A/N: Last chapter at last. :) I ended up abridging / tying up a few loose ends more swiftly than I originally intended, but by this point I kind of felt that getting them over the last humps and on to their happy ending was the best path to take. Or at least, the only one that I could get inspired to actually write, LOL. Also, I do not know how graduation ceremonies are done in Japan, so I tried to keep things vague. But if the parts I did mention are too western-specific, then... uh... just ignore please. ;)
Thank you to everyone who has read this story! Don't forget to check my bio to find out where to find all the individual review responses! :) I am also posting a small AU scene from the story on my blog - you can find that via the "homepage" link on my bio as well.
Chapter Eleven: "All's Well that Ends Well"
"Please, I need you all to move away." The doctor's tone was patient. He looked like he was just out of college, but that was a lie of his vampire heritage. In reality he had almost three centuries under his belt and had watched medicine evolve from leeching to gene therapy. Seiren had brought nothing but the best in the way of medical help, and they covered all the specialties - including neurosurgery.
Zero, Yuki and Aido were standing close around the bed on which Kaname was lying while the doctors prepped him for surgery. Zero and Yuki were standing the closest. Aido was giving them a respectful distance, but obviously also wanted to be near. Under their feet, they could feel the thrum of jet engines.
Kaname gave them all a wry look. "Go. Shoo. Stop hovering. It's just a little brain surgery..." he added with dry, ironic amusement. He squeezed Yuki's fingers tenderly and kissed her wrist before slipping her slender hand into Zero's. He gave Zero's knuckles a light squeeze and fixed the hunter with a soft, warm look that held an obvious request.
Zero met the gaze with equal warmth and gave a slight nod. Yes, of course he'd take Yuki away and make sure she didn't worry. After everything they had survived the past few days, Zero was quite aware that sterile, carefully conducted surgery performed by an expert neurosurgeon was hardly anything Kaname's body couldn't handle. He would, perhaps, have felt a little better about it if they could have waited and done this in an actual hospital, and not on an airplane at 20,000 feet... but Kaname had insisted, and the pureblood always got his way.
They were on the large C-17 transport plane heading home. A curtained area had been set off in one part of the large hold and converted into a mobile hospital. It was here that the vampire surgeons would extract the shrapnel from Kaname's leg and most importantly from his head. It was not, perhaps, an ideal place for surgery, but then again, the pureblood didn't have to worry about infection or life support systems. All that was necessary was the anesthetic and the needed equipment for the surgery itself. Kaname did not want to waste time. They had to be on the plane for almost a day anyway... the way he saw it, he could have the surgery done and be fully recovered by the time they landed. Which was important, as they were just barely going to make it in time to make Yuki's graduation ceremony as it was.
One of the surgeons started to brush Kaname's long hair away from his face, regretfully preparing to shave it off in preparation for the coming surgery. They obviously sort or regarded it as almost some kind of sacrilege, but the truth was it would re-grow nearly as soon as Kaname's scalp healed up and the pureblood was conscious again.
The doctor who was acting as anesthesiologist had the breath mask prepared and held it in one hand, glancing towards Kaname for approval. It was no small thing to render a pureblood vampire unconscious. Surgery for them was a very, very rare necessity and in such cases were often done with only local anesthetic in order to allow the pureblood to remain conscious. It was for safety sake. The same reason vampire doctors were never allowed to operate unless they were fully fed ahead of time. If Kaname had not been surrounded by the people he was, if he had not had Zero and the others there... he would have insisted on doing even brain surgery while fully aware. But Zero and Yuki had prevailed upon him to take the easier, less painful and horrifying route, and he had surrendered, more for their sakes than his own.
The surgeons would be cutting around inside his head... there was no way he could have stayed fully lucid through that and the possibility that he could react badly, perhaps very badly, given recent circumstances, was high. Considering where they were... a bad reaction from him while in flight could cause a repeat of circumstances that he definitely wished to never, ever re-live, especially not with the precious load that this particular plane was carrying.
Kaname hesitated to give the doctor permission to proceed. He glanced towards Zero, and the hunter could see that the pureblood was distinctly uncomfortable. Kaname didn't want to have his head shaved and be put out in front of witnesses, it was too... embarrassing. Too weak. Zero understood and turned away, taking Yuki with him. "We'll be right outside," he promised Kaname quietly. You're safe.
Zero snagged Aido by the shirtsleeve and partially urged, partially dragged him out as well.
"Okay," Kaname murmured, understanding both messages. He gave the doctor a nod and closed his eyes, trying to remain calm as he felt the cool plastic mask slip over his nose and mouth and the equally cool scrape of the razor against his scalp.
Aido joined Kain and Zero and Yuki headed for the set of seats in front of them. They were close enough to be on hand if for some reason they were needed, but far enough away to give the doctors space to work unhindered.
Zero suspected that efficiency wasn't the only reason Kaname had insisted upon this rush. He knew that even though the pureblood was very good at hiding it, the shrapnel in his head was still affecting him much more than Kaname would admit. He'd seen it when Kaname had faced down the Governor back in São Paulo before they left. Not that the Governor had been able to tell, of course... he'd been too busy quaking in his boots as he attempted to face the man he'd double crossed and tried to have killed. Kaname hadn't tried too hard to control his aura and Zero was surprised the human hadn't wet himself as the pureblood skillfully and gracefully got the human to agree to everything he wanted out of their future business relationship and more - including a promise to stop secretly fueling the unrest he was using to cover his own illegal activities.
Kaname had been all cool, collected grace and power when he strode out of the Governor's office, freshly washed and clothed, looking every bit the aristocratic young business man and not even limping simply by the force of sheer willpower. Once they were out of sight in the parking garage, however... the pureblood had almost literally crashed, unable to make it back to the car without Zero and Aido supporting him. He'd slumped in the backseat with his head resting on Yuki's lap, eyes clenched, breathing shallowly in agony as his brain let him know in no uncertain terms it was not happy about continually having to re-route all his neural pathways around the ragged obstructions still lodged there. Yuki had held him tenderly, cradling his head and shoulders and and stroking his hair as they drove quickly back towards the air strip.
Yes... Zero understood quite well that Kaname couldn't leave himself vulnerable like that for any longer than necessary. As it was, allowing himself to be put under for the surgery would have been unthinkable enough, except that Kaname knew he was surrounded by friends.
Take off had not been easy for him either, the changing air pressure had done nothing good for Kaname's raging headache, but Zero and Yuki had stayed beside him, offering their silent support and love to help him through until the plane leveled off. Zero had been so distracted that he hadn't had time to look at or examine his own feelings about being back up in the air again yet. Now, though, with Kaname's care momentarily in someone else's hands, Zero had a chance to think about other things... which wasn't necessarily good.
As Zero settled down in the seat next to Yuki, he found himself glancing automatically out the window before his gaze quickly jerked away. He stared fixedly across the hold, his heart suddenly thudding wildly in his chest, his stomach cold as ice.
No. Don't look. Don't think about where you are. Don't remember what happened... but it was hard not to. The harder he tried to ignore it, the more insistent the memories of the crash were as they battered against his consciousness. The stomach-stealing plunge, the weightlessness, the screams...
"Zero?" Kaname's softly alarmed voice came from behind the curtains, along with a soft clang and a murmur of dismay and entreaty from the doctors. Kaname was obviously sitting up and disturbing the medical equipment around him. The pureblood's voice was slurred, indicating that the anesthetic was already well on its way to taking effect. In that vulnerable state he was less guarded and very susceptible to Zero's emotions on the other side of their bond. He felt Zero's fear and was too out of it to know what it meant.
Pale, uncoordinated fingers scrabbled for the tubes in his arms, starting to yank them out. Kaname had run on instinct for too long. With his reason lowered by the drugs, it was too easy to slide back into fight or flight mode. Zero was scared. Something was wrong. He had to get to him... "Zero?!"
Zero's eyes widened as he realized what was happening from Kaname's increasingly panicked tone. Crap! "No! Kaname, I'm fine! Everything's okay..." unbuckling, Zero hurried back across the hold, giving Yuki a quick shake of the head to indicate that she should stay put. She watched him uncertainly, but obeyed for the moment.
"Hey, hey, don't do that, everything's okay, lie back down..." Zero slid inside the curtains and grabbed Kaname's wrists, stilling his hands before he could jerk out any more of what looked to be necessary surgical apparatus. Somebody had to stop him, the doctors certainly weren't. Zero didn't bother sparing them a frustrated look. They were visibly dismayed and worried as hell, but by now he understood... they wouldn't stop Kaname, they couldn't. They wouldn't tell him not to do something he obviously wanted to do, didn't dare think of trying to restrain him, even for his own good. Fortunately, Zero had no such issues.
He had to struggle for a moment to keep hold of the disorientated pureblood, but Kaname quickly ceased struggling as soon as he registered that it was Zero holding him. Zero leaned close, folding Kaname's arms gently over his chest and kissing his forehead lightly. "I'm here, Kaname. Nothing's wrong. It's... it's just the plane. I was scared, but there's nothing wrong, I was just... scared. I'm sorry," Zero explained quickly in a soft whisper. He felt deeply embarrassed to have to spell it out like that and expose what a giant baby he was to everybody, but Kaname was too out of it to beat around the bush.
Kaname seemed to understand and he let Zero push him carefully back down onto his back on the surgical table. His fingers lingered on Zero's arm, unwilling to let him go the same way his glazed, heavy-lidded eyes remained fixed on the hunter's face. "No, I'm sorry..." Kaname whispered. "I... should be there for you. I should... hold you..." The pureblood looked annoyed at being unable to express himself the way he wanted. Self-frustration flickered clearly in Kaname's eyes as he visibly battled the effects of his partial sedation. This wasn't right... Zero needed him, maybe he should have waited for the surgery. He'd been so distracted by his pain and his desire to end it, he hadn't thought how hard it might be for Zero to get on a plane again and that was an unforgivable oversight. He should be there, should sit beside him and offer encouragement, not... Kaname's eyes started to close and he forced them open quickly. His body felt like lead, the world was dim. He fought harder, his heart rate starting to race.
Zero placed his hand over Kaname's thudding heart, his palm pressed to the pureblood's chest. "I'm okay, Kaname," he whispered. "Honest I am. Please, just relax and let the doctors do their job. All I really need is for you to be completely well again," he murmured. Zero let the truth of that, and the full strength of his love for the pureblood fill his mind and heart, willing Kaname to feel that reassurance as strongly as he had felt his fear before. It seemed to work because the pureblood relaxed visibly under his touch, a soft sigh escaping his lips as he stopped struggling against his sedation.
"That's right... rest now. I'll watch over you," Zero soothed, aware that it was ironically similar in some ways to how this whole trip had started, what now seemed a lifetime ago. His hand drifted up to caress Kaname's cheek. Normally, he probably would have stroked his hair, but there wasn't any there to stroke right now, which was more disturbing than Zero wanted to admit. Not that Kaname necessarily looked bad... the pureblood could probably pull off just about anything, but he definitely looked wrong and way too vulnerable. Zero pushed away his inner disquiet and made light of it instead. "Besides, now that it's started, you really have to get this done... trust me, you don't want them to have to shave your head again, you look pretty weird." He smiled gently at the last.
Kaname gave a soft, sleepy snort. "Oh yeah? You should try it sometime..."
"I don't think so. And don't get any ideas, I'm sleeping with one eye open from now on," Zero retorted, keeping up the light banter to keep Kaname... and himself... calm while one of the doctors slipped the mask back on over Kaname's nose and mouth, starting the anesthesia flowing again to finish putting him under.
"Just you... wait..." Kaname's voice trailed off and Zero felt the body on the table finally relax under his hand as the pureblood went under. Carefully he eased his hand away and stepped back as the doctors quickly closed ranks around their patient once more.
The anesthesiologist cast Zero a quick, grateful look. "Thanks," the woman murmured and Zero gave a small nod, his gaze lingering for a moment longer on his lover's still form before he slid out from behind the curtains again. There was a time not so long ago he would have not been able to bring himself to be that open and affectionate with Kaname in the presence of strangers... but apparently things changed. He hadn't even thought about it just now, he had only been thinking of Kaname.
Zero found that Yuki had unbuckled and come over, although she had remained outside the curtain and didn't appear to have heard his and Kaname's soft words over the ambient thrum of the engines. "Everything okay?" she asked in concern.
Zero nodded, taking her hand as much for his sake as for hers as they headed back to their seats. "Yeah, it's fine. Kaname was a little out of it and he thought I might be in trouble or something, you know how he is," he gave her a wry smile, but it was a little forced. Now that his attention was no longer completely focused on trying to take care of someone else again, Zero was trying desperately to forget where he was. He couldn't afford to be afraid, it obviously was capable of disturbing Kaname, and anyway, it was stupid. But tell that to his tense nerves. He wanted to be on the ground. He wanted the flight to be over so badly, and he felt like such a stupid baby for feeling that way. He attempted to conceal it from Yuki, but that was a fruitless and ill-advised endeavor.
She reached over and cupped his cheek gently as they sat together. He leaned into her hand and she stroked his hair, playing with the soft silver strands. He and Kaname had both showered first thing upon returning to civilization and she could still smell the gentle scent of shampoo clinging to him. Physically, Zero was fine. His broken leg had finished healing during their ride back to civilization, and though he'd still been limping up to a few hours ago, the doctors had given him a clean bill of health, meaning there was nothing wrong that his body couldn't mend on its own with time.
He was exhausted, though. She could tell. Both he and Kaname had slept like logs in the land rovers on the way back from the jungle, despite the horrid jouncing and jolting. Yet Zero still looked tired and worn when she looked into his eyes. Physically tired, and perhaps almost even more so emotionally. She couldn't know everything they had been through in the past few days, but she could guess enough. But they were all right, and alive... and with time, even the non-physical wounds would heal.
Yuki continued to touch him softly, gently marveling over the ability to do so. She'd almost lost him. She'd almost lost Kaname. She'd almost lost all reason she had to live. She savored the contact as a reassurance that Zero was actually sitting there with her now and it wasn't a dream. Yuki continued to stroke his hair and play with his ear and Zero closed his eyes, breathing softly if still a little too rapidly, trying to focus on her and not where they were. Not on the plane...
"Zero... are you okay with this?" Yuki murmured, very well intentioned, but not helping in his attempt to pretend he was somewhere else. "With being on a plane after the crash and all, I mean? Maybe we should have..."
"What, taken a boat and gotten there in a year?" Zero gave a short, uneasy laugh, pulling away from her and leaning back in his seat, trying to keep his heart steady. "Oh yeah, that would work. Forget it, Yuki, I'm fine."
Yuki gave her friend and lover a disapproving frown. "You're such a bad liar, Zero. You are so far from fine you can't even see it," she retorted. Her tone was fondly reproving and concerned at the same time. They had well established ways of relating and this was one of them. They'd been antagonistic pseudo-siblings for too long to ever truly lose that element. "You were in a plane crash, then lost in the jungle and captured by bandits and... and... and almost died... you have no right to be fine."
Zero gave a small, tired chuckle, but at least it was a genuine sound this time. He ran his hand down his face. "Okay. Okay I'm not fine then, if that makes you happy."
Yuki gave a firm little decided nod. "Yes, that makes me very happy."
Zero raised his eyebrows. "You're very happy that I'm not fine..." a small, real smile teased the corners of his lips.
Yuki gave him a look, but stuck with it. "Yes. I mean, no... I'm very happy that you admit you're not fine."
"... in order to make you happy," Zero amended, doggedly.
"Which is making me very unhappy. You two are giving me a headache, can't you shut up?" Aido's voice interrupted from behind them.
Yuki and Zero ignored him. Yuki settled the matter her own way by leaning forward and giving Zero a warm kiss. Zero responded and for a few delicious minutes he managed to not think about the fact that he was on a plane at all. He caressed Yuki's jaw and ran his fingers through her hair as he savored the soft, beautiful contact. He had missed her so much. For a while... he'd thought he was never going to see her again. His eyes stung and he closed them, savoring the moment.
Behind them, Kain calmly plastered the magazine he was reading over his cousin's face when Aido's exaggerated gagging expression was in danger of becoming either too annoying or too amusing.
When they finally separated, Yuki guided Zero's head to her shoulder. "Rest a while," she murmured. "Kaname's going to need us when he's all done." She knew Zero well, the need to take care of someone else was usually a good way to get him to do things. Besides, what she said was true.
Zero hesitated, but was unable to refuse her, unable to resist the delicious comfort of just being near her. He rested his silver head on her shoulder and she ran her fingers lightly through his hair. He studiously ignored the rumble of the engines and the thrum of the plane, and told himself it was the engine of a car or the hum of a dryer. He focused on Yuki's scent and the rhythm of her heartbeat. And he focused on listening for any out of place sound or movement from behind the curtained partition across the hold. Even though he knew Kaname was safe, he had no intention of actually resting until the surgery was over. Even now, he still felt like he had to watch over the pureblood.
But at least, wrapped in Yuki's comforting presence, he was able to relax and his fear slowly eased into something much more manageable. Despite his best intentions, his weary, exhausted body did in fact start to doze and he rested peacefully on Yuki's shoulder for some time.
Across the hold, the surgery progressed with swift, competent efficiency. First, Kaname was turned onto his stomach and the shrapnel that was embedded in the bone below his knee was removed. There was no need to suture the wound incision when they were done, it healed up on its own as soon as they removed their tools. The trick with vampire surgery, and especially with this very rare pureblood surgery, was to keep the body from trying to heal too fast, while it was still being worked upon.
Kaname was then turned onto his back once more and his head was immobilized via the special bolt / vice contraption that was part of the table. The anesthesiologist watched her drug levels carefully as her colleague started operating. All of them were aware of the gravity of what they were doing and there was no sound in the small surgical tent except for the doctor's murmured requests for different instruments and the soft metallic ping of the bullet fragments being deposited into a small stainless steel basin as they were removed.
The anesthesiologist was very good at what she did, but sedating a pureblood was not something she had ever done before, extremely few people ever had. Just like with humans, vampire anesthesia was in essence a poison, so she certainly did not want to risk giving Kaname too much, even though the dose was already double that which would have been suitable for a Noble class vampire. Perhaps under normal circumstances, it would have served, but Kaname had been through too much the past few days and his body had reacted to the constant need to be healing itself by forcefully amping up his metabolism to cope.
As his body started to adjust to them, the drugs did not keep him under and he started floating back to groggy semi-consciousness, aware of a burning pain in his head and not much else.
The surgeon gave a horrified inhalation of breath as he glanced up from his work to see his patient's unfocused eyes flutter open. "Damn it, Karen, he's waking up, put him back under!" the surgeon hissed as calmly as he was able. You just didn't have patients wake up while you were cutting into their brain matter, you just didn't. Even for a vampire doctor it was hideously disturbing. More frightening was the prospect that if Kaname started struggling like he had earlier, he could probably break the surgical clamps that held his head fixed in place and do himself severe damage.
Fortunately, the surgery had temporarily severed the pureblood's motor skills, leaving him paralyzed on the operating table. Unfortunately, Kaname was just partially awake enough to be aware that he couldn't move. Pain and terror flooded him. He didn't know where he was. He was trapped, paralyzed, and people were doing things to him, things that hurt so badly he wanted to cry.
"Karen...?" the doctor's hands were steady, trying to operate as swiftly as he dared while keeping an eye on the patient.
The anesthesiologist was obviously freaked, but reacting well under pressure. "I'm trying, Caito. I've upped the dosage but he's fighting it. I don't want to give him too much, it will hamper his healing..."
It was Zero's turn to jerk awake with his heart thudding and inexplicable fear pounding through his veins. His head hurt. It felt like it was being jabbed with knives. Zero gave a soft, startled groan of pain, gripping his head. For a moment he could hardly think or figure out what was going on. He thought he'd had a nightmare, or his own fears over where he was were playing tricks on him, but as he became more fully aware, he knew that wasn't the case.
Yuki looked worried and alarmed. She was off her seat and crouching in front of his, her fingers twining over his as he held his head, trying to get him to look at her. "Zero? Zero what's wrong? Are you okay? Zero!"
Zero's heart was thudding, but his mind, previously made vulnerable by sleep, came once more under the power of his wakeful consciousness the pain in his head faded, leaving just the memory. It wasn't his pain. He knew that now though. Just like it wasn't his fear.
His bond with Kaname was burning with terror and agony.
The pureblood was usually more sensitive to their bond than he was, but Zero was more attuned to Kaname than usual just now because of how closely they had had to depend on one another for survival these past days, because for so long his every waking moment had been spent focusing on whether or not he could hear the pureblood breathing, whether Kaname's heart was still beating and whether he was in distress. Kaname was definitely in distress now.
Zero's wide eyes focused on Yuki as he scrambled quickly to his feet. "Not me... it's not me... it's Kaname. Something's wrong..." he saw the color drain from her face, mirroring his own, but both their feet were already in motion.
Zero just managed to keep himself from bursting into the surgical enclosure. He knew that whatever was happening, disrupting the surgeons wasn't going to help. So he slid in swiftly but quietly, Yuki right behind him. Zero winced as soon as they were through the curtain, automatically reaching to shield Yuki's eyes from the sight of Kaname in mid-surgery. She shouldn't be here, she shouldn't see him like this. She didn't need those mental images and Kaname wouldn't like it.
But Yuki pushed his hand away. She looked pale, even a little sick, but there was no way she was leaving. She'd almost lost her loves once, it would take more than heaven or earth could supply to drag her away from them now. If something was wrong with Kaname, she was going to be there for him. And there was something wrong, because surely... his eyes shouldn't be open like that.
The doctors did not tell them to get out. They'd seen Zero calm Kaname before.
"He's fighting the anesthesia," the doctor named Karen told them as she adjusted the dosage yet again and moved the mask more firmly over his nose and mouth. "Try to get through to him, he just needs to stop fighting it, we're almost done..."
She barely needed to say it. As soon as they understood what was wrong, Zero and Yuki were both by the pureblood's side. Zero moved around to his left and Yuki remained on his right.
Kaname's hands lay limp by his side, but his eyes darted around in incomprehension, brimming with raw fear that broke both Zero and Yuki's hearts. By unspoken accord, they each took one of Kaname's hands in their own. Zero placed his other hand over Kaname's heart and Yuki cupped his cheek in her free palm, careful not to disturb the anesthesia mask.
"Kaname, it's okay. You're safe, you're with us, just relax and let them finish. It will all be okay..." Yuki whispered gently, desperately hoping to get through to him.
Zero closed his eyes and as he had earlier, he filled his mind with calming, peaceful thoughts and willed them to flow through their bond, hoping to touch Kaname's mind with them. He didn't have a lot of direct control over things like that, but his intense effort was earnest. He thought of the most comforting and lovely setting he could come up with on the spot, trying to share it with Kaname.
Zero, Kaname and Yuki were standing hand in hand in hand on a beautiful, deserted beach, watching the surf roll and lap against the shore. In consideration of Kaname, Zero imagined it as nighttime, and the stars and the moon glittered off the tips of the waves...
Gradually, Kaname's heartbeat started to slow. His wild gaze calmed, fixing on Yuki as she caressed and spoke to him, and then on Zero before fluttering shut as he surrendered to merciful darkness once more.
"He's under," Karen whispered with obvious, intense relief.
Yuki and Zero did not leave. They stayed with Kaname for the remainder of the surgery, standing on opposite sides of the bed and holding his hands. You would have had to go through both of them in order to bring any harm to the unconscious pureblood on the table and the fierce protectiveness practically radiated off of them. After a few minutes Yuki seemed to realize their somewhat amusingly matching attitudes and smiled across at Zero. He lifted his eyebrows, realizing it as well, and smiled back.
Stately music floated on the air, mingled with the muted sounds of a silent, crowded auditorium as student names were called out, one after another. Every now and again sections of the audience broke into cheers, whistles and applause when someone they knew was called.
"She looks beautiful," Kaname murmured.
"Mm-hmm," Zero nodded in agreement.
The two vampires leaned on an iron railing, gazes fixed on the graduation proceedings below. Or rather, on one particular graduate as she stood waiting to be called. They had made it back just in time for the ceremony. As he had planned, Kaname had more or less fully recovered from surgery by the time the long flight ended. They had just barely had time to dress and get over here before the proceedings commenced.
As a result, they were way too late to get seats in the auditorium anywhere other than the way back of the room, with so many heads between them and Yuki that even vampire eyesight wouldn't help. So instead, Kaname's pull had gotten them permission to come up here, and watch the ceremony from one of the balconies usually reserved for film crews. They had an excellent view of everything from up here and didn't have to contend with being stuck amidst a sea of other people, so it really worked out quite well.
Takuma, Kain, Aido and Seiren were up there with them. Takuma had appointed himself photographer for the event and was happily snapping pictures of Yuki with a zoom lens. He was getting pictures of everyone up here on the balcony as they watched, too, but Kaname and Zero were too distracted to notice.
When Yuki was called, they all clapped and cheered and her gaze searched them out, flashing them a brilliant smile. She was happy to be graduating, of course.... but most of all, she was happy to see those two particular smiling faces as they clapped for her.
As Yuki went through the motions of the ceremony, she knew her life lay ahead of her now. Not just the normal choices of what she would do after school, but some additional ones unique to her situation. She was fairly certain most people didn't have to spend much time considering when and if they would become a vampire, yet that was a bridge she would eventually have to cross. But not today. The future could wait for a little while, until they were all ready to face it. Right now, she would savor the moment, and the beautiful feeling that she'd been given a second chance to be with those she loved, that they'd been returned to her when she'd thought them lost. Ultimately, she knew that whatever the future held, it was okay as long as they were together.
"Look at this one!" Yuki giggled, brandishing a photo. "Oh my gosh, you look like you're stoned, Zero!"
"What? Give me that!" Zero grabbed the offending photo. Looking, he saw that it had been caught at just the wrong moment so he did indeed look both dazed and demented. He gave a laughing groan. "Geez... Kaname, we are never letting Takuma near a camera again, right? Tell me we're not..."
Kaname had another stack of pictures in his hand and tossed down an amusing succession of pictures featuring Aido. At first the blonde appeared to be playing to the camera with his usual charm, then he appeared to become increasingly annoyed and was obviously trying to get it out of his face. The last couple shots were of him making downright making rude and hilarious faces and obviously trying to wrest the camera away from Takuma.
"Takuma always had a... eh... certain way with a camera..." Kaname admitted in amusement, reaching over and plucking the picture of Zero from the hunter's fingers so he could enjoy a good chuckle over it. "That is not a flattering shade of red..." he added, amused by the red-eye effect that the camera produced which was light years away from the intense, seductive vampire red that he was used to seeing in the other's gaze on occasion.
Kaname, Yuki and Zero were all cuddled up together on a huge, suspended bed-like hammock complete with a king-sized mattress, pillows and comfortable cotton sheets. A private beach spread around them, filled with the sound of the ocean waves, gulls wheeling overhead and the gentle patter of rain. The hammock was protected from both sun and rain by a sturdy, yet airy canopy that acted like a tent, arcing up over their heads and dangling down to the sand below on three sides. The fourth side, facing the water, was tied open so they could watch the rain falling on the beach and enjoy the sunset over the water while remaining protected from the elements.
They'd all been out playing in the waves and the sand in the late evening sun. Kaname knew that Yuki was more able to enjoy the beach during daylight. So he wore sunglasses and heavy-duty sun block and did not complain, able to happily distract himself with the sight of Yuki and Zero in bathing suits. A sudden evening shower had driven them all, damp and laughing, into the cover of the hammock cabana where they flopped on the gently swinging bed, snacking on fruit and drinking wine as they watched the rain and the sunset over the ocean.
The three of them had decided that after everything that had happened, the month-long vacation they had planned to spend together was simply not enough time. They had extended it to three months and were enjoying a relaxing, languid itinerary that was exactly what all of them needed.
Already, they had been at this lovely retreat for three days and the cares and concerns of the past weeks felt like they were visibly melting away. Takuma had sent them a packet of the pictures that he'd taken at Yuki's graduation. Or, five packets, to be more exact, since he seemed to have photographed almost every moment of the ceremony and the party afterwards.
Warmed by companionship, fresh air and wine, the trio in the hammock were now amusing themselves by going through the photos. Some were absolutely lovely, but some were downright hillarious. Yuki lay on her stomach on the sheets with a pile of pictures in front of her, Zero was on his side leaning on his elbow and Kaname was half-sitting, leaning against some pillows. Their legs were all tangled together, their bodies pressed close in the comfortably small space and everyone was feeling very good.
"Ha! Yuki, you look like you're having a seizure in this one!" Zero chuckled, pushing a picture over to her.
Yuki pulled it closer and cracked up laughing, nearly spilling her drink, but managing not to at the last moment. "Oh gosh, it does... it does... Kaname, look!" she wheezed breathlessly, handing him the ridiculous looking photo of her in the middle of dancing with Yori at the graduation after-party. Her longtime friend had of course come out to her graduation as well and caught up with her after the ceremony. In the photo, Yuki and Yori had been caught in the middle of some energetic dance moves that looked positively retarded when captured in still frame. She was going to have to get a copy of that and send it to Yori...
Kaname chuckled. It took a lot to make Yuki look stupid, but apparently nothing was beyond possible with a camera...
Suddenly Yuki started laughing so hard Zero had to reach over and take her glass from her hand to keep it from spilling. She wordlessly shoved a picture towards him and he immediately cracked up as well.
Curious, Kaname leaned forward, but Zero flipped the picture over. "Oh... I'm not sure you're ready to see this one..." the hunter choked out around his unchecked amusement.
Yuki was gasping for air. "Oh come on... Zero... let him see..."
Kaname settled it easily by snatching the picture away with a suspicious, amused look and turning it over. The picture was of him, giving a toast to Yuki. The camera had caught Kaname mid-word with his mouth open and his glass raised in the air in such a way that it looked like he would have been more at home at a keg party than what the situation had actually been.
Kaname broke out laughing despite himself, lightly mortified but mostly amused since the only people that were ever, ever going to see these pictures were right here with them. He turned over the envelope that the photos had come in with a grin. "Where did Takuma have these developed? I think they're about to have an unexpected fire wherever they keep their negatives..." he joked.
Yuki laughed some more and then looked around, meaning to recapture her wine glass from Zero who had taken it from her before. Zero was holding it, but it was suspiciously empty and she gave him a poke in the ribs. "Hey! My drink!"
Zero looked innocent. "What? What drink?"
Yuki pounced on him playfully and they tussled, the hammock rocking somewhat wildly.
"Hey, hey!" Kaname laughed in amusement, saving the wine bottle and his own glass from getting spilled. He finished his glass and set the bottle down out of harm's way. "Seriously... can I not take you two anywhere without you behaving like children...?" the pureblood teased them, obviously goading.
Zero and Yuki both turned, fixing playful, dangerous grins on him. "Get him!" Yuki crowed and they both pounced on Kaname. The delightful three-way romp sooner or later turned somewhat less innocent and the privacy of the deserted beach and the concealing canopy around the hammock bed turned out to be a very good thing.
A good while later, the threesome lay comfortably tangled together under the light sheets that the hammock bed had been made up with, tired bodies glowing with pleasure and contentment as they rocked gently and watched the rain.
The sun had set by now and the moon was up, shining down on the surface of the water through the rain and catching on the tops of the waves.
Yuki's slim fingers were playing with Kaname's hair, Kaname's hand was resting on Zero's hip and the pureblood felt utterly contented. Looking out at the moonlit beach, he was struck by a strange, vague scene of deja-vu that he couldn't quite place, but it was beautiful. It was like some lovely place he'd seen in a dream or something... when he'd been in surgery. He looked over and found Zero watching him. Their eyes held emotions that no words could aptly describe, like a deep, infinite warmth passing between them. Somehow, they both knew that this, right here - this ultimate beauty of being with those you loved - was their idea of heaven. At almost the same time, they both glanced towards Yuki and saw the same expression in her eyes.
Cuddling closer, they closed their eyes and listened to the rain, and the sound of each other's hearts beating. And life, for once, was perfect.