his mind, Kaname's mouth had slid to Zero's neck, but he wasn't biting him. He was licking and caressing Zero in return. And yes... he was definitely kissing him.

Weird. Everything about this was weird. Zero wished he felt more uncomfortable. He didn't though, and that bothered him because instead it simply felt so... good.

Zero's breath escaped in a trembling rush against Kaname's neck as his mouth moved almost of its own accord in more fevered, urgent patterns against the pureblood's skin. He ached to taste... to touch... his fingers curled into the Kaname's shirt as he gripped the pureblood's upper arms tighter.

Kaname's hands slid across Zero's chest, pushing the now button-less shirt open further as he caressed sensually, hungrily. Kaname's body was still shaking and his breath hitched and hiccupped softly against Zero's skin every now and again as he kissed him, but it seemed that when he was thus occupied, the despair was easier to keep at bay.

Zero was consumed by the deep, unimaginable desire to be bitten. Kaname's mouth was kissing and teasing, but not biting him, and although he had never in a million years imagined he would feel this way, Zero ached to feel the other's teeth sinking into his flesh, to feel his blood being drawn. He also ached to do the same in return.

Lightly, he teased Kaname's neck with his fangs, as if to give him the idea... but his own teasing backfired and before he realized it, Zero felt his fangs breaking the skin and claiming the pureblood's neck and his blood. The beautiful taste took his senses and he felt like he was reeling, giddy from the intensity of the sensation.

Kaname's bite area on both sides of his throat had been throbbing wildly with empty, aching pain since Ichijo's death. When Zero kissed and licked him, it felt a bit better. When he unexpectedly sank his teeth in... it felt a lot better. Kaname's knees practically buckled from the mind-rending combination of sensual bliss and emotional agony that was warring inside him.

He gasped softly against Zero's neck, his body shaking from he knew not what anymore, all his feelings and sensations were becoming too mixed up to qualify or quantify. Didn't matter. All he cared about at the moment was how very, very much he wanted to bite the warm, delightful neck under his mouth. And there was no reason on earth why he shouldn't. It was almost strange to have something he wanted so intensely actually be achievable... to not feel he had to hold back or deny himself.

Zero groaned in pleasure as he finally felt Kaname's teeth in his neck, that unique sensation of having his blood drawn filling his senses as they fed on each other simultaneously. Zero had never fed and been fed upon at the same time before, neither had Kaname. It was a wholly unique and indescribable feeling. Truly, there was no way to quantify the shockingly deep, inexplicable kind of pleasure it gave, the blood-deep feeling of connectedness, of intimacy... of being one flesh with two hearts beating co-mingled blood through both bodies.

Zero couldn't breathe. Whatever he'd intended when he started this, however much he'd desired only to help Kaname... he was losing sight of all of that, very fast. His heart was racing and he wanted, needed more. He wanted to touch Kaname, and be touched in return... he wanted... dear heaven, he wanted to devour the pureblood completely in ways he couldn't even consciously comprehend because they were too foreign.

Even Kaname had not been prepared by how earth shatteringly incredible the mutual sharing of blood could be. Zero filled his senses completely, almost managing to block out the dark despair that was still trying to beat at him if he thought about it, if he didn't simply keep his every sense, his every thought and feeling tuned only to Zero. To the beat of his heart against Kaname's chest, the throb of his pulse as it spilled blood into Kaname's mouth, the soft, beautiful gasps of delight as their lips moved mutually against one another's skin, lost in a sea of vampire pleasure that no one else would ever have been able to understand.

Kaname drank greedily, deeply. He could, without fear of harming Zero, because Zero was latched onto his neck with equal hunger. There sensation of giving and taking was indescribable, it consumed him. At this moment, the pureblood wanted Zero more intensely than he felt he'd ever desired anything.

Zero devoured the pale, graceful neck, and he ached for more. He knew now, what it felt like, but he couldn't help himself – he slid his teeth free and bit down again, needing the delightful sensation of penetrating Kaname's flesh, repeatedly.

Kaname moaned and gasped softly against Zero's neck in pleasure. He knew by now, how Zero liked to do that, and interestingly enough, his body had learned to enjoy it. Of course it hurt, but it was a beautiful, delicious pain and right now every sensation was turning into pure bliss.

Gorged and intoxicated with sensual delight, Kaname finally lifted his head from Zero's neck a few minutes later. Zero was still busily enraptured with his neck and Kaname combed his fingers slowly through Zero's hair. "Zero..." he murmured huskily. The brown eyes were glazed and widely dilated. It was like a drug, these feelings... only so, so much better.

Reluctantly, Zero's head came up and their eyes met.

Kaname's gaze was drawn to the blood on Zero's mouth. Slowly, he leaned in, tongue lightly tracing the curve of Zero's lower lip as he lapped some of it up.

Zero felt his breath catch, almost failing him as his gaze held the pureblood's. He could get lost in the fire burning there... maybe he already was. Kaname's blood was throbbing through his veins, through his senses. It was a complete head-rush and he felt high as a kite – a kite sailing without a string in a gale. His body burned with a kind of yearning he almost didn't know how to handle. At this moment, he felt incredibly connected to the vampire in whose eyes he was getting lost.

Get a grip stupid... your only purpose here is to distract him... that's what he brought you for, that's what you agreed to. He's using you, that's all, this doesn't mean anything... a small voice inside Zero's skull was trying to make itself heard, but it was hard over the pounding in his ears.

"I-I think y-you're feeling better now..." the ex-human somehow managed to mumble out, hands sliding to Kaname's shoulders in a very half-hearted attempt to push him back. "We should, um..." But Zero couldn't seem to think what exactly it was they should do, because all his blood felt like it had pooled below the belt-line and was throbbing there so palpably it made trivial things like higher brain function seem impossible.

A bulldozer could not have dislodged Kaname at this moment, Zero's vague attempts certainly weren't about to do much. The pureblood easily captured Zero's hands in his, fingers intertwining, palms pressed together as he trapped Zero's hands back against the crate, on either side of the ex-human's head.

"We should what?" he murmured huskily, the low voice almost a purr. His face was still close to Zero's, his hot breath brushing the other's skin as he drank up the warmth of the hesitant but fiery passion flickering in the silver-red eyes. Kaname deliberately rocked his hips against Zero's, and the fact that both of them were very aroused was obvious.

Zero's eyes glazed and he arched back into the contact instinctively. He forgot whatever he'd been going to say. "We, um... we should... go..." he fought an uphill battle against himself for the words, his breath coming rapidly.

"It will be a while yet before the coast is clear... we have plenty of time," Kaname murmured back. There was the familiar look of a predator in his eyes again, but it excited Zero rather than scaring him this time.

Zero gulped softly, Kaname was still rocking against him and his mind was unraveling. "Plenty of time for what?" he demanded in a breathless whisper.

Kaname just looked at Zero, eyes intense, a small smile playing across his lips. He leaned in and slowly ran his tongue from Zero's collarbone to his ear, causing the other to shiver helplessly.

"I still need you, Zero..." he whispered against the velvety skin of the ex-human's earlobe, the pureblood's tongue and teeth playing lightly with the other's earrings. "All of you..."

As Kaname shifted his head back to look Zero in the face again, his heart and stomach were fluttering crazily, mingling with the intoxicating conflagration in his blood. They were playing with fire, this bond of theirs, and both were likely to get burned. Some part of Kaname knew... no matter what his well laid plans, no matter what his head tried to tell him, this wasn't only about using Zero for survival. Not anymore. Some part of him wanted Zero to know it too. He released Zero's right arm, his hand instead sliding to cup the other's cheek.

A fraction of an inch closer was all it took, and their lips met fully. Kaname kissed Zero very lightly, and at first Zero simply froze, an unreadable look firing through his eyes. For a moment, Kaname thought Zero would jerk away or possibly even try to hit him, but instead, the warm lips under his responded – hesitantly, very slowly, but they definitely responded.

For a moment, Zero very nearly did punch the other vampire for the sudden, incredibly intimate liberty he'd taken. It was weird, considering what they'd been doing, that it was this simplest of touches that wrung the most emotional reaction from him. But even so, Zero didn't try to move away. The touch of Kaname's lips on his felt like it had momentarily shorted his brain circuits. It was such a delicious sensation... he couldn't break away, despite a certain feeling of unnatural awkwardness. This was wrong on so many levels... he had certainly never imagined his first kiss like this. But... inexplicably... he found himself kissing Kaname back anyway. It was like his brain and body had completely severed ties, the latter happily doing as it pleased without the consent or approval of the former. He might have been tempted to blame it on Kaname, that the pureblood was influencing and controlling him – it certainly felt like an alien force had taken over his body. But somehow... that would never ring true. Deep down, Zero knew that at least at this moment, he wanted this too. His body was just being more honest than he was able to be consciously.

Kaname needed little encouragement and he leaned more hungrily into the kiss, his lips moving passionately against Zero's, his long fingers tangling in Zero's mussy silver locks. He physically ached for Zero, and he felt he could never manage to touch him enough to satisfy that ache. He kissed Zero deeply and passionately, lips parting, tongue exploring the exotic heat of his lover's mouth and playing against his fangs. Kaname was almost dizzy with the sensation and desire. He was overcome with the powerful urge to devour, but in an entirely different way than normal. He groaned softly as his body pressed up fully against Zero's, one hand remaining tangled in Zero's hair as the other slid down to sensually, urgently map the smooth contours of his chest.

It was a good thing Kaname had Zero pressed so firmly back against the crates behind him, because the ex-human's legs felt like limp noodles and he may not have been able to stand up on his own. The heat of Kaname's mouth, of his eyes, of his touch burned its way into Zero's skin and his consciousness in ways impossible to describe. Kaname seemed to have a lot less compunction about acting on his desires than Zero was experiencing, but slowly his own needs became too much to ignore. Slowly, Zero stopped just letting Kuran have his way and started responding in kind.

As Kaname's hand slid down to work the catch of his trousers, Zero started kissing him back in earnest, hesitation giving way to raw hunger. He would regret this later, he knew he would, but right now, none of that seemed to matter. His hands tangled in the soft hair at the back of Kaname's neck as he tugged him closer, tipping his head to explore more of his partner's mouth, to drink up the small, gasping groans of delight that were shuddering through the pureblood.

Zero bit Kaname's lower lip, somewhat accidentally, actually, in his urgent desire for contact. But Kaname reacted so beautifully that Zero did it again, intentionally. The pureblood's whole body shuddered against him and his eyes dilated sharply.

Kaname leaned more heavily into Zero, knees feeling like putty as he growled softly in his throat, tearing open the stubborn button on his partner's trousers, hand delving inside.

It was Zero's turn to gasp sharply and shudder.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen: " For your Soul "

"Kaname..." the breathless word was half gasp, but Kaname didn't wait to find out if it was encouragement or protest. His mouth latched harder onto Zero's, kissing him intensely as he stroked the other's body firmly, excited beyond reason by the sensation of pleasuring his lover.

Neither of them would have used that word, would have admitted it consciously, but at this point, that was quickly becoming only a matter of semantics.

"Ka– Nnng!" Zero's muffled cry was half groan as his chest shuddered hard, Kaname's long, smooth fingers eliciting a kind of bliss he'd never quite imagined from his fevered, aching flesh. He clawed at Kaname's dark shirt, popping buttons. He needed to feel the other's skin. His whole body was on fire, a burning thirst that only Kaname could quench. He ran his hands along the hard, but supple planes of Kaname's chest, down his abdomen and around his sides, fingertips drinking up the warm skin.

Kaname's body tingled in the wake of that touch and he growled softly into their kiss. It was a beautiful, ruthless kind of passion that was sparking between them and their lips and teeth clashed and tangled urgently, drawing blood from both. The heady nectar simply sweetened the kiss.

Kaname could wait no longer. Everything in him was screaming for Zero, to meld with him, to be as physically connected with him as possible. He pulled Zero away from the crates and the two of them half walked; half stumbled backwards, bumping into things as they went.

Zero wasn't quite sure how it happened, but somehow in a matter of heartbeats Kaname had him hoisted up to sit on the edge of a waist-high stack of folded carpet runners, pants around his ankles. The pureblood eased between Zero's knees, his still-clothed hips rubbing exotically against Zero's naked body and making the ex-human groan and growl softly into Kaname's mouth.

Kaname swiftly worked the catch on his own trousers and Zero's urgent, searching hands hooked in the waistband of his pants, pushing them down his slim hips and freeing him. Kaname pressed close, sheer ecstasy written across his flushed face as their hard bodies slid and clashed against one another, their lips and tongue mimicking the same actions. He could barely breathe, his chest heaving against Zero.

Zero's mind felt like melted slag, only registering primal urges and sensations... such as the intense, shattering sensation of Kaname's body sliding and thrusting against his own. His head fell back, his mouth open in a silent scream, fingers clutching Kaname's arms, knees clutching his hips. He wanted more...

Kaname's dark gaze raked Zero's body. Mostly naked, torn shirt hanging open and sliding off both shoulders, his hair mussed and faced flushed... the ex-human was an irresistibly compelling picture of temptation. Kaname leaned forward, forcing Zero backwards so he was half lying on the stacked carpets, having to catch himself on his elbows. Kaname's mouth fell to trace the tangy lines of the tattoo on Zero's neck, then down further to lick and caress the other fading welts left from Rido's attack earlier. At the same time, he sliced his own inner arm with his nails, drawing blood with which to lubricate his fingers as he started to caress and prepare the body beneath him. Kaname had not done this before, but he was quite aware of how it worked and he moved with the innate skill and confidence of one who was used to doing as they pleased and taking what they wanted. Much as he ached to simply bury himself immediately in the incredibly desirable body beneath him and take everything he could get, he also didn't want to hurt Zero unnecessarily.

Zero seemed to have a lot less clear idea of what exactly getting more of Kaname entailed and what he wanted from this encounter. He inhaled sharply at the unexpected and somewhat unnatural sensation of Kaname's probing fingers. The shock of it cleared the haze from his brain just a little and his glazed eyes widened.

"What a-are you...?" If it was possible, the flush of Zero's face deepened. Surely, Kaname couldn't mean to... couldn't want to... The fingers pushed deeper, causing Zero to squirm with conflictingly equal amounts of arousal, discomfort and dismay.

"K-Kaname, sto– Nnng!" Kaname's lips locking over his and the pureblood's free hand clamping firmly around his aching arousal effectively cut off Zero's protest. Kaname stroked him, slowly but powerfully, the fingers of his other hand continuing their relentless exploration. Caught between the two, Zero felt lost. He moaned, his hips bucking into Kaname's grip, even though that pushed the pureblood's other hand deeper. Discomfort was quickly morphing into a strange, new kind of pleasure as the pureblood's fingers curled and stroked, finding all the places Zero had never in his wildest dreams imagined he would want to be touched and bringing them to life. Zero's fingers dug into the carpets beneath him.

His eyes fluttered closed, then opened again and he found Kaname gazing down at him with those intense, endless, passionate eyes. Zero had always thought the pureblood cold, calculating and remote. He could honestly not figure out what the heck Yuki saw in him. But Kaname was none of those things right now. He was vividly alive, practically glowing with a deep kind of sensuality that made him a blazing flame no moth would be able to resist. He was fixated upon Zero with a single-minded attention that said at this moment in time there was nothing else in his world. Despite himself, Zero was captivated.

Kaname's hands were still moving – relentless, incredible, unforgivable, driving Zero crazy. The ex-human's back arched helplessly, the tight loom of the carpeting chafing against his bare skin. Kaname's dark hair clung in ringlets to his neck and forehead. His shirt hung open, exposing ivory skin slicked with the perspiration of desire. The pureblood paused his sensual assault only long enough to shrug out of his mostly ruined shirt and drop it beside Zero. His hands slid swiftly back to Zero's thighs, spreading them with his palms as he nudge up closer between the other's legs.

Zero felt the butterflies mating in his gut kick it into high gear as Kaname slid against his thigh and a blunt pressure replaced the probing fingers. Electricity jolted in his groin even as the vague reality of what was happening clawed at the back of his mind. Intense arousal and fear mingled in his chest and he nearly hyperventilated. Somehow, the idea of actually resisting never even entered his mind.

Kaname was nearly bursting with need. He hooked his hands under Zero's thighs and rocked his hips forward, carefully at first, but then harder. Zero was tense, automatically resisting and necessitating more force. Kaname's whole frame quivered with the intense heat of his lover's body. Zero filled his senses, enraptured his desire and left him desperately craving more and more. He'd never felt like this – he couldn't think, couldn't breathe, couldn't get enough. He thrust forward more urgently and more ruthlessly, seeking to bury himself completely.

Zero's fingers dug into the thick carpets under him hard enough to punch through the top layer. He cried out sharply as Kaname penetrated him, every muscle in his body snapping taught as he unintentionally tried to scrabble backwards on his elbows. Kaname's firm grip on his hips didn't allow that and the pureblood continued to press him, half coaxing, half forcing Zero to accept him. Zero struggled, not trying to get away, but unable to adjust to the new sensation being thrust so rapidly upon him. His body felt like it was overloading. Pleasure was thrumming through him like a jet engine on full bore, but... this hurt. A lot. And... he was inexplicably scared.

"Kaname... K-Kaname, please..." Zero begged hoarsely, his hips squirming urgently on the edge of the stacked rugs, his hands clamping onto Kaname's shoulders, fingers digging in hard enough to bruise as he desperately tried to get the pureblood to slow down. "I-I can't... Aaah!"

Kaname realized he was pushing Zero too hard, too fast and with great effort he backed off a bit, stilling to give his partner a chance to adjust.

"Shh... it's okay," he murmured in a voice that was so heated it was almost tender. He leaned down, brushing a slow, lingering kiss against Zero's flushed and swollen lips. His fingers curled again around his lover, stroking him slowly and making Zero's breath hitch. He moved very slowly, sensually, drowning Zero in a flowing, rising tide of molten pleasure that left his whole body aching for more.

Kaname's hand slid up to cup Zero's cheek as he leaned close over him, holding him with his intense gaze. "Look at me," he murmured heatedly but reassuringly, gently turning Zero's face towards him. There was a silent promise in his gaze, that he would please, not hurt. Trust me. "Don't look away..."

Zero's eyes slowly slid to lock with the pureblood's and he felt strangely mesmerized. The tenseness in his muscles melted inexplicably as the fire in his blood became an all consuming pool of sensation and delight.

"That's better..." the pureblood murmured as he felt Zero's body responding, relaxing slowly as fear evaporated like rain falling on a hot iron. Kaname's mouth traced his ear and nibbled slowly down his neck again. "I want you..." he whispered against Zero's jaw, his voice like a buttery soft caress.

Zero's breath escaped in a hot rush by Kaname's ear as his stomach knotted pleasurably in response to the purred words. Every fiber of his being ached for Kaname. The pain had dulled to negotiable, non-important levels and the feeling of their incomplete joining throbbed inside him, making him crave the unimaginable. He wanted more. He wanted Kaname. But he couldn't say it. His words did not come so easily as Kaname's.

"Yeah..." he murmured hoarsely instead, his eyes once more locked on the pureblood's as Kaname lifted his head again. His hand slid down Kaname's smooth side to his hip. Zero's fingers dug tightly into Kaname's backside as he gripped him, tugging his hips forward. He kicked completely free of his pants, his heels hooking behind the pureblood's thighs, holding him close.

Kaname eased forward again, slower, forcing himself to take things gradually and holding Zero's gaze the whole time. The erotic energy crackling between them was palpable. Time spun out, each heartbeat, each shaking breath an eternity as their bodies moved slowly together, merging to completeness. Only when he had taken Zero to the core did Kaname finally break eye contact. His heart was thudding out of his chest and the fire pooling in his groin and raking through his flesh was almost painful in its intensity. His eyes fluttered closed with a soft groan and his forehead fell to rest against Zero's shoulder as he paused a moment, gathering his control before he started moving again.

Zero's head swam. Kaname's intense gaze held him grounded, easing him through the initial awkward discomfort and fear and guiding him into the intense, soul-ripping bliss on the other side. He could feel Kaname's heart pounding against his chest and as the pureblood's head dropped, he twined his fingers in the dark hair, holding him close and kissing the side of his face.

Kaname had always kept a distance between himself and the world. It was his nature, and he'd lost too much and suffered too many hidden scars over the course of his life to allow anyone close. The feeling of being so deeply and intimately bound to another life was completely foreign, and completely intoxicating. Zero was figuratively and literally in his blood and Kaname had never felt this close, this connected with anyone. He leaned over Zero, making love to him, heart resting against heart, turning his head and kissing the full lips almost reverently. The pureblood was giving away more than his body, although his mind was too hazy with raw lust and desire to realize it consciously.

Kaname was losing his grip on control, urgency taking over again, driving his motions harder, faster, ravaging, hungry...

Zero's head tipped back with a soft, guttural cry. The feelings jolting and spearing through him denying description and sending electric flames through his being that melted anything that remained of rational thought. As the pureblood's motions became increasingly rapid and intense, Zero's arms locked around Kaname's back and his eyes slammed shut. He felt like he was going to explode. He was insane to be doing this, insane to be enjoying it... but his blood was afire, and looking up at Kaname... he was simply insane.

Kaname crawled up onto the carpet stack with Zero, their combined motions scooting both of them backward across the broad expanse. Kaname's right arm supported his weight while his left curled around Zero's shoulders, holding him close, kissing him almost savagely as their bodies bucked together. Zero's hands gripped Kaname's arm, his backside, anything he could reach.

Suddenly, Kaname froze and Zero groaned softly in fervent protest, rolling his body up against the other, but then, reluctantly, he froze too. Sounds and scents had reached Kaname that he'd almost missed in his intense state of distraction. But they were very close now, close enough for Zero to hear them too – the chattering static of radio communication, and footsteps, getting closer.

Apparently the police had not overlooked the warehouse after all.

Kaname's eyes snapped darkly at this most unwelcome intrusion and he reluctantly, but quickly pulled away. Zero pushed up on his elbows, suddenly cold from the loss of Kaname's warmth. He trembled slightly as he struggled up to sit, obviously not able to think very quickly or clearly around the haze in his brain. He felt like he was drunk.

Kaname's reactions too, were slowed, but fortunately his slow was still faster than most people's swift. He somehow managed to have the presence of mind to scoop up his and Zero's discarded clothing. Wrapping his arms around Zero, the both of them were suddenly weightless, shooting up into the air with apparent ease.

Zero bit back a yelp of surprise, managing to stay silent as their trajectory shifted and they landed quietly on the top tier of the nearby row of towering shelving, almost two stories above the floor below. Giant blocks of cardboard boxes were held together with wide bands of clear cellophane, the tops of the grouped boxes creating a flat, stable surface for the two vampires to alight upon.

Kaname tossed down his shirt, settling to sit upon it and pulling Zero down onto his lap, keeping him off the dusty box tops. At the same moment, footsteps tromped audibly into the warehouse, echoing in the large expanse of space. Flashlights flickered between the rows below, radios continuing to crackle static every now and again.

Both Kaname and Zero knew at once that their luck was holding. They could both tell, those were human officers searching below. There wasn't a chance they'd be scented. If they were silent, no one would look for them up here – there was no way any normal person without a forklift or a cherry picker could have gotten up this high.

Both vampire's hearts were pounding, the added shot of adrenaline bred by their narrow escape feeding into their already over-stimulated states.

Zero was peering down carefully down over the edge at the figures blow when Kaname's arms tightened around his waist, pulling him backwards, snugging the ex-human's back against the pureblood's chest and tugging his hips down with a purposeful little jerk.

Zero inhaled sharply, remembering just in time that they needed to be quiet as he felt Kaname's body mold to his again. His head rocked back against the pureblood's shoulder. His arms were tangled up in his shirt, which had slid down to hang from his elbows, but his fingers dug sharply into Kaname's forearms as they wrapped around his waist. He shot the pureblood a hazy, panicked glare, not daring to speak.

What are you doing? They're still down there...

Kaname just smiled darkly and rocked his hips, one hand clamping across Zero's chest, pinning him close, the other sliding purposefully down his lover's stomach until he struck gold. He wasn't about to wait, the danger just made things all the more delicious.

Zero's fingers gripped tighter as his body thrilled intensely, senses now keyed to overload between desire and the fear of discovery. Kuran I may have to kill you... He bit back another moan as he fell into Kaname's rhythm, trying desperately to stay silent as the two of them moved together as swiftly as they dared. It wasn't enough, they both wanted more, but they dared not. It was a delicious, slow kind of torment and Zero felt Kaname's breath coming in small, gasping little sobs against his back, his own was about the same.

The sound of the police below became white noise, hardly registering. Zero held his breath to keep silent and his head swam. Kaname was relentless, stroking, caressing... the ex-human's heels slid and scuffed in silent urgency on the box tops, his back arching against Kaname's chest as he moaned silently, desperately in his throat. Not yet, not yet... Kaname was pushing him towards the brink and Zero didn't think he could stay quiet if that happened.

Kaname could read his distress full well and was obviously enjoying it immensely. Zero scowled heatedly, nearly out of his head with aroused desire. Two could play at this game.

Swiveling around, Zero took some of the control out of his partner's hands. Straddling Kaname's lap as they half sat, half knelt together; Zero raked his fingernails down the pureblood's sides as he rocked firmly against him. Somehow, he knew instinctively that it would excite, not hurt, the pureblood. Kaname sucked in a sharp breath. Even as he did so, Zero's mouth dropped to his neck. Zero bit Kaname, hard.

Kaname almost screamed, his body tensing and jerking, nearly climaxing on the spot. He didn't, but it was very close, on both counts. His head snapped back and he bit his lower lip hard enough to draw blood, his fingers digging hard into the soft flesh of Zero's hips.

The sensation of Zero feeding on him as they rocked together was incredible. He felt dizzy, almost weak with pleasure, and yet intensely energized. Kaname's mouth headed for Zero's neck but the ex-human grabbed a fistful of dark hair and yanked harshly, keeping Kaname's head arched back, away from him as he drank possessively. He obviously wanted to enjoy Kaname's blood without reciprocating at the moment.

Kaname granted him that. With Zero was like this... Kaname would probably have granted him anything. The delightful bit of domination nearly undid the pureblood. His hands caught Zero's dangling shirt, tugging it down behind the ex-human's back so that it slid to bunch around Zero's wrists, pulling the ex-human's hands behind his back. A quick twist tangled Zero's wrists up tightly in the fabric, trapping his hands. Kaname held Zero's wrists bound together tightly at the small of his back. The same grip enabled Kaname to tug Zero's hips down harshly into each deliciously merciless upward thrust of his own, Zero's throbbing body pinned against his stomach, their heaving chests rubbing and clashing together.

The police were gone now, the warehouse their own private little haven once more, but they were only barely aware of the transition. Both vampires had hit the point of no return and time became a rapid, heady blur of painting, perspiration, thudding hearts and straining bodies moving with the raw poetry of dangerous animals in heat.

Zero half growled, half groaned, lathing and biting Kaname's neck harshly while the pureblood reciprocated with his body, hips thrusting with enough powerful swiftness to almost create friction burn.

The flame was too hot now, too intense to sustain for long and pleasure finally had its way, spiraling up with raw, greedy fingers to claw through their bodies, blanking minds and shredding thoughts with the sheer weight of its intensity.

Kaname fell first, body exploding in the white fire of release, but Zero wasn't far behind, pushed over the edge by Kaname's helpless, passionate cries only half muffled against his neck.

Time became a somewhat foggy concept again for a few minutes, or maybe it was only a few heartbeats... Kaname wasn't sure, but the next thing he was truly aware of, he and Zero had collapsed to a tangled sprawl on their bed of boxes, curled together, lungs still heaving as their bodies glowed and throbbed in the aftermath of intense pleasure.

Kaname felt Zero shiver slightly, whether from residual pleasure or the cool air he didn't know, but he instinctively pulled the other closer against his chest, wrapping an arm around him. Kaname didn't want to think too much about what had just happened, what they'd done... what he'd done. Right now he just wanted to linger a moment here, in whatever bizarre version of distorted reality they'd just created, and enjoy the sensations chasing through his body... enjoy the feeling of Zero's breath raggedly brushing his shoulder, the ex-human's pulse pounding beneath the arm wrapped around him. Enjoy this feeling of being so deeply bound to another being.

Kaname had never imagined he would end up in a position like this, but it was far too late to second-guess or feel guilty now. He could feel the bond he shared with Kiriyu almost like a hand wrapped around his spine and his heart, squeezing oddly. He wondered if Zero felt it too... or if this was still just the curse of his pure blood.

Kaname stopped thinking before it gave him a headache and simply nuzzled his head against Zero's neck as his breathing slowed gradually. The dangerous depression from before had disappeared. There was still a small but distinct ache in the back of his chest from the severed bond that he was probably going to have to learn to deal with until perhaps time released him from its burden, but it was manageable. His senses were too full of Zero to feel empty.

Zero lay still in Kaname's embrace. As his body cooled and his head started to clear he felt a deep, sick, sinking feeling in his gut. What had he done? How could he have let this happen? How had it ever ended up going this far? Although the rest of his body was cooling, his face continued to burn even hotter.

Agitated, Zero pulled away, trying to put as much distance between them as possible. But he didn't have anywhere to go. As he reached the edge and glanced down he became distinctly aware now of how small their little nest here really was. The broad palate of boxes made a space about as big as a queen sized bed, but shared with a naked pureblood, it felt claustrophobically tiny. There wasn't anywhere to go except straight down. Climbing was out of the question, the yawning gaps between the tiers were too large. They were practically two floors up, and he had no way down but Kaname.

A weird sense of vertigo gripped Zero, brought on as much by his swirling emotions as anything else as he looked down and he tottered slightly. He wasn't really in danger of falling, but Kaname seemed to think he was because the pureblood quickly grabbed him and pulled him back from the edge with a look of alarm. "Zero, are you all right?"

Zero laughed somewhat incredulously. "All right? Sure, I'm just freaking great..." he trailed off, going stony faced and looking away. He wrapped his arms around his middle. "It's freezing," he mumbled.

Kaname frowned, choosing to pretend to believe the excuse, because he didn't want to look too close at the truth, nor examine too deeply why it would hurt. "Then come here, let me warm you..." he murmured cajolingly, drawing the reluctant ex-human back towards him before Zero could protest. He nuzzled and mouthed the other's neck lightly as he wrapped his arms around him, knowing that would inspire a bit of heat to warm him up.

Zero shivered, unintentionally melting at the touch of Kaname's lips on his skin, at the rumble of his voice. Damn... what the hell is wrong with me? He wondered as he actually let Kaname pull him back down to rest against him, Kaname's hand cupping Zero's head to his chest. It was just too hard to fight. It wouldn't do any good. It couldn't erase what they'd done, or undo this weird sense of... of... comfort of all things, that he found lying here like this. His body was tense, but he didn't try to escape again, caught in limbo between wanting to flee and inexplicably wanting to stay. Zero closed his eyes, trying to ignore the warm, inviting sensation of Kaname's chest rising and falling against his cheek.

Kaname chuckled softly after a moment, thinking back to a few minutes ago as his fingers trailed languidly through Zero's hair. "I'm surprised they didn't notice us... you were being so loud..." he ribbed good naturedly.

Zero snorted in derision. "Me? They heard you on the other side of the country," he retorted, falling easily into well established patterns of rivalry, grasping tightly at that thread of normalcy.

Zero finally pushed up to sit again and Kaname released him. The ex-human pulled his rumpled, ruined shirt back up over his shoulders and tugged it closed. After that initial outburst, he was trying to be a lot calmer about this than he felt. He'd be damned if he'd give Kaname the satisfaction of humiliating him any further by playing the blushing virgin in this scenario. Kaname was being casual about this; he damn well could play that game too.

Kaname's gaze trailed Zero as the other sat up, but he remained where he was a few moments longer. He felt contentedly exhausted, motion coming somewhat sluggishly. Zero had probably drained him a lot more than he'd realized, but it was a pleasurable kind of leadenness.

"I wonder what they would have put in their report if they had found us..." Kaname pondered with a wry smirk as he finally pushed up to sit. "Wouldn't the news love that? Suspects in Ichijo break-in caught with their pants down–" Kaname's own shirt hit him in the face, cutting off his droning reporter impersonation. Zero glared, flushed bright pink and looking for something else to throw.

Kaname batted at the shirt, getting slightly tangled in the rips as it slid off his head. The look on Zero's face was priceless and he cracked up despite himself. It was a rare enough sight to make Zero stare. Kaname laughed so rarely, but everything had been so tense, for so long, and dredging up all that old hurt over his parents on top of it... it felt like something had to give. Now, with the crazy jumble of endorphins and adrenaline still in his system, after finding this beautiful, absurd release with the least likely person in the world, Kaname was inclined to let himself go and find a bit of amusing irony in life, if only for a few minutes. "Suspects arouse suspicion..." he tried another one, grinning devilishly at Zero.

Zero tried to punch him. Kaname dodged but fell backward, mostly because he was laughing. Despite himself, Zero laughed too. It eased the intense awkwardness he was feeling and released a little of the pressure in his gut. What the hell. Life was unexpected and stupid. Sometimes, you had to laugh so you didn't cry. Laughing certainly felt better. Like denial. Like trying to pretend that none of this had happened.

"Kaname, you're an idiot and I think you're losing your mind," Zero muttered ruefully through his laughter, shaking his head and running a hand through his hair. "Unless there's any other insanely powerful vampires you need to kill tonight, can we please get the hell out of here now?"

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen: " Fallout "

Zero closed the bathroom door behind him and leaned on the edge of the sink. He stared down at the porcelain bowl, the chrome colored tap, the neat little wrapped bar of soap with the hotel logo on it on the counter... and he saw none of it. Slowly he sighed and lifted his head, gaze catching on himself in the mirror.

He was a mess. No wonder the desk clerk had given him a look like he was already anticipating having to file an insurance claim on the room come checkout. He looked like he'd been in a fight. His shirt was torn, missing most of its buttons, and thankfully didn't show bloodstains only because it was black. The worst of his cuts and bruises had already healed considerably, thanks in no small part he was sure to how much Kuran blood was currently flowing around in his system, as he had never used to heal this fast. But bruises still remained... not all of them from fighting, either.

Zero slowly ran a hand through his disheveled hair, which only made matters worse. The past night seemed like a blur, like he'd been living somebody else's life.

After finally getting clear of Ichijo Enterprises, Kaname and Zero had done their best to lose themselves in the city. Kaname had stopped along the way to retrieve some money that he had apparently stashed away at some time in the past in case of emergency. Kuran knew how to plan for contingencies; Zero had to give him that. It wasn't a lot of money, but it would cover their expenses for now. Kaname still dare not try to touch any of his bank accounts, credit cards or other assets. Rido was still out there, having doubtless already secured the Kuran Estates, and Kaname was still wanted by the Council, at least until the little news story they had engineered broke.

Lying low was still the order of the day right now, so Kaname had checked them into a non-descript downtown hotel for the day and then disappeared again, indicating that he was going to find them a change of clothes. Kaname obviously thought they were slumming it here and that the hotel was a complete dive. Zero had to smile a little at that. This place wasn't the Ritz, but it was hardly a slum. Actually, it was the kind of hotel that he, Yuki and the Chairman would usually stay in when they used to go on those dreadful "family vacations" that Cross insisted on dragging them through.

The memories brought a small ghost of a smile to Zero's face before it faded and he sank his head into his hands, a dizzy wash of emotions sweeping over him as more recent events played vividly and unstoppably through his mind. What had he done?

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Kaname pushed the key card for the room back into his pocket as he shut the door behind him and turned the deadbolt. The room was empty, but he could sense Zero's presence in the bathroom. The pureblood crossed over to the bed nearest the door and set down the bundle of new clothes he was carrying before sinking down to sit on the edge of the mattress.

He should change into something fresh. But he wanted to shower first, after Zero was done. Zero's scent was still all over him. It made it hard to concentrate.

He tried to think ahead and plan out their next moves. He'd already been in touch with Chairman Cross, having called him from a payphone. Cross was using a disposable cell phone, but Kaname knew the number. Kaname hadn't asked where he and Yuki were right now, but they had arranged to meet the following evening to regroup.

There was no word yet from Ichijo and Aido and that worried Kaname, but he knew it was possible that if they had succeeded in springing Kain and Ruka that they also needed to lay low. Kaname didn't like being so out of the stream of events. This hotel wasn't equipped with anything that could receive a signal from the vampire stations and he was removed from his normal network of spies and intelligence gathering, so he had no idea what was happening elsewhere. He sighed softly.

One hand fingered his mother's necklace in his pants pocket. The other slid up and rubbed slowly at his neck. Adrenaline had finally faded now that they were settled and relatively safe for the moment. He was hungry... but not for blood. He ached. He felt empty. He didn't even know why. He wanted to slide into the bathroom, to be close to Zero... but he knew better. It would only cause another fight.

Zero had thrown up enough of an argument about sharing a hotel room, until Kaname calmly told him that sure – he could have his own room, no problem, as long as he wanted to pay for it. Kaname's funds were severely limited right now, and he couldn't afford to assume that that situation would be straightening itself out immediately. Besides...

He didn't want to be alone.

That was so horribly pathetic that he grinned softly, sardonically at himself. Everything about Kaname's life had always been about control – about staying on top of things, meticulously planning, working endlessly to ensure that he could guide the outcome of events in the direction they needed to go. He'd seen early in life that if you didn't control, you would be controlled... and he'd lost so much at the hands of those doing the controlling that he could never let that happen again. Now, however, in almost no time at all his life had slid so far out of his control that it was laughable. But Kaname didn't feel like laughing.

He and Zero needed to talk sensibly. There were certain physical needs that neither of them were going to be able to ignore or deny, but that didn't have to mean anything beyond... well... whatever it meant. They were going to have to find a way to work things out and come to some kind of an arrangement on how to handle this situation between them. They were both rational adults; surely they should be able to deal with this situation practically.

The pureblood closed his eyes closed, the past few hours replaying vividly in his mind. Only he didn't feel practical or rational. He felt emotional and hungry. He ached so badly to just open that door across from him. To just see Zero and make sure he was still there, even though he knew he was... Kaname pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes.

He was an idiot.

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Zero pressed his eyes closed and jammed the heel of his palm into them, but it couldn't erase the pictures in his memory, or the tactile phantom sensation of hands on his skin. Worse, he couldn't block the shiver of desire that ran through him even at the memories. He ran a hand through his hair again with a harsh sigh. He wanted to break something, to smash it into a million pieces. Kuran would be nice, but just about anything would do at the moment, the way he was feeling.

He was an idiot.

What the hell had he done? What had he been THINKING? Obviously, he hadn't been thinking at all. No sane, rational being would have let a pureblood vampire of their own gender screw them in a deserted warehouse while the police were crawling all over because – oh yeah, they'd just broken into the building and killed the owner.

Somehow "stupid" did not even begin to cover the breadth of the matter.

Of course... there was a lot of extenuating circumstances, but still... Zero angrily stripped out of his shirt, tossing it towards the towel rack. He missed and it slithered to the floor instead. His face felt vaguely hot. He couldn't believe he'd let another person touch him that way, let those... things be done to him. And he'd liked it. So. Damn. Much.

As Zero shed the rest of ruined clothing and got into the shower, he decided for a change to wonder what the hell Kuran had been thinking. The guy was a complete jerk but he wasn't gay, Zero would've laid money on it. Of course... he'd have said the same about himself. Anyway, wasn't consorting with an ex-human like that a little beneath Mr. High and Mighty? A faint snarl touched Zero's lips as he turned on the water, full bore. Or was it all okay since Kaname had apparently needed him in some twisted way to survive the broken blood bond with Ichijo? Sure, use the pawns for what they're good for, right? Zero wanted to put a fist through the slick tile wall next to him. The only reason he didn't was because he couldn't pay for it and he would not be indebted any further to Kaname.

Zero turned his face up under the water, letting the uncomfortably hot spray pelt his features and run down his body and through his hair, washing away Kaname's scent, but not the memory of his touch.

While he was on the mental topic of things that were stupid beyond belief... why on earth did the truth of why Kaname had taken him in the first place ache so oddly whenever it crossed his mind? Okay, so he'd lost his innocence to someone who had only been using him. So what? People did that all the time, right? It was just sex. He should be glad that was all it was. What, did he want Kuran to actually care about him? Wouldn't that be much too hideously awkward to even contemplate? He hated the bastard! Didn't he? Zero was trying a little too hard to convince himself that it had all meant nothing, and he didn't want to stop to examine why.

Zero ran his hands down his face under the spray, grabbing a washcloth and lathing his body down hard. God... he felt so dirty. But he needed to be practical. He'd been used, pure and simple. He'd known that's what was going on and had willingly let it happen. He'd enjoyed it, had even... wanted it... at the time, and he couldn't deny that. Kaname had gotten what he needed to survive and Zero had gotten a mind blowing experience that he was probably going to be trying to forget for years to come. A transaction – that was all it was. It helped to think of it that way. What was done was done, now he just had to work very hard to sponge it from his memory completely and hope no one else on the planet ever found out. He didn't imagine Kaname would tell. Certainly, it would be just as embarrassing for him.

Forgetting, however, threatened to prove much harder than it sounded, given the traitorous way his body responded every time Zero's mind wandered anywhere near thoughts about the pureblood. The shower was cleansing, but not relaxing and Zero still felt tense by the time he shut the water off and stepped out. He dried off and then wrapped the towel carelessly around his waist, sweeping his clothes up in one hand before heading into the adjacent bedroom.

He was unprepared to find that he was no longer alone. Kaname had returned without his noticing. The damn pureblood must be masking his presence somehow – probably for safety's sake, since they were hiding out here, but Zero was caught off guard. He wouldn't have come out here like this if he'd known Kuran was back. He pulled up short, clothes slipping accidentally from his hand to the floor.

Kaname was sitting silently on the edge of the closest bed, watching the bathroom door and apparently waiting for him. Zero barely noticed the neat little pile of folded clothes sitting next to him. Just seeing the pureblood did crazy things to him and Zero was glad he could blame the recent shower for his flush.

"What are you staring at?" Zero demanded somewhat angrily once he'd recovered from the momentary surprise and the accompanying and completely humiliating spike of intense lust. He suddenly wasn't thinking very clearly and simply wanted Kuran a million miles or more away from him. "Get out."

Kaname had good control in most situations, but seeing Zero walk through that door, practically naked, the towel wrapped teasingly around his hips, silver hair damp and spiky from the shower, small, missed droplets of water glistening on his pale skin... it made the pureblood's internal temperature sky rocket. His body responded most urgently and embarrassingly and Kaname carefully remained seated exactly as he was so as to not give that away.

Damn... he'd never imagined it would be like this. Hadn't realized truly what he'd let them both in for. It wasn't necessarily his fault, at least not entirely, but he did feel responsible to try to work things out, if that was even possible.

He calmly ignored Zero's demand for his departure and graciously did not point out that he had nowhere else to go and this was his room in the first place. "We need to talk."

Zero glared. He'd not missed the heat that darted through Kaname's dark eyes, nor the way that look had stirred his own blood. He was simmering quickly up towards furious, because it was safer than the other feelings also simmering close under the surface.

"I cannot think of a single thing I want to talk about with you. And since this seems to be a difficult concept for you to grasp, I will speak slowly and use small words. GET. LOST. Bathroom's all yours. I'll be done changing in a minute, all right?"

Zero bent and picked up his fallen clothes again, holding the towel at his waist self consciously with one hand to make sure it stayed in place. Pointedly ignoring Kuran, he headed over to the opposite side of the room. Zero wished this were his room back at the academy, because then he would have had drawers to rummage in or something he could make up as a reason to continue visibly ignoring the pureblood sitting on the bed. But the hotel room was small, featureless and devoid of any suitable objects to distract his attention.

Kaname smiled faintly, watching Zero search without success for something to do. It would have been amusing to simply remain there in silence and see how long it took the other boy to give up and pay attention to him simply because ignoring him was becoming too awkward. Under normal circumstances, that was exactly what he would have done. But Kaname wasn't here to play games and he didn't want to make Zero squirm anymore than he already was, not this time.

The fact was... the pureblood felt a kernel of remorse gnawing at him, and more than a kernel of confusion. He did not blame Zero for being angry. He wasn't sure the other boy understood what had happened between them... for that matter, Kaname wasn't sure he understood it himself, not really. In many ways he was stumbling around in the dark just as much as Zero was, only Kaname could never admit it. He didn't have that luxury. He always had to be in control... even when he wasn't, even when it meant acting like he understood and was comfortable with things that felt infinitely out of control and awkwardly confusing.

"I got you some new clothes," Kaname patted the small bundle beside him. The stack was tall enough that he had obviously gotten some for himself as well, although he had not yet changed. "Zero, what happened between us is nothing to be ashamed of..." Kaname tried to break the ice pragmatically.

Zero glared daggers at the wall, intentionally not looking over towards the pureblood. He wanted the clothes, wanted to get dressed, but he couldn't do that with Kuran sitting there, and getting any closer to the pureblood was out of the question. Zero felt so damn vulnerable like this.

"I understand this is difficult for you," Kaname was trying to be calm and reasonable, although it came off as a bit condescending. "You have been reared in a human world. But you have to understand that there are differences between human society and vampire society, large differences in what is and isn't acceptable..."

"Differences? Differences? Oh now there's a real shock!" Zero cut him off, rounding on the pureblood, eyes snapping fire. Kaname remained infuriatingly silent and unmoved under his glare, staring back with that damn, inscrutable look that made the ex-human feel like he was a bug under a microscope. Zero ran a hand down his face. He had to stop letting the pureblood push his buttons and try to put this behind them. He definitely did not wish to continue this conversation.

"Look... I get it, okay? What happened was just... funky vampire stuff. You took what you needed from me, we can all move on with our lives, end of story. So will you please just go in the other room so I can get ready for bed?" he ground out quietly, trying to be rational, although it wasn't easy. Before last night, Zero would have thought nothing of changing in the same room as Kaname. They were both guys, after all. But now... no way.

Kaname's face registered a fleeting moment of something that might have been pain. You took what you needed from me. Yes. The unvarnished truth was that he had. And he had intended to do so from the beginning, although not to the extent that it had ended up. But the way Zero said it...

Kaname was making no motion to leave anytime soon, so Zero stormed silently back towards the bathroom where he could put a door between them.

Kaname was suddenly beside him, grasping Zero's arm to hold him back. "Wait, Zero..." there was this weird ache in his chest that irritated the hell out of him and yet, it wasn't irritation that showed in his eyes as he looked at the other, trying to sort out what was running through his heart and mind.

Zero started at the pureblood's sudden appearance and quickly tried to yank his arm away. Kaname didn't let him. The short struggle ended in Zero getting thrown down on the bed, Kaname straddling him and pinning his hands to subdue him.

"Get off! I mean it, Kuran, don't touch me!" Zero raged, his breath hitching hard in his chest.

Kaname had meant simply to restrain him until Zero had heard him out, but this was not a conducive position for clear headed thinking for either of them. Kaname realized that as fire flooded his veins at the feeling of Zero struggling and bucking underneath him. It would be so incredibly easy to strip away the damp towel around Zero's waist, to lay the beautiful body naked beneath him so he could both worship and ravage it with the fervent ardor pounding through him. Kaname's eyes dilated sharply, the color morphing unsubtly towards red. He wanted to take Zero again, right now, right here... and if the other struggled and protested, if he screamed and thrashed, it just made it all the more delicious. His desire was like blood lust, just as strong, just as dark, just as much a drive to devour and possess. He dipped his head slowly, lips running almost tauntingly along the line of Zero's neck.

Zero's struggles were getting frantic as heat hazed his brain, threatening to liquefy his bones. But he refused to capitulate. Last time... had been last time. Circumstances had been different. He'd be damned if he let Kaname think this could continue, that he was somehow his for the taking. Murderous rage flashed in his stormy grey eyes. His wrists twisted harshly in the pureblood's iron grip. "I mean it, Kaname! I'm not some damn toy you can use whenever you feel like it!"

Kaname's eyes flashed darkly and he felt the strong desire to show Zero just how wrong he was... Already, despite Zero's words, he could feel the other's resolve crumbling, feel the heat radiating off the other boy's body and smell the scent of his arousal.

Zero's heart was thudding wildly. He saw Kaname's intentions flare in those blood red eyes. He was terrified... and aroused beyond belief. Any measure of peace he'd tried to get before was gone. His body arched fiercely for the pureblood, so badly it was hard to draw breath. But he didn't want this! He didn't!

"You've got no right to make me feel this way!" Zero bit out darkly, desperately, even as his struggles weakened, his eyes clenching shut. Sickening hopelessness flooded him. It was impossible to fight Kaname. He was physically incapable of stopping the pureblood from doing whatever the hell he pleased.

Something in Zero's words or maybe the desperate tone pulled Kaname up short.

Dungeon walls. Chains. He was screaming. Not from pain on this rare occasion, but that just made it worse. Ichijo had his hand down the captive pureblood's pants, torturing him in a different way as he sucked, licked and bit up one side of Kaname's neck and down the other, draining his already drained body harshly but forcing Kaname to reel with sickening pleasure the whole time, while denying him any kind of release. The gag chocked Kaname as he keened helplessly in frustrated, aroused torment. He couldn't speak around the bit in his mouth, but the accusation was clear in his glazed, burning eyes. "You've no right to do this to me, to make me feel this way, Ichijo... no right..."

The pained look speared clearly across Kaname's smooth features again as the dark, hideous memory effectively threw a bucket of cold water on his fire. There were other memories too, even darker, from longer ago... scars that ran so deep he'd tried to cut them out of his mind and heart entirely. Kaname fumbled and froze. What was he doing? He couldn't do this to Zero... well, he could but he shouldn't.

Sometimes he was no better than Zero. It felt like there were two natures inside him too. There was the ruthless, hungry nature born of his blood and his ancestors – the one that said quite convincingly that having the strength and ability to do something meant he had the right to do it and understood nothing beyond satisfying his own wants. And then there was the gentler more pragmatic nature that usually, if inexplicably, seemed to rule his heart. The one that looked at the bigger picture and understood that sating a momentary desire could cause unwanted collateral damage in the long run. The one that whispered dangerously in his ear that might did not make right, and that life existed for reasons other than to serve his purposes. Although normally the two natures honed one another and functioned in a complex state of checks and balances, they did not always rest easily side by side.

Kaname's head dropped, forehead resting against Zero's chest for a moment as he struggled with himself. He screwed his eyes shut tightly. Why couldn't Zero just understand? Kaname wasn't asking so much of him... why couldn't he get past his human hang-ups and accept this for what it was? Maybe Zero could try to hold to illusions that this attraction between them had been a onetime thing, but Kaname already knew better. This hunger inside him... it wasn't going to go away. The bond between them had been firmly formed and cemented, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it – especially now, after consummating it on every level. It seemed that the deeper into it they went, the deeper in it continued to pull them, like a vortex. Kaname wanted Zero. He needed him.

Zero didn't understand the change that had passed over Kaname's countenance, but he saw an opportunity and grabbed at it desperately. The ex-human brought his knee up sharply into the distracted pureblood's gut, hard enough to crack a rib and elicit a soft grunt of pain and surprise from the vampire pinning him. Zero twisted his wrists free and rolled, flipping Kaname over onto his back and reversing their positions. He was terrified, aroused and so damn angry he couldn't even see straight.

Zero hammered his fist down hard into Kaname's face, again feeling the satisfying crunch of bone as he broke something. His hunter and vampire instincts had both engaged and he knew better than to pull his punches, to think that he had anything more than a few heartbeats of opportunity before the pureblood recovered and shredded him like wet tissue paper. Zero was literally seeing red and his fist slammed down again and again as untrammeled rage and desperately confused pain and heartache pounded through him hard enough to make his pulse pound deafeningly in his ears and his chest feel like it was going to explode. The scent of Kaname's blood blossomed, feeding his agonized, ruthless frenzy. He more than expected to die at practically any moment, but at this point he didn't care.

It crashed upon Zero with odd, disassociated shock after a few moments... he was still alive, still swinging wildly... Kaname wasn't fighting back. The other vampire was obviously still conscious, the body beneath Zero tensing in pain every time his fist connected, but the pureblood was otherwise unsettlingly limp and unresisting. Kaname was just... lying there... loose fists sprawled on either side of his head, his eyes screwed shut as blood flowed down his face from nose and mouth... silently letting Zero beat the crap out of him.

Kaname breathed harshly in small little rasps. Zero was vampire strong and his head was ringing with solar flares of pain. But what was pain? Another physical sensation, like pleasure. In a small sense even this was stimulating, exciting to him in its own dark, twisted way – if only because it was Zero on the other end. Kaname didn't move, letting Zero have his way. He was only being practical. After all, fair was fair. He'd needed Zero, and he'd used him. If allowing Zero a chance to express his anger was the only recompense he could offer to settle the score between them, so be it. Perhaps he was still trying to treat this like a business deal, but it was one on which he was at least attempting to make good. It wasn't like he'd had a lot of practice with personal relationships in his life. Other than maybe Yuki, he didn't have relationships with people for the most part; he had carefully crafted acquaintances and strategic alliances. What was developing with Zero was neither carefully crafted nor strategic. It was downright dangerous and confusing. Maybe... that's part of what made it so incredibly tempting.

The taste of his own blood filled Kaname's mouth. It was unthinkable, to let anyone lay hands on a pureblood in such a manner, but what did it really matter? His body would heal. Broken bones would knit swiftly and flesh would mend without a trace. Kaname's fists balled tighter as they rested passively against the mattress. He sucked in another ragged little breath as pain throbbed sharply and nauseatingly through him, making his head feel several sizes too large. This really, really hurt. Crap... it wouldn't be so bad if Zero didn't have so much of Kaname's blood flowing through his veins.

Zero's raised fist halted, faltering for a moment then falling limply to his side as he stared down at the pureblood in incomprehension. His knuckles were stained with Kaname's blood and without really realizing what he was doing, he raised them to his lips and licked it off.

Kaname's eyes fluttered open warily when the blows failed. He saw Zero licking the blood off his knuckles as he gazed down at him and couldn't resist the hot, intense thrill that chased up his back from the base of his spine. Damn. How stupid was that? The ex-human had beaten the snot out of him, and it actually turned him on. Pathetic.

"Are you done?" Kaname asked quietly, forcing his tone to be flatly expressionless. The words mumbled slightly, broken jaw already starting to mend, but not yet healed.

The cool, unmoved tone of the pureblood's voice sent an angry little spike through Zero's chest. He felt like he had been played again, although he hardly understood how. He would never understand this freak. This beautiful... compelling... blood sucking freak. Without warning, he smashed another sharp blow down, bouncing Kaname's head off the mattress.

"Yeah, now I am," he murmured hoarsely. Shaking slightly, he climbed off of Kaname, hugging the towel he was still barely wearing to him tightly and sitting on the bed because he wasn't sure he could stand. Confused, hungry fire was still coursing through his veins, tying his stomach up in agonized knots. Yet he felt cold. He felt like his rage had burned up all his strength, leaving him feeling weak and empty. It was satisfying, seeing what he'd done to Kuran, knowing he'd made him suffer. And yet now, as his temper cooled... it was also creating a deep, hollow ache in his chest. He felt guilty. What was wrong with him? Why was he like this? Why did he become everything he hated when he was around the pureblood?

Kaname eased up slowly to sit, wincing. He pressed the back of his hand to his nose, partially staunching the flow of blood as he scooted to the edge of the bed and leveraged up to his feet.

"Where are you going?" Zero asked quietly, not looking at him.

"Washing up," Kaname returned, and he could perhaps be forgiven for the irritated iron in his tone. He kept his hand pressed against his face. The injuries were already starting to heal, but they were taking their time and he had to do something about the blood. "I'm not made of money right now; I don't want to pay for these sheets." He jerked his head towards the already slightly blood splattered bedspread. It was one of those hideously mundane burgundy flower patterned affairs that hotels often used, carefully designed to hide stains and dirt between infrequent washings. It did a fairly good job hiding castoff spatter as well, apparently.

Kaname stumbled into the bathroom and turned on the water in the sink. Leaning over, he caught the falling water in cupped hands and splashed it on his face. That was a mistake. The water was still cold and his face was still raw. He gasped softly through his teeth and cranked the hot water knob farther, almost accidentally snapping the handle off, but only cracking it slightly instead. Water leaked sluggishly from the base of the cracked handle into the sink basin. Crap.

Frustrated, Kaname leaned on the smooth edge of the sink counter, head hanging so that the water and blood dripping slowly from his face fell into the sink bowl as he waited for the water to warm up.

Zero sat on the bed as he watched Kaname through the open bathroom door. The pureblood was obviously in pain – pain which he had caused. Given the situation to repeat, Zero would probably do the exact same thing again. But that didn't mean that the more responsible, caretaker side of his nature wasn't still drawn to make sure that Kaname was all right.

Slowly, he eased off the side of the bed and made his way hesitantly back towards the bathroom. Only as he reached the door did he realize he was still wearing only the towel. He should have dressed first, but it was too late now, so he simply paused in the doorway, watching Kaname with a mix of uncertainty and wariness. "You gonna be okay?"

Kaname nodded, scooping up another handful of water and splashing it on his face again. The water was warmer this time and it stung less. "I will be fine," he replied coolly, without looking up. "My body's healing ability is not significantly compromised." Truth was he'd already taken quite a beating over the past 24 hours between the anti-vampire trap in the safe and the savage battle with Ichijo and Rido. He would mend swiftly, just not as swiftly as usual.

Zero's gaze dropped to the floor. "I'm sorry," he said after a very long pause. "You were kind of freaking me out."

"You could never have hurt me if I had not allowed it, so there is no need to apologize." Kaname reached for a towel and buried his face in it, drying off. The towel came away stained faintly with red where a cut to Kaname's lip and one below his eye were still bleeding sluggishly.

Zero's lips pinched into a hard line. Did Kaname have to make it so damn hard to try to be decent?

A spot of crimson appeared on the white tile floor, then another, and Kaname's hand went quickly back to his face, glancing towards the mirror. His lip was still bleeding, but it was his nose that was the problem, it had started up again, quite insistently. He gave a soft snort of frustration, scrubbing at the blood with his fingers as if he wasn't quite sure what to do. There wasn't a visible injury, it just kept... bleeding. He'd expected it to stop already.

Zero gave a small roll of his eyes and snatched up a washcloth, running it under the tap. "Stop that, you'll make it worse," he remonstrated with a sigh. "Come on, let me."

Zero leaned over, dabbing at Kaname's lip and nose with the damp part of the cloth. Kaname started to pull away, then seemed to change his mind and remained where he was, letting Zero blot lightly at the healing injuries, holding the cloth pressed against his nose until the bleeding stopped.

Zero resisted the very strong and very unimaginable urge to lean in and lick the blood off of Kaname's lips instead. He was glad when the tempting crimson stain finally ceased and he tossed the washcloth into the sink.

"Don't you even know how to clean up a bloody nose?" Zero mumbled as he washed his hands, trying to get the disturbingly addicting scent of Kaname's blood out of the air.

Kaname's chocolate eyes followed his motions quietly. "It has never happened to me before," he said simply, but quite seriously. Kaname was not a brawler by nature, he didn't get into fights and in any case no one would have dared hit him... or been able to if they had tried. That was not to say that he'd neverbeen struck in the face before, but when he had it had usually healed long before he had a chance to worry about cleaning up.

Zero stared at the pureblood slightly incredulously. The ex-human was what the councilors at school politely referred to as a student with 'anger management issues' – meaning that he'd had more than his share of bloody noses in his life. It wasn't that he went looking for fights... they just usually found him.

For a brief, bizarre moment, Zero realized that Kaname was so accustomed to his body's natural abilities – much like one might be accustomed to the ability to walk or talk – that if you took those away... he wondered if the pureblood would know how to survive as a human. Even more bizarre, that wakened a small, tiny little spark of a protective feeling somewhere in Zero. Wow, talk about stupid – him feeling protective of Kuran. He must definitely be losing it in the wake of everything that had happened.

"Yeah, well... now you know," Zero said as he turned away, trailing back into the other room. "Just hold the towel against it until it stops. Ice helps too, but you probably won't need that." Zero knew he had broken Kaname's nose, but it had already showed almost no signs of damage when he'd been helping him clean up just now. Must be nice.

Kaname watched Zero walk away, once again momentarily pondering the fragility of humans and even lower classes of vampires. Sometimes he felt like it was looking at butterflies... you were almost afraid to touch the colorful, fragile wings for fear you would somehow damage them irreparably. He'd always felt that way about Yuki, anyway. Such a precious flower, he feared to freeze her petals with his frost. Zero... Zero he wasn't afraid to touch. Somehow he knew he'd be all right. The ex-human had never respected or feared Kaname as a vampire ought, he'd always bared his fangs at him and shown open contempt. At first Kaname had hated him for that insolence, but time and recent events had taught him to appreciate that resilient and independent strength of spirit that the boy possessed. It made him a good ally, if a lousy subordinate. Kaname's fingertips ghosted across his still slightly swollen lower lip. Oh yeah. Zero knew how to bite back.

Zero sorted through the clothing on the bed which had gotten somewhat jumbled up during their previous altercation. He pulled out a shirt, checked the size, and went rummaging for a pair of pants. Kaname watched him from the bathroom door with quiet, unreadable eyes. Why was he cursed to feel the way he was currently feeling as he watched Zero? Why did it have to be this boy of all people? This boy, who obviously despised him, whose first reaction upon their initial meeting had been to try to stab him? Fate had a truly cruel sense of humor.

Kaname made his way over to the bed, glancing down at the clothes. He didn't know Zero's size, but they were pretty close so he'd simply gotten all his size. Zero took a few steps away as he plucked up a pair of pants, maintaining a careful few feet of distance between them. Kaname wondered if Zero thought he was going to jump him again. That would be amusing, if Kaname didn't actually want to do just that so badly.

"Is it so hard for you, to be with me?" Kaname inquired quietly, his voice tinged with irony as he cocked his head to the side. Zero had certainly seemed to enjoy himself in the warehouse, and almost anyone else would have fallen delightedly into the pureblood's arms at a mere glance.

Zero didn't understand Kaname's words and he frowned. "Well it's not like you gave me a choice," he deflected flippantly, glancing up from where he was rifling through the clothes. To his surprise, the pureblood looked like he'd been slapped.

"Zero... are you saying you think I raped you?" Kaname asked very quietly, his voice echoing with a note of hollow shock. There was no polite or delicate way to put it. The thought that Zero might feel that way both surprised and shook him. Kaname knew that his actions a few minutes ago could have been construed that way, if he'd kept going and Zero had continued to protest. He knew he would have enjoyed it, too... although he would have enjoyed it more if he was sure Zero wasn't really protesting. There was no explaining the dichotomy of his soul. Kaname wanted to make Zero scream... but he wanted Zero to want him to. In any case, Zero hadn't been protesting in the warehouse... had he? Suddenly Kaname couldn't remember clearly. He'd been so out of it after Ichijo...

Zero's face, which had finally started to cool, quickly turned an attractive shade of bright pink again. The question caught him off guard and the candor of it embarrassed the hell out of him. The ex-human spluttered slightly. It was an absurd and intensely humiliating question and Zero didn't try to figure out how to answer.

"God, Kaname!" he bristled instead, snatching up a set of undergarments from the tangle of clothes on the bed and turning to stomp off towards the bathroom. Sometimes he was sure that the pureblood lived solely to embarrass him and make his life difficult.

Kaname took Zero's reaction as an answer in itself. Oh crap... Kaname's own memories of being on the other side of unwanted attention and an unwanted blood bond swirled accusingly through his head. It hadn't been like that! It hadn't!

"I was not in a particularly stable state after Ichijo's death," Kaname admitted, his voice making Zero freeze in the bathroom doorway. "It was not my intention to... if you feel that is what happened, I suppose I'm trying to say that I'm... sorry." It was a little stiff as far as apologies went, but Kaname wasn't used to apologizing. It also didn't seem quite fair to have the responsibility for everything dumped solely on his shoulders. Zero had certainly been quite enthusiastic at the time as he recalled. For him to claim rape now was hurtful as well as insulting.

The fact that Kaname's question had apparently been serious surprised Zero, as did the fact that he had actually apologized – that wasn't like Kuran at all. The fact that Zero got the feeling Kaname truly meant it... that really surprised him.

Kaname snatched up the remaining clothes from the bed and turned away.

"Kaname..." Zero said quietly and Kaname froze, shoulders tensing slightly. Zero sighed. "That wasn't what I meant. Look, it never crossed my mind that you'd, um, you know." The last few words came out very quick and somewhat run together. Kaname may have used him, but he hadn't forced him. "So just... forget about it." Zero studiously studied the clothes in his arms.

He would never understand himself. A few minutes ago he'd been angry enough to gut the pureblood, but now... He slowly looked back up. Kaname was still standing uncertainly a few feet away. The pureblood was usually all power, grace and self assurance. Yet Zero couldn't help but sense that he had invisible scars running underneath the surface of that cool façade. Scars that ran deep enough to cripple lesser men. It was a feeling Zero understood all too well.

It was funny... Kaname could elicit quite a range of emotions from him, it seemed. Normally, it was near homicidal irritation. When Kaname was all over him, demanding and intense like he had been a minute ago, it made Zero crazy, made him burn for the pureblood like nothing else in the world. But it was rare moments like in the woods, or now, when Kaname got out of his comfort zone and seemed unsure, almost vulnerable... it was these moments made Zero feel drawn towards the other vampire, it was these moments that made a strange, deep ache tug inexplicably in his chest.

Relief shadowed very briefly through Kaname's eyes before they sealed up tight and unreadable again. But Zero had seen it. He was beginning to see a lot about the pureblood that he had never noticed before.

Zero was tired... tired of fighting, weary of the battle he felt like he was constantly engaged in with the rest of the world. The truth was, no matter how he tried to deny it, how intensely his mind and sensibilities revolted, he had never felt more alive than he did since he and Kaname had consummated this bond of theirs. He hadn't remotely come to terms with that yet, but... sometimes it was simply easier not to try.

Zero stepped away from the bathroom door again. "Come on, shower and change. You smell like death and we need to get some sleep," he said quietly as he headed across the room to the far bed.

Kaname silently slid into the bathroom and closed the door without giving him a second look, leaving Zero to quickly slip into the new boxers and t-shirt. He draped the shirt and pants across one end of the long chest upon which the TV was situated and crawled quickly into bed. Reaching over, Zero flicked off the light on the nightstand between the two beds, knowing that Kaname wouldn't need it when he came out.

Lying in the dark, he listened to the water running in the bathroom and wondered where the others were right now. It already seemed an age since he'd seen them all. Had Aido and Ichijo succeeded in getting to Kain and Ruka? Where were Yuki and the Chairman? Yuki... no, no... It was not a good idea to think of her right now. That left him feeling entirely too ashamed and guilty. But he fervently hoped that wherever she was, she was safe.

Zero winced, pressing two fingers to the base of his neck as he felt some echo of emotion from Kaname reverberate through him. He rolled onto his side, away from the bathroom and burrowed into the covers. He tried to force Kaname out of his thoughts, but it didn't work and the pureblood followed him into his dreams as he finally fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty: "Bleed for You"

"Pulse is back... no, no!" Aido was kneeling with his fingers pressed to his cousin's neck and his ear close to his mouth. Kain's heart had stopped. Again. "Takuma!" Wide blue eyes were desperate, pleading as Aido's gaze shot back towards where Ichijo was kneeling with his hands on Kain's chest.

Takuma bit his lower lip, trying to keep his hands from shaking as he crossed them over Kain's heart once more. He exhaled tensely, sending a careful little jolt of electricity into the unresponsive vampire's body, much like a defibrillator. It was hard, trying to control his power on this delicate a level. It was much easier to summon lightning bolts than to try to coax Kain's failing heart back to life. It was easier to kill than to save.

Kain's muscles contracted automatically, chest arching up towards Ichijo's hands. Aido yelped softly in pain and yanked his fingers away from Kain's neck as the charge shot through his cousin and into his own body through the brief contact.

"Hands off, Aido!" Ichijo shot Aido a half frustrated, half apologetic and worried look. Both of them felt more frazzled and shaken than they'd like to admit. Ichijo felt no movement under his hands. No rise and fall of breathing lungs or beating heart. He swore softly, somewhat raggedly and charged up again. He shot Aido a warning glance this time before he gave Kain another shock.

"Come on, Wild... come on..." Ichijo murmured under his breath, perspiration making his light brown hair cling to his brow as he bent over the other vampire. Eight times already, he'd brought Kain's heart back online. Each time, it had failed again within minutes. Now... Ichijo honestly wasn't sure he was going to be able restart it again this time. He wasn't sure it would make a difference. Kain was bad off. The condition they had found him and Ruka in was completely inhumane.

Aido's fists curled in his lap as he sat helplessly, watching Ichijo try to bring his cousin back to life. Any other time, the events of the past night would have seemed quite a lark. They'd broken into one of the most secure vampire prisons in the region and pulled off a rescue that had to be worth bragging rights for the next few centuries at least. But all of it would mean nothing if they lost Kain now.

He'd been in bad shape when they freed him, but Aido hadn't realized how bad. He'd obviously been interrogated and beaten, his vampire healing and strength intentionally kept suppressed by drugs. But he'd gotten out of his cell on his own two feet. He'd even insisted on helping support Ruka, who was also in bad shape and over whom Kain proved to be fiercely protective.

As they were making good their escape however... Kain had started showing signs that something was wrong. He was slowing, stumbling, becoming disorientated. They had all almost been caught. There hadn't been time to do anything but drag Kain out of there any way they could. In the end Aido had simply carried him over his shoulder as they were forced to make a break for it, Ichijo continuing to help Ruka, who was at least still on her feet.

By the time they had finally reached a relative place of safety... Kain had stopped breathing. Unable to stay in the street and with nowhere else to go, Ichijo had forced them an entrance into a boarded up diner. Orange signs in the dusty front windows said something about tax foreclosure. In the back, amid booths and little round tables stacked with up-ended chairs, they had spread a yellowed table cloth on the floor and laid Kain down upon it. Since then, Ichijo and Aido had been working feverishly to revive him, to keep him alive... but it wasn't looking good.

Ruka sat on the edge of one of the padded booths beside them. The way she leaned against the edge and the paleness of her skin betrayed her weakness, but the rage snapping in her cold eyes spoke only of worry and vengeance. Swollen, ugly burns and bruises traced up her right arm, disappearing under the prison shirt she was still wearing and spoiled the graceful beauty of her face where they marred her cheek and neck. Those inquisition bastards... she had damn well better heal without a scar... but right now, that wasn't what was foremost on her mind.

Kain had tried to protect her. He'd gone berserker on their interrogators when they started burning her. He'd broken free of his restraints and almost killed one of them. That's why they'd changed his drugs to keep him more subdued. That's why this was happening now. The doctors had warned them... she'd heard them in the other room, protesting the levels of anti-vampire drugs being pumped into Kain's body. They'd said it could build up in his system, could overload unexpectedly and kill him. The symptoms they'd described... it was what she was watching happen now. But their interrogators, those bastard dogs of the Council, hadn't cared. All they cared about was trying to find out where Kaname was hiding.

Ironically... she and Kain really hadn't known the answer. It didn't matter though. Even if they had, they would never have spoken. They would have died before betraying Kaname. Now it appeared possible that Kain would anyway. Ruka closed her eyes, feeling both guilty and helpless and intensely hating both sensations.

She'd told Aido and Ichijo about the drugs, but there was nothing they could do. Kain needed to be in a hospital... but considering they'd just broken him out of prison and were all currently wanted fugitives, that was not an option. Taking Kain to a hospital would be the same as turning him back over to the authorities and it would be just as sure a death sentence.

Ichijo shocked Kain again, then slowly looked up towards Aido, giving his head a little shake. It was no good... Kain's body wasn't responding anymore.

Aido's lips pinched together hard and he battled the sharp, raw sting behind his eyes. AkatsukiKain had always been there for him. Always backed him up and took his side, even when Aido knew he was being a brat. He'd always said they were more like brothers than cousins.

"No! Try again, Takuma, please..." Aido insisted. He couldn't let go.

Ichijo gave Aido an anguished but resigned look. "Aido... I'm sorry. Even if we could his heart going once more, it will just stop again. The drugs are still too strong in his system, his body can't fight them. I... I'm sorry..." his throat felt like it was swelling closed. He looked down at Kain's still form, the roguishly wild brown hair fanned limply around his pale, bruised features. This was so wrong... if only they'd gotten to him sooner, if only... His gaze was drawn back up towards Aido as the younger vampire swiftly started shoving up his sleeves.

"His body's failing because the anti-vampire element of the drug is keeping it from healing and fighting the overdose like it normally would, right?" Aido responded to the unspoken question in Ichijo's eyes as he rolled his sleeves up over his elbows. His voice was hoarse, but the young vampire had that intent look on his face that he usually got when he was working out an insanely complex physics problem. Aido pulled a small, custom Swiss knife from his pants pocket and popped out the blade.

"Aido... what are you...?"

Aido sliced a clean, deep line across his right wrist, then his left. He pressed the wounds together, blood running down his forearms and dripping off his elbows before his body swiftly started trying to repair. Aido kept the cuts pressed tightly together so they couldn't close up too fast.

"Aido!" Takuma started forward but Ruka's hand on his shoulder stopped him.

"He's trying to make a blood seal," she said softly, her voice too was a little hoarse. She knew what Hanabusa was thinking. She remembered the rainy days spent in the Aido family library when she, Akatsuki and Hanabusa were children. They would pull down the big, leather-bound books and spread them around on the floor, idly devouring histories of the vampire world, folklore, science, fairytales, philosophy... anything that struck their fancy. There'd been large volumes on charms and charm theory that had especially fascinated them and led to many experiments – some of which worked, some of which didn't, and almost all of which got them into trouble.

It was in that book that they'd read about blood seals. It wasn't something they'd ever dared try just for fun, but even after all this time she recognized the steps Aido was taking. She gripped Ichijo's shoulder tightly, not realizing she was squeezing so hard. Be careful, Aido... we're not playing anymore...

Ichijo's eyes widened slightly. He knew vaguely about blood seals, although mostly only from legend. Charms had never been much of an interest for him. His grandfather had always pushed him towards subjects like business and politics, even though he secretly detested both. "Does that really work?" he said uncertainly.

Aido was completely ignoring him, focusing on what he was doing as he placed his crossed wrists over Kain's chest, letting several drops of his blood fall onto the pale skin. He closed his eyes, chanting something softly under his breath.

"I don't know," Ruka whispered back honestly, her gaze riveted on the two cousins. "I know the theory, but I've never seen it done. Blood seals are too dangerous to attempt without great need. When a vampire creates one, they pass a certain portion of their life energy into the seal. The seal then passes that energy on to whomever it is bound to like a slow-release capsule, a little at a time. Sometimes it can create a temporary connection, allowing one vampire to draw from another's strength for as long as the seal persists. I suppose you could call it the precursor to artificial life support. Historically, before the advent of more modern medicine, the idea was to sustain life until either help could be summoned, or until the injured vampire's body had a chance to heal sufficiently on its own in order to be able to sustain his or her own life once more..." Ruka's voice was faint and distant as she explained, as if she were reciting by memory something she had read long ago. She wasn't sure she should dare hope that the ancient charm would actually work in practice, but hope was about all they had.

What she didn't tell Ichijo, was that creating a charm was especially dangerous for a novice. According to the books, it was difficult to control how much of your own energy you locked into the seal and it was easy to give too much.

Aido's wrists had stopped bleeding. He uncrossed them and used his finger to carefully create a small symbol in blood on Kain's chest, over his heart. If he could just keep Kain alive until the drugs cleared from his system, until his own natural strength returned... please let this work. Closing his eyes again, Aido pressed his palm flat over the symbol he'd drawn as he murmured the closing words of the ancient charm in the dead language in which he had learned it long ago.

There was a faint flare of light that seemed to radiate up between his fingers, momentarily illuminating this dark little corner of the shabby, abandoned diner. Then the light vanished and Aido slid silently sideways like a puppet with the strings cut, sprawling unmoving on the floor beside his cousin.

"Aido!" Ichijo cried out in alarm, quickly leaning over and rolling the blonde onto his back, fingers searching for a pulse. Ruka, who had more or less expected that to happen, slid out of her seat with difficulty and knelt by Kain.

Ichijo was relieved to feel Aido's pulse. "He's just unconscious," he told Ruka as he looked back towards her.

Ruka knew that unconscious was most likely actually more like in a coma but as long as Aido was in fact still alive, he would be all right. At least, so she hoped.

Ruka ran her fingers lightly across the mark on Kain's chest. The blood did not smear. It had not dried, but rather seemed to have turned into an immovable mark, like a tattoo. Aido had used a simplified version of the kanji for his own name. It didn't matter what shape the blood seal was formed in, but it was best if it was something personal to the one creating the seal.

Beneath the brownish-red mark... Kain's chest rose and fell hesitantly. Ruka's gaze quickly shot up to meet Ichijo's even as she checked for a pulse and put her hand by his mouth to check for air. "He's breathing! I'm getting a pulse... it's very weak, but it's there." A small thread of wonder ran through her. It had worked. It had actually worked. Her gaze slid towards where Aido lay. She had always seen him a bit like a pesky kid brother – always trailing along after her and Kain and bossing everybody around. But he had actually pulled this off, and she respected him for that.

"It worked?" Ichijo's face mirrored her wonder as he quickly scooted over to check Kain for himself. He confirmed that it was true. Kain's body was still struggling; laboring hard for every breath, for every heartbeat... but Aido's seal on his chest enabled him to live for now on his cousin's strength as the devastating drugs ran their course, slowly dissipating in his body.

Ichijo rocked back to sit on his heels, feeling incredibly drained. The past few days had been... unreal. First Aido, then Kain... If he never had to struggle to keep another person alive again, it would be too soon. He shook his head, glancing between Kain and Aido's still forms. "What do we do now?"

"We wait," Ruka replied, settling with a wince into a more comfortable sitting position on the floor. "Wait for Kain to recover enough that he no longer needs to be bound to Aido. Once he's conscious, Kain is going to need to release the blood seal. I suspect Aido put too much energy into it... he will not be able to awaken until he has been released."

Ichijo frowned, both in concern at that news and at the cool, matter-of-fact tone of Ruka's voice, but he did not comment on the latter. "What if one of them dies first, before the seal is released?" he inquired. Heaven forbid it should happen, but he was curious as well as concerned and Ruka obviously knew a lot more on this subject than he did.

"I'm not sure," Ruka admitted with a small, thoughtful frown. "If Aido died, it's possible that his remaining strength would pass into the seal and remain forever bound to Kain until perhaps it should slowly expend itself over time. It would take centuries though, I imagine. I doubt Kain would be able to dissolve it in that case because it would have no living body to which it could return. Blood seals can only be released back to those whose blood created them."

Ichijo's eyebrows went up. "You mean it would be like in the old stories, where someone would have a 'magical' mark that gave them unnaturally long life or extra power?"

Ruka nodded. "Probably. My guess would be those stories were based off the idea of blood seals, although the truth of it was lost. As I said, they were once much more common than they are now. Now if Kain died... I'm not sure if the blood seal would automatically release and pass back to Aido, or if..." Ruka hugged her injured arm a little closer to her chest. "Or if they would both die," she said quietly.

--------------------------------------

Outside the hotel, day had faded into evening, the last rays of the setting sun disappearing behind the high-rises and shopping malls.

Zero's face creased softly in pain, a familiar agony tightening his chest and piercing his slumber. His head throbbed as consciousness flittered near the edges of his awareness, but did not yet take hold. Even still mostly asleep, Zero knew what was wrong.

He was hungry.

Damn... that wasn't right... he'd drank so much of Kaname's blood not that long ago, shouldn't he be all right for a good while yet? The first time he'd drunk from Kaname, he hadn't needed blood for ages it seemed. Yet here it was... Zero's body was cramping from hunger and he felt lightheaded.

Zero stirred restlessly. As he drifted up towards full consciousness, he became aware of another sensation, only this one was warm and comfortable. Even in his aching, groggy state, it seemed somehow soothing. It took him a moment to realize that the sensation was an arm wrapped around his waist and a body snuggled up against his back. It took him another moment to realize who the arm and body belonged to and he quickly tried to scoot away and roll over.

Kaname's arm tightened instinctively around him, not letting him pull away unless he really wanted to struggle. Right now, Zero was in no condition to be struggling. Even moving was hard. The pureblood was obviously still half asleep because he murmured something unintelligible against the back of Zero's neck, his warm breath brushing softly against the bare skin.

Zero drew a long, steadying breath and stopped struggling; not wanting to turn this into a repeat of last night... or actually that would be last day he supposed. This whole nocturnal thing messed with his head.

"Kaname," he said slowly and with as much patience as he could muster considering his head felt like it was going to fall off. "What are you doing? Why are you in my bed?"

Kaname didn't seem to want to wake up yet and burrowed his face against the crook of Zero's neck and shoulder from behind, mumbling something that sounded like: "Because it's more comfortable here."

Despite how badly he was feeling, Zero almost chuckled. Kaname was too much. He seemed to have no concept of acceptable behavior and boundaries... or perhaps, his concept of them simply lay along significantly different lines than Zero's.

Rolling his eyes, Zero tried to pull away again. Kaname grumbled sleepily and rolled over onto his stomach, pulling Zero with him, his body weight shifting partially onto Zero's back. He obviously did not intend to let go.

Zero balled his fists and breathed slowly, still torn between irritation and amusement. He'd made a resolution as he drifted off to sleep some hours ago. He'd resolved he wasn't going to let Kuran get under his skin anymore and make him blow up like he had yesterday. Whatever was changing between them, it couldn't take priority over everything else that was happening. If he and Kaname stayed at loggerheads, it would only make working together that much harder and for now they needed to continue working together. So... patience was the order of the day.

"Kaname, let go, I want to get up." Zero willed himself to remain calm as he felt Kaname's head resting contentedly between his shoulder blades. Leave it to Kuran to make it so difficult for him to keep his own resolution only minutes after having woken.

Kaname lifted his head, but he didn't move just yet. Zero stiffened as he felt the vampire trailing a slow, deliberate line of kisses down his spine above the neckline of his tee-shirt. Kaname's mouth moved expertly to the side of his neck, licking and mouthing the sensitive skin warmly. Zero moaned softly into the pillow before he could stop himself, his body responding strongly to the stimulus.

"KANAME!" he snapped, irritation winning out as heat flushed through his body, making his aching head spin more fiercely.

Kaname smiled against Zero's skin as he slowly teased Zero's neck with his teeth, feeling the other boy's pulse pounding hard in his carotid artery as the pureblood traced it with his tongue. He knew they had to get up, that there was much serious work ahead, but it was so comfortable here and it was much, much too enjoyable to elicit these reactions from Zero. He'd tried to stay away, he'd started off in his own bed... and he'd tossed and turned for hours. Zero was just too close... the draw too strong. He hadn't been able to sleep until he'd slid into bed and curled up against the other's back.

"But you're hungry, Kiriyu..." he murmured persuasively against Zero's neck. "I can feel it. You need to feed..." Kaname's mouth moved inexorably against Zero's neck, gliding up behind his ear and teasing the curved lobe sensually. Teeth and tongue played with Zero's earrings, enjoying the contrast of warm, soft skin and cool, hard metal. Kaname's hand slid up Zero's side under the thin cotton t-shirt he was wearing.

Zero shuddered, fists curling into the sheets as intense heat mingled with his equally intense hunger, almost overpowering his senses. He couldn't breathe when Kaname did this to him, and it had nothing to do with the pureblood's weight on his back. He resisted the urge to whimper. He was so hungry... feeling Kaname tease him like this was almost unbearable.

Kaname should have had the decency to feel at least a little guilty. He was well aware why Zero was hungry. Snuggling with Zero wasn't all he'd done while the other was asleep. He'd needed to feel connected... to stop the aching in his chest, and drinking Zero's blood seemed the least obtrusive way to accomplish that. He'd made sure he hadn't even disturbed the other's rest.

Now, though... it was just too tempting... too tempting to use Zero's needy state to his advantage. Kaname was hungry too... he was aching too... just not for blood. When pureblood mates bonded physically as well as by blood, it was usually followed by a month or two of devoting intense, almost undivided attention to one another. The 'honeymoon' period some jokingly called it, when no one expected them to do much of anything but be together. The desire was practically hard-wired into them, and Kaname was physically aching from trying to repress that need, from the distance Zero kept imposing between them.

Zero's human heritage apparently shielded him from the worst of that particular ache, but at least there was some way in which he needed the pureblood... and Kaname was not about to not use that.

Kaname lathed the sensitive skin behind Zero's ear with his tongue and lips, his hand sliding further up Zero's body until his long fingers captured a nipple, playing with it slowly as Zero lay trapped between him and the mattress.

Zero did whimper this time, he couldn't help it. His head tipped to the side against the pillow, giving Kaname more access as his fingers knotted tighter in the sheets. He felt so dizzy... and yet, his hunger for blood merely fed his hunger for Kaname, increasing his responsiveness to the other's incredible, damnable touch. He hated what his hunger did to him, what it turned him into... but maybe, a small voice whispered, maybe it didn't turn him into anything. Maybe it merely forced him to face the feelings and desires that he otherwise tried so hard to bury and deny.

"I hate you..." Zero gasped softly as he felt himself melting under Kaname's intense attentions, as he felt desire mingling with hunger, burning up his body and brain and consuming his soul. His tone did not entirely match his words.

"I know..." Kaname murmured back seductively as he nipped lightly at the delicious, pale skin, holding Zero to his chest as he worried first one nipple and then the other with his warm, skilled fingers. Every fiber of his being felt alive, heat throbbing through his veins like lava. He knew time was a commodity that was precious, but he didn't need much time. He just needed... he felt Zero's body shudder against him and he groaned softly, almost desperately. He just needed this.

Kaname's free hand slid up to his own neck, neatly drawing a few drops of blood with his fingernails. He felt Zero stiffen in his arms. There was a brief moment of internal struggle as Zero obviously tried to fight his needs and his instincts. Then he let them have their way. He twisted in Kaname's grip and the pureblood allowed him roll over onto his back.

The silver eyes were blood red as they looked up at him and Kaname felt his chest tense in a rush of almost unbearable heat. Zero's mouth was at his neck in a heartbeat. The ex-human sucked warmly against the curve of Kaname's throat, licking up the stray drops of blood before hungrily biting down and starting to draw.

Relief and heady delight flooded Zero's senses as the warm blood rushed into his body. Nothing else on earth tasted this good or made him feel this incredible. He knew. He knew he was well and truly addicted to Kaname's blood. Nothing else would ever taste the same or satisfy as deeply. Under the influence of that heady tonic, he seemed to lose all control and restraint... and he liked it.

Zero became aware that Kaname was naked against him under the sheets, only the thin layer of his own shirt and boxers separating them. This would have angered or embarrassed him a few minutes ago, but just at the moment, the realization sent a deep spike of arousal through his already aroused body. Heaven forgive him, he wanted the pureblood, and it was just too damn hard to pretend he didn't, even to himself.

Kaname shuddered in delight and slid one hand behind Zero's head, tangling in his hair and cupping him close as he fed. The other hand slid down beneath Zero's boxers, finding hard, straining flesh and lavishing it with single-minded attention.

Zero arched and groaned harshly against Kaname's skin, his fangs tearing the pale flesh as he jerked. Kaname cursed softly, but it was in pleasure. His breath rasped against the side of Zero's face as he pushed the soft cotton boxers down Zero's hips, rocking urgently against his lover's thigh. It drove him crazy when Zero drank his blood and he was nearly shaking from the passionate strength of the desire pounding through him.

Zero gripped Kaname's shoulder with one hand, fangs still buried in his neck as his other hand swiftly slid down the pureblood's stomach and curled around the arousal pressing so hungrily against him. Every muscle in Kaname's body seemed to tighten and Zero felt the pulse under his mouth increase in speed, Kaname's blood spilling faster into his body as Zero mimicked what Kaname was doing to him upon the pureblood's body.

Kaname inhaled sharply and groaned Zero's name into the other's hair. The ex-human was completely undoing him. He pushed Zero's boxers all the way out of the way and settled quickly between the other's legs, burning and aching for relief.

Zero's whole body responded to the way Kaname reacted as he pleasured him. The hunter's eyes clenched and he breathed raggedly, blood dribbling down his chin and Kaname's chest as the pureblood's intentions became obvious. He growled softly in his throat. Kaname thought he could do whatever he wanted, get whatever he wanted... obviously, he was usually right. But Kaname was going to have to give a little if he wanted to keep taking. Maybe Zero had to face that he couldn't fight this intense attraction between them... but he wasn't going to always roll over for the pureblood either. He wanted Kaname... intensely.

Sliding his fangs free, Zero lathed the puncture wounds he'd made with his lips and tongue as they closed up. Kaname twisted his head, fingers knotted in Zero's hair as he hungrily pulled Zero's mouth to his, licking his own blood off the other boy's lips before he sought a deep kiss. Zero returned the kiss heatedly, claiming the pureblood's mouth possessively.

Zero's knees hugged Kaname's hips, legs tangling with the pureblood's as he rolled them over. He straddled the lithe body beneath him, his hands sliding up Kaname's sides and along his arms, guiding them up so that Kaname's hands rested on either side of his head. It took Zero's breath away, the picture Kaname made lying on the white sheets, dark hair spilling around his face, eyes glazed with desire.

Kaname breathed heavily in fevered delight as Zero's hands slid over his skin and their bodies moved and clashed against one another in a disordered rhythm that was half dance, half battle. They rolled back and forth on the bed in a heated tangle, unable to get enough of each other, bodies pressing and straining together in hungry, wanton desire, causing the mattress springs to squeak in unheeded protest.

Zero bit Kaname again as they tussled and the pureblood howled, his keyed up body almost cramping with head-spinning bliss. Ending up on top of Kaname once more, Zero trailed hot kisses and bites down the side of his neck, pumping the pureblood demandingly in his fist.

Kaname bucked on the mattress, eyes clamping shut with another muttered, fervent curse. He felt like molten putty with every sense on fire and screaming. He was already very close to the edge and his body ceded willingly to Zero's earnest, if unskilled manipulation. The pureblood didn't seem to even register at first what was happening when Zero rolled him onto his stomach and leaned over the pureblood's back. Pushing Kaname's legs apart with his knees, Zero kept the slim hips slightly raised off the mattress, one arm wrapped around the pureblood's waist so his hand could continue its devastating work. The other arm supported his weight as he buried his face against the side of Kaname's neck, sucking and nibbling.

Kaname finally seemed to realize the position he'd just been maneuvered into and he stilled slightly as if his brain was trying to play catch-up and not really succeeding because his body was taking all his attention. He started to try to push up, but Zero gave him a sharp little warning bite, leaning his weight more fully upon the other's back. Of course, Kaname could throw him off if he really tried, but pushing Zero away was definitely the farthest thing from his mind.

Zero moved against him, making thought impossible. Kaname's body remained tense and uncertain for a few heartbeats. Giving up control in any situation wasn't easy for him, but desire and the bone-deep ache to feel Zero, to share everything with him, swiftly liquefied his hesitation. Kaname relaxed, forehead falling to rest on his crossed arms as he leaned on the mattress. He rocked back against Zero, gritting his teeth and gasping in equal amounts of raw delight and agony as his lover claimed him.

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"Nghh..." Kain muttered groggily as he rolled onto his elbow and pushed up to sit. He shook his head and then held it in his hands. He felt like he had the world's worst hangover, but it was a significant improvement over how he'd been feeling last time he recalled. Ichijo and Ruka were both trying to explain to him what had happened at the same time but the pounding in his head was keeping the words from making a lot of sense, although he got the general gist. They were safe, they were hiding out, and he'd almost died.

Kain glanced down at himself. His chest felt strange... warmHis shirt was hanging open and he could clearly see the little mark tattooed over his heart. His foggy eyes widened as he read the upside-down kanji and looked quickly around for his cousin. He knew instantly what Aido had done, without the explanation that the other two were trying to provide.

"Aido, you crazy little..." Kain muttered as he quickly pulled himself over and laid his hand on his comatose cousin's shoulder. "What were you thinking?"

"Kain... maybe you should wait until you're-" Ruka tried to warn him, but Kain shook his head, cutting her off. His free hand was already pressed against the mark on his chest. He appreciated what Aido had done for him, but he wasn't about to let the seal remain a moment longer. He was conscious and moving under his own power, obviously his body was getting over the near fatal overdose.

"Eximo signum cruentus recidivus," Kain murmured quietly, forcing himself to concentrate around his pounding headache. "Vivificus... vivificus..." he trailed off with a frown. His head felt three times too large and the memories he were pulling upon were many years old. "Damn," he had to break off, turning to glance over his shoulder towards the other two. He looked both worried and chagrined. "Ruka...?"

"Vivificus munificator saecula saeculorum expedio," Ruka finished it quietly for him.

Kain looked relieved that she remembered and turned back to Aido, starting over and completing the whole phrase this time. As he finished, the mark under his fingers glowed softly, the light seeming to travel down his arm as it flowed back into Aido's body. When Kain pulled his fingers away, the mark on his chest was gone.

Aido groaned and stirred, eyes fluttering open and fixing on Kain where the other was now leaning heavily against the base of the booth beside them. He looked pale and drawn, but definitely alive. Aido smiled blearily. "Ha!" he mumbled as he tried unsuccessfully to sit up. "I always told you it would really work. You didn't believe me."

Kain rolled his eyes and chuckled. "You idiot."

Ichijo's pocket vibrated silently and he started, quickly pulling out the cell phone. Only a few people would be calling him on this number. He answered quickly, spoke a few words and then flipped the phone closed again.

The others were looking at him expectantly.

"Chairman Cross," he answered their unspoken question. "He's been in touch with Kaname and they've established our regroup point. He just told me where to meet them."

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Kaname had been wrong about how long they would need. Once started, it took quite a while for him and Zero to get their fill of one another. They made love for well over two hours, losing track of how many times they came to ecstasy in one another's arms. Exhausted and sated, they finally collapsed together in a sweaty tangle on the rumpled bed.

Kaname's chest heaved as he lay sprawled on his back, so deliciously spent it almost hurt. Zero lay beside him, one arm draped across Kaname's waist, his own rapid breathing stirring the pureblood's dark hair. The ex-human hadn't even thought it was physically possible to do what they'd just done, so many times, but damn... it had been incredible.

"I think you're gonna have to pay for these sheets anyway..." Zero muttered wryly when he finally had enough breath to do so. They were ripped and blood stained and probably looked like someone had been murdered on them.

Kaname chuckled breathlessly, running a hand through his damp, tangled hair as he gazed up at the ceiling. "Totally worth it," he replied with a lazy smile.

Zero sighed quietly, his hand sliding up to rest on Kaname's chest. He felt the pureblood's heart beat under his palm, his fingers absently tracing delicate patterns against Kaname's flushed skin. The sick feeling he'd had after their first encounter was eerily absent. Yesterday he'd wanted to beat the crap out of Kaname for touching him... today... it felt strangely okay. Zero decided he must be losing his mind. But he was too tired and felt too good to care.

"Kaname... what are we going to do?" he finally asked quietly, a serious note creeping into his tone. Zero couldn't pretend things were going to go back to the way they were anymore. Obviously... that was proving to be impossible. Maybe that's what Kaname had been trying to tell him yesterday. He simply hadn't wanted to listen. "This is insane. You know it is. We can't keep this up." There was a loud unspoken but... at the end of that statement.

"I don't know," Kaname admitted thoughtfully, his fingers combing slowly through Zero's hair. "We'll figure something out. Perhaps this is so strong between us because of the transference from Ichijo's passing..." he speculated absently. "Perhaps it will pass with time." Deep down, he sincerely doubted it, but he couldn't bring himself to face that, nor was he about to mention that possibility to Zero.

"And if it doesn't?" Zero was apparently already thinking about that possibility anyway.

"Then we'll figure something out," Kaname repeated simply. What else could he say? He didn't know what to do about this anymore than Zero did. But one thing he already knew... he couldn't give Zero up.

Kaname glanced absently towards the clock on the nightstand, his gaze drifting away again only to swiftly jerk back that direction. He muttered a curse as he swiftly sat up and swung his legs off the side of the bed.

Zero pushed himself up to his elbows, staring questioningly at the pureblood. "What?"

Kaname hadn't realized just how long they'd been caught up in one another. It truly had not felt like almost three hours. "I told Chairman Cross and anyone else he could get hold of to meet us here in..." Kaname glanced back towards the clock again as he quickly searched for and found the clothes he'd set aside for himself before going to sleep. "Fifteen minutes."

Zero scrambled out of bed, an alarmed look on his face. "WHAT? Why on earth would you-"

"Well I didn't exactly count on this," Kaname pointed out in mild exasperation as he quickly stripped the sheets off the bed and snatched up his and Zero's ruined clothes from the previous night, bundling them all together. Bed coverings he could pay for, but with the possibility of other vampires showing up... the distinct scent of his and Zero's passion clinging their old clothes and the sheets could not be allowed to remain. "Hurry up and shower, I'll get rid of these. We've both got to wash before they arrive."

Zero was already scrambling quickly for the bathroom, hastily gathering up his clothes as he went. Despite his own feeling of desperate urgency, he still couldn't help grinning at the tone in Kaname's voice. It was so rare to see the pureblood actually slightly flustered.

"Wanna share the shower? Save time..." Zero called over his shoulder, only realizing a moment later how counter-productive that would most likely turn out to be.

Kaname stopped in his tracks, a shiver running down his spine and heat rushing unhelpfully to his groin. "No, it wouldn't," he ground out between his teeth.

The muffled sound of Zero's mirth disappeared into the bathroom as he quickly turned on the shower and reached for the soap.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-One: " Secrets, Secrets "

Kaname and Zero were both freshly scrubbed, dressed and ignoring one another studiously by the time the others arrived. Kaname had wanted to avoid meeting anyone in their room and so he and Zero had taken a table in the hotel's sleepy little bar and grill, which was adjacent to the lobby and allowed them to see when familiar faces appeared.

The Chairman and Yuki arrived first. Kaname was his usual, collected self as he greeted them, rising and pulling out a chair for Yuki at the end of the table, next to where he was sitting. He smiled, commenting softly and sincerely that he was glad to see her looking better than when they'd parted.

Yuki, who was indeed looking much more like her usual self again after having recovered from the worst of her earlier gas exposure, smiled at Kaname and Zero as she took the seat offered her. She was deeply relieved to see that both her friends were still in one piece. She and her father had watched the newscast from the previous night and she'd been deeply worried ever since. Kaname and Zero had both looked so bloodied and beat up on camera. The Chairman repeatedly assured her that they would be fine, but only now, seeing for herself that they were well, could she truly relax.

Truthfully... the danger they had faced aside, she'd also been somewhat concerned about the two of them attempting to work together without killing each other. It pleased her to see the pureblood and the hunter sitting peaceably together like they had been when Kaname had flagged her and the Chairman into the small restaurant. She'd always wished that the two most important people in her life could get along with one another.

Zero couldn't quite muster Kaname's level of nonchalance. The instant he saw Yuki walk into the room, his heart sank like a stone. It had been so easy a little while ago, to allow the spell that the pureblood seemed to weave over him to completely cloud his reason – to live in whatever weird, distorted reality it was that he and Kaname had found themselves in and simply pretend that it had nothing to do with the rest of his life. Seeing Yuki quickly brought him crashing back to reality.

His insides knotted and he sipped intently at the soft drink he'd been nursing since coming in here to wait. The cold drink curdled uneasily in his stomach, but it gave him something to do other than meet Yuki's gaze until he'd tamped his feelings down hard enough to be able to look up and briefly return her smile of greeting.

Yuki's gaze lingered on him in concern and Zero felt like squirming. She knew him much too well. He knew she was just worried about him, but his own conscience made him feel like she must be able to see right through him and somehow just know. It wasn't bad enough that he was in love with her and sleeping with someone else... no, to top it off he was doing it with her almost-boyfriend. He knew how Yuki felt about Kaname, he'd known for years. He felt like a complete heel.

Kaname could clearly sense the discomfort and guilt rolling off the boy beside him as he retook his seat at the table. It was quite distracting, although his expression and demeanor didn't falter or show any outward change. But Zero's feelings echoed across their bond and unsettled him. He hadn't really felt guilty before this moment. Embarrassed, yes, confused, definitely... but adding a new layer of guilt to the mix was not pleasant. Those were Zero's feelings, not his, he should just ignore them... but he couldn't help feeling a little stab of his own as he looked at Yuki with Zero's human viewpoint echoing in the back of his consciousness.

She wasn't like him. She was human. Like Zero used to be. Would she feel as Zero did, if she knew? It was one of the hard questions he'd not let himself contemplate over the past 24 hours or so. In his mind, what he felt for Yuki and what he felt for Zero were completely separate entities that did not affect one another. Realistically, he knew he couldn't expect her to understand that, even though for some reason, he expected Zero to. Now though, a sick little twist nagged in his gut. He still wasn't sure how she was dealing with finding out his connection to her past, to add this on top... Would she hate him? Kaname had no idea how he would deal with that. He cared very little what most people thought of him – not at all in fact. But Yuki... he had come to depend on her affection ever since she was a baby. For years, she had been his only source of unconditional kindness. To lose that...

The thought was much too painful, so Kaname quickly swept it away. There was no reason she needed to know. It had nothing to do with her, despite what Zero obviously thought, and what the funny ache he was ignoring in the back of his own heart said. She should be protected from things that would cause pain after all. Surely, Kiriyu would understand that too...

"You two made all the news channels," the Chairman's for once delightful obliviousness was a welcome distraction as he too took a seat, across from Kaname. Cross nodded towards the pureblood. "Your little rooftop interview is all anyone's talking about. Rido's gone into hiding. The Hunter's association has called off its orders for your detention. The Council is scrambling to do damage control. There's been no official word yet, but I don't doubt that when they realize they can stall no longer, they will drop their investigation against you in the face of overwhelming public outrage." Cross smiled ironically. He was an idealist, but he also understood the practical realities of politics quite well, which for now were once again working in their favor.

Kaname returned a small, mirthless smile of satisfaction. It was as he'd expected. At least something was going to plan.

"What's this? You're more famous than you already were?" Ichijo's voice made them look up as he, Kain, Aido and Ruka made their way over towards the table. Kaname was still masking his presence, but they'd picked up on his scent in the lobby and followed it in here. The four were casually dressed, no longer looking much like prison escapees.

Kaname had known they were approaching, but he still looked up, gaze quickly taking them all in, lingering momentarily on Kain and Ruka. Kain was still pale and bruised, leaning with attempted casualness on his cousin's shoulder. Ruka was wearing a stylish scarf wrapped around her head and neck, but it couldn't completely hide the still healing burns. Kaname knew they had suffered because of their loyalty to him. It bothered him more than he wanted to admit. He gestured for the new arrivals to take a seat.

Ichijo pushed the nearest table over to create more room and Zero scooted quickly aside so that the vampire could push that table up against their own, creating one long table suitable for seating all of them. He used the excuse to move across the table from Kaname, putting a little more distance between them as the other four took their seats. Ichijo dragged a chair over next to Kaname, Ruka sat beside him, Kain took the end of the table and Aido dropped down into the chair beside Zero remarking on how starved he was.

Ichijo sniffed slightly, reflexively. Something in Kaname's scent as he sat down next to him was... off... somehow.

"Dare I hope this means we're not all fugitives anymore?" Kain asked wryly. Acute hearing made it easy for them to keep their conversation private without straining to hear one another.

"I would think so, soon at least," the Chairman said with an amused smile.

"But we will still need to be careful," Kaname cautioned. "Rido's plans have been twice thwarted. His position will only get worse if the Council is forced to denounce him as a renegade and a murderer, which they most certainly will have to do sooner or later. He still has all of Ichijo's resources at his command right now, and he will no doubt try to strike back before that situation has a chance to change."

Ichijo tried not to flinch inwardly at the sound of his own family name. He wanted to ask Kaname what had happened with his grandfather... but he didn't. He looked down at his hands where they rested on the table, feeling somewhat awkwardly out of place suddenly.

Kaname's fingers touched his arm, making the aristocrat almost jerk as he quickly looked over, realizing that he'd zoned out slightly. He saw immediately in the pureblood's eyes that Kaname knew exactly what he'd just been thinking. They'd known each other too long. Long enough that just the quiet look in Kaname's gaze told Ichijo that no one here held his family's actions against him.

"Asato's dead, Takuma," the pureblood said quietly. "For your sake, I'm sorry."

Ichijo simply nodded, swallowing quickly. Somehow, he'd already known. "I'm not," he murmured back, eyes holding Kaname's fiercely for a moment before the pureblood gave a small return nod and directed his attention back to the others.

Ichijo's gaze lingered for a moment on Kaname. There it was again, that odd scent. He'd grown up with Kaname, so he of all people was very accustomed to the pureblood's particular scent. Today it was different. There was an oddly... human smell about him. Actually, the funny thing was that he kind of, almost smelled a bit like Zero. Ichijo's gaze flittered briefly in the ex-human's direction. The hunter was slouched in his chair and hadn't spoken since they'd arrived, but that was hardly unusual.

"You're right, of course," Chairman Cross agreed with Kaname's earlier assessment. "Rido is going to be trying his hardest to find you swiftly. I trust you've stashed anything that could be located at a safe distance?" he inquired, somewhat as an afterthought. He knew Kaname was almost certainly already way ahead of him.

Kaname nodded. Of course he had. Anti-vampire weapons like Zero's gun were made of special alloys that could make them easy to locate if someone had the resources and the right kind of scanning equipment. Of course, you had to have a budget that could afford those resources, but with Ichijo's money, Rido currently did.

Kaname tried to keep from glancing towards Zero. He could almost sense Ichijo's subtle scrutiny, but was trying not to read anything into it.

"Kiriyu and I stashed all our gear and weapons in a bus locker downtown," Kaname patted the key in his shirt pocket. Ridding themselves of their backpacks, equipment and rappelling gear had only been prudent. With the investigation into the Ichijo break-in still ongoing, it wasn't wise to be toting all that around with them, especially if they wanted to keep a low profile.

The waitress came over to take their orders. Once she left, Aido, who was sitting next to Zero, leaned over and gave the other's hair a curious sniff. Zero shot him an odd look, raising one eyebrow and leaning away slightly as if he thought the blonde vampire's sanity might be wanting.

Aido was unconcerned, merely giving another small sniff. He was naturally curious and prone to saying whatever went through his head. "Hey, Kiriyu, you smell funny," he remarked. "Not bad though. Kind of good actually. You smell like K-"

"I think we should remain here, at the hotel tonight, perhaps tomorrow as well. It's an acceptable neutral location while we wait for the Council to make up their minds," Kaname interrupted smoothly, cutting Aido off quickly.

Strangers would never have noticed a thing different about the two of them, but these particular vampires were apparently much too familiar with both he and Zero for comfort.

Strangers would never have noticed a thing different about the two of them, but these particular vampires were apparently much too familiar with both he and Zero for comfort.

"Shouldn't we be trying to find Rido?" Aido inquired, easily distracted. He was used to having Kaname ignore the fact that he'd been speaking, although he was still puzzled and slightly amused by the oddity of having Zero actually smelllike a real vampire. It just didn't fit him somehow.

Ichijo saw the dodge for what it was and what had a moment ago been a passing curiosity became a much more solid confusion.

"Yes and no," Kaname replied, finishing what was left of the ruby colored plum wine in his glass. Kaname liked dissolving his blood tablets in wine; it made the chalky flavor slightly more agreeable. The waitress had not carded him when he ordered. They almost never did, despite his youthful looks – something about him discouraged disagreement.

Zero was glaring intently down at his soft drink, swirling the ice with his straw. Ichijo noticed with a small start that the tips of his ears were pink. He was flushing and trying desperately to hide it. Why...?

No one else besides Yuki seemed to notice. The other vampires usually didn't pay Kiriyu much attention if he wasn't threatening them. Yuki, however, shifted uneasily in her seat as she glanced towards Zero. She knew that Aido and Kaname knew Zero was a vampire, but the others didn't. She thought this was what Aido was teasing Zero about and what was making Zero uncomfortable. She glared quietly at the blonde vampire seated next to her friend, although he remained oblivious of her displeasure.

"Finding the body in which Rido's consciousness currently rests is a waste of effort. That Rido will find us, soon enough," Kaname was still speaking. He was contemplating kicking Zero under the table if he could get away with it without the others noticing. Did the boy have to look so damn guilty? Even Yuki was noticing something was wrong. He settled for giving Zero a little invisible push instead, just enough to get his attention without moving him.

Zero felt like someone had kicked him in the chest and his dark gaze snapped up quickly towards the pureblood. Somehow he just knew who was responsible, and the fleeting, annoyed look that Kaname settled upon him confirmed it. The ex-human's gaze snapped ire for a moment before he quickly looked away again. This was hard enough; couldn't the damn pureblood leave him alone? Didn't he realize that any contact from him just made it all the harder for Zero to keep his composure?

"As long as Rido is using Shiki's body, direct confrontation will do us very little good. We can kill Shiki if we have to, but Rido will merely flee back to his original form and then no doubt take a new host." Mentioning the possibility of killing his cousin was intentional, if perhaps a bit cruel. Kaname actually wanted to avoid having to harm Shiki unnecessarily, but he was trying to distract Ichijo, who appeared to be observing way too much. Kaname knew how fond Takuma was of Shiki.

It worked, but only partially. Takuma's fingers tightened around the napkin with which he had been toying absently a moment ago. His heart clenched silently. He hated thinking of Shiki trapped in the middle of all this. He couldn't stand the idea of seeing him get hurt any further. But... he also couldn't shake the funny little feeling that Kaname was actually trying to rattle him. He wasn't imagining it, there was something definitely going on. He dare not entirely let himself think what he was tempted to think, but he shot a puzzled look between Zero and Yuki, perhaps wondering for a moment what exactly it was that seemed to attract his pureblood friend to humans like these.

"We need to find where Rido's hiding his true body," Ruka quickly caught Kaname's drift. "That's what needs to be destroyed."

"But isn't it possible that he could transfer completely to Shiki if that happened?" Kain inquired. "And then we'd never be able to separate them?"

Aido shook his head. "I don't think Shiki's body would be able to handle it. He's not a pureblood and Rido is or... was. He'd probably –" he stopped himself from continuing, feeling Takuma's silently anguished gaze on him. "Um... well it's possible that it wouldn't work and Rido would simply disappear, right?" he said instead, presenting a slightly more hopeful option and glancing towards the others for support.

"It's possible," Kaname said slowly. "But not probable. Rido has possessed Shiki too long. He will not let go easily, even if it means killing his own son." Kaname wasn't trying to be cruel this time; it was simply the unfortunate facts. His uncle was ruthless and cared about no one but himself. "Since they are father and son, it's quite possible that he may be able to completely transfer, although Aido's right, a non-pureblood body will not support Rido indefinitely."

"In theory though, if we do not get rid of both his host and his original body at the same time, then if he plays his cards right, Rido could conceivably keep hopping from host to host whenever his previous one wears out, so long as he doesn't run out of relatives. If we want to save Shiki and get rid of Rido permanently then we have to be coordinated about this. Rido has to be enticed or forced to release Shiki's body at more or less the same time that someone is in place to deal with his original frame," Cross put in thoughtfully. His many years experience as a former hunter, and his long association with vampires lent him ample knowledge on this subject.

Kaname nodded his agreement. That was the same conclusion that he had reached as well.

"But the only way to get him to release Shiki is to make him at least think that Shiki's body is going to die, isn't it?" Zero pointed out, finally contributing to the conversation.

"He doesn't really have to actually die though, I mean, we could trick Rido, couldn't we?" Yuki added quickly, not really liking this whole discussion, but also noticing that Ichijo was remaining intensely quiet and withdrawn, expressive eyes showing hurt every time Shiki was mentioned.

Kaname fixed her with a gentle look. "That's what we will definitely try to do, Yuki," he promised, although it was as much for Ichijo as for her. He honestly wasn't certain they would be able to accomplish that end, but he would certainly try to plan it all out towards that goal if at all possible. "First, however, we have to establish where Rido has his original body hidden."

"That's not going to be easy," Zero pointed out. "If it's so important to him, he's going to be keeping it well hidden."

"Zero's right," Cross agreed. "But he's also going to be compelled to keep it somewhere close to him for the same reason. He can't risk being too far away in case anything happens."

Their food arrived and the conversation quickly dropped off while their waitress was within earshot.

Kaname felt too tense to have much appetite, but he ate anyway. Zero did the same, resisting the urge to just push his food around his plate with his fork while wishing he could escape.

It was going to be a long night.

--------------------------------------

Kain emerged from the shower, still toweling off his hair. He was barefoot, but wearing trousers in deference to the fact that Ruka was in the room.

After eating they had all split up on different missions for a long night's work of information gathering. Now, a few hours before dawn, the vampires were getting ready to settle down for the day. In deference to the fact that the human world worked on a different schedule than theirs, they probably weren't going to get more than a few hours sleep before they needed to be up and about again in order to track leads that required human businesses and contacts to be awake. Sometimes trying to accommodate the human world was a real pain. Aido had remarked more than once that he didn't know why they couldn't conduct business at night like civilized people.

Technically Kain and Aido were sharing a room, Ichijo was in Chairman Cross's room and Ruka and Yuki, as the only two women, were together. Kaname had made the arrangements for them before they arrived. But with work done and not quite yet ready go to go bed, Kain, Aido and Ruka had naturally gravitated quickly into the same room. Ichijo had joined them, although he was unusually quiet and withdrawn.

He wondered where Kaname was right now. He expected that the pureblood had a room by himself – Kaname was a very private person. But... he couldn't help noting that no additional provisions had been made for Kiriyu, who could have easily been fitted in with either Kain and Aido or himself and the Chairman.

"Ah... finally got the scent of your blood off me, Aido. I swear I thought it was going to make me sick all through dinner..." Kain teased his cousin, tossing the towel carelessly in Aido's direction. Aido dodged and the towel hit the wall. Kain's bruises were fading and he was beginning to look much better. Ruka was as well.

Aido shot Kain a wry glare. "Nah, that was Kiriyu you were smelling, I'm sure," he retorted. "Hey Ichijo, I feel sorry for you. You got stuck with him and the Chairman, huh?"

Ichijo just shrugged, not confirming or denying.

Kain made an odd face. "Is he? I didn't know you had Kiriyu in there too. Well, you're welcome to come in here with us, if you want to," he offered.

"Thanks, but that's okay," Takuma smiled slightly despite himself. There was a time the cousins would have ignored him completely if Kaname wasn't around... and visa-versa. Time and circumstances changed many things, apparently. Perhaps some more than others...

Ruka sniffed a bit disdainfully. "I wish I could stay with you. I'm stuck with the Cross girl."

"I'll trade with you!" Aido offered a little too quickly, although he was mostly joking.

"Right, like you could keep your fangs off her all night, I doubt it!" Kain snorted. "Oh no, if you want to get Kaname to kill you, do it sometime when I am far away, or I just know that somehow it'll wind up being my fault too."

Ruka looked amused and gave a long suffering sigh. "Oh well, as long as I don't end up reeking of her. Did you smell Kaname? One day with that Kiriyu boy and I swear he actually smelled like him. It was very disturbing," she said with a theatrically sympathetic shudder.

"You just say that because you'd like to give him a nice sponge bath to clean it all away, wouldn't you, Ruka?" Aido taunted, well aware of how star struck with Kaname the female vampire had been since they were kids.

Kain shot Ichijo an amused look and carefully side-stepped to be out of the line of fire as Ruka predictably pounced on Aido like an enraged feline. Sometimes he wasn't so sure any of them had really grown up that much.

"You noticed that too, huh?" Kain said with a raised eyebrow, watching unconcernedly as Ruka elicited a few yelps from Aido as she cornered him against the wall and pounded him briefly but viciously with her elbows.

"Ow! Ow! Hey, cut it out, can't you take a joke?" Aido protected his head with his arms, waiting a moment until he had the opportunity to catch hold of Ruka's shoulders and shove her away from him. He sent her sprawling backward onto the nearest bed, but he didn't hit back. He'd been raised in a household of doting sisters. You could tease them mercilessly, but you never raised a hand to them.

"Thought I was imagining things," Kain continued talking as if nothing unusual was happening. "Aido said that Zero smelled like Kaname too. Kinda odd, isn't it? For that to have happened in so short a time?"

Aido rubbed his sharply smarting lip as Ruka bounced up gracefully and easily from the bed, straightening her mussed, silky blonde hair with a small huff. She and Aido both snarled, hissing softly and baring their fangs at each other, but they did not reinitiate the conflict.

Ruka flounced to the other side of the room and sat down primly on the bed near Kain, pointedly ignoring Aido.

Ichijo didn't like the way the conversation was turning. "It's nothing, I'm sure," he deflected a trifle too quickly. "We're not around humans that much on a regular basis, that's all."

"Hey, I'm bleeding..." Aido groused as he pulled his hand away from his lip, shooting a glare towards Ruka. Kain and Ichijo continued to ignore him. Ruka smiled wickedly and leaned her head oh-so-sweetly against Kain's side. Kain's arm slid instinctively around her shoulders.

"Ichijo, we go to school with them." Kain raised his eyebrows. "I know we're not physically around the day class that much when we're there, but still... for it to rub off like that on someone like Kaname? And they were acting kind of weird when we ate too."

Aido pouted at being ignored. He scowled darkly at Ruka and wiped his hand off on his pants.

"Oh, so what, Kain?" he said in disgruntled distraction. "Stop making such a big deal out of it. Kaname probably just let Kiriyu drink his blood again and didn't want to let on," Aido muttered with protective disapproval.

With a sudden, cold chill, Aido caught his slip. Too late. He clapped his hands to his mouth, but the cat was out of the bag and the weight of the other three's shocked stares bored into him. The room fell dead silent. Aido wanted suddenly to be somewhere else. Oh crap... he hadn't meant to spill Kaname's secret, or Zero's for that matter. It was an accidental slip of the tongue around people with whom he was way too comfortable, but now he couldn't take it back. "Um, I mean... uh..."

"Kiriyu's a vampire?" Ichijo echoed, somehow not as surprised as he should have been. So many things suddenly made sense. It must have been Shizuka... Ichijo knew as well as the others what she'd done to the Kiriyu family. He just hadn't realized how far she'd gone. No wonder Zero had killed her. Actually... it now surprised him that Kiriyu had been able to killer her considering what he'd just learned. For an ex-human to kill his master... that took an unheard of amount of strength and willpower.

"And Kaname-sama has let that... that ex-human drink his blood?" Ruka seethed quietly, her fists clenching tightly in her lap. Ironically, her anger was directed at Zero, not Kaname. "How dare he touch a pureblood like that? How could Kaname suffer such a thing?"

"You've been holding out on us, Idol." Kain whistled, eyebrows going up as he regarded his cousin, but as he processed these new bits of information he looked distinctly less surprised. "It was that first time we smelled Kaname's blood in the dorms, wasn't it? You went in to check on him. He must have done it to keep Kiriyu sane." Kain's brows creased down again in disapproval that matched Aido's, but he didn't quite share Ruka's level of outrage. What Kaname chose to do was Kaname's business. So long as the ex-human didn't get any ideas about taking advantage of this unheard of gift. Kain glanced towards Ruka. He was acutely aware of the kind of vulnerability that letting someone drink your blood could cause. But Kaname was a pureblood after all, not like the rest of them... maybe he wasn't affected by things like that.

"Yes..." Aido admitted slowly, looking quite distressed. Kaname was going to kill him if he found out he'd told. "Look... I wasn't supposed to say anything, please don't –"

"But wait... why would Kiriyu need to drink Kaname's blood? Surely he drank Shizuka's when he killed her... would that not have set him free from the danger of becoming a Level E?" Kain queried astutely, blissfully ignoring his cousin's predicament.

Aido's face paled a few shades lighter. He knew the answer to that one too... knew that it hadn't been Zero at all. But wild horses weren't about to drag that out of him. "I don't know, I don't think Kiriyu did. His twin brother was there and he didn't have a chance or – or something I think..." he deflected miserably, trying to keep the others from jumping too easily to the correct conclusions. "Come on you guys, you have to promise me you won't –"

"You know, you're awfully knowledgeable about all these things, Idol. I wonder what else you've been keeping from us?" Kain was teasing, but he was also more than half serious. He poked the shorter vampire lightly in the chest, encroaching on Aido's personal space and making his cousin back up a pace.

Aido slapped his cousin's hand away with a scowl. "Oh, cut it out, Wild. It's not my fault if you're as observant as a stone. Seriously, remind me why I saved your life?"

"Oh, so let's bring that up, shall we? You're going to be getting millage out of that for years, aren't you?" Kain groused.

"You better believe it," Aido returned. "You would have died without me. D-E-A-D."

Ruka watched the cousins bicker with distracted disinterest. They weren't really arguing, they were just being... them. Whenever they started calling each other by their school nicknames it was a sure tip-off that they were full of it. Her attention was still focused on what she'd just learned. She was still considerably upset about the news and the fact that the others didn't seem to be taking it seriously. She understood and admired Kaname's goals and ideals in fostering coexistence. But she would never understand why the pureblood involved himself so needlessly with all these humans and their problems. Ex-humans were even worse than ordinary ones. Letting someone so unworthy drink his blood... Ruka rubbed the ache at the base of her neck fiercely, swallowing around the tenseness in her throat. It was simply galling. If she didn't respect Kaname so much she would have despised him. But she couldn't ever do that. So she just... ached.

Ichijo kept silent, staying out of Kain and Aido's conversation and avoiding meeting Ruka's stormy eyes. Maybe Aido was right. Maybe he'd read the whole situation wrong. Perhaps the fact that Zero was a vampire and had been drinking Kaname's blood was what they were trying to hide, and why they smelt like one another. That was actually an easier story to swallow than his own suspicions, although... his own suspicions refused to leave him completely. He wasn't about to mention them, however. He didn't wish Kaname the grief, or the scandal, that airing his baseless suppositions would cause.

"I'm going to turn in. I'll catch you all tomorrow," Takuma excused himself quietly, momentarily interrupting the cousins' quarrel as he slid quickly and silently out of the room, pulling the door shut behind him.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Two: "Tainted Love "

Kaname stood in the hotel hallway and started to knock, but the Chairman answered the door while his hand was still in the air. Kaname smiled faintly and let his hand drop, giving the other a nod of greeting. He'd long ago gotten used to the fact that the one-time hunter's senses clearly allowed him to know when the pureblood was about.

Cross also seemed to know exactly why Kaname had stopped by – another hazard of their long history together. "Yuki's sleeping," the Chairman told him, keeping his voice low. "She drifted off about an hour ago. She's not too used to trying to keep up with your schedule, Kaname." Cross smiled in fond amusement, nodding to where Yuki was curled up on her side on the bottom of the nearest bed. She was still fully dressed and lying on top of the covers.

Kaname let himself into the room and walked quietly over to where she was sleeping. He'd wanted a chance to talk to her, but the night had simply gone by too fast with too many things to do. Now he had a tension headache nibbling at his temples and a deep frustration at their lack of progress gnawing in his chest. But watching Yuki sleep had calming effect on him, at least temporarily. A quiet softness crept over his features as he watched her. His fingers slid down to rest against her hair before he looked back to Cross. Kaname's keen gaze took in the worn lines around the elder human's eyes and his faintly blood-shot eyes. He was slightly surprised to realize that Cross looked completely exhausted.

"Apparently you aren't either, Chairman," he said quietly, with a touch of actual concern. He expected Cross to know better than to think he expected the human to keep pace with him all the time. "You should get some rest. I will see that Yuki gets settled."

Kaname lifted Yuki's sleeping form easily into his arms. She stirred, but did not awake, her warm, sleep-heavy body conforming easily against him, dark hair spilling across his shirt as her head rested against his chest. She smiled faintly in her sleep, as if in a pleasant dream.

Kaname felt the familiar ache in his bones and heart as he held her. He paused, looking towards Cross. "Perhaps she would be more comfortable if I leave her here, with you?" he offered quietly. "I can arrange another room for Ichijo, and Ruka can stay by herself..."

Cross knew the offer was generous, considering Kaname's significantly stretched funds at the moment. The chairman had offered to pay for himself, Yuki and Zero, but Kaname had refused as if it was insulting. The pureblood was too used to not having to worry about trifling matters like money.

Yuki's arm had slid out so it was hanging from her body as she lay in Kaname's arms. Cross lifted it and tucked the limb lightly against her chest so she would be more comfortable, giving her a loving look. "Our little girl is almost all grown up, Kaname," he murmured. "She'll be fine with Ruka. I rather think she'll be glad to get away from me for a while after the past day or two of being stuck together with nothing to do but stare at the walls and watch television." He chuckled.

Kaname nodded, starting to carry Yuki towards the door when the Chairman's hand on his arm stopped him.

"Kaname..." the Chairman said quietly. "You'll always watch over Yuki, won't you." His drained, almost painfully weary eyes were unusually serious. It wasn't really a question, despite how it was phrased.

Kaname looked at him for a moment, gaze searching the human's unreadable face. Cross seemed more than just tired somehow. "You know I will. I swore it a long time ago. I brought her to you Cross, remember?" A faint flicker of a smile played behind the pureblood's slightly puzzled chocolate eyes.

Cross smiled back, the warmth in his eyes fighting back the weariness some as he patted Kaname's arm fondly. "I know, Kaname. I know. You have to forgive a foolish old father's concern for his children."

"You're hardly old..." Kaname said wryly, already well used to the Chairman's doting ways.

Cross's expression reflected a certain quiet irony at that statement, but he did not argue. Kaname was usually freakishly well informed, but he didn't know everything. Then again, what was time to someone who practically had eternity? His gaze sobered again. "And what about Zero, Kaname?" he said quietly. "What are you going to do about him?"

Kaname froze, conflicting emotions shooting through him. Cross couldn't possibly know... no, of course he couldn't... he was just talking in generalities, he had to be. Kaname knew Cross considered Zero one of his kids.

"I'm not sure what you mean. I don't believe Kiriyu needs anyone watching over him, nor would he appreciate such. I should get Yuki to bed," he said quietly, a trifle stiffly. It actually... hurt... a little to say those words. That frustrated him.

Cross's hand tightened on Kaname's arm, not letting him go. "Kaname, you know the moment he's no longer useful, the moment you remove your protection, he's as good as dead. I know that you have only tolerated him for Yuki's sake, but try to understand... he's trapped between two worlds Kaname – neither fully human hunter nor vampire but just enough of each to make him unacceptable to the other. And it's not his fault."

Kaname held Cross's gaze with a small frown. It was strange, almost embarrassing to have Cross defending Zero to him in light of their new... situation... but he could tell the Chairman was deadly earnest. Whatever was going through Cross's head, he was obviously worrying about his "children's" futures.

The moment he's no longer useful. Ah. There it was. That was what Cross was afraid that perhaps if Kaname eventually totally claimed Yuki's heart, or when Zero simply no longer fit in the pureblood's plans, then he would withdraw his protection and let Kiriyu be fed to the wolves. Kaname stared quietly at the human. Where was this strange, deep pain in his chest coming from? What, did he think Cross should have known him better than that after all this time? Wasn't that, in fact, something he was quite capable of doing, if his bond with Zero hadn't come along to complicate matters? Again, Kaname felt a deep well of frustration mingled with hurt. Why did he feel like a square peg that was continually being forced into a round hole?

"I'm aware of that," Kaname said quietly. "If it makes you feel better, I can promise you that I will always extend my protection to Kiriyu, whatever happens, whether I am still at Cross Academy or not." In truth Kaname hardly had a choice. It was now a matter of self preservation, and yet... it more than that too. But Kaname couldn't explain any of that to Cross.

He didn't need to. The Chairman trusted Kaname. The pureblood's word was more than good enough for him. He gave Kaname's arm a friendly pat and released him.

"You're a good man, Kaname. Your mother and father would be very proud of you," he said softly.

Kaname resisted the urge to swallow bitterly. Right. His parents would be so proud of the screwed up mess he'd managed to make of his life in the past month or two... he rather thought not. He was sure he'd not lived up to their expectations. Or anyone's for that matter. He was so tired of people and their expectations.

"I think sometimes, you expect too much of me, Cross," Kaname said quietly as carried Yuki to the door, working the knob and pulling it open without needing to free a hand to do so.

Cross just smiled. "Rest well, Kaname."

Kaname slid out the door and let it close behind him. He nearly ran into Ichijo in the hall right outside, but both of them side stepped easily with the naturally graceful and fluid reflexes of their race. Yuki, still nestled safely in Kaname's arms, barely stirred.

"Cross seems worn out, Ichijo. Make sure he gets some rest," Kaname bid his friend quietly as he proceeded on down the hall towards the room near the end which Ruka and Yuki were sharing.

Ichijo nodded, although it wasn't necessary. Kaname knew full well he'd do whatever the pureblood asked him. He watched Kaname and Yuki disappearing, noting the tender, careful way Kaname carried her. He'd watched the two of them together from a distance since they were kids. He had to be out of his mind to think what he was thinking about Kaname and Zero. But then again, most people would have thought the same about imagining the pureblood taking a serious interest in that sweet little human girl as well. Ichijo had simply grown used to it over time. Sighing softly, he let himself into his room.

At the end of the hall, Kaname let himself into Yuki and Ruka's room. He had a key for all their rooms, and this time he did slip a hand free to use it. Ruka wasn't there, which Kaname supposed was just as well. She wouldn't have liked seeing him carry Yuki in like this.

He laid Yuki down gently on the bedspread, reaching over and pulling the covers back before lifting her again and moving her onto the sheets. He slipped off her shoes and loosened the top button of her blouse, but otherwise let her be. She was too old for him to be changing her into her nightgown these days, even if he had known where it was. It was strange, he supposed, that his deep longing for her never quite drew him to the kind of delicious aggressiveness that overwhelmed him around Zero. Maybe it was because he could still see her as that little girl sometimes, and he knew instinctively that to push her too soon, too hard would be to lose her, to ruin that which he desired. Or maybe... something deep inside him simply needed her to remain as she was – gentle and innocent.

Kaname pulled the covers over her and tucked her in. He bent, brushing a tender kiss against her temple and smoothing her hair back from her face.

Yuki stirred, her eyes fluttering briefly open. "Kanam-me?" she murmured sleepily.

"Shhh... rest now..." he murmured, smoothing her hair under his hand and pulling the covers up to her chin.

She slid a hand out from under the covers and caught his sleeve. "Don't go," she murmured, voice still husky from sleep. She wanted to be near him, but she was so sleepy... she could barely keep her eyes open.

Kaname felt like someone had flipped a hot skillet in his gut as a shiver ran up his spine. He froze. What was it he'd just been thinking? Okay, so maybe the truth was he simply exhibited more self control where Yuki was concerned.

Kaname turned and gently pulled her hand loose, giving it a squeeze and kissing her palm before tucking it back under the covers. "Rest now. I'll see you tomorrow, Yuki," he murmured again, although everything in him wanted to stay, to take advantage of her innocent request. Given a few more moments... perhaps he might have.

The door behind them opened and Kaname knew without looking that Ruka had entered. It was enough to bring him back from the dangerous edge he'd been walking a moment before, and remind him the damage he'd done last time he'd been feeling something like this.

"Sweet dreams, Yuki," he bid softly, sliding away quickly.

"Good night, Ruka," he bid the other vampire as he passed. She held the door for him as he exited, her gaze following him down the hall until he reached the door of his own room at the other end of the corridor. Finally, Ruka shut the door.

She spared Yuki a disgusted glance before storming into the bathroom to get ready for bed.

--------------------------------------

Zero was leaning against the wall by the window, gazing out at the darkened city. It was the wee hours of the morning, but there were still headlights every now and then going by on the street below. He was dressed for bed, but given what had happened last time, he was leery of letting himself fall asleep before Kaname.

He was peeved as all get-out that they were still sharing a room, but of course, that was the way Kaname had arranged things. Zero almost hadn't come back to the hotel... but he'd known that if he failed to reappear, it would only worry the others, especially Yuki. Their whole situation was too precarious right now to risk causing alarm by making them think something had happened to him. So reluctantly, he was here. But the night's events, and especially seeing Yuki again, had renewed Zero's determination that he didn't care how damn good it felt, or what Kaname could do to him. They needed to exercise a little common sense and slam the breaks on this crazy train wreck before things got untenable. It was all well and fine for Kaname to say they could work things out, but today had obviously proved that that was not true.

Zero had never spent a more uncomfortable and humiliating time then he had at dinner... breakfast... whatever the hell that had been. He had no intention of repeating the situation ever again. Now he just had to make sure that Kaname understood that. Which... he knew... would not be easy.

Kaname was not in a good mood when he entered the room. He hadn't seen Zero in more than passing since the fiasco in the restaurant. The ex-human had skillfully managed to completely disappear on some recon task in the city that he'd pried out of the Chairman and had only spoken with Cross since his return.

The pureblood's headache was back full force. The night's work had largely been unproductive. Despite their efforts, they were currently no closer to Rido's body than they had been yesterday. His limited resources and information network were severely frustrating. The Council was dragging its feet about clearing him, so he still had to keep a low profile until those damn bureaucrats faced reality. On top of that, his hormones were stirred up from his brief encounter with Yuki a few minutes ago and now had nowhere to go. Kaname slid out off his shoes and started changing his clothes with short, frustrated motions.

No. He was not in a good mood. The fact that just being in the same room with Zero again made him start craving the hunter did not help either. Kaname threw his shirt onto the dresser with a little more force than was necessary, tugging his tee off over his head.

Zero heard Kaname enter, but stayed where he was, gazing out the window as he heard the pureblood moving around behind him.

"You know, if you act guilty, people usually assume there's a reason," Kaname said after a moment, a little more peeved than he wanted to admit about Zero's behavior earlier and looking for a place to vent. "Try to remember that next time."

Zero's jaw clenched. He could see Kaname's reflection in the darkened glass. "There won't be a next time," he said quietly, through his teeth.

Kaname snorted softly behind him in a mix of frustration and skepticism. In his current mood, it irritated him that Zero was playing this game again. He was getting tired of this push-me-pull-you routine. He thought they'd gotten over this after the last time, after Zero had seemed so very... into it... but now it was like they were back to square one again. Why couldn't anything in his life ever be simple?

"I think by now you know you don't mean that. Why do you keep saying these things? It's pointless." Kaname slid up behind Zero, hands resting on his waist as he brushed his lips against the side of his neck.

Zero jerked away, turning to glare at Kaname. "Don't act like you know anything about me," he snarled softly. "And you're a great one to talk about saying things you don't mean. How can you come in here and act like this with Yuki's scent hanging all over you?" Zero spat angrily, his fists balling. Smelling Yuki on Kaname was filling him with a haze of rage and the truly moronic thing was that he wasn't quite sure which one of them he was feeling more jealous over. "How can you act like its okay to do this to Yuki, to smile at her while you lie to her? This is disgusting, Kaname, you're disgusting!"

Kaname grabbed Zero and slammed him up against the wall next to the window. He was not in a mood to be pushed right now. He was sick of being told what and who he had to be. He was sick of living up to everybody's expectations. He was sick of feeling trapped between those who whispered he was too soft, too peaceable for a vampire and those who looked at him like he was a heartless bastard for being what he was – for not being human.

It was just... too easy to focus his frustration onto Zero. None of this would have happened if he hadn't been stupid enough to try and save this boy's life. And Kiriyu didn't even have the grace to be sensible about the repercussions of it all and just accept what they couldn't change. No... hehad to make Kaname feel guilty, had to blow everything out of proportion and make a constant struggle out of this until Kaname was so frustrated and worn out that he could just scream.

Kaname's fingers squeezed harshly into Zero's arms as he pinned him against the wall, dark eyes smoldering dangerously. "Disgusting?" he said softly, somewhere between a snarl and a purr. "You think everything about us vampires is disgusting. Well I have news for you, Kiriyu... you're a vampire too. You're one of us. You can deny it all you want, you can pretend you're different, but you're nothing but a blood sucking monster, just like me. You desire blood just as much as I do..." Kaname was very close, his breath brushing Zero's skin. "And you desire... this..." Kaname dipped his head and captured Zero's mouth in a brief but ruthless kiss. "...Just as much as I do."

Zero felt unwelcome heat spiking through him, as ruthless and unstoppable as Kaname's kiss. He raged against it, against Kaname's words and against the undeniable truth of his own needy reaction. He wanted Kaname, but he didn't want to want him.

"I hate you, you son of a bitch!" he seethed raggedly. Zero struggled fiercely, trying to strike at the pureblood, but Kaname held him fast, grabbing his wrists and pinning them to the wall.

"You hate what I make you. Because I refuse to accept that there is anything wrong with being what nature has made us! Because I refuse to let you hide from yourself in your narrow little human world!" Kaname shot back in an angry hiss. He was upset and aroused, it was a potent combination.

The pureblood's mouth claimed Zero's again in another possessive, brutal kiss. "Is this disgusting, Zero? Does it feel disgusting?" he growled, body pressing against the hunter as he devoured him, heart pounding against the other's chest. His thigh pushed between Zero's legs, rubbing his groin. "Does this?"

Zero gave a soft, strangled gasp, his body arching against the wall like he'd been touched by a live wire. Kaname was making his head swim again. He was fighting it, fighting hard, he was not going to let this keep happening, he wasn't! But resolve was so hard to hang onto under the forceful weight of Kaname's attentions.

Kaname paid no attention to Zero's struggles and protests. Not this time. Zero's body told him clearly what it wanted and Kaname had learned now from past experience not to listen to Zero's mouth, which so often contradicted what he obviously meant. His grip on Zero tightened as he yanked the other boy away from the wall, dragging him across the room at inhuman speed. Before Zero really knew what was happening they were in the bathroom and Kaname was stripping the hunter out of his night clothes.

As soon as he got over the shock, Zero started struggling again, even though Kaname's touch on his bare skin as he stripped him was making his whole body quake. "Kaname! Let me go! I'm not kidding!" he protested desperately. "Stop it!"

Kaname didn't heed him and in a matter of moments they were both naked and stumbling into the tub. The pureblood didn't think for a moment that Zero actually, truly meant a word he was saying. Zero had already shown him otherwise in their previous encounters and Kaname could only assume that refusing was some kind of game to the ex-human. One that the pureblood was in no mood to play, although it did lend the situation a certain dark charm all its own.

Zero wrenched a hand free, landing several bruising blows against the pureblood's arms and chest. Kaname didn't even flinch, quickly catching both of Zero's wrists in one hand and yanking them above the ex-human's head as he slammed him up against the wall of the shower. Kaname reached back with his free hand and yanked the shower curtain closed behind them.

Zero's breath left him in a rush as he hit the wall again. He shivered at the clash of the cold tile against his back and the very warm pureblood against his front.

Kaname didn't let him catch his breath. He captured Zero's mouth in a series of bruising kisses, sucking the air from his lungs as he fumbled out to the side with his free hand, reaching for the shower controls and giving them a twist.

Water cascaded down upon them; icy cold needles making both vampires hiss and gasp softly before it quickly started warming. The spray splashed across their bodies, making wet skin slip and slide against one another intoxicatingly as they struggled. The shower would hide their scent from anyone nearby, washing way the evidence of their unforgivable secret sins, of this radiant weakness that both of them had to hide.

"Kaname!" Zero's harsh gasp of protest sounded disturbingly like a moan even in his own ears as the warm water, the cool tile and the intensely hot and remorseless pureblood shattered his senses and eroded his resolve.

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Ichijo lay on his back in bed, staring up at the ceiling and half-listening to what Chairman Cross was watching on the television. It was a human news channel and had nothing of interest to him. The other sounds of the hotel were a kind of white background noise in Takuma's thoughts as he tried to get to sleep. He was vaguely aware of voices murmuring in other rooms, running water, footsteps, and cars going by outside. Vampire hearing was very keen, enabling them to perceive much more than a human could. It was natural to them, so Takuma was used to simply tuning out all the ambient sound, much like one might do in a crowded restaurant. It was the same way people who live next to a highway often cease even noticing the passing cars after a time.

When the Chairman turned the TV off and put out the light by his bed, Takuma closed his eyes. The silence of the room made the background sounds momentarily stand out more. The sound of running water was soothing and relatively nearby, so Ichijo unconsciously let himself focus on it as he continued trying to fall asleep. He became vaguely aware of other sounds mingled with the water. He wasn't sure what they were at first, but a few panting breaths and grunts told him quite clearly and Ichijo was mildly amused. Ah... someone was having a good night.

He was just on the verge of drifting off when the very faint, distant murmur of voices intruded on his senses. They were hard to make out through the cover of the running water and he had to really strain to do it. He wouldn't have even noticed, or been unconsciously drawn to try to make the sounds out, except that the voices were familiar.

Gnh Kaname...!" it was a pleasured, agonized sound, as if the owner couldn't figure out if he was begging for reprieve or begging for more. It sounded mostly like the latter.

It was Kiriyu's voice – unmistakably Kiriyu's voice.

There was a faint but rapid heavy slapping kind of noise that Ichijo's imagination could do far too much with. Was it also his imagination that he could hear fingernails scrabbling on tile?

Mmmm... you like that, do you?" Kaname's voice was darkly seductive, rippling like the hard, sinuous scales of a cobra. It was not Takuma's imagination that the pace of the other sounds increased. Kiriyu fairly screamed in a voice so caught between agony and ecstasy that it stirred Ichijo down to his bones, tingling hotly in his marrow.

Ichijo rolled on his side and quickly pressed his hands over his ears. He should not be listening to this, it was not meant for his hearing. He felt himself flush hotly, body fairly radiating heat under the covers. Kaname and Zero's room was across the hall from his. It must be. Any farther away and he couldn't have heard their voices around the sound of the shower. At least that meant no one else was likely to hear them. Kain, Aido and Ruka were all situated much further down the hall.

It wasn't his business whom Kaname wanted to bed. It didn't matter if Kiriyu was the last person in the world he'd have ever expected the pureblood to take an interest in. Kaname had a right to expect pleasure from anyone he cared to ask for it... it was just that that was a right he'd never exercised before. Ichijo was well aware that many purebloods were not so reserved. They took what they wanted from whom they wanted because they knew they could and because they knew there would never be repercussions. If a pureblood asked something of you, you did it – it was that simple. That was the power they held. But Ichijo knew Kaname wasn't like that, he'd never been like that. So... Ichijo rolled onto his other side, pressing his hands tighter against his ears.

It wasn't his business... but it was hard to keep from accidentally straining to catch the muffled gasps and moans from the other room, the un-disguisable sound of fiery passion.

Ichijo reached over and snagged the remote control from the nightstand where Cross had left it. "Mind if I turn the TV back on?" he asked softly. "I'll keep it low."

Cross wasn't quite asleep yet, but he was close and he murmured something somewhat unintelligible that worked as a "yes".

Ichijo turned the TV back on, not caring what he was watching, so long as it drown out the sounds from across the hall.

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Zero ached, fiercely. The still falling stream of water from the shower was almost painful against his skin as he half knelt, half lay on the slick, warm bottom of the tub. His head hung, lungs heaving. The falling spray made pockmarked ripples dance across the translucent surface of the shallow water near his face as he leaned on his forearms in the few inches that had accumulated in the bottom of the tub. Obviously, the hotel drains were less than completely efficient.

Water trickled and pattered against Zero's hair and shoulders, slicking the silver mane to his head and running in small streams down the sides of his face. The rest of him was more or less shielded from the spray above by Kaname's body leaning over his back.

The pureblood's touch was incredibly tender and sensual as he traced soft kisses down Zero's spine, hands caressing the hunter's smooth, wet sides, thighs and stomach gently. It was a complete departure from the almost savage lover he had been a few minutes before.

Zero's breath rasped softly as he came down slowly from the incredible high Kaname had wrung from him. It felt like each time they were together he learned something new about himself, something new about what he enjoyed and craved. He didn't always appreciate the discovery.

Kaname slid back to sit, out of the direct spray of the shower, and he pulled Zero with him carefully, settling the other boy's back against his chest. Zero winced softly as the pureblood shifted him, but he didn't protest. It wouldn't matter if he did, and Zero's body was still weak and shivering with latent little shocks of pleasure. Zero felt a hopeless thread winding through the haze of his body elation. Kaname was never going to let him end this, was he? Worse... he was going to keep forcing Zero to question whether he really wanted to end it or not.

Kaname took the washcloth from the soap tray and lathed it slowly across Zero's body, washing him down tenderly as he held him, his other arm wrapped comfortably around the hunter's chest. He knew he'd not been tender or gentle a few minutes ago. He'd hurt Zero and he'd enjoyed doing it... Zero had obviously enjoyed it too. The pureblood's increased gentleness now almost seemed to be trying to make up for it, though.

"Are you all right?" he murmured softly against Zero's wet neck, hand trailing soothingly up the inside of his lover's thigh. The steam filled air of the bathroom shrouded both of them in warm blanket of mist, causing the pureblood's wavy, wet hair to cling to his neck and face in small ringlets.

Zero turned his head away, biting his lower lip softly at the shivers that the washcloth and Kaname's fingers created upon his tender skin. It was hard, fighting the intense desire to just relax in Kaname's arms, to enjoy the blissfully exhausted moment. But Zero couldn't forget or forgive Kaname for doing this to him, for acting like he owned him, for making him desire and crave this kind of closeness with the pureblood so intensely that it almost threatened to blot out reason. "Go to hell," he muttered hoarsely.

Zero shifted as if to pull away, but stopped at the sharp stab of pain that shot through him. The location of it was both unusually painful and humiliating. Unintentionally, his fingers clamped tight where they rested, one against Kaname's thigh, the other on the pureblood's arm around his waist. He collapsed back against Kaname again with a soft, unintentional groan of pain, still holding onto the other vampire tightly as he waited for the discomfort to return to manageable levels. No, he wasn't all right. With a slick twist of humiliation, Zero realized he wasn't sure he was going to be able to stand, much less walk. He felt like Kaname had practically torn him apart... and it had been mind-bendingly incredible. Shamefully... he had enjoyed every damn minute.

Zero pressed his eyes shut tightly. Kaname was right, wasn't he? When it came down to it, he was just as twisted as the pureblood. Zero's chest hitched slightly.

Kaname felt Zero's wince of pain shudder through his own body and he frowned softly. He should have kept Zero's lower healing factor in mind; he knew that and an unwelcome thread of remorse fingered through him. What was it about Zero that always made him feel so damn guilty about being who he was and doing what he wanted to do? He was a creature of the night; he thrived on the darker side of life, on blood and pain. So why did it create such a hurtful, hollow ache in his chest to think that he might have really hurt the other vampire?

Kaname buried his face against the side of Zero's neck and just held him for a minute, before he carefully turned the other around in his arms so they were facing one another. The pureblood tipped his head to the side, long fingers brushing away the wet hair that was clinging to the side of his neck.

"Take as much as you want," he murmured quietly. "You'll feel better."

Normally Zero would have resisted at least a little, but he knew Kaname was right and besides... right now... the savage urge to sink his teeth into that unprotected neck, the urge to take a little of his own back and hurt Kaname, was very strong.

Kaname knew that full well and he was ready, silently bracing himself in the corner of the wall as Zero's weight shifted swiftly against him, the other's head falling hungrily to his throat. Kaname's jaw tightened and he closed his eyes, willing his body to relax and be still as Zero mauled his neck with excruciating exquisiteness. Kaname dropped the washcloth he was holding. The pureblood's fingers threaded through Zero's hair, hanging on tightly as he passively offered himself up in penance for his earlier ruthlessness.

Zero took Kaname at his word. He took as much as he wanted, which was a lot more than he needed. Kaname's blood flowing through his veins eased the ache inside him, healing most of his hurts and soothing away the pain with its head-spinning euphoria. Zero gorged himself deeply, intentionally draining the other vampire until he was bound to be hurting for blood.

Kaname's fingers curled more harshly in his hair and his breathing turned ragged, but the pureblood made no move to stop him.

Kaname's head was spinning by the time Zero released him and he slumped back quietly against the wall, sinking down in the tub slightly, eyes still closed as he gave himself a few moments to recover. His hand slid clumsily up towards his sluggishly bleeding neck, but Zero pushed it away. Kaname felt warm, wet terrycloth and his eyes fluttered open. Zero was washing the blood from his neck quietly with the cloth Kaname had dropped earlier. The wounds were already healing closed.

For a heartbeat, Zero and Kaname's eyes met and held. Silver and brown, both filled with a confused, conflicting mix of intense attraction, anger and guilt. So different. So alike.

"All we're ever going to do is hurt each other, Kaname..." Zero whispered hoarsely finally pulling away and standing up. He reached over and turned off the shower. He pushed aside the curtain, water dripping down his body as he stepped out of the tub and reached for a towel, holding onto the rack lightly for support. His movements were a little ginger. The sharp pain was gone, but the ache remained, a reminder. "...And end up hurting Yuki too. Why can't you see that?"

Kaname's expression darkened a shade as he groggily leveraged up to sit, holding his head in one hand and not attempting to rise just yet. "Leave her out of this," he said quietly, but tersely. He was hungry and aching and that tended to put him out of sorts, but Zero had obviously struck a nerve. "It's got nothing to do with her."

Zero paused in toweling off, looking incredulously back towards the pureblood. "The hell it doesn't. You think it's okay to do anything you want and act like it doesn't affect anyone else, or your relationship with anyone else? God, Kaname! You are such a selfish bastard! Do you really care about anything beside your feelings, what you want? Okay, I get that you don't give a damn about my feelings. But at least what about Yuki's feelings? Don't they matter at all?"

Kaname pulled his head out of his hand and glared across at Zero. The words sliced much deeper than they should have. Who said he didn't care about Zero's feelings? Or Yuki's? It was like his discussion with the Chairman earlier... it shouldn't have bothered him, and yet it did. It hurt to think that deep down, they all believed him to be so cold-blooded. "You have no idea what you're talking about. I love her, I would never hurt her."

"Right," Zero snorted, finishing toweling off with a scowl. "You have a great way of showing it. Real love isn't selfish or self-serving, Kaname. I don't think it's an emotion of which you are capable."

Kaname struggled to his feet, holding onto the slick tile wall, eyes snapping, but Zero had already pushed open the door and let himself out into the bedroom. The pureblood's head spun and he had to quickly grab hold of the shower bar to keep from sliding back down into the tub. The hollow, angry ache inside him echoed numbly. He couldn't understand how Kiriyu could be so intentionally blind. How could the ex-human say that he didn't care?

Zero didn't understand Kaname's nature. The pureblood had been born and bred to control, to command and expect absolute deference from all those under him – which was pretty much everyone. He was a vampire who struggled to understand the human world, but could not change the fact that he was what he was. That didn't mean he had no heart.

If he didn't care about Yuki, he wouldn't have protected her all these years, wouldn't have held himself in check for her sake and been willing to even degrade himself to letting an ex-human drink his blood just to ensure her happiness.

If he didn't care about Zero, he wouldn't have let the hunter drain him into the state he was in now. If he was truly the heartless bastard Zero thought he was, Kaname would have just left the boy in the tub after sating his own desires. Zero was an ex-human. It was technically Kaname's job to manage him, and if he'd wanted to, he could have made him a slave. But Kaname didn't want to. He wanted...

Kaname closed his eyes. Stupid. He was so unforgivably stupid. Because he realized he wanted Zero to care for him too, at least a little. That was obviously not likely to happen. Maybe this was his own fault, for always ending up drawn to humans, who apparently could never hope to understand him.

Kaname finally dragged himself out of the shower. He didn't bother drying off and simply made his way into the other room. He knew Zero was curled up tensely under the covers in the far bed, but he didn't let himself look that direction.

To hell with it all, he didn't need this. He refused to need Zero.

The pureblood downed a couple blood tables with water and then silently fell into the nearest bed, yanking the covers over him and letting them absorb the remaining water clinging to his body as he buried his head stubbornly in the pillow and closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Three: "Dead Draw "

The first fingers of dawn were starting to make their way under the heavy hotel curtains. Zero hadn't gotten much sleep. Kaname had been tossing and turning in the other bed ever since he lay down a few hours ago. Zero had the pillow pulled resolutely over his head to help block out the sound, but he couldn't shut out the dull ache throbbing at the base of his neck.

Kaname's sheets were damp and cold from his having gone to bed wet, and from the thin sheen of cold sweat that was glistening on his body. He was dozing fitfully, but it was not restful. It merely trapped him in a state where his mind was vulnerable to the nightmares that he kept suppressed when conscious.

Trapped in darkness, Kaname could barely breathe around the desolate, empty ache in his chest. He was still suffering from Ichijo's loss, no matter how well he hid it. Going to bed hungry, and disturbed over what had happened with Zero, had made him even more vulnerable than usual.

There were hands in the darkness. They touched him, clawed him. He tried to fight back, but he couldn't, his hands were trapped. His body was on fire, in agony. The hated, unforgettable feeling of his uncle's blood whips flayed him to the bone as breath brushed his neck, teeth sinking into his skin. The aching, despairing need in his chest was a fiery pain all its own . He felt so empty, so alone. He tried to cry out, but he couldn't make a sound. There was that horrible muzzle trapping his mouth, suffocating him on his own silent screams...

Kaname keened softly in his sleep, whimpering in intense distress that bordered on tears as he tossed restlessly.

It was a sound Zero couldn't ignore, even through the pillow over his head. The throbbing ache at the base of his neck was also becoming unbearable. With a resigned sigh, Zero pulled the pillow off his head and sat up, sliding to the edge of the bed. He ran his hand through hair wildly mussed and spiky from being damp and being pressed under a pillow all night. It was kind of disturbing, how deeply the soft sounds of the pureblood's distress pulled at his heartstrings. He didn't want to be drawn to Kaname; he didn't want to feel anything but contempt for the pureblood. Goodness knew he had every reason to hate him. But his heart was too soft. In the end, Zero couldn't stand by and watch him suffer.

He moved over to Kaname's bed. The pureblood's fingers were clawing restlessly at the bedding, starting to tear into the mattress. Kaname was on the far side of the bed, so Zero knelt on the mattress as he cautiously leaned over and placed a light hand on the pureblood's shoulder. He gave a little shake.

"Kaname? Wake up, Kaname..." he murmured quietly. Zero had been prepared for the idea that being too close to Kaname when he awakened from his nightmare might not be a good idea, but he still wasn't prepared for just how fast the pureblood could move.

Pulled from the horribly vivid nightmare, Kaname reacted on instinct and in half a second he had Zero pinned to the bed, about two heartbeats from almost tearing his throat out. Fortunately, Kaname came to his senses quickly and froze. He blinked, realizing whose face he was staring down into. Much more shakily than he would have liked, Kaname dropped his head to Zero's chest for a moment, hating how intensely terrified he suddenly was that he could have accidentally harmed Zero. Hating his weakness. Hating how desperately he wanted to hold onto Zero and hide from the pain still echoing through him.

Kaname rolled away, curling onto his side. "Sorry," he mumbled a bit hoarsely, turning his face to the pillow to hide the lingering, humiliating evidence of his failings. "You probably should not wake me when I'm... dreaming. It's not safe." Kaname's shoulders trembled dangerously and he wished miserably that Zero would just go away and not see him like this.

Zero hesitated, rubbing his bruised windpipe as he looked at the pureblood's hunched back. The agonized, lonely feedback he was getting through their bond was intense, and familiar. Oh...

Kaname froze at the unexpected warmth of Zero pressing up against his back as the hunter came closer and slid up behind him. Zero gave a small, resigned sigh as he pulled the covers back up over the both of them, wrapping his arm lightly around Kaname's waist. He was a complete idiot and he knew it. No wonder Kaname thought him contradictory and insincere. No wonder the pureblood didn't believe him when he told him to go away. If Zero couldn't settle his own mind, how could he try to change Kaname's? Much as he hated Kaname sometimes, he was also inexplicably but powerfully drawn to comfort him. Especially when he was like this.

Zero rested his face lightly against the back of Kaname's neck. "Ichijo again?" he asked quietly. He already knew the answer. He recognized the unique echo of anguish from the broken bond. It was weird that he could feel it faintly too, if only through Kaname.

Kaname didn't answer for a few long minutes, but his arm curled over Zero's. The other's warmth against his back and the reassurance of just having him nearby let the pureblood's tense, weary body finally relax. Kaname sighed inwardly in resignation. So much for not needing Zero.

"I thought it would no longer be an issue by now," Kaname finally admitted quietly, his voice calmer now, more in control once more.

"Yeah, well..." Zero replied with a sigh, "Sometimes things don't happen like they should."

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Ichijo yawned and glanced out through the curtains. The sun was rising. Usually that meant he should be going to bed, but not today. He bet Kain and Aido were still hiding under the covers in their room. They hated having to be up in the daytime, especially Aido who sometimes claimed he was allergic to sunlight, although they all knew he wasn't. Ichijo twirled the cigarette he was holding between his fingers for a moment before lighting up and dragging on it absently. It wasn't a regular habit, but he indulged every now and again when he was either relaxing or feeling stressed. He exhaled a small puff of smoke against the transparent windowpane, letting the taste of the menthol buzz dully in his senses. It wasn't as if a vampire had to worry about getting lung cancer.

Cross was already up as well. Actually, it was his movements that had woken Ichijo a few minutes ago. He was moving pretty slow though, as if every motion as he dressed took an almost inhuman effort. He still seemed somehow exhausted.

Ichijo felt a little guilty. He turned away from the window and back towards Cross. "I'm sorry if the TV kept you up last night," he apologized. "I didn't mean to disturb your rest."

Cross gave him a smile and a quick shake of the head. He pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose with one finger, adjusting the scarf around his neck slightly with his other hand. "Oh no, I didn't even notice. I slept just fine, thanks." He didn't appear to be lying, yet his eyes were so... weary. "I think these are non-smoking rooms though," he pointed out mildly, nodding towards the little plastic sign by the TV.

"Oh! Sorry..." Takuma stubbed the cigarette out on his palm. Takuma reflected that Cross had changed very little in the time he'd known him. Granted, he hadn't known him all that long in the vampire view of things. But in that same time he'd watched Yuki grow from a small child into a young woman. Even Kaname and himself had grown gradually a little older. Yet the Chairman never changed. Takuma was used to adults changing little once they hit their prime, but he was also used to vampire adults. He supposed he really didn't know that much about humans, despite living so closely with them lately. Yet the young noble was struck by the odd, fleeting quandary of whether it was normal for the Chairman to look almost exactly the same now as he had the first time he'd seen him from the window of Kaname's car, some ten years ago.

But no... that wasn't quite right. He didn't look exactly the same. He looked somehow wearier and more fatigued these days. It was easy not to notice behind his effervescent personality and doggedly persistent optimism, but Ichijo noticed. As one who was well used to putting up a cheery front himself, no matter what he was feeling underneath, Ichijo was sensitive to noticing the same traits in others.

Cross caught Ichijo watching him struggle with the laces on his shoes and gave a small, rueful smile. "Don't mind me, haven't had my tea yet this morning," he said brightly. It was so much more than that, of course. He knew it, even if no one else did. He felt fatigued almost all the time and even simple tasks were becoming more difficult. He'd read in a book once the expression of feeling stretched, like butter scraped across too much bread and he thought he now understood exactly what that felt like. Cross sank down to sit on the edge of the bed a little too readily and reached for the phone. "I was about to get some from room service, do you want any?"

Ichijo nodded, heading for the bathroom. "Sure. Thanks. I'm going to go take a shower."

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"I thought you wanted me to go to hell," Kaname said quietly after a few minutes.

"I do," Zero admitted, still lying spooned behind him. "But your tossing and turning kept me up all night. Seems this is the only way to get a little peace, that's all," he muttered. They both knew that wasn't entirely true.

Kaname rolled over, fingers tracing lightly down the side of Zero's face before he could stop himself. His hand fell back to the pillow and he closed his eyes, drawing a slow breath. It was almost ironic. This seemed to becoming something of a pattern for them – fighting before bed and making up in the morning. This time it literally was morning though, which meant Kaname felt more tired than usual after his sleepless night. It wasn't just the hour that was wearing on him, however.

"If we don't find Rido's body soon, I fear he will force a confrontation before we are ready," Kaname said slowly, not really sure why he was telling Zero this. He wasn't used to letting anyone into his thoughts, to admitting concerns, or worse, possible doubts in his own plans. It was a heavy weight he usually carried alone. But Zero already thought him a monster and a jerk, so it wasn't as if he had any image to lose there, and the boy wasn't tapped into the vampire world enough to use anything Kaname might say against him. Oddly, Kaname simply felt relatively safe in confiding.

"If he does that, the collateral damage may be high on both sides. Higher if we do not make sacrifices. Certainly, Shiki will be lost. Rido must be stopped." Kaname shifted slightly, hand sliding up to rest lightly against Zero's chest. His eyes remained closed. "After all this time being under Rido's control, I don't even know if Shiki will want to be saved anymore," he admitted with another sigh. "To be a prisoner in your own body... I can think of nothing worse."

A small shiver ran through Kaname's frame. He didn't want Zero to see it, but that thought was probably the most frightening and horrible thing he could imagine. That kind of complete and total loss of control. Death would be a hundred times more preferable.

Zero watched Kaname silently. It was weird, getting this small window into Kaname's thoughts, having the pureblood talk to him like this, like an equal. It was not unpleasant.

"I kind of got the feeling yesterday that Ichijo wouldn't like that," Zero commented quietly.

Kaname's eyes fluttered open. He was a little surprised that Zero had noticed. He hadn't thought Kiriyu was that observant. "Ichijo and Shiki have always been very close. You don't know what it must have taken for him to chose me over Senri," he said softly. "Takuma has already surrendered his family ties, perhaps even his future, for my sake. I regret that it is so difficult to see a path clear in this situation where he will not have to lose more." Kaname was obviously frustrated, feeling that he was a failure for not having a fool proof way to solve the situation already in place.

Zero was intrigued by this side of Kaname he was glimpsing. He'd never stopped to think what a burden it would be, to always feel you had to have every move planned out ahead of time and carefully supported with back-up plans for every contingency. He was also slightly stunned. Kaname cared whether losing Shiki hurt Ichijo?

That thought must have showed on his face because Kaname gave a small, tense little frown and rolled away again. "You don't have to look like it's such a shock that I might have considered that," he mumbled.

Zero remained silent, gaze sliding unintentionally along the exposed line of Kaname's back. Kaname eventually rolled onto his back again and stared up at the ceiling. Before he could quickly block the thought, the hunter was oddly struck by how graceful, almost beautiful, the pureblood's features were as he laid there, pale skin and dark hair upon the pillow.

After a few minutes silence, Zero started to get up, but Kaname quickly rolled over, leaning up on his elbow and placing his other arm across Zero's body. "Stay a little longer," he murmured softly.

The almost pleading request seemed to vibrate throughout Zero's being and a shiver ran down his spine, settling in the pit of his stomach as he fixed a dark, questioning gaze on the other vampire. Either Kaname had already learned how to play on his weaknesses and sympathies, or the pureblood was a lot needier under the surface than he allowed anyone else to ever see.

Zero's body tensed, but he stopped trying to get up and lay still. He'd learned already how entirely useless it was to fight the pureblood. It was a struggle to keep up with his changing moods, though. It felt to Zero like Kaname could be dark and dangerous one minute and then gentle, almost lost the next. Ironic, considering a few months ago Zero would have sworn that Kaname had the personality and emotional depth of an iceberg.

"Kaname... has anyone ever used the description 'bipolar' with you before?" he asked with annoyed but resigned sarcasm. "They have medications for that you know..."

Kaname snorted softly. He'd just wanted Zero to stay beside him a little longer, but body contact of any kind seemed eminently distracting. Zero had light bruises in the shape of Kaname's fingers on his shoulders from last night and they drew Kaname's attention. The inviting skin was so very close, and tempting...

Zero sucked his breath in softly as Kaname nuzzled his neck and shoulder, mouthing the marks he'd left there a few hours before.

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Beep. Beep. Beeeep...

Aido slapped at the snooze button a little too violently and the alarm clock ended up in pieces. He muttered something that was mostly a groan and tugged the covers up over his head against the sliver of light peeking in through the heavy drapes. Stupid east-facing windows... His eyes drifted shut again, long lashes brushing his cheeks.

"Wha was that...?" Kain's sleepy voice issued from somewhere under the covers in the bed by the door.

"Nothing," Aido muttered back, already starting to drift off again.

"It was the alarm clock, wasn't it... what time is it?" Kain groaned, rolling over and trying to wake up without much success.

"Dunno. Broken," Aido replied monosyllabically, indicating he wanted Kain to shut up and let him sleep.

Down the hall, Kain could just hear the faint sounds of squeaking cart wheels and the voice of one of the hotel cleaning maids as she knocked on people's doors. It was the far end of the hall. It would probably take her a while to reach them.

He let his head fall back to the pillow and yawned. "'kay... we can get up when the maid gets here..." he mumbled before sleep started tugging him quickly down again.

Aido was already snoring softly once more.

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"Kaname..." Zero murmured softly, closing his eyes as Kaname's mouth moved with increasing hunger against his skin. He couldn't pretend he didn't feel the familiar heat coiling in his gut, but his body still ached slightly from their last encounter. He wasn't ready for another go. They didn't have time for this either.

"I know," Kaname murmured back softly as his lips traveled up Zero's neck to his jaw. He was aware his lover was still tender and didn't intend to push Zero this time. He was also aware that he couldn't risk the others getting any more suspicious than they already were. Sadly, he and Zero couldn't afford to spend another glorious 'morning' together like they had yesterday. But he just wanted to be close to Zero in this delicious way a few moments longer... just wanted to kiss him until he completely forgot the lingering, bitter horror of the dream. Was that too much to ask?

"Everyone else is gonna be waking up too... unh..." Zero couldn't help trailing off in a soft moan as Kaname rolled over to lay more fully atop him, the covers sliding off their bodies.

"I know," Kaname repeated before his lips sealed over Zero's in a warm, inviting kiss.

There was a knock on the door. "Housekeeping," a female voice from the other side announced.

Kaname was too enraptured in tasting the sweet, salty flavor of Zero's lips and exploring the moist heat of his mouth to pay attention to so trivial an interruption. Zero was right; everyone else would be getting up as well which meant their time here was short and not to be wasted. He kicked himself for not having thought to put the do not disturb sign out before bed.

"MmmKaammmee..." Zero murmured breathlessly into the tangled heat of the kiss, trying to get the other's attention.

Deciding no answer meant there was no one there; the maid swiped her passkey and tried to push the door open. The door only moved an inch or two before it met with unmovable resistance. The maid glanced automatically up along the inside of the frame for the tell-tale shadow of the chain-lock, but it wasn't there. The chain wasn't on the door, it just wouldn't open. She gave it another, firmer push.

Kaname was 'holding' the door shut with his will, but gave a little frown as the maid persisted. With a soft growl he broke the kiss and lifted his head.

"Nobody in, come back later," he called out in distracted annoyance, not really caring that the words came out a bit backwards. Unless the maid was completely stupid, she would get the drift.

Zero, whose heart was pounding now from fear of discovery as much as passion gave Kaname a push that failed to dislodge him. "Kaname, we shou..." but Kaname's mouth had already fallen back to his and Zero felt himself melt like butter on a hot stove.

Zero should have fought a little harder. He could have at least tried... he would never afterwards be able to explain why he didn't. Why he instead found himself kissing Kaname back.

The maid did indeed get the drift. She gave a small, amused little smile. Even if the guests in this room had been engaged in a completely innocent activity, she would have assumed otherwise. It was a very common situation for her to encounter in her line of work actually and she thought no more about it.

"Sorry, I come back later," she said simply, releasing the door and stepping back to her cart. Pushing it over a bit, she stopped at the door across the hall and knocked. "Housekeeping," she called, and was greeted after a few moments by a man in glasses and a scarf. Cross let her into their room before moving back to the table in the corner of the room and the tea that was sitting there.

Kaname and Zero, lost in the throes of a few last moments of stolen, forbidden passion in their own room, didn't notice that the door had failed to catch all the way when the maid left.

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"Um... Ruka?" Yuki knocked politely on the bathroom door. For the millionth time. No answer. She resisted an impatient sigh. Sharing a room with the female vampire should have been considered a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Actually, she supposed, it wasn't really so bad, at least as long as Yuki didn't try to engage in conversation or otherwise get the aristocrat to acknowledge her existence. For the most part, Ruka simply snubbed her pointedly and left it at that. Yuki had quickly given up trying to be friendly and ignored her right back.

But now, Ruka would not get out of the bathroom. She'd been in there slightly longer than forever and completely ignored any knocking on the door. And Yuki had thought that Zero was a bathroom hog! Yuki was almost sure no one could primp for this long and was somewhat inclined to think that Ruka was simply trying to irritate her.

Deciding this was a game she was tired of playing, Yuki gave up and went to see if she could borrow somebody else's bathroom. She wasn't about to go knocking on Kain and Aido's door, even if she had known which one it was. So she continued on down the hall towards her father's door. It was standing open, half blocked by a housekeeping cart as the maid unloaded a large vacuum cleaner. Yuki glanced past the woman into the room and glimpsed the bathroom door, which was closed. Meant someone was in there, and not likely to be coming out with housekeeping in the room. She sighed.

Not wanting to interrupt, Yuki moved across the hall, scanning the room numbers and trying to remember where her father had said Zero was staying. She was pretty sure it was the room right across the hall, and a moment's thought confirmed the memory. She hesitated, looking at the door. If it was just Zero, she would have come here first. They'd shared a bathroom for years. But she was fairly sure he was sharing a room with Kaname, as odd as that seemed, and she was a little embarrassed at the idea of disturbing Kaname for so silly and mundane a reason. He probably wouldn't mind, but still... She noticed that the door was open a sliver, as if the latch hadn't quite caught. You couldn't tell unless you were right in front of it. Maybe they were already up, maybe Kaname was in one of the other rooms, and it wouldn't be an imposition.

Yuki raised her hand to knock, and then hesitated again. It was kind of awkward to show up and ask a couple of guys, especially ones she liked, to use their bathroom. Maybe she should just go back and wait Ruka out.

"No one in, Miss, was just there," the maid in the hall informed her with a meaningful look, attempting to be helpful as she loaded up one arm with towels, vacuum cleaner in the other before disappearing into the Chairman's room.

Perhaps if it had been anyone other than Kaname and Zero staying in that room, Yuki would have caught the woman's veiled subtext. But any such thought was so foreign it didn't even register and Yuki took the maid's words at face value. She felt relieved. That solved the whole problem then. Kaname and Zero must already be out and about, but the maid hadn't closed their door securely... she could slip in, borrow the bathroom and slip out again without having to disturb anyone.

Yuki eased the door open and slipped quickly inside, starting to head automatically towards the bathroom, which was in exactly the same location as it was in her room. Almost as soon as she was inside, she realized that the room was not, in fact, empty at all. But the rooms were small and she was already halfway to the bathroom by the time she realized her mistake. It was a moment before her brain caught up with her eyes and for a second all she registered was that Kaname and Zero were still in bed.

"Oh! I'm sorry; I was just going to..." Yuki's voice trailed off as what she was actually seeing finally sunk in. Whatever she had been going to say completely fled her mind. Just about everything completely fled her mind. A hot flush rushed almost painfully up her throat and cheeks, making her face burn.

The scene before her was surreal. Kaname and Zero were both on the nearest bed. They were naked, their firm, graceful, perfect forms looking like something that might have been sculpted by the loving chisel of a renaissance artist. Kaname was half laying, half kneeling over Zero. Zero's fingers were tangled in the pureblood's hair, their bodies pressed close against one another as they embraced, mouths locked together in a heated kiss. For a moment the sheer erotic quality of the unlikely tableau overwhelmed her senses and made unbidden heat race through Yuki's body like a firestorm.

That was followed swiftly by a sharp, brutal stab of confused pain that she barely understood, yet threatened to send her to her knees as it knifed harshly through her stomach.

Kaname and Zero sensed Yuki's presence inside the room too late, their heads swiveling towards her even as she started speaking. The coming and going of many footsteps in the hall had masked her approach and they had been a little too involved to catch the increased nearness of her scent until the damage was done.

Kaname felt ice flood his veins and knot harshly in his stomach as he caught sight of Yuki's flushed face and the wide brown eyes full of hurt. It was one thing to know in his head that his relationship with Zero could possibly cause a wedge in his relationship with Yuki, it was quite another to be suddenly slapped upside the head with the harsh and inescapable reality of it.

The sudden way intense arousal turned into guilt and shock made Kaname feel physically ill. He wasn't used to being caught this flat-footed, without a plan or an explanation... not even an excuse. He'd consciously tried to never bring Yuki into the equation of what he felt for Zero. As he'd tried to tell Zero, it was just different somehow, the one not affecting the other and visa-versa... but he wasn't stupid enough to expect Yuki to see things that way. Her face already told that story.

Zero froze; feeling like time had stopped for a moment. Then he wished that it had. Wished he was dead, that the earth would suddenly open and swallow him. Of all nightmares he could possibly conjure, this had to be the worst. Oh God, Yuki... What must she think of him? Seeing him, like this with another guy and even worse... with Kaname. He felt hot and cold at the same time, nausea knotting in his gut to the point where he really thought he was going to throw up. Zero quickly struggled out from under Kaname, grabbing the covers and pulling them over his lap. He couldn't think. His brain was a jabbering haze of reeling static.

"Yuki..." but his vocal chords literally seized up and he couldn't even speak. He should do something... should say something... but nothing came, and nothing would matter. All he wanted was to get away. Get away before he lost control of his stomach or made an even worse idiot of himself. No other thought or impulse could even force its way through the jumble of his mind. Rolling off the bed he snatched up his clothes. Sliding into his pants with inhuman speed he simply bolted, unable to even look at Yuki, or Kaname. His life had just torpedoed far beyond the well and truly screwed up beyond repair point and he couldn't even begin to figure out how to deal with that.

The door slammed shut and Kaname felt it reverberate through him. Kaname had been too off-balanced to stop Zero in time and his chest ached sharply. "Zero...!" but the boy was already gone. Yuki looked like she intended to follow as quickly as possible, now looking both miserable and guilty.

"I-I'm sorry! I was just... the bathroom... a-and Ruka... and I... I'll go!" Yuki stammered almost incomprehensively. She was backpedaling like crazy for the door now. She'd never felt so embarrassed and awkward in her life. She wanted to die. She tugged quickly at the knob but Kaname pulled himself out of his shock before her shaking fingers could manage it. He couldn't let her leave like this! Desperation clawed at the back of his chest even as part of his mind silently contemplated skewering Ruka for whatever had apparently lead to Yuki winding up here at this most inopportune moment.

In a flash, Kaname was behind her, hand pressed against the door to hold it in place. "Yuki, please, wait..." the pureblood tried to recover himself despite the horrible cold, sinking feeling in his stomach.

Yuki jumped at his sudden appearance and spun around... which was a mistake because Kaname was still very naked. She couldn't help looking and before her eyes jerked quickly back up to his face her own face had already flushed an even deeper and more painful shade of red.

She trembled. She'd like to think it was from fear but it wasn't. It definitely wasn't. She was such an idiot... she'd fantasized so about Kaname... about what it would be like to kiss him, if she wouldn't have died immediately from shy embarrassment at the mere thought of being so forward. She was not a prude, but she was still quite young. Between the sometimes overly protective guardianship of the Chairman, Zero, Kaname and Cross Academy itself, she had lived a relatively sheltered life thus far. She'd not had a real boyfriend yet, never even been kissed. Her fantasies of love and romance were still on the relatively tame, storybook side of things. She wanted to hold hands, go for walks, kiss under the stars... she wasn't emotionally ready to contemplate being serious enough to sleep with someone. Seeing Kaname like this... as nice as it most definitely was on one level... was complete overload. And she couldn't wrap her mind around the fact that he had been... had been in bed with Zero. That thought alone was enough to make her feel like a confused, gibbering idiot. She averted her eyes and turned away again, tugging urgently at the door knob.

"Let me go," she pleaded softly, horribly embarrassed and desperate to get out of there.

"Yuki, please let me explain..." Kaname's face was intent with concern as he looked at her, still holding the door firmly shut. Panicked butterflies were trying to tear holes in his stomach. This whole situation was so hideously awkward and absurd, he couldn't believe he'd let this happen. What was wrong with him? He was intensely aware of his undressed state, and painfully aware that he was making Yuki very uncomfortable, but he she had to give him a chance to try to explain... Explain what, you moron? How are you going to explain this so that a human can understand? Do you even have a right to try?

"You don't have to, really. Look... it's okay... I'm not a baby. I mean, I know that guys can... can be in love with each other too and... I mean... it's fine... honest..." Yuki was babbling and humiliating herself more by the second. She gave up on the knob and just stared at the door miserably, wanting to be anywhere but here. Everything was obviously anything but fine.

If Kaname hadn't felt so conflicted inside, he would have been amused by her stumbling words. Yuki was so innocent and naive, seeing them in bed and automatically speaking of love. Yet at the same time, her innocence held a mirror to his soul, as it always had... and forced him to actually question what it was exactly that he felt for Zero. Now was not the time for that, though. Kaname touched her shoulder gently, wincing at the way she tried to cringe away from him.

"Yuki, I know a great deal has happened in a very short time. I apologize for that. Zero and I have formed a bond that's difficult to explain. We've become very... close. But it's not..." Kaname had the unique experience of having almost no idea how to say what he was trying to say. It was a very unusual and intensely unpleasant sensation. "It doesn't change how I feel about you, or what I have said to you before." He felt like his eloquence totally failed him when he really needed it most. The pureblood dipped his head, lips brushing Yuki's hair ever so lightly. "I love you, Yuki, you know I-"

"Don't...!" Yuki cut him off hoarsely, pressing her forehead against the door. Her body shivered in response to Kaname's light caress. She ached for him and she felt absolutely wretched. She pulled away, twisting around to look up at him with hurting, uncomprehending eyes. She had adored him since she was little. Probably since before she could even remember from what she now understood of their past. But sometimes he seemed so distant and remote; sometimes she simply did not understand him at all.

"Kaname, don't, please. How can you say that to me? Now, like this? What about Zero? What do those words even mean to you?" Yuki felt guilty for saying it, but she couldn't help herself. Kaname had told her he loved her, that he wanted her to be his. She'd dared think he might actually mean it, dared dream a little bit about what it might be like to have him as a boyfriend, maybe someday even as more than that. To find him like this... had he meant anything he'd ever said to her? Or had she simply blown it? Had he wanted more from her that she wasn't ready to give yet so he'd... he'd... what? Lost interest? Gone somewhere else? And then there was Zero... if he'd found some kind of happiness, she'd be damned if she took it away from him, she wouldn't let anyone hurt him like that, even Kaname. Even if her heart was breaking.

Pain flickered through Kaname's eyes. He'd been right. Yuki felt the same as Zero. There weren't words to describe how deeply it hurt to have her looking at him like this. To have her of all people look at him like a monster. She might as well have struck him, it would have hurt a lot less, but Kaname supposed he deserved it. He couldn't explain himself, couldn't justify how he could love her and yet care so much for Zero. How he could expect her to share him with someone else... especially Zero. He felt trapped in this tangled web of human mores that part of him felt drawn towards, and part of him just didn't understand at all. Or maybe it was himself that he didn't understand. Because he was a creature meant for darkness that was always trying to reach for that which lived in daylight, and it had finally burned him.

Kaname released the door. Yuki obviously couldn't believe what he felt for her, and he wouldn't lie to reassure her and tell her that Zero meant nothing to him; that was a betrayal he couldn't commit. It would probably only make her angry for Zero's sake anyway. No... there was nothing he could say to her. So he simply crossed back to the bed and sat down, leaving her free to go.

"I'm sorry, Yuki," he said softly, a little hoarsely. "I never meant to hurt you... or Zero. Of all mysteries, I suppose... the heart is the strangest and the most cruel. If you can't believe that, perhaps you can at least try to forgive me."

Yuki watched him for a moment, before she turned and tugged the door open, disappearing swiftly.

Alone, Kaname sank his head into his hands and shoved his fingers into his hair, gripping tightly. So many times, he'd feared that who he was, what he was, would push Yuki away from him forever. Now he'd finally managed to do it, and make Zero hate him again at the same time. He didn't expect Zero was going to want to forgive him for this whole situation, if he wasn't already nearly in the next country by now anyway. It was ridiculous, how staggeringly painful it was to feel that he had just been isolated from the two people who meant the most to him.

Kaname grimaced bitterly as he sank back to lay sprawled on the bed, staring sardonically up at the ceiling. Two people who meant the most to him? When had he started feeling like that? What a mess... when had his life turned into such a ludicrous sideshow soap-opera? How could he have let this happen?

Kaname closed his eyes against the bitter, confused pain throbbing through his heart. How could he expect Yuki to understand him when he didn't understand himself?

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Four: " Torn Apart, Thrown Together"

Yuki was not about to go back to her room, she couldn't stand to be around Ruka just at the moment. Her father would be even worse. She needed to be alone. She needed air. She needed to be far, far away from Kaname.

Not caring that her clothes were rumpled from having been slept in and her hair mostly uncombed, Yuki snagged the first elevator heading to the ground level of the hotel and took one of the rear exits, letting herself outside. She'd meant to just go out for some air, but there was a group of employees loitering near the rear exit on a smoke break and so she quickly hurried further away, cutting across the hotel parking lot and making her way down the alley beyond. She remembered passing a park somewhere in this direction when she and the Chairman had driven over yesterday and had the vague notion that she would head there to try and collect herself. Her destination wasn't all that important. Moving was the thing. Not stopping. Not feeling.

Yuki didn't even know how to qualify the feelings running through her. Surprisingly, it wasn't actually jealousy; at least, she didn't think so. She was so confused she didn't know. If she had walked in and found Kaname with Ruka, or... somehow it seemed even more unthinkable yet just as hurtful – Zero with another girl... then she would have been jealous. She would have felt betrayed. But Kaname and Zero? It was so... weird and unthinkable. She was used to them hating each other; she was used to having to be the one to stay between them to keep the peace. But the incredibly perfect, passionate picture they made on the bed... she couldn't get it out of her head. Oddly, not because it was disturbing, but because it had been so... beautiful. That wasn't the right word, but she didn't know what the right word was.

It was definitely odd to her, thinking about two guys liking each other in that way, but that wasn't what was making her miserable. She was glad they were happy; she was... they were the two dearest people in the world to her and she should be happy for them! But... if they liked each other, if they both liked guys and they looked so intensely content together... where did that leave her?

Nowhere. She was losing them. No... she'd already lost them and she just hadn't known it. When had all this happened? When had everything changed so much? Why was she such a stupid little girl who never seemed to know what everyone else knew or catch what was really going on? Why did nothing make sense anymore?

Yuki scrubbed desperately at her eyes, tears clouding her vision and making her unable to see where she was going. She stumbled and had to stop before she fell. Leaning her back against the wall of the building beside her, not even caring what building it was, Yuki sank down to sit on the ground, knees bent, her face buried in her hands.

Kaname said he loved her... he'd said that to her many times now. But how could she believe him? How could she believe him after what she had seen? You couldn't love two people at once, could you? And he had to love Zero, to be... doing that with him.

He'd better love Zero! A small, protective flash reared its head inside Yuki a bit at that thought. Zero acted so tough, but his heart was so deep, so vulnerable underneath. If he was in love then she'd be furious if anyone broke his heart.

Oh God... Zero in love... why did that thought hurt so badly? Why did it hurt just as badly as thinking of Kaname in love with someone else? Zero was like a brother to her, her sometimes-best-friend... so why did thinking of him in love make her hurt so bad she couldn't even breathe?

Yuki screwed her fists into her eyes, holding her breath to try and stop crying. She wasn't a little girl, she should be dealing with this in a more rational and mature manner... somehow. It just hurt so badly. Kaname and Zero... they had always been part of her life. But now... they would go on... and eventually she would be left behind. Maybe she was being selfish, she didn't want to be... but her heart was breaking.

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Kaname dragged his head up when someone knocked at the door. He rolled off the bed and didn't even bother telling the person on the other side to wait a minute as he morosely went through the motions of dressing. It was Ichijo knocking, he could tell. Kaname knew Ichijo would wait for him without being told.

Why hadn't he noticed when Yuki was at the door? How could he have been so utterly careless and stupid? Was Zero okay? He wouldn't go and do anything foolish, would he? What about Yuki? This was such a huge mess.

Kaname accidentally popped one of the buttons off his shirt from shoving them through the holes too viciously. He knew he probably should wash again, but just at this moment, he couldn't even muster the strength to care if Zero's scent was still on him. Right now, it felt like nothing mattered anymore.

Kaname tugged the door open and just stared at Ichijo, his dark gaze silently demanding to know what the other wanted.

For half a second, Takuma was shocked silent by how crappy his friend looked. It wasn't anything physical, but Kaname was radiating a dark, disturbed, despondent aura that was like getting hit in the face with a slap of cold salt water.

Takuma could smell Zero on him clearly this time. But he could smell lingering trace of Yuki in here too. He could guess why. Coming out of the shower with the door to their room still propped open because of the maid, he'd seen Yuki running past, down the hall away from this room. She'd looked pretty upset. He couldn't pretend to understand this whole situation, or what his pureblood friend thought he was doing, but whatever was going on, he could tell that Kaname was hurting. Deeply.

"So... I saw Yuki leave," Ichijo said quietly. Maybe it was taking his life in his own hands to bring up the subject, but he couldn't just ignore the situation, and he'd known Kaname too long not to speak up. "I'm guessing it had something to do with you and Kiriyu?"

If Kaname was surprised that Ichijo had figured it out, it didn't show. He looked for a moment like tearing Takuma's head off might just be a much needed form of stress relief, but he didn't. Instead he merely stepped back, wordlessly half inviting, half commanding Ichijo to enter.

Takuma complied and Kaname let the door shut behind him.

"I don't think anyone else has figured it out," Takuma assured after a moment of uncomfortable silence. He kind of hated the way Kaname would do this sometimes. The way he would stay silent and simply look at you until you found yourself tripping over your words and saying more than you intended just to try and fill the awkward gap. The pureblood had it down to an art form and even though Takuma knew that, he always fell into it anyway.

"Kaname, whatever you want to do is your business and you know I'll never say a word. I just came over because... I was worried about you." There. He admitted it. Takuma searched Kaname's troubled, unreadable face with concern. "Are you okay?" he asked quietly.

The note of genuine care in the other's tone leeched through the icy walls Kaname was holding tightly between them. The pureblood ran a hand over his face with a sigh.

"Why are you even here, Ichijo?" he murmured quietly, but shook his head when it looked like the other might try to answer. "No, I heard what you just said. I mean why at all? Why do you follow me when it has cost you everything? When all I have ever brought you is pain and loss? Even when we were small, you had to endure being in my shadow in your own home. So why do you care? I know, I know, you have no choice." Kaname looked away. He'd never felt like this before in his life, but for a few moments he actually, truly hated what he was. Not being a vampire, but being a pureblood. He hated knowing that the only reason anyone was with him, was loyal to him, was because they physiologically had no alternative. Zero and Yuki did have a choice... and they had both rejected him.

"I understand you have to obey, but why don't you hate me like you should?" It was a soft, almost hoarse whisper.

Takuma was almost as shocked as he'd ever been. He'd never seen Kaname like this. Never. It was deeply disturbing on one level, and yet... completely touching and compelling on another.

"You're the closet thing I'll ever have to a brother, Kaname," Takuma said quietly. "I've never said that before because I didn't want to insult you, but it's how I feel. I never envied you the spotlight you were shoved under all your life and I don't follow you because I have to. Neither do the others. Kain, Aido, Ruka... we're not here just because we're your subordinates, Kaname. We're here because we're your friends and we believe in you."

Kaname's gaze flicked to meet Takuma's and he read truth there. The pureblood sank down to sit on the edge of the bed again, burying his face in his hands. Takuma's kindness touched him, but somehow made him feel even more miserable at the same time.

"I'm an idiot, Takuma," he muttered softly. How could he expect to do justice to the faith and trust of those following and depending on him when he was capable of making such an incredible mess of his own personal life? "I should never have let any of this get started."

"Maybe," Takuma replied slowly. "Maybe not. I don't know. Life isn't always logical. Kaname, I'll tell you the truth. Ever since your parents and the Kimura's died, I have felt that you changed. You locked your heart away inside a box and let no one close. Don't be afraid of taking it back out again, no matter the consequences."

Kaname remained silent, staring at the carpet, but after a minute or two his hand slipped up and caught Takuma's, giving it a tight little squeeze. The pureblood's head finally came up again. His eyes were still haunted, but composed.

"Go back to the others, Ichijo. You know what needs doing. Make sure they all pick up where we left off last night. I need to prepare myself a little better, and then I shall join you," he said, glancing down at his partially buttoned shirt. He didn't say it, but if Zero and Yuki weren't already back, then he was going to go looking for them as well. He knew Yuki wouldn't have gone far, he wasn't so sure about Zero, but neither could be allowed to wander given the current danger, no matter how much they might not want to see him right now.

Ichijo simply nodded and turned for the door. "Of course, Kaname."

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Zero wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, his other gripping the brick wall next to him tightly for balance. His stomach was still heaving, but no longer bringing anything up. The dull, miserable ache in his chest remained a tense knot of nausea.

He hadn't made it very far away from the hotel before he'd had to stop so his roiling stomach could have its way. Now, he wasn't sure what to do. He couldn't go back... how could he ever face Yuki again? Or any of the others once they knew...? But where else could he go? Other than Cross Academy, and those people back there, he had no one in the world. He had no other home. There was nowhere that a mixed breed like him belonged.

Acidic bile and a deeply lonely ache burned the back of his throat as he straightened up, spitting disgustedly to clean his mouth. He was on the fringe of a small, run down little park and he spotted a water fountain near some benches. Making his way over, he used the water to wash out his mouth and took a few sips to try and quell the burning in his throat.

He shivered slightly at the cool water and the cool air. A passing jogger stared at him for a moment without breaking stride.

Oh. Yeah... he was still shirtless and shoeless, his hair a spiky mess and he probably looked like a bum or a drunk, but that was about the last concern on his mind right now. Hands sliding into his pockets, Zero slid back into the less exposed patchwork of alleyways behind the park, away from curious stares and prying eyes.

Zero wanted to be furious, because that was a much easier and less complicated emotion than what he was currently feeling. He wanted to hate Kaname for creating this whole painful situation. But he couldn't, not completely. It took two to create this mess, and it was as much his fault as Kaname's.

Zero bit his lower lip and rubbed in frustration at the burning, almost biting ache throbbing at the base of his neck. Kaname must be pretty upset. Given how badly he'd already been feeling that morning... Zero gripped the wall and banged his forehead against it, not too hard, but hard enough to sting. He was such a friggin' idiot! Even now, he couldn't help sitting here and worrying about the pureblood.

What was he going to do? What could he do? The hurt in Yuki's eyes haunted him. He'd hurt her. He'd known how she felt about Kaname, and he still... Zero pressed his eyes shut, fingers cracking the bricks he was gripping. All he ever did was hurt her, and everyone else. It was a good thing that his gun was locked up in the bus locker downtown with the rest of their gear from the other night, and Kaname had the key. It would have been very tempting to eat it right now, because every other option just seemed impossible.

Soft sounds intruded on his keen hearing, along with a familiar scent. Zero froze.

Yuki.

Despite how much he wished to avoid her, he was concerned that she seemed to be nearby, and it sounded like she was crying. Slowly, his feet reluctantly drew him towards the source of the sounds.

He paused a few buildings down when he caught sight of her sitting on the ground, leaning against a building, shoulders hunched, face buried in her hands. Zero drew his breath in slowly as he watched her dejected form. Seeing her reminded him why he needed to keep trying, even when he would so much rather just give up. He felt worse than miserable, but he knew he needed to stop feeling sorry for himself and try to do something about the damage done. And he needed to stop blaming Kaname for his own feelings. Yuki had found him and Kaname together because he had crawled into the pureblood's bed this morning. As horrible as he felt right now... he needed to take responsibility and stop running away. He owed Yuki that. He owed Kaname that too.

Yuki wiped her eyes with the heels of her palms. The street and the building were cold and the cold was leeching into her, reminding her uncomfortably that she still needed to use the bathroom. It felt stupid to have such normal, everyday needs at a moment like this.

"Yuki?" a quiet voice made her head snap up. Yuki quickly tried to blink away her embarrassing tears as she saw Zero making his way hesitantly towards her.

"Z-Zero... um... hi." Yuki tried to smile and pretend she hadn't been crying. She failed miserably.

Zero managed a weak smile back and crouched in front of her. He felt his cold skin flushing again with embarrassed heat at facing her again, at knowing what she had seen and what she must think of him... but there were years of trust between them too. Years of being like family. Of being friends who could fight and argue, but who always protected each other.

"Yuki... I'm sorry," he murmured softly, hoarsely.

Yuki didn't respond, not sure how to deal with the apology and so ignoring it. She couldn't meet his eyes. "Zero, your shirt... you're gonna catch a cold," she chided softly instead, her brows creasing in concern as she took in the fact that he was only partially dressed. She automatically started tugging off the light jacket she was wearing over her school blouse, even though it was many sizes too small for Zero.

Zero caught her wrists lightly in his hands, holding them gently together in front of her so she was forced to be still and look at him. "Yuki, please," he said quietly. "I can't make any of this right, but at least let me apologize. I never wanted to hurt you."

Yuki forced a desperate, brave attempt at a smile. "You didn't, Zero. I-I'm happy for you and Kaname, I really am, I just... I was surprised, that's all. I didn't mean to barge in like that." Her voice trailed off to an almost inaudible whisper at the end as her throat threatened to close off. Yeah, sure, she looked real happy.

Zero sighed in frustration. He really couldn't take Yuki trying to be selfless right now, nor her intimating that he and Kaname were like... going out... or something. "Oh stop being so... so darn sweet, Yuki!" he said miserably. "You just found me in bed with your boyfriend for crying out loud! You've every right to be angry with me! To-to hate me!"

Yuki flushed again, looking down at where Zero was still holding her hands between his. Ironically, Zero being crabby with her was somehow comfortable to Yuki, a small element of normalcy in these bizarre circumstances.

"He's not my boyfriend, you idiot," she muttered, her voice still a little raw. "And I could never hate you." The last part was spoken softer and her eyes slid back up towards his again, reluctantly. "Zero... I didn't know you felt like that about him. It always seemed like you two... you know... hated each other. But I guess there's probably a lot I don't know about vampires. I want you to be happy. I want Kaname to be happy. I-I already told him it's okay. I understand, Zero. Really, I do," she said earnestly, mustering every shred of strength she had to try and convince him. To try to not start crying again.

Zero could clearly read the pain there, when Yuki spoke of Kaname. It was... ironic, he supposed. That she was obviously more upset with the pureblood about all this than she was with him. He choked on a sardonic smirk at her continued misunderstanding of his and Kaname's relationship. Oh boy. He really needed to explain, didn't he?

"Yuki, listen to me," Zero said quietly, settling down into a more comfortable kneeling position in front of her, hands sliding from her wrists, to hold her hands. "I can't pretend to understand what's going on with Kaname and me, but it's not entirely what you think..."

Zero explained to Yuki as best he could from the beginning, how Kaname had let him drink his blood, to prolong his life and to save him. How Zero had returned the favor that night in the woods, and the resulting bond that had formed because of it. Haltingly, he explained about Ichijo, and what the elder vampire had done to Kaname when he was a prisoner. About the devastation it had caused Kaname when the Aristocrat died and... Zero flushed hotly the whole time, but he confessed to her in short, vague, miserable phrases that Kaname had needed their bond to survive, and what had happened afterwards.

Zero swallowed hard, staring at the ground between them, unintentionally squeezing Yuki's hands almost hard enough to cut off circulation as he finished. This was probably the hardest thing he'd ever done, but he needed Yuki to at least understand how things had come to be where they were, even if nothing else was understandable.

Yuki listened quietly, her heart hurting for Zero, and for Kaname. She hadn't realized the extent that the pureblood had suffered. The hurried, vague way Zero told it to her, she ended up with the semi-mistaken impression that Ichijo had actually raped Kaname. That wasn't quite the case, but emotionally, she wasn't too far wrong. She felt horrible for what she'd said to him before she left and ached to take the words back. Even if she was sure of nothing else, she was sure that he was a dear friend, and she hadn't known he was still hurting.

Yuki carefully twisted one hand free of Zero's unintentional death grip and reached up to cup his cheek tenderly. She wasn't crying anymore. Her heart was still in turmoil, but how could she not be moved by what she had heard?

"Oh, Zero..." her voice was tender. She wished she could make him understand that she thought the world of him for the sacrifices he had made. Even if the resulting situation was hard for her to reconcile, she of all people understood what it must have taken for him to allow a vampire so deeply into his life, and a pureblood at that.

Zero swallowed hard, and hesitantly lifted his eyes to hers, hand sliding up to capture the one against his cheek. He couldn't understand how she could look at him so gently, how she could actually look like she forgave him, or at least understood... but then, he'd never understood how she could forgive him for using her blood to survive either.

"Neither of us wanted things to end up this out of control," Zero admitted softly. "We've tried to just end it, but... I-I don't know what to do." The desolation of feeling completely isolated and completely worthless showed in his silver eyes.

"You do whatever your heart leads you to do, Zero," Yuki replied just as softly, her eyes sincere. "You're not alone; I'll never let you be alone. And despite what I know you think about yourself, you deserve happiness as much as everybody else and nobody's got a right to tell you where you can and can't find it." Yuki swallowed softly around the lump in her throat. "Kaname's a good person, Zero. It may not always seem like it, but his heart is gentle and kind. I wish you knew him like I've known him. He's just... different than us, but not..." her throat closed off too much to continue again, nearly choking her. She didn't mean to get all emotion again, and she was afraid Zero would think she didn't mean what she said. She did mean it. That didn't mean she wasn't still hurting and confused herself. But it was in her nature to try and make everything right for others, whether or not everything was all right for her.

Zero saw the pain and the sincerity and he squeezed her hands gently. He knew she meant what she was saying, but it was obviously still breaking her heart to try and contemplate giving up Kaname. What he couldn't see was that it wasn't only Kaname that she was having a hard time giving up.

"Yuki... I know we've got this bond thing going on, and I know it seems pretty messed up, but... I think Kaname really does care for you in his own way. I doubt he's about to give you up unless you tell him to get lost." And maybe not even then...Zero couldn't help thinking from personal experience. He realized just how screwed up that sounded, especially coming from him and he grimaced somewhat awkwardly. It was beyond ironic that he found himself in this position, found himself defending Kaname to Yuki.

"I mean... I'm not saying its right, or that you should accept that at all. I guess I'm just saying that as screwed up as it all is, I understand how he feels, because I..." Zero paused, drawing a deep breath in. He'd never found the courage to tell her this before. He'd never felt he had a right. But ironically, this whole situation with Kaname had made him more willing to simply act on his feelings and let things fall where they may. Ironically... the fact that everything was completely screwed and he felt he didn't have an icicle's chance in hell with her anymore, finally gave him the freedom to say what he'd never dared, or felt worthy to say before.

"Because I love you too, Yuki. I always have," he confessed quietly. It was surprisingly... easy. Maybe Kaname had rubbed off on him more than he knew... because Zero found himself holding her startled eyes with his and leaning over, closer. There was a certain, desolate freedom in feeling that you had hit rock bottom and things couldn't get any worse. It gave him the courage to take chances. The hunter's lips caught hers and he kissed her, warmly but briefly, as he had ached to do for so long.

Yuki froze in shock, but she didn't pull away. Her fingers curled against his cheek as his warm lips moved so softly against hers. There was no explaining the way her body flushed with warmth and her heart leapt up to pound in her ears.

Zero smiled sadly as he pulled back again, rising to his feet. He was still a little too afraid of the inevitable rejection to wait for any kind of reply or response. "It's okay; I know you don't feel that way. But I –"

Zero froze; other thoughts fleeing as his hunter senses suddenly rang a sharp, urgent warning. There was a vampire nearby, and his scent was familiar. But it was not one of the vampires from the hotel. It was...

"Yuki, go back to the hotel, right away," Zero said quickly, his voice and manner abruptly taking on a completely different, serious tone.

Yuki couldn't sense what Zero did, but she rose quickly to her feet upon seeing the change in him. Her head was spinning and she felt like she was lagging about a hundred miles behind whatever was happening. "Zero... what...?"

Zero shook his head, looking around and trying to pinpoint the presence he sensed. Close. Too close for comfort... and getting closer fast. "Now, Yuki! Get back to the hotel and tell Kaname that Rido's here. He's found us."

Yuki's eyes widened. She hesitated, obviously wondering what Zero intended to do... but she already knew. Zero was going to stay to check things out and cover her retreat if need be. She was tempted to refuse to leave him... but she knew Zero was right, if Rido had found them, he might be in the process of springing a trap and the others at the hotel could be in danger.

"Hurry up!" Zero hissed. His senses were on full alert now and he was already back in irritated big brother mode.

Yuki shot him a look, but nodded and sprinted off. Be careful Zero...

Yuki had barely disappeared before Zero felt a cold sensation crawl up his spine. A vampire was watching him. Rido, possessing the body of another vampire, registered as distinctive, double 'glow' in his hunter senses. He tensed and spun around quickly.

Rido was standing a few feet behind him. He was wearing a long, dark coat that hung open. His hands rested casually in the pockets. He appraised Zero's partially dressed state with a slow lift of one eyebrow.

"Well, well, well... if it isn't the ex-human. You're a little far from your master, aren't you?" Rido smiled darkly. He'd obviously not forgotten the trouble Zero had given him the last time they'd crossed paths.

Zero's fists balled warily. He seriously felt the absence of his gun, or any other suitable weapon. He wished strongly that his hunter training had not cut off when it did. He knew some charms, but they probably weren't going to be enough in a situation like this. Zero eyed a couple of trash cans out of the corner of his eye, his periphery vision sweeping the alley for anything he could use.

Rido hadn't really expected the boy to run, although that would have been a perfectly logical reaction. But the boy was too stubborn, or else knew how useless fleeing would be. Anyway, it was more fun this way. Rido's gaze narrowed, his hands sliding from his pockets. One hand slipped up to his mouth. "You shouldn't wander alone. You never know what you might run into..."

Rido bit his thumb lightly, spilling his own blood. After that, he moved almost too fast to see. Snaking, razor tendrils of blood shot out from his fingers, detaching and whizzing towards Zero like grisly boomerangs.

Zero was ready for some kind of attack and ducked swiftly, dodging to the side. One of the whirling 'blades' cut a sharp turn and came back again, slashing a shallow cut across his ribs. Zero winced but didn't let it throw him off. He dived for the trash can. Snatching up the round, metal lids he spun around. He caught one of the spinning blood blades with the edge of a lid, throwing it off course and sending it slamming into the wall.

Rido was suddenly behind him again and Zero turned swiftly, just in time to throw the garbage can lids up between them and deflect the snaking tongues of the blood whips Rido sent coiling and snapping viciously towards him. The defense worked, but the sharp whips curled like prehensile serpents around the lids, cutting them into sharp, jagged pieces. One of the tendrils snapped around Zero's arm and yanked him forward.

Zero was thrown off balance, his arm stinging sharply. He caught himself as he pitched forward, tucking his shoulder at the last moment and turning it into a controlled roll. He gripped a jagged piece of the can lid in his free arm. As he uncurled from the roll, right at Rido's feet, he sprang up and slashed forward as if to stab the other vampire. Rido moved swiftly, but Zero had faked him out, reversing at the last moment and slashing the sharp piece of twisted metal across Rido's face and neck instead.

Blood welled and spurted, spraying both of them and Rido snarled, clutching at his neck with one hand. He used his blood grip on Zero's arm to snap the boy sideways, throwing him into the nearest wall. Zero hit hard enough to crack the bricks. His head spun and he reeled as he tried to recover himself. He didn't have time. Rido's seething tentacles bit tight into his arm and snapped him the other direction, slamming him into the opposite wall with equal force. Zero's world exploded in pain and he slid down the wall, barely able to see around the flashing, dancing lights in front of his eyes. Rido was on him in a flash. Something slammed harshly into the hunter's face, knocking his head back sharply against the wall again and finally dropping a curtain of darkness over his world.

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Yuki's feet churned swiftly as she made her way back towards the hotel. She hadn't realized she'd ended up so far away from it. As she ran she tried not to let her mind wander to what Zero had said to her a few minutes ago. She was still somewhat in shock. She hadn't consciously realized, not until she actually heard him confess his feelings... that she... she felt... what?

She'd cared deeply for him almost since the day the Chairman brought him home and she'd looked into those hurting, silent silver eyes and wanted to make him happy. Her feelings had always seemed shrouded from her conscious mind, hidden beneath the veil of sisterly love. But the way her whole being had responded when he kissed her... that wasn't just sisterly love, was it?

Yuki could still feel Zero's touch on her lips, his taste lingering there as she ran. She cared deeply for him... but did she love him? And for her to even consider it... How was it possible? She loved Kaname, truly she did... how could she think she might feel that way about Zero too? Maybe she was the one who didn't know what love was, for her heart to be so easily divided. What had she been thinking earlier...? It was impossible to love two people at the same time? Then what did that make her? What did that make any of them?

Yuki was relieved when she saw the hotel ahead down the street and she forced a last burst of speed. Suddenly a familiar voice called to her from a side-alley.

"Yuki, in here!"

She'd been distracted, thinking of Zero and Kaname and of warning the others. The voice sounded like Zero. She caught a familiar flash of silver hair and the outlines of face and body in the shadows of the alley and skidded into a quick turn towards him.

"Zero, how did you..." Yuki froze as the boy who had called to her stepped out of the shadows. It wasn't Zero. It looked like him, sounded like him, but the silver hair was too long, the eyes too cold and the tattoos and earrings missing.

"Ichiru..." Yuki panted warily, backing away from Zero's twin. She hadn't seen him since he'd disappeared from the academy. After having almost brutally murdered Zero. Yuki wasn't about to forget or forgive that.

Ichiru smiled unpleasantly. "I'm sorry, you were hoping maybe for my brother? That happens a lot, but you'll have to settle for me..." he advanced slowly, hand resting on the handle of the blade hanging from his belt.

Yuki backed up swiftly, starting to turn and run... and ran smack into the body of another man who had appeared behind her, blocking her escape.

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Kaname loitered unobtrusively for a moment by the exit to the rear of the hotel lobby. He could smell a lingering trace of both Zero and Yuki on the push-bar handle. They'd definitely passed this way recently. He felt a small flush of frustrated anger with them for being foolish enough to go wandering at a time like this.

Calm down. He told himself rationally. They're fine and you're overreacting. They hadn't returned to their rooms and they weren't in the hotel lobby. But it had only been a grand total of maybe twenty or thirty minutes since last time he'd seen them and Kaname hoped the nagging feeling in his gut was nothing more than a result of his overly emotionally involved state. This was why good chess players shouldn't become involved with their playing pieces. Kaname frowned at the thought as it flittered through his mind. Logically it made sense. Emotionally it left a bitter taste in the back of his throat.

Trusting Ichijo to be seeing to things with the others for now, Kaname had slipped down here to the lobby to look for signs of Yuki and Zero. He'd already checked the pool area and restaurant. Now that he was fairly sure they were indeed no longer in the hotel, he weighed whether or not he should simply try to track them down himself, or get any of the others involved. He was leaning towards the former...

Suddenly there was a figure at his elbow. It was a bit of a surprise, because Kaname, although admittedly distracted, had not really sensed the other's approach until he was right near him. And he should have sensed this person's approach. His scent was familiar.

For a moment, it was almost like Zero's, but different enough that Kaname had no illusions about who he was going to see when he turned swiftly and found himself staring at Ichiru, who was standing unadvisedly close to him.

The hunter twin's striking resemblance to his brother hadn't mattered much to Kaname last time he'd seen him. This time... Kaname hated the fact that he actually felt a small, funny little hitch in his chest for a very brief instant, just because Ichiru looked so much like him. He didn't let it show, instead fixing the human with a dark, cool look.

"Shizuka taught you how to mask yourself, I see. Did she also teach you that it's very unwise to try to surprise a pureblood?" he inquired neutrally, his eyes hard and cool. Under the surface, he had an uncomfortable sinking apprehension in his gut. If Ichiru was here, that meant Rido knew where they were. And if Rido was involved...

Ichiru smiled coldly. "Relax. I'm just the messenger, Kuran. And I think it's a message you're going to want to hear."

Ichiru pulled a video cell phone from his pocket and waggled it lightly. "Let's step outside."

Kaname gave the human a long look, before he slowly opened the door and stepped out with him. He'd play this one's game for the moment and find out what was going on. If he didn't like what he heard or perhaps even if he did... well... he hadn't forgotten this boy's culpability in nearly killing Zero, and putting Kaname into the compromising position that landed him in Rido and Ichijo's hands.

There were two maids standing out back of the hotel, chatting up a storm, but Kaname gave them a silent look and they suddenly decided they both wanted to vacate the area and go back inside. Ichiru looked darkly amused. He'd seen Shizuka do that so many times. God... Shizuka... His jaw tightened. He was looking forward to what was to come.

He thumbed the thin black phone's touch-screen and punched in a speed dial number. He spoke into the phone for a moment, then pulled it from his ear and held it out towards Kaname. "It's for you."

The phone had switched to video mode and a slightly pixilated, but clearly recognizable image of Rido filled the small screen. He must be in some kind of vehicle because the picture vibrated and jounced slightly and there was the faint sound of a motorized thrum. It was obvious that he could see Kaname on his end as well. He smiled darkly and Kaname couldn't help the tenseness that immediately set into his bones. If Rido looked that pleased, this wasn't going to be good.

"Hello, Nephew. I think you've been looking for me. Well I've been looking for you too. We should meet. We could have dinner... I've picked up a couple of tasty little treats I'm bringing home right now."

Rido turned the camera phone he was holding around. The picture jumped and jerked a bit as the video lagged a few frames behind the sudden change of scene, then resolved into the image of two very familiar figures. Yuki and Zero were sitting back to back on the floor of a small, dark area. Possibly the back of a windowless van? It was difficult to tell. Steel wires bound them together, digging visibly into their skin. Zero's chin was resting on his chest, his slumped form limp. Disturbing dark stains smudged his mouth and his bare chest and Kaname couldn't tell if it was just shadows and bad picture quality, or if those were bruises mottling his bare skin.

Yuki was obviously very much awake however. She twisted uncomfortably in the tight, biting bonds. She was gagged with what looked like a scarf bound around her mouth. She started when she recognized Kaname's face on the small screen being turned towards her. She tried to speak urgently, but the gag muffled her and the distance between herself and the phone, coupled with the interference of the motor made the mangled sounds unintelligible except for their urgent tone.

Kaname felt ice running through his veins for the second time today. His stomach dropped out through the floor. No. Oh please, no... This was very bad. He was aware that Ichiru was watching him closely though, and he didn't show any visible reaction.

Rido's smug grin filled the screen again. "What about it, Kaname? Care to drop in for a bite?" he mocked. "Oh... right... I forgot, you're all vegetarian now, right? You get your meals from a pill. Good for you. Me... I like my blood fresh, and both of these two smell absolutely delicious. I have to commend your taste on that score at least."

Kaname knew Rido was playing him, was looking for a reaction. He refused to give it, no matter how much the cruel, casual words were filling him with fear. "Your lack of wit still does not amuse me, Rido," he said flatly. "Did you really call just to waste my time with trivia, or was sending Ichiru to me your idea of a present? You do know how to tempt one to break their 'vegetarian diet..." Kaname shot Ichiru a purposefully hard, hungry look.

Ichiru looked appropriately wary, but to his credit he didn't flinch, his hand remaining steady on the phone he was holding. Of course, he had spent the past four years or so with a pureblood.

Rido cocked an eyebrow. He knew Kaname was putting up a disinterested front and was not fooled. He'd seen Kaname go through hell to keep this girl safe, and he knew the lengths to which his nephew had stooped to preserve the ex-human. He may never understand Kaname's fetish for these little human pets, but they were a very useful, very exploitable weakness.

"Ah, well, if you don't want to join me, then I'll have to feast alone..." Rido said carelessly, the image jostling as he crouched down beside his captives. "Hmm... which one, which one...?" he deliberated cheerfully. Grabbing Yuki's hair he yanked her head to the side and lathed her neck with his tongue. "Does this one look good, Kaname? She smells good... and as I recall, she tastes delicious..." he purred smoothly, fangs sliding against pale flesh.

Kaname's fists clenched tightly at his sides. There was no hope of convincing Rido he didn't care what happened to Yuki and Zero. Rido had already seen him react to Yuki being harmed down in the basement prison of Ichijo's mansion. Time to change tactics.

"All right, Rido. You've made your point and you've got my attention. What do you want?" Kaname growled quietly, cutting to the chase.

Rido looked satisfied, although he remained crouched where he was. "I told you. I want you to come for a visit. Alone. Ichiru will bring you to me. You are to remain with him at all times and leave right now. Be aware, he's not the only operative I have watching your position. If you try to alert or communicate with anyone else, if you kill him or give him the slip, if you so much as blink too much, I will kill both these little morsels before you can even figure out where I am or where I am heading. That I promise you, Nephew. Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly," Kaname said in calm, dark, clipped tones. He was already scanning the area with his senses and periphery vision, trying to pick up on any of his uncle's other spies. "You want me to walk into a trap and deliver myself to you all wrapped up with a bow. Tell me, Uncle, if I did value those two tidbit's lives enough to do as you say, what exactly do we have to talk about that's so important you would go to such lengths to arrange a meeting?"

"We can discuss that when you get here. And you will come, Kaname. I know you will and you know you will. But maybe I'm wrong. That's fine too. I'm a patient man. I've waited this long, I can wait longer. Sooner or later, we'll meet. In the meantime, I haven't had a good meal in a while... if you do intend to cooperate, then don't take too long getting here. I might forget that I only intend to snack..." Rido threatened smoothly. He dipped his head and sank his fangs into Yuki's neck and shoulder, drawing a trickle of blood and a sharp little gasp from her behind the gag. He let Kaname watch for a moment or two before he thumbed the phone off, the glossy touch screen going dark as the call was cut off.

Kaname was half a heartbeat from grabbing the phone, crushing it and ramming its broken pieces down Ichiru's throat. Mostly because Ichiru was handy. What he really wanted was to crush Rido's neck in his bare hands gouge the smirk off his face. But he was agonizingly out of reach, as were Zero and Yuki.

Kaname breathed slowly but tensely through his teeth. He'd already spotted a vampire loitering down the street, pretending to read a newspaper. The man was an obvious plant though, meant to draw suspicion. Meaning there were doubtless others. Kaname didn't doubt for a minute that Rido would do exactly as threatened if he deviated at all from the instructions given. Gravel crunched quietly as a car pulled out of the hotel parking lot and came towards them.

Kaname ran through his options. They weren't good. Rido was on the move. He couldn't have gotten very far in the short time Zero and Yuki had been missing, but in this maze of a city, he could still be anywhere, and getting further away by the moment. Even if Kaname had had his normal level of resources to mobilize... he would never be able to find and get to Rido before it was too late. Obviously, Rido knew that quite well. Cleverly maneuvered, Uncle...

Ichiru slid the phone back into his pocket. "Sucks to think about losing someone you care for, doesn't it?" he said with far too much cold relish. "Personally, I don't give a damn what Rido's planning. I'd just as soon he killed that little brat girl and my freak brother. I'd just as soon you understood loss first hand. So please, by all means... try something, pureblood. Please."

Ichiru's eyes were hard, dead as he held and weathered Kaname's intense glare. The boy may still be entirely human, but he had the eyes of a vampire. More than Zero would ever have. Because for all Zero's anger, Ichiru understood far better how to hate.

Kaname knew Ichiru wasn't playing him. He meant it. He was here for his own reasons and he was using Rido as much as Rido was using him. It was vaguely amusing, actually. Kaname doubted Rido knew his lackey was quite so clever or manipulative. Shizuka really had taught him well.

The car stopped next to them and the rear door opened. Kaname paused a moment, gaze still holding Ichiru's. Then he turned and slid quietly into the car, which was obviously here for them. There was a vampire driving, and another sitting in the back seat, carefully covering the pureblood with an anti-vampire weapon as he got in.

"Get in the car, Ichiru. Your master's waiting," Kaname said with cold condescension. He wasn't about to let this boy's personal vendetta jeopardize Yuki and Zero. Rido had planned this too well and Ichiru was a loose cannon. For now, Kaname would have to play along and wait for an opportunity.

Ichiru smiled coolly, looking almost disappointed as he slammed the door shut behind Kaname. Tugging open the other passenger door, he slid into the front seat. The car accelerated away even as he tugged the door shut. Ichiru turned around in his seat as they pulled out onto the main road, leaving the hotel swiftly behind them. He smiled at Kaname, who was sitting quietly, under the guard of the trained assassin sitting next to him.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you..." Ichiru said with unpleasant amusement as he pulled a heavy lycra and leather bondage style blackout hood from the wheel well by his feet. "You get to wear one of these."

Kaname's lips pressed into a tighter line, but he didn't resist. He understood. They didn't want him to see where they were going, and the nature of the hood would muffle his other senses like hearing and smell to a certain extent as well. He also understood he had no choice.

Leaning back around the seat, Ichiru tugged the thick hood down over the pureblood's head, fastening it at the neck and plunging Kaname's world into a stifling, muffled, complete blackness. Ichiru pinched the two curving tubes that allowed air into the hood between his fingers for a minute or two, smiling darkly.

Kaname's body tensed, his fingers balling harshly in his lap, but he did not otherwise rise to the bait, or the fact that he was being suffocated. He could survive a long time without air and Rido wanted him alive. Ichiru was just playing, trying to get him to panic. He would not oblige.

After a few minutes the vampire assassin sitting beside Kaname gave Ichiru a warning look and the human released his hold with a small, careless shrug. He grinned as he settled back into his seat, listening to the quiet, but noticeable sound of Kaname's labored breath hissing rapidly through the small air tubes as the car sped along.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Five: "Hath No Man than This"

Zero blinked groggily, completely disorientated as he awoke. His body was slowly healing itself from a pretty nasty concussion. For a moment he had no recollection of what had happened or where he was. His vision was blurry and wouldn't coalesce into focus. The light was dim. He could feel vampire, but his senses weren't any clearer than his vision. Warm breath brushed his neck and he felt the distinctive, sharp smoothness of fangs gliding lightly across his jugular.

"Kaname?" he slurred automatically. What was wrong? Why was his head pounding like this? Why did everything hurt? Why couldn't he think straight?

A soft, mocking laugh close to his ear made Zero's flesh crawl and his body tighten. That wasn't Kaname's voice.

Fingers snarled tightly in Zero's hair and yanked his head back. A symphony of hammers took up a staccato beat in his head and the hunter groaned softly through grit teeth.

"Mmm... no," Rido's voice purred against Zero's throat. "Although I dare say my nephew would punish you for speaking to him with such little respect if he were here..." he grinned darkly. Zero had used the non-honorific form of Kaname's name, which translated either to close familiarity, or intentional rudeness. Obviously, Rido assumed the latter.

"Or maybe not, my nephew is disturbingly soft with your kind," Rido purred carelessly, slowly worrying the throbbing vein at the side of Zero's neck with his teeth. The unique blend of hunter and vampire blood in his veins, mingled with the Kuran blood he'd been drinking so much of recently, made quite an interesting enticement.

"But I'm not." Rido bit down.

Zero tensed as he felt his blood being drawn and tried to twist his head away. Rido's fingers curled more harshly into his hair, holding him still. Zero realized he couldn't move his arms. They were trapped behind him and there was some kind of warm weight against his back, but it wasn't Rido, who was beside him.

"Stop it! Leave him alone!" A familiar voice brought the final threads of recollection together in his mind and brought the reality of the current situation crashing down upon Zero. Rido... the alley, the fight...

Worst though, he realized who was behind him. Yuki struggled and he could feel it against his back, but they were bound too tightly together, hands trapped behind their backs. He realized that not all the rumbling was in his head. The ground was shaking like they were moving. In the back of a van or a truck maybe, but the windows were all blacked out.

Rido dug his teeth in more sharply and Zero grit his jaw harder against a soft hiss of pain. A shiver ran through him at the disturbing, intimate contact. His already throbbing head started spinning.

The feeling of motion stopped, followed a moment later by the rumbling. The vehicle was still. Rido reluctantly dragged his head up, wiping Zero's blood from his lips with the back of his hand. "Ah, well, more fun later. Seems we've arrived," he said as the door beside them was pulled open from the outside.

The flood of incoming light made Zero wince and blink painfully as he and Yuki were dragged out of the van.

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"Where is Kaname anyway?" Aido inquired, taking a break from the thick mound of papers he was sorting through. Deeds, titles, papers of incorporation and corporate charters lay several inches deep across the top of the hotel bed and the blond vampire was sitting cross-legged in the middle of them, looking over each one with resigned drudgery.

Wherever Rido's body was hidden had to be reasonably nearby... which meant somewhere in this country. He was probably using some place that belonged to the Ichijos. And considering he was certain to know they were hunting for him, he was probably using one of the more obscure Ichijo holdings that Takuma wasn't likely to know about off the top of his head. These were all facts that were safe to assume.

Unfortunately, the Ichijos had holdings almost everywhere, including a tangled web of sub-corporations, joint-ventures, subsidiaries and even dummy corporations that made the Gordian knot look simple. Now Aido, Ichijo, Kain and Ruka were trying to sort through the paper trail to find likely points of interest.

Takuma flicked the paper he was reading into another pile and didn't answer for a moment. "I don't know," he answered truthfully, although he suspected that the pureblood had gone to find Yuki and Zero. He wished Kaname had asked for his help, but he respected his friend's desire to handle things privately. "You know Kaname. He'll be back when he's back."

Kain reached over and pulled a sheaf of papers off of Chairman Cross's chest. The human was laying on the edge of one bed, eyes closed, glasses askew and now being used as another place to stack files. He'd fallen asleep after about ten minutes of looking through papers and had been dead to the world for the past few hours. Probably just as well, Takuma thought. Or he would doubtless have wanted to know where Zero and Yuki were by now.

Kain gave the Chairman an amused look. "Sleeping beauty's still out," he observed.

"Let him rest, he looked really tired," Ruka said distractedly as she scanned the thick sheaves of legal size paper she was holding.

Takuma nodded. "I don't think he slept much last night. Hey, who has the Advanta Group charter?"

There was a quick shuffling of documents by all present. "Uhhh... got it here!" Aido said, pulling out a blue binder.

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Kaname moved with a certain sure-footed grace, despite the hood over his head as he was man-handled out of the car. Interestingly, his captors didn't bind him, but merely led him along blindfolded. Obviously, they were counting on the fact that he wasn't going to try anything until he knew where Zero and Yuki were. There was no guarantee after all, that he had been brought to their location. Rido was clever and he was also desperate. That was not a mix to be underestimated.

Kaname felt gravel crunch under his feet. Through the mast, he smelled the faint tang of fresh air mixed with rust, chemicals, charcoal and a heavy mix of sweet and burnt scents. It wasn't an urban or residential kind of smell... he would have guessed they were near a factory, workshop or warehouse of some kind. The faint, muffled whirr of some kind of mechanical equipment somewhere nearby tended to agree with that theory.

He was led up a long flight of stairs and down a concrete hallway that echoed under their footfalls. More stairs, more passages. The air was no longer fresh. The machine sounds were louder and the sweet, burnt scent pervaded the air, like someone was burning a whole summer's worth of marshmallows nearby.

The route they took was long and tortuous, but Kaname marked it down carefully in his memory. He was finally pulled to a halt and pushed up against a wall. The hood was unfastened and yanked off his head. At the same time, he felt the ground rising slowly under his feet. He knew he was in some kind of elevator even before the hood was off.

Kaname couldn't resist drawing a deep breath of the heavy, stale air which was still so much better than the claustrophobic confines of the hood. He blinked, the dim freight elevator seeming bright after the long dark. Kaname ran a hand through his perspiration damped curls and shot a cool, collected gaze towards Ichiru, ignoring the other two vampires in the elevator.

"I trust this tiresome cloak and dagger business is almost done?" he inquired mildly.

Ichiru smiled with equal coolness. "Why, you got somewhere else you need to be?"

The freight elevator ground to a halt, but the doors didn't open. Ichiru's pocket buzzed and he pulled the video phone out again, putting it to his ear and speaking a monosyllabic greeting.

He listened silently for a minute and then replied to the affirmative. "No problem. We'll sit tight." He ended the call and leaned back against the wall, watching Kaname.

"We're gonna wait here a few minutes," he informed. "Oh, and your Uncle sent you something to keep you entertained while you wait." Using his thumb to navigate the touch screen menus, Ichiru brought up the video-mail messages and selected the new recording that had just been sent. This one wasn't live, but it couldn't have been taken too very long ago.

Ichiru tossed the phone to Kaname, who caught it and turned it around slowly in his hands. He had a nasty feeling he wasn't going to like what he would see. He was right.

A bruised, bloodied version of the face smirking at him coldly from across the elevator appeared on the small screen. Zero. Kaname's chest tightened unintentionally.

The video must have been taken inside the same vehicle in which Rido had spoken with Kaname from earlier, because the background was much the same. Kaname could just see the back of Yuki's head in the corner of the frame. He could also see Rido. The vampire's mouth teased and molested the side of the unconscious boy's neck, making a dark, fiercely protective hatred burn in Kaname's gut. Get your filthy mouth off him...

Zero stirred, obviously starting to waken. The first, mumbled name that came to his lips stabbed a spike through Kaname's stomach. The pureblood didn't realize that a flicker of that feeling showed momentarily in his eyes. He didn't notice that Ichiru was watching him with an intent, but now slightly strange look on his face. All Kaname could see was Zero... and the way blood trickled sluggishly down the side of his neck, his face creasing in discomfort and pain as Rido violated him. All Kaname could hear was the pounding in his ears and the rage throbbing in his temples.

The video ended. The phone warped and crackled, shiny screen fracturing into a mad swirl of colors and then going dark as the LCD broke and the phone turned into a dead, warped chunk of crushed plastic and metal.

Kaname tossed the mangled gadget quietly back to Ichiru, giving him an 'oh, did you want this back?' look.

Ichiru raised an eyebrow and slid the broken phone back into his pocket. About then the gated doors to the elevator finally ground open. Ichiru brushed by Kaname, giving the vampire an unreadable look as they stepped out.

Kaname could tell now that they were in a factory of some kind. A sugar refinery, he quickly deduced from the equipment around them. But one that did not look like it had been used in several years. The lack of employees and the dusty state of the equipment didn't explain the fact that there was still a definite thrum coming from somewhere nearby.

Ichiru and the other two led Kaname across the factory floor. Scaffolding and platforms rose on either side and ahead of them. The thrumming was getting louder and the burning sugar smell, which now made sense, was getting stronger.

They turned the corner and Kaname spotted Rido. His uncle was flanked by about half a dozen other vampires who were probably guards, henchmen or hired muscle. He was standing atop one of the scaffold platforms, about two stories above the main floor of the plant. Directly below him, supported on a metal framework about one story up, was a giant tub as long and as wide as a swimming pool but much deeper. The tub was supported on a fixed framework over a massive row of gas burners. Blue flames licked at the metal, heating it like a giant cooking pot. Inside, melted down, liquid sugar bubbled and boiled, superheated to the point where the sweet substance was thin and barely viscous. In the normal sugar refining procedure, the melting process occurred between the affination and carbonation stages, but Kaname was fairly certain it wasn't done quite like this. Rido had obviously had tweaked the set up here to suit his own purposes.

That became perfectly clear when Kaname saw what Rido was doing. He had a thick length of chain wrapped tightly around each hand. The chains ran down off the edge of the platform and connected to two small, swinging cages which dangled a few feet above the bubbling, magma like surface of the boiling sugar below. The cages were just big enough to fit a seated occupant. They were impromptu affairs obviously created from bent and fused piping and other things probably found lying around the factory, but they were apparently more than strong enough to do the job.

In the cage on the right, Yuki was crouching, arms hugged to her chest, trying not to touch any of the hot metal surrounding her. The heat rolling up in intense waves from the vat below was swiftly heating the metal past comfort and safety.

In the cage on the left, Zero knelt, because he was too big to crouch in the tiny enclosure. His hands were cuffed behind his back and the stoic look on his face said he was stubbornly denying the pain of the metal that was slowly starting to heat hot enough to burn.

Only the strength of the vampire holding the cages up kept them from falling down into the vat below. Heated to this point, the liquid sugar was as good as lava or napalm. It would burn away flesh to the bone in moments. Kaname might have been able to survive a trip into that vat, although it would probably take him years in a coma to recover, but Yuki and Zero wouldn't. They would die on contact.

"Kaname!" Yuki cried out in a strained voice somewhere between apprehension and hope when she saw him. Zero's gaze followed the same path and he frowned in concern at seeing Kaname here alone and obviously under guard. He saw his brother standing near Kaname. His gaze darkened and quickly slid away. He couldn't really hate Ichiru completely, because some part of him would always love the little boy he'd tried to be such a good 'big' brother to. But that boy seemed to him to have died the same night his parents did, and Zero could never understand the choices his brothers had made.

Kaname felt cold and hot at the same time. Ichiru's hand on his shoulder told him to halt and remain where he was. The pureblood did. But only because as fast as he was, Kaname knew Rido was just as fast. He couldn't rush the platform as he would like to do, dare not try to snatch, push or levitate Zero and Yuki away from the dangerous ledge. These thoughts ran swiftly through his head. Like moves in a chess game, he rapidly calculated his different options out, considering all the possible counter-moves to each one. Unfortunately, anyway he looked at it, the situation spelled checkmate. The only way he had a chance through brute attack, was if Rido made a significant blunder. He couldn't afford to count on something like that. Not when Zero and Yuki literally hung in the balance.

Kaname was going to have to play his Uncle's game a little longer and try to win himself a better position.

"I didn't know you had such a sweet tooth, Uncle," Kaname called up with cold condescension; glad he was far enough away that Rido couldn't hear how loudly his heart was hammering in his chest. "But don't you think this is a little on the melodramatic side? Seriously... if you were going to go all out, you might as well have at least imported a few skulls and bats to compliment the theme." The pureblood's tone was heavy with acidic sarcasm.

Rido was not amused, but he grinned darkly. "I'm a traditionalist, what can I say? Sometimes a little lack of modern convention goes a long way. You can mock, but I note you've already gathered that you better stay very, very still or else your little pets are going to end up in a rather bad way."

Yes. Kaname already understood that. He understood that if anything happened to Rido, Zero and Yuki would fall to their deaths. "And do you expect to stand there forever, Rido? What do you hope to gain by all this?" Urgency clawed silently at him.

The flames under the vat were cranked up too high and the roiling liquid sugar was burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan even as it bubbled, like a caramel glaze gone badly wrong. The sweet, yet acrid scent of burning sugar rolled upward, making the hot air difficult to breathe for the two captives in the cages.

The soles of Yuki's shoes were starting to stick to the floor of the small cage. Zero's jaw was clenched tightly against the growing pain and he shifted uncomfortably in the cage, glancing morosely below and trying to see a way out of this situation. Nothing was presenting itself. Death by caramel... sounded like a great slogan for a confectioner, lousy way to die though.

"No, Kaname," Rido replied quietly. "You and I have much to discuss, and I'd prefer to do it somewhere more comfortable. But... you've been nothing but trouble to me for years, nephew. You've cost me everything not once, but twice now, and I don't intend to let that go unpunished."

Kaname felt a dark chill sweep up his spine. He hoped that Rido didn't mean what he thought he did... but he knew better.

"Your parents should have taught you that bad little boys get their toys taken away from them. I'd rather not completely discard my advantage just yet, but when it comes down to it, I really only need one bargaining chip, don't I? Two hostages are twice the trouble..."

"Rido..." Kaname's voice was dark with warning.

Rido relished the situation in which he had his nephew trapped. "I'll let you choose, Kaname," he said with an evilly contented smirk. "Which one do you want to sacrifice? One of them is going to die." Rido see-sawed the chains slightly, waggling the cages. "Choose which one, or they both die right now." Rido was serious. He didn't necessarily want to lose all his leverage, but he already had Kaname more or less where he wanted him. Forcing Kaname to sentence one of his pets to the hideous doom below them was delicious, and if Kaname would not oblige, he wouldn't hesitate to carry through on his threat to end them both.

Kaname felt frozen. He knew Rido was serious. His mind swiftly considered and discarded a million different options, a million different things he could try to do that would spare both Yuki and Zero... but in the end there was nothing. Rido had laid his plans and his trap too carefully. He wasn't about to underestimate Kaname a second time.

Kaname's gaze darted between Zero and Yuki. Choose... how could he? The pureblood was used to making hard choices. Was used to having to choose the lesser of two evils, or sometimes, even the greater. But this... it was impossible, Kaname couldn't choose. Either way would be slicing out an irrecoverable, necessary piece of his heart. Kaname felt his throat threaten to squeeze close as his heart pumped useless panic through him, which didn't aid his thinking at all. He couldn't even hide the stark anguish that filtered across his face.

Yuki's eyes were wide with shock and fright. Zero's blazed with angry fear as they locked intently on the pureblood below. Choose me. They said as clear as words. Choose me so Yuki can live. So help me, Kaname, I'll never forgive you if you don't.

Kaname felt like he couldn't get enough air. He couldn't possibly choose Yuki – he loved her desperately and had sworn to always protect her. But... there was no way. He couldn't choose Zero either. He felt like a stake had been stabbed through his chest even thinking about it. The boy was in his heart; in his blood... it would both figuratively and literally kill him to lose him. Standing here, faced with the impossible, Kaname realized clearly for the first time... he loved them both. He needed them both. He couldn't live without either of them.

Which meant there was only one thing left that he could do. When the rules of the game sucked... change the rules.

Kaname took a careful step forward, gaze locking with Rido as held his hands out to the side in a gesture of submission. "I choose a third option, Rido," he said quietly. "I choose myself."

Rido's eyebrows raised and it was obvious that Kaname had actually managed to surprise him. It was not possible for the older pureblood to understand why one of their kind, why a near immortal would even think of sacrificing himself for a couple of human pawns. Desire was an emotion Rido understood, love was not.

Rido laughed at his nephew's foolishness. "I don't remember saying that was an option. What use would your death serve me, Kaname? You waste time..." his grip on the chains started to ease open and the two cages dipped perilously lower.

"No!" Kaname said urgently as he saw Yuki and Zero slip down a few inches. "Rido, hear me out. I'm not talking about my death... I'm talking about my life," he explained quickly, bargaining with the only thing he had left to bargain with. "You want my body, don't you? Isn't that what this has been about from the start? You're destroying Shiki's by possessing him too long. You need a pureblood body, one that won't wear out and can give you the power you had before, and it can only be mine, because I am your only pureblood relative." A resigned thread of fear wound through Kaname's chest, but he tamped it down ruthlessly. He'd made his choice and there was no turning back.

"Don't throw away your golden opportunity, Rido. If you kill them, death is the only thing you'll ever get from me. Mine or yours, it doesn't matter, either one will not benefit you. But let both of them go, and I will give you my body. Once I have seen them safely away and out of your reach, then you can take what you want from me and I will not fight you," Kaname promised quietly. His voice was steady and even. Now that the choice was made, he would betray no weakness, no hint of the sorrow or terror that was eating his insides alive. Dying would have been one thing... this would be an unending, living death; entombed within his own body for eternity. This would be the fate he feared most, but this was the only way it could be.

Zero and Yuki would live. His soul was not too high a price to pay for them. Nothing was.

The two hostages erupted at almost the same time, putting up a sudden, urgent struggle, despite how precariously that made their cages swing and shake above the roiling doom below them.

"No! Kaname, don't do it!" Yuki cried in horror. Didn't he know she'd rather die than see someone else behind his gentle, deep brown eyes? Then to see this monster living in her friend's body like he was currently living in Shiki's? He couldn't do this! He couldn't do this... not for them, not for her...

"Don't be an idiot, Kuran!" Zero kicked hard at the bars of his cage, not caring if it did drop. His head reeled in shock. He'd expected Kaname to choose him. He was ready for it; he'd been ready to die for a long time. But this... he'd never expected Kaname to do this. It felt like a physical punch in the gut to imagine what this deal would do to the pureblood. It was so much more devastating than Zero could have imagined... to think of losing him.

Rido and Kaname ignored them completely, gazes still locked intently on one another as Rido searched Kaname's eyes warily. It was, of course, exactly what he wanted, but he was wary of accepting that Kaname would actually hold to his end of the bargain.

"You expect me to believe you would do that, for them?" Rido's smile was hard, incredulous. "Swear it to me, Kaname. Give me your blood oath that you will be mine for eternity, and I will set them free." A light of jubilant gloating crept into his dark eyes. "I'll even let you say goodbye to them," he added cruelly.

Kaname's jaw worked tensely, but he'd expected such a demand. If he were Rido, he certainly wouldn't have taken his word alone on the issue. The pureblood drew a deep, steadying breath. He dropped gracefully to his knees and unbuttoned his shirt down to the waist. He sliced two shallow lines on his chest with his fingernails, over his heart. Crimson blood welled to the surface. With deliberate concentration, he dabbed his finger in the blood and drew a horizontal cross-beam across both cuts. There was a reason for the old expression 'cross your heart and hope to die' although its meaning had long been lost to humans. The pureblood solemnly went through the motions that were almost as old as time, forming an unbreakable oath that he would be compelled to obey.

"I swear to you, by my blood, by the blood of my parents and of my ancestors that if you let Yuki and Zero go free, if you let them leave this place and do not harm them in any way, now or ever... then I will not fight you. I will obey your commands and be yours, for eternity," Kaname gave the oath quietly but firmly, binding himself irrevocably to the promise and to his fate. Shizuka had told him he had conjured a dark destiny for himself. If only she'd known how right she was. She probably would have laughed.

Ichiru started at Kaname. His unreadable face was blank with shock. Whatever he'd expected to witness here today... this wasn't it.

Rido's face was flushed with victory. He'd not missed the very careful and legalistic phrasing Kaname had used, but the loop-hole free bind worked both ways. He would have insisted on an amendment if it hadn't, and Kaname was obviously aware of that. Satisfied, he pulled on the chains, drawing Yuki and Zero back up to safety. Once the cages had returned to solid ground, he left it to his underlings to get them out while he made his way down to where Kaname was still kneeling.

He placed his hand on his nephew's shoulder, leaning down, his breath brushing the side of Kaname's face. "You're a fool, nephew. A complete fool, but I'm not complaining. Go. Say goodbye to your precious human pets. It's the last time you'll see them with your own eyes. Before everything you are becomes mine."

Kaname rose to his feet, shrugging Rido's hand off his shoulder, not looking at his uncle, but rather towards where Yuki and Zero were being pulled out of their cages. They were struggling with their captors. Zero, still bound, was kicking at everything that moved and getting himself knocked around pretty good in return. Yuki was thrashing so much the two vampires guarding her were forced to pick her up off the ground to keep her still.

Looking at them, Kaname found his center again and peace settled over the nausea spinning in his gut. He had made the right choice.

Kaname made his way towards the platform, pausing partway up to look back towards Rido. "No, Uncle, you're the fool," he said quietly. "Because the most important things in life, you will never understand."

Blood ran down Zero's chin, his captors finally having pounded him into semi-submission, or at least dazed stillness for the moment. Yuki was still struggling, but she stopped as Kaname approached.

"Kaname, don't do this, please... don't trust him..." she begged urgently, silent tears sliding unbidden down her flushed cheeks.

Kaname shook his head. His eyes were sad, resigned. "I don't have a choice, dear one. It's already done. Shh... come on, don't let me remember you this way, Yuki. Smile for me."

Yuki tried, smiling tearfully and Kaname cupped her cheek gently with his hand. "I love you, Yuki," he said softly, thumb brushing gently at the wet, salty tear trails on her cheek. "If you believe nothing else about me anymore, at least believe that. Take care of Kiriyu, huh? You know how he needs someone to watch out for him..." he said with a faint smile, lifting his fingers to his lips and lightly licking away the taste of her tears, trying to ingrain a last memory of the way she felt, the way she tasted.

His gaze slid over to Zero, who looked like he was chewing nails and appeared too upset to even give a proper rise at the pureblood's half hearted attempt to tease.

"You're an idiot, Kaname. A freaking idiot!" Zero raged softly, his voice catching despite himself and making the words sound significantly more anguished than angry. "He's going to kill us all anyway!"

Kaname smiled faintly. Of course Rido would try to betray them, but he wasn't so stupid as to do it right away. "No... He dare not break his promise to let you go safely, or it makes our agreement and my oath to him void." His eyes were drawn to the blood on the ex-human's mouth. Suddenly he was in front of Zero. His hand curled in the boy's hair, dipping his head and catching him in a brief but deeply intense kiss.

Zero was too shocked to move for a moment. He started to pull his head away but then a strange look passed over his face and he stopped, closing his eyes and remaining still.

Kaname kissed Zero like a drowning man, as if one last touch was going to have to last for an eternity of darkness. Not caring who was watching anymore, Zero returned the kiss. The hunter just heard the barely audible whisper, meant for his ears only.

"When the time comes, Zero... I'm counting on you to kill me," Kaname murmured almost silently against Zero's mouth. But he knew the other vampire had heard him. His breath brushed Zero's jaw as the pureblood withdrew slowly, licking Zero's taste slowly from his lips.

Zero remained silent, his gaze following Kaname. The pressure in his chest squeezed painfully, like a fist around his heart that spread upward, making his throat ache fiercely. His eyes were unreadable, but there was a small flicker of understanding there, and a promise. It was all Kaname needed to see. The pureblood turned back to Yuki, fingers trailing softly through her silky hair. There was so much he wanted to say to her, so much he could never explain about his feelings, about how it was possible to mean it when he said he loved her, and yet still feel the way he did about Zero. No... He would probably never have found a way to say it even if he had the rest of eternity to figure it out. So now, all he could say was goodbye, and hope that his actions at least spoke louder than the words he couldn't find. His fingers slid out of her hair. Kaname ached for a last touch that he had no right to take from her.

Rido had joined them on the platform now, taking sadistic delight in the pain radiating from the three friends. At a nod from him, Zero's cuffs were taken off. The ex-human glared murder at everyone, but he did not offer further resistance at this point, rubbing his raw wrists as his gaze slid back to Kaname and Yuki.

It was harder than Kaname had thought... saying goodbye to these two. He wanted to linger, but he knew he'd already lingered too long. He could practically feel Rido's impatience mounting and he needed to make sure that Zero and Yuki were off and on their way to safety.

Be happy, Yuki... it's all I've ever wanted for you...

He started to turn away, but Yuki stopped him. She reached up on tiptoes and caught the back of his neck, pulling him down to her level. She pressed her lips to his, catching Kaname in a soft but desperate kiss, much the same way Kaname had done with Zero a moment ago. Yuki was not going to let him go, let him simply disappear out of her life, without ever having kissed him. The flooding sorrow of all the time wasted and all the chances never taken filled her like a crushing weight and her breathing hitched in a little sob. Suddenly everything that had seemed so important or confusing before seemed no longer to matter at all.

Zero looked away, but strangely, he felt no jealousy. How could he at a moment like this? No, he felt nothing but intense sorrow and anger... and determination.

It was Kaname's turn to freeze in shock as Yuki pressed against him with uncharacteristic aggressiveness, born of despair. He melted quickly into the sweet, warm kiss, wrapping his arms around Yuki's shoulders, holding her almost crushingly tight and savoring the touch of her lips as one of the last sensations that would truly be his own. His heart clenched in his chest.

All too soon, he had to pull away. Kaname smiled softly at Yuki – a real smile, despite the circumstances. He touched her cheek lightly, and then took her hand in his. Reaching over, his other hand caught Zero's with a little squeeze. He brought the two together, entwining Zero and Yuki's fingers. Zero would protect and cherish Yuki always, there was no one else Kaname would have trusted with his treasure. And Yuki would make Zero happy, could give him all the things he deserved and make him forget how this was all going to have to end, what he was going to have to do. If it had to turn out this way, at least Kaname could take this one comfort with him.

Rido's hand came to rest on Kaname's shoulder, indicating that he felt he'd waited long enough. As fun as it was watching this tragic little scene, he was getting impatient and thought that if he had to endure much more of this egregious sappiness he was probably going to be ill. Seriously... Kaname was so much like his father, all rot and sentimental nonsense.

Rido leaned lightly against Kaname's back, breath brushing the other vampire's neck. "It's time, Kaname. Tell your pets to run home while they still can."

Kaname's body stiffened, but he did not otherwise react as Rido's chest pressed up against his back. He merely nodded. "Go," he said softly to Zero and Yuki as he allowed Rido to pull him backwards, his uncle's arms wrapping possessively around Kaname's chest from behind as he buried his face teasingly against the side of his nephew's neck.

Zero felt a hot flash of protective, almost possessive rage fire through him at the display of mock-intimacy. Kaname and Yuki were one thing... but he had an unintentional, yet gut-deep reaction to seeing anyone else lay their hands on the pureblood.

Yuki shook her head, instead rushing forward and grabbing hold of Kaname, arms twining around his waist as if she could pull him away from Rido, as if she could keep the inevitable from happening. She was trying very hard to be strong, but she sobbed softly, she couldn't help it. The guards quickly stepped forward, grabbing at her to drag her back. Behind him, Kaname felt Rido tense, wary of trickery, and the situation threatened to turn into chaos.

Kaname caught Yuki's arms, prying them away from his waist as gently as he could, pushing her back urgently, fear for her safety sparking in his dark eyes. "No, Yuki, you must go. Go!"

Kaname's gaze turned to Zero, both imploring and commanding. "Get her out of here!" he ordered as Rido's arms tightened painfully around his ribs, adding to the aching pressure already throbbing there for other reasons. Kaname's eyes pleaded one last request from the boy he'd ironically come to trust implicitly. Protect her.

Zero gave a small nod, cutting through the beginnings of the melee and grabbing Yuki, pulling her wordlessly to his chest and hoisting her up into his arms like a child when she started struggling fiercely with him. She was light, but incredibly hard to keep a hold of when she was acting like this and he held on tightly, but as carefully as he could. Zero's throat was tight as he held Kaname's gaze for half an agonized heartbeat before he quickly turned away, struggling girl still held firmly in his arms as he started away down the stairs towards the exit at a swift, urgent pace.

Yuki actually punched at him, her fists falling uselessly and without much real intent to harm on his shoulders. She wasn't striking out at him, but at the whole, horrible situation, and Zero understood that. After a minute or two her struggles finally ceased and she went almost limp in his arms, clinging to Zero and burying her face against his neck as they swiftly got further and further away, heading towards safety, and leaving Kaname behind to pay the price for them.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Six: "...And Hope to Die"

"We have to go back. This isn't right, Zero, you know it isn't! We can't just abandon him..." Yuki demanded quietly. Her voice was still hoarse, but her tone more collected now. Her eyes said she would go back by herself if Zero wouldn't help her.

Zero had remained strangely, stoically silent until they were lost deeply in the maze of turning passages and lifts that led back towards the exit. They hadn't been blindfolded on their way in. Rido hadn't seemed to care whether they knew where they were or not, so Zero was able to navigate the way back relatively well. Once they were safely out of eye and ear shot, he set Yuki down, keeping a tight hold of her hand just so she wouldn't try to go back immediately.

His free hand went to his mouth... and he spit out a small, worn silver key. It had a number etched on one side. "Bus station locker," Zero said by way of brief explanation as he held up the key. He'd assumed as much, but knew for certain once he actually saw it. "It's where Kaname and I stashed our gear the other night." Including his gun. Zero fixed Yuki with an earnest look. "And we're not abandoning him."

Yuki's eyes registered surprise. "Where did you...?"

"Kaname slipped it to me, when he um... you know," Zero explained swiftly, a bit embarrassed to mention the kiss, although Yuki seemed to have taken it in stride or else had simply not felt that it was an appropriate moment to offer much of a reaction. "He's got a plan, Yuki, and I'm pretty sure I know what it is, but we've got to hurry. Come on!"

Squeezing her hand, Zero headed swiftly on down the passage towards the exit. Yuki followed at a swift jog and Zero slid the key into his pants pocket. He could still feel the warmth of Kaname's mouth against his and something in his heart that he had no control over ached fiercely. He'd told Yuki the truth, but not all of it. He hadn't mentioned that as he understood it, Kaname's plan did not involve the pureblood being able to walk away from this alive.

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No one had paid any attention to Ichiru when he slid out while Kaname, Zero and Yuki were saying their goodbyes. He'd played his part after all, what did they care? To everyone but Shizuka, he had always been expendable and ignorable.

So Ichiru left, winding his way back out of the refinery and resisting the urge to look over his shoulder. Purebloods. Strange, perilous... irresistible. Maybe on a few things, he and his brother weren't so different. Could he ever imagine that Shizuka would have done for him, what Kaname had done...? He might never know. Or he might never want to try and face the answer. It didn't matter. He'd known who and what she was. He had loved her. He'd never expected her to love him in return. He hadn't thought purebloods were capable. Apparently, he'd been wrong.

Ichiru made his way down the refinery stairs and headed towards where three cars and a van were parked nearby in the otherwise abandoned lot. He pulled two sets of keys from his pocket, weighing which ones to use. He'd borrowed both from the driver after they'd taken Kaname into the plant. Masking wasn't the only useful skill he'd picked up in his years on the run with Shizuka. One set of keys was to the car the four of them had driven up here, and one was for the vampire driver's personal vehicle, also here, Ichiru knew. It was a newer model. Ichiru chose that one, sliding into the driver's seat and turning the key in the ignition.

He heard a clatter of feet on the stairs he'd just come down and looked up to see Zero and Yuki running down them at a swift clip.

Zero seemed to sense they were being watched and he froze at the bottom, throwing a protective arm in front of Yuki to halt her as his gaze slid across the parking lot towards the idling car.

The twins' gaze locked for a moment.

Ichiru saw a muted desperation in his brother's gaze. Poor fool... ever the champion of lost causes; he still thought he could do something. Could save the pureblood somehow. He wouldn't be able to. No more than Ichiru, had been able to. Ichiru resisted the ruthless, bitter tightening in his chest. We come full circle yet again, Zero.

Not really understanding why he did so, Ichiru picked up the second set of keys from the seat beside him and winged them out the open window, tossing them to his twin. Maybe Ichiru knew that futile hope was the cruelest punishment of all. Or maybe... maybe there was no acceptable explination.

Zero caught the keys automatically, staring warily at his brother as if trying to figure out what his game was this time.

"Those are for the grey one," Ichiru jerked his head towards the car beside his. "So long, brother. I hope I never see you again," he called out the window before rolling it shut. Ichiru threw the car into reverse and pulled out of the lot with a squeal of tires and gravel. He headed for the main road and didn't look back. He was done here. Whatever happened, he didn't care anymore. Time to start over somewhere new. Rido could go to hell. They could all go to hell.

Zero's fingers closed tightly around the keys as he stared after the disappearing car for a moment.

"Do you think it's a trick?" Yuki asked slowly, not sure she quite understood what had just happened, but giving Zero's arm a small supportive squeeze.

Zero started walking quickly towards the car Ichiru had indicated. He shook his head. "No," he said quietly. He didn't know why he felt that way, but it didn't matter anyway. Having better transportation than walking was essential, especially considering he wasn't sure where exactly they were. And not having to take the time to try to hotwire a car gave them a small edge they urgently needed right now. Even if Zero had been suspicious, it was a risk worth taking. The keys fit the locks and Zero quickly tugged the door to the vehicle open.

"Come on," he said, although Yuki was already sliding in the other door. "We've got to find out where we are and find a phone, fast."

Yuki looked out the rear window as they pulled quickly away from the refinery. We'll be back, Kaname. I promise. Hold on.

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Rido spared a passing glance towards Zero and Yuki when they left the platform before he turned his full attention back on Kaname. "Well, well, nephew... alone at last. I've fulfilled my half of the bargain... now it's your turn. Come," he commanded as he reluctantly released Kaname, leading him away. The guards followed, watching Kaname closely, but it was unnecessary. Kaname was bound to obey, bound to fulfill his promise by a blood oath; he was not capable of breaking it unless Rido broke his word first.

So Kaname followed his uncle out of the building, back out the exit route he had memorized earlier. Rido seemed in no hurry. He appeared to enjoy touching Kaname as they walked – playing his fingers across the pureblood's back, his neck, his hair. Kaname hated it, but of course, that was the point, so he refused to show how much he loathed the other's touch. Rido knew though.

"Don't mind me," Rido murmured cruelly as they at last reached the door that would let them outside. "Just getting familiar with my new body. Open the door for me."

Kaname gave Rido a dark look, but he was bound to obey, so obey he did. Didn't mean he had to be polite about it. He brusquely yanked the door open.

Rido gave him a smirking smile as he stepped out, clapping his hand against his thigh. "Heel boy, let's go," he taunted, intentionally speaking to Kaname like a dog as he trailed down the stairs. Kaname's lips pressed into a thin, tight line as he followed.

The last step of the metal staircase buckled under Rido's feet, tripping him. Kaname's face remained unreadable. He was probably being petty, but then again, so was Rido. Right now, everything in the young pureblood was swirling in anger, loathing and disgust at the prospect of what he knew was to come.

Rido stumbled to his knees, but righted himself immediately. He spun around as Kaname reached the bottom of the stairs behind him.

Kaname expected the blow and didn't flinch as his head was snapped to the side by Rido's vicious backhand. In some matters, his uncle was nothing if not predictable.

"Get him into the van," Rido growled to his henchmen, who took the unresisting pureblood's arms and manhandled him into the back of the van that had been used to transport Zero and Yuki here earlier. Kaname could still smell the faint, lingering scent of their blood in here.

He didn't ask where they were going. He knew. He was being taken to where Rido's real body was, because it would be easier for Rido to perform the transfer there. And Rido always was one to take the easy way out – again, predictable.

Rido gazed thoughtfully towards the two empty places where vehicles should have been. One of his vampire escorts was scowling and patting his pockets, obviously noting that his car was missing, but not wanting to draw his master's attention to the fact.

Rido looked around at those present. Ichiru was missing. He raised an eyebrow. No great loss, the boy had been a good pawn, but he was unpredictable and now unnecessary. It was no skin off Rido's nose. But there were two cars missing, and the other could only have been taken by Kaname's pets. Not alarming, but worth noting.

"Toru, blow the refinery. I don't want anyone snooping around here later," Rido ordered simply as he climbed into the back of the van with Kaname. "And report those two cars you're trying to pretend you don't know about as stolen." Rido smiled and shut the door.

The vampire named Toru looked slightly chagrined, but simply nodded. He pulled a detonator from his pocket and climbed into the front of the van. Once the van and the remaining car had pulled away, Toru pressed the button.

The loud rumble of an explosion shook the earth and rolled like thunder in the air. Anyone investigating later would assume that it had been caused by natural factors. Old refinery, years of un-cleaned sugar dust accumulation coating everything. It'd just been an accident waiting to happen. And it would yield no leads to any of Kaname's friends who might come back here looking for his whereabouts. By the time anyone was able to try to pick up their trail, it would be far too late.

Rido grinned unpleasantly at Kaname as the van sped away down the road.

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Zero and Yuki both jerked at the sound of the explosion and the car wavered on the road a bit as Zero craned to see what was happening in the rearview mirror. Yuki, still kneeling on her seat and looking out the back window, watched black smoke and flames pouring into the sky in the receding distance behind them.

"Zero... that wasn't... Kaname's okay, right?" she asked worriedly.

Zero gripped the wheel tightly, leaning harder on the pedal and resisting the strong urge to swing the car around and go back to find out. Why did Yuki think he would know?

The hunter became aware of the faint, disturbed throbbing at the base of his neck. Kaname. The emotions he was feeling through their bond were tense, but he was definitely feeling something, so that had to mean... Zero realized with a small shock that maybe he would know. Maybe he would know if Kaname...

"Yeah, he's okay. I think Rido must have done that intentionally, probably to cover his tracks. I noticed a couple of his goons laying charges when they were setting up that demented sugar-vat thing." Zero's voice was tense but thoughtful. "He wouldn't have risked doing that if he was keeping his original body there, so it's got to be somewhere else. Probably wherever he's heading now."

The hunter resisted the urge to curse under his breath. The fact that they didn't know exactly where that was was an uncomfortable gap in the plan as he understood it. Should they try to follow Rido? No... he'd know they were following, and they couldn't risk tipping their hand, or ending up with a confrontation they weren't prepared to handle yet. They needed to let the others know what was happening, retrieve Zero's gun, and then... then...

Zero resisted the urge to rub at the soft, throbbing ache in his neck. It was a strangely distracting sensation, almost like Kaname was trying to get his attention or something, if that was possible. Was it a signal Zero would be able to follow so they could find where he'd been taken? Maybe. He didn't know. Suddenly Zero wished he understood more about this whole bond situation, more about what he could and couldn't expect from his vampiric abilities. He wished he hadn't spent so much time trying to repress and ignore them, that he'd asked Kaname for more information when he had the chance. Now he was just going to have to fly by the seat of his pants and hope to hell he was doing the right thing.

Yuki was glad to hear Zero's reassurance, but resisted a small shiver as she continued to watch the pillar of black smoke dwindling behind them. "Those charges were probably supposed to be used to hide the body or bodies, you know," she said quietly. "He intended at least one of us to die in there after all."

Zero glared silently at the road and said nothing.

Yuki turned around in her seat with a quiet, grim expression, glancing across at Zero. "Okay, so what exactly is this plan?"

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"It's got to be one of these," Ruka tapped the un-scratched out names they'd outlined on a sheet of hotel stationary. "They're the only ones that fit the profile and haven't been checked out yet. When we talked with Seirenyesterday, she had her squads combing everything south of this district and east of here," she pointed at corresponding graphs that had been drawn on a map they'd procured from the gift shop yesterday.

"She would have called us if they'd found anything yet, so that leaves us with these possibilities left to check out."

Kain nodded slowly. "Assuming that he's actually using any of the Ichijo or Kuran related properties at all."

Ichijo nodded. "Yes, assuming that. He's on the run and in hiding, and he can't risk touching anything that's in a bank or a watched security anymore than Kaname could. It would have thrown up a flag for us to follow. So he has to use assets and locations already in place in order to mask his activites. Besides... these are the only leads we've got right now."

"I hate to be a kill-joy, but has anyone else noticed that there's 53 names on that list? Some of which are companies that have multiple holding in multiple counties throughout the country?" Aido inquired with a tired sigh, rubbing the back of his neck as he studied the list over Ruka's shoulder.

Kain sighed thoughtfully. "It is a rather large list for the four of us, but sitting around here any longer isn't going to get anything done. We'd better just run it by Kaname and see what he says."

Ichijo's cell phone, resting by the TV so it's charging cord could reach the outlet, chose that moment to ring. Takuma leaned over and snagged it, glancing at the caller ID. "Speaking of Seiren..." He murmured as he flicked the phone open. "Yes?"

His eyebrows lifted and he reached for the TV remote, turning the power on and flicking quickly to the hotel's only news channel. The image of what looked like a burning factory of some kind as viewed from a news chopper flickered on the screen for a moment before it cut away to a reporter. Ichijo muted the volume. "Yeah, it's on the news here too. No, we weren't involved, but thanks for the heads up. Where are you? Still there? Okay. Yes, if it looks like it means anything, we'll give you a call."

Ichijo hung up. "Some kind of accident at an abandoned sugar plant north of here. Might be coincidence, but it's only in the next county, so Seirenwanted to check in and see if it was related."

Aido's eyes squinted thoughtfully. "Sugar plant in the next county? Why does that sound familiar...?" he went back to the stacks of paper they'd left on the bed and started quickly looking through them. Ruka joined him and a few moments later held up a sheaf of papers held together by a large black paperclip.

"Lamba Sugar Refinery, closed six years ago when the parent company was bought out and production was shifted to another province," Ruka summarized quickly.

"And guess who bought that company out? Advanta Group Ltd." Aido waved the blue binder he'd retrieved for the second time that day.

"And Advanta is one of the names on our list to check out." The lift of Kain's eyebrows said that he found this coincidence very interesting.

Ichijo's phone, still in his hand, rang again. He automatically glanced at the caller ID once more. No name this time. It wasn't a number he recognized. He hesitated, then flipped the top open and pressed it to his ear. "Hello?"

A frown quickly took over the sandy-haired vampire's features. "What? Kiriyu, is that you? Is Kaname with you? What's all that noise? I can hardly hear you."

Zero held one ear plugged, phone to the other as he leaned against the wall by the bank of pay phones in the bus station. A bus with a loud engine was idling at the nearby terminal, taking on passengers and the echoing din of the mid-day crowd inside the indoor station was only slightly less than deafening. The phones here had seen way too many years of use and the connection buzzed with fits of static.

"Yes, this is Zero; I can't talk any louder, so just listen!" the hunter hissed quickly, raising his voice a little, but still wanting to use the cover of the crowd. Once he and Yuki had found the highway and figured out where they were, it was a straight shot back into the city. The bus station where he and Kaname had stashed their gear was near this end of town. The hotel where they'd left the others this morning was in the out flung urban sprawl on the opposite side of the city.

Zero and Yuki had stopped at a gas station on the way here to try and place this call, but the station's pay phone was out of order. It was surprisingly difficult, in this age of cell phones, to actually find a functioning pay phone. The gas station attendant had been eyeing them with too much curiosity for comfort. In their disheveled states, traveling alone, they looked at best like a couple of runaways. Yuki and Zero had shared a near scare when they saw a police vehicle troll by slowly. They had left as quickly as they could without being obvious. Conscious that they were driving a stolen car, that Zero didn't actually have a driver's license and that Yuki looked a lot more underage than she actually was, they were afraid of being slowed down by minor details like being arrested. So they had opted to head for the bus station immediately. They would fit in with the rest of the sometimes dubious crowd there and could retrieve their gear and call the others. They could also leave the car with all the other commuter vehicles, where it wasn't likely to be spotted for a long time.

Thus far the plan had worked and no one was giving them a second look. Zero was pretty sure they hadn't been followed or anything like that, but he was still being careful anyway and didn't want to shout his news across the bus station.

"I'm at the East Park bus station with Yuki... never mind how we got here!" Zero said hurriedly, cutting Takuma's curious questions off. The call was already taking all the change that Yuki had had in her pockets and that wasn't going to buy them very long.

"Rido has Kaname." The other end of the line fell deathly silent and Zero knew he had Ichijo's full and undivided attention now. "It's a long story, and we don't have time. But basically he... he traded himself to Rido, for us," Zero forced his voice to stay steady and not crack. The others needed to know the situation.

"Rido wants Kaname's body, and he's agreed to give it," Zero ploughed on doggedly into the glaring silence. "We were at an old sugar factory, but they're probably long gone by now."

Aido, Kain and Ruka stared at Ichijo in concern. The noble's face had gone almost completely white and he was gripping the phone tightly, not speaking, just listening. As their sharp ears strained to pick up jagged bits of the voice on the other end around the static and background noise, their faces also paled, apprehension gripping at every heart at the horrible, unthinkable news.

Zero was still speaking. "I think he's taking Kaname wherever his original body is, but I'm not sure where that-"

"Zero, hold on a minute," Takuma interrupted suddenly, making a quick, grabbing gesture towards the others. "Give me those Advanta papers!" They scrambled to provide the desired documents.

"What?" Zero made a face, not understanding what the other had said. "Ichijo, we're running out of time on the call, just-"

"Wait!" Takuma snapped with uncharacteristic brusqueness as he snatched the requested folder from Aido and flung it open, balancing it on top of the TV with his free hand, flipping pages and scanning it quickly. There.

"Kiriyu, listen, that refinery was bought out by a company called Advanta a few years ago. Advanta is a well-hidden subsidiary of Ichijo enterprises," Takuma explained rapidly, speaking so fast Zero had to pay close attention to keep up. "Aside from the refinery, the only thing owned by Advanta in this area that isn't still in busy, functioning order, is a closed down winery about 80 miles from here on Ume Blossom road, near Highway 12."

Aido pushed Ichijo's hand over a little so he could ruffle quickly through the loose sheets in the back of the binder, pulling out the copy of the credit card statement he was looking for. "Despite both those locations being listed as nonoperational, Advanta's merchant accounts recently paid to have power and water restored to the winery."

"Winery's have dark, underground cellars... perfect place to preserve a pureblood body in stasis," Kain pointed out. The pieces were starting to click into place and they were all almost talking over one another in their urgency.

"That's it then, that's got to be where Rido's taking Kaname!" Zero cut in, he wasn't quite catching everything the others were saying, but he heard enough to get the idea and dare to hope that they might actually have a lead.

"Kiriyu, you and Yuki sit tight, we'll pick you up and head over there right away," Takuma started to say, but Zero cut him off, shaking his head as he held the phone tightly.

"No! No time. It'll take you over an hour to cut through city traffic between here and the hotel at this time of day. Highway 12 isn't that far from here. Yuki and I have a car; we'll head for the winery. Meet us there as fast as you can!"

"Kiriyu!" Ichijo's voice obviously said he protested the idea of Zero and Yuki going into that situation alone, but he never got to finish his useless argument because he was cut off by an overly polite recording of a female voice requesting that Zero deposit more money for additional minutes.

Thinking that that was about perfect timing for once, Zero just hung up the phone. Nothing Ichijo could have said would change his mind. He didn't care how dangerous it was. Time was of the essence. They had to get to Kaname. Fast.

Zero stooped to pick up the backpack by his feet. He and Yuki had already retrieved the gear from the bus locker and he was now a little more dressed, wearing a black t-shirt that had been stashed in the back of Kaname's pack. It smelled like the pureblood and Zero was trying very hard to pretend that that wasn't affecting him at all. There'd been a pair of canvas shoes in the bag too. They were soft soled and Zero had a feeling that they were meant for climbing, rather than everyday wear, but they beat continuing to go barefoot.

Zero hitched the pack onto his shoulder and looked towards Yuki. She'd only heard one side of the conversation, but it had been enough for her to know that they had a destination. She already had the backpack she was carrying hooked on both shoulders and looked anxious to be off.

"Looks like we're gonna have to play grand theft auto a while longer," Zero said to her in an undertone as they quickly threaded their way back to where they had intended to abandon the car. It was their only mode of transportation right now and it was worth the risk.

"Yuki..." Zero paused as they reached the car, looking at her with an expression that Yuki swiftly recognized.

"Oh no," she forestalled him with a shake of her head. "If you're about to tell me I should wait here for the others, or stay somewhere safe while you go after Kaname by yourself, you better just forget it." Her tone brokered no disagreement as she tugged open the car door, tossed her backpack into the back and settled immovably into the passenger seat.

"Get in the car, Zero. And don't give me any guff about it being too dangerous. It feels like all my life I've been letting you and Kaname protect me and fight for me. It's my turn now, so let's quit wasting time!" Yuki's brown eyes flashed with willful determination that Zero knew all too well.

Maybe he should have argued, but Zero knew better than to try to get Yuki to budge once she'd made up her mind. "All right, little miss stubborn," he muttered with resigned fondness as he got in the car and turned the key in the ignition.

Yuki smiled faintly at the old, familiar childhood barb as they pulled out of the bus station lot. She and Zero had stood side by side for a long time. Maybe this was significantly different than being Prefects together at the Academy, but at the same time, in some ways it wasn't.

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"Kiriyu! Zero!" Ichijo called into the phone, but the line had clicked dead. He snapped the phone closed in frustration. Admittedly, Takuma knew that in Zero's position, he would have done the exact same thing, but knowing how Kaname felt about those two, Takuma felt responsible to try to protect them, even as he would have Kaname.

Chairman Cross had roused at the sound of his adopted son's name being spoken in such tones and he quickly pushed up to sit, blinking as papers slid off him with small, fluttering motions. He hadn't meant to fall asleep, and he was rather chagrined that he had.

"What's wrong, what's happening?" he inquired, straightening his glasses and blinking the four vampires into focus. They all looked alarmed and pale. His instincts instantly told him that something was horribly wrong. He looked around and noted who was still missing, despite the fact that it had obviously been several hours since he fell asleep.

"Where are Zero and Yuki? Kaname?" Somehow he just knew that whatever was wrong, it had to do with them. Cross tried to get up and faltered, having to grip the nightstand for balance. Damn... his condition was degrading so fast lately, he couldn't afford this right now!

Ichijo was by his side swiftly. He wrapped his arm around Cross's shoulders, helping steady him. The others were already waiting by the door. "We have to leave, quickly. I'll explain on the way," Ichijo promised.

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Kaname followed Rido down a winding passage that led them deeper and deeper into to the subterranean depths of the old winery where his uncle had taken him. The sugar plant, now the winery... Kaname had already sensed the pattern. These were probably connected locations on some level. He wondered if any of the others would pick up on that fact. Maybe he should hope that they wouldn't. Kaname didn't want to meet any of them again, after this... not unless it was Zero, and he had come to fulfill his silent promise.

They reached their destination in one of the underground rooms that had once been used to age fine wines. Save for a few wooden shelves along one wall, the room had cleared out and re-purposed. It now contained a long, stainless steel drum that looked like a bathtub on an upraised platform.

Rido led Kaname up the few stairs to the top of the platform where Rido's real body floated like a ghastly, gristly apparition in a sustaining pool of blood. Kaname glanced dispassionately at the horror that was his uncle's former shell. He could still hear the other's shrieking screams echo across the years as he burned alive beneath the rubble. Too bad it hadn't lasted longer. Rido deserved to burn forever in hell. If things went as he hoped... maybe Kaname would at least have the pleasure of dragging him down there himself.

Rido glanced down at his original body with a faint look of disgust. "Enjoying your handiwork? Not very pretty, is it, Nephew?" Rido's gaze was hard and filled with icy hatred as it flicked back towards the brat who had made him suffer so much and go through all this trouble. It was fittingly ironic that Kaname should also provide him the means to recover what he'd lost. And his nephew would suffer in the process. Oh yes... he would suffer.

"In a few weeks I won't even need to keep this abomination around anymore. My adorable little Shiki's body would wear out too quickly under a full transference, so I have to keep this hulk around. But once I have you..." Rido smiled. "I will soon be able to transfer fully, and no longer be bound to my former shell."

Rido paced slowly around Kaname, looking him over appraisingly, like a prize horse on the auction block. He was enjoying dragging this out. He fingered Kaname's hair and cupped his cheek, turning his head slightly as he examined him. "Seems you inherited the family looks. Not a bad body to spend eternity in..." he conceded in cruel amusement. "I shall enjoy breaking it in." Rido leaned close, whispering in Kaname's ear. "Maybe I'll even let you watch sometimes."

Kaname endured Rido's taunting words and touches in stoic silence. He would not give his Uncle the satisfaction of seeing anything but his cool, disinterested contempt.

Rido did not seem pleased that he couldn't get a rise out of the younger vampire, but he shrugged carelessly and drew Kaname over to stand directly beside the tub. Rido held him again from behind, using Shiki's body for the last time.

As faint tendrils rose up out of the bloody tub towards him, Kaname closed his eyes, silently praying to whatever God existed for strength as he felt Rido's presence flare and wash over him. Rido's consciousness penetrated his body, clawing its way into his skull, wrapping around his thoughts and burrowing into his body like a ruthless parasite.

Pain unlike anything physical Kaname had ever experienced washed through him at the complete mental violation. Rido was everywhere, wrapping and twisting around all his thoughts like an octopus prying open a clam as he ruthlessly pulled apart his nephew's barriers.

It wasn't a complete merging of minds; the two distinct selves remained present and separate. Rido did not gain access to everything that Kaname knew, nor visa-versa. But if he so desired, Rido would have plenty of time in which he could pry and violate into any and all corners of Kaname's memories and thoughts to eventually carve out anything he might want.

Bound by his oath to not fight the hideous invasion, Kaname retreated into a dark corner in his mind, giving way and pulling back quickly in order to save some shred of himself from being ripped open and exposed to his uncle's vicious invasion. Normally, it was in this utter blackness that he would have had to remain. Sleeplessly slumbering, uneasily unaware of time, of space, of self... trapped forever in limbo as Rido's consciousness suppressed his. But as Kaname had suspected, and indeed, counted upon, Rido obviously considered this far too easy a fate for him.

Kaname was dimly aware of his eyes fluttering open again. He felt odd, disassociated as if he were dreaming, or drunk. His body moved, his head turned, but not at his command. Kaname could do nothing, effect nothing... it was like being paralyzed and placed in front of a television screen. He could see everything, even feel everything, although sensations somehow seemed remote and disconnected, but he was powerless to do anything – even change the channel.

Kaname heard his own voice laugh, but it was Rido laughing as he stretched his arms and rolled his head, getting accustomed to the feeling of his new body. Out of the corner of periphery vision, Kaname noticed Shiki's body lying crumpled on the floor on the stairs leading up to the tub, but Rido didn't spare his son a second glance, so Kaname had no idea what kind of condition the other vampire was in, or even if he was still alive.

Rido seemed to sense that Kaname was aware again, and his attention turned inward. You didn't think I'd let you get off that easy, did you? The unspoken words and the weight of Rido's attention came to Kaname clearly inside his own head.

Oh, no, nephew... you cost me too much. I intend to enjoy myself before I let you slink off into the oblivion where you so rightly belong. You will watch as I destroy everything you care about with your own hands. All your little friends – Ichijo, Aido, Kain, all of them, one by one... even those insufferably ignorant humans at the school. We'll go to Cross Academy with a few E's and have ourselves a nice little feast, shall we? But desert will be the best... so we'll save your two human pets for last. Oh, I know, I promised, but it won't matter by then. We'll wait until you're too weak to even try to fight me anymore. But you'll still be aware, and you can still watch. Can still listen to their screams and feel the way their flesh gives under your hands as you devour them. The boy is strong, I think he'll last a long time... Rido's mental voice dripped with evil delight and the raw pictures of everything he imagined assaulted Kaname's consciousness with horrible promise.

The girl may not last so long, but she'll be so much fun... we'll make her scream your name, shall we? As we ravish her and drain her blood. She's a pretty little thing, reminds me of your mother. I wonder if she'll feel as good and scream as nicely?

Rido opened the gates of his mind upon the captive presence in his head, flooding Kaname with the intense, vivid memories of his mother's last few minutes. Fed straight from Rido's thoughts, it was a million times worse than seeing it in the little picture created by the memory stone. Kaname was experiencing it firsthand, from Rido's perspective. Feeling his mother bucking and struggling as he held her down. Feeling every horrible shiver of Rido's raw delight.

Kaname howled silently at the agony of being forced to live his Uncle's depravity. Helpless hate and rage swirled with disgust and horror. Kaname tried to pull away, to escape... but there was nowhere he could flee that Rido wasn't already there, no place to find relief from the raw mental torment. He was shapeless, powerless, and as long as Rido merely intended to hurt Zero and Yuki, but hadn't done it, Kaname's vow still kept him from fighting back. This was what Rido intended for him, Kaname knew. To torment him like this, until his will crumbled and continued oppression finally wore away his soul. Eventually, he would become so weak, would slip so far away from the surface that he no longer had the power to return, and it was then that Rido would no longer need to keep his original body around, because Kaname's would truly be his.

In the dark corner of his mind that Kaname still possessed, he curled into a mental ball, trying to survive, to block out Rido's cruel assault. But he had no ears to plug and no eyes to close. In this twisted purgatory, he didn't even have any tears to weep.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Seven: "Fount of Ancient Blood is Dry"

"I think we turn right up there," Yuki instructed, bent over a map taken from the bus station which she had spread across her lap. "Ichijo said Ume Blossom road, right? The name's not on the map, but that road's the only exit for another good stretch, so that might be it."

Zero and Yuki had left the city far behind by now. There were plenty of cars on the road, but not much to see besides trees and highway trash on either side.

"Ume Blossom road," Zero confirmed as soon as he caught sight of the small, worn sign indicating the road's name. Signaling, he pulled off into the turn lane.

"The winery should be somewhere down that road then. Doesn't look like there's much traffic, we can probably pull off into the trees somewhere and leave the car, in case anyone's watching the grounds," Yuki suggested, folding the map back up and tucking it into the glove compartment.

Zero nodded in agreement. "We'll drive past the winery and then ditch the car. That way we'll know where we're going."

Yuki was silent for a minute as they traveled down the quiet, sparsely trafficked roadway. She'd been thinking a lot on the long drive out here, and now that their destination, and whatever waited for them there was drawing near, she knew she needed to try to put those thoughts into words.

Her gaze turning to focus on Zero, Yuki reached over. She didn't want to get in the way of his driving or concentration, so she just let her hand rest lightly on his thigh, giving a small squeeze. She had no way of knowing quitehow distracting that actually was, but Zero battled down the body response he had to the touch and shot her a questioning look.

"Zero..." Yuki said quietly. "I just... That is, I wanted to say..." She swallowed. This was a lot harder than she'd thought, even though she'd been rehearsing the words in her head for the past twenty minutes. She'd learned something from this whole, terrible mess they were now caught in, and that was to not take anything for granted, or leave anything important unsaid. She refused to believe that they might lose Kaname, but having been faced with that very real possibility, she had also been forced to realize that there was so achingly much she'd wanted to say to him and she just never had. She'd been too shy, too unsure... or she'd simply taken for granted that there would always be another chance. She knew now that there might not be, for any of them, and she didn't want to make the same mistake with Zero.

Yuki drew a deep, steadying breath. There was nothing like realizing that one or all of you might not be alive tomorrow to get you past a bad case of nerves.

"You never gave me a chance to respond, to what you told me, earlier, by the park," she said quietly.

Zero colored slightly and started to shake his head. "Yuki... I shouldn't have-"

"No," Yuki stopped him, earnestly squeezing his thigh tighter. "You should have."

Zero breathed slowly through his teeth, trying to concentrate on driving and looking for the winery and not on how very warm he was feeling.

"And I'm glad you did. I didn't... I didn't know," she admitted. "I thought I was just your little-big sister and you barely even realized I was a girl. Zero, I know my timing stinks and I don't know how to explain or understand how all this works with what I feel for Kaname or whatever you, um... feel for Kaname..." Yuki was trying desperately not to let this get awkward, but she really needed to say it, even if she didn't really understand it. "But I... I care about you a lot, Zero. I always have. Sometimes it's just not so easy to see when your best friend starts turning into something... more than your best friend," she whispered.

Zero looked at her, stunned and swallowed whole by the look in her eyes. He'd never expected her to look at him that way. Never felt worthy. He smiled, softly and Yuki smiled back, their eyes locked in a breathless moment in time.

One side of the car vibrated as the wheels left the pavement and trolled along the gravel shoulder.

"Zero! The road!" Yuki yelped and Zero quickly compensated, turning the wheel and steering them back onto the pavement.

Yuki laughed, and Zero felt himself laughing too. "Um... hold that thought for if we survive this whole mess, huh?" he said softly.

Yuki leaned over and kissed Zero's cheek softly. "I will," she promised, before settling back into her seat. She saw something out the window and leaned to get a better view.

"Zero, look... that building over there in the distance. It's pretty big, could it be the winery?"

Zero tilted his head forward to see a little better as they passed the locked and gated entry to a private drive. As they passed, his keen sight picked out the fact that the gate was rusted with age, but the padlock and the chain were new.

The hunter nodded with a thoughtful frown, driving on past and down the road while searching for a suitable place down the road to pull over. "Looks like it to me."

--------------------------------------

Water dripped from wet brown curls, down onto pale, ivory skin. Rido ran his hands, Kaname's hands, down his face, wiping away the loose droplets of water as he leaned over a sink in one what was once one of the winery's the employee restrooms. This whole place was shabby and run down and he would be glad to be well shut of it and back to someplace where he could take a decent shower, but for now, this would do. Rido splashed a little more water on his face and upper body before drying off and shrugging into a fresh shirt.

For one with such keen senses, getting used to a new body and the almost disturbingly foreign smells that accompanied it wasn't as easy as might be expected.

Rido hadn't ever met his son before he took over his body, so Shiki's scent had taken getting used to, but it was benign and easily forgotten. Kaname... he had plenty of associations with Kaname's scent, and it was somewhat disconcerting to have it around him all the time now, but he knew he'd get used to that. It was a minor inconvenience at best.

Rido hummed softly as he buttoned up his shirt. He was only half paying attention to what he was physically doing. The other half of his attention was focused inward towards where he was having far too much fun tormenting his captive nephew.

Rido was innately skilled at possession and cruelty. He'd had a lot of time to practice with Shiki, and even though Kaname's mind was much stronger, his blood oath to obey left him vulnerable and exposed to anything Rido wanted to do to him.

The mind was such an incredibly fascinating thing. If it thought you were in pain, then you were in pain, whether or not there was any physical reason for it. This was something Rido had enjoyed playing with for years, long before he ever lost his first body. If you knew how to do it, you could make someone writhe on the floor in pain, you could kill them from sheer agony... and it was all in their mind, the bodies never leaving any tell-tale trace of evidence.

It was so much easier to do like this though, with Kaname's consciousness left naked and exposed to his whims. If Kaname had a voice, he would have been screaming. The younger pureblood was trapped in a nightmare from which he could not awake. All the while, Rido was entrenching himself deeper and more firmly into the mind and body he had stolen, building up a stronger and stronger barrier between their two consciousness, trapping and cementing Kaname ever more firmly into the dark niche of his own mind which he now occupied.

--------------------------------------

Zero's own breathing sounded loud and harsh in his ears as he and Yuki slid down the long, dim hallway, dark as shadows in the gloom. He could hear the soft, telltale whine of electronics around the next turn, only just audible to his enhanced hearing. Zero held out his arm, halting Yuki. Yuki was staying close to Zero's back, occasionally holding onto the back of his shirt for guidance. She couldn't see in the dark like he could, so sometimes she followed blind. There were lights on in the hall beyond however, and the pair stopped just outside the circular glow being thrown around the corner.

"Security camera," Zero murmured, close to her ear. Yuki gave a small nod. They'd encountered a couple of them all ready and had their system of dealing with the surveillance down pat now.

The winery was indeed being guarded, but fortunately, Zero still remembered everything Master Toga had taught him years ago, including how best to avoid detection by vampires. And the gear that Kaname had prepared for he and Zero when they broke into Ichijo Enterprises, served double duty now as Zero and Yuki put it to good use once again.

"You first," Yuki whispered back as she shifted the small, remote device in her hand. One of the many useful little gadgets retrieved from their backpacks, the small jammers were about the size of a key fob. Zero knew Kaname had originally brought them along in case Zero wasn't able to manage the rate of speed needed for them to bypass security cameras unseen in the Ichijo building. It hadn't been necessary there, but it was necessary now.

Zero gave a nod and Yuki quickly leaned around the corner, aiming at the security camera and pressing the button on the jammer. The camera froze in place, facing away from them, as if its swivel head had momentarily jammed. Yuki kept the invisible beam trained on the camera while Zero sprinted swiftly to the end of the hall, taking up position direction under the camera, out of its line of sight. As soon as he was in position, Yuki released the button and slid back around the corner. She waited for a ten count, her heart pounding silently in her ears. They had to give the camera a couple of normal sweeps before disrupting it again in order to not throw up anything suspicious to whoever was monitoring the security feeds.

It seemed forever to Yuki as she slowly counted off the seconds before she edged her head around the corner again. Zero, still waiting in place beneath the camera, saw her and pushed the button on the jammer he was holding, aiming straight up at the camera over him. Again it stuck and this time Yuki sprinted quickly down the hall, joining Zero under the camera. Zero released the button and as the camera panned away they both made a quick break through the nearby door, plunging back into semi gloom once more.

So far, luck had been on their side as they infiltrated the 'abandoned' building, because although he obviously had resources, Rido apparently didn't have that many minions left loyal to him after the fallout from the events the other night at Ichijo Enterprises. Judging from what they'd seen thus far, Zero was pretty sure that the goons they'd seen at the sugar refinery were most likely the bulk of Rido's immediately available forces with perhaps a few more that were stationed here. So now that meant something like 8, maybe 10 vampires to reckon with in all. Or at least so he hoped. That was more than enough to completely overwhelm him and Yuki in a fight, but perhaps not quite enough to securely guard and patrol a facility of this size. The electronic security was no doubt supposed to cover the gaps, which was good for them, and hopefully bad for Rido.

It was slow going, checking out each room of the winery one at a time while evading the security, but it was the only thing Zero and Yuki could do, since they were unfamiliar with the layout of the building and had no idea where what they sought was being kept. Zero was fairly sure it would be in the basement level though, and thus far the heightened level of security they had encountered down here seemed to confirm that.

The room they now found themselves in was stacked with empty, dusty barrels, shelving and equipment and as they passed through, Zero felt himself weirdly reminded of the night he, Kaname and Yuki had escaped the Ichijo mansion through the wine cellars. It seemed impossible to consider that that had only been a few days ago, a week at the most. It seemed a year, an age, a lifetime ago. So much had happened since then.

Zero rubbed his neck. He felt... weird. The strong ache he had felt earlier had stopped abruptly during the drive here. At first, Zero had felt a surge of panic, but then he realized that the sensation hadn't completely gone away, it had just changed. It was like... static... that was the only word that came to Zero's mind to describe it. He wished he didn't know what it meant, but somehow... he did.

Rido had already taken Kaname. They were too late to stop him. What exactly that meant set a dull, aching dread gnawing at the pit of his stomach, but Zero was resolutely trying to ignore it. The funny, tingling buzz in his neck was getting stronger now however and Zero moved warily. Did that mean they were near where Kaname was? Maybe... but it didn't feel like it usually did, so he couldn't be sure.

One thing was sure. There was definitely a vampire about down here. Maybe more than one... he or they weren't close enough for Zero to tell for certain. He didn't feel as many as he'd felt on the upper levels near the entrance, but there was a definite presence.

--------------------------------------

Rido was enjoying Kaname's suffering intensely, but eventually he pulled back on the phantom pain he was dishing out, giving Kaname a bit of a respite if for no other reason than to enjoy Kaname's shame at how desperately glad he was to be left alone, ignored for a few minutes.

Rido left the bathroom and headed down the hall, making for the upper levels. Something in the hallway made him pause though, his steps slowing. He smelled something, some lingering trace that was out of place.

His eyes narrowed. There'd been intruders in this hallway. He started to head for the stairs, to alert his security forces above... but then he stopped again. No... he knew these scents. This body knew these scents, it was in fact, quite attuned to them, or he might have missed them entirely.

Kaname was being very quiet now inside his head and Rido smirked, catching out his game. His nephew had obviously recognized the smells before he had.

Kaname felt a horrible, sick, sinking feeling as Rido turned his body and started following the trail of the scent back down the hall, away from the stairs.

Oh... you thought I wouldn't notice, hm ? Seems your pets are loyal, Kaname. Stupid , but loyal. Let's go welcome them properly, shall we? Just you and I...

--------------------------------------

The room let out into another hall, then another room... Zero froze as they entered the large, mostly empty cellar chamber. It was well lit for a change, and there was something unusual on a platform near the center of the room – a large, metal tub. From what had been described to him the other day, Zero knew they had found what they sought. His hand jerked towards his gun as he caught sight of another, much too familiar figure... then he stilled again just as quickly. It wasn't Rido. At least, he didn't think so.

Senri Shiki was lying on a low palate near the far wall. His eyes were closed, arms crossed over his chest as if he had been laid out there. He was very pale. Zero was getting almost no readings from him, which was why he hadn't noticed the presence sooner.

Yuki noticed Shiki at the same time and shot Zero a worried look. They knew each other well enough that no words were needed. Zero read Yuki's look correctly and shook his head to reassure her. The young vampire in the corner wasn't dead, but his presence was very faint and weak. Zero guessed he was in a coma and from the dimness of the aura the hunter sensed around him, Shiki was probably not likely to waken any time soon.

If Shiki was here then... Zero swallowed.

"Yuki, watch the door," he whispered quietly as he slid swiftly forward. Yuki nodded, pausing just inside the doorway and pressing against the wall so she could watch the hall beyond without being seen.

Zero crossed the room and made his way swiftly and silently up the platform, pulling his gun from the back of his waistband. He'd hesitated to take a life, even a vampire life, the first time he'd been commissioned to do so. Now, though, there was no hesitation in his movements as he clicked the safety off, bringing the weapon around to bear on the figure in the tub.

Zero feared that with the death of his original body, Rido would simply transfer permanently to Kaname as had been the concern with Shiki. But then... Kaname had been perfectly aware of all that. That's why he'd... asked Zero what he had. Zero still hadn't told Yuki. She thought this was what they were here for, to eliminate Rido's original body, to try to save Kaname. Zero wanted to believe that too. Wanted to believe that if they weakened Rido enough, they could give Kaname a chance. But deep down, he feared... he knew... that it wouldn't be that easy. If it was that easy, Kaname wouldn't have been agonizing like he was this morning in the hotel over how to try to defeat Rido without killing his host too.

Whether he wanted to admit it or not, Zero knew they were merely cutting off one head of the hydra. The other would still have to go. But he couldn't think about it. Couldn't face that thought. There had to be another way. Had to be.They could figure that out later. Right now... this body's time had come.

Zero only had a moment to register the gristly form soaking in the pool of blood below as he started to squeeze the trigger before suddenly his arm was moving of its own volition, as if knocked aside by an invisible force. The anti-vampire bullet slammed harmlessly into the far wall.

Zero felt cold all over. He tried to wrench the gun back around, but he couldn't move. Not his arms, not his legs, not his head... nothing. He was frozen completely in place. A light pressure constricted his chest, but he was not in pain. He simply couldn't move, couldn't struggle despite the urgent messages his brain was sending to his muscles. He'd felt this way once before in his life – at the academy, when Shizuka had immobilized him.

A soft laugh from behind him and the distinct, bright, double point of light in his senses that screamed vampire sent a hard chill up Zero's spine. The voice was familiar, and yet... not.

"Well, well, well... I knew this place was old, but I didn't realize it was infested with vermin. What are you doing here, hm? Looking for something perhaps? Or someone?"

Zero felt himself being turned around by the invisible grip holding him until he'd rotated to face the doorway. His heart thudded in his chest and a spike of fear stabbed through him as he saw Yuki lying crumpled on the ground by the doorway, her eyes closed.

Kaname was standing over her, but... it wasn't Kaname. His aura and even his body language was all wrong. Zero felt a small, weird punch in the stomach as the pureblood's gaze locked on him. Kaname's normally chocolate brown eyes were two different colors.

The bi-colored gaze was hard with cold amusement as the pureblood stepped carelessly over Yuki's body. It looked like he'd recently showered. The wavy brown hair was damp and he was wearing a white, button down shirt that was different from the one Kaname had been wearing at the sugar plant.

As Rido approached him, Zero wondered if had bathed, as if he was trying to wash away all trace of this body's previous host. All trace of Kaname.

The hunter's gaze was accusing as it shot between Yuki and Rido. Not Kaname. He wouldn't think of the vampire facing him as Kaname, because it wasn't. It just... looked like him.

"What did you do to her?" Zero ground out carefully between his teeth. Speaking was an effort, but he managed.

Rido raised an eyebrow, surprised at the boy's ability to resist enough to use his voice. It was actually very hard to keep holding the ex-human still as he was doing, much more than Rido would have expected. Perhaps there was some basis for Kaname's interest in this one; he was an unusual specimen, certainly. Rido was intrigued.

Rido smirked, Kaname's mouth curling into a mocking grin that was hideously out of place on his features. "Don't worry; she's quite all right and unharmed. She's only sleeping."

Rido paced up the stairs until he was standing uncomfortably close to Zero. Zero's gun was still in his hand, hanging limply at his side, but he couldn't get his fingers to move. He kept trying though, slowly, stubbornly butting against the force holding him.

Rido glanced dispassionately down into the tub beside them. "Now, now... I wonder what interest a nasty ruin like this could be to you? Didn't anyone ever tell you that curiosity killed the cat?" he purred, his fingers tangling lightly in Zero's hair, palm cupping his cheek.

"I like my new body much better. Don't you like it, Kiriyu...?" he murmured, breath brushing Zero's face. He was trying to make the boy uncomfortable, but it was strange... so close to the ex-human like this, Rido found himself struck by a strong sense of hunger that bordered on desire.

Zero felt a warm, sick shiver course through him. It wasn't Kaname! But it was Kaname's hands on his skin, his face so close, his scent filling Zero's senses. Zero's body reacted to that, he couldn't help himself. The eyes though... the eyes were what told the truth. Those were not Kaname's eyes; it was a stranger looking at him. A ruthless bastard who had stolen his friend's body. Did Kaname know? Was he aware of what Rido was doing with his body? Deep down, Zero hoped not.

"I don't think it suits you," Zero growled back softly, still focusing all his energy on trying to twitch his fingers.

"No?" Rido looked amused. His hand slid down to grip Zero's chin. He could tell the boy was reacting to his nearness and it fed the wicked hunger in his eyes, as did sensing how distressed his trapped nephew was becoming. Rido chuckled cruelly.

"You've got a lot attitude, you know that? I have no idea why Kaname put up with such a stubborn bed toy. Although, I'd be willing to try to find out..." Rido's mouth ghosted slowly down the side of Zero's neck, lips teasing his skin. He'd seen the rather passionate kiss Kaname had given the boy, but he was incapable of fathoming anything beyond the idea that his nephew had been keeping the boy for pleasure. He was an ex-human for goodness sake. Mmm... but such a tasty, enticing one...

Rido was unaware of the bond that Kaname and Zero shared. He didn't know why the body he now inhabited was so drawn and reacted so intensely to Zero's scent and the touch of his skin, but he didn't bother questioning it, as it pleased his dark nature.

"My nephew always did have a taste for the unusual. Are you that good, Kiriyu?" he murmured huskily, pushing Zero back against the edge of the tub behind them, body pressing against his. He curled one hand at the back of Zero's neck, the other sliding to his hip as he continued to worry the boy's neck with his mouth.

Zero's stomach burned at the hateful insinuations being made. It wasn't like that! He was nobody's toy and... and Kaname wasn't like that. The hunter swallowed tensely as the lips that were not Kaname's worked his neck and the sharp teeth grazed lightly, seductively across his throat.

Watching helplessly through his own eyes, Kaname raged in agonized, impotent fury as Rido purposefully tipped Zero's chin up and captured a slow, possessive kiss from him. He wanted to scream at Rido to get his hands off him, but Kaname knew that Rido was already aware of his displeasure. He also knew that the more he violently he reacted; the farther Rido would continue to push, intentionally tormenting him with his own body's actions.

Kaname had already been forced to observe in silent agony as Rido dropped Yuki into a senseless sleep before she even knew he'd appeared behind her. And now...

Rido intentionally kept his eyes open during the kiss, forcing Kaname to watch Zero's face, forcing him to feel the sensation of dominating the boy's hot mouth with his own, and to know how much Rido was enjoying it.

Calm down, Nephew... Rido's voice mocked in his head as his hand slid down the front of Zero's chest. I'm not harming him. I think he rather likes it. It's not like he isn't already familiar with being used by this body, apparently...

Kaname was simmering hot enough to melt iron, but he refused to answer, because anything he said right now would only make things worse. Kaname wanted to fight, wanted to slam himself against the invisible bars holding him prisoner, but he couldn't. He was as trapped as Zero was, perhaps even more so. Rido was being very careful to pleasure Zero, not harm him, so Kaname's oath kept him bound, helpless to even attempt to interfere. This powerlessness was not a feeling with which Kaname was acquainted, and it was the most horrible one imaginable.

Zero shivered in response to the slow, deliberate kiss, but it was weird because despite the natural reaction, he felt like his flesh was crawling, felt like he wanted to claw off the skin that Rido was touching. There was heat, but no warmth in the kiss. Rido was treating him like an object to be used. It was a dirty feeling, like the mere touch was a violation. It had never felt like that with Kaname. Even when Kaname had been rough and lost control with him... he'd never treated him like a thing. It was incredibly hard, being touched this way, by these hands.

Rido sucked Zero's tongue into his mouth and nibbled his lower lip, then trailed his lips back down the side of Zero's neck as if drawn by a magnet back to that vulnerable location. Zero tensed instinctually, but curiously, Rido didn't bite him. The hungry way the vampire was licking and lathing his skin told Zero he wanted to, but he didn't. Zero was struggling for composure as the pureblood molested him, his skin flushing hotly, but Rido's unlikely carefulness suddenly struck him as odd. Rido had had no compunction about biting him viciously earlier, in the van...

Rido's words about Yuki came back to Zero suddenly. She's quite all right and unharmed. Unharmed. Of course. Because if Rido harmed either one of them, it made his deal with Kaname void, that's what Kaname had said to them back at the factory, wasn't it?

"Give me my head back and I'll show you how good I am..." Zero growled softly in a darkly seductive tone. It made him flush to the tips of his ears, but he knew what he was doing. He felt Kaname's... no... Rido's body shudder against him, responding strongly to the husk in his voice. He had one advantage against the pureblood. He didn't think Rido realized they were bonded.

Rido's breath rasped against Zero's neck. He'd started this out as a casual game, a way to torment Kaname and his pet at the same time, but his body was literally burning now and it was quickly becoming more than a game. Rido wasn't stupid enough to free Zero... but he couldn't do much damage with just his head... Rido let Zero have what he asked for and Zero's neck quickly dipped forward, mouth grazing heatedly along Rido's jaw. Zero closed his eyes. Pretend it was Kaname. Pretend it was Kaname. It was his body after all, it shouldn't be so hard.

Kaname was slightly shocked as he felt Zero's mouth trail down his... Rido's... neck. What on earth was...? Suddenly, Kaname understood, and just as swiftly he knew he couldn't let Rido catch on to the fact that he understood. So instead he started seething again, radiating nothing but raw rage inside his head. It wasn't hard to do, since it wasn't an act.

Zero sucked and licked the side of Rido/Kaname's neck, kissing and teasing in the way that he knew drove Kaname crazy. Apparently it had the same effect on Rido because the pureblood's hand tightened in his hair and Rido's own exploration of Zero's neck grew more fevered and intense. He wanted to bite the damn boy so bad his teeth hurt, but he knew he couldn't. Rido was not good at self-denial and heated frustration was swiftly edging in on his focus.

Zero nipped and nibbled the pureblood's neck with his fangs and Rido growled softly, fighting the insane urge to slam the boy down to the ground and tear him to pieces as he ravaged him. His control wavered and Zero's fingers twitched.

Rido's fingers slid to the neck of Zero's t-shirt, starting to tear downward. The vampire's fingers were ruthless, but trembling. Zero grinned grimly against Rido's skin.

"Maybe I'll come to like this change, hm? Kaname was usually much rougher with me..." he purred, filling the role that Rido had already shown he expected. Zero could not afford to feel shame right now, or at least he could not afford to show that he felt it. His finger inched painfully slowly back to the trigger of his weapon, but it still had no strength.

The dark words egged Rido on and as Zero's hot mouth worked his neck he lost what remained of his scanty self-control. He bit down on Zero's neck hard. He didn't suck his blood, because he knew Kaname had let the boy drink his and he was smarter than to form that kind of bond, as he would have assumed Kaname was as well, but the sensation of his fangs digging into flesh was inhumanly delightful. Rido couldn't stop himself, he tore the pale flesh harshly, needing to feel it give, needing to hear Zero's sharp moan of pain as the pureblood gouged his neck with cruel intensity.

It was what Kaname and Zero had both been waiting for. Rido had broken their agreement. He had harmed Zero. Released from his oath, Kaname threw himself violently against the bonds holding him prisoner in his own mind, forcing Rido to pull back on the control he was exerting over Zero in order to face the new threat.

The pain and Rido's slackening of control was a catalyst. Zero's fingers jerked and tightened on the trigger of his gun. He knew where the first shot had to go and he put it there without hesitation, shooting himself in the thigh. Just a grazing flesh wound this time, he knew now he didn't need to make it as deep as he'd done last time, to break free of Shizuka's control. The reason Rido had put Yuki to sleep instead of freezing her, was because for some reason direct immobilization worked much better on lower class vampires than it did on humans. The Bloody Rose stripped Zero of his vampire abilities... and weaknesses. Rido could control him that way no longer.

Zero tried to snatch the gun up towards Rido, but the pureblood was too fast for him. He lashed out with his elbow, knocking the gun out of Zero's hand and sending it flying across the room. The pureblood's mismatched eyes blazed with hell's fury. He realized he'd been played, and he intended to tear the hunter apart with his bare hands for this. With nothing further to lose now, Rido's teeth tore sharply into Zero's shoulder, his claws extending wickedly as they too sank into the boy's flesh, tearing and rending, intent on causing as much pain as possible.

The feeling of Zero's flesh giving way under his hands was sickeningly horrible and Kaname fought like a demon with Rido for control of the limbs that were doing the damage. He couldn't win, ultimately, he knew that. He'd handed over control when he let Rido take his body, and he couldn't oust him by force, it was too late for that, Rido had already entrenched himself far too deeply. But he could certainly give his uncle one hell of a struggle.

Rido's reactions were slowed, his reflexes dulled by having to fight Kaname and Zero at the same time and Zero was able to twist away from his deadly grip, lashing out with his good arm and punching the vampire viciously in the chest. Blood flowed freely from Zero's torn neck and shoulder and he stumbled slightly on the stairs. Rido lunged for him, claws digging into the backpack he was still wearing and throwing him off balance. Zero twisted as he fell, yanking his arms free from the backpack with a wince of pain as he escaped, rolling down the stairs and springing up unsteadily when he hit the bottom.

Rido was suddenly behind him, arm curling around Zero's neck and yanking him back against his chest. Damn, purebloods could move uncannily fast. Rido started to squeeze, hard enough to crush his windpipe. Then he stumbled as something heavy slammed into him from behind. Small, but strong hands caught and scrabbled at Rido's throat and his eyes, clawing him and forcing him to let Zero go in order to reach up and protect his face.

"Stop it! Let him go!" Yuki had apparently woken up in the unfolding chaos. She'd ditched her backpack for greater mobility and now clung onto Rido's back as she clawed at him like a wild cat. She couldn't bring herself to think about what she was doing, couldn't afford to let herself think this was Kaname she was attacking, despite what he looked like. She knew it wasn't Kaname. It was Rido. Rido, who was hurting Kaname as much as he was hurting Zero by using his body in these ways. That gave her the strength to strike viciously as she held onto his back, kneels clamped to his sides. She was under no illusions about the strength of her opponent, and knew it was best to try to stay behind him, out of easy reach.

Zero yanked free, choking and gasping for air, but he didn't have time to try to catch his breath, he didn't even have time to worry about Yuki, although his stomach was still knotted anyway. He took advantage of the distraction she'd caused to quickly dive across the room and snatch up his fallen gun.

Kaname tore at Rido, mentally shoving and kicking. His heart was in his figurative throat as Rido stumbled and slammed Yuki back against the nearest wall, knocking her harshly against it. Kaname could feel the impact of her body caught between his back and the unyielding stone wall, but she was still holding on. Oh God...

Rido was beyond enraged. He struck back violently at Kaname, incensed at the way the other's struggles were slowing him down and allowing this pointless battle to continue. He knew far too well how to use the dichotomy of their shared body and Kaname's pseudo connection to reality against him. Once more invading the pain centers of Kaname's mind, he manipulated them ruthlessly, making Kaname feel like he was literally being shredded alive, every phantom nerve burning in pain.

Kaname had nowhere to escape and it felt like he was being dragged through a field of razor sharp glass shards, but being trapped in his own head went both ways. Rido couldn't escape either and despite the harsh reprisals, Kaname continued to lash out at him, learning quickly from his own torment and attempting to strike back at his uncle in the same manner.

Yuki's fingers tore a long scrape under his eye and Rido grabbed her wrist, swinging around and using the momentum to tear her off his back. He released at the midpoint of his turn, throwing Yuki across the room and sending her crashing backwards into the empty wooden shelves along the wall. Yuki hit hard, the shelves crashing down atop her.

"Yuki!" Zero couldn't help crying out her name in alarm.

Kaname smelt her blood. She didn't stir from where she had fallen. Nearly blind with the searing pain Rido was inflicting on him, Kaname's struggles started to become desperate. Worse than the mental agony was knowing what was happening to Zero and Yuki, through him, and being powerless to stop it. This needed to end. It had to end... before either Zero or Yuki ended up dead.

There was a soft click and then a bang.

Rido dodged to the side just in time to avoid the shot Zero aimed for him. He wheeled around to face the hunter.

Zero scrambled backwards. Blood continued to run freely down his shoulder but the gun was clenched firmly in his good fist. He was aiming at the pureblood's heart... but he didn't pull the trigger again. His eyes had locked on Rido/Kaname's face and there was a critical moment of hesitation. Kaname could see the agonized pause in the ex-human's features, could read that he was trying desperately to find some other way to end this. It was ironic. A couple of months ago, Kaname was fairly sure that Zero could have shot him without a second thought. Now... their new closeness was a weakness the hunter could not afford.

Shoot! Shoot, damn it! Kaname silently begged as he felt Rido lunge his body forward. A lightening fast blow sent Zero slamming to the floor, Rido pouncing quickly atop him. Wicked, claw like fingers punched for Zero's heart before the hunter had a chance to bring his gun to bear a second time. Rido had had enough. He intended to rip the ex-human's heart straight out of his chest, and Zero didn't have time to stop him.

Gritting past the unspeakable agony of the barrier Rido had erected between them, Kaname reached out with everything he had, struggling for control. It didn't matter if it was an ultimately futile battle, he had to try. He couldn't watch Zero die at his own hands.

Zero saw the razor claws plunging downward like knives, but they faltered, the arm suddenly coming to a stop right over his chest, the body atop him jerking as if having a seizure. For half an instant, Zero thought he saw a flicker of Kaname behind the pureblood's eyes. The gaze was urgent, desperate, pleading. Please, Zero... please... I'm begging you, end this!

The momentary glimpse was gone in a flash, replaced by Rido's cold, deadly fury.

Rido threw Kaname back harshly as their wills clashed and Kaname reeled dizzily, having overextended himself by trying so hard to cross the barrier between them. Rido was distracted, but still intent on his prey. The scent of Zero's blood filled the air, and Kaname's body reacted instinctually to it. Kaname was losing control; he couldn't hold his arm back any longer. His talon-like fingernails sliced through Zero's shirt and started to sink into his skin.

Rido, you're a fool! Kaname raged at the other with near maniacal amusement and desperation in a last ditch attempt to save Zero's life. My body is blood-bound to this boy, he's the only reason I survived after Ichijo's death. Kill him, and you've just committed suicide!

As intended, that timely bit of information was enough to totally distract Rido's attention for a moment as he forced himself harshly into Kaname's memories, searching for whether that was the truth or a lie. He never had a chance to find out that it was, in fact, the truth.

Two loud shots rang out at close range and both Kaname and Rido felt the sharp punch of the pain as it jerked them backward.

There was a glimmer of unshed heartache and agony in Zero's eyes as he clutched the grip of the gun in both hands. He pulled the trigger again, punching a third hole in Kaname's chest, straight through the heart. He'd tried... he'd so hard tried to think of any other way that this could go down... but he'd seen Kaname's desperation in the brief moment he'd seemed to be in control. He remembered the loathing and horror in the pureblood's voice the morning in the hotel when Kaname had spoken of the idea of being a prisoner in one's own body.

Zero understood. Better than anyone else ever could. Surely, Kaname had known he would, that's why he'd made his final request to Zero back there in the refinery. Zero had once made Yuki promise him the same thing that Kaname was asking of him now. Kill me when I can no longer be myself, when I am nothing but a danger to others. It hurt like hell, but he cared about Kaname too much to not give him this final escape.

Kaname felt relief, even as pain seared through his chest and blood blossomed darkly down the front and back of his shirt. Rido's reaction was far more violent. He shrieked in rage and pain, seething as he struck out at Zero as one possessed. Zero squeezed off another shot quickly, making the pureblood jerk in pain as a fourth round tore through him. But it didn't check Rido's forward motion. Blood trickled freely from the corners of Rido's mouth, but the vampire was still moving on the steam of sheer hatred as he struck Zero hard across the face, then in the gut, snapping several ribs. Red eyes blazing, he whipped his hand to the side, sending the Bloody Rose flying from Zero's hand and skittering across the room, far out of reach.

Kaname's body was too strong. Zero knew he'd put those first three shots squarely through the pureblood's heart, but he was still moving. He wouldn't be for long – he was a mortally wounded bear lashing out in rage – but he would very probably last long enough to take Zero with him to the grave.

The ex-human only just had time for a moment of panic before another blow rocketed his head back against the floor, dazing him and only narrowly missing snapping his spine. Rido's head dropped to his neck, fangs sliding harshly into flesh again. This time he did drink, urgently, harshly. Zero's blood wouldn't be enough to save him, but it was instinct to try. Already, Rido's grip on Kaname was starting to loosen a fraction, preparing to flee back to his own body in a desperate bid to survive longer than his current host. Kaname felt the barrier between them fall away as Rido began to cede control as he fled. Underneath it all, Rido was a coward who was secretly terrified of the nothingness of death.

Suddenly another gunshot rang out. Rido's head shot back with a shriek and Kaname's body jerked. But the shot hadn't touched Kaname's body this time.

Yuki stood on the top step of the small platform, leaning over the tub. Blood ran down the side of her face and covered her forehead, but she was on her feet again. She'd picked up the Bloody Rose from where it'd fallen and held it now in both hands, pointing down at the thing floating in the tub. Her eyes were painted with anguish as she looked towards Kaname and Zero, but her face was set with determination, and her hands didn't shake as she pulled the trigger again, and again. This creature was responsible for everything... the death of Kaname's parents, the death of her parents, all the pain and suffering of the past few weeks... What he had done to Kaname... what he had done to Zero... Yuki emptied the rest of the clip into the body in the tub, one after the other in rapid succession. Just die already, you horrible, horrible man!

Rido lurched unsteadily, trying to get to his feet, to lunge at her, but he didn't make it farther than his knees. White-hot pain roiled through him as the bond with his real body was severed. Yuki's well placed shots finally stopped the beating of the misshapen heart and Rido's shell gasped once and perished.

Rido panicked and clutched hard at Kaname's body once more, now bereft of any other means of escape and trying desperately to rebuild the barriers he'd just taken down, to reassert control. It was too soon for comfort, but it was still possible for him to transfer completely... His will and his drive to continue existing was strong.

Kaname fought back with everything he yet possessed. His body was failing, his blood seeping away too rapidly, his shattered heart fluttering and seizing, unable to repair itself fast enough as his life hemorrhaged away. This was in his advantage, however. If his body had been strong, Rido could have used that strength against him since he was the one still currently in control of the body. With the inroads he'd already cut so deeply in place, Rido would probably have been able to complete the transfer successfully, even with the early termination of his previous shell. But right now... with one body dead and the other on the brink, Rido was unable to gain purchase, to find the strength to hold on. Unspeakable agony was tearing him apart and fear was starting to gain a hold.

Inside, locked in their internal battle, Kaname smiled coldly. He was in agony too, but he didn't care. He'd already accepted that death was the only outcome for him and it just didn't matter anymore. With Rido still in primary control, he wasn't feeling the full force of the pain either, not yet. But Rido was. He was feeling the agony of two bodies dying at the same time, and Kaname took grim satisfaction in that as Rido shrieked in voiceless torment inside his head.

Do you taste it, Rido? Can you feel the cold grip of death reaching up to squeeze you from existence? What lays beyond, Uncle? What? I'm ready to find out, are you? Kaname hissed darkly. Go ahead and stay, Rido... cling to your pathetic excuse of an existence for a few minutes longer. This body is dying. Do you feel the pain? Is it tearing you apart? I'm going to hold you still and make you feel every last agonizing moment of it... Then I'm taking you down to hell with me. I can spend eternity there happily, as long as I can watch you suffer, he promised savagely.

Rido struggled, flailed... but he was fading and Kaname's strength was growing as Rido's suppression faltered and finally gave way. Kaname felt the mental shackles on him slide free as Rido slipped away, at last, into the much deserved oblivion which he most feared.

As Rido finally died for the last time, awareness and sensation of his own body, previously dulled by Rido's enslavement, rushed back upon Kaname with full force. Pain flooded his senses and he slumped silently to the floor in a growing puddle of blood. His eyes clenched shut in agony, and when they opened again, Zero and Yuki had both edged as close to him as they dared – watching, anguished, uncertain.

"Rido's... gone..." Kaname murmured with a weak hint of a smile touching his bloodstained lips. He was too weak to move, even though he could now. He knew he didn't have long. "Sorry... going to leave a... mess..." he coughed, ruined lungs contracting painfully as he brought up more blood.

Zero didn't need the words. He'd known from the moment the two solidly brown eyes fluttered open again that it was Kaname in control once more. He'd felt it in his bones, through their bond... just as he could feel the pureblood's life slipping swiftly away. Anguish lanced through him. He and Yuki were both beside Kaname almost immediately.

Zero rolled him onto his back, checking Kaname's wounds, pressing on his chest, trying to staunch the bleeding while Yuki gently cradled the pureblood's head in her lap. She was looking questioningly at Zero, who wouldn't raise his head to meet her eyes... because he knew it was already too late. The anti-vampire weapon had done its job with devastating effectiveness. He had killed Kaname. And even though it's what the pureblood had wanted him to do... Zero didn't know how he was ever going to live with that.

"Kaname," Yuki whispered softly, urgently, quickly tugging her shirt away from her neck.

Kaname smiled faintly. He knew what she was thinking, but it was too late for that. He could drain her and Zero both dry and it still wouldn't save him, wouldn't even buy him more time. He was too far gone already. He shook his head slightly.

"No good, dear one," rasped, choking softly on the words and the effort to speak. "S'okay. Not... afraid." His chest was nothing but sheer, horrible fire and he choked again, speaking taking far too much effort and strength. It was true, though. He wasn't afraid to die. He didn't want to, but he had already escaped his worst nightmare. Comparatively, this would be peace.

Kaname's mind was growing foggy, his vision and attention wavering and swimming. Numbness was starting to spread through him, bringing welcome relief even as his mind was dimly aware that it meant the end was very near. But at least he didn't have to die with Rido still in his head as he'd thought he would. At least he was free for these last few moments in time.

Yuki's head was bowed low over Kaname's to hide her tears. She'd shed so many today that she felt empty, stupid and useless... and yet they still wouldn't stop coming, burning her eyes and her skin.

"I love you, Kaname. I have since the first day I remember," Yuki whispered hoarsely into his hair as her tears flowed down to wet the tangled brown curls. Strangely, in so saying, she felt no conflict with what she had told Zero before. Both confessions were equally true. Kaname and Zero, her moon and her sun... they were always there for her, they owned her heart. Life was cruel beyond words. Only now, when it was too late did she finally understand clearly what her heart had been trying to tell her for years. They were both as deeply special to her as living beings could ever be. It was as Kaname had said to her back at the hotel... there was no fathoming the mysteries of the heart, or the incredible cruelty of fate.

Kaname eyes caressed Yuki's face gently, returning the unspoken words she already knew. I love you too.

Zero was still pressing on the wound to Kaname's chest, but he knew it wouldn't do any good. Damn it! There must have been something he could have done differently... something he overlooked... something he could have tried to keep this from happening. His head too was bowed, hiding the unmanly tears streaking hotly and unstoppably down his face. He was too wretched to even feel embarrassed about them.

Zero wasn't a pureblood; he wasn't even a vampire by birth. When his bond with Kaname broke, it would not do to him what it would have to Kaname... but it would still leave an aching emptiness inside him. Bond or no bond, losing Kaname would leave an aching emptiness inside him, one that nothing else could ever fill no matter how long or short his life was from here. It was like the pain of losing his family all over again. Zero hadn't thought he had enough left of his scarred heart to feel this way again, to hurt this badly more than once in his life, but apparently he'd been wrong. Nothing could ever make up for this loss. Nothing could ever make it right, or okay. Nothing.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry..." Zero murmured in a broken, almost inaudible whisper, his lips barely moving. He started slightly as he felt something brush his wrist. Kaname's bloodstained fingers slid up to curl around his with great effort. Kaname was so weak they could do no more than just linger there, against Zero's skin, offering whatever comfort he had left to give and seeking one last touch, one last caress... Zero felt like something inside him shattered.

Speech was beyond the pureblood, but he smiled again faintly. His warm gaze held both Zero and Yuki for a moment, before his eyes glazed and fluttered shut, his raggedly struggling chest falling still. His heart stopped. His fingers slid away from Zero's hand, falling back to his side.

The soft, peaceful blanket of death settled over the pureblood with deceptively quiet, aching finality. In the numb silence that followed, Yuki's sobs were the only noise in the still chamber. The sound echoed hollowly in the emptiness, bouncing back like the tears of fallen angels, weeping for an immortal life cut cruelly and unforgivably short.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Eight: " Crossing Over"

Kaname was gone.

Zero couldn't quite get the reality of it through his head... or more truthfully, through his heart. He'd felt Kaname's presence wink out like the snuffing of a candle. He felt the dark, yawning abyss of pain and emptiness open and expand in his chest from their severed bond, like having the rug yanked out from under his feet. Like he was going to fall and fall forever... but he still couldn't accept this. It wasn't right... it would never feel right.

He stared down at his hands, covered in Kaname's blood as he pressed against the wound that was no longer bleeding. He felt like he couldn't move. Finally, numbly, he eased away and reached over, wrapping an arm around Yuki's shoulders and holding her almost crushingly close, letting her cry for both of them. His tears had frozen, stuck in his throat, choking him. Time ceased to have any meaning. They could have knelt there like that for minutes or an eternity.

Yuki's fingers gripped Zero's torn shirt tightly, winding into the fabric as she buried her face against his chest. She had never experienced this kind of pain or loss before, not that she remembered. She felt like someone had stabbed a hot poker through her chest and she couldn't breathe. Her eyes were red and swollen and they hurt like they'd been rubbed with sandpaper, but she didn't want to stop crying, because when she stopped, then the emptiness settled in and she couldn't escape reality anymore. At least the tears offered some relief from the burning weight of her grief, some outlet for the unending pain.

Zero wrapped his arms around her shoulders, holding her close. He'd lost a lot of blood himself and was still vaguely aware that he was in pain. He was dizzy and nauseous. He couldn't think, could feel nothing but despair and heartache. Nothing seemed to matter, not even the thought that they should try to escape before any of Rido's henchmen might show up. He couldn't even bring himself to wonder why none had showed up before now. Who cared? It all just seemed pointless.

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"I think they know we're here..." Kain commented dryly as he back-flipped swiftly over a loading counter and ducked behind it as a volley of sharp darts that had been aimed at him slammed deeply into the other side.

"Oh, you think?" Aido shot back, hands pressed against the floor as he sent a quick wave of ice to trap the feet of the attacking vampire nearest to him. The man slipped and fell and Aido pounced quickly, slamming his hand to the man's chest and freezing him solidly to the floor. "What was your first clue, genius?"

Ruka, on the opposite side of the old winery's loading dock, sent a harsh blast of neatly targeted wind slamming into one of their opponents who was stupid enough to leave himself exposed. The vampire crashed back into the wall behind him with an audible crack and slid limply to the floor. "Can you two possibly be serious for a few minutes?" she called in exasperation to the two cousins.

Kain popped back up from behind the counter again and vaulted over it easily. He spotted a vampire coming up behind Aido. Suddenly the metal cabling of the abandoned crane lines dangling from the ceiling came to life like a pack of snakes. The stiff metal cords wrapped sinuously around the man's body in a flash. They jerked him up into the air before fusing together and hardening into an inescapable mesh, leaving the man trapped and dangling from the ceiling.

Aido had turned in time to see it. He knew it was his cousin's work and tossed him a rueful, cocky grin. Show off.

Takuma knocked one vampire down and flipped another over his back, slamming him to the floor, rolling, twisting, pinning and knocking him out with the fast, sure moves of the fighting form he'd practiced since childhood. Moving with swift, lethal grace he and the others forced their way carefully but quickly into the winery through the resistance being offered by Rido's guards.

Takuma preferred fighting with his katana or with his hands to fighting with his powers. It felt more even, more balanced somehow. Maybe because you were facing your enemies in a 'fair' fight, or maybe just because he still had a garden full of smoking bodies on his conscience and it was a hard thing to forget.

The fight didn't last long. Even though they had superior numbers, the common vampires stood no chance against the swift and vicious incursion of the four nobles. Those guards that weren't taken out in the first wave soon fled swiftly. The nobles pursued them, hoping to be led to what they sought. If Rido hadn't been alerted to their presence yet, he would be momentarily. They had to hurry if they wanted to find him and cut off his escape.

Silently, all of them dreaded what... and who... they might find awaiting them here. The frightening truth that none of them wanted to face was that if Rido had already taken Kaname's body and he looked right at them and gave them an order... they would obey. To a one. They would have no choice, even if he told them to kill each other.

Slightly distracted by their need for haste, they didn't notice when one of the fleeing vampires escaped into the plenum space between the ceiling and the floor above and doubled back unseen.

Chairman Cross was lagging in the rear of the swift moving group as they hurried along the corridor leading deeper into the winery so he was the first to react when the ceiling came down behind them with a crash. He spun around. The raven haired vampire that had emerged from the ceiling leapt at him, fangs bared in a deadly snarl. Cross reacted on instinct that was decades old.

Recedo he barked, slamming both hands swiftly into the vampire's chest as he was tackled, falling under the impact. Cross hit the floor hard on his back, the wind knocked out of him, but instead of landing on top of him, the vampire flew backwards as if a giant fist had socked him in the chest. He was thrown down the hall, away from Cross, hitting the floor on his shoulder and skidding. Kain was on the downed man before he could recover himself and a swift, precise blow to the neck put the other vampire permanently out of commission.

Kain looked at Cross as he straightened back to his feet. They were all looking at him now.

"You're a hunter, Chairman Cross," Takuma said quietly with a raised eyebrow as he quickly bent to offer the human a hand up from where he'd fallen. They'd all recognized the unique repelling charm he'd used, and only one born of hunter blood could perform hunter charms.

"Was," Cross corrected as he took Takuma's hand and struggled back to his feet with some difficulty, attempting to catch his breath. "I was a hunter. I stopped practicing a long time ago. Kaname knew that, but he also knew I was no danger to any of you, else he would not have brought you to the Academy," he said quietly.

"Yeah, I bet. I bet he also knew how our parents would have reacted to the idea of sending us to a school run by a hunter," Aido gave a wry smile.

Takuma clapped Cross gently on the shoulder as the human regained his feet. "No offence, Cross, but don't worry. I don't think any of us are afraid of you."

Suddenly all the vampires in the group stiffened as they caught scent of something. Faint and far away... but it was unmistakable. The smell of pure vampire blood. The smell of Kaname's blood.

Faces paling, they broke into an urgent run, swiftly attempting to trace the gut-knotting scent to its source. The fact that it got stronger and more hideously pervasive the closer they got to the source sent terror knifing through them all.

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Somewhere nearby a door banged open. Footsteps rang urgently across the tile floor. Zero and Yuki didn't even look up. Everything seemed to have blurred around them. Distended. Unreal. A nightmare that surely they would wake up from presently...

Aido and Ruka dropped to their knees by Kaname's side. Takuma stopped to check on Shiki, still lying comatose in the far corner, and Kain paused to check on the thing in the tank before they too joined the others. The Chairman trailed them in last, obviously out of breath, his eyes closing briefly in anguish behind his spectacles as he took in the circumstances. They had gotten here as fast as they could, but still too late, it seemed. Although perhaps it would not have made a difference, considering the horribly clear way this scene read.

They all had been in on the discussion of what would have to be done to stop Rido, what they hadn't wanted to do to Shiki, but had no choice. Now, it seemed however, that it was Kaname who had ultimately paid the price to get rid of his uncle forever.

"Kaname? Kaname! No!" The four vampire newcomers buzzed in distress around their fallen leader, leaning over him, all talking to him at once, taking his hands and trying to get a response. Any and all of them would have traded all the blood in their bodies to bring him back, but it was too late for that.

Yuki curled tighter into Zero's chest and he held her close, hand resting on the back of her head, numb gaze not looking at anything. The others showing up made this suddenly all too real, but it was still wrong. This was not the way things should have turned out.

Cross crouched down by Zero and Yuki, lightly touching the boy's bloodstained shoulder as he silently checked on the damage done to the young hunter. He didn't ask if Zero was all right. Zero wasn't, but would say he was. With treatment though, he would mend. The lost look in the boy's eyes made Cross's heart ache, but at the same time it told him a truth that reassured him. Zero had obviously been the one that pulled the trigger, but he hadn't wanted to. The fact that Kuran's death was hitting the hunter so hard told Cross that Zero had finally at least started to bridge his inner gap and know that not all vampires were evil. That gave Cross hope that perhaps someday Zero could realize the same about himself.

Yuki was turned away; hiding against Zero and Cross gently smoothed her hair with his fingers in a comforting gesture as his gaze turned back towards where the other four were bending over Kaname.

Takuma gripped Kaname's lifeless hand tightly as his gaze shot desperately across to the other three vampires. "Aido, what you did for Kain, can't we do it for Kaname? Just tell me how..." Takuma was more than ready to give anything needed, no matter the risks or the cost if it would give Kaname a chance.

"You mean a blood seal? H-he's a pureblood... we can't..." Ruka's voice hitched hard.

Aido pushed his sleeves up anyway and Kain followed suit. "We could try, Ruka... maybe if all of us –"

"You would die," Cross's voice interrupted them quietly. "All of you. Nobles may place seals upon other nobles, or lower vampires, and purebloods can place them on anyone, but no one can place a blood seal on a pureblood but another pureblood. The amount of energy their bodies require is too great." The Chairman spoke simply but with finality, as one who knew exactly what he was talking about. Hunters studied and knew more about both hunter and vampire charms than almost anyone else and Cross had good reason to know a lot about this particular charm. His sad gaze fixed on Kaname's still face.

Zero only half-paid attention to the conversation as he held Yuki. He was dimly aware that Aido and Ichijo were crying unashamedly and the others were damn close as the truth finally dawned on them with horrible finality.

There wasn't anything they could do. They had won this war, but they had lost their leader... and their friend. Without him, victory was hollow at the very best. Not to mention short lived. With Kaname's death heralding the final end of the Kuran line, the Council of Elder's power now became absolute. There would be no lasting peace between humans and vampires, no coexistence. Right now, however, that was too far ahead to even think about. It was the loss of their friend that the weeping vampires and humans mourned, rather than the loss of the future.

The only one present who seemed to be remaining composed was, unlikely as it seemed, Chairman Cross. His eyes were deeply sad, but they also burned with a strange look of purpose as he shifted over a little to kneel beside Kaname's head.

"Move back a little please, all of you," he said quietly, but with a definite note of authority in his voice. It was so different from his normal manner. The strange calm on his face was abnormal enough to make Yuki and Zero both shake out of their numb stupors enough to stare at him questioningly.

Cross simply started unknotting the scarf around his neck. He pulled it away and Yuki realized it was the first time she'd ever seen her father without something covering his throat. It was the first time any of them had, and there was obviously a reason for that.

The side of the Chairman's neck was deeply spider-webbed with old, white scars, the skin puckered slightly here and there where flesh had been torn away and scar tissue had tried incompletely to fill the void. The scars were unmistakably radiating out from the join of his shoulder and neck – from the point where a vampire would usually feed. At some point in his life, Cross had been mauled badly enough to make those scars, badly enough that it appeared as if his throat had been all but torn out. From the look of it, it should have been badly enough to kill him. But in the center of the mangled scar tissue was a small mark. It was a geometric shape and looked perhaps something like an abstract rose. It was a dark red-brown color and looked at first like a tattoo. But closer inspection would reveal that the mark was actually painted in blood. Old, dried blood that somehow defied time and the elements and remained branded upon his skin.

A blood seal. A very old blood seal.

Zero realized with a start that he'd seen that geometric rose design before. It was the same shape into which the golden frame of Kaname's mother's necklace had been fashioned.

"This blood seal was placed upon me by your mother, Kaname, before you were born..." Cross murmured softly, directing his words to the still form of the pureblood, although they were spoken for everyone present. Cross quickly tore Kaname's ruined, crimson soaked shirt open, revealing the bloody hole gapping in his chest. Yuki bit her lip and looked away from the gruesome sight. Aido did too.

Cross was still speaking, almost to himself. He knew he needed to act before Kaname's body remained thus too long, but Yuki and the others had to know what he was doing, and why. And even if Kaname couldn't really hear him right now, he needed Kaname to know why.

"Your mother was a very dear friend," he murmured. That was an understatement, Cross supposed. She was what had made him realize that not all vampires were evil. She was the reason that he had ceased being a hunter and taken up the cause of peace. He had always loved her from afar, although he knew she had eyes only for her husband.

"It was many human years ago. The coexistence movement was just starting in earnest, and she was pregnant, carrying you. I was attacked by someone who was against the cause and who felt that a hunter had no business mingling so closely with purebloods, sullying them. I should have died, but your mother placed this blood seal upon me, binding her strength to mine to keep me alive. I remember her smile, when she told me later that it wasn't just her strength that had saved me, but also the strength of her unborn child as well. She never let me release the seal, even after I healed. She said it wasn't necessary, that I should keep it because it was a dangerous world we were walking in, and there were few enough already who supported the cause of peace. I swore to her that I would not forget my debt. I would always protect her, and her child." Cross swallowed softly around the old, familiar ache in his throat. He'd never told Kaname any of this before. He'd never told anyone. "I couldn't protect your mother, Kaname. But perhaps now at last, I can repay my debt." He smiled quietly.

There was an unnatural peace in his eyes as he turned to look at Yuki and Zero, the children of his heart. They would be all right. He'd already set his mind at peace about their futures. He smiled at Zero and hugged Yuki.

"When you were a little girl and you would cry, I would wipe away your tears and try to make you smile," he murmured into her hair. "Let me wipe them away one more time. Trust me, Yuki. Forgive me, and... don't forget your foolish father, huh? My love will always be with you."

Yuki didn't know what he meant and she hugged him back tightly, looking up with a completely confused and questioning gaze. Her father only smiled. Yuki didn't understand why but she suddenly wanted to cling to him and not let go as he pulled away. But Cross just kissed the top of her head as he disentangled himself gently and turned back to Kaname. His choice was made and he hoped that someday she could understand.

The Chairman had already lived far longer than he should have. No one, save perhaps some of those on the board of the hunters association, really knew how old he actually was. Cross had already been somewhat past his prime when Kaname was born. While the pureblood child aged with the slowness of vampires, rendering him now only the human equivalent of about 18... Human years had sped by in significantly greater numbers and that time should have progressed normally for the former hunter. But it had not. Instead, he seemed to freeze in time. He looked no older now than he had the day the seal had been placed upon him. The same blood seal that had saved him had also ended up unnaturally lengthening his life. The energy that had been bound to him made sure of that. The original gift had been potent enough, but when Kaname's parents died... the backwash of energy that flowed into the seal had increased its power exponentially. It had also temporarily debilitated him from the overload until his body learned to cope.

Human life was not meant to be stretched out forever, nor was the human body meant to deal with carrying around this much un-human energy all the time. Cross was finally wearing out - growing more and more tired, feeling wearier with each passing day. There was a reason he rarely left his office at school. No one knew that his outgoing personality hid severe, almost devastating chronic fatigue. He had a goal, a dream, a job to do. That and his 'children' were what kept him going. But looking around him, he could see that he had done his job here, and he couldn't ask for more. At last he could repay his debt, he could do one more thing to ensure a continuing future for humans and vampires... and he could at last have peace.

Placing one hand on Kaname's chest and the other over the mark on his neck, Cross closed his eyes. "Eximo signum cruentus..." he murmured softly, beginning the process of releasing the decades old seal.

Kaname's mother was long gone back to dust, but Kaname's body had yet been merged with hers in the womb when she created this seal. In this rare instance, that meant that Cross could release the power stored in the seal back to Kaname, instead of his mother. In a way, ever since she died, Cross had felt that he was keeping this last gift from her in trust for her son, just in case... in case of a situation like this.

The blood seal on the side of Cross's neck throbbed and glowed suddenly, as a warm light seemed to flow through him, down his hands and into Kaname's still body. A deep, peaceful smile painted his face and he felt like he had released a great weight as his body finally yielded to the tug of time. It was almost as if he aged gently right before their eyes, his deceptively youthful features mellowing with the natural progression of time that had been so long halted for him as the seal that had been sustaining Cross dissolved and passed its strength back into Kaname's body. It was a startlingly intense relief, as if he'd been holding his breath for years and never even realized it and Cross exhaled softly, feeling light, weightless... free.

Somewhere almost beyond reach, Kaname felt a strange, warm sensation, like summer breeze on a warm night. A soft glow seemed to beckon form a distance. The sensation was faint, but familiar...

Mother?

After the trauma he'd been forced to relieve at Rido's hands, Kaname hesitated uncertainly, remaining in the shadows, feeling dirty, tainted by the memories that had not been his own. But the warmth just kept flowing, beckoning – a tender, selfless love that had formed Kaname's earliest memories and instilled in him that second, gentle nature which separated him from those with deadened hearts like his uncle.

Slowly, Kaname relaxed and let the warmth draw him forward, towards the glow. The closer he got, the more aware he became of other presences... most notably... Chairman Cross? Kaname felt puzzled. Not that he didn't respect the man highly, but somehow it wasn't a moment when he would have expected to sense his presence. His mother made sense, but if Kaname was crossing over into whatever afterlife awaited, he didn't really expect to be meeting Cross there just yet...

As the blood seal's energy flowed silently between them, for those few brief moments in time, somewhere, Kaname and Cross's consciousnesses brushed one another. Instantly, without words, Kaname understood what was happening, was aware of all that Cross had related and even more that lay hidden in the man's heart and memories.

No... The pureblood protested despite himself, despite the strong allure of the light drawing him forward and the equally strong will to live that threaded unconsciously through the fibers of his being and his psyche. No, Cross, I can't ask this of you, I can't do this... I can't be the reason Yuki loses her father again.

Something like the impression of a smile radiated from Cross's direction. You never did get that you were the student and I was the headmaster... bless you, Kaname, but you can't tell me what to do. I'm tired, Kaname, and I'm ready. I'm over ready. I don't know how much longer I'm going to be able to continue as it is before I simply wear out and lapse into a coma, leaving nothing but a well-preserved, undead corpse. Let my life have really meant something.

Kaname tried to reach out to him, but Cross already seemed further away, no longer focused on the pureblood, but on something beyond him. The human seemed eager to press on, to merge again fully with the warm light and follow it away.

Take care of them all... The distant impression of Cross's mental voice bid him with an intangible sensation that seemed like a smile even as it faded away from reach. I know you will.

The light faded.

Kaname's eyes fluttered open at about the same time Cross's eyes fluttered closed and he slumped sideways. Zero caught the old man, who now looked significantly older, easing him carefully to rest against him. Zero had learned a bit about blood seals long ago from Master Toga. He knew what Cross had just done. He had never called the man father, but he'd always been fond of him in his own way, even if he'd never have admitted it. Zero held the now fragile body carefully, even though he knew that Cross was already beyond needing to worry about the things of this world. Gently, Zero touched his forehead in a gesture of respect and farewell.

Yuki didn't know what was going on; she saw Kaname's eyes open though and was frozen in shock. Takuma leaned over quickly, checking Kaname's wounds. They were still dark and horrible to look at, but the pureblood's chest was haltingly rising and falling, his vital organs functioning once more despite the fact that they should not have been capable of doing so. The life energy stored up in the blood seal from his mother, and from himself before he had even drawn breaths in this world, had been enough to bring Kaname back from beyond the reach of death. He was far from safe, his body functioning on artificial strength and still incapable of surviving on its own, but the gift had bought him time –time for them to get help and try to give his natural healing abilities a chance. They would need to act swiftly. Kaname needed blood and medical attention at once or his body would soon fail again.

Kaname's eyes were glazed, unfocused, confused. Everything had been very clear for those few moments when he'd hovered just below consciousness, but now, back in his body, everything was a wash of confusion and fractured sensations of pain. He was in a world of agony and he still couldn't speak, but he was alive. He closed his eyes against the pain, but then forced them open again. The dark was not his friend right now. Even if his vision was blurry... he needed to see the others. He didn't want to be alone.

The scene exploded into action and chaos. Yuki scrambled to her feet. She was still trying to wrap her mind around the idea that Kaname might yet survive... and then when she saw Zero still kneeling and holding the Chairman's limp body, and she realized that he had not. She didn't know what to do, what she was supposed to feel. She felt like a yo-yo, swinging back and forth between joy and grief. Overwhelmed and lost.

Ruka snatched Takuma's phone from him and swiftly dialed for help. They would get vampire paramedics to the scene – people who knew how to deal with anti-vampire wounds and pureblood physiology. In the meantime... Kaname had no shortage of willing and anxious donors in the room with him should he need them. Kain was already swiftly working to bind up Kaname's wounds with Aido helping, or at least trying to not get in the way.

Zero laid Cross's body down carefully, checking his pulse, but not surprised when he didn't find one. The chairman's somewhat wizened face was still peaceful though, and he really did look like he had just drifted off to sleep. Zero's throat felt tight and raw. He could feel Yuki looking at him and finally forced himself to look back.

"He's at peace, Yuki," he said quietly around the hard-edged lump lodged in his throat. He looked away as Yuki knelt silently to hold the only father she truly remembered, burying her face silently against his chest.

The Chairman had often driven Zero up the wall, but at the same time, deep down he knew there weren't many who would have been willing to take him in after he'd been turned, knowing the danger of what he could become at any time. Fewer still who would have treated him like a normal person and tried so hard to offer him understanding and familial support.

"He was a good man. He opened his home and his heart to the whole world," Zero murmured softly, still not able to look at Yuki, but offering the only comfort he could. "It's too bad he didn't get to see his dream realized..." Zero didn't realize he'd actually whispered that last aloud until Takuma, who was beside him, looked up.

"But he did, Zero," he said quietly, his gaze sliding between Zero, Kaname and Yuki. "He got to see it come true in all of us." He glanced around at the small group, gaze lingering last on Kaname, Zero and Yuki. "If you three could put aside your differences and become allies, even friends... don't you see? It means he was right. Coexistence not only works, it can be beautiful. His dream lives on with you."

Kaname was ill-advisedly trying to move, searching for Yuki and Zero. They'd been hurt... he knew... he remembered blood, remembered hurting them, but he couldn't be sure how badly... his memory was a horrible, sickening blur. Cross... Cross had... Yuki, he needed to talk to Yuki, he needed... Agony creased his features. He'd suffered some temporary brain damage from having been, well, dead, and although his body would be able to completely regenerate, right now he wasn't quite all the way there. Kaname was disoriented, hurting horribly and more than a little delirious. Being pulled back into his body and sustained 'artificially' like this wasn't a walk in the park. The pureblood's breath rasped painfully and he still couldn't form words around his injuries, but his lips were moving feverishly. Some of the words looked like sorry.

Aido caught his shoulders and held the pureblood down as gently as he could. The fact that he could do so at all told just how weak Kaname was. "Don't move, Kaname, please... lay still until the paramedics get here..." he implored urgently. Despite the bandages, Kaname was still bleeding badly.

There was an almost panicked look in Kaname's hazy eyes and Takuma took his hand, understanding that his friend only barely grasped what was happening around him. He'd also seen Yuki and Zero's names on the pureblood's silent lips and guessed that he was worried about them. Even now, Kaname felt the weight of having to be responsible for everyone and everything. But it was a weight he didn't always have to carry, especially not this moment.

Takuma smoothed Kaname's hair back from his face and gripped his hand reassuringly. "You're not alone, Kaname. Your friends are with you. Yuki and Zero are all right. We're not going to let anything happen to you, or to them. You'll all be taken care of; I promise you that, so just relax, okay? You can trust us."

Kaname stopped fighting them. His gaze held Takuma's for a moment and Takuma knew he'd gotten through to him. Kaname squeezed his hand weakly. Yes. He... did trust them and he was blessed to have them, these... friends.

Zero left Yuki with Cross and scooted closer to Kaname, having heard Takuma. "Hey, you causing trouble again? Cut it out, Yuki and I are fine..." he murmured. He found himself lightly touching the pureblood's his cheek, his hair... just to assure himself he was really there. He realized the others were watching and pulled back quickly, but Kaname weakly caught his wrist, holding it and Zero's gaze for a long moment. Zero had to blink several times against the sting in his eyes, so different now than it had been a moment ago.

Kaname's gaze shifted beyond Zero, to Yuki and Cross and the lines of pain already etched in his face deepened. He struggled to reach up and catch the front of Zero's shirt, tugging weakly. Kaname was trying to speak again. Zero obligingly let the pureblood draw him down so his mouth was near Zero's ear, and Zero could just hear the faint sound of the almost inaudible words as they rasped on the pureblood's ragged breaths.

"I didn't... ask Cross... to do this..." the faint whisper was soft, guilty. Kaname's body was trembling, and Zero had a feeling the pureblood was almost completely in shock, and not really lucid or aware of what he was saying, but the regret in his words was obvious.

"You didn't have to, you big idiot. He made a choice. Yuki and I didn't ask you to do this for us either, you know," Zero murmured back, tone gentle despite his words.

A faint hint of a smile crossed Kaname's bloodied lips. He twined his fingers lightly with Zero's. Aido gave Zero a brief, searching look, but if the other vampires present thought anything of the unusual level of familiarity between the hunter and the pureblood, they definitely were not about to react to such right at this moment.

Kain slid reluctantly away from Kaname's side over to where Yuki knelt with Cross's body. She looked lost and torn as she looked between him and Kaname, obviously wanting to go to Kaname, but feeling like doing so would be abandoning her father.

Tenderly, Kain touched her shoulder and the Chairman's. "It's okay, Yuki. I'll stay with him and make sure he's seen to with the care and respect he deserves," he promised her quietly.

Yuki hesitated, wiping her eyes as she slowly straightened up, her fingers giving Cross's still hand one last squeeze. She would never, never forget him.

Ruka knelt quietly next to Kain. "We both will, Yuki," she said softly. "Kaname needs you now." Her eyes were sad, even a little resigned, but earnest. Despite her own feelings, she did respect Yuki's loss, and more importantly, she knew that this was the best thing she could do for Kaname right now.

Yuki swallowed and nodded them her wordless thanks as she moved over to Kaname's side. A faint smile brushed his pained features again when she came into his line of sight. Yuki bent her head, resting it against Kaname's temple, her fingers sliding to twine with Kaname's and Zero's where they lay curled together on the pureblood's chest.

In the distance the rapid, purposeful tread of the arriving paramedics could be faintly heard as they hurried quickly down the stairs and hallways beyond.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Nine: "Undeniable Bonds"

Evening sunlight painted Cross Academy in golden hues, filtering in through the fluttering drapes. The pureblood seated at his desk let his pen drop; head drooping as he pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes in a rare display of weariness.

Kaname had been released from the hospital two days ago. He'd refused to stay there any longer and, as most people did, the doctors let him have his way. It'd been a week since he almost died. His body was mending, but much too slowly for his liking. The wounds to his chest had finally closed over and no longer required bandages, but he still ached dully when he breathed or moved. Not something he was inclined to let the doctors or anyone else know, of course. It would go away with time. He couldn't afford to lie around and wait for his body to mend completely, there was too much to be done.

Chairman Cross's funeral was tomorrow. With the death of the headmaster, the Academy's charter and continued existence hung precariously in the balance. It was a tricky proposition to try to manage. There was intense pressure from a number of factions in the vampire world who wanted to see the school closed, and also a few who wanted to see Kaname take control of it, but Kaname couldn't just take over the school, and he knew that. With him in charge the perception of what the Academy was and what it was supposed to stand for would change too much and its very purpose would lose meaning. This school needed to be run by someone like Cross, a human who could balance the human and vampire worlds fairly and make it a true meeting of minds and cultures. Ironically, it was a lot more work for Kaname to try and save the school without taking over it, but with help, he'd managed. Two days of near continuous work had finally moved all the necessary pieces into place.

There was a lot of other fallout from recent events that had required his attention as well. Once Rido was gone, there was nothing that the Council of Elders needed to do but sympathetically wring their hands and make themselves out to be as shocked and horrified as everyone else was by this whole tragic affair. They had done so with great political aplomb, hurrying to make a big show of exonerating Kaname of any suspicion and restoring to him complete control of all Kuran holdings. Sorting out that whole mess had required not only the pureblood's time, but also that he appear strong and in control whenever he had to deal with those vipers or the public. That was taking its toll, although he hid it well.

Kaname rubbed his temples. He hadn't slept today, there had been too much to do that could only be accomplished during human business hours. He'd just about wrapped up all the loose ends though, so perhaps he would catch a nap during the upcoming night instead. The funeral was going to be a daytime event tomorrow, so that would probably be a good idea.

Kaname's chest throbbed and he rubbed it carefully through his shirt with his fist. Damn nuisance. A soft, hesitant knock at the door made him carefully straighten in his chair, all hints of weariness swiftly falling away.

"Come in," he bid as he rose and turned to greet his visitor.

Takuma opened the door, poking his wheat blond head in and glancing around as if to try and ascertain if Kaname was busy.

"Kaname! I wasn't sure you'd be up," the other vampire smiled. Takuma had the fresh showered scent of soap and shampoo clinging to him. He'd probably just gotten up. It was very early in the vampire

'morning', but he obviously had something he wanted to discuss with Kaname before the night got started.

Takuma frowned as he looked at the papers Kaname had been working over. "You up early, or late?" he inquired with concern as he registered the possibility that Kaname might not have been to bed yet.

Kaname brushed his friend's concern aside easily, exuding the calm, strong front that was natural to him. "Just seeing to a few details. What brings you here, Takuma? I don't think you got up three hours earlier than usual just to check on my sleeping habits. And if you're going to try to thank me again I mayhave to throw you out..." it was a gentle tease. Kaname's small smile was warm. One of the many details that had needed attending to these past few days was Takuma's future.

Takuma's grandfather had completely disinherited the younger vampire the moment he had taken Kaname's side. With no Ichijo family heir at the time of Asato's death, the proposition of the break up and disposition of his massive family fortune and business empire had created a huge mess. That kind of money brought all the vultures and fortune seekers crawling out of the woodwork, whether or not they had a reasonable claim. Everyone thought they had a claim it seemed, including the various members of the Council who argued that since Asato Ichijo had been head of their order and died without an heir, everything should be turned over to the state.

Kaname had deftly ended the dilemma to his own, if very few others', satisfaction. Rido had been using Ichijo's assets after his death, and Seiren had procured for Kaname documents showing that Rido had legally assumed control of the Ichijo properties at that time. It was an incredibly shady deal that Rido had no doubt pulled on his own in order to leverage the other vampire's assets, but Rido was no amateur and he'd done a good enough job that it would hold up to the scrutiny of any court. Unlike Asato and Takuma, Rido had never legally disinherited Kaname, no doubt still working for the goal of when he intended to take over his nephew's body and take his place.

So, Kaname had quite calmly and logically pointed out that as Rido's only surviving relative, that meant the Ichijo fortune became his. Given the glut of media attention on the recent revelations of what Rido and Ichijo had done to Kaname's parents and to Kaname himself, there was no way that anyone could deny him what he wanted now without inciting general public outrage and coming off seeming like cretins. In a sullen attempt to stay in the good graces of public opinion and not further alienate the last surviving Kuran, the Council had wrapped the matter up swiftly and pronounced Kaname the legal heir to everything, following the appropriate probate periods.

Kaname had turned around and promptly signed everything back over to Takuma. Kaname didn't want his fortune, he had his own and was quite capable of eventually parlaying it into an empire just as large if he so desired.

Takuma had been floored and tried to refuse, insisting he wanted to make amends for what his family had done to Kaname's, but the pureblood would have none of it. He pointed out that none of what had happened had been his friend's fault and insisted that the Ichijo Empire was Takuma's birthright. Kaname would not let him be cheated of that simply because he had chosen to remain true to the pureblood, when it would have been in his own best interests to betray him.

Since Asato's death had occurred without witnesses, and due to the fact that upper class vampires often did not leave bodies behind, depending on the manner of their death, there was a legal waiting period of a year before any permanent disposition of his estate would be allowed. Probate would hold everything in trust during that time. If he did not re-appear before the deadline, then full legal ownership would revert to Takuma at the end of the waiting period. Until then, Kaname was making sure his friend was well taken care of here at school.

Takuma had been insufferably grateful, which Kaname appreciated, but which also embarrassed the hell out of him since in his mind he'd merely given Takuma back what was already his. It looked like his friend had not come by to say thank you for the umpteen billionth time this time, however.

Takuma gave Kaname a somewhat shy, hesitant look. "No, no, nothing like that," he assured, glancing over his shoulder. He was still standing in the doorway. "There's, um, someone who wants to see you and I said I'd see if it was all right..."

Behind Takuma, Kaname could see an artfully wild shock of brown hair. He knew who was there. He recognized the scent, and heaven help him, he was trying very hard to not let it make his stomach do flip-flops.

Shiki elbowed Takuma over a little so he could see Kaname. The younger vampire bowed at the waist and stayed that way, dark hair hanging down around his features. He was a lot quieter and more subdued than his usual nature. "I understand if you don't want to see me, Kaname-sama, but if I could speak to you for just a minute..." he murmured quietly.

Kaname stepped back with a gesture, inviting Takuma and Shiki into his room. "Of course, please, come in. I didn't know that you'd awoken yet, Shiki. Are you well?"

The two nobles entered as they were bid and Shiki reluctantly straightened up. He looked nervous and worried, like a deer in the headlights that wanted to bolt. Dark circles hung under his eyes and there was a haunted look hanging upon his features and faint lines around his eyes that made him look much older than his sixteen years. Kaname couldn't help wondering sadly how many years of life Rido had cost his son by using up his body the way he had.

"Shiki woke up a few hours ago," Takuma explained, slipping an arm around the younger vampire's shoulders in a supportive gesture. There was no hiding his subtle delight and relief at this fact. "I don't think he should be up yet, but he insisted he needed to see you."

Shiki shot Takuma a look at his over protectiveness, but didn't try to shrug away from him. "I-I'm fine, Kuran-sama. To be honest, I don't... I don't really remember much of anything that's happened since I went to my mother's house over break," he admitted quietly. It was a huge, disturbing gap out of his memory, between when he'd been taken to see that thing he'd been told was his father and waking up in the hospital.

He had flashes of memories, scenes, emotions... but they were like snatches of dreams, present, but indistinct and half forgotten upon waking. In this case though, they were like snatches of nightmares, vague memories of horrors that felt like his fault.

"I have been told... what's happened... what Rido... what I have done..." he pressed on, unable to meet Kaname's eyes. "I know it can never be enough, but I wanted to try to apologize. I'm so sorry..."

Kaname shook his head quickly, halting any further apology. He hoped that with time, his cousin would be able to completely recover from his experience. He didn't blame him for what had happened, even though Kaname couldn't deny that he had come to associate this body with his uncle's cruelty. It was hard to look into that face and not expect the dark, mocking smile to appear at any moment. Hard to not flinch or tense when Shiki moved his hands, which had inflicted so much pain and harm upon the pureblood. Kaname resolutely kept his expression neutral and friendly. It wasn't Shiki's fault. No more than it had been his.

"No. No, Senri... you have nothing for which to apologize," Kaname assured. "You were not in control and you are not responsible for what Rido did through your body."

Shiki finally met his gaze, and Kaname felt a little of the unbidden tension inside him ease at the matching, solid brown stare. Those were not Rido's eyes. Shiki, however, still looked unconvinced. "But..."

Carefully, Kaname reached out and squeezed his cousin's shoulder in a show of trust. "No. It is over. It has nothing to do with you, it never did. Let it go and let us not speak of it ever again. All I want now is for you to rest and regain your strength. Will you be able to attend the Chairman's funeral tomorrow?" he inquired, intentionally shifting the topic.

Shiki, relieved at the switch in discussion, nodded. "Yes, I'll be there."

Kaname inclined his head. "Good. Takuma, make sure he gets some rest. I'm putting Senri in your care until he's recovered, all right?" The faint hint of a twinkle in his eye said he knew that that was a responsibility which Takuma was more than glad to accept. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a couple of things I need to finish up..."

"Thank you, Kaname." Takuma nodded seriously before fixing Shiki with a bright, relieved smile. His arm dropped down to curl around the other's waist as they both bowed and headed for the door.

"Come on, I'll make you some tea..." Kaname heard Takuma saying as the two left. Before the door closed, he just caught sight of Takuma leaning in to place a light kiss on the wild brown hair, Shiki leaning more willingly into Takuma's hold around his waist now that he thought Kaname was no longer looking.

The pureblood smiled faintly as the door clicked closed. Maybe they were just really close friends, relieved to have not lost one another; Takuma did have a habit of being demonstratively affectionate with everyone after all. But then again maybe there was a reason that Takuma had been in a position to be uniquely understanding about Kaname's unexpected relationship with Zero. Kaname didn't let himself speculate too much, he simply smiled and turned back to his work.

A few minutes later the words and papers started blurring in front of Kaname's eyes, refusing to stay in focus. He blinked and set them down. Perhaps it was time to call it a day... everything else could wait and his body was letting him know it was unhappy with him again. The ache in his chest was starting to turn into a burn.

Kaname rose from his chair and crossed over to the window, staring absently outside as he carefully controlled his breathing. His fingers curled in the front of his shirt, pressing against his ribcage and rubbing in a slow circle as if he could stem the discomfort of the miserable, burning sensation.

"What are you doing up?" Zero's voice made Kaname's head jerk up; he hadn't noticed the boy's entrance. He definitely wasn't back up to par yet, apparently, to have let himself be caught unawares. Kaname turned to find Zero scowling quietly at him from the doorway. He'd obviously let himself in without knocking.

The hunter jerked his head towards the window where the evening light was still clearly visible. "Shouldn't all good vampires still be sleeping at this hour?" Especially ones just released from the hospital?

Kaname shot Zero a dry look and shrugged, quickly straightening up and trying to cover his weakness. It didn't work as well with Zero as it had with Takuma and Shiki though... it seemed somehow harder to hide from those searching silver eyes.

"What, worried about me, Kiriyu?" Kaname raised a semi-mocking eyebrow. "How sweet, but I'm fine. Just tying up a few loose ends." He gestured vaguely towards the papers strewn across his desk.

Zero's gaze remained fixed on him, unimpressed by the sarcastic half-truth. "Okay, well, I wanted to let you know that Master Toga said he and a couple of other hunters will be at the funeral. He said he hopes you know what you're doing and there won't be problems." Zero had been going to leave a note, until he sensed Kaname's presence moving around and obviously awake on the other side of the door.

Kaname nodded dismissively. The mixed gathering of humans, vampires and hunters was going to be something of a rare event, but it was what Cross would have wanted and Kaname had been sure to have it all carefully coordinated.

"No, there shouldn't be. Not tomorrow. You can make sure that the..." Kaname didn't finish his sentence as the burn he'd been trying to assuage got the better of him. The timing was rotten; thus far he'd been lucky enough to only have these attacks when he was alone. The pureblood grasped his chest with sharp intake of breath as fire seared. Much to his frustration, Kaname's knees gave out without warning.

Moving vampire quick, Zero caught him before he hit the floor, both of them ending up kneeling together on the carpet.

"Kaname!" Zero's voice was tinged with alarm as he cradled the pureblood against him, heart suddenly thudding from fear. "That's it, I'm calling the nurse..." he threatened, but Kaname caught his arms, holding him where he was even as Zero continued to support him.

"No... no need, I'll be all right. I just need to rest. There's nothing the nurse can do for me that my own body isn't already doing," he protested quickly. He didn't have time to bother with nurses, doctors and tests and he could not afford to look that vulnerable. He couldn't afford to have it appear there was still anything wrong with him.

"Damn it! You stubborn idiot, you shouldn't even be out of the hospital yet, but do you ever listen to anyone?" Zero protested in frustrated concern. "Nooo, you always have to know better."

Kaname leaned against Zero more heavily than he would have liked as he waited for the pain to pass. He should probably be more irritated than he was, but he'd not been able to be close to Zero like this since the winery and he wanted to just stay there... but he shouldn't be this weak, shouldn't need this. He finally struggled back, supporting himself again but not in a hurry to rise just yet.

The pureblood grinned wryly, if wearily, at Zero. "Your concern is misplaced. This is inconsequential; I will mend soon enough." I just wish it would hurry up.

Kaname struggled back to his feet as if to prove his point and Zero followed slowly, a dark look shadowing his face and his eyes. "And what if you don't?" he demanded quietly, but darkly, almost angrily. "You rely way too much on your body's ability to heal and cope with whatever you put it through, Kuran. One day, that could get you killed."

Kaname was taken aback by the ferocity of the rebuke and who it was coming from. Zero was really that worried about him? If the boy wasn't putting up such an annoying attitude, that really would be sweet. The pureblood bristled slightly at the tone being taken and simply shrugged. "You're making way too much out of this, Zero. Don't worry about things you don't understand. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

Kaname started to turn away and Zero grabbed his arm, pulling him back around again. The fact that he could only further brought home his right to be worried about the pureblood.

"No. I won't excuse you. I won't excuse you for being so callus with your life after the price that's been paid for it. I... I won't excuse you for trying to throw it away in the first place." Zero's voice was angry, but laced with deep emotion at the same time. His fingers dug into Kaname's wrist. He was worried about Kaname, damn it, and he didn't want to worry about him, didn't want to deal with this fear of losing him that had recently been all too real.

Kaname blinked, both angered by and strangely drawn to the raging fire snapping in the silver gaze locked on him. "Zero, I'm highly aware of the price that was paid for my life, that's why I've been working so hard to make sure it was not for nothing!" he returned quietly but fiercely. "And I have no idea what you..."

"DON'T act like you don't know what I'm talking about," Zero cut him off, the worry and pain of the past week bubbling up ruthlessly to the surface. "Back in the refinery... you should have just chosen me. Damn it, Kuran, I'll never fit in anywhere and I've probably only got – what – at the most a few good years left anyway? I never asked you to go through all this..." Zero's upset voice rasped slightly with something that sounded a little more like pain than anger. "I never wanted you to sacrifice yourself, I never wanted to be the one to pull the trigger and I never wanted to end up this far in your debt."

There was guilt in the hunter's angry tones. No one but Yuki knew about the nightmares he'd had this past week. Knew how he'd been forced to relive those moments in the winery, forced to kill Kaname over and over again until he woke himself up screaming.

Kaname's stormy eyes returned Zero's ire, but his face blanched slightly. Not at the other's anger, but at Zero's bleak outlook on his own short future. No. It could not be like that. Somehow... he wouldn't let it be.

"Don't talk that way!" Kaname snapped, yanking his wrist away from Zero. "I asked you to pull that trigger, so who's in whose debt? And if we're going to talk about people valuing their lives too little how about you stop acting like you're disposable baggage? You're a vampire, Zero, not trash! Hunter and vampire, our ancestry is entwined when you come right down to it. Try being proud of what you are once in a while!"

Stormy brown and stormy silver gazes locked and held; anger, pride and hurt only the trappings with which they unconsciously covered the longing swirling unspoken but undeniable between them. Standing here like this, both of them felt the draw, pounding darkly in their blood. Felt the common thread of emotion, the one truth binding them together.

I can't lose you.

Neither knew who moved first, but suddenly there was no more air between them. Bodies pressed together. Lips met in a fierce, ravenous kiss. Kaname sucked the air out of Zero's lungs, breathing it hungrily as their tongues danced and twisted, seeking and tasting with urgent passion. Zero's fingers curled into the sleeves of Kaname's black shirt, pulling him closer. Pain blossomed raw in Kaname's partially healed inner wounds at the sudden exertion but he didn't care, he didn't...

This time, Kaname and Zero both scented Yuki's approach before she arrived. They reluctantly broke off just in time as she appeared in the doorway which Zero had unwisely left standing wide open.

Faces flushed, looking about as innocent as sin, they didn't make a very convincing picture of nonchalance as Kaname stood by his desk, Zero remaining by the window as Yuki paused when confronted with the open door. She caught sight of Zero first, then Kaname.

"There you are, Zero, I've been looking all over for you... Kaname, should you still be up?" she inquired, concern quickly coloring her expression.

Both vampires smiled, they couldn't help it.

"Of course he shouldn't, but you know Mister-Invincible..." Zero grumbled, garnering a soft, amused chuckle from Kaname. "He says he's fine."

"Kaname, please, you know the doctors said you've got to be careful..." Yuki started in earnestly and the pureblood quickly raised his hands in surrender to forestall her, grinning resignedly.

"Okay, okay, I see that I am out numbered. I promise I'll get some rest, all right? Do you need something, Yuki?"

Yuki looked unconvinced, but her gaze shifted to Zero. "Zero, Master Toga was trying to get hold of you."

Zero grimaced guiltily that she'd been trying to track him down with the message. "Yeah, I know, I already spoke with him."

"Oh, okay then. I just wanted to make sure you knew." Yuki looked mildly put out, but shrugged it off. The past week had been crazy with everything going on. She'd cried herself to sleep in the privacy of her room the first few nights when Kaname was still struggling for life in the hospital and the permanency of losing her father had finally started settling in. She didn't cry so much now, but preparations for the funeral had been so hectic and involved that now she felt like she'd barely had time to just be still and deal with everything that was going on. Maybe it was better that way. If she kept busy, kept moving, she didn't have to feel too much.

Kaname saw that in her eyes. He'd had very little time to be with either Yuki or Zero since he got out of the hospital. He regretted that deeply, and he was concerned about how Yuki was handling everything. "Yuki, wait," he said as she started to withdraw. "How about you? Are you all right?"

"Me?" Yuki looked a bit surprised at the question. She was even more surprised by the fact that her eyes suddenly stung at the gentle, concerned tone. What? Why now! Stupid stupid stupid...

"Um. Yeah, I'm fine." She blinked quickly and smiled. "I should go, um... make sure they're putting the flowers in the right place. They've been delivering them all day and we're running out of space. Some of the day class kids are sneezing up a storm..." she murmured, looking for a quick exit.

It was Zero who stopped her, crossing the distance between them and catching her by the shoulder. "Hey... Yuki, let the damn flowers worry about themselves. Nobody's gonna die from hay fever." He drew her back against him and he could feel her breath shudder slightly through her back.

Kaname was beside them now. He touched Yuki's hair gently and cupped her cheek, drawing her eyes up to him. Her gaze latched onto the pureblood, trying so hard to be brave and supportive for him but hiding the depth of her own need for comfort beneath. They'd all been running themselves ragged the past few days. Kaname felt that was all right for him, but it hurt him to see Yuki trying so hard to keep busy and deal with all this alone. She shouldn't have to deal with it alone.

"I think maybe we could all use a little break," Kaname murmured. "I have a nice, new plasma screen Takuma gave me for my birthday last year that I've yet to properly get any use from. Yuki, why don't you find us something to watch, and I'll see about getting all three of us some coca or something," he invited, realizing that Yuki needed a chance to just relax somewhere safe.

Zero nodded his agreement with that idea, thinking they both needed a chance to relax. "Scratch that, I'll make the coca, you two find something to watch," he amended, giving Kaname a look that told him to sit down already.

Kaname looked amused but simply shrugged, ushering Yuki to the next room where he had the little-used television.

An hour later, the three of them were cuddled up on the couch, watching some mindless movie with limited commercial interruptions. None of them remembered the name, or would likely remember the plot, but that wasn't important. Relaxing and just being together, that was important. Yuki was in the middle. Zero sat on her left with his arm around her shoulders, Kaname had been doing the same o