Disclaimer: I do not own the Kenshingumi; all you lawyers, please don't sue me. And all you readers, please take note: I don't own anything I quote.

Kaoru Kamiya had no idea that the red-haired boy was a demon when she met him, but if anybody had told her, she wouldn't have been at all surprised.

Moving through the high school courtyard with a feline grace, he manuevered his way around the chattering cliques and students congregating under the scraggly trees and easily took his place at a table full of slim cheerleaders with perfect blonde highlights and football players proudly showing off their varsity letter jackets. The two girls on either side of him immediately broke off their conversations and turned to face him, practically batting their eyelashes as they both attempted to engage him in conversation.

'Tyger, tyger, burning bright... in the forests of New East Capitol High...'

Kaoru grinned to herself slightly at the image, her attention briefly distracted from her book when the boy's bright hair blazed in the sunlight as he threw back his head and laughed at something one of the jocks had said, and in response, the rest of the group laughed as well. Then she scowled at herself for getting drawn in to the activities of the school's most popular table.

'What can those airheads possibly be saying that is amusing him that much?'

The new student had only arrived two weeks ago, but his acceptance into the ranks of the school's most popular students had taken, at most, a half a day. He in turn accepted his sudden popularity with ease and grace, as if it was exactly what was due to him. Kaoru very much doubted that he knew she existed, let alone had any idea what her name was, in spite of the fact that they had two classes together,

'Not to mention the fact that you caused a fire drill in last week's Home Ec class and the whole school had to be evacuated for an hour and a half,' she thought to herself.

Hmm... on second thought, maybe it was better that as few people as possible associated her with that particular incident.

Once again, she found her attention wandering to the group across the courtyard, in particular the boy, dressed in a dark blue shirt and faded black jeans, who seemed not to notice the slightly chilly spring temperatures. What was it about him? He was never clumsy, or awkward; every movement he made, no matter how small, seemed to be controlled and deliberate. Kaoru had studied kendo in her father's dojo since practically before she could walk, and could recognize the body- and self-awareness of martial arts training whenever she saw him effortlessly wend his way through the crowds in the halls between classes. His hair was certainly unique, not only in its color, but in the fact that it was long and pulled back into a high ponytail that threw the sharp lines of his somewhat thin face into relief. There was a single scar running down one side of his face, giving his occasional smirk a particularly wicked edge.

Kaoru caught her breath sharply and looked back down at her book in an instant as the boy, seemingly aware of her scrutiny, lifted his head and looked straight at her.

'And those eyes...'

She had never seen—had never imagined—that anybody could have eyes like that, the color of polished amber, that caught the light the same way that his hair did and gave him an air of wildness that was almost palpable.

'Dangerous... predatory... and not the standard "teenage boy out to make trouble and get laid" predatory, either...

What is it about this boy?"

"Battousai!" came a happy cry from a girl just entering the courtyard. She waved and gave a cheerful grin that Kaoru personally found a little too vapid to be flirtatious and headed over to the table, where she pulled proceeded to pull over a chair and position it so that she supplanted the girl sitting to the redhead's immediate right. He smirked slightly before turning to ask her something that made her giggle shrilly and blush.

'Battou, noun. One of the many,many Japanese words that means sword. Battou, verb. To draw one's sword, with lethal intent. Sai... hmm.. non-word used to turn something into a nickname in older Japanese, with the connotation of "Lord" or "Master of"...

How on earth did someone get a nickname that means "Master of Lethal Sword-drawing"? Did he come up with it himself? Did he just walk into his shiny new school and decide that he needed a shiny new name to go with it?'

She knew that, while the students flocking around Battousai probably had no idea what they were really saying when they called him by the name he had given them, they did think that it was a cool nickname, especially the way that he tended to say it when he introduced himself. Confident in his self-description, sure of his own identity, slightly mysterious, and evaluating its effect on whoever he was talking to.

'Or did somebody else give it to him? What on earth could a boy his age have done to merit a name like that?'

Just then, the bell rang, indicating that her lunch period was coming to an end, and that Kaoru needed to head back inside.

'Hooray for English class.. dynamic, panoramic English class...' she mentally sang to herself as she headed down the halls.

It was her favorite class, along with Science, and she knew that there was a very un-studentlike bounce in her step as she headed down the hall.

The teacher was passionate about her subject, and managed to awaken that same interest in her students. She made grand sweeping gestures while writing on the board, puncutating her statements with lots of exclamation points and enthusiastic hand movements. Several of the students had bets on how long it would take before the chalk flew right out of her hand and hit some unsuspecting student on the head. Again.

There was only one thing that could spoil Kaoru's good mood as she headed into the classroom, ready for a full period of discussion about gender roles in "Macbeth," and that was...

A shrill squeal from somewhere behind her had Kaoru wincing, but she refused to turn around. Turning around meant confirming what she already knew, and she preferred to let herself enjoy the delusion that it had been something else, someone other than...

"Ohmygod! I love that new jacket! It is so cool- that color is perfect for you, Tiff!"

Tiffany Caroline Burgess. And, right behind her, her number one sycophant and best friend since kindergarten..

"Thanks, Sandee!"

Sandra Davis McMurphy. Both of them perfectly tanned, perfectly blonde, perfectly dressed, and perfectly dreadful.

Kaoru sighed. She supposed it was too much to hope for that they would be skipping class again, after the lecture they'd gotten last time, but wishful thinking often made life so much easier.

She tried to console herself that she could spend the period mentally drawing extremely unflattering comparisons between Tiffany, Sandra, and the Three Weird Sisters... or possibly Lady Macbeth... but, as the two of them swept past her and gave her identical looks that managed to combine scorn with a refusal to acknowledge her very existence, even her powers of sarcastic observation failed.

She knew exactly what it was that they saw when they looked at her... what everybody in school saw.

Kaoru Kamiya, always wearing clothes from Good Will, or hand-me-downs from her cousin Megumi...granted, they were always very high-quality, and showed a definite flair, but they were never the right colors or cut for Kaoru to look good in, and were always just enough out of style to make it clear that they were not new...

Kaoru Kamiya, going from class to the library to the dojo, always keeping busy but never spending much time with people...

Kaoru Kamiya, whose mother's death had plunged her father into a deep depression from which he had taken years to recover, who had plunged herself determinedly into housework and schoolwork and any other kind of work she could find to try to keep herself busy and make ends meet as her father's dojo continued to provide the family with a meager income.

She gave herself a mental slap upside the head in an attempt to snap herself out of the slight funk. 'Come on, Kaoru; this is high school, the place that makes Dante's vision of Purgatory look like a stroll through the park. All you need to do is get through it with your sanity reasonably intact and then you're off to college, where they supposedly keep the idiots under better control, or at least give them nice frat sweatshirts so that they can be easily identified..'

'Why on earth would you expect anybody here to look at you, see something that nobody else can see, and prepare to cue the sweeping romantic theme music while cherubs start throwing rose petals?'

Fortunately, most of the students in the classroom wanted to be there, or at least didn't wish that they were somewhere else, so the discussion neither died nor got diverted into an epic description of the manifold wonders of the local mall. Aside from a brief, bored comment from Tiffany—or possibly Sandra; sometimes Kaoru honestly found it hard to tell—about how only freaks and, well, their freaky friends believed in evil witches and demons and stupid stuff like that, things even stayed relatively intellectual.

Kaoru stayed after class to discuss the upcoming essay project with the teacher. She wanted to do something slightly different from the assignment, and needed to make sure that that would be okay. Happy to get permission, she didn't realize how late it was getting until she looked at her watch in the hallway.

'Math! Test! Test, in math, in five minutes, and on the other side of the building! AAAAAHH!'

As she scampered down the hallway, dodging around her fellow students with practiced ease, Kaoru frantically tried to run over the material on the test one more time. She'd been planning on spending her lunch period studying with Misao, but the girl had been nowhere to be seen, and Kaoru had gotten distracted by her book.

'If one panicked high school student leaves Classroom A at approximately 1:45 pm, and travels down a crowded hallway at a rate of...'

Her arithmetic was suddenly interrupted when she spun round a corner, ran into something surprisingly solid, and found herself staring at a dark blue shirt that she knew she'd seen before.

She exhaled, startled, and glanced up to see extremely amused amber eyes looking down at her. He didn't say anything, but one corner of his mouth quirked up in a half-grin. He also made no move to get out of her way, simply standing there as if he had all the time in the world.

'What on earth is he waiting for? Me to swoon, or blush, or start batting my eyelashes at him? Hello, not a bleached-blonde-cheerleading-fan-fluttering... ok, concentrate; math test! Starting..well, pretty much right now... Ack!'

"Out of my way, you idiot!" she practically snarled, before ducking around him and heading off down the hallway.

She didn't turn around, but she could feel his amused stare on the back of her neck all the way down the hall, and even after she turned the corner to where her classroom waited.

The test was actually not as bad as Kaoru had thought it would be, but that didn't mean she was going to let Misao off unscathed. "Where WERE you, you overly-caffeinated weasel? We were supposed to study! Remember? Not everybody is automatically brilliant at this."

To give her credit, Misao had the decency to blush. She fidgeted nervously from one foot to the other and looked down at the floor as she said, "Um.. sorry, Kaoru.. I..um.. guess that I got busy in the library and lost track of time..."

Kaoru fixed her with a gimlet-eyed stare. "Misao. When you say you "got busy in the library," I really hope that you mean you were doing important research on a new cure for cancer or possibly a way to increase the intellectual capabilities of our football team, and not that you and that boyfriend of yours were doing things that I really don't want to know about in the stacks again. And please don't tell me which section you were in; some of us have to do research in there, you know."

Working from the theory that that the best defense was a good offense, Misao retorted, "Oh, and what on earth was keeping you, young lady? I happen to know that it does not take that long to get from your English class to this side of the building, and you were actually late!"

"Don't change the subject! Actually, don't say anything about the previous subject either, but don't make it sound like I was late because of a boy."

"Ah. Well, then, why were you late?"

"Um.. well, it was.. because of a boy. I mean, I ran into the new kid in the hall. Literally. And then he wouldn't get out of my way."

"Reeeeeaaally..." Misao drawled, her eyes sparking mischeviously.

"Stop. It. Now." Kaoru warned. She recognized the symptoms, and knew that she had to do something before Misao either started formulating absurd matchmaking plans, or surreptitiously humming, "Kaoru and Battousai, sittin' in a tree.." whenever she thought it would be most embarassing. "I am not now, nor will I ever be, interested. And he's too surrounded by perky blondeness to notice anybody outside of his social league, unless it's for purposes of mockery or otherwise."

"Hmm.. but maybe he's looking for a change from all that..."

"Misao, I'm telling you right now; nothing good will come of doing whatever your crazed brain is coming up with right now. It would end up like "Carrie," except with way more carnage. And you would be first on the list."

Giving a long-suffering sigh, Misao said, "Ok, ok; fine. But you have to admit, he's definitely eye candy of the highest magnitude."

"Yes, fine; he is definitely too sexy for Milan, New York, Japan, and Poughkepsie, but... there's something about him that... that I just can't put my finger on, ok?"

"Oooo.. so, you're saying that there are things about him that you want to put your fingers on?"

"MISAAOOOO!" Several students turned at Kaoru's enraged shriek, but, seeing that it was just Kaoru chasing Misao around with a murderous look in her eyes and her binder brandished high, quickly shrugged and went back to whatever they'd been doing.

After school, Kaoru went to her favorite spot in the library, a set of chairs that nobody ever bothered with, where she could spend a couple of hours lost in books before heading back home.

It was time that she always took just for herself, between school and the rest of her day. She found the book that she had been reading on the shelves and started walking back through the different sections to her secret lair.

'Reference section connected to the science; science connected to geography; geography connected to the history; history connected to the... blonde chick draping herself over the red-headed guy... .Dammit! This is all Misao's fault for infecting the library with make-out vibes...'

Fortunately, when Kaoru risked a closer glance, the two teens in front of her were not in fact engaging in a practical demonstration of pages forty to forty-five of the sex-ed textbooks. The blonde... Ashley? Stephanie? Lori? Bertha?... was definitely attempting to plaster herself all over Battousai, her arms winding around his neck as she somehow managed to slink while standing still. However, his expression, rather than lustful, seemed...bored, and his arms were calmly at his sides rather than groping the girl who was pressing herself up against him and clearly deciding whether to go for his neck or his ear.

Kaoru gritted her teeth. This was her turf that these idiots were playing on, and if it hadn't been library property, she would have attempted to brain them both with her copy of Introduction to the Romantic Poets, Vol. 2.

Her presence went totally unnoticed by the girl, who was clearly more interested in getting Battousai interested in what she was doing, but Kaoru blinked as her Glare of Death was met with a cool stare from a pair of amber eyes, and the slightest of arm movements that made it look like he was going to attempt to pry off the blonde barnacle and say something.

She really didn't want to deal with it. With either of them. Turning on one heel, Kaoru fled with a rapid, annoyed half-stomping gait, back to the library check-out. If she couldn't read here without being disturbed, she was just going to have to go someplace else. A someplace else that would doubtless be full of people, who she didn't want to deal with at the moment, and noise, which would interrupt her reading.

'Stupid, over-sexed, wears-his-jeans-so-tight-they-must-cut-off-the-circulation-to-his-brain..' Part of her own brain was attempting to point out that, really, looked at rationally, there were some positive aspects to the way his jeans fit, but Kaoru ruthlessly stomped on them and told them to go back to wherever they'd come from and leave her to focus on annoyance and poetry.

This situation desparately called for caffeine, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

Curled up in a comfortable, over-sized chair in the corner of the coffeeshop, Kaoru sipped her over-sized latte machiatto with amaretto syrup and prepared to ignore the rest of the world.

'Dear, you should not stay so late/ Twilight is not good for maidens; should not loiter in the glen /In the haunts of goblin men...'

Kaoru's reading was interrupted by a bright, cheerful voice calling her name, and someone perching on the seat next to her.

"Kaoru! There you are! You're usually in the library, but now you're here! Ooo, double-chocolate chip!"

"Umm... Misao? Did they let you have espresso again?"

"Huh?" Misao said, turning her blue-green eyes to blink at her friend as she broke off a large piece of one of the cookies Kaoru had gotten. "No. Well, maybe one. And, um, some of those chocolate-covered coffee beans."

"Ah," Kaoru said. There really wasn't anything else to say; the damage had clearly already been done. Now the only thing to do was to not make any sudden moves. And possibly get a jump start on her math homework.


When she got back to the house, Kaoru parked her bike next to the garage and followed the sounds of clacking shinai into the training hall. The dojo had been in her father's family since they'd arrived from Japan, and as Kaoru entered the older part of the complex, she felt the familiar sense of peace, the knowledge of her family's history in this place.

Her father was just finishing up a class of beginning students, so Kaoru took the time to get into her own practice clothing.

She always enjoyed her sparring practice, and today it was just what she needed to calm herself down, focus, and work off some of her stress.

"Hey, ugly, thought you'd still be at the library!" a voice from behind her rang out.

A slow grin crossed Kaoru's face. Speaking of ways to relieve stress...

"Well, Yahiko, I figured I could come home early to spar with my very own little brother the week before his first big tournament..."

A slightly panicked expression crossed the boy's face as he realized that he'd just set himself up for target practice, Karou Kamiya-style.

As their father came into the room, Kaoru turned to him and said sweetly, "Oh, Dad? Yahiko and I were just going to spar a couple of rounds before dinner, is that ok?"

"Of course!" he replied with a grin. The fact that both of his children had taken to kendo, and showed continuing interest in it, was a great source of pride to their father, and, while he would never pressure them to compete, he was really hoping that Yahiko would make as good a showing as Kaoru had at her first tournaments.

In addition, he was a firm believer in letting siblings work out their stresses and differences on the dojo floor, on the grounds that it would strengthen the bonds between them outside the hall and serve them well later in life. The fact that it was occasionally vastly entertaining to watch was merely a nice side bonus.

"Before you two get started, what do you want on the pizza?" he asked as he headed out of the dojo.

"Pepperoni and green peppers!"

"Sausage, ham, pepperoni, extra cheese, and sausage!"

"You said "sausage" twice, brat!"

"Yeah, well, green peppers are gross!"

"At least I'm getting some vegetables in my diet, unlike some people, who are going to find themselves too heavy to roll their way to the match on Saturday!"



Koshijiro Kamiya shook his head, laughing silently, as he headed into the main part of the house to order the usual for that night's dinner and, at least for Yahiko, tomorrow's breakfast as well.

Author's Note: Blamed on caffeine, and dedicated to Rach, Ravyn, and Joanna (Or possibly vice versa...).

In this chapter I don't own: "Hooray for Hollywood," Christina Rosetti's "Goblin Market," or any of the works of Dante, Shakespeare, Right Said Fred or William Blake.