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Gimme Shelter

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Patrol was slow-going this night, the blistering heat of the lingering summer serving well to keep troublemakers and nosy students inside their air-conditioned dormitories. Zero would probably be more thankful for that were he not stuck still wandering the grounds with beads of sweat soaking through his clothes.

“Fucking heat,” He cursed as he stopped to reach behind him and tug his wet shirt away from his sweat-slicked back. Zero grimaced and wiped at the sweat starting to drip into his eyes, with his other hand. God, this was so not fair. For god’s sake, it was October – it was supposed to be freezing not fucking hot as the fires of hell.

Why, oh why, did he agree to take up a position as a TA again? “Just long enough for us to find a replacement prefect,” Cross said. “It’s only for a year,” Cross said. Zero was quickly finding out he’d underestimated how slowly a year could drag on. If this fucking heat didn’t kill him the sheer frustration of having to deal with screaming, hormonal teenagers would.

His regular route took him past the gymnasium once more, and he couldn’t help but feel a pang of longing at the thought of the showers inside. At this point, he’d give a lot just for a cold shower to help him cool off. Zero paused in his steps, looking around him at the empty, silent campus.

It’s not like anyone would know…

A trickle of warm sweat rolled down his spine, making his decision for him. Without stopping to question it anymore Zero strode forward, digging the keys out from his pocket and letting himself into the building.

He flipped on the light switch and found his way to the locker room with relatively little trouble, casting one more paranoid glance around before disrobing and turning the water on as cold as he could stand it. Zero let out a shocked hiss as the frigid water hit his boiling skin but relaxed shortly after as he began to get used to the sensation.

His breath left his lungs in a pleased little sigh as the man tipped his head back beneath the stream of water. Cold liquid rushed over his hot face, trickling over pale skin in rivulets and soaking his hair. Zero allowed a contented gasp to escape him. Finally, his scorching skin began to cool down beneath the-

“Well, well. I must say this is an unexpected sight.”

Zero’s eyes snapped open as his reverie was broken. Amethyst eyes fixed on the vampire leaning against the opposite shower with a smug grin on his lips. Too late, he forgot to remember to even think about covering the scars running beneath his nipples on each side of his flat chest and immediately Kaname’s gaze dropped to them when he turned around.

“Wow, you’re even watching people shower now? Have to say, Kuran. That’s pretty creepy even for you. Not to mention illegal.” Zero drawled. When all else fails, he’d learned that sarcasm and defecting worked well to hide his internal panicking.

It didn’t work though. Not this time. “You’re…a girl.” Kaname murmured in surprise while his red gaze stayed glued to the prefect’s chest – which, absolutely wasn’t creepy at all.

Anger bloomed in Zero’s chest, and before he knew what he was doing, he was across the room, swiping sharp claws across the front of Kaname’s pristine uniform. The fabric ripped apart beneath him, dangerously close to the pale skin of the pureblood’s throat.

“Call me that again, and you can say goodbye to your fucking balls.” He threatened with venom coating his voice.

Kaname blinked at the sudden fury coating the hunter’s voice. Don’t get him wrong, Zero has threatened him dozens upon dozens of times before and he’d far grown used to most of it by now. But never before had he seen the complete and utter loathing that filled those amethyst eyes. This wasn’t like the other times. This wasn’t some meaningless, trivial attempt at riling him up. Zero meant every word coming from his mouth.

But underneath the anger, Kaname could smell the bitter tang of Zero’s fear. He hated the pit of guilt that was slowly forming in his stomach.

Zero gestured to his flat chest with the two raised scars. “Do I fucking look like a chick to you?”

Kaname’s breath hitched slightly in his throat as his gaze roved over the muscled form of the hunter before him. He’d never really bothered to notice just how fit the other man was before.

It was somehow refreshing and incredibly aggravating how this low-level vampire dared to speak to him in such a way. A way that no one else would even begin to imagine. If nothing else, he’d always begrudgingly respected Zero for at least that much.

“I’m a man.” Zero firmly asserted with a glare.

Kaname hummed. “And those scars on your chest? What are they?”

“They’re from none of your goddamn business.” Zero retorted. “I don’t owe you answers, Kuran. So, fuck off. Besides, shouldn’t you be fucking your sister or something?”

The hunter smirked at the responding snarl he earned for that, a dangerous flash of crimson in the pureblood’s eyes. He was playing with fire right now by angering him, and he knew it. At this point, Zero couldn’t be bothered to care.

“You should watch your tongue, level E.” Kaname grit out.

Aw, hit a nerve have I? “Or what?” The hunter fired right back.

“By all means, elaborate. You’ll… what? Kill me? Hit me? Go ahead, I’m sure you’d have a fun time explaining that one to the council and the association.” Hell, even Yuuki would probably just love to hear that one.

In an instant Zero found himself pressed up against the slippery back wall of the shower, a clawed hand wrapped menacingly around his throat.

“Careful, little hunter. You haven’t the faintest idea what I will do.” Kaname snarled into his face.

Against the logical option, which would be to give up and let Kaname have his victory, escaping unscathed, Zero had to go and open his mouth again.

“But I do know that you’re pathetic. Hell, you couldn’t even defeat your uncle without my help. You’re also a fucking hypocrite, preaching equality one minute and acting like they’re the dirt beneath your feet the next. You’re nothing but a piece of shit.” He managed to force out despite the crushing grip around his throat.

God, did it ever feel good to finally say that to the bastard’s face though.

“Why am I not surprised? You always were jealous of my relationship with Yuuki, and now it’s starting to come out.” Kaname drawled with a sneer. “Jealousy does not become you, Kiryuu.”

Jealous? Of him and Yuuki? Zero couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled out of his throat at the very idea. There was just something so incredibly hilarious about that idea that it made it impossible for him not to laugh. Kaname’s grip loosened as he stared at the hunter before him in confusion, probably thinking that he’d gone crazy at this point.

The pureblood stepped away, releasing his grip on the hunter. “What?” He demanded. “What is so amusing?”

“I- just- you-you think I’m jealous of you and Yuuki.” Zero huffed out between laughter. Finally, he managed to get ahold of himself and stand, gingerly fingering the bruises around his throat. “Boy, you really don’t get it, do you?”

“Get. What?”

“Really? You never noticed how often Kaito and I hung out?”

“He is your friend-“

“Or how none of the girls ever gave me chocolates on Valentine’s Day?”

“Yes, because you’re cold and cruel to them-“

“It just escaped your notice that I never had a girlfriend?”

“Is there a point to all of this?” Kaname snapped as his patience reached its end.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake-“ Zero rolled his eyes. “Do I have to spell it out for you? I’m gay, you dumbass.”

Kaname’s anger dispersed at his shock. “You- what?”

“I’m gay. You know, into dudes. Batting for the other team. G-A-Y.”

“Yes, I know what gay means, thank you, Kiryuu. I just- I never thought that you were. But what about Yuuki?”

“She’s my sister. For most of us, that means family and not fucking lovers.” Zero answered like he was speaking to a child. At this point, he might as well be. “I care for her like family, adopted or not. I just- maybe don’t care quite in the same way or as much as you do.” He finished, unable to resist another dig at the pureblood’s relationship with the woman. To be honest, it still creeped him out, the whole thing of the two purebloods being siblings and still hooking up. A shudder ran down his spine.

“You’re… gay.”

“Last I checked, yeah.”

Kaname cut him a glare. Always with the witty remarks and sarcasm. Could Zero ever be serious for once? It irked him to no end. Yet, as he looked back, he could distinctly remember a few of the male students shyly offering Zero chocolates or blushing and stuttering offering the prefect a letter- oh hell. He really was blind, wasn’t he?

Somehow, the pureblood felt as though he was seeing the man before him in a whole new light now. Not that it lessened his dislike for the insolent hunter in any way, of course. But something was undeniably different.

Zero stepped to the side of him to finally shut off the water pouring over both of them and stride out past Kaname.

As he passed the pureblood, Kaname could see droplets of water resting on sun-tanned skin, running down over taut muscles. His throat abruptly felt tighter.

It was hard to describe, but the sudden, potent, and unique scent of the hunter hit him like a slap to the face. It was strangely and perplexingly intoxicating. Before he knew what he was doing, the pureblood found himself turning to chase the scent.

His shoe brushed against something solid and shiny as it rolled out of Zero’s pocket while he pulled his shirt on. Kaname tilted his head, bent down to pick it up. A ring of shining silver glinted beneath fluorescent lights. The metal was bent into whorls and twists, interlaid with amethysts. There was something rough on the inside as well, an inscription of sorts. It read-

“Give me that,” Zero demanded, snatching the piece of metal out of his hand roughly. “Do you make a habit of just taking people’s things?”

Actually, he wouldn’t be surprised if the asshole did. Still, it made him hot with anger to think of Kaname’s dirty fingers touching his most precious possession.

“What is it?” Kaname asked, ignoring the hunter’s question. He couldn’t help but be curious at such a finely made piece of jewelry winding up in the hands of Zero Kiryuu.

“A ring.”

“Where did you get it?” It must have cost a small fortune.

Zero’s jaw tightened, and he slid the ring onto a silver chain before reaching up to wrap it around his neck. “It doesn’t matter.” He wondered if Kaname can hear the tightness in his voice.

“I find myself curious. Humor me.”

Zero finished tugging the rest of his clothing on without a word. “None of your goddamn fucking business.” The hunter forced out past the squeezing, crushing of his chest. At least he was facing away from the pureblood, so Kaname remained oblivious to the wetness in his eyes that Zero rapidly blinked back.

“Quit prying into my life, Kuran. I’m not your fucking toy anymore. You got what you wanted so just- just fuck off and leave me alone. Go find someone else’s life to ruin.”

Zero waltzed out of the room and back into the blistering heat of the night before the pureblood could reply. All the better, because the last thing he wanted was to hear anything that bastard had to say. He made his way across the silent grounds, toying with the ring around his neck, idly.

He didn’t make it even halfway back to the staff housing before he stumbled in his steps, catching himself on a tree and squeezing his eyes shut in an attempt to block out the barrage of memories that threatened to crash down upon him. No, no, I can’t. Zero shook his head. He didn’t want to revisit those memories, not right now. It hurt too much.

“Hey, Zizzy!” A peeked out at Zero from the kitchen doorway, wearing a wicked, crooked grin on his face that stretched the scar marring the man’s lips. He sidled up behind the younger hunter, wrapping his arms around him and resting his head on Zero’s. The silver-haired man grunted in annoyance. “Whatcha cooking? Smells good.”

Zero snorted and moved out of his grip. “Yuuki wants to give chocolates to that pureblood dickbag she’s obsessed with. And I don’t trust her not to burn down the kitchen. Again. So, here I am.”

“Aw, so I can’t have any?”

“No, you can’t have any.” Zero responded patiently before he felt Tomas’ form connect with him, sending the mixture in the bowl before him splattering over his hands.

The older man reached for Zero’s hand before he could stop him, bringing one chocolate-covered finger to his mouth and wrapping his lips around it. “Mmm, delicious.”

Zero rolled his eyes as he reached for Tomas’ hips to tug him closer. “God, you can be so dramatic, baby.”

Tomas grins as he bends down to meet the younger hunter’s lips. “You love it.”

Zero gingerly touched a finger to his lips, as though to chase the taste of his lover. If he concentrated hard enough, he could still taste the whiskey on Tomas’ tongue from that first kiss they shared. A fresh, new wave of sadness passes over him.

“Enough! Enough!” Zero yelled between huffs of laughter as his lover attempted to tackle him.

“But I just want a kiss,” Tomas protested with an exaggerated frown. He received a pillow to the face for his efforts.

“Not with that morning breath. Go brush your teeth first, then we’ll talk.”

Tomas’ shoulders sagged. “But I want it now!”

Zero snorted and took aim with another pillow.

No one but the trees surrounding him to witness the loud sob that tore its way free of Zero’s throat. His fingers clenched around the ring, torn between ripping it from his neck and cradling it like the precious token it was.

He knew that he was probably pathetic, sitting out here sobbing and crying like some child. Scratch that – he definitely knew he was pathetic.

It’s been at least a few years now since Tomas- since he died, but it still felt like it was just yesterday. His grief was still just as fresh and all-consuming, threatening to drown him from the inside if he wasn’t careful. Zero was tempted to let it on some days.

He tipped his head back against the trunk of the tree and let the tears come, figuring there was no use in trying to stop it anyway. It gets easier with time, everyone said. Bull-fucking-shit. Every second without the other man here beside him was hell, and it was like living a nightmare, having to continue on like this without Tomas there.

“Fuck, I really miss you, baby.” He somehow managed to tell the air in between the noise of his incessant wailing.

Just this once, let him have this, Zero begged internally. Let him have his breakdown as his grief overwhelms him. Tomorrow, he told himself. He’ll be strong again tomorrow. But for now, let him have this. Please.

 

“I crossed paths with Kiryuu while visiting Cross.”

Yuuki’s face fell at her brother’s words. “Oh, no. What happened this time?”

“Nothing much. Although he did call me pathetic, among a few other choice words. And a hypocrite as well.”

The woman sighed. “It’s just Zero, Kaname. You know how he is.”

“Yes.” Zero was crass and blunt in his words, he always had been. At the end of the day, it was just how the hunter was. “But I am beginning to see that the last bit may not be entirely incorrect. I have perhaps been unfair in my treatment of those below me and... and perhaps I have been cruel to the boy.”

Yuuki did well to hide her shock from her face. She was amazed that Zero, of all people, had managed to get her brother to step back and look at things from a different perspective. Dear as he was to her, Kaname tended to be a bit stubborn and set in his ways.

“I’m impressed,” she mused. “Usually you two can’t go one minute without verbally ripping each other to pieces.”

Kaname gave a petulant frown.“Yes, well. If Zero wouldn’t antagonize me so much…”

Yuuki rolled her eyes. “Zero has a skewed perception of vampires, and by rising to his taunts, I have to admit, you aren’t exactly proving his perceptions wrong with your actions, Kaname.”

The older pureblood’s frown deepened further. Much as Kaname hated being chastised by his younger sister, she might have had a point or two. “Perhaps.”

“Or maybe you just like yanking on his ponytail.” The woman offered with a smirk and a suggestive wink. “Maybe you just like teasing and picking on him because it gets you his attention.”

In truth, Yuuki meant the words as just a joke, but the more she stopped to examine things, the more it began to dawn on her that she might not have been too far off. Kaname was awfully concerned with Zero, all things considered. He was always watching the hunter, wondering what he was doing and who he was with. Come to think of it, wasn’t it Kaname who also made sure Zero had access to blood back when Zero’s allergy to blood tablets had first appeared?

She glanced at her brother, wondering if he was even aware of his own possible feelings toward the hunter. Likely not, she ultimately decided. After all, he’d been convinced for years that his love for her was romantic and only recently found out that it very much wasn’t for either of them.

“You think… you think I like Kiryuu.” Kaname repeated, dryly.

She shrugged. “I’m only saying that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…”

“I most certainly do not have any feelings of that sort for the hunter, of all people.” Kaname snapped, unusually angry with his sister for thinking such.

Yuuki raised her hands in surrender, knowing better than to argue with him.“Alright, if you say so.” But your actions say otherwise, dear brother. Honestly, it was so obvious Yuuki was starting to wonder how she hadn’t seen it earlier.

“I don’t.” Kaname pressed.

“Alright, alright. I believe you.” Yuuki said, stifling an amused grin. Who are you really trying to convince here, me, or yourself?

Kaname couldn’t shake the hunter from his thoughts as he dropped a blood tablet into a glass of wine. Those odd scars on his chest, what were they? For once he found he didn’t know and it bothered him immensely. He firmly shook his head as his mind inevitably began to then drift towards the hunter’s naked body.

Perhaps his sister would have some idea, having grown up alongside the man. “Yuuki-“

The door to his room opens before Kaname can finish speaking, Takuma striding in and his smile growing as soon as he sees Yuuki lounging on the couch.

“Kaname.” The blonde greets with a customary bow, before striding up to Yuuki and bending down to plant a kiss on her forehead before taking a seat beside her. “How did things go with Cross?”

Kaname turns to look out the window, his own bitter jealousy unable to stand the sight of the happy couple. “As well as expected. He was saddened to hear about the broken engagement, but it seemed to lessen as I assured him that Yuuki and I were both happier with this decision.”

“That’s good, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Why wouldn’t it be?” Kaname asked.

“You don’t seem all that thrilled about it.” Takuma pointed out.

“He ran into Zero,” Yuuki told the blonde beside her.

“Ah.” Kiryuu was the one person who never failed to make Kaname angry it seemed. From what he’d heard from Yuuki, it was mutual on the hunter’s end. Those two… Takuma shook his head. It was hopeless to dream of them ever getting along. But that did explain the pureblood’s foul mood.

The pureblood sipped quietly at his wine. Zero Kiryuu was an endlessly confusing enigma. Every single time he thought he had the hunter figured out he only stumbled upon something new about him. He couldn’t pin Zero down. It gave him a headache sometimes, trying to piece together all the odd bits and ends that made up Zero Kiryuu.

“I think I would like to be alone for a while if you both don’t mind.” Kaname clipped, pain beginning to brew in his head yet again.

Yuuki frowned but stood alongside Takuma. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Yuuki. I just need some time to myself.”

Her shoulders sagged lightly, but Takuma quickly managed to distract the woman with talk of some other topic as he led her from the room, giving his friend an understanding smile as he did so.

With both vampires gone Kaname sidled over to take a seat at the window, leaning against the glass panes and looking out over the dark, silent forest. It usually helped center his thoughts, just relaxing and taking in the view like this. Yet this time, for some reason the silver-haired hunter still stubbornly remained fixed in his head. He downed the rest of his wine with a pensive furrow of his brows.

Who are you, Zero Kiryuu?

Chapter Text

Waking up, was a bitch Zero decided. At some point during the night he’d managed to find his way back to his dorm though, so thankfully he was in his bed this time at least. The sounds of shouting drifted through the thin walls as students loudly and irritatingly fought in the halls. Why, oh why, did I let Cross force me into rooming with the fucking students?

The hunter rolled over and grabbed his spare pillow to place over his head. Fuck it. He was off the clock, let this be the class president’s job. Not that that guy ever did anything, anyway. But he could hope.

“----No! I’m telling you-“

“God---so fucking annoying!”

Zero groaned and squeezed his eyes tighter as though it might somehow block out the sound. He really was not in the mood to deal with this shit. His clothes from the previous day were still on him, wrinkled and smelling of dried sweat. His breath probably smelled horrible and if he had to guess, he’d only gotten around four hours of sleep. He felt just as shitty as he no doubt looked too.

Finally, he could hear the angry voice of the class president begin to chime in. Zero huffed, annoyance crossing his face as he rolled over onto his back and threw the pillow aside. Right, not getting any more sleep then. He hefted himself up off of the bed and stretched his arms above his head before rising with a grimace and moving across his room. If there was one perk to being a prefect, it would be that his dorm came with his own bathroom.

All the better for him, because Zero loathed the idea of anyone seeing his surgical scars and having to explain them as he had last night. Just thinking about that pureblood fucker’s eyes on him, roving over his body sent shudders of disgust down his spine. There was something so violating about having his privacy invaded like that, having that bastard eyes on him, staring at him like- like-

A wave of nausea rolled over Zero, and he decided that he didn’t even want to know what had been going through that asshole’s sick mind.

Zero paused to observe himself in the mirror before stripping off his clothes. His hair was sticking up in every direction, and there was still a lingering puffy, redness to his eyes. He sighed and looked away from the sight, carefully unclasping the ring around his neck that he’d forgotten to remove the night before and laying it on the countertop.

To think that fucker tried to touch it. Zero’s teeth ground together in annoyance. He could put up with a lot of shit from Kaname. The name calling, the threats, the physical harassment—that he could deal with up to a point. But if he even thought about touching Tomas’ ring again, Zero would put a fucking bullet in him.

Zero’s fingers clenched tightly around the ring for a second before releasing it and taking a deep breath. It was just an accident, a one-time fluke that he ran into the bastard in the first place. It wouldn’t happen again anytime soon if he had anything to say about it, that was for damn sure.

The rest of the day passed by relatively regularly. The shouting incident from the morning was finished by the time he’d emerged from the shower. A stern glower stopped any other little shits from starting a fight, should they get any ideas. His classes passed by as usual and nothing exciting happened, save for the students moaning and groaning about the massive amount of studying and readings piled onto them. He spent his lunch pouring over his notes for a biology review session that the professor had thought to put him in charge of.

The hunter barely had a minute breathe. He didn’t even get a chance to talk to Yori until after classes when they were just waiting around for changeover to start. Ever since everything with Yuuki had happened, he’d gotten closer with the woman and could even call her ‘friend’ now. The one good thing to come out of that was his friendship with Yori.

“Hey,” He greeted, strolling up to where she waited against the gates with her back pressed against the metal bars.

A smile crossed her lips. “Hi, Zero. You ready for class changeover?”

“As I’ll ever be.” He drawled.

“Fair enough.” Yori allowed with a shrug. “You doing alright? You don’t seem so hot. Geez, did you even sleep last night?”

Zero brushed off the concerned hand she placed on his shoulder. “I’m fine, Yori. Really. Just had to deal with a leech, last night.”

Yori frowned at the term they usually used to refer to the vampires, just in case any day class students happened to be lingering by, listening in. “They didn’t do anything to you, did they? I swear if they hurt you, Zero you can tell me.”

“Nah, it was just one of them. Kaname was just being a dick as per his usual. Nothing I couldn’t handle.”

“What did he do? Seriously, Zero, you can tell me. They can’t keep getting away with this.” Yori pressed with a concerned pout of her lips.

Zero folded his arms. “I was taking a shower, and he saw my scars, alright? There. Now can we please drop it?” This was the last thing he ever wanted to talk about with anyone. Yori was privy to the fact that Zero hadn’t been born a male. But that didn’t mean he wanted everyone on the whole campus to know and he’d prefer not to broadcast it by talking about it in public. Where anyone could hear.

Yori’s eyes widened. “You- he walked in on you in the shower?” She nearly shouted before dropping her voice to a low hiss. “Zero that is not okay! That is sexual harassment! You need to tell someone!”

He rolled his eyes. Yes, that would go over well. “Tell who? I’m a guy, Yori. No one would believe me if I tried to tell them that Kaname Kuran, of all people, walked in on me taking a shower like a perverted freak.” God knows everyone worshipped the ground that prick walked on.

“He can’t just do that to you!”

Zero sighed. “Look, it’s over. Nothing happened. So just drop it, okay? I promise I’m fine. I was honestly more pissed that he touched my ring.”

“Ring?” Yori questioned before eyeing the jewelry around her friend’s neck. “Oh.” She didn’t really know what was up with Zero and that thing anyway. Obviously, she could tell it was precious to him, given how Zero wore the jewelry everywhere and never let it out of his sight. But precisely where it came from and why, remained a mystery to her. Something had always told her it was better not to pry.

Zero stared at the ground aimlessly, though his eyes turned somber. “It- it was a gift. Someone special gave it to me a long time ago. They-“ His throat closed up. “They’re no longer… around.”

Yori’s face fell in sympathy, and she laid a gentle hand on the man’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry.” She could only imagine how close Zero must have been with that person to have a ring from them like that. It only made her chest ache more for her friend. Nobody deserved to lose someone so precious, especially not Zero. Not when he’d lost so much already.

“So am I,” He muttered to the ground. Then, the hunter straightened once more. “But it’s in the past now, anyway. There’s not much I can do now.”

“I suppose so,” Yori said, though there remained a furrow of concern between her brows even as she stood to attention alongside her friend. The loud sound of a bell ringing filled the air. Are you honestly okay, Zero? She knew better by now than to ask, knowing he’d either lie or brush her off.

The girl moved to follow his eyes where an eager crowd of dark-clad students was amassing, marching in their direction. Yori didn’t even need to turn around to tell that the night class students were emerging from their dorm rooms behind her.

Yori shared a glance with Zero as they both braced themselves for the inevitable onslaught. Here we go again.

The doors to the Moon Dormitory opened, and immediately, the crowd went wild with cheers that rang out through the crowd.

“Oh my god! Kain, I love you!”

“Marry me, Ruka!”

“Get back!” Zero snapped as eager students began to push their way forward, anxious to lay hands on their precious night class students. He gritted his teeth and stopped one of them dead in their tracks with a ferocious glare. The girl immediately stepped back into the crowd, thoroughly cowed.

“Easy, everyone! They’re just students like you and me!” Yori attempted.

Pain bloomed behind Zero’s temples from the surrounding noise. Odd, considering he was quite used to class changeover and the chaos it brought by now. But today? Well, today was just not a good day for his patience to be tried. He was running awfully thin on that particular commodity.

“Hey!” He yelled as another girl tried to edge past him, his temper finally snapping like a thin thread. “Next one who tries anything gets an automatic F in all of your classes!”

“Y-You can’t do that!” A spunky, blonde girl protested even as the others fell silent around her.

Zero set his jaw.

“Do you honestly want to try me?” She was right, technically. That was far beyond his duties as a prefect or a teacher’s assistant. But these students didn’t know that. Predictably, each one of the students in the crowd fell silent at his threat. “Good, that’s what I thought.”

With that, Zero turned his back on the crowd in favor of keeping an eye on the night class. Most of them weren’t overly fond of the attention the humans paid them. But there were a few (Aidou) who quite enjoyed it (Aidou), and he wouldn’t put it past them to do something stupid (Aidou).

Kain gave him the barest of grins and tipped his head towards the prefect in silent acknowledgment. Nicely done. Zero gave him a brief, two-fingered wave that the other vampire returned.

Ruka sneered from beside Akatsuki. “My my, Kain. I wasn’t aware your tastes ran that low.”

Kain turned to stare down at her, unimpressed. His gaze suggested that she should quit while she was ahead.

Kaname stopped to greet both prefects ahead of them, as per the usual, thanking each of them for their hard work. “It’s good to see you too, Kiryuu. You’re looking much better after last night.”

Zero stiffened, as a ripple went through the crowd. His face was burning, anger rising up within the hunter at the insinuation of those words. As if I would ever touch your diseased prick you fucking asshole.

“Go fuck yourself.” He spat

The pureblood smiled, such fire coating Zero’s words. He opened his mouth with a retort on his tongue, but stopped as Kain pointedly stepped between him and Zero. Kaname frowned in annoyance at that.

“Enough,”

Kaname’s eyes narrowed at the audacity of the man (a noble speaking to a pureblood as though he could tell Kaname what to do, how laughable). It was more than that, though. He grew increasingly agitated at being unable to see or speak to Zero because of Kain.

“It’s only a bit of harmless teasing, Kain. What’s the harm in that?” This was hardly the first time he had ribbed the prefect and Kain hadn’t intervened before. So why now? What precisely is your relationship with Kiryuu, Kain? Kaname found himself without an answer, and that bothered him. Immensely.

Enough, Kaname,” Kain repeated.

The pureblood’s smile fell away from his face, leaving an agitated frown in its place. He couldn’t say why, but he loathed the idea of Kain keeping Zero from him. It made his fangs lengthen in his mouth, urging him to rip and shred and kill.

“Honestly, Kain, what does it matter? He’s only a filthy level D anyway. And a hunter at that.” Ruka snidely commented. “I wasn’t aware you were into dogs, Kain.”

“Ruka, do shut up,” Kaname’s voice was brisk as ice when he spoke. He eyed her out of the corner of his eye with blatant distaste, unsure of why her words bothered him so. It’s only Kiryuu she speaks of. Why am I so concerned over a level D?

Ruka shrunk back with an irritated scowl. Shame crawled up her neck at being chastised so. She turned to glare at the ground stubbornly.

“Would you to just get to class?” Zero snapped, sick of the ongoing power contest between Kain and Kaname. Much as he enjoyed seeing the other vampire stick up for him, it wasn’t worth him facing Kaname’s wrath later on. Plus, if this continued, they’d be out here for the remainder of the night.

Kaname broke his glaring contest with the taller vampire for a second, russet eyes flickering over to the prefect as though just remembering he was there. “Of course. Kiryuu is right, we should be going.”

The pureblood side-stepped Kain with a menacing aura that spoke of future consequences and continued on, holding his head high and steady like nothing had ever happened. Yet inside he was still seething at the audacity of him, coming in between Kaname and Kiryuu like that.

Yuuki sidled up alongside her brother as they walked, fury rolling off of him in waves. “What was that?” She asked with a furrow between her brows. Was Zero okay? Did Kain do something to him? She wanted to ask, but with Kaname’s current mood, she didn’t dare mention the prefect’s name.

“To be honest, I don’t know.”

By now, Yuuki was considerably used to Kaname and his odd quirks. Even before awakening her pureblood side, she’d spent enough time with the man to know most of his strange habits. Such as the way he insisted on drinking blood tablets with wine and his incessant overuse of metaphors. It was fine, though. She’d grown used to it by now, she could handle it.

What she could not deal with, was the constant glances he kept throwing out the window similar to a lost puppy. After the tenth one, she gave up on trying to read the current passage in the textbook.

“Brother,” She prodded gently.

“Hm?”

“That’s the tenth time you’ve glanced outside.” Either you’re suddenly very fascinated by trees or… “You’re looking for someone in particular, aren’t you?” Yuuki fought to keep from smiling as she whispered to the man beside her.

Kaname frowned, turning back to his desk. “No, of course not.”

Yuuki hummed knowingly. “You won’t find Zero out at this time of night anyway. His patrol ended twenty minutes ago.”

“I thought it didn’t end for another hour.”

Oh, and you just happen to know that, don’t you? “Usually, it does. But I overheard him telling Yori that he was taking off early tonight.” The woman explained. “If you’re feeling that guilty, then why don’t you just go and apologize to him?”

The older pureblood pursed his lips. He wasn’t good at making apologies, it was one of the reasons why he seldom bothered. And certainly not with someone who loathed his very existence.

But maybe it would help him finally free his thoughts of the silver-haired hunter. He was curious about Zero Kiryuu, even more so now. How are you and Kain acquainted? Why is he the only vampire you tolerate? Who are you, Zero Kiryuu? Yes, Kaname wanted to find out everything about the feisty hunter. Perhaps this might be a chance to get some answers.

No one was more surprised than Kaname when he found himself standing in front of Zero Kiryuu’s dorm, hand poised to knock. Before he could do so, the door swung open to reveal the hunter himself. Zero looked disheveled, his hair in disarray and his jacket missing. Even his tie looked mussed on top of his wrinkled shirt.

The pureblood wrinkled his nose as he took in the hunter’s flushed cheeks and the reek of whiskey that clung to him. “You’ve been drinking, I see.” He noted, not bothering to hide the disapproval in his tone.

“Don’t see how that’s any of your business,” Zero slurred. His eyes narrowed. “What are you doing here, anyhow?”

Honestly, Kaname had been asking himself that very question. It was anyone’s guess. But he couldn’t get the silver-haired hunter out of his head. The hunter’s image had continuously plagued his thoughts and his dreams. He couldn’t, for the life of him, figure out what to do about that or this strange feeling in his chest that veered suspiciously similar to guilt. Thus, here he was at the hunter’s door and with no idea where to go from here.

“I wish to… talk.”

“Talk,” Zero echoed. “You want to… talk? With me?”

“Yes. May I come in?”

Zero’s face scrunched up, evaluating the truth of Kaname’s statement. He looked the vampire up and down before stepping aside and flinging an arm out. “Sure, why not? It’s a real party in here.”

Kaname carefully stepped in after the hunter who swayed in his steps before flopping down onto the bed. A half-empty bottle of whiskey sat on the nightstand. It was by no means small. Hell, Kaname was nearly sure that the whole thing would be enough to kill a mere human.

Kaname glanced around at the hunter’s room, unsure of what he’d been expecting yet still somehow disappointed.

The walls were completely bare. There was no trace of anything personal about it. Only the bed complete with drab blankets and pillows, a desk with a matching chair, a wardrobe, and an adjoining door. It was so… plain. The one window was blocked by solid black curtains, completely blocking out any light. A fine layer of dust covered everything. It was like no one even lived here.

Depressing, he decided. That was the best way to describe it. Depressing and empty.

Eventually, the vampire decided on taking a seat at the desk chair so he could face the hunter lying on the bed. Another bottle caught his eye on the floor, empty.

“Welcome,” Zero announced with a hiccup. “To my humble abode. Was it everything you hoped it’d be?”

“You could say that,” Kaname responded. It was relatively dreary, in his opinion. The blank walls, the lack of anything personal, anything that screamed Zero.

The hunter chuckled and sat up to recline against the pillows as he reached for the bottle beside him. Zero took a long swig of the alcohol before pulling back and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand as he set the bottle aside. “So, you came to talk. About what?”

And there it was. The root of all this. Kaname cleared his throat. “I wished to apologize.”

“For being a jackass? A dick? A piece of shit?” Zero drawled. “Or are you referring to that incident the other night, where you were a total fucking creepy pervert?”

“All of that. I realize that my behavior was not- not appropriate. And I said things that I shouldn’t have, and I now regret.” The pureblood responded with a wince. “I am… sorry.

Zero laughed. The sound was anything but happy.

“Oh, so you’re apologizing now, huh? Must be Yuuki’s doing. I mean, who else could make you stop being such a dick. There is something good that can come out of banging your sister, I guess.” He said with a smirk before reaching for the bottle again and taking a long swig, grimacing at the burn. “Fine. Whatever. Apology accepted or whatever other bullshit you were expecting to hear.”

Kaname nearly snapped at him for that remark before ultimately deciding to let it be. Now that he was here, in front of the hunter, he found a million questions he’d been burning to ask. What are those scars on your chest? Why is that ring so important? How do you know Kain?

He asked none of them. Instead, the words that slipped out of his mouth were, “Why are you drinking?”

Zero snorted. “Let me tell you something, Kuran.” His tongue slurred out the pureblood’s name. “People drink for two reasons. Either to have fun. Or to forget.”

It was blatantly evident that the hunter is doing anything but having fun at the moment, which only left one option. For some reason, Kaname was immensely bothered by that fact. Stranger even than that was the thought that the idea of anyone hurting the hunter had his claws lengthening and fangs itching to kill.

He took a closer glance at the man on the bed. Zero’s eyes were red with bloodshot and shined with unshed tears.

“What happened? What happened to make you want to forget?” Kaname couldn’t resist asking.

Zero shook his head as he stared up at the ceiling. “You wouldn’t understand even if you tried, Kuran.” He murmured.

“Anyway, what are you going to do now that you know my ‘big secret’? Let me guess, you’re going to tell everyone?” No, that didn’t sound like the pureblood’s style. No, he was more the type to file it away to use as blackmail later, now that sounded like Kuran.

Kaname raised a brow in confusion. “Secret? I don’t follow.”

“My scars?”

“Why would I tell everyone that you got hurt, I presume, while on a hunting mission?”

Zero blinked. “Hurt? On a mission? Give me some credit, I’m not that fucking careless.” He sat up on the bed, fingers reaching to deftly undo the buttons of his shirt.

Kaname’s cheeks flushed at the implications of the action. He nearly spoke up, telling Zero to stop before the prefect yanked open his shirt, showing him the scars once more.

“Really? Does this look like I was hurt on a fucking mission?” Zero questioned with a flat glance.

The pureblood looked at the scars. Clean, clearly healing with minimal scarring so likely had medical attention.

“No.”

“Duh, cause they’re surgical scars, you dumbass.” Zero snapped.

“Surgical scars?” Kaname echoed. He honestly didn’t see where the hunter was going with this, or even why he was explaining this to Kaname of all people, given how much the boy despised him.

Zero rolled his eyes. “You ever heard of those people who were- born in the wrong body? Like, a woman that was accidentally born looking like a guy?”

Kaname nodded. “Yes, I’ve heard of it.”

Zero gave him a flat, unimpressed look. He nodded, as though expecting Kaname to figure the rest out on his own and merely sighed when he didn’t. “I’m one of those people, okay? I was born… wrong. There you have it. I always sort of knew I was a guy, but I was- I was born with girl parts.”

For a long moment, Kaname was unable to do anything else but sit in silence, struck utterly and entirely speechless for once. It was- he’d read of people like that, heard of it. But Zero? He’d never once imagined that the hunter might be one of those people.

How many times have I ever seen him bathe, though? And how often did he refuse to join Cross and Yuuki on their trips to the beach? How often has he never once taken his shirt off while exercising, no matter how hot the weather got? Come to think of it, he supposed it did make sense. He’d just never bothered to consider that. His guilt for his comments the other night came right back like whiplash.

“I see. I was… unaware of that.” He ignored Zero’s roll of his eyes. “Again, I am sorry for those words I spoke the other night.”

Zero leaned back on his hands against the bed, not bothering to do his shirt up again. “So, what are you going to do now? Use that for blackmail material later?”

“Blackmail?” Kaname wrinkled his nose at the very idea of using such dirty methods. He wished Zero would give him some credit at least. Such methods were beneath him. Moving beyond that little tidbit, however, “I would never use something like that against you, Zero. Surely you know that.”

“Mm, do I? Remember those times you force-fed me your blood?”

The pureblood pinched the bridge of his nose with two fingers. “Yes, because you insisted, quite stupidly, on starving yourself and putting the day class students at risk.” Kaname refuted. “But I would never hold something so personal against you. I would never stoop to such low and underhanded methods to achieve my goals.”

“Uh-huh.” Zero drawled.

“You don’t believe me.”

“No,” Zero gasped in mock offense. “Look, you’ve pretty much done nothing but lie and manipulate people, so forgive me if I don’t completely take your words at face value. Either way? I don’t give a fuck anymore. Do whatever the hell you want.”

Zero leaned back onto the sheets and reached for the bottle of whiskey, yearning for the sweet burn of the alcohol washing down his throat. “I don’t give two shits what you do, Kuran. I, on the other hand, have a bottle of alcohol to finish if you don’t mind.”

Most days he usually did okay, keeping up his facade of indifference and the scary prefect image of him. But tonight just so happened to be the anniversary of Tomas’ death. The day the accident had occurred. It never got any easier, but tonight? This was by far the worst day of the whole damn year. He really, genuinely needed to be drunk right now. Sobriety made it far too tempting to follow in Tomas’ footsteps. He even had a razor on the bathroom counter and everything.

Kaname stood and gave him a look that, if Zero didn’t know any better, could roughly be mistaken for concern. He snorted at the very idea.

“Very well. I’ll leave you to your thoughts then.” The pureblood murmured.

“Just don’t think this makes us friends, you pureblooded asshole.”

Chapter Text

To be honest, Kaname hadn’t the faintest clue how they got here, with his arms wrapped around the prefect as Zero dragged him into a kiss. Zero’s teeth nipped and pulled at his bottom lip, teasing the pureblood’s mouth open with his tongue in a way that made Kaname groan into the kiss. A growl left him as one of Zero’s hands reached up to grip his brown locks. Two can play that game he decided, sliding his arm on the hunter’s waist down further to grip the hunter’s ass through his skin-tight trousers.

“Mmm- Kana- “Kaname swiped his tongue along the hunter’s fangs, drawing a line of crimson along its surface. Zero moaned into the kiss and tugged him closer, searching for more of that intoxicating, delicious blood. His fingers tightened where they gripped Kaname’s jacket for a moment before the pureblood pulled away.

Kaname’s lips curled at the sight of the hunter in front of him. Zero’s cheeks flushed with arousal, and his pupils were blown so wide there was only a faint ring of purple left around them. He brushed a thumb over Zero’s lips that were still swollen from their kiss. “Red is a good look for you.”

Zero arched an eyebrow at that and tugged on the pureblood’s hair, pulling him closer. “Shut up and fuck me, Kuran.”

“As you wish.” And then Kaname was picking him up, forcing the hunter to wrap his legs around the pureblood’s waist as he pressed him up against a wall. He pressed a trail of faint kisses along Zero’s jawline before dipping to nip and suck at the delectable, pale flesh of the hunter’s neck.

Fuck-“ Zero choked out as Kaname attached his lips right below his ear, the place where his tattoo began. A low whine escaped the boy’s throat as the pureblood bit and teased at the sensitive skin. His cunt began to grow wet from the attention, and he ground against the pureblood, searching for some kind of friction to ease his arousal.

The pureblood’s own cock hardened in his trousers. Zero was intoxicating. His scent, his voice —God, everything about the boy made Kaname want to just take him. The hunter unleashed something in the pureblood, driving him mad with want for him. He couldn’t get enough of Zero, no matter how hard he tried. But the sight of darkening bruises and bright red bite marks did send a possessive thrill through him.

“God, Kaname. Just fuck me already.” Zero snarled, pushing at his chest enough that the pureblood let him down on the floor. Kaname’s eyes darkened as Zero hurriedly pulled at his clothing. His tongue darted out to wet his lips as Zero stripped, showing off taut muscles as he did so.

Kaname hurriedly stripped off his own clothes before picking Zero up once more, burying his nose in the hunter’s neck and inhaling the heady aroma of sweat and arousal. Zero’s wet cunt rubbed against the pureblood’s painfully hard cock, already slick with anticipation of being buried in the hunter’s tight, wet, heat. Were it any other time he would have loved to savor Zero, dive between his thighs and lap at his sweet pussy until the hunter was sobbing from overstimulation. But not now.

He buried his fangs into Zero’s shoulder at the same time he sank his hot cock into the hunter’s soaking cunt. Zero dug his fingernails into the pureblood’s back and tipped his head forward.

“Aaah! O-oh god!” His breath was hot against Kaname’s neck.

“Sadly, no. You’ll have to make do with me.”

The pureblood eagerly lapped at Zero’s neck, catching every single drop of his blood. Far too delicious to go to waste. It was addicting, the flavor of the hunter on his tongue. Gods, Zero, the things you do to me. It would drive a lesser vampire insane.

“Hah-“ Zero panted wetly against Kaname, fingers desperately tightening against his back. “Shit, you’re big. I- fuck- “ Kaname pulled back to draw the hunter into another bloody kiss as he started to move, driving into the hunter with steady thrusts of his cock. Kaname’s lips muffled Sero’s moans and whimpers, noise leaving his mouth with every movement. Waves of pleasure coursed through him with each thrust, each drag of Kaname’s cock against his inner walls making his skin tingle and toes curl.

“Harder!” He begged in a loud whine. “F-faster! I- oh fuck, Kaname-“

“Gods, you feel good.” Kaname groaned against Zero’s throat, settling into a punishing rhythm that had Zero clutching at him with desperation and throwing his head back. It bumped harshly into the wall behind him, yet Zero didn’t seem to care. “So tight around me. Like you were made for me.”

The hunter keened as Kaname bent his head, lapping eagerly at a nipple. “Aaah! Ngh- fuck, Kaname!” He was babbling now, unable to think of anything but Kaname and his cock inside of him. His toes curled as the pleasure built with every harsh thrust. Kaname’s fingers were tight on his ass, and he knew he would probably have bruises for a few hours, but that thought that only made Zero wetter.

Zero brought a hand down to rub at his clit, while the other clung desperately to Kaname. He couldn’t keep quiet, noises from his throat filling the room alongside the wet sounds of flesh. There was nothing gentle about this, it was just hard and rough sex the way he liked it. “S-shit, I’m gonna-“

“Do it. Come for me, gorgeous. Come for me, Zero.”

It was the name that did it, the sound of his name on Kaname’s lips. Zero’s mouth opened in a soundless scream, and his body stiffened. His muscles tightened around the pureblood’s cock, as the world around him went white following his release.

He went limp in the pureblood’s arms, shaking in the aftermath of his orgasm. “Kana-“

Kaname woke up quickly. His eyes snapped open, glancing around in confusion for a few seconds before it sank in where he was. Of course. He was back in his room in the moon dormitory. Alone. Something akin to disappointment stung bitterly in his throat.

Beneath the sheets, his cock was still hard, as evident by the apparent tent. Maroon eyes fell closed, remembering the feel of Zero, tight and warm around his cock, his arms holding the hunter up as he-

“Shit,” Kaname dropped his head into his hands. If anything, his cock only hardened further at the memory of his dream. He could try to write this occurrence off as no more than a bodily function, but even he knew that would be a lie. It wasn’t the first time the silver-haired hunter had shown up in his dreams of this… particular nature. Not since that incident a week ago had he been able to get Kiryuu out of his head.

Outside dusk was settling over the sky, indicating time for Kaname to ready himself for class changeover. Willing his ‘problem’ to go away and not succeeding, he stood and made his way over to the adjoining bathroom. A cold shower should do the trick.

It didn’t.

And Kaname was left to deal with his aching erection on his own. He tipped his head back beneath the spray of icy water and wrapped a firm hand around his cock. His mind immediately conjured up images of a certain hunter. Zero with his lips red and swollen, wrapped around Kaname’s cock, staring up at him with those purple eyes of his. Zero groaning into his shoulder, legs wrapped around the pureblood as he fucked into him hard and fast. Zero with his hands fisted in Kaname’s sheets.

Come to think of it, he still didn’t know whether the hunter’s genitals would look like those of a woman or a man. Kaname found he didn’t care even in the slightest. After all, he’d had his fair share of bed partners of both sexes through the years and enjoyed it all the same in the end.

With thoughts of the hunter haunting him and filling his head, Kaname found his release quickly. White spurts of cum coat his stomach and his hand afterward, while he stood there panting under the chilly water. It took a few long seconds before his brain was able to fully comprehend precisely what just happened. I just brought myself to release thinking about Kiryuu of all people.

It was ridiculous. Laughable, really. What exactly was that hunter doing to him? The pureblood shook his head and washed the come off of his body. It’s only lust, perfectly natural. Zero Kiryuu was definitely not hard on the eyes, anyone could see that. Honestly, it wasn’t that far-fetched of him to want the boy. And since Zero would never find out about Kaname’s fantasies of him, all was fine, really.

Kaname stepped out from the shower and silently made his way back to his room, glancing at the time and deciding to pour himself a glass of wine before class. He dropped a blood tablet into the glass, watching it fall to the bottom and dissolve. His thirst was killing him.

He’d barely taken a sip when someone knocked on his door. The pureblood schooled his features into something that didn’t portray the irritation he felt before he cleared his throat and called out to his visitor. “Enter.”

Thankfully it was only Takuma. He was hardly in the mood to face Ruka and Aidou or deal with their petty squabbles. And he certainly wasn’t fond of speaking to Kain either, though that notion seemed to be mutual given how the noble had appeared to be avoiding him as of late.

“Kaname,” Takuma greeted with a bow before rising and wrinkling his nose. “It smells odd in here.”

“Did you need something, Takuma?” Kaname interjected bluntly.

“Hm? Ah yes, Cross sent me. He requests your presence in his office.”

Well, that was odd. The pureblood frowned. “When?”

“At once.”

“I see,” It wasn’t the best time, requesting to meet with him right before scheduled class changeover. And the only time I’ll see Kiryuu, a voice whispered. “Thank you, Takuma. I suppose I should go and see what he wants.”

Another bow. “Of course, Lord Kaname.”

“Dismissed, if that is all.”

Takuma gave him a brief smile before turning on his heel and making his way out of the pureblood’s rooms, leaving Kaname to finish his drink in peace.

Kaname’s thirst lessened as he downed the rest of his wine. Though he found himself wondering what on earth Cross could want. Was it about the wedding, perhaps? Cross had seemed rather disappointed with the news. Yet somehow Kaname doubted that. Well, there was only one way to find out, anyway.

An annoyed groan left Zero’s throat as noticed Kaname approaching him in the long hallway as he waited outside Cross’ office. The hunter leaned back and braced himself on the wall and ground his teeth together. Oh great.

“What the hell do you want?” Zero drawled. The hunter folded his arms with a scowl, nose wrinkling at the smell of the other vampire.

Kaname merely glanced at him coolly in return. “Cross has asked for me if you must know.”

“Oh really, and where did his royal highness hear that?”

“Takuma told me,” Kaname said, pointedly ignoring the sarcastic nickname.

“Ha. Funny. Unfortunately, Yori told me the same thing.” Zero told him flatly and straightened where he was. “So I hate to break it to you, but I think your little lackey fed you bullshit.”

“Takuma wouldn’t lie to me,” The pureblood insisted with a frown. He’d know it if he did. Takuma was a terrible liar. “Perhaps Cross simply made a mistake.”

“Or the man’s finally going senile,” Zero muttered under his breath. He stood from where he was leaning against the wall. What reason could he have to try to force Kaname and him into the same room together? They were like oil and water. They just didn’t mix.

“Perhaps we should just ask the man,” Kaname offered. He swept a hand towards the wooden door before them. “After you.”

Muttering something about ‘getting it over with’ under his breath, Zero strode forward, shoving the pureblood’s arm out of the way. He didn’t even bother to knock before harshly yanking the door open.

Cross looked up from his desk where he’d been hunched over paperwork, pen still in hand. He set it aside, smiling at the sight of them. “Zero! Kaname! Come in, please have a seat!”

Zero pursed his lips, noting absently the stiff grace that the pureblood asshole carried himself with. Arrogant bloodsucker. “Yeah, no. I think I’m good.”

“How rude, Kiryuu.”

The hunter raised his brows at the older vampire. “Coming from you? I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Now, now. Play nice, you two.” Cross chided as Kaname elegantly took a seat across from the man. The older hunter folded his hands together before him, setting his arms on the desk.

“It’ll be a cold day in hell when I ever get along with this prick,” Zero grumbled. He preferred to linger against the tall bookshelf in the office rather than ever sit beside that pureblooded bastard. The younger hunter crossed his arms and glared at the old man. “Let’s just get this over with. What do you want, Cross?”

Cross let out a heavy sigh. “Oh, very well. What do either of you know of a village called Ivorgarde?”

Zero straightened at that. Ivorgarde wasn’t exactly close to the academy. A trip that far would cost maybe a week if one made good time with little to no sleep in between days of riding. Less so, perhaps, if one decided to risk going through the wastelands but that was a death wish. It was a small little village that sat at the base of a treacherous mountain range. Mountains that were often coated in slick ice and crumbling, uneven rocks that threatened to fall at any moment. Not many dared to venture over them for obvious reasons.

“I know of it. Didn’t you send Nains and Bishop there not more than a month ago?”

Cross gave a small nod. “That I did. Nains and Bishop were both sent to search for a trio of junior hunters that turned up missing a few weeks before they left. Unfortunately, after three weeks, we lost contact with them as well.”

“I still don’t see what this has to do with him,” Zero countered and jerked a thumb at Kaname.

“I am getting to that.” Cross firmly said with a pointed look towards his adopted son.

“Now, as I was saying. Ivorgarde, along with several other villages in the area, has been experiencing a series of grisly killings recently. Which was why I sent those hunters there in the first place. People and livestock alike were all turning up dead, reduced to nothing more than a pile of bleeding innards and ribbons of flesh. In addition to that, we have reports of odd noises heard during the night. Howling, scratching, that kind of thing.”

“Were any bodies found in town?” Zero asked, straightening. It was odd to hear of vampires venturing into such a populated area, but it wasn’t entirely unheard of. Still, gruesome, drawn out deaths didn’t sound like any vampire he’d heard of save for perhaps a level E. Surely Nains and Bishop wouldn’t have had a problem dispatching a few level Es if that were the case though.

Cross nodded and pushed his glasses further up his nose, adjusting them slightly. “Yes, They even found a few slaughtered just steps from their front door.”

The younger hunter’s brows furrowed, and he tilted his head slightly. “So that rules out wolves. They wouldn’t venture that close to humans.” It could be a bear, but Ivorgarde wasn’t particularly known for having many bears around and once again, bears were not fond of venturing close to humans. “ Do you think it’s a werewolf? I thought they were supposed to leave humans alone.”

“Indeed, they are, according to the terms we established with them years ago,” Cross answered with a slump of his shoulders and a pensive frown. “Which is disconcerting. We need to find out what’s happening in Ivorgarde and the surrounding villages. If this is more than just a rogue wolf and werewolves have decided to start hunting humans again, then we have a huge problem on our hands. I want you and Kaname to go to Ivorgarde. Find out what you can about this and take care of it quietly.”

“You what?” Zero echoed, freezing where he stood with wide eyes.

Even Kaname blinked in surprise at the older hunter. “I’m sorry, I believe I misheard you, Cross. You wish for me to hunt this wolf, with Kiryuu?”

“He’s not even a hunter!”

“No, he isn’t,” Cross agreed with a sigh. Why must you always make things difficult, Zero? “But whatever creature is killing these humans has killed vampires as well. Dozens of them. As you can imagine, The council isn’t very pleased about that. And of course, it would greatly improve relations between hunters and vampires, with the head of their council working with the heir to the association.”

“Are you joking? You- seriously, this has to be a joke,” A humorless laugh escaped Zero’s throat as he gestured wildly at the pureblood. “You honestly expect me to work with him?”

“Yes, I do.” Cross rubbed at his forehead. Trust Zero to always be so stubborn. He blamed Toga for that in large part. “Zero, someday you will be the head of the association. Whether you want it or not. It’s time you let go of this childish hatred you have for-“

“Childish hatred?” The younger man echoed in disbelief. “I highly doubt it’s fucking childish considering one of his kind fucking killed my family and ruined my life!”

“I understand your anger, Kiryuu,” Kaname spoke finally, irritation leaking through his voice. It bothered him more than he cared to admit, hearing the loathing and venom in the boy’s voice. “But I am not Shizuka Hio. You cannot force all vampires into one category only to suit your prejudices.”

Much as he wished it didn’t, the aversion and disgust in Zero’s voice smarted. All the loathing in Zero’s voice stung like salt in a wound he never knew he had.

The silver-haired boy turns away with a scowl etched in place. Vampires had taken everything from him. They took his parents, his brother, his sister and even the remainder of his fucking life thanks to that stupid bite. And when that wasn’t enough, they had to go and take the person he loved. Every damn thing he’d ever had, ripped away from him by those bloodsuckers. While they lived happily in their plush mansions like kings. Arrogant pieces of shit.

No, his hatred is justified. He’d earned his contempt, his right to be angry. No one would take that away from him.

“Fine,” He gritted out, looking determinedly away from the pureblood. Zero could do this. He would do this. Just a simple job—in and out, no problem. I can deal with this asshole for a few weeks. “But when this moron gets himself hurt or killed, I am not going to be responsible.”

Kaname’s eyebrow ticked with annoyance at the ‘when’ not ‘if.’ “I assure you, I am more than capable of taking care of myself, Kiryuu.”

The hunter gave him a suspicious glance and looked him up and down. Specifically, Zero gave the pristine cloth uniform and the pureblood’s soft hands that had clearly never seen a day of work in his life, a sneer. “Guess we’ll see, won’t we?”

“Excellent!” Cross exclaimed with a happy clap of his hands, oblivious of the rising tension between both vampires. He waved hurriedly at both vampires. “Now go, shoo, pack your things. You’ll leave at first light.”

Zero groaned at having to deal with Kuran so soon. He was hoping he’d at least have a few days’ reprieve before heading off. It seemed luck was not on his side today. “Whatever. Just meet me in the stables tomorrow, Kuran.”

Chapter Text

Zero woke bright and early the next morning, forcing himself out of bed before the sun was even up. His bag containing a bit of food since hunting might not be possible for a while with the route he was planning to take. Hunting in the wastelands was just asking for trouble, and not even Zero was that thick. In the bag as well were several bottles of fresh water, medical supplies, and other items that might come in handy. There’s a saying amongst hunters. Better over prepared than underprepared.

Well, that and one other common phrase. Those who enter the wasteland are either stupid or suicidal.

Zero figured he must be both.

The brown bag was packed and laid in the corner of his small room and ready to be secured to a saddle. Along with a rolled-up tent, sleeping mats and the usual gear he stored away for longer hunts. That’s all this was. Just a regular hunt, away for a few weeks. Albeit with extra baggage this time.

He took his sweet time in the shower that morning, savoring the warm, clean water on his skin. It would most likely be a while before he got to have this again, so he’d take the time he had. When his fingers finally pruned under the water, he decided it was finally time to step out. While dressing, he eyed the ring on the countertop, hesitating briefly over wearing it or not. It was a dumb idea with Kuran around, but without it, he felt strangely naked.

Fuck it. Zero reached for the familiar necklace and fastened it around his neck before tucking it beneath his shirt.

The hunter made a brief stop in the cafeteria to snag a protein bar and some coffee. He would need it. His stomach was too queasy to hold down much else though, filled with the usual jitters most hunters get right before a job.

After forcing down a bit of food, Zero lugged his packs over to the stables across campus. There, White Lily greeted him with a leisurely swish of her tail and impatient stomping until he walked over to greet her.

“Hey, old girl,” He soothed, petting her muzzle softly. Next to her was the other horse that would be Kaname’s. A much tamer and younger chestnut gelding, one who looked to be asleep now where he stood.

White Lily was rarely easy to saddle, and this time proved no different. She seemed to constantly fidget and squirm underneath Zero’s touch or sucked in her breath, forcing him to redo the whole process. It took an entire hour and half a dozen sugar cubes to bribe her enough that Zero could place the saddle on her.

“See? That wasn’t so bad now, was it?” Zero smoothed a hand down over her big muzzle, smiling when she pressed into the touch. The horse nickered at him and leaned forward enough to nibble on strands of her human’s silver hair. A chuckle escaped Zero as he stepped away. “Hey!”

White Lily stared at him with her big, dark eyes, not an ounce of remorse in her gaze. She sighed in soft disappointment at both the lack of Zero’s attention and any more sugar cubes she thought to weasel out of him.

By then the chestnut gelding, named Zephyr had woken up and looked on in curiosity at the whole scene. Thankfully he took to saddling much easier than the cranky mare beside him and let Zero suit him up without a hitch.

“You could learn a thing or two from him,” The hunter drawled with a glance at White Lily. She snorted, as though finding the very idea preposterous. It earned her a light chuckle from Zero though.

White Lily had been Zero’s only constant companion as far back as he can remember. Ever since he’d raised her from a foal, she’d understood him in a way that no one—not even Yuuki, had understood. When Zero needed space away from everyone? White Lily was always there to offer silent comfort, without added, unwanted conversation. When he needed a distraction or to be on his own? She was always ready to go for a ride, carrying him far and fast across the school grounds and through the forest. And on the rare occasions that the hunter needed a swift kick to his ass? She was happy to offer that as well—accompanying bruises free of charge.

Zero didn’t let himself get close to people. There was just too much headache and heartache involved with emotions and feelings, and just, no thanks. But White Lily wasn’t a person. She was his friend, his confidant, his constant companion. They’d been through thick and thin together—the old mare having carried him through at least a dozen missions and saving him from a few close calls. There was a bond between the hunter and White Lily, one that Zero wouldn’t give up for anything, no matter how stubborn she was.

Zero heard the doors to the stable creak open simultaneously as the unmistakable scent of pureblood invaded his nose. He turned to greet Kuran with pursed lips and stopped.

“What is that?” Zero asked dryly. His eyes roved over the pureblood’s clothing. A dark blouse, loose trousers, and shoes that looked more fit for literally anything other than riding. The hunter raised a brow and folded his arms.

The hunter was dressed much differently. He wore a strange-looking dark gray and black jacket that crossed over his chest in different places along with a pair of thick, brown leather boots. Zero’s pants were black and made of a much rougher, more durable fabric than the pureblood’s, and he wore a pair of dark gloves over his hands meant for riding. A deep, navy cowl lied crumpled around his neck, connected with a scarf that could be lifted to cover one’s nose and mouth.

“You realize we’re hunting a werewolf, not going to a gala, right?”

“Of course, I do.”

“Because that isn’t fit for riding at all,” The hunter told him with a gesture towards the pureblood’s outfit. “Give me a second. Wait here.”

Zero turned and disappeared for a moment into the back of the stables, where he set their bags down. He bent down and opened one, rustling around in the crowded bag for a minute or two before emerging triumphantly.

There was a bundle of thick, dark clothing in his arms when he returned to Kaname. He held a pair of riding boots somewhere around Kuran’s size, an armored vest and a hooded cloak along with a dark cowl. He’d almost snagged an extra pair of his own pants and a spare shirt, figuring they’re close enough in size before looking back at the pureblood. No, scratch that—there was no way the hunter’s clothing would fit the pureblood. For fuck’s sake, the man was built like a damn tree!

“Put these on.” He demanded, shoving them into the pureblood’s arms. Unfortunately, the pants and the shirt would just have to do for now.

Kaname gave him a shrewd look at being ordered around but reluctantly did as he was asked. He tugged on the thick coverings over his own clothing before looking at Zero with confusion on his face. “Can I ask why the cowl?”

Instead of answering him, Zero spread out a sheet of parchment on a nearby table and waved him over.

Kaname followed, standing over the hunter’s shoulder to look at the dark ink spread across the page. It was a map, he realized. Illustrating Cross Academy and the forest surrounding it, along with the nearby village and a dark stain above all of that. Beyond the stain laid small, jagged lines drawn to represent mountains.

“When was the last time you even left town?” The hunter asked with a quirked brow.

“Most likely years ago. I don’t often find that my business takes me away from the Academy, and when it does, the routes I take are well-traveled.” Kaname admitted with a shrug.

“Figures,” Zero muttered before gesturing to the map. “See that spot?” He jabbed a finger at a spot of ink beyond the mountains, surrounded by more drawn trees.

“That’s Ivorgarde, where we’re going. Now ordinarily, most people would just take the long way around the mountains over here. But that takes weeks, and we don’t have that kind of time.”

Dozens of people and vampires dead already, that was what Cross had said. “No, we don’t.”

“So, we’re going to go straight through the mountains,” Zero announced. “I know of a pass that shouldn’t be too risky this time of the year, except for the occasional group of bandits. But to get to those mountains, we have to go through the wastelands.”

“Sounds charming,”

Zero chuckled darkly at the sarcasm in the pureblood’s tone. “Yeah. Believe me, they have their name for a reason. Even now that area is teeming with radioactive fallout, toxic water and air that can burn your skin down to the bones if you’re exposed to it for too long. Our vampirism would make sure we survive, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t painful as shit. That’s what the cowl is for.”

“What about the horses? Won’t they be affected as well?”

“Nope. White Lily and Zephyr here are black bloods, a rare breed. It means that the toxins in the air won’t hurt them as badly as it does us.”

Unfortunately, it was also painting a target on their backs. Black bloods were rare and sold for a pretty price. Ah well, they’d just have to watch their backs then.

Then Kaname turned his attention to both horses. Zephyr looked to be the calmer and more docile of the two, with a sleek chestnut coat and his head lowered as he fixed the pureblood with dark eyes.

White Lily, however, towered over the other horse, her smooth white mane and coat brushed and cleaned. She pinned her ears back at the pureblood, front feet stomping on the ground. She dwarfed Zephyr in comparison and easily stood above him and Zero.

The pureblood stepped back from the mare.

“Hey,” Zero chided her softly as he adjusted the bags on her side. “Play nice.”

In response, the mare gave a soft nicker and butted her head against the hunter’s shoulder. Zero allowed a rare smile to grace his features as he reached up to pet her muzzle, rewarded by her pushing her head further against the hand.

Kaname’s gaze softened as he watched the two. It wasn’t every day he—or anyone - got to see Zero like this, unguarded and happy, bereft of his usual glare or scowl. He stared longer than he cared to admit at the faint trace of smile adorning Zero’s features, before turning away as Zero’s eyes flickered over to him.

“So, what dangers can we expected in these wastelands?” Kaname questioned instead, trying to chase the hunter from his thoughts.

The hunter sighed and frowned to himself. The more he thought about this plan, the more idiotic it sounded. “Well, that’s the thing. No one knows. They’re sort of a dead zone. No one bothers to venture in most of the time and those that do- “

“Never make it out.” Kaname finished for him.

“Got it in one. Not to say that none live. Some do, but their stories are usually wild enough to be passed off as bullshit. Or drunken ramblings.”

Ah, so they were heading into this endeavor near blind then. “Lovely,”

Zero smirked slow and cruel as he cocked a hip and looked at the pureblood. “Aw, don’t tell me your scared, Highness?”

“Of course not.”

Zero snickered quietly under his breath at the vehement denial.

“Sure, sure. Whatever you say.” They’d be fine anyway. As a hunter, venturing into dangerous territory and whatnot came with the job, so this was far from unusual for Zero. Having a powerful pureblood was a bonus. The hunter was confident that together they’d be able to handle anything that crossed their path.

White Lily’s nostrils flared as the pureblood accidentally drifted closer to the mare and she pinned her ears back against her head. She gave a few angering stomps of her hooves and swished her tail in agitation. Kaname stiffened and took a cautious step backward.

“Oh, I’d be careful around Lily. She’s got one hell of a temper and doesn’t take kindly to people.” Zero informed him belatedly. “Don’t worry, you won’t be riding her. You’ll be riding this young one over here, Zephyr.”

Zephyr greeted the pureblood much more calmly than the mare. He looked hesitant at first but quickly warmed to Kaname’s presence with a few apples and sugar cubes. Within a few moments, he was pushing his muzzle into the pureblood’s hand with a happy little whicker.

“I can see you’ve been busy,” Kaname noted with a look towards the bags each horse was carrying.

The hunter blinked at him, unsure whether that was a compliment or an insult. It sounded like a compliment more than the latter, which made it even odder to hear it out of Kuran’s mouth. Call him paranoid, but Zero couldn’t help but be suspicious.

“That I have.” He settled on as a neutral response. Zero tightened a strap on Zephyr’s saddlebag and buckled it closed.

“He’s all yours,” Zero announced, stepping away from the gelding and letting Kaname approach him. His eyebrows rose in mild surprise at how easily the pureblood hefted himself up into the saddle, easily taking hold of the horse. The familiarity in his grip was surprising.

“I used to ride,” Kaname said for a way of an explanation when he saw the hunter raising his brows. “Quite often, in fact. It was one of the few past times I enjoyed.”

“Why’d you stop?”

“Life got in the way,” The brunette murmured. His eyes were somewhere far away when he spoke.

The hunter got the distinct impression he was approaching a tender subject, and it sent an uncomfortable shiver down his spine.

“Well, much as I’d love to stay here chatting all day, we’re burning daylight. Let’s get going.”

The first few hours of their journey were less than eventful. Zero led White Lily ahead of the pureblood in silence, sitting rigid as a statue upon the mare, with Kaname following a short way behind him, dark hood pulled up over his head.

Not only because of the sun. No, it had been years since he ventured out beyond the village, but his odd appearance wouldn’t go unnoticed—it hadn’t back then, and it wouldn’t now.

Zero handled the stubborn, ill-tempered mare with ease. He steered her with a firm hand and kept her in line, not that she seemed to fight the hunter much. No, she seemed happy to go along with whatever the hunter on her back decided. Then again, this was probably routine for them Kaname realized.

Sounds of twigs breaking underfoot and wildlife scurrying around in the trees above them, and the surrounding bushes were the only sounds that filled the air. Overhead sunlight filtered through branches, shadowing on shapes on the ground.

And then the woods abruptly stopped. There was no other way to put it. The trees and greenery came to a sudden stop, bordered by miles and miles of a thick fog before them. Zero halted and let the vampire step up beside him.

Through the dense mist, he could make out putrid, black water interspersed with sodden, black ground, and misshapen trees. A horrid, sulfuric smell filled the air and Kaname could hear something not-quite water lapping at a shore. It sounded too thick and viscous to be water, yet the thought of it being anything else was disturbing enough for him to dismiss it.

Hot, vicious winds whipped at the pureblood’s face when he looked up, his skin reddening as it burned. He yanked his head down with a hiss. Odd, misshapen trees jutted out of the swampy ground ahead, bereft of all leaves or foliage.

“Here we are,” Zero announced dryly. He swept an arm out ahead of him as he tugged his scarf up over the lower half of his face. “The Wastelands. In all their glory.”

There was nothing ahead of them as far as the eye could see except dank swamp. No wildlife to be seen. Even the plants looked oddly shaped and discolored. The sky had an unhealthy green-yellow tint to it. The hunter’s vision wavered in the heat, and he forced down any trepidation. Zero yanked his cowl up to cover his nose and mouth before grasping the reins again.

An old, wooden walkway stood above the muck of the swampy lands, rotted in places and bent or broken in others. Far from ideal, it would have to do. The alternative would be to wade through the water laden with all kinds of toxic chemicals, and god knows what else. Zero would take his chances with the walkway.

Zero nudged Lily on and tipped his head down to avoid the stinging winds that tugged at his clothes with harsh movements. It didn’t stop his eyes from watering as he moved. Every step was a fighting effort, pushing against the chaotic winds and stifling humidity. At some point, he wasn’t even sure that Kaname was behind him anymore, but he couldn’t risk looking back.

Sometime later, the storm—or whatever it was—calmed down and ceased. The winds settled into an oppressive heat that laid over the wastelands like a blanket. Zero glanced around and found Kaname still behind him on the walkway, miraculously.

“Why do you continue to loathe your own kind so much?” Kaname asked suddenly, breaking the silence that had fallen across the land as the storm subsided. He knew it was a dangerous question to ask, and he was risking a bullet by doing so. But with only silent mist as their company out here, there wasn’t much to do besides talk. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t curious.

“Thought we already went over this,” The hunter clipped back, scowling beneath his coverings even as he knew Kaname couldn’t see it.

“Yes, but you haven’t told me why. Does it not get tiring, hating yourself for nothing more than being what you are?”

“I didn’t choose this.”

“No one does. None of us ever desired to be born a vampire, Zero.” Kaname narrowed his eyes at the boy’s back. “You aren’t the only one who has lost people. Hunters and vampires. We’ve all lost people to the other side. This prejudice of yours is selfish and childish.”

Zero’s grip on White Lily tightened. His knuckles went white beneath his gloves. “Vampires took everything from me. You wouldn’t understand.”

“There are many others who would say the same of hunters, no?” The pureblood countered. “I’ve seen them, myself. Families torn apart or massacred by hunters. Your kind.”

“That isn’t-“ Zero stopped.

“That isn’t what? Are you trying to say that not all hunters are like that? That the actions of a few do not speak for all hunters?” Kaname prodded. “There are two sides to every story, Kiryuu.”

Not everything is what it seems. The murder of an innocent was self-defense in the eyes of another. There was always more than one side.

“I doubt it was self-defense when my family was slaughtered in their fucking sleep,” The hunter hissed back, unable to contain his anger any longer. “But oh please, continue to tell me how dangerous my parents were being asleep in their own bed. Tell me how dangerous an eight-year-old child is!”

“That isn’t what I meant, Kiryuu. I never meant to insinuate that your family’s deaths- “

“Oh, fuck you, that’s exactly what you meant.” Zero laughed harshly. “Don’t you dare try to tell me my parents’ deaths were deserved, Kuran. You don’t have that fucking right. Don’t you try to fucking tell me that To- “

The hunter stopped himself just short of letting his old lover’s name, leaving his lips. He didn’t want Kaname to know of Tomas, unable to stomach the thought of the other man’s name leaving the pureblood’s lips. Tomas was the one thing he’d had that Kaname had never tarnished with his filthy little fingers. Like hell was Zero letting him touch even the memory of the man.

“What were you about to say?” Kaname questioned, his interest piqued now.

“Nothing.”

“No, I heard that. What was it?”

“Kuran. I can, and I will leave you out here in the wastelands to either slowly starve or death or let some poor animal tear you apart if you don’t shut the fuck up right now. Understood?”

For the first time, it occurred to Kaname he didn’t know anything about this place. He hadn’t the faintest clue how to navigate these desolate lands. They were well and truly in Zero’s territory now, his area of expertise.

In all fairness, he hadn’t meant to anger the hunter. But naturally, Zero drew the wrong conclusions and lashed out in his usual fit of anger. The pureblood sighed. Of course, the deaths of the boy’s parents would be a sore subject, he should have thought before he spoke. It was probably best to let it lie for now.

“Understood.”

Zero urged White Lily into a canter, needing to put distance between him and the pureblood right now.

They came to a crossroads in the walkway eventually, a large circle with four bridges leading off in either direction. Dark branches loomed ominously over them, casting dark shadows and blocking out the moonlight. In the distance, an animal released a long, wailing noise.

Zero drew to a stop turned White Lily to face him and tugged his cowl down enough he could speak with broken, chapped lips. “Let’s set up camp for the night.”

It wasn’t a question, and Kaname didn’t have a response even if it had been. Purebloods rarely tired but his poor gelding could probably use the rest. He gave a short nod and dismounted from Zephyr. Above them stars twinkled, yet despite night falling, the desolate lands remained as hot and treacherous as ever.

The hunter barked out a sharp word in a language unknown to the pureblood, and the horses stilled before lying down.

“Are you certain they won’t run off?” Not that Zephyr seemed like the type to do so, but Lily looked as though she would do such a thing if only to spite Kaname.

“These two are trained for hunters to use,” Zero explained. “They’re trained to listen to commands. Besides, they’re smarter than they look. If they know what’s good for them, they’ll stay put.” He finished, before removing the tent he’d brought along from White Lily’s saddle.

“You said that not many know what lives out here,” The pureblood commented as Zero attempted to set up their tent on the small wooden platform.

“Yeah,” Zero confirmed.

“I cannot imagine much of anything living out here. It’s so desolate. How would anything survive?”

“Oh, you’d be surprised.”

Zero finished setting up their shelter for the night. It was small—barely big enough to hold both sleeping rolls, but it would have to do.

They mutually agreed that it was best to forego any fire for the night. Aside from the very-much-flammable wood beneath their feet, there was wildlife out here that neither of them had encountered. Best not to draw unnecessary attention to themselves.

Kaname followed Zero into the cramped little tent, zipping up and securing the opening more for the hunter’s peace of mind than his own. In a few deft movements, Zero removed the cowl covering most of his head.

He hadn’t known how much he missed the sight of the hunter. Long lashes batted against pale cheeks, and silver hair stuck up in every direction, tousled and unkempt. Kaname forgot how to breathe for several seconds.

“Hey—you okay?” Zero questioned, leaning close to scrutinize the pureblood. Kaname hid his lengthening fangs behind his lips.

“Perfectly fine,” He clipped, and if his voice was more rough than usual, the hunter either didn’t notice or chose not to comment on it.

“You were staring.”

“Perhaps I was,” Kaname commented. It was no use denying it now. “I’ve always held an appreciation for the finer things in life.” His voice dipped low, words coming out in a husky purr.

To his dismay, Zero’s cheeks flushed pink at that. He jerked his gaze away from the pureblood, staring resolutely at the cloth wall of the tent instead.

“Whatever. Just keep it in your pants.” He bit out, concentrating on trying to calm the way his heart quickened at those words. Only it wasn’t Kaname that Zero envisions but a cocky smirk and a dark ponytail that swung when the taller man moved. A rough, low voice,

“Z- “

Kaname chuckled under his breath. “But you look so pretty when you blush like that.”

“Kuran. I swear to god I will kick you out of this goddamn, fucking tent.” Zero was thankful that his voice didn’t shake, betraying how perturbed he was at the memories of Tomas surfacing. It didn’t make sense. Kaname was nothing like Tomas. He wasn’t even half of the man Tomas had been.

The pureblood backed off at that and raised his hands in surrender.

Although Kaname had meant every word he said. It was strange that he was just now noticing how striking the Kiryuu boy was. And the fire in those eyes, sparking defiance at every turn, never failed to make his blood race.

The beast inside of him rose at the challenge it saw presented before itself. Mine, mate, bite, it whispered, urging him on. Oh, how it wanted the other vampire and Kaname was not opposed to the idea himself.

Zero had always stood up to Kaname with no problems, effortlessly spitting venom in his face and disobeying whenever it pleased him. He refused to be kowtowed by the pureblood merely because of his status. He was the only one who could ever match the pureblood—Kaname’s equal. No one could ever come close to the enigma that was Zero Kiryuu.

Zero tilting his head back in ecstasy, plump lips parting eagerly on a moan.

The hunter’s pale flesh turning pink and purple under his attention. Zero’s hands tightening in his hair, tugging him closer.

“Kaname,” Zero’s breath on his lips, whimpering his name.

Images rose unbidden to the pureblood’s mind. He squashed them before his body reacted. Yes, he wanted the stubborn, defiant hunter before him. More than he’d wanted anything in centuries. He wanted to bury his fangs in Zero’s neck, to taste the very blood that flowed in his veins while the hunter writhed beneath him and moaned out his name in pleasure.

“Oi, Kuran,” Said hunter prodded, forcing the pureblood out of his thoughts. Kaname schooled his features into something neutral as he turned towards Zero. Mine.

Zero offered a bottle filled with fresh water. Meanwhile, the silver-haired boy himself was chewing on some flavorless jerky, after choking down a bland ration bar and washing it down with water. It wasn’t a gourmet meal by any means, but he’d grown used to the flavorless rations by now. Besides, it only had to last until they were out of the wastelands and able to hunt.

“Thank you,” Kaname murmured, accepting the drink. “And I am sorry for what I said earlier. I misspoke. I didn’t mean to upset you, Kiryuu.”

Call him crazy, but whether it was the strange fumes getting to him or something else affecting Zero’s head, but he believed Kaname for once. Maybe the pureblood wasn’t as bad as he thought he was. “Don’t mention it.”

 

Chapter Text

Zero tips his head back, downing a burning shot of whiskey with the movement. Around him hunters of all kinds trade stories over liquor and greasy bar food as they all eagerly struggle to find an excuse to drown themselves in a bottle—the one thing hunters excel at. Fortunately, this time they need no excuse, as a new round of trainees have graduated onto becoming full-fledged hunters and tradition dictates taking them all out for drinks to celebrate. Which is how Zero winds up sitting all by his lonesome at the bar, while everyone around him gathers around tables or shuffle into booths.

He doesn’t mind though, really, he much prefers drinking on his own with company anyway. There’s fewer annoying questions to answer and less having to pretend to be interested in what his conversation partner has to say. Besides, the crowd is making the whole place begin to feel like a sauna of sorts anyway, Zero having ditched his leather jacket a while ago, now sitting in just a dark tank that showcases the ink running down his arms and a pair of jeans that clings to his hips and legs (that last choice was at Kaito’s insistence that Zero needed to get laid and that the pants did wonders for his ass).

Of course, said ‘friend’ of his wandered off damn near the moment they walked in the door and is currently chatting up a pair of women in the corner and probably making a fool of himself while he’s at it, considering Zero’s seen him down at least three beers so far and Kaito always was a lightweight.

Downing another shot of whiskey, Zero glances up in surprise as the bartender slides a glass of bourbon across to him, raising a brow in question.

“I didn’t order this. Wrong person?

“Nope. From the dark-haired fellow at the end,” The bartender explains, jerking a thumb down to the far end of the bar where a smug Tomas sits with a cocky smirk on his face, making Zero scowl and flip him his middle finger before twisting away from the arrogant prick. God, that guy annoys him to no end.

But booze is booze and far be it from Zero to turn down a free drink, so he picks up the glass of bourbon taking a sip.

It’s clear from the taste alone that it isn’t one of the cheaper options on the menu, its rich, smoky flavor going down the hunter’s throat smoothly and leaving a lingering slight sweetness on Zero’s tongue. He raises his eyebrows and lets his eyes fall closed as he takes another sip from the glass. At least Tomas got his drink tastes right. Zero isn’t so interested in the alcohol though that he misses the person approaching him, cracking one eye open as a presence sidles up alongside him.

“Zero, right?” Comes the deep, velvety voice of Tomas, leaning on the bar’s surface beside him.

The younger man frowns and watches the older hunter’s dark gaze flit to the pale line of his throat as he knocks back another sip before setting the glass down sharply on the bar’s surface.

“Depends on who’s asking,”

The ire in Zero’s voice doesn’t deter the man at all, if anything amusing Tomas as a low chuckle escapes him. “Okay, okay, point taken. Just curious why you’re sitting over here by yourself, especially when I’ve seen several ladies giving you looks now.”

Zero pauses for a moment, eyeing the other man as he tries to determine if Tomas well and truly means what it sounds like he does, because, if he’s being honest, Tomas is far from an unattractive man. The man practically towers over damn near everyone and the muscles beneath his jacket make the younger hunter’s eyes darken. Not to mention that the light stubble covering the lower half of his face has Zero wondering what kind of marks it would leave against his skin.

Tomas’ eyes flit to the hunter’s lips as Zero’s tongue darts out to lap at a stray drop of whiskey and Zero let his legs fall open slightly, gaze darkening in interest.

“Ladies don’t interest me.” He answers dryly after a while with a tilt of his head and a playful lift of one eyebrow as his purple eyes lock with Tomas’s green ones.

“That makes two of us then,” Tomas says and is it just Zero or is his voice a bit rougher now? “So, what does interest you then?”

Zero hums and pretends to think on that question for a moment. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

Once more, Tomas laughs. “That I would, yeah. I’ve heard a lot about you, Zero.”

“Oh? What sort of things?”

“Well, it’s more seen, really. I’ve watched you in the shooting range a few times.” Tomas eyes him with a curl of his lips. “You handle that gun of yours well.”

“Mmm,” Zero murmurs, not really agreeing or disagreeing, his body looser now, with the alcohol thrumming through his veins. Not quite enough to be drunk, but pleasantly distant from his thoughts and certainly not enough to mistake the interest glinting in Tomas’s eyes for anything other than what it actually is.

An excited trill runs up his spine as he stretches in his seat, shirt riding up to display a sliver of pale skin near his hip, Tomas’s gaze darkens at the sight.

“You’d be surprised at what else I can do with my hands.”

“Color me intrigued.”

Zero lets his eyes openly and shamelessly rove over the older hunter, teeth digging into his bottom lip at the sight of tight muscles beneath his jacket. He’s always had a thing for guys taller than him but fuck, Tomas is huge. Hell, he could probably pick Zero up like it was nothing, and that thought alone has him growing wet beneath his pants. Kaito was right, he needs to get laid and well - Tomas is just his type. But that doesn’t mean he’ll make it easy for him.

Zero lets Tomas lean forward towards him, close enough that he can feel the other man’s breath on his lips before slipping off the bar stool and twirling out of his grasp. He looks back at Tomas over his shoulder, raising a brow and prompting the older hunter with a lone curl of his finger to follow him.

“Ahh- hah!” A short while later Zero finds himself pressed up against a brick wall, panting against Tomas’s lips as the man drags him into a filthy kiss. He bites at the man’s lips and moans into the kiss as sweet copper invades his mouth, tasting the warm sting of alcohol on Tomas’s tongue pressing against him with a whine, the older hunter seizing the chance to grip one of Zero’s legs with a growl, hiking it up to wrap around his hip. Zero groans at the action and uses it to pull Tomas towards him, licking into the man’s mouth with fervor as arousal pools in his gut. He reaches up to undo the band holding back Tomas’s hair, tangling his fingers in those thick, dark locks.

“And here I thought you didn’t like me,” Tomas murmurs as his fingers dig into Zero’s hips, hard enough to leave bruises in their wake.

“I don’t,” Zero breathes against his lips as he grinds his growing arousal against the older man and inhales the musky scent that clings to Tomas. “God, you’re such a cocky bastard.”

“Arrogant,” Zero snarls as his cunt grows wet beneath the fabric of his jeans. “Entitled.”

Heat coils in the younger hunter’s belly and his cunt throbs in need, clitoris aching for some kind of friction. “Fuck, Tomas-” Zero groans, breaking the kiss only to have Tomas dive for his neck.

He tugs on strands of Tomas’s hair, trying to pull him back up for another kiss, leaning in close to-

“Jesus!” Zero shoves him back as he sees the thick red blood dripping from Tomas’ mouth.

Zero claps a hand to his neck in horror and it comes away red. Even the ground beneath his feet is soaked with blood, inches of it rising around him like a flood and Tomas stands with wobbly, unnatural movements, like a puppet jerking on strings, looking at Zero with red, red eyes and a sharp smile full of too many teeth.

“Tomas?” Zero questions with horror coloring his voice. He reaches for his gun, his trusty Bloody Rose that he would never be caught dead without. But it isn’t there - there’s nothing but an empty chain around his waist. He pulls himself away from the wall and stumbles back from the creature in front of him as it advances towards him.

Tomas twists his head with a snap and when he looks back at Zero it’s with graying, unseeing eyes. His skin fades to a deathly gray and Zero retches onto the floor, even as the corpse continues to shamble towards him without even a sound. Just the drip-drip-dripping of red from its throat.

Zero blindly fumbles behind himself with one hand, reaching for the doorknob only to fall back onto concrete. He looks up, finding himself in what may once have been a city.

Now it lies in ruin - pieces of crumbling skyscrapers and forgotten buildings littering the ground around him and green vines and plants cover near every inch of the place. No, not vines. Long thick ropes of intestine cling to every building, a few of them growing eyes that turn to stare at Zero as he passes. The sky overhead is a dark, ominous black.

“Zero?”

He looks up at the voice, relief flooding his chest at the sight of Tomas above him, normal Tomas without any sign of the monstrosity that had taken his place. His relief is short lived as a clawed hand stabs through Tomas’s chest not more than a second later, emerging covered in blood and tissue before drawing back and leaving a gaping hole.

Zero flinches as droplets of Tomas’s blood hit his face.

“Oh god - Tomas!” His voice cracks at his lover’s name, the older hunter falling to the ground. Zero crawls over to his still form, clinging to every bit of desperation he has. “Please, please, please-” He’s not even sure what he’s begging for anymore. Tomas’s dead gaze is the only thing to greet him. “Tomas!”

A scream caught and lodged in Zero’s throat as he jerked awake from the dream, quickly silenced by a heavy hand pressing down on his mouth in the dark tent. His eyes widen in panic and flit around the darkened tent before landing on Kaname, the pureblood locking eyes with Zero as the hunter’s heart raced in his chest. For a moment, Zero wondered if this is it and the pureblood was going to kill him out there while they’re all alone, with no one to witness it.

But as he watched, barely even daring to breathe, Kaname slowly brought his other hand up and held a finger to his mouth. Quiet. Then he turned around to the entrance of the tent and was only then that Zero finally registered the noise outside.

It sounded almost like the noise heeled shoes make on hardwood flooring, the same noise one might associate with a party or some kind of formal meeting. There was something so unnerving about hearing that same noise in the middle of the wastelands though, here, where there weren’t any humans for miles and miles around.

Clack clack clack.

The noise was coupled with an odd shuffling and whining that sounded like it was right next to Zero’s ear. No, that wasn’t quite right—it was more of a low, drawn-out wail that warbled and shifted almost like someone moaning in pain, attempting to form words of some kind. It was distinctly unlike any animal he’d ever heard before. A chill ran down the hunter’s spine at the unnatural sound. He’d never heard anything like it in his life and he found himself creeping forward to look out the tent with Kaname.

A gasp left Zero’s mouth at what he saw, the sound of which was muffled thankfully by Kaname’s hand secured over his mouth firmly. His hand reached behind him and connected with the cold metal of Bloody Rose before Kaname gave a slow, shake of his head that Zero’s first instinct was to disobey. The hunter stilled his hand.

The- thing stood on the opposite site of the crosswalk. There was no fur anywhere on its body; only red, blistered flesh that hung down in leathery strips around stubs of bone that might once have been paws. That must have been the clacking sound, Zero noted absently. He saw why Kaname wanted him to be quiet as well, when the creature turned its head around, displaying a milky white gaze. Blind? It had to be, else it would have seen them by now.

One of its triangular-shaped ears was missing and along it’s back was a series of jagged, white spikes that looked to be growing from the creature itself. Zero suspected they’re made of bone and- Jesus, he could see a very-much-human arm impaled on one of the spikes and a half-eaten torso on another.

And then it dawned on him why the noise sounds so strange, so unnatural. It was trying to mimic the sound of a human voice, that must be the reason why it wavered and changed tone. But like one tuning an instrument it just couldn’t get the right pitch, always sound ever-so-slightly off.

Yet White Lily and Zephyr slumbered undisturbed, and the creature seemed most uninterested in the horses, strangely.

Zero fell back against Kaname’s chest, shaking and chest still pounding from his nightmare, the horror before him not making that better at all. Beads of cold sweat rolled down his spine as Zero tried to force down his revulsion while outside the horses slept soundly, blissfully unaware of the danger lurking mere feet away from them.

It wasn’t only the thing’s appearance that was disgusting either, no Zero’s eyes even began to water from the putrid stench of rotting flesh that filled the air.

Jesus fucking Christ. Zero had been a hunter for years now and he’d never seen anything quite like this monstrosity. He choked down bile in his throat while images of corpses and so so much blood lingered behind his eyelids every time he blinked, unable to shake the remnants of that god-awful nightmare from his head.

God, he couldn’t get the memory of Tomas’ glassy, unfocused eyes looking up at him out of his head. And for a moment - just a moment, the thing turned and Zero could swear he saw the dead, lifeless face of his lover staring back at him.

After what seemed like an eternity, neither him nor Kaname daring to move, the thing finally lumbered across the walkway and disappeared into the murky, black water. And with a few loud splashes the warbling cry faded into the distance as the creature traipsed back into the wastelands.

Zero brushed Kaname’s arm away from him harshly before scrambling back away from the opening on his hands and knees as a shudder wracked his frame.

Admittedly, he could see why Kaname prevented him from grabbing his gun though—god-only knows what other creatures that sound might have attracted and in the end it likely would have done more harm than good.

“Jesus fucking christ,” Zero murmured between gasping breaths.

Glassy, white eyes, cold, gray flesh without that usual smile.

Zero gripped and tugged at his hair with his fingers, willing the image of Tomas to go away but it remained stubbornly set in his mind. “What… was that thing?”

Kaname seemed just as stunned and taken aback as he was, for what it’s worth though. The pureblood gave a curious glance back at the entrance of the tent, as though he half-expected it to return. Nothing but pitch blackness of night greeted him.

“I was hoping you would know.”

Do I look like a fucking encyclopedia? The hunter nearly snapped at the vampire but then, he did know more about this place that Kuran did so if either of them had an answer it would be him. It wouldn’t really be fair to get angry at Kaname in this situation.

Zero all but collapsed onto his sleeping roll, with a harsh grimace, unable to shake the image of Tomas’ dead face fixed onto that thing.

“The- the radiation and the chemicals out here,” Zero said after a while. “It does things to shit and I don’t mean just the land. It causes these weird mutations and shit and the result is things like that.” He explained with a gesture toward the gaping darkness beyond the tent.

But all he saw was Tomas Tomas Tomas. At this point he wasn’t even sure if his nightmare was really a nightmare or some twisted version of a memory. Maybe a bit of both, he thought.

“So then, there are more of those… things.”

Zero barked out a humorless laugh.

“No fucking shit. Probably.”

He could see Kaname looking at his hands, how they shook as Zero clutched his knees to his chest. “Fuck. Those things on its fucking back. It had- it had-”

“I know, I saw.” The pureblood grimaced at the image. “You were having a nightmare before I woke you.”

Stubbornly, the hunter swallowed around the lump in his throat and looked away. Denial had always been his first line of defense and besides, the last thing he desired was telling all his demons to Kuran of all people.

“Was I?”

Kaname glanced at him with coolly raised brows, telling Zero he didn’t believe one single word out of his mouth.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Zero exhaled a harsh breath through his nose.

“No, I fucking don’t, okay?”

“You called out for someone named ‘Tomas’. Who is he?”

There was something bitter in the pureblood’s mouth at that name. He’d never heard Kiryuu mention anyone by that name before, yet he seemed to be important to the boy and Kaname hadn’t an inkling to why, which frustrated him. He needed to find out more about this mysterious stranger in Zero’s life and what exactly he meant to the boy.

Zero ground his teeth together hard enough to make his jaw ache, twisting around to throw Kuran a glare that just about spat fire. “None. Of. Your. Fucking. Business.”

“Zero-”

“I am going to say this once and only once. Fuck off, Kuran.” The hunter seethed as his chest clenched painfully at his lover’s name. It was like that nightmare had brought every memory with Tomas back to the surface, scraping off the hardened scab to reveal raw flesh beneath. “I said I don’t want to talk about it so just fuck off.

“I know what it’s like to lose people,”

“You don’t know fucking shit.” Zero growled beneath his breath.

What the fuck could Kuran know? The pureblood hadn’t lost everyone he cared about because of one fucking bloodsucker and he hadn’t had his entire life ruined in one single night like Zero had. He’d never had to live, when everything he loved and everyone that ever matter was ripped away from him because that was what this world did. It took, and it took, and it took until nothing remained, breaking people down over and over again just for the fucking hell of it.

It wasn’t a nice world, but without those fucking blood-sucking leeches it would be a bit better.

“Who is Tomas?” Kaname pressed, something petty curling beneath his skin and forcing him to blurt the words out before he can curb his tongue. “A lover, perhaps? Or-”

A sharp crack split the air as Zero’s fist connected harshly with the pureblood’s jaw.

Kaname’s head snapped to the side with the force of the blow and even with his healing abilities there was already a dark bruise forming where pain blossomed across his face. He wondered distantly if Zero managed to break his jaw then decided that he definitely did a second later, after attempting to open his mouth again and wincing in agony.

The pureblood’s resolve crumbled to pieces when he glanced back at Zero—he wasn’t sure he’d ever seen such hatred in the hunter’s dark eyes before. The sight of it made him falter as a heavy, leaden weight that was awfully similar to guilt settled in his gut.

“God, you are one fucked up piece of shit, you know that? You know what, Kuran? I think the reason you’re so fucking obsessed with everyone else’s relationships is because no one could ever love a monster like you,” Zero spat with red-rimmed eyes, baring his teeth at the pureblood in front of him, in the hopes that maybe some monstrosity from the wastelands will take care of the arrogant bastard once and for all.

God knows the world would be better off without people like him.

Zero’s lips curled into a mocking smile. “Is that it, Kuran? Mommy and daddy never loved you enough?” He jeered. “You’re one fucked up bastard. No one could ever love something as disgusting as you.”

The hunter wiped angrily at his face before turning over and settling back down on his sleeping mat without waiting for a response. After all, it wasn’t like Kuran could respond right now anyway with his jaw, the way it was.

Zero’s fingers found their way to the ring hung around his neck and he ran a finger over the metal surface, before eventually falling asleep like that, one hand curled around the ring Tomas gave him, clutching it tight to his chest.

 

Chapter Text

Slowly, slowly, the sun rose over the horizon and with it a horrid heat that had both vampires waking with clothes clinging to their sweat-soaked skin. Zero woke first, a familiar name on his lips and fingers asleep wrapped around the ring on his chest. He stretched his arms over his head and winced at the dryness in his mouth as he sat up.

He turned to one of the bags and what little food they had remaining. It was enough for about one more day, but beyond that, they’ll have to get out of the wastelands.

With a sigh Zero took out one of the bland, ration bars that hunters kept on hand for jobs like these - it wasn’t much but it was food. He ripped off the wrapper and sank his teeth in before allowing himself to think too much about it, chewing the rubbery substance for a while before managing to choke it down eventually in small bites and washed the chalky after-taste out of his mouth with water.

Kaname woke shortly after and sat up to blink at the hunter. His jaw was still bruised, but it seemed to have healed at least enough for him to speak.

“Hungry?” Zero questioned in a drawl and held out the half-eaten ration bar in his direction.

“Much as I appreciate the offer, I think I’ll pass.”

Zero shrugged and returned to eating, silently observing Kaname as he reached for the bag and rummaged through it before coming up with a bottle filled with clear water and a tin of blood tablets. Zero pointedly glanced away at that with a barely hidden grimace and held his tongue.

The pureblood silently sipped on the dark red substance, trying not to focus on the underlying chemical flavor it had and instead sneaking glances at Zero when the hunter wasn’t looking. Kaname hadn’t ever seen Zero in anything other than the uniform of the academy, now that he thought about it, making it quite a bit of a shock to see the hunter clad in nothing but loose pants and a gray tank top that clung to his form.

He eyed the swirling shapes and designs of ink along the hunter’s arms, wondering if there was a story and meaning behind each of them or if he’d simply chosen the designs on a whim.

“If you’re hoping for an apology, you aren’t getting one,” Zero said, breaking the silence between them.

“I wasn’t.”

He should have apologized right then, he knew he should have. But it hadn’t been his intention to hurt the hunter, after all, it’d only been intended as a bit of teasing until he realized that he’d overstepped his bounds. Kaname regretted having done so, of course he did, yet purebloods would be nothing if not for their pride and in this, he is no different.

Who is Tomas? The pureblood still found himself curious after seeing Zero toss and turn among the sheets with desperate shouts of the man’s name. Obviously, someone very dear to Zero, but what exactly was the nature of their relationship? Questions burned at Kaname, a need to know everything about this hunter before him, but he wisely kept silent.

Something unpleasant danced in Kaname’s stomach as he looked at the hunter whose face was pinched into a scowl, uncaring of the fact that Zero smelled of sweat and day-old clothing. But the anger on the hunter’s expression bothered him greatly, likely because he put it there.

A voice in his head whispered for him to just apologize already and Kaname was growing tempted to simply give in to it and eat his pride when Zero spoke up before he could.

“We should get going,” The hunter clipped, finishing the ration bar and reaching once more for the coverings he and Kaname wore. “We’re losing daylight.”

Kaname gave a stiff nod as the moment passed. “You’re right.”

Zero took care of tending to the horses, ensuring both were well-fed and gave them clean water to drink while the pureblood took care of rolling the tent back up along with the rest of their gear. White Lily eyed him and nipped at him when he came close to fix the bags onto her saddle and came away with several brown strands in-between her teeth.

Kaname let Zero see to her after that, instead focusing on Zephyr who greeted the pureblood with a small, cordial butt to his shoulder with his head.

“We should be able to get out of the wastelands tomorrow if we ride hard,” Zero said, squinting down the wooden walkway laid over the swamp. He glanced down at black, thick waters, debating whether it was worth it to risk leaving the walkway. Then he was reminded of that creature last night and suppressed a shudder. Better not, he decided.

“Might as well get a move on,” The hunter clipped as he hoisted himself up onto the horse and tightened his cloak around himself. “The sooner we’re finished with this shit, the better.”

He hated the pureblood with a passion. It’d be a miracle if they both managed to make it back without killing each other.

Kaname fell in step behind him on Zephyr and the horses lapsed into a steady gait across the fallout-ridden wasteland. Around them trees creaked and moaned in the wind and black water gurgled and rippled before falling still as soon as one or both of them turned to look all while the foul stank of sulfur and decay lingered in the air.

After a while odd shapes began to take form in the distance, rigid and solid. As he drew closer, Kaname began to see that it was the ruins of buildings, rising up from the depths of the swamps as nature fought to devour them. Pieces of large, jagged concrete jutted out from murky waters, huge, moss-covered structures that lay fallen and derelict amongst the trees; half of what might have been a skyscraper here, and a fallen brick wall there.

Zero’s eyes roved over the ruins, Lily slowing beneath him as he couldn’t help but take it all in. Strange to consider that a whole different world had existed centuries before and all of it had been wiped out in the blink of an eye. They had some knowledge of what it might have been like back then; textbooks that mentioned strange, handheld devices able to communicate across great distances and huge metal machines that moved faster than a horse or a human. It all seemed so absurd that anyone would struggle to comprehend it.

Zero thought it was rather painful to even consider as he looked at the surrounding ruins. This—this whole swamp around him—it had been something once, a thriving city full of life and light. Home, maybe, to some, while to others merely a passing stop. Rusted metal signs proudly proclaimed ‘University of—’ the rest was illegible, covered by vines. Broken carousel horses spoke of a happier time. And all of it was gone now, forgotten in a waste land.

Did they know? Did any of them have any idea what was coming? Sitting comfortably behind their white-picket fences… had any of them known the horrors that awaited them? Likely not. From stories, he’d heard it had all happened so fast. Rapid changes in the earth’s climate, wars sparking to life all around the globe, and in the end, it had only taken one country launching a nuclear weapon and like dominos, the rest followed suit. They’d never stood a chance.

The world hadn’t ended in fire. No, it had ended in nuclear radiation and the crushing weight of rubble beneath deafening screams. And when it was all over those bloodsucking leeches were the ones to rise from the ashes.

“I’m sorry,”

The voice of the pureblood interrupted Zero’s thoughts, making him glance over his shoulder with a dubious glare.

Kaname refused to meet the hunter’s violet scowl. It was no easy feat for a pureblood to cast aside their pride and admit to being wrong, but he told himself it was only because he’d grown tired of the bitter scent of Zero’s sorrow filling the air.

“I’m sorry for last night. I spoke out of turn.”

“Gee, you think?”

“I never meant to hurt you.”

“You’re bullshitting me.”

Kaname wondered with a pang in his chest, what kind of life Zero must be used to, to dismiss his apology so readily as insincere.

“I’m not.”

Zero mulled over that in silence for a few seconds.

“My god you’re serious, aren’t you? Why the sudden change of heart?”

“What change of heart?”

Though the pureblood couldn’t see it, the hunter rolled his eyes.

“Oh, come on, Kuran, don’t pretend like you’ve ever given two shits about me before. We’ve always hated each other, don’t deny it. So why now?”

“I never hated you, Kiryuu.”

“Yeah? Well, you’ve got a funny way of showing it.”

Kaname huffed in annoyance. Really, this boy had a talent for getting on his nerves. “While, admittedly, you do seem to have a talent for irritating me at times. And you constantly disrespect me and refuse to treat me like anything other than just a vampire-”

“There a point to all this? Or are you just going to insult me?”

“The point,” Kaname said, miffed at the interruption. “is that despite all that, I’ve never hated you contrary to what you may think. On the contrary, I find myself intrigued by you, Zero.”

Zero was grateful for the dark cloth covering his face, preventing the pureblood from seeing the way his cheeks flushed at that last part. He shook his head to clear it. Stupid fucking pureblood and his stupid, smooth fucking voice.

“Aw, I knew you had a heart in there somewhere, tin man.”

“Tin man?”

“Forget it,” Zero gestured absently with his hand in the air, before realizing what it was that the other vampire was waiting for and sighed. “Look, it’s fine, alright? Just forget about it.”

Kaname’s brow ticked in annoyance, strangely perturbed by Zero’s casual dismissal of it all. “It’s not fine, I hurt you.”

Zero let out a bitter laugh. “Join the club. Nothing I haven’t felt before, so it’s fine. I’ll live. Just let it go, Kuran.”

The pureblood frowned but decided it was better not to push the matter. That was a lesson he’d learned the hard way with Kiryuu and it wasn’t a lesson he was keen on repeating. Sometimes the best thing to do was let the boy be.

They continued on in silence for some time, but it was no longer the awkward, oppressive silence that it was before. Now it rested comfortably in the air between them, covered only by the sound of their horses’ hooves on wooden planks beneath them.

Over time the ruins began to disappear and fade back into the swamp as the walkway was once more blanketed by trees and tall grass.

Day began to wane once more until everything was soon bathed in the golden rays of evening sun and Kaname finally began to detest the grating quiet.

“Have you ever been beyond the village, Kiryuu?”

Zero craned his head to glance back at the other vampire. “Why?”

Kaname gave an easy shrug. “You strike me as the kind of man who knows what it’s like out there–out here. Your confidence gives you away.”

The hunter allowed himself a small half-smile at that and tipped his head back to peer up at the sky for a long moment, long enough that after a while Kaname was beginning to assume he would never answer.

“I have,” Zero finally spoke. “Not the wastelands, but other places. Sometimes I feel more at home out here in the wilderness than anywhere else.”

“Wow,” Zero breathed against the rim of a glass bottle as colorful sparks lit up the sky. Some ways below him, at the base of the hill, the village was alight with a soft, white glow and crowds of people mulled about in festival wear, wandering between booths and stalls. Yuuki had asked him to join her, but Zero declined. Crowds weren’t to his style; he much preferred it like this, taking it all in from a distance.

“Beautiful, right?” Tomas agreed, stretched out beside him. He loved it when he got the chance to have the younger all to himself like this. It was the one time Zero let down his guard and allowed himself to be open, when he was around Tomas.

They were currently sitting on an old, slab of concrete with a blanket laid over it and a six-pack of beer laying between them as both hunters gazed at the fireworks lighting up the sky. Tomas felt his own lips curl into a grin at the sight of his lover’s smile. He’d never get tired of that sight.

Zero blinked as a strand of hair fell into his face and the older hunter reached over, brushing it behind his ear.

“I wish we could just stay like this,” Zero murmured, raising a bottle to his lips once more and taking a swig, grimacing at the flavor of cheap alcohol but forcing it down all the same.

“How do you mean?” Tomas asked, sitting up on his side to look down at the other hunter.

“Just-“ The younger man waved his bottle absently. “Like this. No bloodsucker bullshit to deal with, no hunting, no fucking useless drama. I wish it could be like this always, just you and I.”

Tomas chuckled and ducked down to kiss liquor-stained lips. “Maybe it can be.”

Wishful thinking, Zero thought as he turned to his lover with a playful grin.

“How?” He prompted, readying himself for some teasing remark.

It never came. Instead, Tomas just looked at him with that intense fondness in his eyes before grabbing Zero’s left hand and raising it, never breaking that stare when he pressed his lips to the back of his lover’s hand. “Marry me, Zero.”

The breath left Zero’s lungs. He forgot how to breathe, unable to do anything but blink owlishly up at the other man.

“What?” He finally breathed out. “You’re drunk.”

“No, I’m not,” Tomas asserted with a fond roll of his eyes. “Come on, Z. Why not? I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone. Don’t you?”

“Of course I love you, you idiot,”

“Then why not? What’s stopping you, baby?”

“We’ve only been dating a couple years now,” Zero argued against his lover’s lips as Tomas leaned down to kiss him. “I hardly think we’re ready for marriage.”

Tomas gave a scoff.

“My parents dated for a couple months before tying the knot. Been married for twenty years now.” He answered with an easy grin, before it faded. “We’re hunters, babe. Things are different for us.”

“I know.”

“Hunters don’t tend to stick around long,” Tomas murmured, voicing the uncomfortable truth that lingered between them. “If something out there doesn’t kill us, some bastard with a grudge will come along and do it for ‘em. Our kind lives fast because we die young, baby.”

“Yeah, I know.” But that didn’t mean he had to like it. Zero hated the idea of losing Tomas, of never seeing him or holding him again. His bottom teeth dug into his lip while he raised his other hand, bringing it to his lover’s face and feeling rough stubble beneath his fingers.

“I don’t want to lose you,” He whispered the words into the space between them, like a secret.

Tomas looked at Zero with wet eyes. His gorgeous, beautiful, Zero. “I don’t either, Z. But that’s not me saying it won’t happen. And whatever does happen? I want to face it knowing we’re together, knowing that nothing can separate us. If I die, I want the chance to call you ‘husband’ at least once before I go.”

Whether it was the alcohol coursing through his blood or Tomas’ smooth way with words, Zero found himself nodding. He wanted that too, god, did he want that.

“So, will you marry me, baby?” Tomas leaned in close, pressed his forehead against his young lover’s and found himself enraptured by amethyst eyes.

“Yes.”

“Tell me about him.”

Zero drew Lily to a sharp stop and whirled on Kaname with angry eyes. “What did you just say?”

“Tell me about them, these adventures of yours.”

Zero turned back to continue on with a shake of his head. He was probably just hearing things. People always did say the waste lands did odd things to one’s mind; he was beginning to see the truth of that statement.

“I wouldn’t call them adventures,” He called back. “So if you’re hoping for some dashing story of action and exciting shit, I’d hate to burst your bubble but I don’t have any of those. It’s mostly just traipsing through ruins of old, forgotten cities and trying not to die.”

“But you carry hunter’s weapons,” Kaname remarked. Surely, any of those would be more than enough to take care of whatever creature he was after.

“Yes, but those won’t take care of poisonous fumes or toxic water. A fall from too high will kill a hunter just as easily as any vampire would,” Zero responded. “Besides, I’ve learned it’s best not to get cocky. No matter how skilled you think you are, how good—there’s always someone bigger and badder just waiting to knock you down to size.”

The pureblood heard the bitterness coloring Zero’s voice which gave away the hunter’s experience.

It occurred to him then, that he’d never actually seen Zero fight like he meant it. Of course, they’d had their tousles and squabbles, he and Zero, but neither of them had ever actually fought the other with the full intent to kill. He imagined the hunter would be a force to be reckoned with and couldn’t imagine much capable of beating him.

Kaname couldn’t help but drift back to a cold, snowy night. Haruka and Juuri’s blood curdling screams as they were ripped limb from limb and he was powerless to do anything but watch.

“Yes, I know what you mean.”

“I think we should take turns keeping watch,” Zero announced later that night, after taking a swig of water to wash down a ration bar within the confines of the tent. “I don’t like how easily that thing was able to creep up on us last night. The last thing we need is anything else getting the drop on us.”

Kaname watched the hunter’s eyes anxiously flit to the closed entrance of the tent and not missing how Zero’s fingers tighten as he folded his arms. The pureblood seriously doubted that any creature out here would be a match for both of them, but he didn’t say that, not with anxiety rolling off of the hunter in thick waves.

“Alright,” He nodded. “You’re right, it’s better to get into the habit of keeping watch.”

“Good, I’ll take first watch.” Zero offered.

The pureblood frowned and gripped the hunter’s chin, tilting his face up so that he could look plainly at the boy.

“Are you mad? Your eyes are covered in dark circles and you nearly fell asleep riding today. Like it or not, part of you is still human, Zero. You need sleep.”

Zero tightened his jaw and broke free of Kaname’s grip.

“I’ll be fine.” He assured the pureblood. “I’m a hunter, I’m used to odd hours. And to be honest, I don’t think I can sleep right now, anyway.”

Kiryuu had always possessed a stubborn streak a mile wide and Kaname knew that if he argued it would go on for hours and he likely wouldn’t win.

“If you’re sure.”

“I am.”

Pursing his lips, the pureblood acquiesced and moved to lay down in his own sleeping roll, darkness falling over the tent as Zero snuffed out the small lantern beside him. Vaguely, he could still make out faint silver hair in the darkness though, which brought a small comfort to the pureblood’s chest.

Kaname’s body adamantly refused to sleep though, his blood thrumming through his veins and his heart pounding wide and awake in his chest. He sighed under his breath and squeezed his eyes closed, trying in vain to get at least a smidge of rest.

It was then that a faint, low humming reached his ears. The pureblood stilled, barely even daring to breathe as low, dulcet tones filled his ears, and it took a moment for him to register the voice as Zero’s.

Through the darkness he could barely make out Zero’s form beside him, sitting on his bed roll and singing softly under his breath. Kaname didn’t understand a word of it, the hunter singing in a language he’d never heard before but it was far from an unpleasant sound. No, it was rather soothing, and he found himself relaxing as he listened to the low sound of the hunter’s voice washing over him.

“What are you singing?” He finally dared to ask, cracking open one eye to glance at Zero.

“Just an old song my Ma used to sing. When Ichiru and I couldn’t sleep she’d come into our room and sing for us,” Zero answered in a whisper. “I’m not even sure what language it is, honestly.”

The hunter’s heart thudded painfully against his ribs. He didn’t even know why he was telling all this to the pureblood, truth be told. He thought Kaname was asleep, that was the only reason he’d dared to sing in the first place.

“I can stop if you want me to.”

“Don’t stop,” Kaname blurted out before he could stop himself. “You don’t have to stop on my account. By all means, you’re welcome to continue. Why have I never heard you sing before?”

“I don’t- it’s not something I do often. Hell, I’m probably shit at it.”

“You aren’t,” Kaname wasn’t sure why, but he was adamant that Zero understand that. “Your voice is pretty, actually. It’s nice, I like it. You should sing more often.”

Zero scoffed and gave a nervous laugh at that, but Kaname didn’t miss the bright red that stained the tips of his ears. Zero ignored the warmth that threatened to fill him at the pureblood’s words and playfully gave him a light swat on the arm.

“Go to sleep, Kuran.” He chided with flushed cheeks and a good-natured shake of his head. But he didn’t stop singing, even as the pureblood’s eyes fell closed once more.

 

 

Chapter Text

After reaching a tentative truce, Zero had somewhat softened up to the vampire. A bit. A very, very small bit, but he at least tolerated Kaname now, even if for the most part they just stayed out of each other’s way. Any attempt at small talk fell flat inevitably. What did they even have to talk about? After all, it wasn’t as though they had much in common save for the very obvious fact that they were both vampires and that was where the similarities ended.

Kaname wisely doesn’t ask any more questions about the mysterious Tomas and in exchange Zero is civil in his words towards him. It’s a reasonable exchange.

“Shouldn’t be much longer now,” Zero announced one morning as they woke. It had only been roughly a week now, but it seemed like they’d been out here months. Hell, they were both starting to smell like it too at this point. He peered out at the horizon, squinting against the sun and swore he could make out the faintest hint of green in the far distance.

“Come on, we should get going.”

It was an oddly quiet day. Which wouldn’t be unusual in and of itself, except for the fact that the wastelands were usually alive with all sorts of noises from the wildlife or the gurgling of water lapping at the walkway. In the wastelands noise was the norm. To Zero it had even become somewhat of a comfort, hearing the frogs croaking away and the tall grass rustling.

But silence? Silence was a far bigger worry. It said a lot when something or someone was able to make the wildlife go absolutely dead silent. There wasn’t even a glimpse of any of the larger creatures, let alone the smaller ones. Not a trace of hide nor hair of anything. All of it had simply vanished.

Zero drew his cloak tighter around himself and tightened his grip on White Lily’s reins, clicking his teeth as she tried to stop in her tracks. What the hell is up with you today? He’d never seen the old mare act like this in all the years he’d known her, so to say it was uncharacteristic would be an understatement. But then again, she was getting on in years. Perhaps this was just her starting to show her age? And she always had been somewhat of a strange horse to begin with. He chalked it up up to a mixture of old-age and White Lily’s own particular brand of oddness with a shake of his head and ignored the odd sensation racing up his spine, urging the mare onwards despite how much she tried to resist. He wrinkled his nose though and cinched the scarf over his nose and mouth tighter as a horrid stench hit him.

Kaname drew Zephyr to a halt as he too met with the bizarre, foul odor. It was quite unlike anything he’d ever smelled before – oddly sulfuric with something heavier and denser lingering beneath that. Whatever it was, it was absolutely rank and it nearly made his eyes water from the strength of it alone. He frowned and stifled a cough before curiosity got the better of him and he turned around to glance behind them.

The pureblood straightened.

“Zero.”

“Hm?” The hunter shouted without bothering to turn around.

“What… is that?”

Zero sighed and eyed the faint line of white on the horizon with longing. They were so close to being out of this place, couldn’t the pureblood just ride in silence? Honestly, what question could he possibly have that was so urgent? He half-suspected Kaname was just trying to be an ass at this point, bothering him for no reason. But what if it really is important? The hunter reluctantly paused and turned to see what the pureblood was so insistent about.

The hunter’s eyes widened at the sight and his heart plummeted into his stomach. Both vampires stared at a thick, ominous dark fog filling the air behind them like a coat of pitch-black ink, stunned into silence as they watched it curl and drift through the air as it crept ever-forward towards them at an alarming speed.

That?” Zero swallowed around the sudden growing lump in his throat. “That is bad - really fucking bad! We need to ride, now!” He snapped White Lily’s reins and kicked her flank harshly, spurring her into action.

But Kaname didn’t move. Instead he remained frozen and stared at the mist, transfixed in a morbid curiosity.

A small, horned rabbit wandered onto the wooden walkway, right in the path of the mist and paused, long enough to stick its nose into the air, twitching curiously for a few seconds.

Before the creature could react, the black mist enveloped it in loud, terrified squeals. The creature’s flesh turned a bright, grisly red and pink as it burned upon contact with the fog and large boils of skin inflated and popped, spraying bursts of blood all over the walkway right before the pureblood’s very eyes. And finally, covered in splotchy burns wherever flesh and skin were not completely burnt away to bone, the creature let out one last croaking breath before dying.

Zero glanced over his shoulder and cursed. What was the fucking idiot doing? Did the pureblood have a death wish or something?

“Damn it, Kaname! Move!”

Whether it was the alarm in the hunter’s voice or the sheer shock of hearing Zero call him by his name for once, Kaname came back to himself. He jerked Zephyr around and dug his heels into the gelding’s sides, snapping the reins just as the mist encroached upon them, close enough that the skin on his cheek had began to burn. Zephyr didn’t need to be told twice before racing after Zero, sensing the imminent danger right on his heels.

Zero clung tightly to White Lily as her hooves thundered over the weak wooden platforms above the water. All the while, he could feel the mist behind them, crawling closer and closer, chasing them. He didn’t look back again to see if Kaname was behind him. He couldn’t - too focused on trying to navigate the maze of platforms. One wrong turn or step on a rotting section wasn’t exactly a mistake he could afford to make right now.

His heart thundered painfully against his ribcage as he forced himself to suck in deep, gasping breaths of air. In situations like these he’d learned it was important to stay calm in order to think straight. Panic could get one killed in a situation like this far quicker than anything else might. Right now Zero just needed to keep his wits about him and focus on anything other than the possibility of death.

Shit, shit, shit! Zero bit back curses as he rode, carefully winding around every curve and bend, trying his best to keep sight of where he was going even as his eyes began to water when harsh winds bit at his face and tugged at his clothing. The oppressive stench of the mist invaded his nose and there was nothing but the thunder of hooves around him and the rush of his own blood in his ears. And that glorious stretch of white on the horizon.

Come on, just a bit further-

“Fuck!” Zero gritted out, yanking White Lily to the right of a crossroads suddenly as the black mist stretched out in front of him, blocking the path to the left. What the fuck even is this stuff? He’d never even heard of anything like a thick black fog that burned on contact. It seemed like something out of a horrible nightmare. Whatever it was, Zero knew he didn’t want to find out.

The hunter’s heart thudded painfully against his ribs, sweat making dark clothing stick to his skin. He could feel the cold air now, biting into his skin as they drew closer and closer towards the edge of the waste lands and the mountains beyond.

Just a little further… Violet eyes glimpsed snow and ice ahead of him, dotted with thick fir trees. Just a-

A small breath of relief left Zero when White Lily’s hooves thudded across the last stretch of the wooden walkway and connected with firm earth. He knew they weren’t out of the woods yet, not with that mist behind him, but now that they were out of the wastelands at least they stood a better chance.

Zero was sucking in desperate gasps of air now with every breath and trying to blink the water from his eyes as the cold air threatened to freeze his lashes together.

He never saw the dark shapes moving amongst the trees.

The quick whoosh of air registered a second too late and before Zero was able to do anything, an arrow connected with White Lily’s flank. Another came flying not more than a second after and caught her in her side.

“Shit!” Zero cursed loudly, whipping his head around to scan the treelines while trying to soothe the horse beneath him with shaking hands. “Lily, don’t-“

Too late.

With a loud noise of pain, the horse reared back onto her hind legs in one harsh movement, making Zero lose his grip on the reins and his feet slip from the stirrups.

Zero let out a loud curse as a stinging pain blossomed in his side and he was thrown from the back of the horse. His teeth clacked together harshly and painfully in his mouth as he connected with the dirt.

The hunter’s vision danced before him as everything went sideways. All of the shapes and colors before him blurred together as his skull screamed in agony and flashes of white licked at the edges of his vision. Lily! I have to- Zero tried to push himself up onto his elbow with a groan before the world spun beneath him and a wave of dizziness overcame him. His elbow collapsed under his weight and he fell to the dirt, wincing a second later as warm droplets of black blood spattered across his face and White Lily crumpled beside him.

Kaname’s vision went red as he watched Zero’s form fly through the air before falling to the ground like a limp puppet, all the while blood oozed freely from the fresh bullet wound in the hunter’s side and colored the air with the enticing scent of sweet copper.

The pureblood’s fangs lengthened in his mouth and he let out a low snarl under his breath, fury rushing through his veins at the thought of someone else drawing the hunter’s blood so carelessly. At the thought of someone daring to lay hands on his hunter. He quickly spared a glance to scan the bushes and trees for the bandits. He counted at least five—two with bows, one with a rifle and the others with axes and swords. They had no idea what they were up against if they thought any of that was going to do them a lick of good. Mores the pity, fools.

The pureblood didn’t wait for Zephyr to stop before he leapt from the horse in one sharp movement and ducked into the trees. Kaname moved faster than anything the bandits had likely ever seen, a blur of red eyes and sharp fangs weaving through the trees and shrubbery, silent as a ghost. These morons hadn’t known what bear they’d just been foolish enough to poke.

His blood thrummed through his veins with adrenaline, the likes of which he hadn’t experienced in centuries. Vampires were natural-born hunters after all and it had been some time since he’d been allowed to hunt like this. He relished in the cold air washing over his skin, the anticipation, the thrill of the distant sound of warm bodies filled with fresh blood. Kaname shuddered. Ah, how he’d missed this.

One of the bandits, a plump man with a great bushy beard, stumbled back in shock as he saw the vampire’s dark blur making its way towards him through the trees, clinging to branches no wider than a twig and leaping through the trees with the grace of a stalking cat.

“What in God’s name-“

The man never finished his sentence before Kaname dropped down onto the ground before him and drew a sharp line across his throat with a single claw. While at the same time he reached out with his other hand and tore another bandit’s head clean from his body. Blood and pieces of the man’s insides flew everywhere, coating the pureblood’s clothing and face in viscera. Kaname cared not.

The pureblood tore off after two more bandits, one carrying a dull sword and the other a rusted axe. With a gleeful smile he rushed at the two cowards attempting to flee and sunk a hand through each one’s belly, stabbing through tissue and organs and emerging on the other side with a sickening crunch of bone. They fell to the ground, drawing in sharp, shuddering breaths as Kaname withdrew his claws and cautiously stuck his tongue out to lick at the bloodied specks of muscle and fat that clung to it.

“Disgusting,” He commented with a sneer down at the dying men before a sound caught his ear. Kaname tilted his head and, with lightning-fast reflexes, caught the bullet that had been aimed squarely at his forehead in between two fingers. He glanced in the direction the bullet had come from.

Across the dirt road, the woman wielding a rifle stared him down with a scowl through dirty blonde strands.

Well, it was something other than fear, he had to respect her for that much at least, given that he’d just killed all of her comrades right in front of her. But she was also the one who had just shot Zero, which meant she was worth little more than the dirt on his boot.

“Devil spawn!” She spat and took aim once more at the vampire.

Well now we’re just being rude, aren’t we? With a grimace at the insult, Kaname left the dying men where he’d left them and moved towards the woman. Of course, a mere human could never hope to be a match for any pureblood, let alone one as old as Kaname himself and before she could even blink, let alone fire another bullet, the vampire was suddenly right before her, staring her down inches from her very face.

“Why, hello there,” Kaname greeted as he reached out and wrapped a hand around the woman’s throat before hoisting her up into the air, ignoring how she kicked and scratched desperately at his arms in a feeble attempt to free herself. “My, haven’t we been a naughty little pest?”

He bared his fangs at her and tightened his hand. Like thin metal, her flesh buckled beneath his hand, leaking out blood over his fingers as his grip tightened until eventually her neck snapped and she ceased her petty gasps for breath.

He released his grip on the woman and calmly wiped his claws off on his cloak while looking down at the body with disgust plain on his face. The air was thick with the heavy scents of iron and copper at this point, most of it from the pathetic humans he’d just slaughtered but Zero’s still stood out far better than any other. Kaname found himself growing dizzy with the scent.

“Fuck!” Zero screamed, scrambling backwards on his hands and legs as the black mist encroached upon him. A loud groan escaped him and white-hot pain shot through him as the mist enveloped part of his calf, dissolving his clothing like it was nothing and burning the skin away. He lifted one hand to his mouth to muffle his screams at the agony.

Kaname snapped to attention at the hunter’s cry of anguish and took off in Zero’s direction. He found the hunter bleeding and covered in the drying blood of White Lily. There was a hole in the boy’s leg where blistering, red skin stood out amongst the dark fabrics as he tried to scramble backward from the putrid fog. Kaname hurried over and helped the hunter stand with an arm around his waist.

“Thanks,” Zero panted, leaning heavily on the pureblood and trying to ignore the way his leg was on fucking fire. He was trying his best just to keep his eyes open at this point and not give into the pain and exhaustion that threatened to overwhelm him. “Guess I owe you one now.”

White Lily gave one last feeble kick with her legs before falling still and it was with a heavy heart that the hunter forced himself to look away from the horse that had become one of his dearest companions ever since he’d laid eyes on her as a foal. Zero forced down the sudden stifling grief as he bent to quickly untie and grab the bags still on her saddle, clutching them to his chest. They couldn’t risk losing those supplies, not now.

“Can you ride?” Kaname asked as they limped away from the mist, still bracing most of Zero’s weight. The hunter gave a shaky nod, in too much pain to question the blood on the pureblood right now and the viscera littering the ground.

With the pureblood’s help, Zero hefted himself up onto Zephyr’s back and felt the warm weight of the pureblood press against his back. Kaname reached around him to grip the reins, and they took off, riding out of the reach of the black fog and towards the looming mountains.

They rode for some time, Kaname following Zero’s directions as he controlled Zephyr’s movements, weaving through trees and around the foliage. He kept an eye out for more bandits as they rode deeper into the mountains, but fortunately, saw no signs of any, thankfully. But then again it was likely that the screams from their comrades had scared most of them off if the mist hadn’t.

Eventually, Zero deemed them safe from the mist so he slowed Zephyr’s speed, not wanting to tax the poor gelding too much, especially since he was now having to carry the both of them.

Zero’s hand stayed pressed to his side, and he was breathing shakily through gritted teeth as they rode.

“Wh-what are you doing?” Zero rasped as Kaname veered off from the main dirt path. It was growing colder as they began to climb in altitude and he could see his breath fog in front of his face when he spoke now. “That’s not-“ That’s not the right way, he wanted to say but couldn’t muster the energy to get the words out.

“You’re obviously in no state to keep going with your wounds the way they are, Zero. I can hear water nearby. We can see to your wounds there, if I can find the source of it.” Was the only reply he received. The hunter wanted to argue but as pain made his vision go white for a second, he realized that it was probably best to just listen to the pureblood for once. He wasn’t in any state to go on like this.

Soon enough, Kaname’s hearing proved correct as they happened upon a small lake filled with clear, water. After a cautious examination to make sure there wasn’t signs of any other visitors and sparing a glance to search for prints in the snow, Kaname deemed it safe enough and drew Zephyr to a halt, dismounting before reaching up towards Zero.

Zero’s fingers dug into Kaname’s arm as he stepped down from the saddle, stumbling as he hit the ground and colliding with a solid chest.

“Fuck, sorry,” He murmured with tiredness in his voice.

“It’s alright,” Kaname assured him, bracing him with an arm around his waist once more and leading the hunter over to a sizable boulder in slow steps. “Now, take a seat and let’s see to that burn of yours before anything else.”

Knowing better than to argue, Zero did as he was told with a loud hiss of pain. Kaname bent down before him and gently grabbed for his leg, positioning it in his lap. He frowned as the whiff of cooked flesh reached his nose. It wasn’t a pretty sight by any means; most of the hunter’s left calf was red and raw, rivulets of blood trickling down and large, white blisters covering the surface.

He removed Zero’s boot as gently as he could, but unfortunately, the pantleg proved to be a different problem.

“Can I cut this?” Kaname asked, eyeing the fabric that was clinging to singed skin. Not that there were any other options right now since taking off the pants would be putting Zero in a world of pain and risked agitating the wound even further.

“Sure,” The hunter replied stiffly. A second later the pureblood’s claw cleanly sliced through the fabric.

“Well, this certainly doesn’t look good,” Kaname murmured, gently running his fingers over the wound with a furrow between his brows. “Put it in the water, while I take a look at your side.”

“Whatever you say, doc,” Zero croaked, trying for humor and failing as he slowly lowered his leg into the lake. A loud, choked noise left the hunter’s throat as his burnt flesh hit the cold water. It hurt like a bitch—but the longer he kept it in, the more tolerable the pain got at least, even if it was only slightly.

“Remove your shirt.”

“What?” Zero started. “What the hell, Kuran?”

“I need to see to your wound and I can’t do that with your shirt in the way,” Kaname explained patiently.

“I- oh, right. Yeah. Sorry.” Zero shook his head, avoiding Kaname’s gaze. God, he felt like an idiot for not realizing that. With a bit of help from the pureblood, the hunter gingerly removed his shirt as well as his coverings while he was at it, seeing as they weren’t in the waste lands any more and had no need for them.

“Fuck!” The hunter cursed as Kaname’s cold hands pressed against his wound, probing and prodding in his examination. “Jesus, warn a guy, will you?”

“Apologies.”

Surprisingly, the pureblood’s touch was gentle and careful as he examined the hunter’s wounds. He didn’t purposely poke and prod to see Zero flinch in pain, like the hunter half-feared he would.

“Well, it seems the bullet went through cleanly,” Kaname told him after a while. “And due to your healing abilities, I suspect, most of the bleeding has stopped.”

“So you’re saying there’s jackshit I can do right now but wait?”

“Essentially, yes.” Kaname answered in spite of the vulgar language. He’d found that he was growing more and more used to that with Zero around. “Although…”

“Although what?”

“The healing would go faster if you were to feed.”

Zero’s expression closed off immediately at that, reverting back to his usual scowl. “No. No fucking way am I feeding from- from you.”

Kaname unexpectedly flinched from the venom in the hunter’s voice. He wasn’t quite sure why. After all, he hadn’t cared about Zero’s opinion of him in the past. Why now?

The pureblood sighed. “You’re in no state fit to travel right now. And you won’t be for some time at the rate you’re healing. Be sensible about this.”

Zero looked away with a set jaw. “I don’t care.”

“With my blood you could heal in a day or so. Without it, it could take weeks before you are fit to travel anywhere and that’s provided an infection doesn’t set in during that time.”

“So?”

Kaname pressed a hand to his throbbing temples. You foolish, stubborn, boy. Still, if Zero wouldn’t listen to him, then perhaps he would listen to reason at least. “Think of how many lives this wolf will take in that time. How many lives will be lost because of your stubbornness, hunter.”

It was a dirty tactic, admittedly but Kaname wasn’t averse to using such things from time to time. Especially if it got a certain hunter to give a damn about his own health and just feed already. And from the straightening of Zero’s spine, it was working.

The hunter eventually unfolded his arms and looked up at Kaname with a rare show of vulnerability in his violet eyes.

“Fine,” He surrendered. “I’ll drink from you, but after we finish setting up camp here for the night. Like you said, I’m not going anywhere in my condition anyways, so we might as well get comfortable for the night.”

Kaname stifled a victorious smile and nodded. “I suppose you make a good point. It would be a good idea to take this chance and get the tent set up anyways before it gets too cold after sundown. You stay here and rest your injuries, I’ll see to the tent.”

Not more than a few moments later, Kaname returned and the tent was standing a ways away, completed and (surprisingly) not in tatters. Well at least he can put together a tent, Zero snarked internally before wincing as pain hit him once more.

“Ready?” Kaname asked, kneeling in front of Zero once more and offering up his bare wrist in the hunter’s direction. Blue veins stood out starkly beneath his pale skin.

“Not really,” Zero admitted, glancing at the ground as he swallowed. “But fine, yeah. Let’s get this over with.”

The hunter leaned forward, enough so that Kaname could see the way he shook with the movement and how he’d determinedly squeezed his eyes shut. Zero didn’t let himself think too much about it as he bit into Kaname’s wrist.

A low groan escaped Zero’s throat as the rich, flavor of fresh blood hit his tongue. He couldn’t help it after going so long without it. It reminded him of just how parched his throat had been before this and how thirsty he was. Kaname’s blood tasted like heaven on his tongue. Zero couldn’t help but eagerly lap up every drop of the stuff in heavy gulps. He was starving and only just now realized it.

Kaname’s throat tightened as the hunter’s warm breath wafted over his skin, a shudder running through him in anticipation. He gasped when Zero abruptly bit down, breaking the skin and dug his teeth into his bottom lip. Gods above.

The boy really didn’t know what he was doing to the pureblood. Biting was generally something that was considered pleasurable to most vampires and Kaname was no exception to that rule. But Zero? The hunter’s bite was a smidge of blissful euphoria rushing through Kaname’s veins. It made his head spin and his body grow hot from the sensation. Had it always been like this when Zero fed from him? Kaname didn’t know and it was much too hard to remember at this point.

The pureblood lolled his head back as Zero drank from him, his breathing growing slower and heavier. He’d fed from countless people in his lifetime and had them feed from him in turn. None of them had ever come close to this though, not as far as he remembered. It was a feeling that was impossible to describe, the slow sensual way Zero’s fangs dug into his skin. A euphoria better than any drug, that was for certain.

“Zero,” Kaname growled, unable to stop himself. He bit down harsher on his own lip, drawing droplets of blood as he fought to keep from biting the boy back, from yanking Zero’s head up by silver strands and tasting his own blood on the hunter’s lips. The pureblood’s cock was hard and leaking in his trousers by now. If Zero kept this up-

Zero pulled back eventually with a dazed expression coloring his face and red staining his lips. His eyes were glassy and out of focus and a light flush stained his cheeks in what most vampires called being blood drunk. It was a temporary effect and one that usually only lasted for a few moments but it made Kaname’s breath hitch in his throat.

Sitting so temptingly before the pureblood like that, with his clothes torn and hair disheveled… who did the hunter think he was?

No. Kaname chided himself for thinking like that and shook his head. He couldn’t blame Zero for his emotions.

“Kaname?” Zero slurred, still only half-aware of what was going on around him. He glanced up at the pureblood with more awareness in his eyes than he had moments ago though. And made Kaname that much more aware of the erection that was tenting his pants right now.

“Are you- I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

Despite the awkwardness of the whole situation, Kaname chuckled at the hunter’s concern for others above himself. “No, I’m quite fine, actually.”

“Really? Oh, that’s- good. That’s good. I think.”

“But I do believe I should go and lie down for a bit. You took a tad more than what I was anticipating.” Kaname lied, wanting to get away from the hunter as quickly as possible before Zero came back to full awareness and realized what effect the bite had on the pureblood. There was no doubt in his mind that Zero would be disgusted and never want anything to do with Kaname if he saw.

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It isn’t your fault, I assure you.”

Later that night found both vampires sitting around a small fire that Kaname had built. Zero leaned back against a log on the ground with his injured leg spread out before him and his other tucked close to his chest, while Kaname was seated prim and proper on the log beside him.

“You shouldn’t have saved me, you know,” Zero murmured the words as he stared absently at the orange flames, watching them flicker and dance through the air.

“Oh? I never took you as one with a death wish, or to wallow in self-pity for that matter, Zero.”

The hunter scoffed and turned to look at Kaname, the fire casting a golden glow across his face as he did so. Kaname swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat, willing the heat in his gut to disappear.

“It’s not self-pity, it’s called making a smart decision. You took a risk in saving me and there was a chance it might not have paid off. That mist could have killed us both because of you risking your damn neck like that and then where would we be, Kuran? You need to think these things through.”

At that, Kaname frowned. “So what you’re saying is that I should have left you to die.”

“Yes,” Zero sighed and carded a hand through his hair. This wasn’t coming out at all how he’d meant for it to. “No? I- I don’t know. I just think it was a dumb decision to make, risking your life to save me. Just because we got lucky this time, doesn’t mean it’ll happen again. You can’t risk your hide to save everyone, Kuran. Even me.”

“I don’t,” Kaname protested before he could stop and think about those words and what they meant. “I don’t think it was a foolish decision to make at all, since you so kindly asked for my opinion on the matter and I would do it again. You may not think it, but you’re a valuable asset, Zero. You know more about this world than I, as you’ve proven over and over again and without you I might have already made some foolish mistake and gotten myself killed. I need you out here, Zero.”

The hunter’s breath caught in his throat, color blooming across his cheeks. He wasn’t sure what to make of that statement. He wasn’t sure Kaname knew either.

That line of thinking got people killed, putting sentiment and emotion before rationality and logic. It was beyond stupid; it was selfish and dangerous, even if Zero refrained from telling the pureblood exactly that.

Zero merely tightened his grip on his leg and watched the flames, content to let the moment pass rather than read into it. There was only so long he could go though, before guilt got the better of him.

“Hey, Kuran.”

“Hm?”

“I know it didn’t really sound like it earlier, but I really am thankful that you saved me. You didn’t have to do that, so… thanks, again. I appreciate it,” Zero whispered quietly, like he was afraid of the words.

“I wouldn’t have left you to die,” Kaname hoped the hunter knew he meant that.

A soft smile graced Zero’s features and it made the pureblood’s heart skip a beat in his chest. It was a dumb decision caused by stupid sentimentality. And thinking like that would get people killed in the future. Zero knew that and yet he couldn’t help the way Kaname’s words made warmth bloom in his chest.

“Well that’s good to know at least,” Zero snarked with a slight smirk.

“You know, maybe vampires aren’t so bad after all, Kuran.”

Kaname’s red gaze softened as he glanced down at the hunter, knee bumping Zero’s shoulder good-naturedly.

“I’m glad to see I’ve changed your mind. Perhaps you hunters aren’t as insufferable as I once thought, either.”

Zero let out a laugh at that, loud and boisterous. It took Kaname a moment to realize he’d never heard the prefect laugh before—not like that, not real. The hunter’s eyes slip closed, and a grin stretched his lips as he tipped his head back, bathed in warm light and cheeks flushed. Were he able to, Kaname thought he would like to capture this moment forever.

They spent the rest of the evening like that, with Zero gazing absently at the fire till it burned low. And Kaname simply content to sit there with him, gazing at the hunter with something unknown stirring in his chest.

Chapter Text

By the time morning rolled around Zero had hardly slept a wink, thanks to the pain from his leg which had kept him awake all damn night. The gunshot wound in his side had mostly dulled to a bearable ache now, but his burn was still smarting. And on top of that, he felt like he’d been hit by a stampede after being thrown from Lily’s back and now he added exhaustion to the pile of shit.

“Ugh, fuck,” He cursed under his breath and carefully crawled out of the tent, giving up on any chance of sleep.

The hunter squeezed his eyes shut against bright rays of light that greeted him. Times like these reminded him why he wasn’t a morning person—or a day person at all for that matter. Beside the remains of last night’s campfire, a slumbering Zephyr’s ears twitched as dark eyes blinked open to stare at Zero with an inquisitive tilt of his head.

Apparently deciding Zero wasn’t worth the effort of waking up this early, Zephyr snorted softly under his breath before promptly closing his eyes again and going back to sleep.

The hunter took a seat on the cold ground and stretched out his injured leg, watching the gelding settle. Zero’s throat tightened as the sight reminded him far too much of White Lily for his liking. That old mare had been his constant companion for years, ever since he got her as a foal and she deserved better than meeting her end at the hands of a few backwoods criminals.

“Zero?” Kaname called softly, emerging from the tent behind the hunter and reaching for his cloak with an annoyed hiss at the sunlight. “You’re awake early, I see.”

“Yeah, couldn’t sleep.”

“Your wounds bothering you, I take it?”

“My leg mostly, the other one isn’t too bad now.”

A frown appeared between the pureblood’s brows as he walked over to kneel beside the hunter and extended a hand. “Let me see it.”

Zero sighed and leaned back on his hands, giving the pureblood free rein to work. “I don’t know what you’re going to be able to do, but good luck.”

Kaname ignored his jab and reached for their bag, this one filled with medicinal herbs and flowers meant for treating wounds. Not that Zero had ever used them before now, but he liked to be prepared at least, even if he knew jack shit about treating any kind of injury beyond the bare minimum.

The brunette rummaged through the bag’s contents before retrieving a small wooden bowl and several tied bundles of herbs.

The hunter winced as Kaname rolled up his pant leg to display pink, raw skin that was still bleeding from several places. It didn’t look any worse than the previous day, but nor did it appear to be getting any better either, which was worrying.

“What are you doing?” Zero asked as Kaname methodically placed pieces of different herbs into the bowl, measuring them out as he went. If this was some attempt at poisoning him, Zero wanted to tell him not to waste his breath, but after last night he seriously doubted the pureblood wished him harm. After all, what idiot would bother saving someone in the first place just to kill them later on?

“For your information, I’m trying to help you, if you would stay quiet and let me work.”

“Fine, fine, point taken.” Zero raised his hands in surrender. “No need to be so testy, your majesty.”

Sunlight made Kaname quicker to anger, that was for sure. It seemed like his patience ran a lot more thin these days now that they were both forced to stick to a diurnal schedule.

Zero made it a point to stay quiet after that and let the pureblood work, not wanting to irritate the brunette anymore (for once). Though Kaname was hardly a doctor, at this point Zero highly doubted he could worsen the wound any more than it already looked to be.

Using his bare fingers, the older vampire mixed together the herbs and plants, along with a bit of water from the lake until they turned into what looked to be a thick, green mush which smelled about as bad as it looked. Zero grimaced at it like it had personally offended him. That was meant to help him? It looked more like it might just finish him off instead. But then again, what did he know?

“I’m going to poultice the wound,” Kaname told him, scooping some of the thick mixture into his hand. “That should help with the pain at least.”

Zero really didn’t like the sound of that “should” but figuring there wasn’t much left to lose, he nodded. His own knowledge of first aid was the bare minimum which included stitching, performing CPR and a vague idea on how to tourniquet a wound, but he had virtually no idea on anything beyond that, including poultices. In the past he’d always just had to grin and bear the pain of any injuries, as most hunters did.

A shocked gasp left his lips as Kaname spread the cold mixture over his burning skin and he fought to keep from jerking his leg out of reflex. Yet to his surprise, his pain lessened almost immediately.

“Hold still,” The pureblood gently ordered, tying the mixture in place by wrapping a roll of cloth bandage around it. “There, how does that feel?”

“Better,” Zero replied, raising his brows and letting out a sigh of relief. “Damn, I’m impressed. Where did you learn how to do that?”

“My Mother taught me, back when I was a child.”

“Oh… I see.”

Honestly, the younger man didn’t know much about Juuri Kuran aside from her name or having a Mother at all for that matter, which left him floundering for what to say in response. “Well in any case, thanks. It really does feel a lot better, now.

Kaname looked at Zero with a gaze soft in understanding as he placed the herbs and the bowl back in the bag before he claimed a seat beside the hunter on the ground, uncaring for once of the dirt getting on his usually pristine clothes.

“It’s hardly fair that you get to ask questions about me without letting me ask any about you. Quid pro quo after all, right?”

Zero snorted out a chuckle. “I’m just a hunter, there’s nothing interesting about me, truth be told. But shoot, I guess.”

For a moment Kaname went quiet, as he thought about what to say. There was so much he wished to know about Zero, so many questions he wanted to ask that it was difficult to decide where to start.

“Your tattoos,” He finally decided on. The question about the ink that stained Zero’s skin had been bugging him for a while. “Why did you decide to get them?”

“Ah, those. Well, it started out as a stupid bet that I lost with Kaito,” Zero replied with a wistful grin. “Then I just… liked it, I guess. For once I finally had something that no one could take away from me no matter how hard they tried. It was mine.”

The pureblood’s throat closed up as he listened to Zero speak, not daring to interrupt him. He was beginning to see just how much he didn’t know about the hunter. Just how much have people taken from you, Zero?

“And then-“ Zero’s voice cracked as he spoke and he shut his eyes, releasing a shuddering breath. “I lost my partner on my second job ever. Fell right into a pack of Es and never stood a chance. There wasn’t even a body to bury. He was just there one second… and gone the next. Everyone else just sort of forgot about him after a while. But I couldn’t, it seemed wrong, you know? So, I got the second one for him. A tattoo of his favorite red cap that his Father got him when he was a kid.”

The hunter shook his head but there was nothing but fondness in his voice. “God, he never took that damn thing off. I’ve gotten a tattoo for every single partner I’ve lost since then, on a job or elsewhere. It helps keep them around in some way, I like to think. And it helps me remember not to let the same mistake happen again.”

“That seems like an awful lot of weight to carry on your shoulders,” Kaname murmured. At least a dozen tattoos covered the hunter’s arms and for all he knew countless others were obscured by Zero’s clothing. How many more had he lost? How many comrades had the boy been forced to watch die? How many of those has he blamed himself for?

Zero gave a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders as he stood and no small amount of bitterness laced his voice. “I’m a hunter. It’s what we do—bear the weight so others don’t have to.”

Kaname frowned. “Still, that you should have to bear all of that responsibility hardly seems fair.”

“Ah, it is what it is. Besides, I’m used to it now, so it’s fine,” Zero’s lips twitched into a smile. “Really, I’m fine, Kuran. No need to worry about little ol’ me.”

The brunette bit down on his tongue as the hunter stalked off in the direction of Zephyr to wake the horse and get moving once more. But you’re not fine, are you? You’re not fine at all. Kaname waited a moment and stared after the hunter, wondering if anyone else saw what he could; that the hunter was beginning to buckle under the weight of his past. Even hunters aren’t indestructible, Zero. I wonder how long before you realize you’re only mortal like the rest of us.

The pureblood let Zero take the lead this time, taking a seat behind the hunter as Zero took hold of Zephyr’s reins. Down one horse now, Zephyr was left to carry more bags and thus they had to ride slower to account for the added weight, unfortunately. But there was nothing to be done, Kaname supposed, even if it did mean adding on several days’ time to their trip.

Out of the waste lands, at least there was no need to worry about the searing heat anymore or dangerous nuclear fallout and lasting radiation.

But the icy winds which chilled the hunter to the bone, making his cheeks bloom an angry red, and the icy breeze that tugged at his clothing as well as his hair posed an equal if not greater danger. Black ice slicked patches of the trail and made it difficult to navigate. It didn’t help, of course, that they were quickly climbing in altitude, but he had to wonder how on earth it could be so damn frigid when they’d just come out of what felt like a desert.

And it didn’t help either that Zero was distracted in his navigation, overly aware of the warmth of the pureblood pressed against his back, Kaname’s weight a steady presence behind him.

Kaname hid a smile at how rigid Zero was, barely moving at all. This close he caught the scent of salty sweat trailing down the back of the hunter’s neck beneath fresh herbs mixed into the poultice and Zero’s hair which was still lightly fragrant with traces of eucalyptus from his shampoo. He could hear the hunter’s heart thudding away in his chest and the blood rushing through his veins so damn temptingly. His tongue ran over lengthened fangs in desire.

It would be so easy. So easy to just lean forward and bite down on that pale flesh, taste salt from his skin on my lips as I lapped that sweet liquid from his veins. What would Zero taste like? Sweet? Or maybe bitter and rich, just as Kaname usually preferred. Bite him, drink from him. I could make it feel so good for him, I could have him moaning and writhing underneath my touch as I drank from him.

No. Kaname firmly shoved those thoughts aside, refusing to even consider such a thing. He would never drink from Zero without the hunter’s permission. He wanted Zero to eventually come to him of his own accord, to want the pureblood just as Kaname desired him; like hell he would ever stoop to the level of that woman.

“Augh, fuck,” Zero cursed under his breath and doubled over as far as the saddle allowed for, pressing his forehead against Zephyr’s soft coat as a harsh cramp wracked his abdomen. Don’t you dare, not now. Not that his body would listen to him.

“Zero, are you alright?”

The hunter shuddered at warm breath on his ear.

“Fine.” He managed in what he hoped was a convincing voice. “Just a cramp, that’s all.”

To make matters worse, as they started to gain elevation it was growing really fucking cold—even more so than he thought possible. Zero had already lost feeling in his nose and gray clouds stretched overhead with the promise of adding to the white piles of snow on the side of the trail. Great, just fucking great.

The hunter nearly jumped out of his skin when a pair of arms wrapped around his middle suddenly and the pureblood leaned forward to plant his chin on the hunter’s shoulder.

“What are you doing?” He asked the pureblood with chattering teeth and his breath fogging in the air.

“You seemed cold,” Kaname said simply, adjusting his cloak to wrap around Zero as well. “So, I thought I would help warm you up. We wouldn’t want you to freeze to death, after all, now would we?”

“Fucking purebloods, always assuming shit,” Zero muttered under his breath, even though the cloak was awfully warm and soft around him.

“Do you dislike it?” The pureblood questioned, starting to pull back when Zero gripped his wrist.

“I didn’t say stop, idiot.” What could he say, he was fucking cold okay? And the pureblood was like a personal fucking heater. There, he had his reasons. It was just practical, that’s all.

“Zero,”

“Hm?”

That was another thing. When had they started using first names? Well, Kaname at least. Zero still called the pureblood by his surname, ‘Kuran’. Weirdly enough though, his name didn’t sound strange coming from the pureblood’s mouth. In fact, at this point, it would probably feel weirder if he started to address him as ‘Kiryuu’ again. It just sounded odd even imagining it and in the end Zero decided not to mention it.

“I am sorry about what happened to White Lily. I know she was a good companion of yours.”

Zero’s throat tightened as wetness prickled at his eyes as he remembered that she was well and truly gone. He’d been trying not to focus on that fact, but he couldn’t fault Kaname when he knew the pureblood hadn’t meant to remind him.

“Yeah, that she was. Had her ever since she was a foal.” God, he could still remember seeing that spiteful little foal. She’d nearly kicked Cross in the face and Zero fell in love with her right then and there.

White Lily had been like him in a lot of ways. With her bad temper she lashed out at anyone that got close to her and wasn’t suited for work or riding. She was eventually going to be put down by the time Zero met her. A troublemaker with a bad attitude. One who needed discipline with a firm hand, or so everyone who had tried to tame her said.

Zero took one look at her and knew they were all wrong. She needed no punishment or discipline, all she needed was a bit of kindness and love. The kind no one had ever shown her.

She took to Zero right away, even letting the boy come up to pet her when she’d never let anyone get within a foot of her space before without lashing out. And she’d been his constant companion ever since, only allowing Zero to get close to her. Only ever Zero.

And he’d failed her.

“She deserved a better end than that.”

“Maybe,” Kaname agreed. “But she died protecting you, did she not? If she hadn’t thrown you, that next arrow or bullet might have hit you instead of her. She died protecting the one person who loved her more than anything, Zero. I’m sure she was happy with that.”

“I hope so,” The words were barely more than a breath, how faintly Zero whispered them. He hated to admit such to the pureblood, but a part of him clung childishly to Kaname’s foolish words, seeking comfort from them.

It was no secret that Zero loved White Lily, everyone on campus could see how much he doted on the horse. Just as it was also no secret that Zero much preferred her company to most of his classmates.

Throughout all his years at the Academy, Kaname had never seen Zero with someone other than Yuuki or her human friend. Then again, the boy hadn’t much bothered to do anything to make himself appear favorable to his classmates. He scowled and yelled at them, always being brusque or harsh with other students. Zero pushed people away time and time again, instead preferring to isolate himself from any others rather than make friends.

Part of Kaname understood where Zero was coming from, his need to push others away because there was nothing good to be found in associating with him. The other part found it incredibly sad and thought about how lonely such a life must be. Why do you torture yourself like this? Why do you hide away from the world, Zero?

Kaname kept silent, not wanting to upset the hunter as he often did when he spoke to the boy. Instead, he turned and watched lumbering trees and boulders pass them by. Zephyr’s hooves thudded softly over dirt as they moved and provided a constant rhythm alongside the distant rumble of thunder.

Hours passed before rain started to pour down above them. A steady drizzle at first, it quickly picked up until it was pelting against the ground in quick, harsh droplets that obscured both vampires’ vision and turned the dirt beneath Zephyr’s feet to mud.

“Shit,” Zero groaned as he swiped a piece of soaked hair away from his eyes.

“Quite.”

They quickly figured that the storm wasn’t going away anytime soon, and it was too risky to continue on in such conditions. With the pureblood’s help, Zero found a small shelter beneath a few densely packed trees and they set up camp to wait it out.

Zero’s arms curled around his knees, hugging them to his chest as he watched flames spark to life beneath the pureblood’s touch. A relieved sigh left him as the heat emanating from the fire warmed his chilled bones and began to work sensation back into his limbs.

“Got to admit, I kind of envy this talent of yours.” He said with a crooked grin.

Kaname took a seat on the ground beside the hunter, with nowhere else to sit. And figured with the hunter’s good mood, he might be willing to answer something else that had been eating at the pureblood.

“Surely Kain has shown you some of his skill? I’m afraid he’s a far better pyromancy than compared to I.”

Zero shrugged. “He’s shown me a bit, but not much. Honestly, I think he just doesn’t want to show off.”

“How do you know Kain, anyway? If you don’t mind me asking. I’ve known the man for years yet never seen you two talk.” Kaname ventured with caution.

To his relief, Zero didn’t curse or yell at him. “Long story short, he has a sister who is er- like me.”

“A level D?”

The hunter rolled his eyes. “No, I meant, not born in the right body, you know? Like how I was born in the body of a girl, Kain’s sister was born in the body of a boy.” Zero elaborated. “His parents don’t really like it, so he mostly takes care of his sister on his own. He’s the one who makes sure she gets hormones, clothes, make-up and other stuff. When he found out about me it was actually him who helped me get hormones too, no questions asked.”

“I see. You must be very close then,” Kaname murmured more harshly than he meant to. Something sharp and painful hurt in his chest at that realization and it grew tenfold as he realized that meant Zero trusted Kain more than him. He frowned down at his lap and forced his fists to unclench.

“I guess so,” Zero replied with a shrug, oblivious to the pureblood’s ire. “I mean, we’ve become friends since then, obviously. Kain also knows about my allergy to blood tablets, so he’s the one who gets me fresh blood when I need it.”

“Why didn’t you ever come to me with this?” The words left Kaname’s lips before he could stop them, and he regretted them instantly.

Zero looked at him like he was mad. “Come to you? Kuran, you’re a fucking pureblood and you always acted like I was the dirt beneath your shoe. But you’re asking why I didn’t come to you with my problems?

The pureblood’s face grew hot at that, but he couldn’t truly say that Zero was wrong. He had a tendency to act a bit—immature, perhaps, when it came to the boy and he could admit that.

“I wouldn’t have used something like this against you, Zero, surely you know that. I just don’t see a reason why you felt the need to go to Akatsuki.”

Zero scoffed at that and turned to face away from the man, mouth twisting into a sour expression at the sheer entitlement in the pureblood’s voice. “God, I swear, it sounds like you’re a jilted lover right now. I bet Yuuki would have a few things to say about her brother- oh my bad, I mean her lover getting jealous over someone else.”

“Would you stop with your incessant jokes about Yuuki and I’s relationship?” Kaname finally snapped. “I am very much aware of the circumstances surrounding our engagement, but how quickly you forget that it was not only I who had a less than conventional relationship with my sibling, Zero.”

The hunter’s jaw tightened as he pretended not to have the faintest idea what Kaname was on about.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, but I believe you do. You saw how Ichiru looked at you, how he spoke to you. I think we both know his feelings towards you were a bit more than those of a brotherly nature.”

Zero’s shoulders sagged because he knew what the pureblood was getting at. He saw Ichiru’s eyes darken with something unspoken when he saw him and he heard the underlying desire and devotion in each word his brother had spoken to him. How could he not? Ichiru made no move to hide it.

“That doesn’t mean I ever let him act on it!” He snarled in response.

Of course, he’d known of his brother’s feelings, but he’d never reciprocated. For God’s sake, they were siblings! Anything beyond that would be horribly wrong and even if they hadn’t been related, Ichiru had changed in the years they’d been apart, and Zero never liked what kind of person his brother had become in the end.

He wondered now if maybe he was part of the reason why his brother was dead. If he had just reciprocated Ichiru’s feelings, would he still be alive right now? Was it his fault Ichiru was dead?

Kaname’s heart sank like a stone as anguish filled Zero’s expression, and he pinched at the bridge of his nose while closing his eyes. He knew Ichriu’s death was a sore spot for the hunter. He shouldn’t have even said anything in the first place. Why was it that he seemed to only cause Zero pain whenever he spoke to him? He hadn’t meant to hurt Zero and seeing the hurt on his face, he would take it all back if he could.

The pureblood cursed himself silently. Why hadn’t he simply kept silent? He and Yuuki had broken their engagement for partially the very reason Zero was so against it. So then why couldn’t he just tell Zero that in the first place and be done with it?

“I shouldn’t have said that,” Kaname quietly muttered as he opened his eyes and looked at the hunter once more in search of the hunter’s forgiveness.

Zero sighed as he dragged one of their bags closer to him, opening it up and rummaging through it while only half-listening anymore. He was too damn sober to have this conversation right now.

“No, you shouldn’t have.”

“I’m sorry.”

Zero emerged victorious with a silver flask in hand after a while. One that was still mostly full, judging by the weight of it. That was good. He needed the alcohol right now.

“Mm.” Call him crazy, but Zero wasn’t sure how much he believed those words. All Kaname seemed to be doing lately was apologizing to him, which made his words come off as less than sincere.

The pureblood took a breath before finally confessing, “Yuuki and I aren’t getting married.”

Zero whipped back around to stare at him with wide eyes. Damn, had he already drank enough that he was hearing things? Usually that took more than just alcohol though. Maybe he’d lost it and this was some kind of auditory hallucination?

“What?”

“That night I ran into you, I was coming back from visiting Cross. I told him Yuuki and I had mutually agreed to break the engagement between us.”

Zero reeled back in shock, coughing as he choked on a sip of whiskey. Right, not hearing things then and not a hallucination. Which was odd. He never thought he’d see the day when Kaname or Yuuki, for that matter, would willingly break their engagement. After all, they were practically glued to each other’s side and Yuuki’s whole world revolved around Kaname.

“You- why?”

“Partially for the very reason you just said. We are siblings, and Yuuki was raised to consider such relationships taboo. Beyond that, we discovered our feelings for each other are purely familial.”

“And why the fuck didn’t you say something earlier?” Zero took a harsh swig and slammed the flask down onto the ground with a glower at the brunette. All the fighting we could have avoided… “God, Kuran you could have just told me that!”

“I know.” He could have and he should have. Yet childish though it may be, he wanted to hurt Zero the way the hunter hurt him when he spoke of Kain.

It was curious indeed, that Zero had this effect on him. Of course, he wanted the hunter, how could anyone look at the boy and not want him? But in the past, Kaname had never been this possessive of his bed partners. He would enjoy fucking them, but he always grew bored with them rather quickly and cast them aside. So why was this so different? What was so special about this boy to have this effect on him?

Kaname hadn’t the faintest clue what it was about Zero Kiryuu that captivated him quite so much, but he intended to find out.

“You’re fucking stupid, you know that?” Zero groused with a shake of his head. “Should have just told me that from the start, dumb ass.”

“I know.”

“Obviously not or you would have done it. You know… sometimes I think all we’re capable of is fighting with each other.” Zero voiced with a laugh. There was no humor in it. He shook his head and knocked back another swig of whiskey, letting it linger on his tongue before swallowing and letting the burn warm him from the inside.

“Sometimes I think the same.” Kaname agreed, watching the hunter glow from the light of the flames. With golden lights dancing off of silver strands, Zero looked ethereal. Long lashes batted against pale cheeks when he glanced at Kaname with those big violet eyes of his—deep enough that the pureblood could drown in them.

“Isn’t that fucked up?” Zero asked the ceiling above them. “Maybe we’re fucked up.”

Kaname stole glances at Zero’s pink lips as he spoke and wondered what it would feel like to kiss them. “I don’t think you’re fucked up at all, Zero.”

“Yeah? Well, glad one of us does.” Zero cracked dryly. “Tell you what, let’s call it even. All this fighting over stupid shit and whatnot, let’s just call it even between us. I’m so fucking sick of fighting.”

The pureblood smiled faintly at Zero’s words. It was rare to see the boy so honest like this, but Kaname attributed that to the whiskey and the fact that Zero was definitely sufficiently tipsy at this point.

“So am I.”

“Let’s start over then. No more animosity or any of that childish bullshit.”

“Why, I thought you hated vampires.” Kaname teased, heart stopping in worry when Zero turned to look at him. Have I mis-stepped again?

But then the hunter’s lips curved into a crooked grin.

“I did.” He leaned in close to Kaname then, as if sharing a secret. Kaname’s breath froze and his brain short-circuited for a moment at the distance between them, wondering distantly if the boy meant to kiss him. This close he could taste the whiskey on Zero’s breath. “But that was before one of them saved my fucking ass.”

Zero whispered the words with such a straight face that the pureblood couldn’t help the chuckle that bubbled out of his throat at that. The hunter pulled back away with a harsh cackle of his own and took another swig from the flask in his hand.

“Let’s just say that tends to change one’s perspective a bit.” Zero finished, with a giggle and offered the flask to the pureblood beside him. “So, friends, yeah?”

Kaname didn’t much care for alcohol aside from wine, not a fan of the burn that came with hard liquors nor how they tended to lack in taste. He took the flask from Zero’s hand and held it to his lips.

“Friends.”

And as the liquor burned going down his throat, Kaname liked to think that he could faintly taste the hunter on his lips.

 

Chapter Text

Kaname lapped eagerly at Zero’s sensitive folds, unable to get enough of the taste of his mate. Beneath him, a shudder ran through the hunter’s form as Kaname’s tongue circled his sensitive clit, powerful thighs tightening suddenly on either side of the pureblood’s head. Zero ground his hips up into Kaname’s face as pleasure wracked his form.

“K-Kaname- oh fuck!”

With a devious smile the brunette dragged his tongue up and down the hunter’s sopping cunt as Zero’s hands tightened in his hair and a symphony of breathy moans left the man’s mouth. The hunter arched his back sharply off the bed with a keen as finally, Kaname decided he’d teased the hunter enough and licked into his mate’s wet, tight cunt with his mouth in an imitation of what he wanted to do to Zero with his cock.

“Ah- ngh! Fuck, so good, Kaname! Don’t- ah—don’t stop!” Zero whined above him, head twisting to gasp into the pillow beneath him as his eyes fluttered closer. He dug his feet into the mattress beneath them, arching his hips up into the touch, gasping and writhing among the sheets, trying in vain to breathe through the waves of pleasure crashing down upon him.

The pureblood continued to lick at the hunter’s pussy, loud wet noises filling the room. Zero’s wetness was sweet on his tongue with an underlying hint of salt and Kaname’s cock hardened in his trousers at the taste and smell of his mate, so wet and eager for him. All for him. But it still wasn’t enough. It never was, and it never would be. Kaname could never get enough of his mate.

Red eyes opened slowly, blinking a few times as Kaname craned his head to take in his surroundings. Disappointment followed as he realized the warm, soft mattress of his dream had been replaced by the cold, hard ground of reality. Ah, right, the hunting mission with Kiryuu.

Of course, as it all came back to him, it only brought with it red-hot shame crawling up his neck. He’d been dreaming about the boy sleeping only a few inches away from him. Again. And to make matters worse, his arousal stubbornly refused to go away. Kaname cursed himself for his own lust and lack of self-control, but gods, he’d never wanted anyone quite as much as he wanted that boy. Really, Zero, you don’t know what you do to me.

Wait.

Kaname quickly sat up, erection softening as he realized that Zero was nowhere to be found and his fangs were poking dangerously at his lips. A rich, heavy fragrance of copper hung heavy in the air. Blood. Not just anyone’s blood either, no - he’d know that scent from miles away.

That was Zero’s blood.

The pureblood was on his feet in an instant, not even bothering to reach for his shoes before racing out of the tent. He didn’t think or pause to rationalize what could have happened. Hell, he hardly even breathed before chasing after the delicious scent coating the air.

It was still night out and the forest dark when Kaname tore through the place far faster than any human could. He dodged around trees and bushes easily, barely making a sound and sending terrified animals scampering out of the way. His heart pounded harshly against his ribs, blood rushing to his ears as he swept through the forest uncaring of anything or anyone in his path; all he cared about in that moment was Zero and the danger the hunter was in. Everything else was trivial in comparison.

His mind could not help but wander, picturing various horrible scenarios in which Zero had been hurt or tortured or kidnapped. Even worse were the vivid images of the hunter’s grisly demise that his brain conjured. Kaname shook them aside with a hiss and refused to consider such possibilities.

The scent trail of Zero’s blood finally led him to a small lake where Kaname managed to come to a stop just in time to avoid taking an unfortunate dive into the water but not before knocking a pile of items into the liquid with a loud splash.

A figure stood in the middle of the water, taut muscles and scars covering pale skin. Silver hair practically glowed under the moonlight, pale strands dripping with water as a head tilted back with closed eyes and released a contented sigh.

Said figure immediately stiffened at the resounding splash and spun around with an arm raised to cover the scars on his chest.

“Who the-“ Violet eyes squinted in the darkness before the hunter relaxed slightly but his glare remained. “Kuran? What the hell?”

It was then that the glint of a silver chain connected to a gun caught Kaname’s eye, the weapon resting on the bank of the lake. Right next to the hunter’s clothes that he’d knocked into the frigid waters.

“Don’t just ignore me, you asshole! What the hell are you doing? Were you- were you watching me?”

“No!” Kaname quickly assured him, even though it was difficult to speak, with that rich, delicious scent clouding his senses right now like a drug. “I woke up and smelled your blood. I was worried you were hurt. Are you?”

Zero rolled his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers.

No, I’m not hurt.” And even if I was, I can take care of myself, Zero refrained from saying. This time at least, Kaname had just been trying to help and he couldn’t well begrudge him that. “I just didn’t want to make a mess with my er- monthly bleedings. They usually start pretty heavy and the water is good for my cramps, anyway.”

“Monthly bleedings?”

“Jesus Christ, Kuran. Do I really have to explain what a menstrual cycle is to you?”

Kaname reeled back in surprise at that information. He wasn’t quite sure why, given he’d known what sex Zero had but somehow hearing that the hunter bled was a shock to him. And that shock was followed very quickly by concern.

Zero had wandered out of their tent in the middle of the night, smelling like he’d bathed in blood. And he’d done so in lands that werewolves were known to roam—which meant there had to be vampires around as well. Wherever one was, the other kind wouldn’t be far behind. Not only that, but he’d left Bloody Rose away from his reach should he have needed it. What had Zero been thinking?

The pureblood didn’t realize he’d spoken aloud until Zero interrupted him.

“I know, okay?” He retorted hotly. “I know it was fucking stupid and I own that. But do you really think being locked in a closed space with a pureblood while smelling like a fucking gourmet meal would have been any better?”

“I-“ Kaname started to protest before realizing what the hunter meant. Even a pureblood as controlled as Kaname would have a challenging time controlling himself in such a situation; especially given that he hadn’t had a blood tablet in days and his want for the hunter had Zero smelling more delicious than any blood he’d ever tasted.

“You have a point. Still, I don’t think it was a wise idea to go wandering off on your own.”

“What, are you my guardian now? My sworn protector or some shit?” Zero drawled in a voice thick with sarcasm.

Kaname frowned at the hunter as Zero waded closer to the shore. “Why do you always do that? Whenever someone shows concern for you, why do you always brush it off? Why are you so afraid to get close to people?”

Zero huffed. “Look, I’m a hunter. Feelings get people killed in my line of work, that’s just how it is, nothing personal. You can’t be wasting time worrying about other people when you’re facing down a horde of level Es.”

Feelings were dangerous to hunters, they all knew that. Zero learned that himself, first-hand, and he wasn’t about to let it happen again. The hunter waded through the water enough to pick up his sopping clothes and deposit them unceremoniously on the shore.

Kuran.”

“Yes?”

“My clothes are fucking soaked.”

“So they are.”

“I know it was you who knocked them into the lake, moron.”

“And?”

And I can’t walk back to the tent through the freezing woods and snow naked, you idiot!” Zero seethed as he rose out of the water, droplets of pink and red-tinged water dripping down the inside of his thighs. “Give me your shirt.” He demanded as recompense. Thank goodness his underwear and cloth pad seemed to survive dry and intact beside his gun.

Kaname hesitated briefly under the force of the hunter’s glare. His head was spinning from having the source of that delicious scent so close to him and Zero was far from hard to look at either. It took a great effort to steer his gaze away from the pale, muscled hunter before him as his throat tightened.

The pureblood unbuttoned the dark shirt before handing it over to the hunter. He remained standing in place while Zero looked at him with obvious impatience.

“Oi, Kuran.”

“Yes?”

“You mind?” Zero asked, motioning for him to turn away.

“Ah, my apologies.” Kaname turned away with a dry mouth and heard clothing rustling shortly after, followed by a telltale jingle of chain as Zero fastened Bloody Rose around his hips once more. Crescents of red were left behind where Kaname dug his nails into his palms, trying to calm his vampiric nature that yearned for a taste of the hunter.

“Okay, you’re good.”

Nothing could have prepared Kaname for the sight he saw when he turned around. His shirt was large on Zero, the ends nearly reaching his knees even and two buttons remained undone at the top, showing off a pale collarbone.

For once the pureblood was thankful that Zero was unable to hear the uptick in his heartbeat, nor see the way his pupils dilated at the sight. He was so thirsty and he hadn’t anticipated that seeing the hunter wearing his clothes would cause this much of a reaction. The pureblood reveled in the sight before him and something possessive in him gave a pleased trill at seeing Zero like this, whilst the other part of him wanted to drink the boy dry, drain him of every last drop of blood he had.

He wanted to have the hunter more than anything, right then and there. Kaname wanted to kiss him. Gods—he longed to touch Zero, to run his fingers and lips along pale skin, marking him like no one else could and to see if the little hunter tasted as divine as he smelled.

“Thanks,” Zero said, oblivious to Kaname’s less-than-innocent thoughts about him. His eyes skimmed over the pureblood’s bare torso for the briefest of seconds before the boy looked away hastily. Okay, maybe I can see what Yuuki saw in him now. Damn.

For one, the pureblood had a good half a foot of height on Zero at least – which, okay, that one wasn’t too surprising given that Kiryuus weren’t exactly known for their height. He folded lithe arms across his chest as he watched the hunter with amusement. Zero wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, honestly. Bulging muscles? Or some extremely ripped body of a man who spent all day exercising?

But Kaname just looked, well, average beneath all the tacky school uniforms they usually wore. Which meant that his strength probably came from his pureblood powers and somehow that idea was much more interesting, in fact. Fuck, he could probably hold me up like it was nothing. Zero squirmed in discomfort at the growing heat between his thighs as he imagined Kaname’s arms holding him up, clutching his legs around the man’s waist as the pureblood fucked up into his cunt, hard and fast.

Come to think of it… Zero’s eyes wandered down to the waistband of the pureblood’s pants. I wonder how big his di-

No. Nope. Zero firmly shut that shit down. He was not going there. Not now, not ever, thank you very much. Kaname might look pretty, but it wasn’t worth it. Because sex inevitably led to feelings. And Zero was not ready to go down that road again. Never again.

Besides, god knows there was a basket full of crazy in the brunette’s head and like hell was Zero dealing with that. Definitely not happening. Fucking hormones.

“Don’t mention it. We’re friends now, aren’t we?”

“Not if you keep pushing it,” Zero muttered. “Now let’s just go back to camp before I freeze my ass off out here.”

Zero was all-too-aware of the red gaze burning into his skin as they traipsed through the woods, even more so than the cold snow crunching underfoot. He tried his best to brush it off until he finally decided he’d had enough and paused in his steps. “Would you quit? Jesus, I’m not a fucking art exhibit to be gawked at.” He growled.

A sly smile crossed the pureblood’s lips. “Are you sure? Because from where I’m standing, you are certainly a piece of art.”

The glare fell right off of Zero’s face as he gaped at the brunette. “You’re not- you aren’t seriously flirting with me.”

“What if I was?”

What if he was? Zero hadn’t considered that. Mostly because it was highly fucking unlikely to be true, given how just a few days ago they’d barely tolerated each other’s presence. But he admitted he’d never hated me, a voice in his head whispered. Yet Yuuki- had mutually agreed to break the engagement.

Caught up in his thoughts, the hunter failed to notice when the pureblood advanced on him. Before Zero knew what was happening, he found himself looking up into red, red eyes that were much too close for his liking. The hunter’s breath stuttered to a halt in his throat at the pureblood’s proximity.

Zero was frozen stiff as a sheet of ice, unable to move or do anything while his skin tingled like a current of electricity was running along it. This whole situation struck him with an odd churning familiarity.

“Zero.”

“Zero, can I kiss you?”

The hunter looked at his lover with purple eyes wide in shock. Kissing- kissing wasn’t something that Zero did. Kissing meant feelings and feelings were just… no. Feelings were bad and dangerous and feelings got people killed.

Unconsciously his tongue darted out to wet his bottom lip as he looked up at Tomas. There was so much desire and adoration in those dark eyes. So much love. That Zero felt his resolve crumble around him to dust.

“Yes. Please.”

“Stop!” Zero’s hands connected harshly with the pureblood’s chest, sending him stumbling back away from the hunter. The younger man clapped a hand to his mouth as his stomach twisted with nausea.

“Ze-“

“Don’t call me that!” The hunter wheezed as he struggled for breath. Oh god, this was bad. He was drowning, drowning in the deep, deep dark without a drop of water. Oh god. His legs shook with the need to move, to run.

“Kiryuu?” Kaname questioned slowly, like speaking to a frightened animal.

“I- I can’t do this,” Zero managed before turning on his heel and racing back towards the campsite without waiting for Kaname. His lungs burned with the effort but his legs carried him quickly and easily across the ground as adrenaline burned in his veins.

Finally, the familiar dark form of the tent took shape out of the darkness and the lump beside it that was Zephyr, still quietly dozing, unaware of the commotion going on around him. Zero skidded to a halt and doubled over, heaving in lungfuls of air.

Fuck. A thin sheen of sweat beaded on his skin. He shouldn’t have left Kaname there. Hell, if the pureblood hadn’t hated him before he surely would now. Maybe I deserve it though.

Zero gave a low, breathless chuckle that carried no mirth. He paced around for a few minutes, willing his heart to calm down and shamefully hoping that maybe the pureblood would reappear. When Kaname didn’t show, Zero finally gave up and dove back into the tent.

I can’t do that again. Not ever again. He’d loved Tomas, more than he’d ever dared to love anyone, and in the end he’d gotten the man killed. What kind of lover did that make him? I ruin everyone and everything I touch. I can’t drag Kaname down too. Not him. Yuuki would never forgive him if he did, nor would Kain or Cross or any of them. He’d never forgive himself.

Just like he still hadn’t for Tomas.

It’s hard to say how long passes. Hours. Maybe minutes. Either way, Zero is wide awake when he finally hears the opening of the tent rustle and a dark shape move inside. The hunter remains where he lies, back to Kaname and eyes firmly fixed on the opposite wall.

“Zero. Talk to me.” Kaname begs in a near-silent whisper. Help me understand.

The hunter stiffens and tugs the thin blanket of his sleeping mat higher.

“We still have a few hours before we need to head out. You should try and get some sleep.” He spoke in a frigid, stony voice that told Kaname not to argue with him. “Go to bed, Kuran.”

Kaname frowned as he settled down beneath the covers, heart heavy in his chest. He couldn’t stop wondering for the life of him where and when he’d gone wrong.

Chapter Text

A heady, savory scent greeted the pureblood as he awoke beneath the distinctive scent of wood burning in a fire. Once more, Zero was gone, leaving only an unkempt blanket, and a wrinkled, flattened pillow in his wake. But this time the flap at the tent entrance was open and letting in annoyingly bright rays of sun. Kaname grimaced to himself. He’d never get used to being awake during the day rather than at night.

He exited the tent where he found the hunter kneeling on the ground beside a low-burning fire, working quickly with a knife in his hand to clean and gut a small animal. Zero had kept the shirt from last night it seemed, but he’d also tugged on a pair of dark pants. His hair was in wild disarray around his head, and it seemed like the copper fragrance clinging to him had lessened somewhat. It was still there, but far less noticeable than the night before and cleverly covered by the scent of the animal’s blood.

Zero spared him a glance, looking up from what he was doing as Kaname took a seat beside the fire. This close Kaname saw that what he’d originally assumed to be a knife was actually one of the hunter’s claws that he was using to slice through the creature’s skin.

“Morning,” Kaname greeted.

“Hey,” Zero returned, licking a trail of blood from one of his claws and smacking his lips together. “Huh, that’s actually not bad.” He decided with a pondering tilt of his head. “Want some? It’s been a while since you drank anything.”

Kaname grimaced. “Much as I appreciate the offer, I think I’ll have to pass. Animal blood isn’t to my tastes.”

The hunter shrugged and returned to cleanly removing the creature’s innards and cutting off slices of raw, pink meat. He then fixed the meat onto a stick as best he could and held it over the fire, letting the fragrance of roasting meat fill the air and make his belly grumble.

“I didn’t know you hunted.”

Zero snorted. “I don’t. Not usually that is, but I do when I’m on a mission occasionally. There aren’t enough ration bars to last and those things are shit anyway, so I had to learn to get by.”

“You don’t find it repulsive having to skin and gut the animal yourself?”

“Not really, you get used to it after a while and when you’re a hunter you see much worse things, anyway.”

“I don’t doubt that.”

Zero gently took the meat away from the fire then, pink flesh having cooked to a nicely crisp brown.

“Want some? Come on, it’s not that bad, I swear.” He asked, pulling the stick back and blowing on it before tearing off a piece with his teeth and chewing as he held the meat out to Kaname.

“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt.” Though he looked less than enthusiastic about the prospect, Kaname reached out and plucked the food from Zero’s hand. He lifted it and took a cautious sniff. It smelled like rabbit, or at least as close to a rabbit as one could probably come these days.

Kaname took a slow bite of the meat. Strange, but it didn’t taste all that bad. Gamey certainly, and chewy, but it wasn’t terrible at the very least. He took a few more bites before passing it back to Zero. The hunter certainly needed the food more than he ever would.

Zero ate quickly and quietly, stealing quick furtive glances in the pureblood’s direction now and then. Near the edge of the camp, Zephyr’s tail swished happily as the horse chewed on bits of grass poking through the snow.

The hunter knew he should probably say something. Anything, really. Too much had happened for him to not say anything. But what could he say?

Turns out, Zero needn’t have worried about breaking the tension between them at all. Kaname did it for him.

“We need to talk about last night.”

Immediately Zero winced at the memory of his own actions and Kaname catching him while he was fucking bathing, for god’s sake. “We really don’t.”

“Just because you deny it, doesn’t mean it never happened, you know.”

“Nothing happened last night, Kuran. You already know about me and my- how I am, and you caught me during a bad moment. That’s all.”

Kaname hummed. “And what about what happened afterward?” Between us?

Zero’s jaw tightened. “Nothing happened afterward. We got caught up in a moment, and that’s all. Don’t make this out to be a bigger deal than it needs to be.”

Everything about that statement irked the pureblood. Zero’s casual tone and his indifferent attitude to his own words, all of it grated on Kaname’s nerves. Something very much had happened last night, and he knew it just as well as Zero did. So it annoyed him very much that the hunter continued to pretend otherwise.

Not to mention that the hunter’s tempting scent was still lingering around him like a cloud of perfume. Not noticeable to other, lesser vampires perhaps, but to Kaname, it was still as pungent and fresh like someone had drowned the hunter in blood. It only furthered his want of the boy until it felt like his own lust was going to drive him mad.

The pureblood faced Zero’s glare head-on, almost like the hunter was daring him to contradict his words and just waiting for the chance to put a bullet in him should he do so.

“Very well then,” Kaname said instead, surprising the younger boy. “ If you say nothing happened, then nothing happened.”

For the rest of the day they rode on in relative silence, with Zero once again taking Zephyr’s reins in his hands.

Kaname remained firmly seated behind the hunter, eyes flickering about the trees and horizon. He took careful whiffs of the air, searching for that telltale bitter scent of vampires or any werewolves that might be looking for easy prey. It wasn’t that he doubted Zero’s words, on the contrary he knew Zero was more than capable of protecting himself. But being caught off-guard by a whole pack of wolves or the occasional lone, cocky pureblood would be a nasty fight all the same and the hunter’s leg had just near completely healed. He didn’t need another wound right now.

So the pureblood kept a careful vigilance over their surroundings, which helped to distract him from the tempting fragrance of Zero’s blood that was so tantalizingly close. It didn’t help either that the warmth of the hunter was pressed right up against his front, Zero’s ass nearly brushing the pureblood’s clothed cock and his pale neck on full display.

Kaname forced his gaze away with a low growl, hiding the fangs that had lengthened behind his lips. Gods-

“Look,” Zero interrupted his thoughts, drawing Zephyr to a halt. He pointed down below them on the mountainside where a large cluster of brick and stone and wood buildings could be made out, dark shapes darting along the dirt roads in between them and smoke rising from chimneys. Miles upon miles of dense dark trees stretched around it, near so far as the eye could see. Yet faintly, Kaname heard the churning and rushing of water. A river?

“Is that-?”

“Ivorgarde?” The hunter interrupted him without taking his eyes off of the village. Not for the first time, Kaname was reminded of Zero’s wish to get this matter over with as soon as possible. He frowned to himself. “Sure is, shouldn’t be too far now. We should be able to reach it by sundown today. God, I’m so looking forward to sleeping somewhere that isn’t the inside of a tent. My back is killing me.”

“Sleeping in an actual bed again does sound rather appealing, now that you mention it.”

Zero had no waspish reply for that it seemed, only a quiet chuckle accompanied by a stretch of his back and kicked his heels into Zephyr’s sides.

A few hours later they were finally on level ground once more and traipsing along the dirt road as Ivorgarde loomed ahead of them. People scurried along busy streets in worn, ragged clothes, carting handfuls of clothes or food. Children screamed and laughed as they played in the same streets, dodging around the impatient adults.

The village itself looks plain and crude. With its black wooden rooftops, half of which are rotting, chiseled stone walls that crumble and crack, and murky woods, Ivorgarde has a desolate atmosphere.

The main attraction is the rushing river on the edge of town that also doubles as the town’s primary source of trade with its generous supply of fish.

“Just so you know, you might want to keep your head down and let me do the talking around here,” Zero muttered under his breath as they drew closer to the village.

So dazed at Zero’s scent was he, that Kaname took a moment for the words to register. And when they did, he huffed. “And why is that?”

“Because dumbass, these people don’t take kindly to strangers. We’re both outsiders and no offense, but I don’t think they’re used to seeing people like us. My silver hair will attract enough attention for the both of us to have to deal with without you flashing red eyes at everyone who looks at you the wrong way. Plus you do kind of give off a certain air.

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean that the way you talk, the way you hold yourself—everything about you, Kuran, just screams money and education, and definitely not a native around these parts. You have to admit, you do kind of stand out. That’s going to put these people on edge and at best they won’t tell us anything. At worst? They find out you’re definitely not human some shit and I end up having to massacre an entire village to save your ass after you start a witch hunt.”

Zero could only imagine how Cross would take that news. He winced at the image.

Kaname wanted to speak up at that and tell Zero that it would take far more than a village of some peasants to bring down an ancient pureblood like himself. But he refrained. It was probably not entirely the best choice to divulge that particular bit of information just yet.

“I suppose I see your point, even though I don’t like it. I’ll do my best to keep out of sight.”

“That’d be a good idea. And- thanks… I guess.”

A few beats of silence passed between them before Kaname couldn’t resist.

“I never thought I would see the day when Zero Kiryuu would defend a bloodsucking leech of all people, let alone offer to massacre an entire village of humans to protect a pureblood. I must say, I am touched, Zero.”

The hunter grumbled just as Kaname predicted at that.

“Don’t push your luck, Highness.” Though his words were thick with sarcasm, the pureblood caught the tips of his ears turning pink. Kaname hid a smile.

Zero wasn’t wrong, it turned out. As they approached the village, a hushed blanket of stillness fell over the place. He knew they probably made quite the sight—a tattooed man with silver hair riding tall atop a huge black blood horse and Kaname deigning to walk alongside Zephyr instead, his cloak weathered from the journey across the wastelands and through the mountains drawn around him with the hood up.

Everything just stopped. The children playing in the dirt all froze in their tracks, smiles falling from their faces. Older men and women paled at their approach and hastily ducked out of the way, heading for homes and slamming doors, drawing curtains.

“I think they know we’re here,” Zero muttered under his breath. Jesus, it was like a sudden, deadly storm swept over the place with how fast everyone moved to avoid them. He led Zephyr down dirt streets until he spied what must be the only Inn in town.

The Jackalope Inn.

As far as Inns go, this one looked like it’d seen better days. It was a shabby, wooden building with two floors, a handful of windows with crooked wooden shutters and a roof that looked damn near ready to cave in. Loud drunken shouts and noises of revelry carried from inside the place that told him either the booze was really that good or folk around here were just that desperate for any kind of alcohol to warm their bellies that they’d settle for anything. Zero was betting on the latter.

Zero had stayed at worse places, he supposed as he walked Zephyr past a small, wooden fence and made sure to tie him securely. Not that anyone would steal a horse, but black bloods could fetch a pretty price so he wouldn’t put it past them.

The loud noise of chatter greeted both vampires inside the inn, drunken patrons either playing games of cards or excitedly conversing with one another over a pint or two. Low flames burned in sconces on the walls around the main room. Behind a counter on the far wall, a gruff, plump man whose age showed in the gray of his bushy beard struggled to keep up with orders of food and drink.

“Hey,” Zero wasted no time stalking towards the owner of this place. There was no use in mingling with these drunken idiots anyway when they probably couldn’t even tell him their names—no information to be gained here, but at least they could get a decent night’s sleep with any hope. His hand slammed down on the counter with a few coins between his fingers. “Two rooms, if you please.”

The man behind the counter glanced at him with hard eyes and frowned immediately upon seeing Zero. “ Huh, never thought I’d see the day when an outrider darkened my doorstep. Times must really be desperate, but we don’t take kindly to strangers here, outrider.”

The hunter squared his shoulders and narrowed his eyes. Of-fucking-course. Why am I not surprised? Not that he could blame the man. These days it paid to be suspicious of everyone and everything, but it was also a massive inconvenience right now and the cramping in his abdomen had the hunter’s temper running short. Well, shorter than usual.

“Pah,” The man turned around and spat on the ground behind him, folding his arms. “Outriders don’t ever bring anything but trouble, trouble, I tells ya.”

“Can’t we come to an arrangement? You seem like a smart man, I’m sure we can come to an agreement that will suit us both.” Zero pulled his lips into something he hoped resembled a smile and added three more coins to the pile.

While Zero tried to get them a room, Kaname pulled away from him to watch the Inn’s patrons mingling about. All of which stank of rank sweat and liquor—typical human odors. But he was more than aware of the looks he and Zero were attracting from tonight’s patrons and not all of them were just curiosity. Most were caught up in their own discussions with one another or too invested in some tavern game to pay much attention to the hooded outsiders that had intruded upon their drinking den, but a few of the rowdier drunks just frothing at the mouth for a fight, now those held no such qualms.

He caught a trio at a table nearby, eyeing him up from where they sat in rags and stinking of piss. Seeing his clothes, they likely thought him easy pickings to mug for some easy coin. Kaname sighed as he frowned at them from beneath his hood, gaze flickering back over to Zero at the counter where the hunter was currently engaged in a heated argument with the Innkeeper. As amusing as it would be to watch the hunter well and truly lose his temper, he should probably stop that before the boy ended up making a scene.

As Kaname moved though, he found his path suddenly blocked by the three drunken louts who’d been eyeing him up earlier. He nearly choked on the overpowering odor of piss and sweat this close. I really don’t have time for you pathetic, sniveling flesh golems.

“’Ey, now, where do you think you’re going? What’s the rush, outrider? Got somewhere to be in yer fancy dress?” The man who’d shoved him asked with a gap-toothed grin. “You trying to frighten us by dressing like that, stranger, ain’t ya? Trying to be scary.”

“We ai-“ Another one of the men attempted to speak up. “We ain’t scared of your kind here, outrider. But you ain’t welcome round here.”

“I’m not sure who you think you’re speaking to, but allow me to assure you it would be in your best interests to move out of my way. Now.

One of the men hiccupped. “N-Now tha ain’t very nice. Ain’t your Mama ever teach you any manners? What do we say?”

The pureblood gave a roll of his eyes from beneath his hood, knowing his breath was wasted on trying to speak with these piss-soaked worms. This was exactly why he hated having to deal with humans.

Another one of the men boldly reached out to push Kaname backward with a hand to his chest, the pureblood grimacing at the thought of this man’s grubby hand touching him. He should remove his hand just for that. But he was in a charitable mood—Zero had asked him to play nice, after all.

The one with the gap-toothed smile stepped back at that, sharing a glance with his companions. “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue, outrider? Or maybe you just think you’re better than us. That it, stranger? You think you’re better than us just cause you dress fancy? I think this stranger needs to be taught a lesson or two, fellas. Needs someone to take him down a peg.”

Kaname pursed his lips and looked back to where Zero’s argument was growing more and more heated. He really didn’t have time to deal with these fools. Nor the patience for that matter. He carefully lifted his head, enough to look up at the men before him and stretched his mouth open, unhinging his jaw and bearing deadly sharp fangs at them, his eyes a blazing crimson.

Humans were so easy to frighten, he thought as the men’s faces immediately blanched but this time it worked in his favor. He resisted the urge to snicker as it had the desired effect on the men, making them stiffen on the spot before backing away with eyes white and wide with horror.

“Demon!” Gap-toothed man shouted, drawing the attention of the whole place as he pointed a stubby, shaking finger in Kaname’s direction. “I-It’s a demon! A fucking monster!”

At that, the Innkeeper strode out from behind the counter with a grimace as the place went quiet, people all scrambling over one another, trying to get a glimpse of the commotion currently happening. “What are you on about now, Billie? I swear, ain’t a day goes by nowadays without you getting piss-drunk and spilling some wild story to anyone foolish enough to lend you an ear.”

“This ain’t no story, that there’s a demon!” He shouted with a finger jabbed in Kaname’s direction. “He-he ain’t human, I swears it!”

Kaname looked up at the innkeeper with eyebrows drawn together on his forehead, teeth perfectly straight and his brown eyes without even a trace of red.

“Good man, I’ve no idea what this drunk is on about. I did absolutely nothing to him, yet here is accusing me of being a demon of all things.” He shook his head with a chuckle. “Perhaps he’s had a touch too much to drink?”

The Innkeeper swiped a hand over his face. “You’ve been bothering my patrons for weeks now, Billie. I won’t have you making up lies now, trying to scare off good people who carry good coin. For God’s sake—this man looks just like any other to me! Ain’t nothing unnatural about him and you ought to be right ashamed of yourself for such lies.”

“B-but I saw-“

“You saw what? You’re so drunk off your ass, you probably ain’t seen nothing but your own shadow and you’d be running scared.” The old man said, earning a round of chuckles from a few curious on-lookers watching the scene. “Now off with you, before you go hurling insults at anyone else and earn yourself a beating.”

The Innkeeper managed to shoo the drunken man and his companions out of the place eventually, muttering something under his breath about them probably winding up dead someday, with more beer than blood in their veins. The crowd quickly went back to what they were doing as soon as they learned that there was clearly no more entertainment to be gained here, and soon the place was filled with loud conversation once more.

“Apologies about his lot,” The man gruffly said to Zero and Kaname afterwards.

“He do that often?” Zero asked with a pointed raise of his brow. “Must be hard to get business with him insulting everyone that comes in the door.”

“Ah, more often than you’d think. Billie is a drunken fool who’ll wind up dead someday, mark my words. He’s been coming here for drink ever since he got banned for life from the tavern on the other side of town. Now look, I ain’t fond of you outriders myself, but that don’t mean I was raised without manners like that bumbling idiot. Awful sorry ‘bout him.”

Zero pushed his coins on the counter closer with his hand and raised his brows. “Tell you what, give us a couple of rooms and we’ll keep this little incident to ourselves, hm?”

The man looked at him with a crooked frown for a moment more before finally swiping the coins from beneath the hunter’s hand.

“Alright, alright, I suppose coin is coin no matter who it comes from. I can’t do two rooms, but you can have the last one available. How’s that?”

Well, it wasn’t ideal, but Zero knew it was the best they were getting, whether he liked it or not. “Fine. Deal.”

The room wasn’t much to look it. High ceilings rose above them and there were no windows along any of the wooden walls. Probably a good thing given their sensitivity to sunlight, but Zero hated how enclosed it all seemed. He would have preferred another exit besides the door.

There was a large bed sat in the center, dark wooden posts carved with bears and wolves and animals that were scarcely seen these days. A chest sat at the foot of the bed and a wooden dresser across the room. Above the bed a picture was mounted, showing colorful flowers and swans but not at all looking like it belonged there.

And that was all of it save for an adjoining door that led to a washroom. Zero assumed from that alone that this building must have been left over from the old world, repurposed into the Inn it was today as connected washrooms were a luxury that not many buildings had today.

At least the place looked clean. The fluffy red and white patterned rug on the floor was bright and spotless and the sheets on the bed were neatly folded and a clean fragrance that suggested they’d just come from the wash.

“Now what?” Kaname questioned as they deposited their bags on the floor. There was still light out yet; it seemed a shame to let the time go to waste when they could be asking about the recent string of attacks.

“I think I saw some kind of market going on in the square when we arrived,” Zero offered, following his line of thinking. If nothing else, it could be a good way to integrate themselves with the locals and maybe see if they were lucky enough to get someone to talk to them. “Shall we go make some new friends?

Chapter Text

Despite their strange appearances, the market Zero talked about seemed to be the one place folk didn’t cast the peculiar pair of outriders a second glance. Wooden stalls and booths filled nearly every side of the small square, with an old, mossy statue sat in the center of it all like a silent, watchful guardian. Rows upon rows filled the rest of the place, creating neat little cobblestone pathways that were crowded with people, all pushing and shoving past each other.

For a while, Zero and Kaname aimlessly wandered, allowing themselves to be dragged by the crowd. They occasionally paused to peruse people selling handmade garments or odd food items that the pureblood had never heard of before. Among such things were hand-knitted scarves from sheep’s wool, jellied cubes coated in something white and powdery, and much too sweet for either of their tastes and carefully crafted golden pieces of jewelry, while others were much simpler items such as jams or eggs or fresh milk. A most bizarre assortment of wares.

They took their time, walking slowly and not really looking at anything so much as trying to make it appear that they were. If nothing else, Zero hoped it would make people see them as less intimidating and even approach them.

A hope that was dashed as the evening began to drag on after a while, and most people still seemed reluctant to talk to the shady-looking strangers. At most, people cast a few curious glances their way, but never so much as a ‘hello’ was ever directed at them.

After a few hours, the crowds began to dissipate as the violet hues of dusk stained the sky. Booths started to be taken down as everyone headed home to either prepare supper for a waiting family or head to bed in preparation for an early day of work in the morning. Zero caught Kaname’s eye and gave a short nod for them to do the same. It was evident they weren’t going to find any information here anyways.

“Excuse me - you there! Yes, you good fellows!”

Zero and Kaname paused simultaneously at the sound of a voice, and Zero turned with a scowl painting his features. The greeting had come from a rather short and portly man, whose lower face was covered by a bushy black beard.

The hunter raised a brow at the man. “Need something from us?”

“I just- I don’t believe I’ve seen you around here before, have I? My memory is a bit spotty, you see, so you might have to refresh me if we’ve met.”

“We haven’t. My companion and I just arrived in town. We’re just passing through, don’t worry.”

“Ah, I see! Well, in any case, it’s always a pleasure to see new faces around here! We don’t get to see many visitors around these parts.”

“I can imagine,” Zero muttered before clearing his throat and offering a polite smile. Dressed better than anyone else in the small town in his shabby suit, the man clearly stood out as well-off. Some kind of aristocrat? No, this place is too remote for anyone like that. The mayor or some sort of governer maybe, then.

“Gods – I’ve forgotten to introduce myself, haven’t I?” The man gave a hearty laugh that made his belly shake as he reached out and gripped Zero’s hand in a rough shake. “Mayor of this fine town, Charles Wellington, at your service, good sirs!”

Pay dirt. “Just the man we were looking for then. My companion and I have a few questions for you if you don’t mind, sir.” Zero shot Kaname a dark look as he spoke, silently begging him to let the hunter do the talking.

“Certainly!” The man spread his arms out at his sides. “I’m an open book.”

We’ll see how long that lasts when I start digging around where you don’t want me to. From his own experience, very few people tended to take well to Zero snooping around in their business, and he doubted this man would be any different. It was apparent from the get-go that this man was just as suspicious of outsiders as the rest of this town, though Zero still wondered why that was. It could just be that they’d had a bad experience or two with thieves or bandits now that he thought about it. That wasn’t too uncommon these days.

Zero cast a low glance around to make sure there were no eavesdroppers about and saw that they were alone. Satisfied, he leaned against a brick wall and fixed the mayor with an appraising glance.

“I’ve heard word that recently Ivorgarde has run into a string of bad luck.”

Of course, Charles’ face paled at that as Zero hit the nail on the head. Predictable. He cleared his throat and raised his chin.

“And what might you mean by that, good sir?”

The hunter shrugged and stifled an amused smirk. Usually, he didn’t bother with this much dramatics, but damn if it wasn’t fun messing with the funny little man.

“Disappearances. Odd noises. Livestock turning up dead. Why, a good friend of mine, even said some folks were turning up murdered around town.”

“I see,” Charles hedged, his gaze turning shrewd as it flickered between Zero and his silent companion. “And what might some petty, false rumors be of concern to two strangers? Come to think of it, I never did get your names.”

Zero smiled. “Let’s say my companion and I are willing to look into these… incidents, for you. Provided, of course, that you tell us what you know.”

The mayor stroked his beard and appraised both men before him with a critical eye. “What are you two – soldiers? Mercenaries? You hardly seem like either to me. How much would this cost, exactly?”

“We aren’t either,” Zero assured the man. “And I assure you, we’ll rid you of your little problem free of charge. My friend and I enjoy the hunt more than anything, and with us, no one need ever know of these incidents. We’ll take care of this quickly and quietly, so long as no one gets in our way.”

“Whose to say you aren’t lying?” Wellington questioned.

“No one,” The hunter answered honestly with a shrug. Smart man. “But what have you got to lose? We aren’t asking for any money or goods. Only a few questions answered.”

“I suppose you’re right,” The man surrendered with a slump of his shoulders. “So are you lot some kind of hunters then? Surely you must be if you aren’t mercenaries or soldiers.”

“Of a sort.”

It was Kaname who answered, his voice a quiet murmur, but the comment earned him a side-eyed glance from Zero, all the same, the hunter’s eyes narrowing at the comment before he turned back to the mayor, not giving the man a chance to press them on the matter.

“Do we have a deal?”

“Yes, I suppose we do, gentlemen. Now, what say you two fellows stop by my humble abode for a drink, shall we say, tomorrow evening? I've got a bottle of fine brandy that I’ve been saving for the right occasion, and these types of questions are always better answered with something to ease the nerves beforehand. What say you?”

Shit. Zero really didn’t want to waste a second of time here, and he somehow doubted the mayor would actually know anything that would be of use to them. But he couldn’t turn down an invitation like that without inviting more suspicion onto both of them.

“Sure, that sounds agreeable to me. I always enjoy a glass of good brandy.” He answered with a plastic smile.

Wellington’s hands clapped together at that. “Splendid! A man with taste, I see. Very well then, I will see you both tomorrow at sundown. You’ll find my abode down by the river, impossible to miss.”

“We’ll be there.”

Zero bid a hasty farewell to the mayor then, anxious to retreat before the man could draw them into another conversation. The man struck him as a talker, and well, Zero wasn’t one for talkers.

At least by now, the sun had completely gone down, and its harsh, burning rays had been replaced by the gentle, silver glow of the moon overhead. The hunter frowned and glanced around as he scuffed his feet while he walked.

“Thank god that’s over. I hate having to talk all formal like that. I swear it makes everything I say sound like I’m a fucking asshole,” Zero complained, glancing at Kaname. “What about you? What did you make of that guy?”

“Well, he’s certainly already had more than his fair share of liquor today,” Kaname answered with a pointed raise of his brow, knowing full-well that Zero had likely smelled the liquor coming off of him in waves just as the pureblood had. “And, to be honest, he seems like an idiot.”

Zero barked out a laugh at that.“Might be why he doesn’t like outsiders. I mean, it’s pretty damn obvious he knew that we weren’t from around here before he even walked up to us, and if I had to guess, I’d say he doesn’t like that fact.”

“Do you think he’s our werewolf?”

“Him? No, I doubt it. I could tell just by shaking his hand that he’s never worked a day in his life, let alone running around regularly through the woods on all fours. The guy’s incompetent, don’t get me wrong. But he doesn’t strike me as our resident lycanthropic killer. He’s hiding something for sure, but it’s probably just his alcoholism and maybe an affair if I had to guess.”

“Oh? What makes you think it’s an affair?”

“ Well, for starters, the man smelled like a fucking bouquet underneath all the booze, and I highly doubt he’s got a habit of wearing floral perfume. Not to mention that obvious stain of red on his collar that didn’t exactly get there by itself.”

“What makes you so sure either of those weren’t from his wife?”

Zero gave Kaname a dead look then. “I saw the man coming out of a brothel before speaking to us. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t exactly speak to me as a man that’s faithful.”

Kaname found it in himself to chuckle lightly at that. Leave it to Zero to notice something that not even he had caught. Just when I think I have you figured out, you always surprise me, little hunter.

“I take it you don’t think he actually knows anything useful then.”

Zero scoffed and kicked at a pebble. “Probably not. But it would just make him watch us closer if we didn’t at least ask, and the last thing we need is him breathing down our necks. Which is why you’ll have a drink with him, listen to his bullshit, and maybe that will be enough to keep him happy.”

“I’m sorry – I will be the one drinking with him?” Kaname questioned with an uptick of his brow. The very last thing he wanted was to have to deal with that moronic man by himself without Zero to act as a buffer. “What will you be doing then?”

“Glad you asked. I will be seeing what other people around here think of their Mayor and what useful information I can dig up,” Zero answered in a low tone. These people might not like outsiders very much, but he had ways up his sleeve of getting information from people.

“You’ll be careful?”

Was that his imagination, or did the pureblood actually sound somewhat protective of him? Zero shook his head. Now I’m hearing things. Lovely.

“I always am. I’m a hunter, remember? This is hardly my first rodeo. Relax, I’ll be fine.”

Kaname pursed his lips and eyed the hunter, still not liking the idea of leaving the hunter to wander around on his own smelling like a five-course buffet.

“Zero. You reek of blood right now. If you go out smelling like that you’re practically inviting any creature within a ten-mile radius to-“

Zero stopped in his tracks and rounded on Kaname with a sneer painted across his face and a set jaw.

“I swear to god, Kuran, if you’re about to say that I’m some delicate, little flower, you can fuck right off with that bullshit. Did you forget that I’m a hunter? I’m not some delicate fucking maiden that needs your protection or some shit. I’ve killed bloodsuckers before, trust me, I know how to handle myself.”

Kaname pursed his lips together. This stubborn boy- “No, I haven’t forgotten that. But killing mindless level Es is vastly different from trying to take on a higher vampire.”

“What’s the difference? They both want to drain me dry, right? If you ask me, they’re pretty damn similar in my eyes.”

“The difference is that one of them has years of experience in combat likely, and unlike level Es, they possess enough intelligence to actually think during a fight. You can’t just engage with any sort of higher vampire in a fight without knowing any sort of powers they possess or anything about them, even you know that and doing so would be suicide, not bravery. When are you going to realize you’re not invincible?”

Zero clenched his jaw tightly as his fingers curled into fists at his side. He understood what Kaname was saying deep down, but it wasn’t as though he was about to go gallivanting through the woods purposefully seeking out the bloodsuckers, okay? He hadn’t asked for any of this. Why didn’t Kaname understand that? He’d never asked to have a fucking cunt instead of a cock and balls like most men did, and he sure as shit had never asked for his body to bleed monthly, bringing with it a wave of painful cramps and misery.

And having Kaname draw attention to just how strange and abnormal he was just happened to be the icing on the shit cake. The hunter glanced away as his face screwed up tightly, and he struggled to draw a breath as his lungs constricted in his chest. He knew Kaname hadn’t meant it like that, Zero knew that he was pretty fucking far from normal, okay? He knew most guys weren’t born with a fucking cunt and that most of them didn’t have to deal with it bleeding for days on a whim. He was reminded of that oh-so-helpful fact every damned second of every shit-eating day, and he didn’t need this fucking asshole pointing it out or treating him like the hunter was some fragile thing that needed to be protected just because of what was in between his legs.

A lump formed in Kaname’s throat as Zero advanced on him with each hissed word, his voice rising as he spoke until he was practically shouting in the pureblood’s face. Finally, the pureblood’s back met with a solid wall, and Zero harshly shoved him back with a hand to his chest.

“I’m not inviting shit, Kuran. And the first fucker who thinks I am, is going to get a bullet put through their skull.” Zero seethed, leaning in close enough that his breath rolled across Kaname’s face. “Spout some bullshit like that again, and they won’t be the only ones.”

Kaname had had enough. Enough of Zero’s backtalk and his cocksure attitude and enough of his fool-hardy arrogance that was going to get him killed sooner or later. He gripped the hunter’s wrists and flipped their positions, pushing Zero up against the wall and yanking the hunter’s hands above his head.

A gasp left Zero’s lips as he found himself pressed up against the wall. “What the hell-“

“Listen,” Kaname snapped, his free hand reached up to grip the hunter’s chin, forcing lavender eyes to his own. “I’m not blaming you because you bleed, you silly, stubborn fool. But I have dealt with your utter stupidity for too long, and it’s time you wake up and see what an idiot you’re being. Do you honestly think you could take on a bloodthirsty pureblood in your current state? Or a whole pack of them? You’re so tired you can barely stand on your own two feet, Zero. I know you’ve hardly slept a wink because of your night terrors.”

The hunter glowered up at the brunette and bared his teeth, wriggling in Kaname’s ironclad grip. He found no give no matter how hard he tried.

“I’m a hunter.” He gritted out. “I know what I’m doing. I’m not a fucking fragile maiden that needs your protection, bloodsucker.”

“No?” Kaname retorted, leaning down into the hunter’s face and hearing an uptick in Zero’s heartbeat. “Then free yourself. Right now.”

Never before had Zero hated the pureblood than he did at that moment. He ground his teeth together, fighting desperately against Kaname’s hold on him until his breath was coming in panting gasps, and his energy was rapidly fading. All the while it seemed like the pureblood wasn’t even exerting the tiniest bit of effort. Kaname just stared down at him with that flat, red gaze of his until Zero finally went limp.

“What the hell do you want from me, you pureblooded dick?”

“I want you to admit that you’re being foolish and stubborn and realize why it’s a terrible idea to go off on your own,” Kaname said, finally letting go of the boy and stepping back to cross his arms. “Admit it, Zero, you couldn’t even defend yourself against me, how will you fare against a bloodthirsty vampire should you need to?”

Zero set his jaw and looked away from the pureblood. He wouldn’t admit it. Like hell would he ever admit to needing the pureblood’s help. He’d rather die than do that. The hunter shut his eyes as his cheeks burned hot.

An involuntary shudder ran down Zero’s spine as his mind replayed the sensation of Kaname roughly gripping his wrists and dragging them over his head. He could still feel the older man’s cold hands on his skin. Zero’s throat tightened. Had the circumstances been different, he might have enjoyed being handled so roughly by the other man, but as it was now, the only thing he felt was the bitter sting of defeat and knowing that Kaname was right.

“Fuck you,” He finally spat, opening his eyes to glare daggers at the pureblood before him. The hunter spit in the pureblood’s face, the glob of his saliva landing squarely on Kaname’s cheek. “I don’t need shit, and even if I did need help, I’d die before accepting it from someone like you.”

Zero turned on his heel and strode off towards the Inn, uncaring at this point of whether or not the pureblood was following him. Fucking arrogant son of a bitch.

Chapter Text

The dark, viscous red liquid was all around him, soaking through his clothes and staining his skin. There was nothing but the smell of copper in the air, thick and heady, and making his head spin and a wave of dizziness wash over him. Zero glanced around with wild eyes and a racing pulse beneath his skin. He was searching frantically, trying to wade through the thick sea of blood that came up to his waist in vain. He didn’t know what he was seeking in this darkness, in this hellish abyss, only that he had to find it. Find him.

There was nothing but red as far as the eye could see, not a trace of light or life anywhere, only the heavy odor of death that clung to everything like a second skin and permeated the hunter’s very being. Zero moved his arms as the blood rose, trudging through the thick liquid, craning his head this way and that as his breath came in short, quick gasps.

Finally, he found him floating on top of the red liquid with wide, unseeing eyes. He was still wearing the same dark clothes he’d been in the day Zero lost him.

“Tomas!”

The man’s head craned to look at him, black liquid seeping from his eyes and nose. Zero stumbled backward as his mouth fell open, and his brows drew together, voice reduced to a broken whisper.

“Tomas?”

He blinked, and the figure changed until it was no longer his former lover before him but Kaname, looking at him with those red, red eyes of his leaking black goop like a sieve and a lazy frown on his lips.

“K-Kaname?” Zero doubled over as bile rose in his throat, unable to keep from retching at the sight before him. He clutched at his head with both hands now. “No, no, no-”

The figure stood on jerky limbs and ambled towards Zero like the thick blood was not even an obstacle. Zero hurriedly backed away as fast as he could, though the liquid seemed to be moving against him as if to stop him.

“No- stop! Don’t come any closer. Don’t-“

The sound of someone screaming woke Kaname, tortured moans slipping from the throat of the man beside him and pained whimpers filling the air. He sat up in a hurry as Zero’s hands clutched the sheets in a white-knuckle grip, his head tossing and turning in panicked gasps.

“No! Don’t! Stop it, don’t-“

A frown laced the pureblood’s brows as Zero’s chest rose and fell in rapid succession, beads of sweat gathering on his skin as whatever nightmare it was this time pulled the boy deeper into its clutches. Kaname prodded the man lightly to try and wake him. It didn’t work, the hunter too far caught in the depths of his night terror, and a frown appeared between the pureblood’s brows as his throat tightened.

This wasn’t an unusual occurrence if he was honest. Zero had one of his infamous night terrors nearly every night now, tossing and turning while tortured groans escaped his throat. Kaname never tried to wake him, the episodes hardly ever lasting for more than a few minutes anyway and by the time he was woken up by the noise, it was usually over.

Not this time, it seemed, though. He hadn’t ever seen Zero have a night terror quite this bad before. Yes, the hunter would groan and kick and toss and turn, but he’d never screamed like this quite before or struggled like he was fighting for his very life.

“Zero,” Kaname tried, leaning close to shake the hunter’s shoulder, fully expecting for Zero to call out for Tomas again, as he often did when in the throes his night terrors. But the name that left the hunter’s lips had the pureblood pausing.

“No! Kaname-“

A massive stone settled in his gut. Was Zero’s terror due to the pureblood’s appearance in his dream? Had the hunter’s imagination conjured up some demon to take Kaname’s own form before terrorizing the hunter?

It doesn’t matter, Kaname firmly told himself despite the heavy which weight settled in his chest. What mattered was waking the hunter up before he hurt himself or woke up the entire village. Kaname took no joy in seeing the boy battle the demons of his mind - best to wake him.

“Zero, wake up. It’s only a dream,” He said and gave a harder shake of the boy’s shoulder, jostling him.

That worked. Zero’s eyes snapped open abruptly then, a scream leaving his lips as he came back to reality once more. He shot up from where he lay and let the sheet that had been covering his chest fall to his lap. His breathing was still heavy as he struggled to place himself, turning to look at Kaname though not really seeing him, eyes wide with lingering panic.

Kaname let the hunter’s hands come up to carefully cup his face, fingers running gently over the skin, barely touching him at all. The pureblood almost didn’t dare to breathe, not wanting to spook the boy any further.

“Zero?”

If the boy heard him, he showed no signs; instead he continued to map out the contours of the pureblood’s face, eyes dazed and glossy.

“K-Kaname.”

The sound of Zero’s voice, husky from sleep, saying his name sent goosebumps rippling across the pureblood’s skin for an entirely different reason than fear, and his shoulders fell as he softly exhaled.

“Yes, I’m here.” He caught Zero’s hand by the wrist. “Are you alright? You were having one of your night terrors.”

“I… was? Shit, did I wake you?” Zero’s words were a soft slur as he murmured, only half-awake still. He allowed himself to fall forward towards the pureblood’s chest, leaning his forehead on a broad shoulder.

“It’s fine, I’ve been woken by worse things,” Kaname murmured. After a moment’s hesitation, he brought a hand up to brace on the boy’s back, rubbing circles with his thumb idly. Zero must have been either more terrified than Kaname thought he was or still mostly asleep, as he didn’t even protest the action. “What were you dreaming of? I’ve never seen you react quite so intensely before.”

“I-“ Zero pressed his eyes closed as he tried to wrack his memory and found nothing. “I don’t know. I remember… death. A lot of it. It was surrounding me, choking me, invading my mouth, and my nose- I couldn’t breathe without being inundated by it. It- it was horrible.”

Kaname’s eyebrows drew together at Zero’s words. He couldn’t imagine what must have been going through the hunter’s mind in such a situation. Without thinking of it, he brought his other hand up to gently card through the hunter’s short, silver locks. Zero shuddered beneath the touch before relaxing against him.

“Calm yourself, Zero, it was only a dream. It was a harmless figment of your imagination, nothing more. It can’t hurt you anymore.”

“God, it felt so- so real.”

“A trick of the mind. No matter how real it seemed, I assure you it wasn’t.”

“Yeah, I know. Just… fuck.” Zero groaned against the vampire’s shoulder, the sound muffled by the fabric of Kaname’s pajama shirt. Were the situation any different Zero might have teased the pureblood about wearing pajamas, while the hunter preferred to sleep in just his briefs. “I’m sorry for waking you up.”

Zero pulled away from Kaname with a yawn.

Kaname’s eyes softened at the sight of Zero’s rare, more gentle side. Not many got to see the hunter in such a state, and he’d be lying if he said his chest didn’t swell with warmth at the sight. “As I said, it’s not a problem. There are much worse things that I’ve had my sleep disturbed by, trust me.”

Zero offered a lazy curl of his lips. “Thanks for waking me up, by the way. I uh- I appreciate that you didn’t let me suffer through that.”

And now the hunter was thanking him as well? He indeed must still be mostly asleep, for the Zero Kaname knew would never say such kind words to him.

“Of course.”

Dawn was still a long way off yet, and they’d had a late night previously. Not to mention, their obligation of drinks with the mayor wasn’t until the evening. A few more hours' worths of sleep would hardly hurt either of them, Kaname decided as Zero pulled the sheets up around himself and drifted back off to sleep. The pureblood followed shortly after.

Zero grimaced at the noise that reached his ears soon as he set foot in the dingy tavern. To be honest, the place was nothing special. It had a few relatively clean oak wood tables and a blazing fire in a stone hearth while candles placed around gave it a relatively homely glow. A young woman and a boy a few years younger than the hunter himself was struggling to keep up with orders behind the bar. Bodies clustered around each other, people filling the place. Every booth in the wall, every table it seemed were filled with other customers. Damn, guess there really isn’t much to do in this place but drink, huh?

The hunter looked at their ragged clothing and compared it with his own. He’d dressed down for tonight, wearing his worn boots, dark slim-fitting pants and an olive green shirt covered with his leather jacket. He just hoped his choice of attire would be enough to pass as one of their own – or that most would be too drunk to care.

Zero shouldered his way through the crowd and claimed one of the few available seats at the bar, beside a plump woman dressed in swathes of greens and blues. He flagged down the woman behind the counter.

“Mead,” He decided after a glance at other patrons from the corner of his eye. He wasn’t much for the stuff himself, but when in Rome and all that shit, right?

When she returned with his drink, Zero gave his best false smile and choked the drink down. It tasted like spice on his tongue, but other than that, it was a pretty dry mead. Not the worst, but not the best either. His eyes skimmed over the crowd, not looking for anyone in particular but sizing up his prey, looking for anyone with loose lips or that just generally looked like someone who was popular around these parts, ripe with gossip.

“Something you’re after, outsider?”

It took Zero a moment to realize the question had come from the woman beside him, who was now staring at him with a natural smile on her stained lips.

“What?”

She laughed low and tipped her glass of whiskey towards him. “You look like a man on a mission, outrider. Anyone with eyes can see that. Besides, you stick out like a sore thumb.”

“Even if I am, I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”

“Oh, this one has some fire in him!” She crowed in delight, tipping her head back with a cackle before focusing on Zero once more, utterly unaffected by the remark. “But that would be where you’re wrong. You see, folk call me Sweet Nell ‘round here. I know everything and everyone. Might be able to help ya if you know what you’re looking for, hun.”

The hunter frowned and narrowed his eyes. “What’ll it cost me?”

She shrugged. “First one’s free.”

Zero exhaled through his nose sharply, considering the offer. He clearly wasn’t getting anywhere thus far, and well, he didn’t have anything to lose.

“Fine. I’m looking for information on the recent string of killings.”

“Ah,” The woman hummed as she sipped leisurely at the whiskey in her hand before looking at Zero over the rim of the glass.

“You know what I’m talking about?”

“Of course I do, darling. Why there ain’t many folk who don’t know about them killings, people dropping like flies and whatnot. People have been spouting off all kind of nonsense since it began, I swear I’ve heard everything from ghosts to curses and much more, believe me. Unfortunately, I’m afraid Sweet Nell can’t help you there, darling. I know about as much as you do, in fact, you’d be better off talking to Henry.”

She pointed over Zero’s shoulder, towards a group of men sitting around a table playing a round of poker. There looks to maybe be five of them, all in dark, clothes. Most of them weren’t hard on the eyes either – strong jawlines, striking eyes – it’s no wonder at least half of them have a woman hanging off their arm or two.

“Henry is the leader of the Scavengers over there. He’s the tall one with the salt and pepper hair.”

Zero saw him all right. How could he not? The man lorded over the rest of the table with his dark hair slicked back and a stern face with thick brows, in a thick, leather jacket, much like Zero’s own. The hunter had to admit, he wasn’t half bad to look at.

“Shouldn’t be too hard to get his attention, considering he’s been stealing glances at you since you walked in that door, sugar. You’re just his type too – young and new.” Nell added with a wink. “You want information? Go talk to Henry, that’s the best I can give ya.”

“I think I just might.”

Zero flicked her a couple of coins for her trouble before standing from his seat at the bar. He adjusted his shirt slightly, moving it so that a sliver of pale collarbone was visible and ran a hand through his hair, messing up the silver locks and adopting his best self-confident smirk as he sauntered over.

Henry was the first to look up at Zero with dark eyes as he approached the table, his gaze roving over the hunter’s body.

“What are you playing, boys?” Zero questioned as he leaned against the table and cocked a hip.

“Poker,” One of the other men, a tattooed and heavily muscled fellow sporting a ginger beard, replied gruffly, a busty blonde woman with her arms around his neck tittering.

“Mind if I join? It’s been years since I had the chance to play.”

“Do you even have anything to wager, boy?” The ginger man asked with a glance at Zero’s pockets.

“I don’t have much coin left,” The hunter admitted with a glance he hoped looked sheepish, ducking his head and glancing up at Henry through lowered lashes. I really deserve a pay raise for this shit. “But how about something else? A kiss, maybe?” He punctuated the statement by poking his tongue out to lick over his top lip with a coy smirk.

“A kiss?” Another man, completely bald with a rough voice echoed.

“Maybe more if you play nice.”

“Enough,” Henry spoke for the first time since Zero had arrived, his smooth voice ringing out loudly over the table as he raised a brow at the balding man. The boy just told you he’s low on coin, Fischer, let him wager what he wishes. Deal him in.”

Zero gave Henry a secret grin as he pulled over a chair, and the bald man – Fischer, apparently – dealt Zero into the game with a quiet grumble beneath his breath.

It was no surprise when Henry ended up winning that round, thanks in large part to Zero throwing no doubt. Part of the hunter was grateful that it was, in fact, Henry who won though; not only did he not relish in having to kiss one of the other men at the table, but if he played this right he might just get some information as well. The older man gave Zero a dark look over the rim of his glass and beckoned the boy closer with a curl of one finger.

“Not going back on us now, are you, boy?” Fischer spoke, and Zero suspected it was meant to be a jeer, but it didn’t quite land.

“I’m a man of my word,” He all but purred, his mouth going dry as he approached the ringleader. Zero’s pulse quickened in his chest at the way Henry’s gaze darkened while he glued his eyes to the hunter’s form. A bolt of arousal shot through him as Zero bent down to press his lips to the older man’s.

Henry tasted like whiskey on his tongue, smooth and burning. He swiped his tongue over Zero’s lips, and the younger man parted his lips with a groan, letting the older man explore his mouth to his content. Zero kissed him with vigor and eagerness that – truth be told – was only partly an act. Sue him, okay? The man was experienced, and it showed. Zero hadn’t been kissed like this in ages, and he was starving for it.

The kiss was over all too soon, with the older man pulling back and leaving the hunter standing dazed and lost, lips swollen red from the kiss. It took a few seconds for Zero to come back to reality.

“So, what brings you out here by yourself, princess? Pretty thing like you ought to have someone waiting for you.” Henry questioned him.

Zero stuck his lips out in a slight pout and pretended to ponder the question.

“Why do you say that? Don’t think I can take care of myself?” The hunter’s tongue darted out to wet his lips, and it didn’t escape the man’s gaze, his blue eyes following Zero’s every move. Got you.

The man just chuckled at that and reached out to wrap an arm around the hunter’s waist. Zero let himself be dragged closer and coaxed into sitting on the man’s lap with a squeak. “Now now, that ain’t it, sweetheart. But there’s been a whole lot of bad things happening in town lately, it ain’t wise to go wandering around by yourself.”

“What bad things?” Zero leaned in close to look up at the man through long lashes, batting violet eyes slowly. “Come on, you’ve got me too curious to not tell me now. Besides, you’ll protect me, right?”

“Well, folks have been disappearing around here for the past few months. Turning up dead with their bellies split open and guts pouring out. Some of ‘em are even missing limbs and organs.” The man explained. “Horrible shit.”

“Like that Leo kid,” Another man across the table added with a shake of his head. “Damn shame, that kid wasn’t bad looking. That mouth was made for cock sucking, I tell you.”

“Who’s that?” Zero questioned casually, though he immediately perked up at the possible lead.

“You really aren’t from around here, are you, sweet thing? Leo was a bit of an odd bird round this town. I always said there was something wrong with that kid. He was a real loner, never really made any friends. A few little shits even started to say his parents weren’t his real parents.”

“What happened to him?”

“He went missing out of nowhere. Just… gone one night. No trace of him anywhere. It was like he disappeared into thin air. A while later, the killings started.”

“How horrible,” Zero commented with a grimace and curled closer to Henry, even as his mind was already working, trying to sort out their words. This kid definitely sounded connected with the killings somehow, but he needed more information. There was no use running off half-cocked unless he had hard evidence.

The conversation steered away from the killings after that, despite Zero’s attempts to pry more information from the men around him. And he couldn’t much keep pressing them without looking suspicious himself.

Zero stayed for a few more rounds, waging small amounts of coin this time. He ended up winning most of it back thankfully, but he didn’t end up with all that much more than he’d had when he started. Before long, though, he figured out the men had nothing more to offer him and made to leave.

“At least stay for one last drink, won’t you?” Henry asked. Zero firmly pulled his shirt down when the man’s hand on his hip began to wander.

“I suppose I could stay,” He still had a bit more time to kill until Kaname would be looking for him. Hopefully. What was the harm? “Just one, though.”

“Just one,” Henry nodded to one of the other men and tightening his hold on the hunter. “My usual.”

The man rose from his seat and disappeared in the direction of the bar, while Zero squirmed away from Henry’s hand attempting to migrate to his ass. He hoped he wouldn’t regret this.

Kaname let a bored hiss of air escape his lips as Wellington lapsed into another story about one of his ventures out hunting. Already he’d been here an hour now, listening with faux interest over a bottle of wine and the man hadn’t even mentioned the incidents. He was starting to think the man just wanted someone to boast to.

“Pardon the interruption, but you said that you wished to help me and my companion investigate the recent string of disappearances around town,” He interjected as politely as he could. Truth be told, he was contemplating just putting his hand through the man’s chest and being done with this whole thing. Better to ask for forgiveness than permission, after all, yes? And Zero would forgive him for it. Eventually. Probably. “Might we move our discussion to that topic? I hate to leave my companion on his own for too long, given how unwell he is right now.”

Charles blinked at him as though just now realizing Kaname was there for the first time all evening. “Hm? Ah yes, of course, of course. Happy to assist in any way that I can. You must understand, Mr…”

“Kuran.”

“Mr. Kuran. This is a sensitive subject for all of us, such things are difficult to speak of.”

“Naturally. Take your time.”

The man heaved a deep sigh as a weighted frown settled on his expression. “Most of the victims thus far have been young men and women. Adolescents, most of them not even reached adulthood yet. Such a tragedy, I tell you. And the way they were found – torn apart, with their innards and limbs missing. A terrible, terrible sight, even I found it difficult to look at. Mark my words, sir, nothing human could have done such a thing, no sir.”

“Then you think it an animal of some kind?”

Wellington leaned back to stroke at his beard. “It certainly seems more plausible than a human doing such a thing! A few of the bodies were seen with claw marks on them, reminiscent of a bear or a wolf if you will.”

“I see. And, forgive the questions but, each of the victims was slain within a week or so of each other, no?”

“Yes, that is correct.”

Kaname mulled that information over in his mind. That didn’t quite make sense if this werewolf was a rogue, banished or exiled from a pack. Werewolves were similar to vampires in that they didn’t need to eat often and certainly not within a week. So our wolf isn’t eating out of necessity. Killing for sport then? Or perhaps seeking some misplaced revenge?

He still didn’t feel as though he was any closer to finding this beast, and an annoyed click of his tongue left Kaname. “Is there anything more you can tell me? It may help us to track down whatever did this before it claims someone else.”

“I’m afraid not, good sir. That is as much as I know about these incidents.”

The pureblood stiffened slightly in his seat at the sound of footsteps outside of the sitting room in the corridor. A moment later, the doors swung open to reveal a woman in a form-fitting dress of red and purple jewel tones. Golden curls fell around her tanned shoulders as she waltzed into the room.

“Darling, you didn’t tell me we were having guests over!” A cheerful lilt filled her voice as she stepped over to Charles’ side, pressing a kiss to the man’s cheek before turning to Kaname.

“Forgive me, my dear. I did not think you would return this soon,” Charles laughed, wrapping an arm around her. “This is Mr. Kuran. He and his companion are here in town to investigate the recent string of incidents. Mr. Kuran, this is my lovely wife, Jezebel.”

She lifted a shocked hand to her mouth as her eyes widened. “You’re here to investigate the killings? Oh, how awful. Still, though I wish it were under better circumstances, I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Kuran.”

“As am I,” The pureblood bent to press a kiss to the back of her hand, and the woman tittered in delight at the action.

Yet beyond introductions, her gaze drifted back to her husband once more without lingering on Kaname. Odd, he thought, noticing how much younger she appeared than her husband. But the woman seemed nothing if not devoted to the man, so perhaps it was just unconventional attraction between the two.

“I’m afraid I should be going now,” Kaname murmured. He’d seen Zero leave off in the direction of the tavern earlier, and he was curious to see if the hunter was making out better than he had this evening. Perhaps at least one of them would have something useful to go on by the end of the night.

Jezebel’s brows pulled into a frown. “So soon? Will you not stay for supper?”

Charles laughed and patted the woman’s hand. “His partner is ill, my darling. Surely we should let the man go be at his side. I should think his partner would not take it lightly if Mr. Kuran here was gone for too long.” He said with a wink in the pureblood’s direction.

“Ill? My, how terrible,” Jezebel drew her brows together. “Yes, you should hurry back then. I do so hate when Charles leaves me while I’m ill. I’m sure this partner of yours must feel the same, Mr. Kuran. I am hoping for a quick recovery.”

The pureblood’s mahogany gaze flickered between the pair, unable to escape the distinct impression that he was missing something here. Nevertheless, he was grateful for the chance to escape.

Kaname hastily left the Wellington manor after bidding his farewells to the odd couple and disappeared off down dark roads, making for the brightly lit tavern in the distance.

“Up for some fun after this, sweet thing?”

“Not tonight. Besides, I don’t think you could handle me,” Zero rebuffed, hoping his words would put an end to the man’s advances. This Henry fellow was starting to get under the hunter’s skin with his persistent affections, despite the hunter having turned him down already tonight. Repeatedly, might he add.

Henry tipped his head back with a laugh as his man returned, setting two frothing pints of beer down on the table. The man raised his and tilted his head back to take a swig with Zero following, not wanting to be seen as impolite.

Zero hummed as he licked his lips, chasing the taste. It was good beer, he’d give it that. Nice and smooth going down, unlike the usual grog he forced down. Something about it tasted slightly odd, but he chalked it up solely to his odd tastebuds. Being turned into a bloodsucker would do that, after all.

The hunter declined to participate in the next round, content to sit and drink as he waited for a chance to escape. Over time though, his head began to spin, and soon it was difficult to watch the match as the movements only made it worse. His temple was pounding something fierce.

Zero blinked as his vision began to blur, hand slowly pushing Henry’s hand away from his person again, in slow, sluggish movements as he ground his teeth together.

“Stop it,” He snapped, yanking the man’s hand off of his inner thigh. He stood with a glare, his legs shaking and swaying like a breeze in the wind.

A cold sweat began to bead along his skin as some remote part of his mind finally registered that something was wrong. Something was wholly and terribly wrong with this situation.

“Just a bit of fun, sweetheart. Relax.”

Zero mustered all of his strength to shove away from the man as Henry reached for him again.

“N-no. I don’t fucking want-“ His legs buckled beneath him as soon as he hit the floor, or tried to at least had a pair of arms not caught him.

Kaname looked down at the flushed and sweating face of the hunter in his arms. Zero’s violet eyes gazed back at Kaname, half-lidded and glazed over with fog. He snatched for the stranger’s hand when he tried to reach out and grab Zero. The pureblood’s fingers tightened, threatening to break the fragile bone. He tugged the collapsed hunter closer to his form and out of the man’s reach.

“Tell me what you did to him. Now.” The pureblood’s vision was a haze of vermillion. He was in no mood to hear this man’s excuses. What he did want to hear was how and why there was a chemical odor clinging to the hunter and what that had to do with the smarmy expression on the man’s face.

“And what’s that any business of yours, eh? It was just a bit of fun between friends.”

“I believe I heard him say no.” Kaname’s patience was quickly waning. “No? Then how about we compromise? You tell me what you gave to him, and perhaps I won’t rip your spine out through your throat.”

The man’s face screwed up into an annoyed sneer at that, appraising Kaname with a single glance. He broke the gaze with a loud scoff.

“Fine, he ain’t worth it, anyway. Just a bit of something me and my men use to loosen stubborn bitches up every now and the-“

That was as far as the man got before he choked on his words, and a thin trail of red dribbled out from his mouth. With wide, shaking eyes he looked down at the clawed hand protruding from his chest, unable to believe what he was seeing. A split second later, Kaname retracted his hand, holding the man’s still-beating heart within his bloodied grasp as the man’s body fell to the floor with a loud, wet noise.

The pureblood raised a brow and toed the limp form with a tilt of his head. “Well, I did say ‘perhaps.’” Kaname then looked towards the other men, all frozen stiff in their seats at the sight. “Let’s hope you’ve all learned your lesson here tonight, yes?”

With that, the pureblood reached down to help a barely-conscious Zero to stand once more with an arm around the hunter’s waist. He hooked Zero’s arm over his own shoulders and helped the hunter out of the tavern.

Outside in the cold, frigid air, Zero seemed to come around a bit more but not nearly enough to speak. The pureblood pursed his lips together, drawing a line across his palm and holding it up to the hunter’s mouth. Thank goodness Zero wasn’t conscious enough to refuse his blood this time. Kaname was in no mood to deal with his stubbornness right now.

Zero’s fangs attached themselves to the pureblood’s skin as his instincts took over, drinking slowly. With any luck, his blood would help to metabolize whatever drug they’d given Zero out of his system. Kaname withdrew his hand after a minute or so.

Kaname hoisted the hunter up into his arms, hooking an arm behind his back and the other beneath Zero’s knees. He made a quick journey back to the Inn and deposited Zero onto the bed. All that was left to do now was wait. He made himself comfortable at Zero’s side, unwilling to leave him alone right now and idly stroked through silken strands of silver. Honestly, the things I do for you.

Chapter Text

A horrible, blinding brightness greeted Zero when the hunter opened his eyes, the pounding behind his eyes intensifying and making the room spin like a goddamn carousel. He sat up as slow as he could, swaying slightly as he did so, a low groan escaping his throat. Violet eyes looked up to the pureblood sitting on the edge of their shared bed and met Kaname’s menacing glare.

“What happened?” He asked in a sigh, bracing himself. His last few memories were a hazy blur, and it was hard to recall much of anything right now, but judging by that expression, he probably hadn’t done anything good. Better to get it over with now I guess.

“You don’t remember? You were drugged, quite heavily, might I add. You’re lucky I arrived when I did – you were nearly unconscious already by that time and if I hadn’t shown up, who knows what would have happened to you. I fed you my blood to help metabolize the drug from your system quicker, by the way.”

“Ngh-“ The hunter rubbed at his aching temples. “Is this the part where you say ‘I told you so’?” Zero asked dryly. “Go on, tell me you were right. Rub it in.”

Kaname sighed. “That doesn’t matter to me and you know it. Those men wanted to hurt you, Zero, and if I hadn’t been there, they might have succeeded. Do you honestly think I care about being right?”

As a matter of fact, he’d never wanted to be wrong more in his life than last night.

“Alright, fine. If that’s not it, then why are you so fucking pissed then?”

With a huff of air, the pureblood stomped over and gripped Zero’s chin, leaning down towards the hunter.

“I am angry at the obvious, blatant disregard you seem to hold for yourself, you little fool. Even you knew better than to accept a drink from a stranger, Zero, let alone one as shady as those men were. So why put yourself in that situation in the first place, I wonder?”

Zero scowled right back at him, holding Kaname’s russet gaze with his own. The pureblood was so close to him now. Close enough for the hunter to make out flecks of scarlet and gold in his eyes, and for some reason, the hunter couldn’t look away. Unconsciously, his lips fell open slightly, and he licked at their chapped flesh with his tongue, barely even daring breathe.

He didn’t know what to make of Kaname’s words. Why? Why do you suddenly care so much? He wanted to ask, to demand answers of the pureblood and gain insight into the way Kaname had been acting towards him - the concern that he watched Zero with, the gentle way he treated his wounds and how easily he spoke to the hunter like an old friend - it was all so damn confusing. He didn’t know what to make of it all, none of it made any damn sense.

“Why? Why does that matter so much to you?” Zero refused to acknowledge how his voice quivered when he spoke.

“Is it really that hard to believe that I might care for you? That I might be concerned for you?”

From where Kaname was standing, at least someone should be because clearly, Zero wasn’t going to be doing much of that himself.

Zero broke away from his grip to hang his head down, focusing intently on the grain of the wooden floor as he shut his eyes.

“I- you shouldn’t. You shouldn’t concern yourself with me.”

Kaname pursed his lips as his chest tightened at that. Did the boy really think so little of himself? It was probably best to put that thought out of his mind at least, for now, the vampire decided, rather than press the matter and risk making the boy clam up even further. But that didn’t mean he was finished. No, he had plenty to say to the hunter about his foolish, idiotic actions.

“ At least tell me what you were possibly thinking accepting a drink from an absolute stranger like that. Even you know better than that.

“I wasn’t thinking, really.”

“That much is obvious. Really, I expected more from you, Zero. You could have gotten yourself killed or even raped had I not shown up. What exactly were you hoping to accomplish?” Kaname was positively seething, fury lacing each and every one of his words. Did this boy not understand the danger he’d put himself in? Of all the idiotic, stupid, senseless things to do-

“Look, I know, I know, okay? It was a dumb move, I get it. But I didn’t come away empty-handed.” Zero groaned, holding up a hand to his head as he tried to jog his memory. “I found out there was this- this kid, okay? He went missing a while before the killings started. Some teenager named Leo – or- or Lenny, or Larry or something like that.”

Kaname frowned at that. “The Mayor did mention that most victims were young. Teenagers or young adults. You think this Leo was bitten?”

“It would make sense, wouldn’t it? Hell, this town isn’t big, I’d be willing to bet most of those kids were his classmates back when he was human and that he’s just following scents familiar to him. Right now, I think this Leo kid is our best guess.”

“I agree.”

“Good. In that case, I say we go pay our Mayor a visit and see what he knows about this kid.”

“Kiryuu,” Kaname said, trying and failing to get the hunter’s attention. “Zero.”

“What?”

The pureblood gently grabbed the hunter’s hand in his own icy grip. “You’re shaking.”

“Am I?” Zero tried for nonchalant and missed when his voice shook. God, it was like there were thousands of tiny bugs crawling along his skin. He couldn’t’ shake the touch of that slimy fucker no matter how hard he tried and Kaname’s words- rape. It sent shockwaves through him, unwelcome images of what might have happened had the pureblood not intervened.

Kaname shocked even himself then, by reaching over and pulling the hunter into an embrace. Zero stiffened minutely before collapsing against him, taking deep breaths of the pureblood’s comforting scent. His eyes fell closed as Kaname’s hand rose to play with silver strands.

“You’re safe now, he can’t hurt you,” The pureblood murmured all the while knowing his words would have little comfort. Zero knew that the man was gone, but getting his body to believe that was a different story. “He won’t lay a hand on you ever again.”

The hunter swallowed.

“Did you kill him?” Normally he wouldn’t advocate for violence. But this time, he wanted that fucker to pay dearly.

“Yes.”

Though he was beginning to wish he’d done it slower, seeing Zero so shaken by the whole thing. Were he able to do it over again, Kaname would rip his limbs apart slowly and painfully, making the man beg and plead for mercy that he wouldn’t get.

“Good.”

And for once, Zero meant it. He was only sorry he hadn’t been there to see it. Hiding his face in the pureblood’s shoulder, Zero made no move to leave Kaname’s embrace, basking instead in the vampire’s scent, it’s familiarity soothing and comforting. With each shuddering breath, his heart calmed a bit more, and the pureblood’s fingers soothed through his hair, helping to distract him from the memory of those horrid sensations.

He almost didn’t want to pull away, but they couldn’t stay like this all day. No matter how much I want to.

Zero tore himself away from the pureblood’s embrace after a while, flinching as the warm pressure around him disappeared.

“Alright, I think I’m good now.”

“Are you sure?” And for once, it didn’t sound patronizing and condescending to Zero’s ears. Instead, the pureblood’s voice softened in concern.

“Yeah. I’m sure. Besides, we shouldn’t waste any more time.”

Zero let out a shout as he tried to stand, and white-hot pain flared through his abdomen. He doubled over with a low hiss, and a hand gently prodded at his back.

“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“Fine,” Zero managed. “Just – fuck – cramps is all.” He looked down at his pants, though, and saw a spreading stain of red. Shit.

“You’re not fine. You’re bleeding too heavily, I don’t need a pureblood’s sense of smell to tell that,” Kaname argued and folded his arms.

“Relax, highness. I always tend to bleed heavily, this isn’t anything new,” Zero assured him, wincing at another cramp. “I’ll be fine, really. We need to find whatever is killing those people before it mauls someone else.”

“At least eat something first, before you collapse.”

“Tell you what, if it’ll keep you happy, fine,” Zero surrendered, shrugging on a dark green shirt and a pair of pants before lacing up his boots. Truth be told, his stomach was a bit empty this morning. Maybe he could use a bit of food.

A young woman was wiping a cloth over tables as Zero and Kaname came down the wooden stairs. She was a mousy little thing, with hair the color of dishwater held back by a cloth. She immediately spun to greet them upon hearing the noise.

“Wait, I remember seeing you last night,” She commented at Zero. “I remember this fella here bringing you in. Practically dead on your feet, you were.”

“I- er, yes. That was me.”

She swiped her arm across a sweaty brow. “Goodness, you must have had one hell of a night. Tell you what, wait here, and I’ll fix ya something to eat. I think I’ve got some tarts leftover and some Kaha eggs.”

Zero took a seat at one of the cleaned tables, his vision going white at the edges for a moment, as the girl disappeared. Kaname silently took a seat across from him.

The girl returned moments later, balancing two plates. Golden gooseberry tarts topped with rough crystals of sugar and fluffy, white Kaha eggs filled both plates and neatly sliced dark purple fruits known as Loshewan, which tasted like something between an apple and an orange.

Kaname, while primarily not fond of partaking in human food, saw no other choice as the girl went back to work cleaning around them while he and Zero ate. He cautiously took a bite of the fluffy eggs as Zero lifted the tart to his mouth.

Zero let out a low moan as the sweet pastry hit his tongue, only barely managing to swallow before speaking.

“God, I’ve missed real food.”

The pureblood’s lips curved up at the corners as Zero all but devoured the meal set before him, eagerly taking bites of everything. Purple juice from the loshewan fruits stained his lips and gave them a vibrant berry color. Zero ate like a man starved, but Kaname didn’t mind, watching him lick a piece of sugar from the corner of his lips as he nibbled on his remaining tart. He needed the energy.

Even Kaname found himself not minding the taste of the pastry as he often did with human sweets. The sour taste of the gooseberries helped to cut down on the sugar and made it bearable even to his sensitive palate.

And the smell of sweets and fruit helped to distract him from the heady fragrance of blood clinging to Zero like a second skin. He still wanted the hunter, desiring nothing more than to bite into that sweet, pale nape and pin the boy beneath him to fuck into him as Zero moaned into his ear. But he could put his desire out of his mind for now.

There was something so innocent about watching Zero eat. For once, there was no scowl or glare on his face, only pleasure, and joy at finally eating real food once more. Occasionally a small, pleased noise would escape his throat as he ate, whether conscious or not Kaname didn’t know. The boy was endearing though.

“I could eat nothing but these tarts for the rest of my life and die happy,” The hunter sighed, licking crumbs from his fingers in a gesture that sent heat curling in Kaname’s gut. He quickly glanced away from the sight. “God, if we weren’t on a job right now, I’d ask that girl for the recipe.”

Kaname looked back at that, tilting his head. “I wasn’t aware you cooked.”

A laugh escaped the hunter. “Who do you think made all those sweets Yuuki gave you, genius? Yeah, I like to cook. Well, more bake than cook, but I can do both. When I have the time, that is.”

Color me intrigued. “It seems I’m constantly learning new things about you, Zero.”

A soft flush bloomed across pale cheeks as Zero looked down at his plate. Fucking hormones and shit. He shrugged.

“Well, it’s not like I meant to learn how to cook. But living with Yuuki and Cross, someone had to before we all died of food poisoning. Those two are horrible in the kitchen, my god.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Kaname chuckled. Though truth be told, he’d tasted Cross’ cooking a few times. He was still scarred from that experience.

“And after that, I guess I discovered it was actually… kind of fun. It was nice to just relax and not have to worry about hunting or vampires or anything. It was just me and a recipe book.”

“Maybe you’ll let me taste your cooking someday.”

Zero blinked at him with wide, owlish eyes. But you hate human food, he nearly said. The words wouldn’t come. Oddly enough, he didn’t hate the idea of cooking for Kaname.

“Maybe.”

Provided we both make it back in one piece.

After breakfast, more cramps assaulted Zero, so he wound up asking the girl – whose name he learned was Yasha - to draw him a hot bath, hoping the hot water would soothe his aching muscles.

She was happy to do so and showed him to the small bathing chamber. It was a large, domed room with a stone pool set into the floor in the center of it all. Sunlight filtered through glass windows high above. A mural of the sea, complete with fish, sharks, and all manner of sea creatures amidst an ocean of blues lined the curved wall around him.

Zero set his clothing by the edge of the pool, safe at least in the knowledge that with the door locked, he wouldn’t have any unwelcome visitors this time. He took off his ring and the chain attached to Bloody Rose as well, setting them right beside his clothing before sinking into the steaming water.

A pleased sigh left his lips as he relaxed under the hot water. Zero spread his arms out on either side of him and leaned back, letting his eyes fall closed. It felt unbelievably good to be able to relax in a bath, especially when contrasted with the icy river he’d been forced to bathe in previously. This was definitely much better.

Something pleasant and warm tingled in his belly as Zero finally let himself begin to relax. His cunt grew wet without even really thinking about it. Fuck, this is why I hate hormones.

Truth be told, he’d been aching for some kind of release ever since his period had begun. It wasn’t surprising, really. He was always easily aroused during his bleedings, and it seemed this time was no different, except that with Kaname always around, he hadn’t had a chance to ever seek release since the pureblood saw fit to glue himself to the hunter’s side.

Well, he isn’t around now, is he?

Slowly, cautiously, Zero brought his hand down beneath the water. He didn’t know why he was being cautious – after all, it wasn’t like the pureblood would suddenly barge into the bathing room without cause. Not even Kaname was that bad.

Letting the growing heat of arousal guide him, Zero grew bolder in his actions. He swiped a finger over his clit, just barely brushing the sensitive nub and shuddering at the sensation. Taking a breath, he repeated the action, slower this time, drawing lazy patterns around the small nub and occasionally brushing his fingers against it as his hips gently moved, pressing into the touch without the hunter even trying. Zero’s eyelids fluttered closed as a flush began to spread over his cheeks.

The young man threw his head back, and a breathy moan left his lips as he dipped one finger into the wetness of his cunt, warm wetness clenching around his finger and staining the water with ribbons of red.

In Zero’s mind, an image rose, unbidden. A tall, brunette pureblood. Strong arms locking around my waist, hoisting me up. The hunter’s spine arched as he began to work a second finger into himself alongside the other, his thumb rubbing at his clit in steady, gentle circles. The steam made strands of silver stick to his skin while pleasure raced down his spine.

“A-Ah, ohhh, shit-“ God, he imagined the pureblood’s hard cock, flushed and leaking droplets of precum. He wondered what it would look like, what it would feel like, hot and heavy in his hand before his stuck his tongue out and tasted the bitter, sticky liquid collecting at the tip. What would it taste like on his tongue? The hunter gasped, pressing into his own touch as his teeth dug into his bottom lip, trying to stifle his noises as he imagined tasting the pureblood, feeling Kaname’s rigid cock reach all the way back to his throat, rough enough that Zero would feel it for days afterward. A needy whine left Zero’s mouth as he imagined it was Kaname’s cock that was fucking him right now instead of his fingers, bringing him to new heights of pleasure. He bucked and moaned as lust raced through him, taking over his senses and rendering him thoughtless as he chased his own release.

His head tipped back, pale neck straining. He imagined the man holding him up easily, fucking up into Zero’s willing body and the hunter unable to do anything but take it. Zero groaned and cursed under his breath, fingers brushing that spot in his pussy that had him nearly seeing stars.

His fingers moved quicker, thrusting into his wet cunt beneath the water and thumb relentlessly moving over his clit. Zero tossed his head, and water splashed around him; he didn’t care, close as he was to his release.

“Oh god- oh fuck-“ Zero’s other hand came up to muffle his sounds as he worked himself harder, the faceless man in his mind fucking him hard and fast up against the wall. His cheeks flushed.

“I- fuck, Kaname!” A sharp whine left Zero’s mouth as he came hard, whiteness licking at the edges of his vision and his release painting the water around him. His body stiffened sharply before falling limp.

Loud, panting gasps left the hunter’s throat as he slowly came back down to reality from his high, cunt spasming through the aftershocks of his orgasm. Zero squirmed at how sensitive he was, all the while trying to catch his breath. He tipped his head towards the ceiling as the water washed away the fresh sheen of sweat on his skin, though his mind was occupied elsewhere.

He’d called Kaname’s name when he came. That hadn’t been a faceless pureblood in his thoughts at all, and the realization hit Zero like a brick to the head. He’d just masturbated while thinking of his friend.

Oh fuck.

It’s fine, he tried to assure himself. Kaname wasn’t bad to look at, and with his hormones, he was easily aroused right now. That’s all it was. Really.

Repeating that firmly in his head, Zero quickly finished washing up and drained the bath, watching bloody water swirl down the drain. He promptly attached his gun around his waist once more and fastened his ring around his neck.

Just hormones, he reminded himself. Just hormones.

Kaname could not resist the smirk that crawled across his lips as Zero walked quickly ahead of him. He caught traces of arousal still lingering on the hunter, no doubt regardless of how Zero had tried to hide it.

“Something on my back, or do you just like staring at me that much?” Zero called over his shoulder as he walked.

“It’s nothing,”

The hunter shrugged and continued on as the pair made their way across the village. It was nearly mid-day now, so people milled about the streets, washing clothes in basins and watching children flit about around them. Of course, most of them shirked back at the sight of the outsiders, so it was easy to navigate the dirt roads that ran throughout the place.

Charles Wellington looked up from his seat at the table, crumbs from his early lunch stuck in his beard at the sound of knocking on his door. He rose to follow the noise and found himself greeted by two familiar faces. “Ah, Mr. Kuran and Mr. Kiryuu. Feeling better this morning, I trust?”

The man closed the door behind him and stepped out onto the old, weathered wooden porch to speak to the two men.

“Much, thanks. If you don’t mind, we’d like to know more about a boy who went missing in this village. Does the name Leo ring any bells?” Zero was well aware of his snappy, waspish tone, but could anyone blame him? The sooner they found this beast, the better. The sooner they found whatever was killing these people, the sooner he could go home and not have to deal with painful cramps or shitty ration bars or his strange feelings towards Kuran.

Charles sighed a heavy, weighted breath. “Ah, yes. I do know of him. Leonard Rahal, that was his full name. He was a good kid, that Leo. He-“

“Mayor Wellington! Mayor Wellington!”

A young boy raced down the street, shouting in between gasps of breath and waving his arms in some way that was probably meant to get the man’s attention but only made the kid look ridiculous. He was a pale thing scarcely more than skin and bones, with a bright mop of ginger hair and a smattering of freckles across his face.

He doubled over as he screeched to a halt before the trio of men, bracing himself on his knees. Wellington’s thick brows drew together at the sight.

“Goodness, boy! You look like you’ve had the scare of a lifetime!”

“I- I came all the way from Halivaara to-to tell you something happened to Miss Greenfield. She’s dead, sir! Found just under an hour ago, torn apart by some beast!”

Zero exchanged a glance with Kaname, subtly raising a brow. Think it’s related to this rogue werewolf running around? Not that he needed to ask. Animal attacks in broad daylight weren’t exactly frequent, even less so around a crowded village like Halivaara or Ivorgarde. There wasn’t any question at this point.

“Where is Halivaara?” Kaname demanded, addressing the boy before Wellington could first. The boy cast him a wary glance, just now noticing him and Zero and unsure whether or not to answer them.

“You deaf or something, kid? Answer him.” Zero snapped, with a glare. He might have felt wrong about his rudeness if it hadn’t spurred the kid into answering.

“N-not far, sirs. Just miles down the river. An hour or two’s ride at the most.”

“Good, then you won’t mind showing us the way.”

Chapter Text

Dirt kicked up as Zephyr raced through the woods, Zero clutching tightly to the reins as he forced the horse onwards. The hunter wore a tight frown on his face, focused on nothing more than how close they might be to putting an end to this werewolf for once and for all. His abdomen cramped up and twisted, but he did his best to push the pain to the back of his head as he gripped the reins and dug his heels into Zephyr’s side, following the ginger-haired boy who rode ahead of him on his own small pony.

The mission has to come first. Always.

The boy finally led him and Kaname through the woods, weaving a path through the brambles and trailing roots of trees before buildings fashioned from wood and logs began to take shape in the distance, accompanied by smoke rising from stone-work chimneys and the noise of rushing water coupled with the occasional creaking groan of a nearby water-wheel. The boy didn’t lead them right into Halivarra though; instead, he veered off of the main path suddenly, steering his pony further into the woods until they came upon a clearing.

It wasn’t a big clearing by any means, but it had room for a handful of thorny bushes lined with dark berries, which grew beneath rays of sun that beamed down upon them unimpeded by leaves or branches of any kind. Tall pines and cedars towered over the berry bushes at the edge of the clearing. Or rather, they had before being torn apart and now littered the ground in splinters and dangerously sharp spikes of wood. The bushes themselves didn’t fare much better either, trampled and crushed beneath whatever had come through here; their sticky, dark juices soaking into the dirt of the forest floor and giving the air a lingering sweetness.

It looked like a storm had blown through the place, depositing branches on the ground and splitting wood. Entire trees had been felled in areas, their tangled roots upended from the earth like dozens of tiny fingers, leaving behind craters in the dirt. Claw marks scratched at the bark of trees and were etched into the soil and stone around them. Not that Zero needed that last bit of information – there weren’t many things that could fell an entire tree alone so quickly, nevermind this many, after all.

Damn, Zero thought, taking in the carnage around them. Either this was the work of our lycanthropic friend, or someone really doesn’t like deforestation.

“This is the place, sirs.” The boy announced, smoothly dismounting and making his way over broken branches and soft earth. Kaname and Zero followed after him, wordlessly until the boy came to a stop.

Zero stepped over to one of the trees, this one sporting the cleanest claw marks among them. He cautiously raised his fingers, running them over the rough surface of the bark and deep-seated grooves. Of course, claw marks alone wouldn’t tell him much. With four jagged lines, it could just as easily have been a vampire as a werewolf. Or even perhaps an Iepir if they were really unlucky – large, humanoid creatures that lived in dense forests like these and devoured humans to survive. Although it would be rare to encounter one this far north, stranger things had happened.

“There she is,” The boy announced, standing some distance back and pointing towards a dark lump on the ground, not too far away. Zero hedged closer with the silent pureblood on his heels.

The girl was lying among the dirt with flies and birds already beginning to pick at her corpse. Blonde hair fanned out around her, matted and dirty, and her once-white dress was now torn and shredded, covered in blood and dirt alike in places.

Zero choked on the smell of death in the air, putrid and rotting. He lifted his scarf to cover his mouth and nose, though it didn’t do much good.

Jesus.

He’d seen his fair share of dead bodies over the years as a hunter and had grown relatively numb to the sight by now. Yet the one before him was one of the worst ones he’d ever seen.

The girl’s abdomen was torn entirely open, showcasing shards of broken ribs among bloody tissue. Her throat had been shredded into a mess of bloodied tissue and muscle, pink tongue yanked out from her mouth – a messy process and one that had resulted in her teeth knocked clean from her gums by whoever had done this. They lay scattered upon the ground around her like misshapen pearls. One of her arms lay a few feet away, covered in what looked to be teeth-marks and entire pieces ripped clean off of the limb, leaving bleach-white bone showing through. The girl’s dark eyes were permanently fixed wide in terror.

The hunter stepped closer and bent down to examine it further with a frown. His brows drew together in surprise at what he was seeing. It was… odd. He knew what he was getting into when he agreed to see the body, but he’d expected to find the poor thing left in relatively one piece. Werewolves weren’t exactly known for mutilation. At most, Zero had expected to find her ripped open neck to pelvis, her internal organs all completely gone but not this.

An annoyed huff of breath left the hunter as he cast a glance sidelong at his companion, purposefully lowering his voice to keep the boy from overhearing. “This isn’t right, Kuran.”

Kaname raised a brow as their shoulders brushed together. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, we’re looking for a werewolf here, not Jack the fucking Ripper.” Zero snapped before taking a breath. Right, he was talking to Kuran here, not another hunter.“Look, lycanthropes are known to be pretty clean eaters, is what I’m saying. They like to keep things quick and clean since fear makes the meat taste bitter. More importantly, though, is that werewolves tend to only eat offal most of the time. You know, organs, entrails, that kind of meat. They have to since it’s their primary source of minerals and vitamins. And when werewolves kill, they tend to be meticulous about it too. Spilling too much blood would attract rival packs and vampires, so they usually just make a clean cut with their claws and take the organs to eat unless they can find a use for the whole carcass.”

The pureblood touched a hand to his chin in thought. “So why didn’t this one do the same?” He questioned under his breath, following Zero’s line of thinking. “Well, she is young, certainly. If Leo is our werewolf, that certainly fits with his other victims, at least.”

“True,” Zero gave him that much. “But she was living miles away in a completely different town than Leo. How would he have gotten wind of her scent in the first place?” It just didn’t make sense.

Zero glanced over his shoulder at the young kid watching the pair of them with keen eyes and making no move to hide it. His lips twisted as a thought popped into the hunter’s mind.

“Hey, kid. Tell me something, this town often have a lot of interaction with Ivorgarde? People going back and forth a lot?”

“Not usually, sir. Save for trade, we mostly keep to ourselves.”

Zero turned back to the body with a furrow between his brows. Right, so I doubt they were lovers then. He groaned and ground his teeth together. Again and again, he kept running into more questions with no goddamn answers!

“Maybe he was running out of food,” Kaname proposed.

“Maybe.” Zero shrugged, not really believing it himself. Even without humans, there would have been plenty of animals for Leo to eat around Ivorgarde, and considering Halivarra was the smaller village of the two, it wouldn’t make much sense to go here for food. Suddenly, his violet eyes lit up with an idea, and he caught Kaname’s questioning gaze with his own.

Or maybe something ran him out of his territory before we could get to him. Maybe we aren’t the only ones hunting down this wolf.” A trill of victory shot through the hunter, momentarily though it was. He felt like they were one step closer now, another piece of the puzzle slotting into place. But they still lacked the complete picture.

None of this made sense to him in the slightest. Leo was raised in the village, so he didn’t have a pack, that was a safe bet to make. Therefore, who would be hunting him down? It could possibly be another pack leader in a territory dispute, but if that were the case, they likely would have caught him by now since Leo was the younger and probably more inexperienced in that equation. Something just wasn’t adding up, and it irked the hunter that he couldn’t pinpoint it. Zero gnawed at his lip, unable to escape the impression that he was still missing something.

He pressed past the overwhelming stench of decay and waved away the flies buzzing around the corpse. Zero examined the body again, determined to find something else that might point him in a direction to go in.

Sharp ends of bone, so not a clean break. There were no clean cuts in the skin either, but uneven rips of flesh. It was a violent kill then, messy even. Which could mean a few things. Possibly, this werewolf had a vengeance to wreak upon this girl and was intent on making it painful for her. Or it was a younger, inexperienced wolf who didn’t know how to efficiently kill without drawing attention to himself. It was looking more and more like this Leo kid fit the bill for their rogue lycanthrope running around.

“Well, it doesn’t look like this was caused by a vampire, I’ll say that much,” Zero commented as he stood. There was too much lost and wasted blood for this to have been caused by a vampire, and the kill itself wasn’t nearly messy enough to be an Iepir. Which left a werewolf as the likely culprit. And that tells me absolutely fucking nothing other than what I’ve known this whole time. Great. Really fucking useful.

He might have been able to search the girl more thoroughly to try and find something he could use to track the wolf, but he was without most of his tools, and magic wasn’t really his forte. Not to mention that kid was still watching their every move.

Zero finally pulled back from the body and stood, deciding there was nothing more to glean from the poor girl’s corpse. He eyed the poor kid that had led them there in the first place, standing and twisting his hands in front of him, shuffling his feet.

“You knew this girl. Were you close?” Zero spoke gently as he approached, trying to avoid frightening the boy. Well, at least any more than he already had.

“My cousin, sir.”

“I see. Where’s the rest of your family?”

“Dead last winter. All except for my cousin and my auntie.”

Shit.

“I’m sorry.”

Being left alone without family was something Zero knew all-too-well. He wouldn’t wish it on anyone. He wished desperately there was something more he could do for the boy, but unfortunately, there wasn’t much for him to do besides catching the werewolf that had ripped the poor girl to shreds. Vengeance was a poor man’s justice, but then Zero never had been a wealthy person.

“Her name was Cecille.” The boy told him quietly.

Zero smiled slightly. “Cecille. That’s a very pretty name.”

Kaname watched as Zero moved back over to the dead girl upon the ground and bent down, placing two fingers on the girl’s eyes and softly closing them. The hunter leaned in close to press his lips to her forehead then, whispering words beneath his breath.

Your battle is over, Cecille. Go in peace.

“What was that?” The boy asked as he dared to edge closer to the two men, frowning at the unknown language.

“It’s how my people say goodbye to those we’ve lost. We say it helps their spirit to move on from this world.” Zero explained to the child with something wistful in his eyes.

He straightened suddenly, his attention no longer on the boy as something caught his eye across the clearing. He rose before he even knew what he was doing and walked over to the dark object among the dirt with a narrowed gaze.

Immediately an acrid, putrid odor hit him in the face, nearly making his eyes water. A dark puddle of blood was soaking into the soil. Blood that smelled distinctly inhuman and was too dark in color to be anything human either.

Kaname stared after Zero as the hunter bent to examine something on the ground.

“Can you promise me you’ll find whatever did this, sir?” The boy blinked up at him with big, dark eyes. Those eyes were too old for someone his age.

Suddenly the pureblood wasn’t seeing the boy from the village before him. No, he was seeing a feisty young hunter, clutching a butter knife in his fist and driving it through the pureblood’s hand. He saw silver hair instead of ginger and fiery violet instead of melancholy hazel.

The pureblood nodded to the child. “Yes, I promise.”

Zero bent down with a frown and carefully swiped a finger through the puddle of blood before him. It came awake dark, nearly black in color, almost like Zephyr’s blood were it not for the unmistakable scent of wet dog. He brought it to his lips and cautiously stuck his tongue out to taste the liquid. Immediately his stomach protested, nose wrinkling at the taste. It was like licking fur.

Zero turned aside and spat onto the ground, over and over again, trying to rid himself of the taste. He even lifted a bottle of water from his cloak and took a few sips, swishing it around in his mouth before spitting it out, wearing a grimace.

“Eugh,” He groaned, wiping away saliva and water with the back of his hand before he stood once more, looking around for Kaname. “Oi, Kuran!”

Kaname looked up at the sound of his name and quickly crossed the clearing to the hunter’s side. A low growl unintentionally left his throat as the scent of mutt hit him, and he sneered at the spot of blood on the ground like it had personally insulted him.

“Looks like our werewolf might have gotten himself injured,” Zero announced, filled with no small amount of pride at his discovery. “If we hurry, we might still catch him.”

The pureblood tore his gaze away from the blood to look at Zero, the hunter still smelling heavily of blood himself, and his skin far paler than it should be. Kaname’s dark brows drew together.

“Are you sure that’s wise? You still aren’t looking well, Zero.” He was growing increasingly worried about the boy.

“Do you want to put an end to this or not? If we wait, he’s just going to kill someone else.”

Kaname pursed his lips at both Zero’s stubborn dedication to his mission… and the knowledge that his reasoning made sense. Not like there would be any stopping him, I suppose, he mused, likening back to the last time he’d tried to talk some sense into the hunter.

“I see your point. Fine then, let’s go.”

This time Zero preferred to walk alongside Zephyr, letting the pureblood take the horse instead. Seeing as they couldn’t precisely track the beast using Kaname’s sense of smell alone, the hunter, already skilled at tracking down everything from level Es to sirens, took up the task of following the wolf’s trail of blood left on the ground. And, well, he could admit that he wasn’t eager to be pressed up against the pureblood given what happened that morning.

Zero’s cheeks flushed at the memory, and he noticed he was staring at the brunette. He forced his gaze away in a hurry.

“This way,” Zero murmured, eyeing where the droplets of blood began to diverge from the main road following the road. He kept his gaze trained on anything but the pureblood. For some reason, even though the pureblood didn’t know what he’d done – there was something inherently stilted and awkward between them now. Like he’d crossed some unspoken boundary.

“You’ve been quiet today,” Kaname said then, as though he could read Zero’s thoughts. He thought he saw the hunter stiffen minutely at that and stifled an amused quirk of his lips.

“Yes, because tracking a werewolf is the perfect time for conversation.”

“No, you’ve been quiet ever since this morning, before we even started tracking this beast,” Kaname countered. “I can’t help but feel as if I’ve done something to offend you. Have I? If so, please do tell me.”

“What?” Zero echoed, craning his neck to look up at the pureblood like he was insane. He shook his head and looked away, focused on something in the distance. “No. It’s not- it’s nothing you did, trust me.”

“Then what is it?” Kaname pressed, wishing he didn’t always have to dig and pry for the slightest bit of information from Zero. Were they not friends now? He wanted the boy to rely on him enough to tell him what was bothering him.

“I’m just tired, okay?”

It wasn’t a lie. Zero was exhausted. His body was heavy and hard to move like there was a thick metal chain attached to him. Every step required effort, and his feet kept stumbling over each other. It was rather like someone had simply stolen all of his energy.

Regardless of how he felt, Zero couldn’t afford to stop right now though. Neither of them could. Not when they were so close.

Kaname let his eyes fall closed at some point as he followed after Zero, trusting the boy to lead them where they needed to go. The hunter’s blood was still thick and rich in the air, permeating the pureblood’s senses and filling his head with a red fog that he couldn’t shake. God, he could practically taste the boy’s on his tongue, warm and deliciously bitter, full of flavor and life – so unlike those bland tablets he was forced to resort to. His fangs ached to sink deep into the hunter’s flawless skin, puncturing clean through Zero’s flesh and marking the boy as his. That sent a pleasant thrill down his spine, the idea of leaving his mark on Zero for everyone to see. Of course, it would fade rather quickly as all bites do, but he would enjoy it while it lasted.

Another thought arose in his mind then, of Zero’s own fangs biting into his neck. He wondered how it would feel to have Zero drink from his throat instead of his wrist. Would he be harsh, as he usually was, wanting to simply get the whole thing over and done with? Or would he take a gentler approach, out of his desire not to hurt the pureblood and (unintentionally) drawing out the experience? Would he drink in large gulps, careful not to spill a single drop, or would he be a messy drinker, letting the precious liquid run down Kaname’s neck in dark rivulets before following after with his tongue?

Kaname shuddered as he imagined the boy biting into his throat. He doubted Zero would ever agree to such a thing; drinking from someone’s throat was a very intimate action among their kind, after all, something reserved only for lovers. But gods did Kaname ever crave it.

Violet eyes blink up sluggishly, at him through thick lashes, pupils blown wide and dark, the boy’s violet iris’ reduced to a thin ring around them. A pretty flush would stain Zero’s cheeks as his lips parted, drawing in desperate little breaths, still dyed red from Kaname’s blood.

“Kaname,” Zero would breathe then, voice low and husky, drunk on bloodlust. “Please, I need- I need more.”

And Kaname would oblige, tipping the sweet boy’s chin up to draw him into a kiss. He would press his tongue into the boy’s mouth, tasting his own blood on Zero’s lips. A bite to Zero’s lip would have the hunter moaning into his mouth and clutching at him desperately as Kaname sucked on his blood.

He could see Zero spread out beneath him. The boy’s pale flesh would stand out starkly among Kaname’s dark sheets, and he’d avoid the pureblood’s gaze, suddenly bashful beneath the attention. Kaname would press him down into the sheets, clutch his wrists above his head. Breathy moans and pleasured whines would escape the boy’s throat as Kaname sucked angry red marks into his skin and left bruises from his fingertips. Zero’s mouth falling open on a silent scream as Kaname brought him to the height of ecstasy-

Zephyr pulled to a sudden stop in the road, throwing his head back and letting out a harsh snort, his front leg pawing at the dirt beneath them. The noise coupled with the abrupt movement were enough to drag Kaname from his thoughts and deposit him firmly back in reality. He blinked down at the agitated horse, a brow rising in his confusion before he followed Zephyr’s dark gaze that was fixated intensely on the hunter in front of them.

The hunter was wavering on his feet, like a young tree bending with the wind.

His violet eyes were squeezed shut as Zero held a hand to his forehead. Everything around him was white and muted, sounds distant, like he was underwater. His limbs felt light as a feather, yet every step was slow and stiff, almost as though he were a puppet being controlled by another via strings wrapped around his limbs. Time seemed slow and speed up around him at random and the earth wobbled beneath him.

Kaname was on the ground in an instant.

“Zero-“ He only just managed to grab the hunter as Zero began to pitch forward, barely catching the hunter in his arms before the boy’s head collided hard with a heavy rock.

The pureblood quickly lifted a hand to the hunter’s forehead and came away wet with sweat. This close he could feel Zero’s heart pound much too-hard in his chest and his panting gasps for breath.

“Shit,” Kaname wasn’t often one for cursing, but he did make exceptions now and then. He gripped Zero’s face, tilting the hunter’s face up so that he could see the way his lashes fluttered, eyes unfocused on anything in particular. “You’re exhausted, Zero. Why didn’t you say something? There’s no way we can carry on with you in this state.”

Zero tried to push away from the pureblood, but he was far too tired to put any energy behind the action.

“No. We can’t- we’re so close. We have to find-“

“Zero, you’re nearly dead on your feet.”

“It’s not even evening yet though. We’re wasting daylight,” Zero argued. “Can’t- can’t let it hurt anyone else-“

Kaname clicked his tongue in annoyance. “Look at yourself, you foolish little idiot. You almost fainted from overexertion and I can smell the blood wafting off of you in waves. Do you honestly think it wise to hunt down a werewolf while you smell like a gourmet meal? Besides, you’re too tired to be of any use in a fight right now and we both know it. If you would let go of your stubborn pride for one second you would see how much of a horrible idea that is. And if you go get yourself injured because of your damned pride you’ll only make things worse. If you listen to me once in this whole journey, listen to me now. You need rest.”

Zero frowned to himself, silently. He hated to admit it, but Kaname wasn’t wrong. He was exhausted, there was no use denying that and he wasn’t any good with a weapon right now when he could barely stand on his own two fucking feet.

“Fine.”

It took Kaname helping him to get Zero finally seated on the back of Zephyr after the hunter relented. Kaname hopped up behind him and took the reins with an unspoken understanding that it was probably for the best that Zero not be in control of the animal right now.

He veered off from the main road, searching for a place to set up camp, knowing that despite how the boy might argue otherwise, there was no way Zero was going to be able to fight any time soon. No, it was best to cut their losses and just set up camp now.

Eventually he found a shallow cave that sat at the base of a cliff. It was dark inside and barely even big enough for both vampires to fit, but it was dry at least and well-hidden by a curtain of leafy vines. Not to mention it was likely the best they were likely to find.

Zero all but collapsed to the cold, stone floor after a shaky dismount from Zephyr. He let the wall of the cave support his weight and watched on silently while Kaname spread out both sleeping rolls and manages to collect enough kindling for a passable fire.

With a big yawn, the hunter firmly took a seat upon the ground while the pureblood ignited his misshapen bundling of kindling with a snap of his fingers. All the while Zero muttered a helpful comment about how it was all “so fucking unfair.” Fucking purebloods and their god damned fancy-schmancy powers.

A low chuckle from the pureblood reached Zero’s ears, letting him know that his mutterings hadn’t escaped the brunette’s hearing. Yet, for once the hunter didn’t mind the sound; it was actually kind of nice.

“Perhaps, but you can’t deny that it’s useful.”

“Sure, sure. But you know what else is useful? A fucking match.” Zero groused with an unimpressed quirk of his brow. “Fucking showoff.”

Still, he curled closer to the warmth of the flames anyway. He didn’t even know he was cold until that moment but he wasn’t going to turn down the heat by any means.

“You should rest.”

“I know,” Zero murmured around another yawn. His eyelids were starting to droop low now and he was beginning to think he’d made a mistake in sitting down, since he never wanted to get back up again. “And I will. In a-“ Another yawn broke free from him. “In a bit.”

Kaname fixed him with a stern glower across the fire, one that said he was more than aware of what Zero was trying to do and that it wasn’t working.

“Zero.”

The hunter smacked his lips together sleepily. “Hm? What?”

“Rest. Now.”

“Alright, alright,” Zero finally relented, lazily waving Kaname off his nagging. He slowly made his way over to and settled on, the thin cushion of his sleeping roll. “But just- just for a few hours, okay? ‘M serious. Promise you’ll wake me.”

Kaname couldn’t resist the way his lips curled at the sight of Zero, ever the dedicated hunter, even when practically asleep. It was an adorable sight, though he knew Zero would put a bullet in him if he ever admitted as much to the hunter’s face.

“Just for a few hours,” The pureblood agreed. When he looked over at the hunter, the boy was already fast asleep.