A/N: Sorry for the incredibly long delay, and thank you all for the reviews! Some sneaky, rebel lemons slid in towards the end of this chapter in protest of how little we've seen of their brethren lately. ;) As a result I didn't cover quite as much ground as I intended in this chapter and we won't get our final revelations of truth behind the whole An'swala mess until next chapter. Sorry, but, hopefully no one will mind a little extra citrus. :)

Btw, I agree with everyone who would have liked to see Nasser realize about the true depth of Kaname and Zero's relationship before the end, it would have been satisfying indeed. I was tempted to write it that way, but it didn't feel right because I truly don't think he really could understand. The pity of it for him was that real love was not a sentiment he could accept or grasp. He had de-constructed emotions and feelings down to their base biological elements and used them to manipulate and control others for so long that I don't think he was capable of believing that there could be more to it than that it didn't feel right to write him otherwise. *shrugs*

Hmm, there was something else I meant to say here, but I have forgotten. Total mind fail. Oh well, instead I'll just apologize for all the inevitable typos and errors from lack-luster proofing on my part and thank you all for your awesomely kind support and patience as I struggle along to get this story finished while my Muse parties somewhere in foreign climes without me. :P

Chapter Thirty-Seven: "Surviving the Fallout"

"Holy crap, Zero..." Yagari muttered, his dark head bent over his task. Tanned, callused hands applied sterile white field dressings to the worst of his student's wounds with a quick, skilled efficiency that spoke of much practice.

Freshly showered, Zero had changed into a pair of sweatpants from his locker. Barefoot and shirtless, he sat on the edge of one of the interrogation tables so Yagari could more easily tend to the worst of his injuries.

The young hunter fidgeted impatiently, looking over his teacher's shoulder towards the doorway. If he wanted to get treated, he could have gone to the clinic. The medical facility here at Hunter HQ was top notch, but Zero had no intention of going there. There would be too many questions, too many tests they'd want to run. They would want him to stay there, which was out of the question. It was true he felt like crap, but he didn't have time to waste on things like that. He could sense somehow that given a little time, he would heal on his own, even from something like this. He was already strong from his blood relationship with Kaname and feeding from Nasser had increased that strength further, heightening the level of vampire within him.

Zero was changing and he knew it. After what he had been able to do today he could no longer pretend otherwise, even to himself. Nasser's blood was merely magnifying and hastening a process that had already been in motion. His powers had been evolving slowly for a long time now. Every step down that path took him further and further away from the traditional bounds of humanity. It was a one-way process that he knew he could never reverse. It should have scared him, or at least worried him more. These were serious issues, but right now, he seriously didn't care. Something much more important held his attention and concern.

Zero winced, shifting more from impatience than from the pain as Yagari finished bandaging his side and wiped his lacerated back down with disinfectant. He scooted an inch towards the end of the table. "Are we good? I need to..."

Yagari pushed him back onto the table brusquely, his look both irritated and amused. "You need to chill the hell out and be still for two minutes so I can finish this," he drawled. The elder hunter had snagged his apprentice on his way into the holding cells and dragged him to one of the interrogation rooms for a quick little patch up, but Zero was acting about as compliant as a hyper five year old.

"But I don't need-"

Yagari shook his head, cutting off his apprentice's protest as he quickly applied a coat of liquid bandage to what looked like claw marks slashed across his student's pale back. "I get that you're going to be okay, but we can't have you running around bleeding all over the place. Kuran looks like shit; there is no way I'm letting you back in that cell with him while you're covered in blood like some freaking vampire catnip."

Zero rolled his eyes. "Kaname's not going to hurt me."

"Humor me," Yagari growled, slapping on another coat of bandage. Zero's leg was jittering impatiently, rocking the young hunter's body and making it harder to cover his wounds. The boy was pretty messed up and touching these injuries should be hurting badly, but Zero didn't seem to even notice what his teacher was doing. Yagari cast a glance towards Zero's bare feet, wet hair and the way he could barely stay on the table edge. He knew the boy was worried about Kaname, but that wasn't all that was going on here. "Just relax, will you? Geez, you're high. What the hell have you been drinking?"

Zero had the grace to look slightly abashed at this when he realized Yagari was right. He was exhausted, yet at the same time he was also hyper alert and jumpy, as if he'd had way too much caffeine. He wasn't feeling the pain of his injuries like he should. This strange feeling of invincible euphoria reminded him of the first time he'd had Kaname's blood, which told him why he was feeling this way. He wasn't going to tell Yagari about drinking from Nasser, but he made a distinct effort to scale back on the unconscious nervous energy he was exuding.

"Sorry," he muttered. "But I do need to go," he added a little more reasonably, running a hand through his hair and realizing it was still fairly wet. Sheesh, hadn't he dried it properly after his shower? He didn't remember. Apparently not. His exhausted body really was behaving as if he were drunk or high. He was overlooking mundane bits of normalcy and losing chunks of time in his memory.

Frowning, Zero tried to make sure wasn't forgetting anything important. He remembered arriving at the Association. He remembered the mild fuss kicked up when he refused immediate treatment in favor of getting his prisoner settled. He remembered insisting that he and Yagari were the ones charged with changing an unconscious Kaname out of his torn, bloodstained clothes and washing him down. He remembered his unmovable determination that no unfamiliar hands would undress or touch his lover's naked body while Kaname was helpless, and his gratitude that Yagari had unexpectedly backed him up. He remembered how seriously, frighteningly torn up his lover was underneath the blood and the grime. He remembered laying Kaname down in one of the cells and going to take his own shower. He remembered coming back to the holding cells and getting hijacked by Yagari.

Okay, it didn't seem as if he had lost anything significant, just some minor details like forgetting to dry his hair or - he glanced down at his feet with a frown - or putting shoes on, it would seem. Whatever. Not important.

Zero caught Yagari's gaze. "I don't want him to wake up in that cell alone," he murmured earnestly.

Yagari hesitated, then nodded slowly. He understood. He was about to say something when Zero's head jerked up, a pained look crossing the boy's features. Zero quickly pushed off the table to his feet, batting away Yagari's hands this time. "Shit, too late," the young hunter's lavender eyes were slightly unfocused as if he were sensing or listening to something far away.

Ignoring his teacher, Zero hurried from the room, his feet moving faster and faster as waves of Kaname's confused distress rolled over him.

Pain. Weakness. The incessant buzz of hunter charms weighing on him like a hand pressing ruthlessly down on his chest. His body and his senses were raw, leaden and unresponsive. As he started drifting towards consciousness, Kaname didn't know where he was... or when. His whole body hurt and he couldn't move. His eyes were still closed, but other senses told him he was in a small stone room. It felt like a cell of some kind. A hunter-made cell. The dreadful, familiar buzz of charms resonating within his raw nerves told him that. In his current state of disorientation, the sensation confused him and yanked him back to his childhood. For a few terrible moments he thought he was back in the basement prison in the Ichijo house after a particularly bad beating and panic rose unbidden within him.

The soft sound of a door opening heightened his alarm. He was alone. He couldn't move, couldn't defend himself, couldn't even get his eyes open! The helplessness was suffocating.

He tried to brace himself, but the abuse he feared was not forthcoming. No hand was raised to harm him. No cruel voice taunted his weakness. The fingers that stroked his damp hair back from his fevered brow were cool and gentle. The arms that carefully embraced and cradled him were loving. The scent surrounding him was familiar and the voice that murmured calming assurances into his hair was the one he treasured most in the world.

Kaname still didn't know where he was, but he relaxed in Zero's arms, the tension and fear draining away and leaving behind contented peace. Zero's presence seemed to create a protective bubble around him and the pain of the enclosing charms lessened considerably. His injuries were severe and reality was slow to return to the pureblood, but that was not necessarily a bad thing. In some strange way, having Zero come for him when he was reliving the nightmares of his past was both soothing and healing. It was, for a brief moment, as if Zero had stepped through time with him; the earnest intensity of the hunter's love extending back to ease away the terrible memories of past loneliness and isolation as surely as the same love filled Kaname's heart and completed him in the present. It didn't really make sense, and it wasn't something Kaname would ever have been able to explain, but it was deeply comforting to him nonetheless.

"It's okay, Kaname," Zero murmured against his hair, feeling calmer himself now that he was holding his love close and could feel the reassuring warmth of his body. Kaname's presence eased his jitteriness. "I'm here," he promised quietly. "Everything's okay."

Kaname smiled and rested comfortably against him, not caring where they were so long as that was true. He knew there was much to be done. He knew he needed to face the hunters and present the whole story of events to them in a way that would get him clear of this situation. He would need to make deals and concessions... but that was an exhausting prospect and he couldn't think about it now. Right now, he was just going to enjoy this moment with Zero, and that was enough.

Their peace was disturbed sooner than Kaname's injured body would have liked. He had been drifting in and out of wakefulness for some time and he got the impression that hours had probably passed. His body craved the healing properties of a more complete slumber, but he dare not let himself rest that deeply. In his current state it was all too likely that he might lapse into hibernation. If that happened it would be virtually impossible to awaken him for several days at the least. As appealing as that sounded, it would leave Zero in a bad spot. The young hunter would be the only one who could answer questions, the only one to face the fallout of their actions. Kaname couldn't let that happen, so he did not let himself sleep too deeply. Not yet. He needed to get matters settled first, then he could afford to rest and heal.

The murmur of voices had come and gone several times before now, but there was something in the tone of the voice now that told the pureblood he needed to start pulling himself together.

"Zero, it's time," Yagari's voice from the other side of the bars was quiet, but it also indicated that there was no use arguing. "They're coming. Get him up before they do," he warned.

Kaname slowly became aware that he was lying on a prison cot which was set length-wise into one wall of a small cell. His head was pillowed on Zero's lap and his cheek had molded to the weave of Zero's pants from resting on it so long. The hunter was sitting at the head of the bed, his back against the wall and his arm draped protectively over his lover's shoulders.

Kaname wasn't the only one who had been dozing and it took Zero a moment to process and react to his Sensei's words. He shifted, rubbing his eyes and trying to force his foggy mind to alertness. He'd been holding Kaname for hours; his neck was stiff from dozing while sitting up, his legs and arms numb from having been in the same position so long. His side throbbed stiffly. It still hurt less than he felt it should, but it definitely hurt more than it had earlier. Damn.

As he finally grasped what Yagari had said, he bit back a protest he knew was useless. His mentor would have bought them as much time as he could, it was out of Yagari's hands now. The advanced warning meant that at least he could try to give Kaname a few moments to get himself together mentally before the inquisitors came for him. Zero was fully aware that a favorite and rather effective tactic for keeping suspects off balance was to show up while they were sleeping, startle them awake and drag them off for questioning before they were fully alert. Ordinarily, Zero didn't think that of that as particularly cruel, he'd done it himself a few times, but everything changed when it applied to someone you loved. Especially when that someone was in such raw shape.

"Kaname?" he murmured, knowing the pureblood was already waking up.

Kaname nodded slowly, dragging himself upright on the bed with effort and blinking slowly to clear the cobwebs from his head. "I heard," he returned, frowning at the hoarse timber of his own voice and clearing his throat several times to get it smooth again.

Passing a hand over his face, Kaname swung his feet over the side of the bed. He gripped the edge of the cot with both hands, gathering himself. Everything hurt and his body screamed for rest. It didn't understand why he was forcing himself to move and to remain alert when all it wanted was to seek the unconscious, healing state it knew it needed. Not yet, he told himself firmly. Not yet.

Breathing deeply, he struggled to pull his composure together while intentionally putting some distance between he and Zero. The other hunters had to be aware that Zero had stayed with him, but he didn't want them to find Zero holding him or acting concerned. Zero had protected and cared for him. He had been here for Kaname when he needed him. The hunter had come through for him in every possible way and never once thought of himself. Zero wouldn't think of himself in this situation, so Kaname needed to do it for him. He wouldn't let Zero suffer as a result of his caring heart.

"The coming situation may or may not go smoothly. Whatever happens, let them do what they need to do, Zero," he said quietly. "Don't interfere. Don't try to protect me. It will compromise your position."

Zero snorted derisively to show how much he cared about that. "Do me a favor, don't tell me what to do."

Kaname shot him as hard a look as he could muster. "I'm serious, Zero. You're no good to me or yourself if they brand you a sympathizer."

Zero was starting to look increasingly uneasy. He was no idiot, but he obviously hadn't put too much thought into the many possible directions Kaname's interrogation could take. He was just as obviously having all kinds of thoughts about it now that he would rather not entertain.

"Don't be a drama queen," Zero retorted, rubbing a kink out of his stiff neck and trying to clear the remnants of sleep from his own mind. "Nothing's going to happen. They know Nasser was an asshole. He bugged the Association and turned hunters into ex-humans for God's sake. We'll just tell them what happened, they'll check it out and everything will be okay." He clearly wanted to believe that.

Kaname and Yagari exchanged glances. The two of them apparently had a slightly more jaded view of what lay ahead.

"Perhaps," Kaname allowed. "Ultimately, I believe that will be the outcome. But we need to be prepared for contingencies. This inquisition needs to be about me, I don't want them thinking about you at all. Once the facts come out and it's proven that Nasser is to blame, they cannot legally take any actions against me without wading through a sea of vampire politics. I am not theirs, their internal laws do not govern me. You are. They know now, the power inside you. I will not have them doubting your loyalties. I will not have them thinking of you as a threat. They need to feel confident that you are on their side. We just need to get through this. Remember that no matter what happens, I'll ultimately be fine. Don't do anything stupid." Kaname's gaze was intense. The pureblood was obviously struggling for clarity around the ragged edges of pain and exhaustion still clinging to him, but there was nothing wrong with his mental acuity. As always, he was rising to meet the situation with a will.

The way the hunters had dealt with the revelation of Zero's power earlier was encouraging, but this was still a very tricky and uncertain stage for them. At this moment Kaname was in no position to protect Zero if the Association turned on him and decided he was too big a risk to keep around. Kaname didn't think they would be too quick to jump to so drastic a conclusion unless they felt Zero's allegiance was in doubt. He had a notion that Zero's revelation of strength had the potential to increase his standing with the hunters much more than it would damage it... but only if they were sure he intended to use that power for them. If Zero tried to defend him they would not see the young man's protectiveness as one lover concerned over another, they would see it as an ex-human protecting a pureblood, and that was not a perception that could be allowed.

Kaname felt himself riding to a dangerous edge as he considered this threat to his lover and he forced himself back from it, breathing as deeply as his damaged chest allowed. He wasn't looking forward to what lay ahead, but he could get through it. He told himself that firmly... but he knew it wasn't entirely true. The one thing he could not deal with right now was this fear about Zero. It undid all his control and resolve much too easily.

Kaname did not suppose that his own life was in danger any longer. If the hunters had intended to kill him their best chance would have been to do it earlier under the cover of the chaos. If he died now, in their custody, his followers would revolt and there would be an epic mess for the hunters to clean up. He held onto a reasonable confidence that he would eventually walk out of this place, but he also didn't think the questioning would go as easily as Zero hoped. He was prepared for that, but he needed his lover be smart about his reactions and not go off like a firecracker if the interrogators started applying pressure.

Zero glared at him, obviously feeling uneasy, conflicted and stubborn. Kaname knew at a glance that Zero was prepared to rain hell on anyone who laid a finger on his lover. He appreciated that deeply, but the results would be disastrous for many reasons.

Kaname could hear footsteps in the distance on the dungeon stairs. They were out of time. He refused to let the apprehension stirring in his stomach express itself through his features. He tried not to even feel it since Zero seemed to be especially attuned to what was going on inside him right now. He turned his solid gaze upon Yagari.

"You understand what I'm saying." It was a statement of fact. He knew Yagari understood where he was coming from, whether Zero did or not. Yagari was more like him in some ways. They shared a sense of pragmatism that let the ends justify the means. "If you think he can't take it, do whatever you need to do to get him away and keep him away."

Zero's eyes snapped fire. "Don't talk about me like I'm not in the room or like I need a fucking babysitter," he said heatedly, anger surging much too easily through his raw, exhausted emotional state. "Are you trying to piss me off?"

Zero was still hyped up from Nasser's blood. Yet at the same time he was also physically and emotionally drained from the battle and the responsibility of caring for his wounded lover all this time. Kaname feared that his emotions were running high and his common sense running low.

"Maybe," Kaname admitted quietly in a rare bout of complete honesty. "If that will make it easier for you. I love you, and I'm a selfish man, Zero. I will do whatever I need to do to be sure you don't get pulled down in this mess I've created, whether you like it or not."

The answer seemed to take Zero a little by surprise. He'd come to realize over time that Kaname often provoked and subtly manipulated him to get him around to where he wanted him, but this was probably the first time the pureblood had been so honest and forthright about what he was doing. Oddly, that fact cooled Zero's irritation rather than feeding it. Ever since Kaname had trusted Zero with the pain of his past it felt like the pureblood was being more open with him about everything. This whole ordeal seemed to be changing them both, and not necessarily in bad ways.

Yagari and Zero could hear the footsteps now too. Yagari pushed a heavy set of body cuffs through the bars to Zero, giving the two of them a reason to be here. Zero accepted with stoic reluctance.

"Well, I'm selfish too," the young hunter said quietly as he knelt in front of Kaname, snapping the heavy cuffs shut around his lover's wrists and untangling the other trailing chains that made up the ensemble. The silver wrist cuffs connected to one another and to a broad leather belt. More chains led down to a similar arrangement for the ankle cuffs. It was overkill for Kaname in his current condition, but it was protocol.

Zero leaned forward, buckling the belt snuggly around Kaname's waist and unintentionally inhaling the warm scent of his lover's body and the blood that still seeped into the many bandages hidden beneath Kaname's clothing. He looked up as he fastened the ankle cuffs on his unresisting prisoner. "We've been through enough, this isn't fair. I brought you here, this is my responsibility. I won't stand by if they start hurting you. Do you honestly think I could?" he whispered.

Kaname's hand ghosted lightly through Zero's hair. "Yes," he whispered. "I think you can. I think you are strong enough and smart enough to suffer through a temporarily unpleasant situation for the benefit of the long term good. I think you love me enough to do this for me, if you understand why I'm asking. So, I will be very honest with you, Zero. I am not well. My control is feeble." His hurried words dropped down to the barest whisper, for Zero's ears only. "What I am asking of you is unfair and I'm sorry, but I need you to be strong in a way that I cannot be. I can get through anything they do to me, but if you try to interfere and they harm you - even if I just fear they might harm you... I cannot deal with that right now. I will react. I will fight them. I will kill them." Kaname's eyes were flinty hard and Zero could see that behind his pale lips, the pureblood's fangs had run out. Kaname had been through too much in too short a time. He was still dealing with everything that had happened with Nasser and just thinking about Zero being in danger was having an obvious effect on him.

Zero saw the naked truth in Kaname's eyes. There was a wild, feral beauty lurking beneath the bruised skin and haggard features which heralded the fact that the possessive predator Kaname usually kept caged up and out of sight was riding just below the surface. Kaname almost always had impeccable control over his other nature, but now the pureblood was warning him that that control was frail. If confronted with a threat to his mate, Kaname's instincts would trip and he didn't think he could stop them, no matter how much his logical mind protested. If Kaname lost it here in HQ, it was all over. He probably could and would kill many, but he was weakened and surrounded by hunters and hundreds of years worth of binding wards. It would be a cataclysm that likely ended with all their deaths.

"I'm sorry, you've already done so much and I'm asking you to carry the brunt of my weakness again," Kaname whispered, his eyes fluttering closed in resigned self-mortification as he struggled to get himself calm again and retract his fangs before the others appeared. They would be here any minute. He would rather not have spelled out his reasons like this, but he believed what he had said earlier. He believed Zero could and would do this for him if the hunter understood why it was necessary. Strangely, he found he wasn't afraid of Zero despising him for needing help or for the obvious allusion to his vampire nature. He would have feared both once, but not now.

Zero's eyes stung as he looked down at the chains he'd just placed. If Kaname had been trying to manipulate him, he couldn't have twisted Zero around to his point of view any more skillfully than this. But Kaname was obviously too worn to play games, he was simply laying out all his cards and asking Zero for help. That made it impossible for Zero to refuse him.

Kaname's hands rested in his lap. Zero squeezed them softly. "I keep telling you, there is nothing weak about you," he whispered. "I hate this. I really, really, hate this," his voice trembled slightly. "But I have your back," he promised. Zero realized that what he wished he could do and what Kaname truly needed from him right now were two different things. It was hard and unfair, but that wasn't Kaname's fault and he would support his lover in whatever way he was allowed. "I won't make trouble, but I won't leave. Whatever happens, you won't be alone," he promised. He hoped that they were all making much ado about nothing and there would be no need for this conversation to have taken place.

Then there were voices outside the cell and the time for talk was gone. "Activate them," Kaname murmured, barely moving his lips. His body tensed as he steeled himself.

Zero didn't want to, but he also knew he couldn't get away with not activating the restraints this time. There were symbols on the belt that lit up when the fetters were in use. If he didn't do it, someone else would. Hurting all the way down to his toes, he pressed a palm against one of the cuffs and mumbled the one-word activation charm.

Kaname curled forward, hissing through his teeth, hands curling into fists as the burning charge coursed through him. His damaged heart fluttered and made it hard for him to breathe, but after a moment he forced himself to uncurl and sit up straight, covering his pain with his usual mask of stony calm. He found himself looking through the bars at about six or seven other hunters, now standing with Yagari. They looked somewhat disgruntled that they hadn't been able to wake the prisoner, but the fact that they'd come upon them during the moment of activation and had seen the pureblood's pain seemed to mollify them a bit. As intended.

Zero rose stiffly to his feet, knowing what Kaname was doing, knowing what the other hunters were thinking, and hating every moment of this stupid, inevitable dance. "He's ready." He said flatly, letting the others read his tone any damn way they pleased. He was mad at the world in general right now and didn't care who knew. That was an attitude the other hunters were accustomed to from him and they didn't pay it much mind.

Yagari unlocked the cell door and Zero tried not to feel angry with him too. Yagari had done his best to help them. He had staved off the inevitable questioning for as long as he could without seeming suspicious by making the logical suggestion that the hunters completely process the scene of the incident before the interrogation. The reasoning went that if they could gain any insights on their own about what went down, then they would have leverage to know if Kaname lied to them.

That had bought Kaname precious hours to rest and recover, but the Association hierarchy could not be put off for long. They wanted to question the pureblood while he was still weak. Giving him time to recuperate was not in their best interests. They would have preferred to do it during daylight hours. Now, with night falling, they would wait no longer.

Zero could see what a struggle it was for Kaname to move smoothly when he rose off the bed. Zero could tell how hard he was working to not shuffle and how hard he was fighting the cold sweat gathering on his skin as he followed the guards out of the cell. But no one else could. Zero could tell because he could feel Kaname, other observers saw only a cool, bland faced vampire who was unnaturally pale but otherwise seemed to be as perfectly in control as ever.

Zero knew the other hunters. Three he knew only by sight, but the other four he'd worked with. Kio's master Haru was one of them. Zero liked Kio, but was not so fond of his Sensei. Haru was an excellent fighter, but he had a tendency to prove his toughness by pushing other people around. Like he was doing now.

Zero had to bite the inside of his cheek several times to keep from saying anything as Haru repeatedly shoved Kaname in the back while they were walking, as if the pureblood wasn't quite moving fast enough. Kaname stumbled, struggling with the motion-limiting chains but managing to never lose his footing completely. He was obviously in pain, but his jaw was set and he didn't let the irritating fly of a man get under his skin. Instead he grinned as if it was all rather amusing and Haru was behaving like a petulant little boy while he was the patient adult.

Zero was gratified to note that this attitude obviously annoyed Haru far more than any reprimand would have. Irritating the crap out of hunters seemed to be one of Kaname's inborn talents.

The powers that be were obviously aware of the potentially dicey situation of detaining a pureblood vampire and Kaname was not taken to the normal interrogation chambers. Instead, he was brought to a room usually used for meetings. The non-threatening effect of the room was marred slightly by the addition of an obviously non-standard chair made of dark metal and sporting restraints. Naturally, it was this chain into which Kaname was guided and the restraints were threaded through the chains he was already wearing, tethering him firmly to the seat.

Zero tensed when he saw that the chair was positioned in the center of a large charm which was engraved into the floor. Four hunters activated the charm after Kaname was seated, the dark lines lighting up and burning with a luminescent blue-white glow.

Kaname's body tightened, pain clearly coloring his features for a few long moments before he regained control. There was visible perspiration on the pureblood's brow now, but his eyes were clear and focused despite the pain.

The president entered the room, taking the seat directly across from Kaname. Everyone else took their positions as well. Most were seated around the president, while eight guards flanked the pureblood's chair. Zero stayed as one of the guards. Yagari, a senior hunter, was seated with the president's group, but his gaze strayed more often to Zero than the captive pureblood. He hoped Zero was going to be able to do this, or he really would do as Kaname asked and find a way to get him out of there.

The president nodded cordially to Kaname. "Kuran-sama, I regret that circumstances make our hospitality so lacking, but I trust you understand the need for caution," he said, nodding towards the charms and restraints with the same apologetic tone one might use for insisting that someone leave their weapon at the door. In a way, that was what they were doing. Vampires needed no weapons to be lethal.

Kaname inclined his head as if he were a visiting dignitary and not a prisoner. "Of course. I trust we will be able to clear this matter up swiftly."

The president's gaze shifted to Kaname's right. "Kiriyu, I understand you were injured in the fighting earlier. Your presence is required, but you may take a seat, if you wish."

Zero noticed that the president's gaze had flickered to Yagari before he spoke, and he had little doubt who it was that had been sure to mention that the young hunter was in fact walking wounded. He knew Yagari was looking out for him, but something in him did not particularly like being seen as vulnerable right now. He supposed he had been around Kaname too long, he was absorbing some of his mentality, or maybe it was simply the effect of time and experience. He was glad that Kaito had brought him a fresh change of clothes earlier. Aside from the dark bruises and cuts on face, the rest of his injuries were hidden beneath a clean white shirt and he felt more in control than if the others could see his bandages. "Thank you, but that's unnecessary, I'm fine here," he said neutrally.

The president nodded and the proceedings moved on.

Kaname told his story, then Zero was called upon to tell his version of events. Afterwards, Yagari corroborated the parts he knew about, chiefly focusing on the hunters Nasser had turned and the way he had infiltrated their HQ. There were things they all avoided. Some events needed to be changed or glossed over, but fortunately all three of them were smart enough to know where those areas lay and not let their stories conflict. Afterwards there were other witnesses, more testimony, more discussion. They asked Kaname to tell the story again. He did. Then there were still more people to hear from and more discussion.

At first, Zero thought that this wasn't really going to be as bad as they'd feared. No one seemed interested in doing anything to Kaname other than asking him questions. But as hours dragged by, Zero began to understand the larger, more devious plan at work and why the president had offered him a seat in the beginning.

They were intentionally letting time pass, keeping Kaname where he was and letting the charms work on his injured body. Kaname's eyes were starting to glaze and his breathing was shallow. Pinned under the effects of his bindings, the chair and the powerful seal on the floor, the pureblood was in increasingly excruciating pain.

The Association was being smart. They didn't want to leave themselves open to allegations that they had mistreated a pureblood. However, they were perfectly within their rights to make sure that he was adequately restrained for their own safety, especially given the potential charges against him. In Kaname's condition, all they had to do was keep him in the center of these powerful charms and it would be as effective as any torture, without anyone needing to lay a finger on him.

Zero was both disturbed and agitated as the smell of blood grew stronger, indicating that Kaname was bleeding freely into the bandages beneath his clothes under the stress of the charms. He struggled not to react, either with anger or hunger.

The fifth time they asked Kaname to repeat some part of his story, Zero finally began to understand the plan. They were going to keep doing this, keep asking him the same things over and over as the pain intensified and wore down his defenses. They were looking for a slip, an inconsistency, some lapse brought on by his physical distress that they could use.

Zero's fists curled at his sides in impotent rage. Well, if that was their plan, they were shit out of luck. They didn't know Kaname and had completely misjudged him if they thought they could trip him up or catch him in a lie no matter how much pain they put him through. Kaname was far too good for that.

Zero was tired and hurting pretty badly himself by now, but anger and defiance kept him on his feet. It was only his promise to Kaname, however, that kept him from telling them all to go fuck themselves when he was yet again called upon to re-tell some part of his story. He realized that Kaname may not be the only one they were trying to wear down. They may very well be using the same tactic with him. With that in mind he was especially careful with his answers, no matter how many times they were required.

He was increasingly worried about Kaname. After nearly five hours of fighting the agony the pureblood was showing obvious signs of his condition. That was something he would neverhave allowed that if he'd had any choice. Kaname was as collected and regally calm as ever when he spoke, but his shirt was soaked with perspiration and the patina of pain clouding his eyes left them increasingly unfocused. When Kaname had to stop four times in the middle of a sentence because he obviously couldn't breathe properly, it was all Zero could do not to rip out the chains, smash the chair into a million pieces and carry Kaname out of the room. He was pretty sure that fell under Kaname's list of "stupid things" that should be avoided.

Zero was seriously considering that option anyway, when a knock at the door to the room provided a welcome interruption to the relentless grilling. Kaito entered with another hunter.

"Sorry to interrupt, but we've got visitors. There's a group of vampires outside the gate who insist they need to be included in these proceedings," Kaito informed them.

The president waved his hand dismissively, annoyed by the intrusion. "We're not letting any of his supporters in here. That would not only be dangerous, it's against protocol. Tell them Kuran is here to help us of his own volition and that they need to respect his wishes and disperse."

"It's not his supporters," Kaito said with a dry look which indicated he wouldn't be bothering them if that was the only issue. "They've been hanging around outside since nightfall but they don't approach. This is a delegation from the north, and they're purebloods. Diachi Sato and his mother Diantha. They wish to report that Nasser Ardon was behind a recent attempt on Diachi Sato's life. They say they're here to back Kuran's allegations that Ardon was dangerously power hungry and on the verge of starting a war with the other purebloods in this area. Oh, and they're also kind of pissed that he used our hunters to off a number of highly placed people in their syndeo," he added parenthetically.

The president was paying attention now. You didn't ignore two purebloods at your gates. "What do they want?" he inquired tightly, obviously not pleased by this turn of events.

Kaito shrugged. "They want to speak with you. They want to be part of the proceedings and present their evidence, and they want to see Kuran. They're a bit... impatient."

Zero had never been a fan of the Sato family in general, but this intervention made up for a lot. He had to fight the smile that tried to tug at his lips. The Satos had very legitimate reason to want to be involved in this matter. Their testimony could not be refused and the hunters could not continue to question Kaname like this in front of other purebloods. Letter of the law or not, it was just a really stupid idea. Besides, by coming here in person Diachi was making clear that he and his family supported Kaname in this affair. Now, any action taken against Kaname had the potential of being perceived as an action taken against the Satos as well.

Zero wasn't sure whether Diachi was doing this because he really did want to support Kaname, or just because he wanted to vigorously not support Nasser who had caused him a fair amount of grief. Either way, it was a good turn of events for them.

"Tell them we would be happy to meet with them and hear their account. I'm sure Kuran will be pleased to see them as well," the president said, sounding anything but happy. "Tell them that we would not wish to impose upon them the strictures necessary to enter this facility. We will arrange for a secure meeting place elsewhere. Kuran is still recovering from his ordeal with Ardon but we'll make sure he's transported with the utmost safety."

Reading between the lines, Zero knew the president wanted a chance to get Kaname cleaned up before anyone saw him and didn't want to have three purebloods inside HQ at once. Even Zero had to agree that that wasn't a good idea. The president also obviously wanted to make clear that Kaname's condition was due to the fight with Nasser and not any misconduct on the hunters' part.

Zero was unimpressed with all the political wrangling, but the real upshot of all of this was that he was going to get to take Kaname out of here and he would not be bringing him back if he could help it. Supporting evidence from the Satos should effectively clinch and close the case. If enough influential fellow vampires decried one of their own as rouge and dangerous, it was generally accepted as fact. Nasser had tried to use this very mechanism against Kaname but in the end he would be the one that fell victim to it, even if posthumously. There was some poetic justice in that.

Feeling more relieved than he'd like to admit, Zero dispelled the charm on the floor with a flick of his hand and knelt in front of Kaname, quietly un-fastening him from the chair.

The other hunters cast curious glances at Zero. Not because he was releasing Kaname. Because without any apparent effort he'd just revoked a charm that it had taken four other hunters to set. The president's eyes followed him with a interested, almost hungry intensity.

"Sensei and I will handle the transportation," Zero suggested, his tone carefully calm and business-like. "They're used to seeing me with Kuran, it will make things smoother."

No one had any objections to that and Zero straightened up. He resisted the very strong urge to scoop Kaname up and carry him out. He knew the pureblood's pride would suffer, given the situation. Instead he gripped Kaname's arm firmly and helped him to his feet. Kaname held onto him tightly for support, but even so his bearing was still one of dignified poise as he left the room on Zero's arm, trailed by several other guards.

The hunters weren't terribly happy about this turn of events, but they weren't truly that upset either. They seemed prepared to let matters pass on into a wash of necessary formalities and political posturing. They would have preferred to do things their way, but ruffled pride was the only real force behind their aggravation. By this time they all more or less accepted that Nasser had been the disruptive force behind the morning's catastrophe. Most of them suspected that Kaname was not an entirely innocent bystander in the conflict, but they also knew they'd never prove anything. Considering the blatant disregard Nasser had shown towards them, contrasted against Kuran's professed co-existence views, the younger pureblood was, at least for the time being, definitely the lesser of two evils.

The president insisted a doctor check and re-bandage Kaname's wounds before he was released. He was rightly concerned about minimizing the smell of blood present in a meeting of vampires, and Kaname acquiesced for the same reasons.

"Kiriyu?" the president inquired, approaching Zero as he waited outside the exam room. The older man raised an eyebrow, silently asking if the young hunter needed a refresh on his bandages.

Zero shook his head, knowing that no matter how much they re-dressed Kaname's wounds, you couldn't hide the scent of him from other purebloods. That being the case, no one was going to even notice his blood. "I'm fine."

"I see," the president said slowly, giving him an assessing look. "You do seem to have... quite the constitution."

Zero did not look away, holding his gaze steadily. "Yes," was all he said.

"You know, when things calm down we need to run a few tests." The president continued to regard him with intently focused eyes.

Zero shrugged. "I already made an appointment," he jerked his head back towards the exam room.

The president raised both eyebrows, but seemed pleased. His mood lightened just a little and he patted Zero on the shoulder. "Well, let's not worry about it now. You did a good job today. Someone with your gifts could have quite a promising future ahead of you."

Kaname appeared in the doorway, shadowed by Yagari. His wan features tightened when he saw the hunter president discoursing with his lover in hushed, serious tones. "Zero?" he said quietly, fists unconsciously curling at his sides. Yagari placed a surprisingly gentle but warning hand on his shoulder from behind.

Zero turned and flashed him a look. "Everything's fine. Chill, all right?" he sent mentally. Verbally he said, "You done? Let's get moving."

The inquest was relocated to a neutral, secure hunter safe house in the city and the wards were lowered long enough to allow their vampire guests to enter. The whole affair was long and tedious. Although careful not to show it, Kaname was not terribly comfortable being around Diachi and Diantha in his current condition. He was literally trailing blood in a pool of sharks, but there was really no alternative it at this point.

Diachi had the substantial grace to pretend he didn't notice that anything was wrong with the other pureblood. His mother did not make the same effort. She was a much older vampire with a strong air of power. She was genteelly deferential in an old-fashioned way and let Diachi do all the talking despite her seniority. There was something about the way they both carried themselves, however, which let you know that Diachi was in charge because she had placed him there. The elder vampire did not much leave the seclusion of her many estates these days and was obviously here simply to lend weight to her son's words. She was quiet and refined in manner, but her eyes followed Kaname like a hungry cat tracking a wounded mouse. It was a normal reaction to Kaname's vulnerable state, but it put Zero sorely on edge and he was immensely glad when the proceedings were finally concluded.

Takuma was waiting for them outside, leaning against a long black limo. Zero guessed he'd been waiting there for hours. Seiren was in the driver's seat and behind the car Zero saw the familiar silhouettes of Kain, Ruka, Shiki and Aido. They stood there as silent as shadows, waiting for Kaname to appear. It was only the 6 of them and they stood in plain view. They were obviously trying to present themselves as non-threatening while at the same time making equally obvious that their intention was to take Kaname home with them and they would not easily countenance any disagreement.

The hunters were tense and unappreciative of their presence.

Smiling brightly in that very non-vampire way of his, Takuma made his way over and bowed respectfully to the three purebloods before shaking the Association president's hand. Senri trailed after him, also bowing, but keeping his hands in his pockets.

"Mr. President, if I might have a few minutes of your time, I would like to speak with you regarding the disposition of this case. The Council is very interested in your findings..." Through a sheen of energetic good will, Takuma was subtly reminding them that he, as a Council representative, had been shut out of the proceedings and it would be prudent to spend a few minutes making nice and giving him something to report in order to avoid causing offense.

Taking advantage of the distraction, for he knew that's exactly what it was, Zero smoothly steered Kaname towards the waiting limo. For a moment, the president looked as if he would like to object. He glared in consternation at Kuran's retreating back, but Takuma was still talking to him and Diachi and Diantha were now being greeted by their own attendants who had come to escort them. At this point, there was no graceful way for him to insist that Kaname return to HQ and he seemed to accept that, turning his attention more fully upon Takuma and assuring him that of course, he would be happy to fill him in on everything.

Zero got in the car with Kaname and closed the door, shutting out the sound of voices and letting quiet descend for the first time in what felt like eons.

Kaname collapsed back against the leather seats, his facade of strength and composure crumbling the instant he no longer needed to maintain it. "Seiren," he said in a voice hoarse from too much use and too much pain. "Take us home."

Kaname fell asleep on Zero's shoulder during the drive and he could not be wakened when they reached the house. Zero himself was bone weary, but he refused Seiren's assistance and carried Kaname into the house himself.

The long day and the even longer night were over. A new dawn was tinting the horizon outside as Zero laid Kaname gently down on his bed. They had been through too much for Zero to feel much of anything now, but a subtle relief was slowly seeping its way into his battered, weary consciousness. The young hunter stretched his aching body out next to his lover. He tilted his head against Kaname's arm, intending to just rest his eyes for a few minutes... and swiftly fell into a deep, exhausted slumber of his own.

One week later...

Zero's eyes fluttered open as he felt warmth settle over his slightly chilled frame. He blinked in the dimness of the room, the fiery hair registering as a blur of color until Kain's face came into focus above him. Zero stirred in the chair, realizing that Kain had just covered him with a blanket. He rubbed his face, trying to clear his head and guess how long he'd been sleeping.

"Didn't mean to wake you; you looked cold," Kain said quietly with an apologetic smile.

Zero shook his head. "No, it's fine. I didn't mean to doze off." His voice was also hushed.

It was as if they were both whispering out of deference to the sleeper on the bed beside Zero's chair, even though it was unnecessary. Kaname had been asleep for almost a week now, lost in deep hibernation ever since they brought him home from the hunter inquisition following Nasser's death.

Zero, knowing very little about vampire hibernation, had amused Seiren by asking if they needed to move Kaname to a coffin or something. She'd told him that as long as they kept him away from sunlight he would be fine resting in a normal bed for now. Since his sleep had been forced upon him by his injuries and was not a choice on his part, she had no way of knowing when he would awaken. If he was still asleep by that time next year, then it would be prudent to move him to the crypt for safekeeping. Seiren had had no idea the effect her words would produce until she'd seen Zero's face. Then, she'd regretted forgetting that he didn't see time the way they did.

Zero's gaze slid to Kaname's still form on the bed. He knew that purebloods could hibernate for centuries if they wanted to... but Kaname wouldn't do that, right? He wouldn't forget that there was someone waiting for him, someone who couldn't sleep away time like he did, right?

Kain followed his gaze, reading the concern in the amethyst eyes easily enough. "He was hurt badly, Zero. He needs this. You know he won't stay down longer than he needs to. He's too stubborn for that," he assured.

Zero nodded. He did know. He just hoped that Kaname had a choice in the matter. As Kain said, he had indeed been hurt badly. "I know," he returned with a self-deprecating little smile. He knew it was only his own selfishness that longed for Kaname to wake up. "I just miss him."

The instant it left his lips, Zero seemed startled that he'd said that aloud to someone else and he frowned, quickly looking away with a small flush of embarrassment.

"Perfectly natural," Kain responded wryly. "I mean, you love him, right?" He settled his hips back against the edge of the dresser across from Zero's chair, half sitting on it. Kaname was sleeping in Zero's room since the pureblood's was still being rebuilt. It was just about finished, but Zero didn't want to move him. There was something comforting about having Kaname near him and sleeping next to him, even if he was unresponsive. Okay, maybe he should consider that a little creepy, but it wasn't as if Kaname were dead, he was just sleeping. Sleeping really, really deeply.

Kain's frank, matter of fact tone made Zero feel less shy, maybe because the taller vampire spoke as one who knew what it was to be in love. "Yeah," the hunter agreed with a shrug. "I guess." He knew that Kain would understand that he meant he guessed it was natural, not that he guessed he was in love. There was no doubt about that part.

Zero rubbed the back of his neck, wishing his head would quit pounding like a jack-hammer stuck in the on position. "How's Aido?"

Concern flickered briefly across the taller vampire's face. "Awake, for the moment. He's a lot more lucid. I think the fever has finally broken."

"Good," Zero was glad to hear that. Aido's health had crashed hard shortly after they brought Kaname home. Whether he had over-exerted himself in the excitement around the showdown with Nasser or whether it was the course his worsening symptoms had been leading to anyway there was no way to know. Whatever reason, the blond had been down with fever, chills and sporadic delirium for days.

Worrying about both Kaname and Aido this past week had not done great things for Zero's stress level. Combine that with some... other things... that had needed to be dealt with in relation to his job and the young hunter felt pretty spent. He had had a lot of reason to appreciate Kain's steady, quiet, helpful and undemanding presence around Night Haven the past few days.

"Ruka and I are getting married." Kain said out of the blue. He spoke in the same, matter-of-fact tone as before, causing Zero, whose mind had momentarily wandered, to have to mentally rewind the words to make sure he'd heard them correctly. The deeply happy glitter in Kain's eyes told him he had.

Zero broke into a smile, trying to shake off his malaise and the lingering, cottony cobwebs in his head so he could focus on the news. "That's great! When?" He did not consider it a very surprising turn of events, but he felt truly happy for them.

Kain shrugged. "Not sure yet. I still have to ask her father and her family will probably want to make a big deal out of the wedding, so it might not take place until next year. But she said yes." That was obviously the most important part to him.

"Of course she said yes," Zero couldn't help thinking, but he didn't say it out loud. "You told Aido yet?" he said instead, a wry glint entering his eye.

Kain rolled his eyes. "Yes, just now actually. Which means it's only a matter of time until the entire world knows. One of the reasons I figured I'd better tell you myself," he added. "That and... well..."

Zero raised his eyebrows, sensing there was a request in her somewhere. "And?"

Kain looked a trifle embarrassed. "See, the thing is, we would like you to come and Ruka really wants to invite Kaname, but..."

Zero frowned slightly, trying to suss out the problem and wishing his sluggish brain would be more cooperative. "You think it would feel weird?" He was pretty sure Kaname would be happy for the two nobles and as he saw it, marrying Kain was a pretty big indication on Ruka's part that she was over the pureblood, but Zero supposed it could still feel a little awkward for Kain.

If they didn't invite Kaname they couldn't invite Zero, that would just be rude. To be honest, Zero really didn't care. He was happy for them, but attending or not attending the ceremony was all the same to him. He'd go to support his friends, but it wasn't like attending ostentatious vampire social events was his favorite past time. Still, Kain's unconscious indication that they considered him someone they would want to have there in his own right, and not just as Kaname's plus one tag-along did not go unnoticed.

"No, that's not really the problem," Kain clarified. "I want you both there. But there are... there are traditions, regarding the expected role and privileges of a pureblood who has been invited to a noble's wedding and how he might be expected to bless their marriage. Kaname has already made it clear he does not want to fill those functions, and we're certainly not asking him to. It doesn't have to be that way, but if the invitation comes from Ruka's parents, it will seem very formal and traditional and I know he will not accept."

"Damn right he won't," Zero muttered, eyes widening slightly as he understood what Kain was implying.

Kain smiled ruefully. "Exactly. Given their history, Ruka is mortified of the idea that merely asking might cause him to misunderstand. He may not wish to go in any case, yet to not invite him at all would be awfully cold. So we were hoping that perhaps, at some point, you might talk to him about it. If we're asking through you, he'll know it's just an invitation and nothing more."

Zero shook his head with a wry smirk at the ridiculous complexity of vampire social interactions. Then he pinched the brow of his nose against the headache that the motion caused. "Geez, you realize how screwed up this is?" he muttered. "Sure, fine. I'll ask him. If he actually wakes up before then."

"Thanks," Kain said, then paused, a faint frown coloring his features as he studied the hunter's slumped form. "So," he said slowly, his gaze holding Zero quietly. "It didn't go so good at the Association?"

Zero's whole body tensed and he looked suddenly wary. "Everything's fine."

Kain looked unimpressed. "Oh, sure, that's why you move like you're in pain, smell like blood and antiseptic and your pupils aren't dilating. You were gone for two days. If Kaname were awake..."

Zero shrugged tensely, not liking the way the conversation was suddenly heading. "Yeah, well, he's not." Thank God. "I do work, you know. Hazard of the job. It's normal."

In the blink of an eye, Kain was by Zero's chair and holding the hunter's right wrist. Zero was unable to react in time to stop him. Kain pushed the hunter's sleeve up his arm exposing a deliberate, evenly spaced lattice of mostly healed cuts that ran the length of his forearm.

"Work? This doesn't look like normal battle damage to me, Zero. And don't tell me you couldn't stop me from doing this just because you're tired. You've been drugged. Hunter drugged." Kain knew the signs and he was worried about what it might mean.

The wounds on Zero's arm were all but closed so they weren't bandaged. Zero regretted now that they were so clearly visible, but with Kaname out of it he hadn't expected anyone to call him on the injuries. He scowled at Kain and yanked his arm back, pushing his sleeve down again. "None of your business," he warned.

"You're my friend," Kain said in that stubborn, long suffering tone Zero often heard him use with Aido. "You being tortured by the people you supposedly work for is my business. You can bet he's going to think it's his, too," Kain nodded towards Kaname's still figure on the bed.

Zero blanched slightly, his gaze turning serious. "Don't tell him. I mean it, Kain. Do not tell him about this or I will hurt you."

"I'm so scared," Kain retorted dryly, folding his arms.

Zero's glare deepened. "I'm fine. They didn't torture me. This wasn't about information or anything like that. They're satisfied with the explanation of things as it was given. They just..." he sighed, realizing he was going to have to explain the situation in order to get Kain's cooperation and silence. "They had to run some tests, all right?"

Kain's flat gaze was dark. He obviously didn't think that his friend being dissected like a lab specimen was any better than being tortured. "Tests that involve them cutting into you un-sedated, over and over while they chart how fast you heal, right?" he said quietly. "Tests that involve them intentionally giving you doses of drugs and poisons to see how you react to them, or hitting you with different charms to see which ones do the most damage... those kind of tests?"

Zero's face had gone stony, shutting down when confronted with a much too accurate description of what he'd endured. The hunter scientists had not been intentionally cruel to him. Yagari, stone faced and unhappy had stood by the entire time to make sure of that. Hurting him had not been their goal, it was an unavoidable side-effect. The tests they needed to run were simply agonizing by nature. Because vampire sedatives were essentially poison, the necessarily high levels of sedation that would be required to ease the pain of the procedures would have changed his body's reactions and rendered the tests inaccurate.

To be fair, at least some of the scientists had not been at all comfortable carrying out the procedures on a human subject. A random enemy vampire would have been fine - after all, they weren't human were they? Zero was one of their own, however, and that created a huge grey area for some of them. But Zero was also a one of a kind subject, and he had submitted voluntarily.

"Sure," Zero said in a hard, even tone. "Those kind. I've changed. I can do things I shouldn't be able to do. I have power no hunter or ex-human has ever had before. They need to study what's happening with me. I'm okay with that. I volunteered."

Kain was not fooled, although understanding did begin to flicker in his thoughtful gaze. "You volunteered so it wouldn't be compulsory. Because as long as you cooperate willingly, they consider you to still be on their side."

Zero's eyes flashed silently. "I am on their side," he said quietly. "I'm a hunter, Kain. I don't agree with everything the Association does. I would have told them to go screw themselves if they had tried to put Kaname down, but they are still my people. What we do is necessary. It saves lives. It keeps the peace and maintains balance. Even if it is damn ugly sometimes."

Zero glanced again towards the bed. Zero knew that Kaname would agree that the necessary choices weren't always pretty ones. He no longer thought all vampires were his enemies, but some of them were. He knew that not all hunters were to be trusted, but some of them were. The world would never be simple and the lines that defined his allegiances and his duties would probably never be as clean and crisp as he'd once thought. Yet, Zero found he was all right with that. Life was complicated, that was just a fact. It was not something to fear. Perhaps he was misguided, but he no longer felt that walking the line between two worlds made him a traitor. He could love Kaname and be loyal to his heritage as a hunter. He could be a vampire and a hunter. It wasn't easy, but hey, easy would be boring, right?

Kain nodded slowly. Interestingly enough, he seemed to understand. Considering Kain had for years followed a man whom he knew held the heart of the woman he himself loved, perhaps he was especially suited to comprehend that not all allegiances were easy to explain.

"Are there going to be more tests?" he asked quietly.

Zero shook his head. "I don't think so. Not for a while, anyway. They've got plenty of data to work with, and they don't want to alienate me... not yet, anyway." He smiled sardonically. "As long as they don't think I'm crazy or a traitor, then I'm more useful to them as a shiny secret weapon. Look, Kain, the point is everything is working itself out. The tests weren't fun, but they're over for now and it was always going to have to happen someday. This wasn't Kaname's fault, but do you think he'll believe me if I tell him that?" Zero shook his head with a consternated look. "No. He'll go all emo guilt on me and want to take it out on the Association. We just got out of one mess, I'd rather not start another. You do see what a bad idea that would be, right?"

Kain didn't look happy, but he nodded again. "I do. I won't say anything," he conceded and Zero looked relieved. "Hey, Zero?" he added. "If there are more tests later... if you need someone afterwards, call me." His gaze was earnest. "I won't tell. So call me. I'll be there, anytime. Okay?"

Zero just looked at him for a moment. He knew Kain was completely serious. He realized that somewhere along the line, Kain had adopted him into the small fold of people for whom the tall vampire was ready to take responsibility, the group normally populated only by Aido and Ruka. Kain was treating him like family. It was odd in a way, and yet at the same time it also felt natural. They'd never spent that much time together. Zero was almost always relating to Kain in relationship to his more flamboyant cousin, yet somehow there was this quiet, unassuming connection between them. It was understated and easy going, like Kain himself.

"Thanks," Zero replied, and he meant it. "And hey, congratulations about you and Ruka, okay?" It was a not so subtle change of subject, but Kain accepted it gracefully.

"Thanks," he returned. "Well, I'll get out of here and let you rest." He headed for the door, pausing once before leaving. "You should feed, Zero. I know you don't want to while he's unconscious, but it won't hurt him and he'd want you to." Then he was gone.

Zero sat for a few minutes pondering that last bit of advice as he watched Kaname sleep. Aside from the fact that he was still hibernating, there no longer appeared to be anything physically wrong with Kaname. His wounds were gone and his body had returned to its usual perfection. The bandages had all come off several nights ago.

Zero was hungry after his ordeal in the lab and Kain must have sensed that. He was hungry, but he wasn't starving. He could get through all right and it felt wrong to consider taking advantage of the unconscious vampire.

Zero crawled onto the bed with Kaname and nuzzled in against him, wanting to rest. It was nice to just be close to him... but his fangs started throbbing at the nearness. He sighed, realizing he was either going to have to put some distance between them or make a decision, because this wasn't going to be restful.

He started to push himself up to leave, then stopped. He ran a hand through Kaname's hair and caressed slowly down the side of his neck. Despite his slumber, Kaname was once more a reassuringly bright flame in Zero's hunter senses. Zero found that comforting, but it also raised a question for him. Was he really resisting for Kaname's sake, or simply because resisting was a habit for him? How many times had his lover scolded him for not drinking when he needed it? Did he even need to wonder what Kaname would say if he were awake? No. There was no question he had standing permission to take whatever he needed whenever he needed it. That was a precious gift, really, and one freely given - why did he always feel like he should push it away? Kaname was much improved, and even if he may still be healing inside, it couldn't possibly hurt him if Zero only took a very little.

Before he could second guess himself, Zero dipped his head and slipped his fangs carefully into his lover's throat. He drank gently, carefully... perhaps even a little hopefully. There was a part of him that was waiting for Kaname to stir. Waiting for him go tip his head back against the pillow and give one of those soft, delighted, needy little groans that made Zero's blood turn to fire. Waiting for the dark eyes to flutter open and fix on him with a sleepy mix of happy surprise and desire. He had thought perhaps the act of drinking might wake the hibernating vampire, but that did not happen. Kaname did not stir and when Zero slipped his fangs free and licked the small punctures closed, he realized he had traded one kind of agitation for another. At least he knew this one would go away by itself with a little time.

With a resigned sigh, he settled down against his lover, amused and annoyed how much he really wanted Kaname awake and responsive right now.

"This is damn inconvenient, you know that?" he muttered as he closed his eyes and tried to focus on enjoying the effect Kaname's blood was having on his healing body. "Life really needs to stop being crappy soon." He sighed. One thing to be said for speaking to the comatose version of his lover was that he spoke a lot more freely. "I mean, we won for goodness sake, but it doesn't really feel like it yet. And don't say it's because I miss you. Even though I do. Even though you're right here..." Zero smiled sardonically into Kaname's shoulder, realizing that the combination of weariness and blood was having an effect on him similar to being tipsy. "God, I'm glad you can't hear me, by the way. So maybe there's an upside here after all. I think I'm more worn out than I thought. Maybe that's what I'm sick of - being tired, being worried... I don't know about you, but I have had it up to here with all this political shit and stress. We need to get away for a while."

Zero sighed again, deciding that the fact that he was laying here talking to himself - or talking to someone who he knew couldn't hear him, which was only marginally better - was probably an indication of just how right he was. The past few weeks, heck, the past few months really had just been one thing after another. Just thinking about it made him want to sleep for a few decades.

The hunter thought it was going to take him a long time to fall asleep, but he under estimated his own weariness. The velvety curtain of sleep pulled closed across his mind before he'd even gotten halfway through trying to figure out just how far away they'd need to go to try to put the past weeks behind them.

Kaname continued to sleep, and Zero continued to spend most nights beside him. If this kept up, Zero figured it would begin to get creepy. He told his lover so one night while he was kissing his neck and considering sampling his blood again just to feel close to him, even though he wasn't hungry. The fact that he was considering that told how badly he was missing his lover.

His desperation for Kaname's companionship was almost strange. They were often apart for much longer than this, but somehow having Kaname there and yet not there made it worse. Or maybe it was just because it had followed so abruptly on the heels of everything that had happened to them. There was so much Zero wanted to say to Kaname... yet even if his lover were awake, he wouldn't have known where to start.

Zero sighed against Kaname's skin as he leaned over him, lightly kissing and sucking on the base of his neck. He'd been telling himself he was going to drink again, but he knew he really just wanted to touch the pureblood without feeling weird about it. He drew back in frustration, deciding he'd probably better go take a shower or something. He wondered if being unremittingly horny was a side-effect of his increasing power. Was that why Kaname was always such a twit?

The hunter ran a hand through his silver hair. "You make me feel like a pervert, you know. You should be glad I don't go for the whole sleep-sex thing..." he muttered.

Zero was starting to rise when a low chuckle froze him in place and made his heart kick in his chest. He spun back around to find Kaname's dark eyes open and regarding him. The gaze was a little foggy, but it showed definite traces of amusement.

"Not sure if glad is really what I feel about it," the pureblood murmured. His voice was low and soft from disuse. Not exactly hoarse, but a more throaty than usual. "Things were just getting interesting."

"Kaname!" Zero was torn between smiling and frowning and ended up doing both in turn. "Hey, how long have you been awake?"

Kaname gave a lazy smile, not even having the decency to rub his eyes or seem disorientated after his long sleep. You would think he'd just woken up from a nap, not a virtual coma. "Long enough to be seriously disappointed by both your lack of depravity and creativity..." he replied with a pretend yawn.

Caught somewhere between wanting to kiss the pureblood and wanting to strangle him, Zero wondered how it was that Kaname could manage to rouse that uniquely familiar sensation in him barely moments after waking.

With a glare that was honestly more amused than upset, Zero dropped back to the bed, grabbing Kaname's wrists and pinning them by his head as he went with his first instinct and leaned down to steal a kiss that was both relieved and slightly possessive.

Straightening up just enough so that their faces were a few inches apart and he could regard the pureblood, Zero held him in a steady gaze.

"Welcome back, I'm glad you're okay," he said quietly, not wanting to let Kaname's method of awakening keep him from acknowledging that. Given the way he was feeling and the way Kaname currently looking up at him, it would be too damn easy to just fall on him like a hungry wolf. He was trying to keep in mind that his lover had just woken up, he really was. It hardly seemed decent to jump him right away. Zero had had many endless days of waiting for this moment, but did Kaname even know where he was?

"We're at home, you've been asleep for almost two weeks," he informed, struggling for normalcy and control. Good grief, get a grip, Kiryu! "We've been cleared of all..."

Kaname leaned up and kissed Zero, silencing him unexpectedly. The pureblood's mouth was open and his heat pulled Zero in instantly, melting his bones and dissolving his attempt at control. Zero followed him back down to the bed, intensely exploring the warm, inviting cavern of his mouth as he shifted to straddle him.

"Nice to know," Kaname murmured. "Tell me all about it. Later. Much. Later." Their clothes and the bedspread were still between them, but even through that Zero could tell Kaname was as interested as he was in pursuing something other than talking.

It's was Zero's turn to chuckle. "Really? Really? You nearly die, sleep for weeks, wake up and this is the first thing on your mind?" He wasn't actually complaining. He pushed the covers down, kicking them away. Kaname was wearing some of Zero's silky, cream colored pajamas that were delightfully mussed from their motions so that the pants were riding down his hips and the shirt riding up his stomach. The tantalizing expanse of ivory skin which showed between the fabric was enough to make one's mouth water.

"It's always the first thing on my mind. Why should a little thing like almost dying make a difference?" Kaname retorted, fingers combing through Zero's hair as if he couldn't get enough of touching him. "It really is too bad I was too out of it for us to try having sex while I was in prison... that could have been very interesting."

Zero half choked and the faint color that rose on his cheeks said Kaname still knew how to fluster him, even after all this time. "What, you want me to drag you back there and bang the daylights out of you? Because right now that's sounding pretty attractive," he muttered sarcastically.

Kaname stretched on the bed under Zero in a way that could only be described as sinuous, the motion causing his loose pajama pants scoot down even further, revealing the graceful arch of his hipbones. "Here's fine." The pureblood nipped Zero's ear with sharp teeth.

Zero felt the shudder run through him from head to toe. He slid a hand up under Kaname's pajama shirt. His hand ran up the flat, muscular stomach and came to rest over Kaname's heart. It hesitated there, feeling the organ pulse beneath the smooth, taut, flawless skin. You couldn't tell now that only a little over a week ago the pureblood's chest had been a torn, gruesome mess that made even Zero flinch. It had healed completely, but the memory was not so easily removed from the hunter's mind and it broke through the mood a little.

"You're sure you're okay, right?" Zero couldn't help asking, brows drawing together in a concerned look. He was abruptly concerned that he wasn't being fair or considerate. He'd been waiting for weeks, but the last thing Kaname probably remembered was riding home after having been through hell. Was the pureblood really ready for this? Especially after their little throw down with Nasser and all the issues that bastard had caused?

Kaname smiled wryly as he grabbed the hem of Zero's shirt and tugged it impatiently off over his head. "Depends on your definition," he admitted. "My body is whole, but I've been asleep for some time and healing comes at a cost... I'm hungry, Zero," he murmured huskily. "I'm very hungry." It was only now that Zero realized Kaname's fangs had extended sometime while they were kissing. The pureblood's aura was both predatory and sultry, although it was also laced with a certain amount of hesitancy. "I need you," he groaned with more than a fair amount of double-meaning.

The faint lisp that Kaname's fangs added to his speech could do incredibly queer things to Zero's stomach. The ex-human felt another spike of heat go straight through him under that look and those words. It wasn't surprising that Kaname needed to feed after his recovery and that also explained a little of why he was ready to go from comatose to passionate so quickly. He needed blood and this was how he was conditioned to get it. Zero was reminded of their conversation before the press conference, before all hell broke loose. It seemed a lot longer ago than it actually was and he wondered if Kaname even remembered what he'd told him.

Kaname had already divested him of his shirt. Zero ran his hand along his neck, pushing back his short hair and tipping his head sideways in invitation. His silver earrings jangled, glinting dully in the dim light. "Then take whatever you need. It's yours. You don't have to do anything or give me anything for it, you know that, right? It's always yours."

How someone's expression could be at the same time tender and predatory was difficult to explain, yet those were exactly the seemingly incompatible emotions which Kaname's features displayed. Zero's earnest meaning was not lost on him and he treasured it even as his fangs grew a little longer, aching fiercely. Strong, graceful fingers traced the hunter's neck with just a tremble of need in the touch. "So precious," he murmured hoarsely. Eloquent as he was, Kaname was still not able to put into words how absolutely priceless was the gift that Zero gave him, but Zero saw it in the glitter of the pureblood's dark eyes, and he understood.

Pushing up on his elbows, Kaname kissed Zero's neck slowly and the hunter could feel the rush of the pureblood's breath, coming quick and fast. "I do know that, and I treasure it. But blood isn't the only thing I'm hungry for right now..." Kaname tugged Zero's hips down sharply against his own as his fangs penetrated the hunter.

Zero felt the heavy knot fisting in his groin coil tighter, his body almost trembling in bliss as Kaname took his neck and pulled him close. "Good," he groaned hoarsely.

It was about damn time life stopped sucking... even if, ironically, sucking was very much on his mind right now.

Kaname's fangs worked in his neck, the suction of his hot mouth and the sensation of the blood draw making heat thrum through Zero's body all the way down to his toes. Kaname was drawing pretty hard. He drank much more ravenously than usual, which confirmed Zero's notion that despite how well and normal he looked, the pureblood hadn't fully recovered yet.

Kaname half-rose off the bed, his arms locked around Zero's shoulders, holding onto him tightly. There was passion and need in his grip for sure, but it was also an unconsciously restraining motion. The instinct of a predator to make sure his prey did not escape. With anyone else, it would have been frightening. Zero could not have gotten his neck free had he wanted to. He didn't want to, however, and he wasn't afraid, not even a little. If it were possible, Kaname's hunger and possession simply made him want the pureblood even more.

Zero hooked his thumbs in the loose waistband of Kaname's pajama pants and pushed them down his hips. Kaname's attention was focused on his neck, but he automatically lifted his hips off the bed to help in the endeavor. The elastic waistband caught on Kaname's erect flesh and Zero carefully pulled it up and over, pushing it down his lover's thighs. He took the pureblood's taught flesh in one hand and stroked it slowly. His other hand was on the bed by Kaname's side, supporting himself and his lover as well.

Kaname's whole body shuddered underneath him as he caressed the pureblood's hard, weeping manhood. The dark haired vampire growled against his throat, the sound rumbling deliciously through Zero's entire being. Kaname sank his fangs deeper, craving more of Zero, more of the incredible delight he was being given. Then the little alarm that always sounded in his head when his instincts started to get the better of him went off and his mind struggled to step outside the heat of the moment and make sure he wasn't doing anything he was going to regret afterwards. That was when he realized with dismay how hard he'd been draining Zero.

With extreme effort, Kaname slid his fangs free and licked Zero's neck gently. His body trembled again, this time with the strain of forcing it to do something it did not wish to do as the pureblood released his lover's shoulders and dropped back to the bed, breathing hard.

Zero gazed down at Kaname. The pureblood's pale cheeks were flushed and between the long dark lashes his half-lidded eyes glowed crimson. Kaname's chest heaved softly as he struggled to remain still, fighting every instinct he had because that what was in his arms was much too precious to him. "Sorry..." he murmured hoarsely, pressing his eyes shut but unable to will his fangs to retract. "I'm sorry."

Zero bent down and kissed Kaname's nose with a soft smile. He didn't need to ask what was going through the pureblood's head, they had been connected through the blood sharing and he knew. Kaname's first instinct was always to protect him. In the past, Kaname would have been right to withdraw. Zero's formerly human body had limits that needed to be considered. But Zero was not so fragile as he used to be. He was changing and whatever else he may feel about that, he realized now that there was one side effect that made him particularly happy.

"You should be sorry," Zero replied in mock testiness. There was a twinkle in his lavender eyes. He leaned down and rubbed the punctured, blood damp side of his neck against Kaname's mouth, making the pureblood's whole body stiffen. The hunter lifted his head enough so that he could gaze down directly into Kaname's eyes, which had opened again and were still red. Zero gazed tenderly into the glowing, agonized depths, seeing there all the love that made Kaname fight so hard for him and returning it fully. "Don't be a tease, Kaname. Take more. I want you," he murmured huskily. "I want you to bite me."

Kaname blinked up at him in surprise, his brows furrowing slightly. His chest burned with his thirst and his desire to do exactly what Zero was inviting him to do. It meant a lot to him that Zero was offering, that Zero accepted and wanted this side of him so fully. The surprise he felt, however, was because he realized Zero wasn't being foolish in his offer. His senses told him his lover was strong and steady, not dizzy and faint as he should have been after how deeply Kaname had been drawing from him.

Zero read the reaction in Kaname's face and his grin deepened. It had kind of surprised him too to realize that he was keeping pace with Kaname better than usual. That his body was dealing with the rapid loss of blood so efficiently that it wasn't making him feel ill and was in fact turning him on more than ever. He knew he would never be even close to a match for Kaname in physical strength and endurance, but he was much stronger than he used to be. Stronger was good. Stronger meant he could give Kaname more of what he deserved, more of what he wanted so much to give him.

"I won't break," he murmured against Kaname's lips, kissing him slowly. "I'm not as weak as I used to be. Please, Kaname, I want this. I want this so much."

"You have never been weak," Kaname returned, his lips curling into a smile as he kissed Zero back. "I love you."

Zero turned his head, and Kaname bit him again, gently, but deeply. Zero groaned and started stroking Kaname once more with eager, fevered fingers. His heart pounded in his chest, his were nerves pleasantly ablaze as Kaname's lips, tongue and fangs pleasured his neck in a manner that had to him become as extremely delightful as if it that hot, skillful mouth were working somewhere much lower on his body. The more of his blood Kaname took, the more deeply connected they felt, a true joining of souls that added to the pleasure. It wasn't just for Kaname's sake that he wanted this. It felt amazing.

Cradling the back of Kaname's head to keep from breaking their connection, Zero rolled them over so that he was lying on the bed and Kaname was over him. It was easier in this position, he could enjoy the sensation better and let Kaname take more freely if he didn't have to support them both. The sturdy, exciting weight of Kaname's body settling over him and the possessive way the pureblood immediately pinned him to the bed didn't hurt either.

Half humming, half groaning in delight and desire against the hunter's neck, Kaname's long fingers returned the favor Zero had done him earlier, pushing Zero's pants down his hips and baring his flesh for exploration. A mental tug had Zero's pants all the way off a few moments later, enabling Kaname to settle his own partially naked frame comfortably between Zero's thighs as his skilled fingers teased and mapped his lover's pale skin.

Zero humped up against his lover, lifting his hips off the bed in search of friction. Their hard, naked lengths slid and pressing together between their bodies, making him fairly groan in pleasure. He wrapped his arms around Kaname's back, pulling up the pureblood's pajama shirt so he could get to the warm skin underneath. Frustrated by not being able to touch all of it, he tugged at the fabric with a little grunt. He felt inclined to just tear it off, but they were his pajamas that the pureblood was wearing, which wouldn't have mattered so much except that it was a pair Kaname had given him and he was rather fond of them. "Lose the shirt," he growled instead. "And don't rip it or I'll kick your butt."

Grinning devilishly, his lips alluringly painted with Zero's blood, Kaname straightened up. Still kneeling between Zero's legs, he unbuttoned and removed the shirt with painfully slow, deliberate movements, revealing his naked chest beneath in a tantalizing way that left Zero panting for breath as he stared up at his lover with hungry eyes. The pajama pants were still bunched around Kaname's knees and he removed them the rest of the way as well. Kneeling naked over his lover, he considered him for a moment. He ran one hand slowly down Zero's chest, following the line of his breastbone down to his navel and beneath, rubbing the tip of one finger teasingly across the swollen head of his desire and then bringing it to his lips to taste the moisture he had gathered.

The pureblood gave a low growl in his throat and licked his bloodstained lips. "Delicious," he murmured. The healing puncture marks on Zero's neck flamed with desire as his gaze traced the motion of Kaname's tongue across his lips, his flesh quivering under the pureblood's too-light touch.

"Damn it, shut up and take me before I shoot you," Zero half protested, half demanded.

Kaname's eyes danced with delight as he complied. In a moment he was on top of Zero again, their naked bodies pressed full together, the heat between them tense and delightful as his fangs found a new place to penetrate Zero's neck, making the hunter's back arch against the bed and a small cry of ecstasy escape his lips.

Zero moaned, half mad with need as his and Kaname's erections jousted and dueled exotically with one another again between their flat, hard stomachs. This was great, but they really needed to get serious soon before he lost his mind. As if reading his mind, or at least feeling the same way, Kaname settled his body a little lower, his hardness gliding meaningfully up against his lover's backside.

"So... when you said take you..." Kaname murmured devilishly against his throat. He didn't really form the next words, but in the shared connection between them Zero got the very clear impression of how much Kaname would like to bury himself completely in his lover, both his fangs and his flesh, and ride him until the hunter was blind with ecstasy.

Zero's gut flip flopped sharply under the mental impression Kaname had shared with him and his breathing shuddered as the pureblood moved against him, his manhood stroking between Zero's cheeks in a teasing pantomime of a more intimate act. Lifting his head, Kaname kissed Zero slowly, sharing the taste of his blood between them. It felt like it had been a while since Kaname had been mentally ready to be dominant with him and although he was not about to admit it - not in a million years - he realized he rather liked the strong, demanding, arrogant twit side of his lover and would have missed it if it remained missing too long.

But deep wounds take a long time to fully heal. Zero saw the moment when some shadow from the past intruded on Kaname's desire for him. He saw the flicker of uncertainty and self-loathing that made Kaname hesitate, suddenly unsure if was all right for him to want these things, unsure if he was worthy to claim the very willing body beneath him without somehow tainting him.

Much as he might wish otherwise, Zero realized that this was going to be a fact for a while. He couldn't expect Kaname to just completely shrug off the abuse he had suffered simply because Nasser was dead. If he seemed to, it would only be because the pureblood was hiding it from him and Zero didn't want him to do that. He didn't want Kaname to bury any more hurt. Healing took time, and Zero wanted to be part of that every step of the way.

"Gee, I don't know, what do you think I meant?" he responded sarcastically to Kaname's earlier question with a deep, throaty grumble in his voice. His eyes acknowledged that he'd seen Kaname's hesitation, but that it didn't bother him. There was not a whiff of truth to the unspoken fears. He loved Kaname and nothing could change what he felt or what he wanted. "I guess maybe you lose brain cells when you hibernate too long. After all, I don't usually have to spell it out for you..."

Kaname chuckled, the hesitation receding from his gaze as Zero pulled him back into the safe, blissful reality of their love for one another like the steadiest of anchors. "Mmm, maybe it did at that. Why don't you spell it out for me, Zero? Make sure I don't misunderstand..." he murmured, a devious and wonderfully familiar smile dancing at the corners of his lips. He cupped Zero's face in one hand, stroking his cheek with his thumb.

"Idiot." Zero scowled at him, or tried to, it was hard when he felt so damn happy. The warm, teasing smugness in Kaname's voice suggested that he just wanted to make Zero talk dirty to him, but Zero decided to play along anyway. It wouldn't hurt to make sure Kaname knew he wanted everything they were doing. Besides, he was aware Kaname thought him somewhat shy or prudish at times, an assumption which he had to admit was not without basis. Every now and again he liked to surprise his lover and be a little bolder than Kaname expected him to be. He liked the reactions it got him.

"Okay..." Zero returned playfully. A wicked grin slid across his face, making his strong, handsome features devastatingly seductive as he turned his head and caught two of the fingers stroking his face in his mouth. He licked and sucked the digits in a slow, suggestive, languorous fashion that made Kaname's gut curl and roil. The pureblood felt like he'd forgotten how to breath by the time Zero pulled his mouth away with a soft, wetpopping sound and gave him a purely devilish look of desire.

"First, I want you to put those to good use," the hunter murmured, looking at Kaname with mock-seriousness as if addressing someone with severely limited mental capacity. "Then I want you inside me - your fangs, your cock everything you have to give me. I want to be yours. I want to feel you in my blood. Think you can manage that?"

Kaname shuddered, his body twitching against Zero and his eyes darkening in a manner that suggested the hunter had quite fully succeeded in making the pureblood able to think about nothing but him and this moment and their shared desire.

"Everything, Zero? Oh yes, I think I can manage that." The pureblood slid his newly moistened fingers down between their bodies with deliberate slowness. The tips of two long digits pressed against Zero's opening and started working slowly but firmly against him, gently demanding that he take both at once.

Zero gasped and gripped Kaname's shoulders hard, his body burning with the need to feel those fingers deeper and to pull Kaname into his very soul.

Kaname chuckled, his eyes glittering, his arousal clear in his dark, silky voice. "I can't believe you said the word cock," he murmured, deeply amused.

Zero proved that no matter how bold he tried to be he was still the more easily flustered of the two by blushing attractively. The attractiveness was enhanced by the way his flushed lips parted in a silent moan as Kaname's fingers breached him deeper. "Oh, go to hell," Zero muttered.

Kaname laughed, kissing him intensely as he worked both his fingers as deep as they could go inside Zero's body, twisting and curling them against his well-memorized pleasure spots in a way that made Zero squirm and writhe deliciously on the sheets under him. Kaname added the third and fourth finger together, making Zero stretch for him. If the progression was more rapid than usual, it was certainly no more rapid than both of them wanted.

"Do you want me to go get something, or do you want to make me wet?" Kaname murmured breathlessly, his flesh feeling very hot, heavy and ready where it rested against Zero's thigh. He wanted so much to be inside the boy that it was making it hard for him to think, so he gave his lover the choice of how to proceed. They weren't in his bedroom and at this moment he couldn't remember where Zero kept his lube. He was going to need Zero to tell him where to find it if he wanted to use it.

Zero opted for the second choice, his eyes smoldering with desire. "Let me," he murmured, tugging at Kaname to indicate where he wanted him. Kaname obediently slid up Zero's body, kneeling over the hunter's chest but supporting his own weight. Zero slid his hands up the inside of Kaname's thighs and tipped his head up off the pillow, taking Kaname in his mouth. Kaname hissed in pleasure and gripped the headboard, leaning his head against hit and angling his body over Zero as his lover took him completely into his wet warmth.

Zero sucked and lathed his lover's length thoroughly with his tongue, making sure to get it good and wet. Knowing where it was going next made his stomach delectably tight and his groin heavy. The way Kaname was holding onto the headboard over him and moaning didn't hurt either. Seeing Kaname in the throes of pleasure could undo him like nothing else and Zero found himself riding perilously close to the edge. He could feel heat building up in his groin and knew he couldn't wait anymore. He was going to pop if Kaname just touched him at this point. He released Kaname's wet flesh reluctantly, his breath heaving in his chest.

"Better do it now, Kaname, I don't think I've got much longer," he murmured, his voice breathless and rueful.

Kaname pushed away from the headboard, looking down at him with molten eyes that nearly had the power to push Zero over the edge just with their intense gaze. The pureblood slid down his body and settled between Zero's legs again. He reached for his lover's throbbing, weeping length but Zero reached down to stop him. "Don't," he murmured hoarsely. "I'm serious. I'm almost there and I want you inside me first."

Kaname's smile was both deeply aroused and deeply tender. "I can help. Do you want me to?" He could suppress or incite Zero's release through their connection, but right now he wasn't going to tamper unless his lover invited him to do so.

Zero nodded his head against the pillow wordlessly. He was wonderfully aroused and he wanted it to last, wanted to retain this delirious edge a little longer. He knew from experience that Kaname could indeed do that for him and his heart pounded faster.

Kaname gripped Zero's knees and spread them, his grip firm but tender. Lifting Zero's hips a little, he pushed forward, his hard, wet length seeking and finding the hunter's tight, hot entry and bidding it stretch further yet to accommodate him.

Zero's head arched on the pillow, one hand going up over his head to grip the headboard just so he had something to hang onto as the intense sensation of Kaname's body merging with his sent fire shooting through his nerves. He was glad Kaname was doing whatever magic it was he did with his body or else he probably would have come the moment the pureblood's thick, blunt, throbbing heat nudged into him, and that would have been kind of embarrassing. As it was his pleasure simply continued to heighten, spiraling out of the normal spheres of bliss as Kaname held his knees and slowly thrust forward little at a time until he was completely buried within his lover's panting, shuddering body.

Kaname pulled out once and thrust back in again, the motion slow but smooth and continuous. Zero gripped the headboard tighter, his other hand fisting in the sheets. Kaname was still holding his knees and focusing on the coupling, so all the sensation in his body was currently coming from the pureblood's flesh moving within him, but that was more than enough to make him dizzy with arousal. Kaname thrust out and in several more times. He desperately wanted more, but saliva wasn't always as good as lube at reducing friction and he worked Zero carefully until he was sure the movement was slick, unencumbered and unlikely to cause his lover any harm.

As the motion became easier, it became faster, Kaname beginning to put a little more of his considerable strength into the motions which enabled him to go deeper and touch those places where Zero really liked to be touched.

Zero jerked softly, his thighs trembling in Kaname's grasp and a soft grunt escaping him when Kaname hit especially sensitive tangle of nerves deep inside him, the one that sent white hot flames searing through his stomach and shivers trembling down his legs to his toes.

He didn't need to ask Kaname to do that again, Kaname knew his body well and he knew what Zero liked. The pureblood knew all the right angles to push from, he knew just when to press and when to pull back to make Zero writhe and groan. He knew when to seesaw rapidly, when to press in and hold and when to slam suddenly forward to make lights explode in Zero's vision and make him cry out.

Kaname played Zero's body like a well loved instrument, coaxing forth a melody of sheer mutual bliss. The fever heat of being inside his lover, of feeling the tight friction of his body and watching Zero's pleasure flushed face tossing on the pillow was a special kind of heaven, one of which Kaname would never tire. Kaname shifted, leaning forward on his hands over Zero's body and finding a new angle for his pumping hips to exploit.

Zero's hands left the headboard and sheets and curled instead around Kaname's arms, holding onto him as their perspiration slicked bodies arched and thrust together.

"I love you, Zero," Kaname murmured hoarsely against his lover's skin as his mouth slid back towards the hunter's throat, causing Zero's already pleasure-saturated body to thrill even harder. "You are my everything." Kaname's fangs closed down on his neck again and now he truly was penetrating and claiming Zero in every possible way. Zero belonged to him. Zero wanted to belong to him, and that was so incredibly precious.

"You too," Zero managed to breathe in response around the rapid heaving of his lungs and the incredible thundering of his blood in his ears. He cried out when Kaname's fangs found him and the sensation of the dual penetration would have pushed him right over the edge if Kaname wasn't still keeping a gentle handle on his body. Instead, the careful application of control let Zero surge up to swim in a sea of continuous pleasure. It was like taking the moment of orgasm and extending it out and out and out for minutes at a time as Kaname's hips thrust into him and his fangs drew twin rivers of fiery pleasure from his neck. It was an intense and desperate sensation, but it was not painful. It was a beautiful desperation. Zero wished he could do this too, could give this amazing sensation to Kaname. Connected by blood and their bond, wishing was all it took and he realized that he was. At least part of the pleasure he was feeling was coming from Kaname and Kaname was in turn feeling his. There was something lovely about that.

Kaname floated on the sea of pleasure more naturally than Zero, and yet with no less delight as they slipped and slid together in their passionate, intimate dance. He continued to drink from Zero as they made love. His love making was swift and passionate now, but he kept his drinking slower. He experimented carefully, finding the right pace that allowed Zero's body to keep up with the extra demand being placed upon it. It was amazing that it was possible, that it could ever be possible for Zero to sustain this kind of prolonged sampling without taking harm or without it kicking off his own blood lust, but Kaname could tell that pleasure was the only sensation his lover was experiencing.

The ramifications of this shift in Zero's physical state went far beyond just the pleasure they were sharing now and it filled Kaname's wounded heart with a tentative sense of hope and relief. Since the moment he realized he was truly in love with Zero, Kaname had been aware of how painfully brief their time together would be - at least from the perspective of his kind. It was like falling in love with someone who had a terminal illness. He did not regret it, he would enjoy every single precious moment they had together, but in the back of his mind, there was the knowledge that the passage of time did not favor them. He had not been Zero's maker, and alone he could never stabilize him truly. He could keep Zero alive and sane with his blood but there was no real way to know for how long that would last. Over the past few years, Zero had grown stronger in some unexpected and incredible ways which gave Kaname hope that they would have much longer than he originally anticipated. And now...

The thought fluttered through Kaname's mind that as much as he hated Nasser and as much pain as that man had brought into his life, one good thing had come out of this whole mess. Zero had taken life and strength from him. Nasser had been unimaginably old and powerful. The fact that Zero had taken his death blood could very well have added centuries onto the ex-human's life in the long run, provided Zero continued to have access to Kaname's blood as well, which he always would. It was satisfyingly ironic that Nasser, who had sought to strip him of everything he cared about, had ended up being the instrument of very possibly giving him more time to share with his beloved.

Kaname definitely didn't want to think about Nasser right now and his mind quickly shied away from there, but the hope and the happiness that Zero's strength and their expanded future brought to him remained and it was perhaps the second best tonic for the pain and hurt he was still dealing with in the aftermath of all that had happened. The first best tonic... well, that was currently in his arms and was groaning in a most delightful manner that quickly and happily consumed all of Kaname's attention.

Kaname could tell Zero needed to find true release soon, he was groaning with almost every thrust and the hunter's hips worked feverishly up against him, his throbbing length digging urgently into Kaname's stomach. Kaname was of the same mind, the heat coiling within him tense and ready to explode. He released his control on Zero and the hunter came immediately.

Zero's body shuddered with the intensity of it and he cried out, burying his face against Kaname's shoulder and thrusting his trembling manhood hard into the warm flesh of Kaname's abdomen which was quickly becoming slick with the evidence of his pleasure.

Zero's pleasure tripped Kaname over the edge as well, as it usually did. His fangs sunk in deeper, his own cry muffled in his throat by the contact as his hips jerked. He released, filling the hunter with his seed, digging his burning flesh in as far as it could go as he pumped it deeply inside him.

Zero keened, squirming on the bed and continuing to thrust against Kaname's now wet and slippery stomach as the prolonged waves of pleasure swept over him before his body finally went slack. He rested on the bed, panting, Kaname's comforting weight and warmth above him. The pureblood was still inside him, but he slid his fangs free and liked the wounds shut, his slow contented movements suggesting he felt as pleasantly exhausted as Zero did.

"Yeah, it's definitely better with you awake," he managed hoarsely after a minute or two and Kaname chuckled, the sound rumbling against Zero's chest in a way that made him feel very content. He wrapped his arms around Kaname's back and stroked his hair, just savoring the moment.

Zero could feel the wetness between his legs and between their stomachs that told him they both needed a shower, but he was in no hurry to move. He could stay like this with Kaname forever. There was much they needed to discuss, much that still needed to be dealt with, but not right now. There would be time enough for everything else later. Right now he just wanted to live in this moment and finally enjoy the fact that they had survived and that he still had the man he loved most in the world here with him.

He had missed Kaname so much over the past couple weeks, this had been a much needed indulgence. He felt incredibly good, as if he had finally been able to work off some of the tension he hadn't realized had been building up during his lover's slumber. He wasn't even aching or anything and Kaname's girth inside him was still firm, still sending tempting little shivers through his cooling body. Hell, he wouldn't mind doing it again...

"You know..." the warm, rather delighted amusement in Kaname's voice made Zero open his eyes and look up at him. "There are some side-effects when I've had a lot of your blood all at once like this..." the pureblood's smile widened as he moved gently inside Zero, making the hunter exhale shakily and grip his shoulders. "...I know what you're thinking."

Zero chuckled and pretended to cuff him. Kaname smirked back. "Who's being insatiable now, hm?"

"Shut up," Zero grumbled without ire and pulled Kaname down into a kiss.