A/N: We're getting very close to the end now, and in this chapter, we finally get to see why this story has the name that it does. :D I know it's been a long time now since I started this story, but just so there's no confusion, please remember that this is an AU in which Yuki is actually fully human, rather than the way things have ended up in the manga. Oh, and the whole thing with Takuma in the middle was actually a surprise my muse tossed in while I was writing LOL, I hadn't planned that at all, but, uh... oh well, I try to go with the flow. ;) Don't forget to check my bio for info on where to find my review responses!

Chapter Ten: "To Fall Down At Your Door"

Rain was running into Kaname's eyes and stinging, distracting his already somewhat unreliable senses as he reached the bottom of the hill. There was a strange, horrendously painful stabbing in the back of his left knee and calf. He'd felt it before when he was forced to walk to the trucks and it was much worse now, but he pushed it away as unimportant at the moment and ploughed through the pain, his heart-stopping concern far outweighing every other consideration right now.

His gaze quickly searched the wreckage. "Zero?!" He felt sick with fear. A thin pall of steam rose from the smashed engine housing as the rain pattered down upon its heated surface and evaporated, adding to the already oppressive humidity.

A soft groan caught his attention and Kaname quickly scrambled, limping, around to the other side of the steaming wreck. He caught sight of a flash of sodden, mud stained silver hair and quickly dropped to his knees. Zero lay face down, his head, shoulders and part of his back visible, his lower body disappearing under the wreck of the truck.

Kaname leaned over Zero, shielding him from the rain and running a hand worriedly down his naked back. "Zero, can you hear me?" he asked gently, with deep concern. Blood flowed from the hunter's temple, mingling with the rain. He'd obviously hit his head pretty hard.

Zero stirred and gave another soft moan of muffled agony. Everything hurt and he hadn't yet figured out which parts were worst. His head was pounding. He tried to move, to wriggle forward, but he couldn't. The weight of the truck had him pinned. "Yeah," he murmured with effort. "But I can't... move..."

Kaname was relieved to hear him speak. "Okay, it's okay, Zero. It's the truck, I'll move it."

Kaname started to shift, but Zero reached out and grabbed his hand, suddenly worried as his mind cleared a little. He craned his neck around, searching. "Where's Salvaje?"

Kaname frowned and cast a glance towards a still body a little further down. He'd already seen him, but paid little attention in his consuming concern for Zero. He nodded his head towards the body and Zero followed his gaze. Salvaje lay twisted at a grotesquely unnatural angle. It was obvious his neck and just about everything else had been snapped. Surely he would soon be dust.

"He's dead, Zero," Kaname said quietly, obviously still more interested in Zero's situation. He squeezed Zero's hand and then let go. Shifting up, he gripped the side of the truck, getting his shoulder against it and pushing up and away. He had to lift it to move it, he couldn't risk rolling it and crushing part of Zero's trapped body. Normally, it would have been very little effort at all for him to move the wreck, but the situation was not normal. Kaname was fully capable of doing it, but it took a lot more effort than usual, especially since he had to rely on physical strength alone, unable to tap into his powers. Gritting his teeth, Kaname hoisted as hard as he could.

"Not necessarily, Kaname- ah!" but Zero's concerned protest was cut off as the mangled truck was lifted off him and feeling suddenly surged ruthlessly into his lower body. His right leg was a white hot blaze of agony and he had to duck his head, fists balling, body trembling as he tried to contain the pain.

Kaname threw the truck several yards away and quickly knelt down by Zero again, pulling him up carefully and cradling him gently, giving him strength by his presence. Zero clung to his arm, hissing softly through his teeth as he struggled to sit up, painfully dragging his screaming leg around.

Kaname shifted, having to be careful of the thick, sharp splinters of broken branches littered around them from the crash. He ran a hand down Zero's leg to check it... and felt the sickening protrusion of broken bone. Zero shrieked softly, although he tried to stifle it into a hoarse sob.

Crap! Couldn't they ever catch a break? No pun intended...

Kaname returned to Zero's side and started to ease him up, when sudden movement made them both look up. Impossibly, like something from a horror movie that refused to stay dead, they found themselves staring at Salvaje's wild face as he threw himself at them. His body was still crushed and mangled, one arm and leg both dragging uselessly, but instinct alone drove him.

Surprised, but reacting quickly, Kaname grabbed him by the throat and slammed him down to the ground. At the same time, Zero grabbed the nearest jagged branch splinter used it as a crude stake, jamming it down into the creature's chest and puncturing his heart.

Salvaje's body went slack as all the pain and the screaming in his head finally stilled. The hunger melted away, disappearing into blessed oblivion his consciousness winked out for the last time in eternal rest. Finally at peace and no longer having to obey the crazed instincts driving him, his body crumbled to dust, leaving only his clothes behind. The dust quickly darkened and melted away with the rain.

For a few heartbeats, the pureblood and the hunter remained frozen, then Zero dropped the ragged splinter of wood from numb fingers and slumped onto his elbow, pain shooting in raw jolts from his broken leg. He looked kind of sick, and it wasn't all from the pain. Despite being both a vampire and a hunter, he was not by nature a killer. He could do his job, but he didn't like it when it happened this up close and personal.

Kaname gripped his shoulders gently, pulling Zero back against him and hugging him gently. "You know he couldn't be saved," he said quietly, feeling the soft tremors of shock and pain coursing through his lover's body.

Zero nodded slowly. Yes, he knew. There had been no choice. Just like there had been no choice with those soldiers back in the clearing... but that didn't entirely wash the blood of these last few days off his hands. He was just going to have to live with that, like he lived with all the ghosts. But in a way... it was all right. It should hurt. It should bother him. Killing should never become easy. "Yeah," he murmured softly.

Kaname kissed Zero's forehead gently, wishing he could take the hurt he saw away, but he knew only time could heal that. They had both been through far too much these past days. It was more trauma than anyone's psyche should be allowed to bear. Kaname was a little stunned that he'd misjudged how dead the other vampire was or wasn't, but then, he was kind of operating with a handicap right now. "I'm sorry, Zero. I didn't..." he apologized softly, frustrated with himself for putting Zero in danger that way because of his messed up senses, and also still puzzled. That was way too much damage for a normal ex-human to survive, he should have been dead.

Zero gave his head a little shake. "No, normally you would have been right. But he had your blood in him Kaname, that changed things." Zero of all people was acutely aware of just how much drinking a pureblood's blood, especially Kaname's, could affect an ex-human.

A little loopy from pain, blood loss and an intense overload of mental trauma, Zero's fingers ghosted softly down the side of Kaname's neck, still torn and healing from Salvaje's vicious attack. A small thread of wonder rippled through his pain fogged mind. Sometimes as the years passed, he got to taking it for granted, that he could have Kaname's blood whenever he wanted. The constant diet had made him very strong. He might not have survived the past few days without that built-up strength. Every day, Kaname gave him life, but somehow, that debt didn't seem like a burden anymore. It was a kind of beautiful, touching gift that the ex-human treasured.

Kaname smiled with aching tenderness, his body responding to Zero's light touch despite its deplorable condition. He captured Zero's fingers against his neck and then pulled them away to kiss his palm as he liked to do. Zero smiled back, his body slackening as the haze fogging his mind settled more firmly upon him. He had a nasty concussion and his broken leg had bleeding too swiftly and too freely, adding to the strain of the bullets he'd taken during the chase and the other injuries from the wreck and from Salvaje. He was sliding into shock.

Kaname caught him, not letting him fall away. "Zero? Zero!" he said in soft, urgent concern, but Zero didn't seem to be able to respond, even though he was still conscious, his glazed gaze fixed unwaveringly on the pureblood. Kaname realized what was happening and hugged Zero gently. "Stay with me, Zero. It's okay, we'll get you fixed up..." he promised. Quickly and gently he guided Zero's mouth to his neck. Because of the angle, the already torn side of Kaname's throat was the most accessible but the pureblood didn't flinch as he pulled Zero's face close to his injuries.

"Come on, Zero, just a little," Kaname coaxed, feeling the stubborn tension or resistance beginning in the other's body. He knew Zero wouldn't want to take from him just now, but he really wanted him to. "Please..."

Zero slowly started sucking and licking the gashes that Salvaje had left in Kaname's pale skin, some part of him wanting to remove all traces of the other's touch from his lover's body. His salvia didn't have the same properties that Kaname's did, but Kaname was hyper sensitive to his touch and so the ministrations still numbed the sting of the wounds, replacing it with a warm, eager throbbing. His chest shuddered softly. "Please, Zero..." he repeated huskily, now both for Zero's sake and his own.

Perhaps only because he was a little too dazed to resist, Zero bit. It was incredibly tender and gently done and it caused no pain. Zero took a few little sips and then turned his head away, resting it on Kaname's shoulder. Kaname was so weak right now, he dare not take more, despite how his body craved it. Feeling a little better, if still loopy and strangely weightless, Zero relaxed in Kaname's grip as the pureblood shifted him in his arms.

Easing Zero back to lean against the nearest tree, Kaname changed positions to get a better look at his leg, which needed attention. Zero's pants, first burned by the crash and torn by progressive wear, tear and fighting, were now little better than cut-off shorts, and the pureblood could easily see the break about six inches below Zero's right knee, the bone jutting through the skin at a gut-churning angle.

Light headed, Zero mentally floated, his thoughts spinning in warm, hazy circles. Kaname's taste still lingered in his senses, keeping him from feeling afraid. He was so lucky, he decided. Life had dealt him a cruel hand early on and for many years, but it had made up for it later. Kaname and Yuki had made up for it. Their love made even being a vampire something he could live with.

Zero never had to go to anyone else, he didn't have to feel the ingrained sting of horror at himself for what he had to do to survive, because both Kaname and Yuki gave him their blood freely. It was Kaname's he needed, but Yuki insisted on not being left out and he loved her taste and the unimaginable feeling of intimacy when they were connected that way. Because of Kaname's blood, he never had to worry that he would lose control with her or hurt her as he used to agonize about in the earlier days. So it was just... special.

A specialness that was denied Kaname. That in a way, he denied Kaname. And Yuki too. The sudden, quiet thought came to him unexpectedly and twisted a bit in his heart. It was an unspoken agreement that he did not bite Yuki when Kaname was present. It was too cruel to remind the pureblood of the one intimacy he could not share with her. They bit each other in her presence, but lately Zero had begun to wonder how fair that was too. Yuki liked seeing them together, he knew that, but sometimes there was a peculiar kind of longing, almost envy in her eyes when she watched Kaname completely undoing Zero's world with the pleasure of his bite, or when she saw how beautifully helpless Kaname became as Zero's fangs teased him.

Now, in his vulnerably half dazed state, Zero found himself thinking the thoughts he'd long denied. The look in Yuki's eyes at those times whispered that sometimes, she felt like an outsider. Like her two vampire lovers could share something deeper than she could go with them.

Zero was willing to wager that Yuki would have let Kaname turn her years ago, perhaps even back in high school... if it weren't for him. He still recoiled sharply and instinctively from that thought, but at the same time... he wondered who he was protecting? Her... or himself? Yuki obviously wasn't afraid, and just like him, she would have two very willing donors to always fulfill her every need even if like him, she proved to be allergic to the blood tablets. Kaname could turn her and make her instantly stable too, she wouldn't have to suffer like Zero had, would never be in danger of going mad...

Zero shook his head, trying to clear his wildly wandering thoughts and focus on where Kaname was examining his leg. What the hell was he thinking? And why now for goodness sakes?! Man, he must be really out of it. And yet... there it was. The truth that lay deep in his heart. When it came right down to it, he wanted Kaname and Yuki to be happy. He loved them with his whole soul and for them, maybe... maybe... he could even ponder the unimaginable. Kaname's voice broke into his thoughts, tugging him back to the present.

"Zero, I need to set this," the pureblood said softly, looking up at the hunter with haunted eyes. Zero's body might be able to deal with the break on its own with a little time, but it needed to be set as properly as possible, or it would heal completely wrong and have to be re-broken and fixed later. They both knew it would hurt like hell, though.

Zero swallowed, his eyes a little wide, but he nodded, knowing Kaname was right. "Okay," he rasped softly, reaching behind him and gripping the trunk of the tree he leaned against.

Kaname bit his lower lip and drew in a deep breath, before grabbing Zero's leg above the ankle with one hand and yanking down, while his other pressed on Zero's thigh right above the knee, stabilizing the limb as he popped the bone back into place.

Zero screamed, his head arching back hard against the tree and his fingers punching through the bark. The pain was intense, and the world turned grey, then black.

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

Rain sheeted and pattered onto the blood soaked earth as if it could wash away the stain of all that had happened in this particular patch of jungle. Weapons had fallen silent now and the dark landscape was an eerie tableau of melting ice and scorched, smoldering trees. A few lingering pockets of flame hissed and sputtered as if in protest as they slowly gave way to the sheeting rain.

Aido shook the kinks out of his shoulder. The pouring rain slicked his blonde hair flat to his head and gave him the look of a drowned cat. He really hated rain, it could mess with his ice, not to mention what it did to his hair. Kain hated it more though, he knew. If the rain was hard enough, it could really cause problems with his fire.

Fortunately, all their enemies had already been neutralized before the rain began to really interfere. Everything was still now and the only two humans left alive in this area were Yuki, and an incredibly shaken Valdez whom Takuma currently held captive.

Valdez was on his knees and Takuma leaned over him. One pale hand was curled around the man's throat, holding him in place and at the same time applying just enough pressure to be menacing. Valdez gripped Takuma's hand and wrist as if trying to pry free, but that of course was useless and impossible. He wasn't going anywhere unless Takuma released him. The noble was smiling, but the look in his eyes made it a frightening sight. This man had tried to betray them. The only reason for that was if he had some cause to wish Kaname harm, or if he had already caused him harm somehow. Either reason was something that Takuma could not forgive.

Seiren came over to join him after checking on the fallen vampire soldiers who had been taken down earlier when their 'allies' turned on them. The medical team was now assisting them and had taken them all off a ways, deeper into the jungle where they were more sheltered from the rain. It looked like they would all live.

The look Seiren fixed on Valdez was predatory. She caught him looking back at her and intentionally bared her fangs at him. He had hurt her people and she was not happy with him at all.

Valdez paled even more if that were possible.

Yuki, who was also making her way over now, would have felt sorry for him, if he hadn't just tried to kill them all. She was a bit frustrated with how useless she felt she had been during the fight. She'd actually made quite a good account of herself, but surrounded by vampires one was bound to feel a bit out classed. She wanted to be stronger... deep inside... she knew she wanted to be like them.

"Why?" Takuma was demanding of their captive. "Why did you do this? Why turn on us?"

Valdez seemed fixated upon the long, sharp canines flashing between Takuma's lips as he spoke. Their instincts brought out by the fight, all the vampires' fangs were showing.

"W-what are you?" the human asked instead of answering.

"You know, it's funny how many people just don't make the connection..." Aido drawled icily as he and Kain followed Yuki over. "I mean really, you think more people would recognize a vampire when they saw one."

"Vampire?" Valdez seemed incredulous and terrified at the same time. It wasn't that he didn't believe them... the truth was obvious and undeniable, but it was just that it was so unimaginable.

"You think if I bite him, he'll believe us?" Seiren inquired. The fight had obviously fully engaged her nature and the deliberate laziness in her tone was both deadly and intrinsically seductive.

Takuma cocked his head to the side as if considering it. "Oh, I think he believes us. But if he doesn't start answering questions in about five seconds, then you can bite him..." he replied, his tone deceptively light and casual. His normally sunny demeanor hid the capability of being hard as iron behind it, especially in recent years with all the responsibility that had fallen upon him.

Valdez unglued his tongue in a hurry. He told them everything he knew, including the orders he had been given to ensure that there were no survivors.

"Why that little...!!" Aido fumed, positively livid. He couldn't even think of a bad enough insult to heap upon the treacherous official who had given the orders.

Takuma looked troubled, his thoughts already racing away down a dozen different paths. He released Valdez, dismissing him as no longer of importance. "Seiren, wipe his memory up to before he met us and..." he started to request as he turned away, intending to leave Valdez unconscious and with no memory of how he'd gotten here, but still alive, which was pretty generous given the circumstances.

Valdez, however, did not wait to hear him out. A long knife that had been concealed in his boot flashed swiftly into his hand with the speed of a trained soldier. Driven by fear of the unknown and the sadly instinctual drive to destroy that which he did not understand, he stabbed upward, hard, as he sprang to his feet. The blade skittered along a rib and sank deeply into Takuma's back. Training and a pop-culture knowledge of vampires made Valdez go for the heart.

Takuma stumbled forward, giving a soft, startled cry of pain and clutching behind him for the knife handle he couldn't reach. Aido, Kain and Yuki all rushed forward, but Seiren was closer and she got to Valdez first, before he could try anything else. The fact that she'd not realized what was happening fast enough to keep Takuma from getting knifed burned and she snarled, her eyes going fully crimson as she ceded to her instincts.

"Big mistake," she purred, her eyes blazing as she slammed Valdez onto the ground with inhuman speed, pouncing like a tigress and burying her fangs in his throat.

Seiren obviously had the threat neutralized, so the others stopped as they reached Takuma. Aido grabbed him by the shoulders, standing in front of him and supporting the other blond while Kain and Yuki went around behind him.

"Hey, not too bright turning your back on him like that, huh? Thought you would have learned something with all those backstabbers you have to deal with on the Council..." Aido murmured, but there was no bite in the words. Rather, there was a thread of very real concern although the younger vampire was trying to hide it.

Damn it! One bad things about the various versions of vampire mythology that still floated around in human culture was that although a lot of it was sheer fluff and nonsense, a few key weaknesses had managed to filter through. Any half wit who thought 'vampire' almost inevitably thought 'stab them in the heart!'. While the head was an equally good target, and while it worked much better with hunter weapons, especially on higher class vampires, the instinct was still unfortunately a correct one. If Valdez had pierced Takuma's heart, even with a normal knife, it was a serious injury. It wasn't likely to be fatal, especially since they had a load of doctors on hand, but still, it was a matter for concern.

Takuma held onto Aido's arms and half grinned, half grimaced, breathing hard around the pain. "Yeah... don't tell Kaname, huh?" he ground out between his teeth. Or Shiki.... but that was another matter.

"What, you don't think he's going to notice the big, bloody hole in the back of your jacket?" Aido shot back, sounding wry but shooting a concerned look at his cousin over Takuma's shoulder as if searching for some indication of how serious this was or wasn't. "Kain, are you going to stand there all day or pull it out?"

Kain and Yuki were both checking out the injury. The knife had sunk all the way up to the handle. Normally, you'd never just pull something like that out because of the probability of internal bleeding. But for a vampire, things were different. You had to get the foreign object out so that healing could begin.

"Or maybe we should wait for one of the people with an actual medical degree to do it..." Kain grumbled back at his cousin, deeply concerned as he rested his hand gently on Takuma's hunched back. He looked around for the medics, but wherever they were triaging the other injured vampires was too far back into the cover of the jungle to see them.

"Well, will someone do it?!" Takuma grit out between his teeth. "I appreciate the concern but it's not like I'm about to dust here, so could you please get it out?!" The dratted thing hurt like heck.

Kain gripped the handle of the knife and pulled it free as quickly and gently as he could. Yuki swiftly pressed the pulled up end of Takuma's soaked jacket against the wound as soon as the knife was removed, applying pressure to staunch the bleeding until Takuma's body was able to seal itself off.

Takuma gave a soft gasp of pain, clenching his jaw and his eyes for a moment until the burn went away. Yuki stood up on her toes a little to see Aido over his shoulder. "It's okay," she said softly. "It was too low, I'm pretty sure it missed his heart."

Takuma straightened up after a moment, his breathing still careful and his motions a bit tense, but it was obvious that he was all right. "I'm fine, honestly, I'm fine," he repeated for the benefit of the others hovering around him. "It only hurts when I breathe..." he joked a bit sardonically. That would pass though. It would hurt for a while, but he was a high blooded vampire and the injury was not critical enough to slow him down too much.

Now that it was settled that Takuma was not in any danger, they all turned their attention back towards the source of this unpleasant incident.

Valdez was already beyond the reach of this world, and Seiren was rising gracefully from his body. She wiped her mouth on the back of her hand, the red fading from her eyes as she collected herself. She hadn't killed like that in a very long time. She knew Kaname didn't like it and his wishes always came first. But she had been trained for this. She was what the vampire elite called a praetorian, a mix of both body guard a personal assassin who had been trained as such since earliest childhood. She was to Kaname as her parents had been to his before all of them died. That coveted role was an honor that her family had held for generations. She felt no guilt for disposing of someone who had fully intended to kill her master, not to mention tried to kill her friends and companions as well.

"Come on," she said coolly as she rejoined the others. She cast a gaze over Takuma to make sure for herself that he looked all right, but otherwise did not look for much reaction from any of her fellow vampires as far as Valdez' demise went. What she had done was perfectly natural for one of their kind. However, her gaze did linger slightly on Yuki, almost as if testing her. She knew the girl was immensely important to her young master, but outside of watching over Yuki from a distance as part of her duties for Kaname, she'd had little direct interaction with her over the past few years. If you ever had to see that side of him, would you hurt him by turning away?

"If he was telling the truth," Seiren continued. "Then it's more important than ever that we find Kaname-sama and Zero-san before anyone else does. They do not have many friends out here."

"They have us," Yuki said, meeting Seiren's gaze without flinching or showing any other kind of reaction. She had crossed that bridge long ago. At different times, she had already seen both Zero and Kaname with their eyes red from need and blood on their fangs. It would never make her turn away.

Seiren smiled slightly and Yuki got the feeling that if that was a test, she had passed. "Yes," the other woman agreed. "They do."

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

Zero blinked groggily. He must have passed out, because the last thing he remembered was Kaname setting his leg, but now he was being cradled in the pureblood's arms. Kaname was stroking his hair and murmuring softly to him. He had splinted Zero's leg with branches and strips of cloth probably torn from Salvaje's no longer needed clothing.

Zero felt cold and stiff and he wondered how long he'd been out. The rain was easing a little and although his body still felt weak and drained from trauma, Kaname's body heat was keeping any chill at bay.

Lifting his head, Zero shifted carefully in Kaname's lap, testing what movement would do to his leg. Unremitting hellfire stabbed upward from the break, momentarily flooding his senses and making him screw his eyes shut. Okay, that answered that... he mustn't have been out too long, or else his overtaxed body was being exceptionally slow about healing.

"Sorry," he murmured, feeling the need to apologize for being so messed up and forcing Kaname to remain here when they should be trying to get away. Even though the bandits seemed to have given them up, there was always the possibility that they might come back, or might even now be searching on foot and simply had not yet come across them due to the dark and the rain. Fear could cause people to do strange and unpredictable things, and to those men, Kaname and Zero had been monsters straight out of a nightmare. In any case they really ought to get out of this godforsaken jungle before anything else happened. "We should get moving. Was I out long?"

Kaname shook his head. "No, not very long, only a few minutes. And don't apologize." Kaname touched Zero's cheek with gentle fingers. "I should be apologizing to you. And thanking you," he whispered softly. His eyes held clearly the truth that he knew he would not have survived the past day or two without the hunter's fierce and selfless care. "I should have protected you better, I should not have been such a burden. I'm sorry I was so... weak..." he murmured in repentant shame.

Zero smiled faintly, but genuinely, his fingers sliding up to brush Kaname's. "Give yourself a break. You got half dead saving my life in the first place," he murmured back. It was true, Zero knew he would have died with everyone else on the plane if not for Kaname.

"Guess we're even then," Kaname replied with a soft smile, but Zero shook his head.

"Don't think we'll... ever be even," he murmured, closing his eyes as he dealt with another wave of pain. Kaname knew what he meant. Zero was obviously thinking of the debt he owed the pureblood for giving him life each time he gave him his blood.

Kaname gripped Zero's hand tightly as the ex-human breathed raggedly through his teeth while the flare of pain passed. Maybe someday he would make Zero realize that the hunter gave him life every day too. Kaname's heart would be desolate, empty and cold without the warm, vibrant light and love that both Zero and Yuki brought into his life. For Kaname, that love was as essential to the preservation of his soul as his blood was to Zero's sanity.

After a minute or two Zero regained himself and tried to struggle up to his feet, only to quickly sink back into Kaname's embrace again in a cold, trembling sweat from the pain. Damn! It was just a stupid broken leg, surely he could hobble around on that for a while?!

"Zero, don't," Kaname admonished, supporting him and rubbing his chest lightly with a closed fist in an effort to sooth and distract from the pain as Zero leaned heavily back against him. "You can't stand on it yet."

"I can manage, we need to move..." Zero couldn't smell them through the rain, but he could feel the presence of other people in the jungle around them and he really did not want to get re-captured after everything they'd just been through to get away.

Kaname could sense the same, and was frustrated that he couldn't get any kind of read on how many people were out there or where they were. He should have been able to at least get an idea, but of course, right now, it was impossible. "I know, but you are not walking on that." Carefully, Kaname shifted to his feet, helping Zero up with him.

Zero grit his teeth hard, balancing on one leg and focusing on not passing out. He could do this, he could... He was so focused he hadn't noticed Kaname had moved in front of him until the pureblood placed his back against him and pulled Zero's arms over his shoulders. "Come on, Zero, hold onto me," he instructed as he reached back and curled his hands under Zero's hips, pulling the other boy up onto his back.

Zero winced, automatically curling his arms around Kaname's neck and shoulders as Kaname lifted him, piggyback style. The hunter was already shaking his head. No way. No way could he make Kaname do this when the pureblood was still running around with a head full of bullet fragments and god knew what else wrong with him. "Kaname..."

The protest was cut off by Kaname hooking his hands definitively under Zero's thighs and keeping them hugged around his hips, being as careful as he possibly could of Zero's dangling splinted leg. This was the best carry position to put the least stress upon the limb, which was why he'd chosen it.

"No, Zero, this is not negotiable. It's my turn." Kaname's body and head still hurt pretty badly, but his voice had that firmly resolute edge that clearly indicated he was not going to budge an inch. He'd force Zero to let him do this if he had to. Zero had carried him before and he could damn well do the same for as long as was needed. Zero needed him and it was high time he started looking after the hunter for a change.

Zero knew Kaname well enough to know when he was defeated before an argument even started, and the truth was, he really wasn't going to be able to walk until his leg healed up at least a little more, which might be more time than was safe to spend here. Reluctantly, he conceded. Scooting himself a little higher up Kaname's back he rested his elbows on the pureblood's shoulders. He held his left wrist with his right hand tightly as his arms circled Kaname's neck, supporting more of his own weight as much as he was able in an effort to try and lessen how much of a burden he was.

Kaname's hands slide a little further down his thighs, resting right above the knee for a better grip. "Relax, Zero, it's okay. You're no burden," he murmured, as if reading his lover's mind. In actuality, he just knew him well enough to guess what he was thinking.

The truth was, while this would normally be no problem at all for Kaname, Zero's weight seemed much heavier than it should have. Still, it was nothing he couldn't push through with a little determination and a lot of love.

The level of determination required rose quickly as Kaname took a few steps forward and again became aware of the burning pain in the back of his left knee that shot tendrils of agony down his calf and into his foot. Crap! What the hell was that?

Kaname tried to keep his gait steady, but he could not help limping each time he had to put weight on his left leg as he pushed determinedly on through the wet jungle, following the path of least resistance through the undergrowth.

"Kaname, what's wrong?" Zero asked with concern.

Kaname smiled and shrugged bravely, refusing to let his lover see his pain. Zero would only fuss more about being carried if he knew how much it hurt. "Nothing, just can't seem to get the damn thing to work right," he mumbled, letting Zero think it was his addled brain that was the problem.

The actual problem was due to the shrapnel the pureblood had taken in that leg during the plane crash. Zero had removed most of it, but a small, razor shard was embedded in Kaname's bone a little below the knee, the jagged, exposed end slicing into his muscle and tendons each time he took a step. After a few minutes of walking it would have been a crippling injury to a human, but Kaname's body was managing to repair itself fast enough to keep him moving, even though each step forward re-tore the wound anew.

Kaname didn't exactly know what was happening other than that it hurt like hell, but he figured out the general idea of it. Well, this was fun...

Zero's concussed head was still spinning and his leg was agony, despite how careful Kaname was being with him. He tried to support his own weight as much as possible for a while, but he was at a low ebb as his body tried to mend and eventually he slumped weakly against Kaname's back, his head resting on the pureblood's shoulder as they carried on. The rain had stopped, although the oppressive humidity somehow just seemed worse with it gone. It would be dawn soon.

Kaname's senses were starting to overload with the pain stimuli. He needed to distract himself and he was growing concerned about the way Zero's head was lolling against his shoulder. While he wanted Zero to rest and heal... passing out wasn't too good an idea when a concussion was involved. Zero needed to rest, but preferably stay awake.

Kaname attempted to engage him in conversation, but neither of them had much energy for thinking of things to say. Zero found it hard to keep his eyes open, but he could tell what Kaname was trying to do and he attempted to help, but he just couldn't think to keep a decent conversation going and eventually long stretches of silence developed and Zero slid in and out of consciousness.

As dawn broke and the sun rose, making steam rise like smoke from the wet, teeming jungle, things only got worse. Kaname was incredibly sensitive to heat and his pale skin quickly flushed an uncomfortable pink. He did not do well in sunlight either, especially when weakened. The cover of the trees helped some, and Kaname intentionally tried to stay in their shadows as much as possible. The increasing light hurt his eyes and he blinked rapidly at the burning sting that made his temples throb and his already messed up senses scream.

Perspiration slicked both vampires' bodies, making Zero slippery and hard to hold onto. Eventually Kaname had to stop, faltering and almost falling to his knees before he caught himself and carefully eased Zero off his back before rolling to sit on the ground beside him. Drawing his screaming knee close, he massaged the back of it, breathing hard from both pain and overheating. It was so hot it was hard to breathe and he jammed one fist against the bottom of his sternum, pressing his thumb up underneath it, which for some reason seemed to help a little.

Zero wiped perspiration from his eyes and looked at Kaname in deep concern. He knew the pureblood's issues with sunlight and heat. They didn't do him too many favors either, although they weren't as bad for him as for Kaname.

"Liar," he muttered with soft, resigned affection as he saw the way Kaname was holding his knee, and the nasty, purple black bruise that mottled his calf, indicative of sub dermal bleeding. "You cannot tell me that doesn't hurt." He yanked a broad leaf from a nearby bush of some kind and scooted closer to Kaname, waving the fan-sized leaf to try and create a bit of breeze in an effort to cool the pureblood down a little. Kaname looked like he was pushing heatstroke.

"It doesn't matter," Kaname murmured, closing his eyes gratefully at the bit of relief that the motion of the air created. "I'll heal."

Zero frowned. "That's your answer to everything, isn't it?" he said disapprovingly, almost angrily. The heat did nothing for his temper. "Damn it, Kaname... there you go again." Zero had said on more than one occasion that Kaname relied on his healing way too much, but the pureblood never seemed to listen to him, so he felt it bore repeating. "You're not indestructible. Even you have limits and the past few days we've been riding on the edge of them, don't pretend otherwise! And I... you..." Zero trailed off, the anger draining out of his voice and replaced by the true emotion fueling it. Fear. "Look, after the crash... I didn't know if you were going to make it. You were so... broken, it was horrible. I never want to see you like that again..." he admitted hoarsely. The strain of their situation just seemed a little too much right now and it was getting to him.

Zero's vision wavered but he realized it was from tears. Oh great... he scrubbed at his eyes with his free hand. Sissy...

But Kaname was looking at him softly, with a deep, adoring look in his eyes that made Zero feel both happy and shy at the same time. The pureblood smiled faintly, deeply touched. He understood how Zero felt, because that same feeling was mirrored inside him towards the hunter. "Okay, Zero. I'm sorry," he whispered. He reached over and stroked his lover's cheek softly. "How's your leg doing?"

Zero shifted carefully as if testing it. He grimaced, but the pain wasn't as excruciating as it had been before. "Better," replied. Kaname gave him a look who's lying now glare and Zero rolled his eyes. "I didn't say it was good, it still hurts pretty bad, but it is better. I think it's mending."

Having recovered enough breath to do something other than just pant for oxygen, Kaname bent to examine the limb in question, carefully un-splinting Zero's leg so he could get a better look. To his relief, the flesh wound had already healed closed. The leg was a dark mottle of bruises underneath, indicating that internal healing was still occurring and making he and Zero somewhat ironic mirror images of one another. Zero was right, though, the bone had probably already started to knit.

Carefully, Kaname re-splinted the leg and sat back again, leaning against the tree behind him.

"See? Satisfied?" Zero mumbled wryly.

Kaname ran his hand through his perspiration drenched hair and sighed. "No. Frankly, I'm not. I want to get you out of here. I want to be out of here and I never want to see this miserable godforsaken jungle again as long as I live..." he murmured with an edge of anger and hopelessness that made Zero give him a slightly worried look. It wasn't often Kaname let his control down enough to show this much blatant frustration and weariness and it demonstrated how poorly he was doing. Zero guessed he wasn't the only one feeling the strain of this whole situation after all.

"That could be a really long time," the hunter returned with an attempt at humor, feeling drawn to try and lift his friend's spirits a little. "Give it a couple centuries, maybe you'll feel different."

"And maybe I'll buy this whole damn jungle and make it a massive parking lot," Kaname returned with a wry glare, but his voice had lightened to a more jesting tone.

Zero chuckled. "I'm almost certain that some environmental group somewhere would have a huge problem with that."

"Oh, fine, spoil all my fun," Kaname retorted, playing along and pretending to pout. It was good to smile again for a moment and remember that they would get out of this. They just had to persevere a little longer.

Kaname was thirsty, he was sure Zero was too, but ironically, despite all the rain last night, they had nowhere to get any water, so there was no sense mentioning it. Instead he tried to figure out their next moves. "I've been trying to get my bearings," he said after a few minutes of silence. "I think if we keep heading that way," he pointed. "We'll eventually come across civilization again."

Zero nodded thoughtfully, trying to overlay the maps of the country that he had studied before coming over with their current position. He couldn't find an easy fit, but in general he believed Kaname was right and that unless they were both badly turned around, that was the best way to head.

What neither of them said, was that it could be near a hundred miles between here and civilization, if it even lay in the direction that they thought it did. If it didn't, they could be wandering around in here for a very long time.

"What day is it?" Zero asked after a moment and Kaname looked both thoughtful and puzzled.

"I... don't know," he admitted, feeling a bit disconcerted by that. Usually he had a very precise grip on time.

"We're going to miss Yuki's graduation, if we haven't already," Zero said softly. It suddenly hit him like a deep fist in the gut. Not so much just that they would disappoint her by missing such an important event, but the realization that she had probably been informed by now of the plane crash. What must she be going through? Did she think they were both dead? How was she holding up? He knew if it was him and he'd gotten that news about Kaname and Yuki... dear God... his whole world would fall apart.

"I know," Kaname's pained whisper was soft, and the look in his eyes said that his thoughts were traveling down the same road. It was horrible to him to think that Yuki was probably going through an anguish of uncertain grief and hell at a time that should have been one of happiness and celebration for her. This whole thing had happened at a stupidly inconvenient time!

"We should get moving again," he said firmly after a moment, pushing himself up to his feet with some effort. Zero understood his meaning. The sooner they got out of here, the sooner they could get in touch with Yuki and let her know they were all right. He couldn't argue with that.

"Yeah," he agreed, struggling up as well with a little help from Kaname. "But I can walk now."

"Zero..."

"I said I can walk," Zero repeated with a stubborn glare. "We can take it slow and take breaks when I need to." 'When we need to' was what he meant, but of course Kaname would acquiesce more easily if he thought something was for Zero's sake.

Reluctantly, Kaname agreed. He really wasn't functioning well in the heat of the new day and they'd make better time if they both pulled their own weight. "Okay, we'll go for a couple hours and take a break at noon, sleep through the hottest parts of the day and pick up again when the sun starts to set."

Zero nodded, somewhat amused at how Kaname always had to have a plan. "Sounds good."

They made slow progress with both of them limping as much as they were. Since it was Zero's right leg and Kaname's left that was the problem, they eventually ended up working out a system of walking with their arms wrapped around the others' waist, fingers hooked in their companion's belt loops as they moved carefully in tandem, supporting each other on the sides that they were weak as they made their way along.

It was slow, painful going, but attempts at conversation to distract themselves were about as fruitful now as they had been earlier. The thought of possibly facing hundreds of miles like this ahead of them was daunting and dispiriting to say the least.

Hundreds of miles...

"Hey, Kaname, what was that song Yuki was singing the day before we left?" Zero inquired as they hobbled along, still trying to make conversation to keep his mind alert and keep despair at bay.

Kaname seemed to think about that for a moment, as if puzzled, then a light of understanding dawned. "Oh, something about walking for five hundred miles, wasn't it? Appropriate, huh?"

Zero nodded. He hummed a little until he struck the right notes that brought the melody back to him. It was a song he'd heard often enough on the radio. Kaname had too, apparently, because the pureblood tested a few words of the chorus to the Zero's humming. Zero joined in once enough of it came back to him.

"Oh I would walk five hundred miles, and I would walk five hundred more, just to be the man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your door..."

The pureblood and the hunter exchanged exhausted, amused smiles. The song brought back memories of Yuki, and the perfect day they had shared in her apartment before this all started. It reminded them why they were still hanging on, what they were fighting to get back to, and it raised their spirits.

They really only remembered the chorus, so the rest of it kind of turned into "When I hmmm hmmm I know I want to hmmm I want to hmmm hmm hmm hmm next to you..." but the chorus they repeated over and over, panting and slightly hoarse. It became almost like a mantra to them as they struggled on through the unending jungle as the sun rode higher and higher up the sky.

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

Yuki's eyes felt scratchy and gummy and her eyelids seemed to have gotten invisible lead weights attached to them. They'd walked all night and she was dead on her feet. Kain was carrying her again and although she felt guilty, she knew the others actually preferred it since it meant she wasn't slowing them down. She rested her head against his broad, damp shoulder, dozing on and off despite herself.

Everyone was exhausted and drenched, but none of them wanted to stop. There was this despairing feeling that they were so close and yet so far away from their goal. By this point, they could only hope that they were going in more or less the right direction. The long hours of rain had obliterated any chance of a scent trail for them to follow, as well as erasing most of the other physical signs that indicated what direction the party they were tracking had gone.

The vampire commandos were excellent trackers, and their skill continued to tease clues from almost nothing, but it was very slow going and several times they'd had to back track for miles after taking a false turn in order to find the true trail again.

Aido wiped his brow and tugged his sodden hat down low over his eyes. The sun was obviously bothering him intensely, as was the lack of sleep. It was bothering all of them, but no one complained. Not even Takuma who looked especially pale due to his injury, even though it was now pretty much completely healed.

They'd been off the track again for some time now, and they were all beginning to realize it. The sheer vastness of the jungle was daunting. They could miss their quarry by just a few miles and never even know it.

"Hey, I hear something..." Takuma held up his hand and they all stopped and listened. Yuki dragged her head wearily off of Kain's shoulder and tried to focus. After a moment she heard it, and the others seemed to as well. The jungle teemed with a thousand different sounds that they had gotten used to over the past hours, but this was different. It was strange and out of place, like the distant sound of voices... singing? The voices were soft and scratchy, distorted almost beyond recognition, but Yuki picked up the tune immediately and her eyes widened, hope flaring inside her.

"Put me down!" she said, squirming quickly out of Kain's grip and dropping to the ground. Her feet shot pins and needles at her because of the sudden landing, but she didn't pay attention. She staggered slightly to catch her balance and then she was running flat out through the jungle. She slapped at branches and bracken that got in her way, her fatigue forgotten, her heart thundering in her chest as she followed the sound of the distant voices.

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

It was almost time to stop. The hunter and the pureblood were both weaving, nearly passing out on their feet and only staying up by leaning on one another. They swayed as if drunk, stumbling along inch by painful inch. Their senses dulled from pain, deprivation and exhaustion, they weren't aware of the people honing in on their location. Tunnel vision had totally taken effect and locked them into the arduous task of simply continuing to set one limping foot in front of the other.

They were still singing together in soft, exhausted tones when they stumbled out into a clearing and saw what must clearly have been a mirage.

"...and I would walk five hundred more, just to be the man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your..."

They froze, the words trailing off. They stared, each convinced that the heat and the pain had gotten to them and they were hallucinating now. Because they saw ahead of them, hurrying forward from the other direction, what looked to be the sweetest sight they had seen in days.

It was Yuki, running towards them. Aido, Kain, Takuma and Seiren were with her, also a couple other people. Zero wondered dazedly why, if he was having a delusion, were there strangers in it? Yuki made sense, and perhaps even the rescue party idea, although he might never live down to himself that he'd hallucinated Aido... but strangers?

Kaname was even more convinced it was an illusion since he hadn't sensed them... but he didn't care. His gaze was fixed on Yuki. There were tears in her eyes, tears streaming down her cheeks. He wanted to wipe them away... Don't cry, Yuki...

The vampires outpaced Yuki swiftly, arriving almost instantly by Kaname's and Zero's sides. They were all speaking at once, all calling the two vampire's names and uttering exclamations of joy, shock, dismay and concern that blended together in an incomprehensible, but incredibly welcome babble.

It hit both hunter and pureblood at about the same time that this was real. The others were really here, and their nightmare was really over. Intense relief washing through them, Kaname and Zero half fell, half sank to the ground.

Yuki reached them about them. She pushed her way through the other vampires who were worriedly trying to check pulses, feel temperatures and examine injuries. She fell on her two lovers, trying to hug and kiss them both at the same time, kissing first one and then the other over and over and finally just clinging to them and weeping uncontrollably. She knew it was stupid, but she couldn't help it. It was tears of joy this time.

"Don't you ever scare me like that again, all right? Don't you ever..." she sobbed softly.

Kaname and Zero both clung to her in return, inhaling her scent, feeling her presence, letting it sink in that this was real. Their laughter was hoarse, their smiles raw and giddy and relief echoed through them down to their bones.

Kain grinned softly as he saw Aido turning away slightly, trying to hide the fact that he was sobbing. There was no point though. They were almost all crying. They were all so relieved. Kaname and Zero looked like hell, but they were both obviously very much alive and they had finally found them. Everything would be okay.