A/N - A repost of the first chapter, because I didn't like the old version. I think this one is more realistic.
Disclaimer - I don't own Rurouni Kenshin.
Necessity had long ago made Ken a people watcher. The waitress stood out because of her youth. He supposed she was around eighteen or nineteen, while the rest of the waitresses ranged upwards in age from their early thirties. The second night, she walked by him on the way to the kitchen. The tag pinned to her shirt said "Hi! I'm Kaoru!" and featured a smiling raccoon face.
Ken was hanging around Philadelphia suburbia on a self-declared break. The hunters were after him. But they were always after him. They'd catch up soon. He didn't mind. He liked a little confrontation. Hunters didn't have much support in the City of Brotherly Love anyway; it was one of his people's safest cities on the east coast.
In the meantime, he hadn't seen anyone like Kaoru in one hundred and thirty years. He hadn't recognized her as anything special at first. She was average – average height for a woman, slightly large blue eyes, long lashes, black hair worn in the same bun as all the waitresses, pretty, but not beautiful, mixed, but mostly Japanese-American. No, her appearance wasn't at all remarkable. She'd caught his attention when one of the customers had a fit because he'd slipped and almost fallen on the salt Ken had watched some kid spill a half hour ago. Kaoru had talked him down professionally, winning him over with a few coupons for free coffee. That hadn't been what impressed him. He'd watched her as she walked by him afterwards, marveling at the amount of crap waitresses could deal with, when he'd noticed she was pissed off. It had almost made him laugh, that expression on her face.
He didn't laugh often; hadn't for years. So it made him feel a little human. He'd watched her face for more entertainment and hadn't been disappointed. Each one of her feelings was broadcasted there – confusion, anger, pleasure, irritation. Mostly, she smiled. The whole business made Ken feel like a stalker, but he told himself he was just sitting there, passing the time with coffee and a book, waiting for the hunters to gain IQ points. And if a certain waitress whose pin said "Hi! I'm Kaoru!" relieved his monotony a little, then so be it.
When her shift was over, her boyfriend came to pick her up. He always made her laugh. Her laughter was somehow better when he was around. Better was strange to describe laughter, but it was the right word. Ken had heard her call the boy Sew. What kind of name was that for a male? Ken had mastered countless languages, intrigued by people of different cultures, and he'd never met a man named Sew.
But he didn't care about the boy anyway, except to see the way the waitress reacted to him. She exhibited none of the mannerisms of Japanese culture, yet she and her boyfriend used some Japanese words in their speech, mostly slang.
Ken might have considered the waitress as a possible contact, if it wasn't for the earrings. Tiny silver cross earrings dangled from her ears. She'd worn them since the first night he'd spotted her. He was oddly fascinated by them, by the way they caught the light sometimes and reflected a sharp point of light into his eyes, but he hated them a little. It was nothing personal.
Ken hadn't expected to come back the third night. He didn't usually hang around suburbia. It was easier to get lost in the city, though he liked it less. But maybe he was itching for contact with the hunters, or maybe he wanted to see that "Hi! I'm Kaoru!" pin with the dumb raccoon face another time. He sat at a table in the corner, ordered coffee and tried to read his book, but he couldn't help half watching her from across the room. These stalkerish tendencies he'd discovered in himself were starting to freak him out.
She was a normal human, but all humans have their quirks. Maybe it was the silver cross earrings that kept him intrigued. She was religious. The aura hung over her like a shroud. He wondered if her faith would be shaken if she found out the truth about him. He rather doubted it, but she was only human.
Since he'd lost his faith, he sometimes felt like giving up. He'd almost done it once, but it had burned so severely that he'd had some sense knocked into him. The burn had taken only a day's rest to heal, but he remembered the lesson. Something sought him. Ken knew that if the hunters ever caught him unawares, he'd find out just what that was, after torture of course. But these hunters wouldn't catch him, they weren't in his league. So for a little while, he thought he'd risk watching this waitress who seemed so full, her emotion splashed his eyes when she walked by.
Sou's gone to Japan. My parents are on their cruise for the next three weeks, so they're gone too. And did I have to get an evening shift at work? It was okay when Sou was around to pick me up, but now I have to walk alone to the bus stop in the dark. I'm tired. Sundays are my only good days, with church people for company and no work. Mental note: ask Kate if I can switch tables. There's an interesting customer who's been coming in the last few days. I love the red hair. Sou's due to call me tonight after work. I don't miss him as much as I thought I would. Kaoru
Ken sat at a booth in the back and picked up a menu. He was full tonight. Just a coffee then. That was one of the good things about Pennsylvania – there was plenty of livestock around.
"What can I get you this evening, sir?"
It was the '"Hi! I'm Kaoru!" with assorted raccoons' waitress. He'd had time to appreciate her, and now thought she was very pretty, maybe a little beautiful. Her bangs wisped across her forehead. For the first time, he wondered what she'd look like with her hair down, out of the mandatory waitress bun. He also wondered why she was serving his table tonight.
"Coffee and a blueberry muffin." He could stuff himself just a little more, besides, this was a different type of food altogether.
"Alright." She smiled and made a note on her pad. "Decaf or regular," Kaoru asked. She wondered if the slight man was always a light eater. He looked thin enough. Disappointingly, he was as mysterious when you spoke to him as he was from across the room. Somehow, she'd expected him to say more than five words. Maybe he wasn't the type to strike up conversations with strangers.
Ah the six word mark.
Ken watched her move towards the kitchen, the scent of jasmine trailing to his nose in her wake. It was an interesting choice, the perfume she wore.
aren't worth anything to you now. Remember that.
But I am human.
I hate you.
You're having trouble adjusting.
You lied to me. I don't want to see you again.
Stop whining. You can't change anything by whining. I saved you from death because I love you. I thought you loved me too.
I swear I'll never be like you. I'll never bring anyone else into this misery.
Ken closed his eyes for a moment in an effort to shut out the memories. When he opened them she was coming back. She brought his muffin on a small plate, sat a cup and saucer in front of him, and poured the coffee from a container. He watched as the steam rose in tendrils, banishing the last of the memory, smoke from a long ago fire.
"Thank you, Kaoru," he said. She looked surprised that he'd known her name, but then her eyes flickered to her employee name tag.
"You're welcome, sir," she answered. "Anything else you'd like to order?" She liked the sound of her name coming from his mouth.
"Call me, Ken. And no, there's nothing else."
"Enjoy your meal," Kaoru said with a smile. She walked away towards the next table, glancing back to witness him add cream and sugar with long fine hands, piano hands, her mother called them. Kaoru had always wanted piano hands. She wondered what he did for a living with those hands.
Work is interesting. I talked to that guy on my break yesterday. He seems young at first glance, just a couple years older than me, but the way he carries himself says he's much older. His name's Ken. I didn't tell Sou about him when he called yesterday. Not that Sou's the jealous type! I've got a long shift tonight, until two in the morning- eight hours. Pray for me. I'll need plenty of patience with the late crowd. I don't know how the others do it every day. I need the money though.
Ken came in much later than he had before. He'd considered not coming at all since he knew the hunters had found him, but he wanted to see the waitress one more time. One more time and then he could kill his irritating stalker traits forever. These particular two hunters had never seen him before, so they didn't try to hide themselves. Of course he'd seen them. Tonight, Ken picked a table in the back so he could slip out easily. How long had it been since the older of the hunters had been looking for him? Two hundred years if you counted his ancestors. The whole inbred clan of them was persistent, he gave them that, but they'd had no hope of tracking him until they hired the experienced hunter. A dozen of his kind had been killed by that one.
Ken had sort of hoped the girl wasn't working today, but she was. Now that the hunters had found him, he hoped she wouldn't have time to come over and talk to him. He had no wish to connect her with himself in the eyes of the hunters, because he wouldn't rescue her. He'd been alone too long to start caring about someone else.
If they interrogated her, she would have questions. A part of him wanted to give her answers, so he could witness which emotion she felt. That instant, when she first believed, he'd know everything there was to know about her. Ken decided he'd leave her an address. Being constantly alone was boring. If she showed up at the spot and wasn't followed, he wouldn't approach her. If she was followed, well then it was his duty to save a damsel in distress, was it not? Ken studied her under his bangs as she served a section across the restaurant from him. He'd have to feed soon. Not a problem, once he ditched the hunters. He could find a farm or something. Plenty of farms in Pennsylvania.
At one o'clock, he watched as she walked over to him. She hadn't been in the main dining room for the last ten minutes. He'd assumed she was on break. He saw her smile at him and he nodded to the chair in front of him. Too late to chase her off now. They'd seen.
"I hope you don't mind me stopping to chat for a minute," Kaoru said, sitting down. For the first time that evening, she got a good look at his face. Ken had curious violet eyes with surprising flecks of amber. She was jealous of those eyes. But tonight it seemed as if the life and been leeched from his gaze. "Are you okay?" she couldn't help asking, "You look pale."
"I'm fine," he said, wondering how she'd noticed in the dim lighting. He was impressed. Most humans never noticed a significant change in his coloring, but then he never hung around the same place for very long. He hadn't been in this area for at least fifteen years. It hadn't changed much.
"If you say so," she said dubiously.
"I'm leaving tonight," he told her, sipping the coffee that tasted worse and worse the longer he went without feeding. He watched her eyes to see the reaction he knew would be displayed there. She looked disappointed. Part of him was pleased that someone cared to see him after all these years. Another part of him resented her. He felt the slightest twinge of guilt.
"Oh," she said, subdued. "Well if you ever drop by here again, stop by. I always work here in the summer," she finished lightly, but her eyes were troubled.
Ken didn't answer. The two hunters stood from their table. They wouldn't risk a scene in the crowded restaurant, but he had to leave. He focused back on Kaoru's eyes with difficulty. He wondered if he'd ever look into them again. Probably not. He couldn't come back for at least ten years, when no one would be around to remember him and notice his lack of aging. He certainly would be sure to never let her see him again. Still, he wondered what she'd look like in ten years. Maybe he'd drop by.
Ken handed her the paper with the address, careful to keep the action from the hunters' eyes. "Put it in your pocket. Read it if you need help. Otherwise, don't bother," he instructed, mustering his strength and standing. "Sayonara," he turned and disappeared down the bathroom hallway and into the night.
Slipping the paper in her apron pocket, Kaoru watched him leave. Ken certainly had a love of dramatic exits. She'd never seen him standing before. He was a few inches taller than her, thin, and his hair was just as long as hers, drawn into a careless ponytail at the back of his neck. Something about the way he moved was predatory. He was as quick and graceful as Sou, more so if that was possible. She'd practically blinked and he was gone.
Two men rushed up to her. One hurried past and ran down the hallway where Ken had disappeared to, but the other sat down in the chair Ken had so recently vacated.
"Can I help you, sir?" she asked in confusion.
He took her in silently. "You're not one of them."
Kaoru looked at him, confused. "What are you talking about?"
"Come with me," he ordered, standing.
"No," Kaoru told him, standing as well, "I have to get back to work now."
"Please, come with me," he said again.
Kaoru bristled. She did not like this man. She couldn't see his eyes, hidden behind dark shades. You can tell so much about a person through their eyes. Without a word, she turned her back on him and marched to the kitchen, head held high. If he had anything to do with Ken, she wasn't going to tell him anything. In this situation, she sensed Ken was the one being wronged. She thought she'd glimpsed a gun underneath the man's overcoat when he'd stood.
Kaoru was dismayed when she came out of the kitchen and Tae motioned her over to an area where there were no customers. The two men were talking to her. All three looked serious.
"Kaoru, these men are from a detective agency. They have some questions for you about the man you were talking to," Tae told her as she drew level with them.
"I have nothing to say to them," Kaoru said. This was like the movies. You got killed off if you knew too much. Kaoru was determined not to know too much. Just who the heck was Ken anyway?
Tae excused herself and pulled Kaoru by her arm until they were out of hearing distance. "Kaoru, they said they could file charges to the local police station if you didn't co-operate. Please, just talk to them. They said that guy was no good. You could help arrest him." Tae's brown eyes were filled with concern.
"I don't believe it," Kaoru said. "I don't like the look of them, Tae. You know I'm a good judge of character. We called the cops that last time a guy came in I didn't like the look of and they got here just as he was pulling a gun out on Chihiro."
"But, Kao, they've been tracking him all the way from Europe," Tae told her, her tone grave. "He's wanted in France."
"They don't seem very French to me. I think we should call the cops and get this verified, Tae."
"You think I didn't already? The white-haired man knew one of the sergeants. I spoke with the office myself. He vouched for both of them."
Kaoru blinked in surprise. Apparently she'd been wrong about Ken. It unsettled her. She'd learned to trust her instincts.
"Listen," Tae continued, "I'll let them have the back office. I want you to go back there and talk to them and tell them everything you know about that man who was here."
"You're leaving me alone with them?"
"That's how interviews are done, Kaoru. Now tell them you'll talk while I go make sure the office is clean."
Kaoru nodded, still uneasy. But who didn't feel uneasy when they were about to be interviewed in a criminal investigation? It was normal, she told herself. "I will, Tae."
are you here?
My name's Sano. I was turned a couple nights ago. Listen, do you know a place I could stay? My parents kicked me out when I told them.
How did you find me?
I've seen you at the tavern the past few nights. I followed you from there. I don't have anywhere safe to go.
Fine, kid. I'll show you around for a few nights, but after that you're on your own.
Thanks, but I'm not a kid. You don't look much older than me.
But you're right, you're not a kid. Not anymore.
"Miss Kamiya, you're not cooperating," the white haired man said in a cold tone. He'd introduced himself as Enishi.
"I told you everything I know. It's not like we talked more than a couple times," Kaoru said defensively. She'd told them everything. What did they want her to say – she knew where Ken was headed next?
"You don't know what he is," the other exclaimed, jumping up from his chair and walking towards Kaoru.
"What is he then?" Kaoru broke in, annoyed.
"A monster. My family has vowed revenge on him for two hundred years."
She admired his passion, but this was getting ridiculous. Kaoru scoffed. "How dumb do you think I am? He can't be older than twenty-three."
Enishi glared at the other man, who moved away and sat down again. "Forgive Jineh for telling you that before I wanted you to know. He's emotionally involved," he said smoothly, refocusing on Kaoru.
She said nothing, watching as he walked to her and sat down, dragging the chair so that he sat directly in front of her.
"That man is a vampire. We're hunting it."
Kaoru blinked. She didn't believe a police sergeant had vouched for these two men. She also didn't like they way he referred to Ken as 'it'. Human beings were never 'it's. Once you start calling people it, you dehumanize them, make it easier to treat them like animals, make it easier to kill them.
"There are no such things as vampires."
"Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there are. It is one, and this man," Enishi waved a hand idly in the other's direction, "and his family have hired me to hunt it down. It has eluded them for two hundred years."
"You two are both crazy, and even if that was true, why would they hire you? Are you supposed to be some kind of vampire killer or something?" Kaoru asked incredulously. "I'm on TV. That must be it. There's got to be a hidden camera around here."
"There has not been a hunter in history who has killed as many vampires as I have," Enishi said serenely. "Almost all of its kind stand ready to kill me. The thing you call 'Ken' is well known in vampire circles. I will not stop until I find it."
Kaoru stared back at Enishi's sunglasses. There was no passion in his voice when he spoke, no emotion, just bland rhetoric. Ken talked like that. He wasn't a vampire, but he was involved with these men. Maybe he was on the run from the government, maybe he'd killed someone. She was angry at him for involving her in whatever mess he was mired.
"You must think I'm a little girl," she said to both the men, "telling me scary stories so I'll break and cry. Am I supposed to start screaming for my mommy now? I'm going to tell you this once more – there are no such things as vampires. I don't know why you two really want to find Ken, but I have no more information to give to you."
"The only reason you were protected was because of your earrings. That's how I knew you weren't one of them," the man continued as if Kaoru hadn't said anything.
"What are you talking about?" Kaoru asked frustrated. She almost unconsciously fingered a silver cross earring. The end of the French hook poked her one of her fingers.
"Vampires are enemies of the light," Enishi explained. "Silver burns them, as do crosses. If one touched a cross, the cross would start burning into its flesh. I was far away from him tonight, but it looked like he needed to feed. The cross saved you."
"I know the stories about vampires," Kaoru said wearily. Suddenly, she only wanted to be home asleep.
Enishi slipped his hand in his coat pocket and Kaoru was hyper alert again, afraid he was going to pull out the gun she'd seen, but he didn't. Instead he held something small in his fist, which he extended to her.
Kaoru just looked at him.
"Open your hand," he commanded.
She did. It was white and hard and slightly warm. Kaoru brought the long canine tooth close to her face for inspection.
"It's from one of the vampires I killed."
She examined it closely. Kaoru was no dentist. It could be a dog tooth for all she knew. It was certainly dangerous looking, an inch long, curved and unusually sharp. Looking up at him, she shrugged. "I don't know for sure that it's human."
"They're not human. Not anymore." He held out his hand and she dropped it in his palm, glad to be rid of the long tooth. She could still feel the warmth of the tooth. A slight shiver from coursed through her body. She knew Enishi noticed, but he said nothing. He merely slipped the tooth back in his pocket and stood.
"Miss Kamiya, you are free to go. My partner and I may be dropping in on you if we feel you may have more information. We appreciate your cooperation in this interview."
Kaoru stood, glad they were letting her leave, but not liking the thought of a later visit. Could they do that? "You're welcome," she said anyway.
"I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone else what we spoke of," he said mildly, pulling back his overcoat and exposing the gun for a second.
Kaoru narrowed her eyes. "They wouldn't believe me anyway." She swept out of the room.
have you been watching her?
I knew her before I was turned, that's all. I think I would've married her.
You're thinking of turning her.
No! . . . Well maybe.
Do you think she'd want that?
Are you kidding? I hate living like this. She'd hate it even more, not being able to help people... She's a doctor. Everyone in her whole family is a doctor. It's just so lonely though. You know what I mean?
A woman turned me. I didn't know what she was. I'll never forgive her. If she loved me, she would've let me die.
I don't want Megumi to hate me. I wish this had never happened.
It's a lonely life, Sano. I'm leaving tomorrow. I have hunters after me. You can make it on your own now.
Let me come with you. Then I can get my mind off Megumi.
I won't be coming back this way for years.
I need to leave before I do something I regret. I don't want her to live like this.
We leave early tomorrow night, then. You'd better say goodbye.
She didn't know why she'd come. She'd almost forgotten about the paper she'd stuffed in her apron.
Take off work for the next few nights and come to 88 Lyndon Drive. 7B.
She didn't know why she'd taken off work and taken the bus down here at one o'clock in the morning, but she figured she'd regret it for the rest of her life if she didn't. This was the oddest experience of her life. Kaoru wanted answers. Like just how did one pick up two stalkers who thought they were vampire hunters? She was sure it was a fascinating process.
88 Lyndon Drive was an abandoned apartment building. Walking up the steps and trying the door, she wasn't surprised to find it unlocked. Taking a deep breath, she swung it out toward her and stepped into the dark.
Ken waited until she'd come in to sense the dark night behind her. The hunters had followed her. He smelled kerosene. They intended to burn the place down to the ground and find him that way. Luckily, he'd stashed those fireworks from the Fourth of July here.
Kaoru was glad she'd brought nothing but her wallet tucked into her back pants pocket as she searched through the apartment. No purse left her with both her hands to navigate through the dark rooms, calling softly for Ken. No one was in apartment 7B. Kaoru was disappointed. She'd thought for sure he would be there. Not that she'd made a very thorough search. It was pitch black. The windows were boarded up. She couldn't see a thing. She'd felt her way around. But it didn't matter much. He wasn't there. But boy would she have a story to tell. She would call in when she got home and tell Tae she could work tomorrow after all.
The full moon was in three days, so dim light shone in from the hallway. The figure of a man stepped into the doorway. Kaoru squinted, her heart suddenly racing. She thought this was probably the type of place axe murderers hung out. "Ken?"
"Come into the hallway. We haven't got much time."
It was him. Right now, she'd recognize his voice anywhere. "Ken! They said you were a vampire!" Kaoru laughed, walking towards him. She ignored her uneasiness. He wasn't an axe murderer. That was what mattered.
Ken grabbed her wrist. His hand was cold, as if he'd just come in from a snowball fight and hadn't had any gloves on, but dry and smooth. "I am."
Kaoru jerked her arm away. "What? Vampires aren't real." Was he as crazy as those men?
He opened his mouth and she saw the fangs descend from his canine teeth. They gleamed dully in the moonlight.
She recoiled from him, backing away into the wall.
It was depressing to wonder for so long about this moment, only to see fear in those dark blue eyes. But he'd known it would come to this if he ever saw her again. Feeling foolish, he closed his mouth and let the fangs withdraw. He was surprised when she spoke.
He didn't know what she was talking about. Was she asking why he was a vampire?
"Why what?" he asked, not moving.
The fear left her eyes. He realized it had been there only a moment. "Why haven't we got much time?" she asked, taking a step toward him and away from the wall.
Surprised, he couldn't help but smirk. "What makes you think you can trust me? You know what I am."
"I never trusted you before," she said frankly, "just liked you. But I figure if you haven't done anything to me by now, you're not going to. I don't like those hunters, even if they did turn out to be right about you."
"Right about me?" Ken asked, bemused. She had more spunk than he'd attributed her. Maybe she was worth the trouble of keeping her around. The hunters were likely to make a visit to her house next. She shouldn't be there when they did.
"You're a vampire, but I don't think you're as bad as they say," she explained. "So why haven't we got much time?"
"Two hunters followed you here. They're going to burn the apartment building down. They're pouring gasoline around the outside right now. I smell it. We'll get out through the basement. It connects to the building next to this one," he told her. "My car is down the block a few hundred yards."
Kaoru was alarmed, but curious. "Vampires have cars?"
"Yes." He held out his hand. She talked like she didn't fear him, and the terrified look was gone from her eyes, but he still wasn't sure she'd take it. She did. He could feel warmth flowing through her hand and for a moment he was fiercely jealous. But the moment passed as it had many times before and he closed his fingers over her hand so that he held it in a firm grip. He felt pleased when she grasped his hand as well. She was giving him the strength to operate through the haze caused by his need for blood, but his hunger was frustrating. He needed to feed before the night was over or he'd be too weak when the sun set the next day to find a meal on his own, much less elude the hunters.
"Don't let go," he instructed. "When we get outside, I'm going to run so they don't see us. Just try to keep up."
Kaoru took a deep breath and nodded. He led her down the hallway at a fast walk, deeper into the building, and stopped at the end. The door was gone. A stairway led down into pitch blackness.
"Stay close so you don't bump into anything," he instructed. "I memorized the layout." He started down the stairs, pleased when she did as he asked. He smelled smoke already.
It was pitch black in the basement. Kaoru was glad that Ken seemed to be on her side. She racked her mind for everything she knew about vampires. You couldn't see their reflection. They didn't like garlic. They couldn't go out in the sun. They sucked your blood from your neck. Did they turn into bats too? Or was it mist? And what happened during the full moon? No, that was werewolves.
She tripped and felt Ken support her so she didn't fall. He didn't seem like a vampire. His black cape and Transylvanian accent were lacking. Kaoru felt an insane urge to giggle. She told herself she would be okay. He'd drive her back to her house and she'd go to sleep. When she woke up, Sou would call and she'd tell him this crazy story and they'd laugh over it. Sou laughed a lot. That was one of the things she liked most about him. He was almost always happy, not like this stranger. What had drawn her to him in the first place? Why couldn't she just leave well enough alone and stick to serving the tables she was assigned to? Damn, scratch that, darn, her curiosity.
She heard Ken kick open a door before he pulled her forward once again.
"We're in the passage between the two buildings. They were owned by the same company and have the same layout. Keep close," he told her quietly. He wouldn't put it past one of the hunters to have snuck over here and lie in wait at the top of the stairway or the end of the passage. He didn't sense anyone ahead in the passageway, but he was still relieved when they emerged into the other basement and he sensed no one there. With Kaoru along, he would've had to flee back the way they'd come and take his chances in the fire if the hunters had thought to check the other apartment building. He led her through the basement, picking his way carefully around looming shapes in the dark. She was totally blind. When they reached the foot of the stairs, he decided he needed to be sure no one was waiting at the top. They would be vulnerable if he blindly led her up the steps.
"Stay here. I'm going to make sure no one's at the top," he instructed, letting go of her hand. She didn't let go.
"Don't leave me," she said fiercely, grasping his cold hand.
"I'll be back," he assured her.
Kaoru let go. Ken had talked like there were stairs or something, but she couldn't see a thing. She didn't hear a sound, didn't hear him moving anywhere. What if he had left her? She'd wander around the basement in the pitch black darkness until she hit her head on something and got a concussion. Suddenly, she heard the squeak of hinges somewhere far away above her and then she could see murky shapes. Ken must have opened the door at the top of the stairs, which she still couldn't see.
A cold hand grabbed hers and she started.
"It's me." His voice came as he pulled and led her towards the stairs. Kaoru was surprised. She was relieved to hear his voice and feel his chill hand in hers again. It was now almost as familiar as her own, having guided her this far.
"Up the stairs now," he guided her, "…Last step."
"Where are they?" she whispered.
"I saw them trying to get the other apartment building burning quicker with more gasoline."
Kaoru wondered how he'd had time to spy on the hunters in twenty seconds. If he wasn't lying, then he must be fast, inhumanly fast. She followed his lead down the inky hallway and out into the night. The sky had clouded over. His grip on her hand tensed.
"I'm going to run now."
He told her a split second before he started, dragging her with him.
The world passed by in a blur and Kaoru knew this was faster than any human could run. So vampires had God-like speed. She filed the information away in the back of her mind. For now, she actually found herself enjoying the experience. She knew if he let go of her hand now, she would land with her face in the dirt and probably a few loose teeth. It was a still night, but at this speed, she felt wind flitting across her face and whipping her clothes. He stopped at a Pathfinder parked on the side of the road. As she predicted, she went flying forward, but Ken hooked an arm around her waist, so she abruptly stopped short of falling.
"This is the car." He released her and pulled a set of keys from his jeans pocket. He slipped the key in the passenger door, which they were standing beside, and opened it for her.
"Get in. I don't want anyone seeing the overhead light."
Kaoru climbed in. She'd been taught to never get in a car with strangers. Not in the car, where the psychos overpowered you and tied you up so you'd be still while they drove you to your doom. A pleasant basement perhaps. Or a handy secluded spot in the woods. The possibilities were terrifying. But she had no alternative. Who knew what Enishi and the other man would do now that they'd caught her associating with their vampire. So Kaoru climbed in. Ken shut the door quietly and walked around the front of the car to the driver's side. She watched. He opened the driver's side door and shut it soundlessly.
"You're taking me back to my house now, right?" Kaoru asked. She heard a slight whine in her voice. She wanted this to be over, wished vainly that it would be over. She had a feeling it wasn't going to be that simple. Life never was.
He buckled his seat belt and started the engine. He'd had the foresight to park the car pointed away from the apartments, so he didn't waste time on a three-point turn. He wasn't looking at her. She knew he wasn't taking her home.
"No. The hunters will go there next. You'll have to stay with me for a while." He drove the car onto the road and mentally reviewed the list of people within a few hours drive whom he could trust enough to leave Kaoru with while he went to feed.
Kaoru twisted around in her seat to see if the apartment building really was burning, to make sure that part hadn't been a trick just to get her in the car. While she couldn't see the building, she could see a flickering orange glow that lightened the sky in the fast growing distance between them and the building. It made her feel a little better. Unless Ken was in league with the hunters and they'd planned the whole thing. She turned back around in her seat, still on edge. She'd made the wrong choice, getting in the car. She wondered if she'd live to correct her mistake.
"They can't possibly be there yet," Kaoru pointed out. "And I don't have to stay with you. I'll stay over at Tae's or one of the other waitresses' houses."
"Did they talk to you at the restaurant?" he asked.
She watched him warily. "Yes."
"Then they'll question the people who work there first. I don't know what they'll do if they find you. I can't let you go. You're a liability. I doubt we have time to go to your house and pick up some clothes. I'll buy you some clothes tomorrow night."
Did psychopathic murdering vampire rapists worry about whether you had a change of clothes or not? Oh God, she hoped he wasn't a rapist.
"Are you flipping out?" Ken asked, glancing over at the young waitress to discover her eyes wide with panic. He understood that. He was going to have to take her away from her life and into his, and the transition was never smooth. He considered dropping her off at a friend's house and telling her not to go to work for a few days. But it wouldn't work. The hunters could find her easily enough by connecting with the waitresses and telling them Kaoru was missing. The whole town would be on the hunt for her.
"Do you have any local friends you could stay with for a week?" he asked, before she could reply.
Kaoru shook her head. "They're all away taking summer classes or abroad or doing internships in other states. This was the summer I was going to work all the time, because it's just me and Sou, and he's gone to Japan now."
"What about relatives?"
He frowned as she shook her head again. "My parents are away on a two week cruise and my family is from Virginia."
He couldn't take her back home. He could drop her off at the nearest police station, but the hunters had influence with the chief members of the police department. They had to in order to assure that occasional vampire remains discovered by witnesses didn't make it into the news. Ken decided the big city would be the best. The hunters would hang around the Philadelphia area for a while, but there were plenty of vampires with connections who owed him in New York City. He could call in a few favors to take care of Kaoru.
"We'll go to New York then."
"What!" Kaoru exclaimed.
"We're going to stay with someone who owes me," he told her at the same time as he decided in his own head. "It's safe for both of us there. It's a three hour drive. Settle in."
"I can't just leave," Kaoru spluttered, "I don't know you! How do I know you won't get hungry and decide I'm a nice snack?"
Ken was tired. Her blood would be just the thing he needed to get them safely to the city without having an auto accident, just a small pick me up. By the time they got to New York he'd be drained of energy and weakening by the second, but Kaoru would be extremely hard to deal with forever after if he tried to overpower her. He'd been wondering what she thought of the vampire issue. In the basement she'd seemed to accept it, which he found surprising. He knew he'd have more of a reaction if he found out unicorns were real.
"I told you in the note to take off work. Your boyfriend is in Japan. Your parents are on a cruise. Your friends are out of town. Who is there to miss you?"
Kaoru realized with a jolt that he was right. Her parents had said they'd call every few days, but if they didn't connect, they would simply assume she was out. And even if they did get worried and called Tae at the Akabeko, Tae would tell them that she'd taken a few days off, which was understandable, considering she'd been working over forty hours a week. And if Sou or her friends called, they'd assume she was at work. No one would notice her disappearance, not until it was too late. She got the feeling Ken had set her up.
"How did you know Sou went to Japan?" Kaoru demanded.
"I heard him mention it to you. My people have more sensitive hearing than a human's."
"That was a private conversation!" Kaoru fumed, although she realized that if what he said was true, then she couldn't know for sure if he'd listened in on purpose. "Just drop me off at the police station. I tell them about the hunters, and if they don't believe me, I'll just sit there."
Ken shook his head. "The high up people in the police force are involved with the hunters. You're safer with me for a few days."
Kaoru remembered the call that Tae had made to the police station and how the sergeant there had vouched for the two hunters. Most likely, he wasn't lying. Unless this was one big prank for a show like 'Candid Camera' and they were all in it together. Great. Now she was imagining conspiracy theories.
"Will you give me your word that I'm safe with you?" she asked. She had no clue what the word of a potential psychopathic murdering vampire rapist was worth, but unless she was willing to dive out of the car, which was currently speeding along the freeway at a merry sixty-five miles per hour, she was going to have to settle for his word. For now at least. "You're not going to suck my blood or anything, right?"
"I am hungry," he said.
"But I promise you're safe with me. No one's going to suck your blood."
He rolled his eyes as he said it, as if vampires were beyond sucking blood, and she felt a little silly. She had liked Ken before she found out he was a vampire and that she was going to be stuck with him, completely at his mercy for at least a couple days. She hadn't been wrong before, not when it came to liking good people. But it appeared it was time to stop trusting her feelings, if simply liking a person was going to result in abduction and/or possible torture followed by death. And she still wasn't all that sure that he was a real vampire. Weren't there crazy wannabe vampires out there who went around sucking people's blood, hurting people, just for kicks?
"I don't like this," Kaoru said.
Ken said nothing.
are we taking the train? Those things are evil.
It's called technology. You better get used to it; you're going to be in this world for a while.
I heard trains suck your soul out and that's how they run.
Don't believe everything you hear.
I still have a soul, right?
I'm not sure. I've heard it said that we lost ours, but no one really knows. I'm not too optimistic.
Oh… we my as well take the train then.
The parking garage was empty at this hour of the morning, so after Ken turned off the car engine, he watched the regular rise and fall of her chest as she breathed in her sleep. He was tempted by her. The hunger was getting to him. He had to get her safe inside so he could hunt before the sun rose in two hours. If he didn't feed tonight, he'd be too weak to help her when the sun set. And Kaoru would need his protection, in the company of the vampires he was about to bring her into. But these people owed him, and he trusted their leader more than any other vampire in New York. He wanted to trace the side of her face with his finger, just once, but the silver cross earrings glinted menacingly at him in the dim light. He shook her by her shoulder instead.
Kaoru mumbled something intelligible and slowly opened her eyes. She smiled at him, because that's what you did when you saw someone, even though she felt sticky and sweaty from sleeping in the car for a few hours. Although she was scared and angry at him, she had to admit, he wasn't that bad a face to wake up to. Then she remembered why she was angry with him and scowled, sitting up in a hurry. "Where are we?" she asked, looking out the windshield and her passenger side window. She blinked the grogginess from her eyes and shook her head to clear out the cobwebs.
"In the parking garage of an apartment complex in New York City, the best place on the east coast to stay anonymous. One of my people lives here. He owes me. He'll take us in for a night or two. Get out of the car."
Kaoru yawned, unbuckled her seatbelt, and did as he'd requested, walking around to the other side to meet him as he stepped out of the car. Couldn't they have hidden well enough in Philadelphia? She would have argued, but Ken didn't look like he was in a mood to be questioned, and she still had no reason to trust him, so she decided to hold her questions for the time being. The man had saved her from the burning building. No doubt it wouldn't have ended well if it wasn't for him. Then again, it hadn't ended, had it?
Kaoru had only been to New York twice, years ago in high school for a couple Broadway plays. That was her first disadvantage. Ken was also bigger and stronger than her, and the parking garage was deserted. She had no choice but to go along with whatever he told her for the time being. She'd taken plenty of self defense classes. She could hold her own for the time being, especially since he visibly needed some sustenance. She was glad she'd been asleep while he was driving, otherwise, she might have had a heart attack, seeing someone so weak at the wheel of a car.
"Let's go," he said firmly. He was obviously putting on a show of strength. He led the way towards the apartment entrance as Kaoru followed a few steps behind. She watched, surprised, when he pulled out a cell phone from his pocket and dialed a number. Since when did vampires get cell phones? She wondered what his minute plan was and how he got the money to pay for it.
"Aoshi… I need a place to stay. I'm calling in the favor you owe me… You're right, you do owe me more. I've got a human with me… She's not for you… Yes… It's good they're gone then. What about your wife?... You'll have time to break it to her then… See you in a minute." He pocketed the phone and held open the door for her. Kaoru worried that she could hold off two vampires if they decided to attack her.
"The elevator," Ken instructed her. The doorman merely nodded once in Ken's direction. Ken didn't bother to acknowledge him.
Kaoru pressed the up button. What had that last part been about her being 'for' this Aoshi character? She hadn't liked the sound of that. The elevator came and she walked in. Ken pressed the button for the top floor. She was growing more apprehensive by the second.
Ken took her hand. Her dark blue eyes widened in surprise.
"This will let Aoshi know you're with me," he explained. "I'm not hitting on you."
"I didn't think you were," Kaoru replied uneasily. What would 'Aoshi' do if she wasn't with Ken?
The elevator doors opened on an alcove with one door. Ken stepped out, and Kaoru moved with him. The doors slid shut behind them. Ken knocked on the door. Kaoru was glad he didn't let go of her hand, especially when the door was opened by a tall vampire with jet black hair, icy blue eyes, a perfect face, and a chill about him that surpassed even Ken. This pretty much ruled out the possibility that Ken was working with the two hunters. She doubted this was a conspiracy that extended to New York City, although she'd fallen asleep in the car. She didn't know for a fact that they were in New York at all. She'd only seen the parking garage. They could be in the town next to hers, for all she knew. She'd have to look out a window as soon as possible.
"It's been a long time," Aoshi looked at their joined hands. "Here's a key to the apartment so you can get back in. I'll lead the girl to a room where she can sleep."
Kaoru normally protested when she was being spoken of as if she wasn't there, but there was something about this man, no vampire she felt instinctively, that kept her silent. She watched as he handed Ken a key.
"Thanks, Aoshi." Ken turned to her. "Stay here." He let go of her hand.
She didn't let go of his. He was the only person she knew in this whole situation, the only one she'd liked instinctively. What if Ken had been the person to deliver her, the one who was supposed to drop her off? She could imagine Aoshi torturing someone. "But Ken-"
"You're safe here," he cut her off. "I'll be back in a couple hours. Follow Aoshi to the room you'll be staying in."
If he was only the delivery person, then he wouldn't come back. But if he left, then it would only be her and Aoshi. And whoever else lived in the apartment, the penthouse suite, Kaoru realized. It was hopeless. She sighed and let go of Ken's hand. "I want to know what's going on." The words sounded plaintive to her ears.
"I'll tell you tomorrow night," Ken said, turning away and pressing the elevator button. Kaoru turned and watched as it slid open and he stepped in. The doors shut. He was gone. She turned to the man he'd called Aoshi, expecting to encounter his icy stare, but his back was towards her.
"Shut the door and follow me," he commanded.
She was tempted to run for the elevator, but Ken was in it. It wouldn't have any chance of coming back up for at least a minute. She didn't think she could hold off Aoshi for that long. At this point, she had to hope that she could trust Ken. Kaoru was good at hoping, at believing in people. She prayed to God that her initial good feelings about Ken had been right.
Then she did as Aoshi had ordered. He led her down a hallway and into a bedroom. Was now the moment? The moment when she was going to get raped?
"You can sleep here," Aoshi said. He shut the door and his footsteps walked away back down the hallway.
Kaoru locked the door behind him. She couldn't sleep now. She had to stay alert until Ken back, as she believed he would, because she'd decided to trust him. She was rested from the car ride. Waiting up wouldn't be hard, especially since he had to be back by dawn. But the bed was big and it looked comfortable, so she decided to lie down for a moment. Sleep took her before she knew.
you ever been caught in the sun?
When I was first turned I couldn't believe it was true. I stayed in the sun to prove to myself it wasn't. It burned.
I did something like that when I was first turned too.
Oh yeah. What?
I tried to eat garlic.
That was dumb.
Kaoru was startled awake. She heard someone breathing shallowly next to her. She scooted to the other side of the bed and turned on the lamp. A teenage girl stood in the middle of the room, light from the open door seeping in behind her. Correction- a teenage girl vampire. Her fangs were down. Her eyes were hunger. Kaoru wanted to scream for Ken, but as in a nightmare, she couldn't say anything. Her eyes were locked on the girl's.
"Just a sip," the girl whispered, reaching a hand forward wistfully. She reached the side of the bed and climbed up on it. "Just one." Her focus was now on Kaoru's neck. Kaoru still couldn't scream. She watched in horror as the girl softly trailed a finger down her neck.
The girl didn't notice the cross earrings until one brushed her finger. Kaoru heard a sizzling noise. The girl's finger was burning where the cross had brushed her. Kaoru felt her mind slip out of the trance as the girl jerked herself away with a frightened gasp. They screamed simultaneously. Kaoru grabbed the nearest weapon, which turned out to be the bedside clock, and ran to the far corner. The girl backed away towards the door. Kaoru pressed her back into the corner and held the alarm clock ready in case the girl tried to attack her. The girl was still screaming. Aoshi burst into the room, turning on the lights. As soon as the girl saw him, she ran to him and buried herself in his arms.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm such an idiot! I didn't even see the silver cross earrings!" she wailed. "Forgive me, Aoshi!"
Aoshi glared at Kaoru and swept out of the room with the girl, shutting the door softly behind them. The girl's wails receded down the hallway. She hadn't made any friends there. She thanked the Lord that her mother had bought her the earrings for her birthday.
drink too much from humans.
Why? I thought that's what your kind is supposed to do.
Our kind. And no, don't. If you do, you'll go crazy with bloodlust. I'll be forced to kill you.
Kill me? I'm already dead.
There are ways. You know the traditional ones. Just limit yourself to once a month and drop the attitude.
What am I supposed to eat then?
Animals. We can't risk exposure, or the humans will catch onto us.
Alexandra opened the door and immediately latched onto him. "Ken! You haven't been here in forever. Jeez, you're real pale. How long have you gone without blood?" she asked worriedly. "You'll still have control, won't you?"
Alexandra Taylor was reassuringly human, one of the contacts he could depend on. She was hooked to the experience of a vampire's 'kiss' as most contacts preferred to call it. Ken had come to her because it was easier to use a human than to find a wild animal in the city. He wasn't partial to rat blood. It had been frustrating sitting next to Kaoru for hours and not being able to nourish himself with her blood. Even though he'd fed on human blood a couple weeks ago, he needed more to resist the temptation Kaoru was and keep his promise not to hurt her. There wasn't much risk of him flipping out and drinking Alex dry anyway. He had more self control than that.
He returned her embrace and buried his face in her short, soft hair, breathing her light human scent in his nostrils. "I'm fine Alex, just thirsty," he murmured into her hair. "Are you going to let me in or what?"
She pulled back a little and smiled up at him. "Of course I am, as long as you promise to make it fun. Are you spending the rest of the night too? I have a room for you to sleep where the daylight won't seep in."
"No. I have to get back in an hour or two," he told her. He liked Alex, but he didn't trust her.
"Oh. Well that's fine then," she agreed, looking only a little disappointed and grabbing both his hands to lead him in. She reached past him to shut the door and he was in her apartment again. It hadn't changed much, still earth toned walls, furniture. It looked like she'd been going over some paperwork at the table.
"I'm fresh. I haven't seen anyone for about a month now," she continued. "I'll only charge you one hundred because you're my favorite customer. Why don't you hang around Queens more often?" she pouted, watching as he dug a couple fifties from his wallet.
"You know the city bores me," he replied, handing her the bills.
"I don't see how. You just have a short attention span," she argued, taking the bills and slipping them into the purse sitting on the counter.
"What can I say? I've been around too long," he shrugged, eyeing her neck.
She laughed, noticing the direction of his gaze and grabbed his hands once more, leading him to the bedroom. "Let's work on spicing it up a little bit," she said suggestively, dropping a heated kiss on his lips once they'd reached the bedroom. It was an unspoken agreement between vampire and victim that sex and blood went together. Ken returned the kiss and let his hands travel over her warm body, unzipping zippers and pulling off clothes, letting her do the same to him.
Don't let Alex tick you off. It's really not worth your
time. I hope the first chapter inspires a reading of the second.