The pillow retained the scent of Kaoru's hair, but it wasn't nearly as nice to hold as she
was. She'd been so sweet to curl up next to, as warm and tender as a cake fresh from the
oven. A lovely moist cake, waiting to be turned out and drenched with milky glaze....

Enishi yawned, stretched, and faded into a pleasant doze until he heard her footsteps on
the stairs again. He rolled around to blink in disappointment at her outfit. "Didn't you like
what I brought you?"

"They looked too complicated to put on by myself." Self-consciously, she smoothed her
sweater, then put her cup on the tea tray. She folded her legs onto the floor in that
unladylike way that inspired futile yearnings for a very short skirt in place of those denim
trouser things. "What kind of people iron jeans, anyway?" she asked, wincing.

"If they're chafing you, you could take them off." Funny, she didn't seem to warm to this
advice, any more than she'd brought him his own drink of whatever it was. He sniffed at
the steam, then sat up for a peek at it. "What've you got there, anyway? Miso soup?"

"Um, kind of."

He wrinkled his nose at the taste, perplexed, then realized it'd been his fault for putting so
many things out of her way in the kitchen. "Sorry you couldn't reach up to the knives and
katsuobushi plane, sweet. At least if I'd put the kombu on a lower shelf, you could've
made some kind of dashi instead of just mixing miso paste with hot water."

"That's okay," she said as she took the stuff back, not blaming him at all for reducing her
to this sort of makeshift. He was further chagrined when she gave him a longer look.
"Your face healed over since I went downstairs, but your jacket's really messed up. I
know the post-holiday sales can get pretty rough, but isn't that a lot of trauma from just

He checked the damage, poking through the muddy shreds to make sure he'd healed there
too. "Oh, that. Just a few sword cuts, that's all."

"Sword cuts?" That miso water was right nasty, but it wasn't the only reason she'd
choked, was it? Before she could spill any more of her cup, he set it aside. Despite the hot
water, her fingers were cold and trembling. She looked... afraid? For him?

He squeezed her hand reassuringly. "You are a sweet little bird, aren't you? No need to
worry about me, love. Forgot how bloody fast the bugger can be, that's all. Got to pay
him back for what he did to you, don't I?"

"Who?" she asked, just like the adorable owlet she was imitating again, wide-eyed and
gap-beaked as if begging for a worm. He could think of better things to feed her than that.
Unfortunately, she resisted his first gentle tug.

"Well," he began, easing her into the news. "He's pinned down with nowhere to go, right?
But I can't get a proper slice at him, not the way the rat in the hat scuttles about. So the
best I could do last night was shove him into one of his own pit traps, like the one I found
you in. Made sure he didn't miss any of the pointy sticks like you did, but this one's too
deep for me to reach in and finish him off. If he's still there when I go back tonight, I'll
trot out the sakabatou and put him away. So I haven't killed him for you yet, love, but
once I work up to it, it'll be good practice for the real fight."

Once she'd absorbed this, her shoulders sagged into a long sigh, tumbling her hair
forward like a veil of tears. "So you were fighting Jineh. Not--"

"Not Battousai, no." He knew she'd be disappointed, but her despair made his heart hurt
for what she must've suffered. "But if I can kill Jineh first, it'll get my watou woke up
with its appetite back, and then I'll be my old self again. I'll need that edge to take on the
scaly little brat, wherever he's gone to. But even if I can't find him, I can change you then.
I'll miss the lovely blue that your eyes are now, but they'll be just as pretty when they've
gone hellfire-gold, the way mine will be too."

She swallowed hard, on the verge of tears. Damn it all, he was going to comfort her
whether she wanted it or not. With a swift, ruthless pull, he hauled her off-balance and
onto the futon, pinning her down before he remembered why he shouldn't. Just in time,
he stopped himself from kissing her poor raw mouth again, and leaned back for another
check of his pockets. "I forgot you didn't like Battousai doing that," he muttered, abashed
at her frozen tableau of panic. "Don't want to remind you of him any more than I have to.
Hold still, now."

The little jar of ointment had warmed up while tucked away in his jacket, soft enough for
him to scoop out a healthy blob. He dabbed some over the flecks of blood on her lower
lip. She grimaced. "What is that? It's tingly."

"Medicated lip balm, it says. Hush so I can rub it in." He would've preferred to do that
with his own mouth, but she didn't look nearly ready for that yet. His fingers would have
to do for now. "There now, that better?"

She nodded, but that lost, distant haze still clung to her. This peeled away with her
sweater when he tugged the latter upward. A muffled protest emerged from the fleecy
cloth flailing over her face. "Hey!"

"Hush, I said. Cripes, that looks nasty, all chapped and flaky-like," he said, and plopped
the rest of the balm onto her bare breasts.

Her resistance shivered away into more owl sounds. "Ooooh," the sweater whispered.
Tingly stuff, was it? Maybe it was time for him to find out. After all, his mouth was
getting a bit dry too.


(This is a teaser/placeholder for FotN5, which does not meet ff.n usage guidelines. The
full chapter can be read at , , or ;
I would be very happy if readers would leave reviews somewhere, including here. ^_^ )