Dreams of Gold: First encounter

By Jade LightningWolf

I told you I had a Halloween story in the works…well, I kind of lied. This story could definitely be called Halloween oriented, but it could work at just about any time of the year. It is rated M (R) for contentin the second chapter, even though I think I could probably get away with T. And much as I hate to admit it, the beautiful Kenshin, well he belongs to someone else. And it's not me. Pooh.

The first time Kamiya Kaoru ever saw Himura Kenshin, she was working the night shift at the Akabeko. It was mid-October, and a nearly-full moon had hung pregnant and swollen in the sky, glowing an eerie soft gold and shining a halo that seemed almost red in color. The chill in the air was distinct and a stiff wind rushed scarves of cloud across the sky. It was the stereotypical October night, perfect for any B-grade horror movie.

Kaoru had been cleaning a table off when she heard the hum of a dying engine. She glanced out the window and saw the single headlight of a motorcycle flick off. Quickly, she finished clearing the table and rushed to grab an order pad. So late at night, it was rare to have customers. Closing time was nearing and she grudged this one person for stopping at her diner when a fast-food restaurant would have been just as good. Tae poked her head out from the back room, silently inquiring. Kaoru nodded sullenly and a moment later, one lone grill had been fired up again.

The bells on the door tinkled as her late customer walked in. Though the door itself made noise, she could hear none from the stranger. Curious, she turned and her breath caught in her throat. He had to be the single most stunning man she'd ever lain eyes on.

Long red hair cascaded from a low ponytail down his back. It seemed completely unruffled by the wind, contrary to her own long hair. He was dressed in jeans, heavy boots, and a black, leather jacket. A black motorcycle helmet was tucked under one arm. He looked the epitome of American rebel, complete with a cross-shaped scar across one cheek that made him look rather rakish. His high cheekbones and upturned eyes pointed at Asian ancestry, but the hair screamed otherwise.

His most piercing feature was his eyes. They caught and held hers immediately and she felt like she was drowning in violet. From the moment she first looked at him, she knew there was something captivating about this man. Despite the fact that he was hardly taller than she was, his presence was overwhelming. He was the kind of person who could bring a room to silence simply by walking into it.

He flashed a disarmingly handsome smile at her before seating himself at a booth. Kaoru gulped and tried to catch the breath she suddenly seemed to have lost. Tae raised an eyebrow at her from behind the counter before clearing her throat suggestively. Kaoru snatched her order book from the counter. She approached the man hesitantly, as if afraid of being drawn in by his overpowering aura.

He was scanning the menu, but she could see him glancing at her through the corner of his eye. She drew breath and began, "Good evening sir, welcome to the Akabeko. My name is Kaoru and I'll be your server. Is there something to drink I can start you off with?" She mentally berated herself at how shaky and nervous her voice sounded. He was only a guy, for goodness sake! Steeling herself, she stood a little straighter and met his gaze almost defiantly.

He smiled slightly, as though he knew something she didn't. After a moment, he said, "I'll just have water." His voice was a smooth baritone that made her toes curl and her knees weaken. That was the kind of voice a woman could fall in love with--one that made you feel as though you were being wrapped in silk and left the sweetly bitter taste of dark chocolate on your tongue. She lost her composure for a moment under its affects, but quickly shook herself out of it.

She nodded and stolidly told herself that this man did not affect her. "Water it is. Are you ready to order, or would you like to look over the menu a bit more?"

"I think I'll look a bit more." She nodded and hurried off to get a water. When she returned, he'd set aside the menu.

"Are you ready to order?" She smiled inwardly as she realized her voice had regained its usual confidence.

"I'm not sure," he said, smiling as he saw her frown. "Would you have any recommendations?"

Kaoru considered her customer. Something about the sparkle in his eyes told her he was being deliberately difficult. She set one hand on her hip and stared down at him. If he wanted to play that game, she'd be more than willing to participate.

"Well sir, what sorts of foods are you fond of?"

His smile widened as he felt the silent challenge in her words. "I'm rather partial to American food, though I wouldn't say no to some Mexican."

"American, eh?" said Kaoru appraisingly. Again, she looked him over. His Japanese accent was perfect, but perhaps he'd lived in the States for a while. There was only one way to find out.

"You wouldn't be fond of steak, per chance?" she asked in English, pleased with her nearly nonexistent accent. His eyebrows raised in surprise before settling back into an expression of smugness.

"Steak sounds divine," he told her in the same language.

The game had turned to playful banter now, and Kaoru continued to use English, both for the practice and to amuse herself. "What would you like as a side? We have some mashed potatoes still ready to go, or rice if you don't mind it."

"I think rice will be fine."

"Will that be all?"

"For now. I'll have to ask you about your desserts later though."

"I'll get your order on the grill then."

"Take your time, mon cherrí."

Kaoru frowned as she turned away. She had never heard the term "mon cherrí" before. She might ask him what it meant once she had the order placed. It didn't sound English. Of course, English was such a strange language that perhaps it was simply another anomaly.

oOoOoOoOo

Kenshin watched the waiter walk away from him. More specifically, watched the way she walked as it did fascinating things to her hips. The moment he'd entered the tiny diner, she'd caught his attention, though he'd hidden it better than she had. He could smell the change in her scent as she looked him over and liked what she saw. The feeling was mutual.

The girl, Kaoru her name tag had said, was striking. Her hair was the shade of a raven's wing, reflecting midnight blue in the harsh florescent lights in the ceiling. The lithe figure she possessed was slender, but curved enough to be most definitely feminine. He admired the way her narrow waist flared outward to give her a figure that was a somewhat narrow hourglass. He'd already seen in her walk that she was one who had studied an art that gave her grace, poise, and balance. Perhaps she was a dancer or a martial artist.

Then she'd looked up at him. Her face was fine-boned and flawless. Her high cheekbones and determined chin framed a straight little nose and lips that almost begged to be kissed. Her sapphire eyes kindled with an inner light that made them facet like jewels. The pride and strength in her gaze had almost paused him where he stood.

Then she'd come to take his order and revealed that she was intelligent as well. Judging only on his style of dress and preference for American food, she'd gambled and spoken to him in English that was nearly flawless. Her mastery of the language alone would have impressed him, but the gamble was what was reeling him in. This one was brave as well as beautiful and intelligent. If he hadn't been able to smell otherwise, he would have guessed her to be one of his own kind.

The girl finished placing his order and gathered up cleaning solution and a rag. He understood they were getting ready to close…probably would after he left. He carefully watched her from under the curtain of his bangs. She was sneaking glances at him when she thought he wasn't looking. He decided that he might as well make conversation while he waited.

"Where did you learn to speak English so well?" he asked, switching back to Japanese.

"I've been studying it since I was ten. I'll be an English teacher once I graduate."

He nodded, but didn't further the conversation. He'd cast out the bait. Now he would see if she would nibble.

"What about you?" she said after a moment. "Where'd you learn it?"

"I'm self-taught, though my father helped me before he passed away. I travel a great deal and learning the language was a necessity."

She nodded and he hid a smile. She wasn't afraid to make conversation. This was a plus for him. She was watching him openly now as she cleaned the table.

"What do you do for a living, that you travel so much?"

"I've done a lot of things. It started out as military work for the Australian government. After I got out of the military, I just moved around a lot, working odd jobs whenever I needed money. I settled in the States for a short amount of time and taught kendo, but something happened that forced me to come back home. Right now, I'm helping an old friend of mine with his private investigations agency."

She had finished cleaning tables and moved back behind the counter as he spoke. From a hidden corner, she produced a dust devil and began running it over the cheap Berber carpet. Kenshin watched the flowing movements with admiration before raising his eyes to meet her quizzical gaze.

"It must be hard to travel so much," she said softly.

Kenshin shrugged, slightly guarded now. "You get used to it." Not too much information for you yet, gatita. I don't want to scare you off.

Kaoru sensed his apprehension and broke off the conversation. Kenshin gave it a good thirty seconds before he took up the conversation again. "You said you plan to teach English. Why that subject?"

"I've always loved teaching. Helping my father out at the dojo taught me that. And English was the only subject in school that ever challenged me. Everything else was too boring."

He nodded, encouraging, but she didn't continue so he supplied a question to keep her mezzo-soprano voice in his ears. "So you're in college now, ne?"

"Yes," she said, placing the dust buster back where she'd gotten it. She leaned against the counter, looking at him. "I'll graduate at the end of this term, and then I'll go into a student-teaching program at a local high school."

She looked off thoughtfully and Kenshin eyed the smooth column of her throat. He saw no evidence of a boyfriend, but some girls didn't appreciate hickies from their boys. They both jumped when Tae rang the order up bell. Kaoru blushed slightly and snatched his meal from the window.

She walked around the counter and set the plate before him. Tae poked her head out the window and said, "Sir, Kaoru forgot to ask how you wanted your steak done, so I took the liberty of making it rare. It's the only way to appreciate good beef.

Kenshin looked at the meat and bit his lip to keep from salivating too much. He had thought he wouldn't be able to find any decent beef back in Japan, but this looked excellent. He looked back at Tae. "Rare will be perfect," he told her with a grin that showed off teeth that seemed a little too long.

Kenshin turned his gaze to Kaoru, who was looking back at Tae with extreme embarrassment. She never remembered to ask the customers how they wanted their steaks done. "Kaoru," he said quietly. She jumped at his voice and looked back down at him. "If you're done cleaning up, I would be glad of your company." He indicated the seat across from him.

Kaoru looked back at her boss, who was watching the scene with veiled amusement. Tae nodded acceptance and disappeared back into the kitchen. Hesitantly, Kaoru sat across from the man. He set about cutting his steak into neat pieces and she watched with morbid fascination as red-tinged juice began to seep onto the plate, dying some of the rice pink.

Kenshin looked up at her from under his bangs. Vaguely, he wondered what she thought of his acceptance of meat that hardly looked cooked, but the blood scent was strong in his nose now and it was what he was focused on.

Kaoru seemed to realize that she'd been staring and averted her eyes to glance out the window into the dark autumn night. She searched for something to look at and became entranced with the huge, heavy Harvest Moon. Its golden color was unusual in the city, even out in the suburbs. She had only seen it this color once before, when she'd visited her grandparents out in the country many, many years ago.

She turned her gaze from the window and her eyes grew wide. Had his eyes just been the same golden color before he closed them with his first bite of steak? She blinked a few times and looked again. His eyes opened as he swallowed, but they were that same brilliant violet that had first captivated her. She shook her head slightly, scolding her rampant imagination.

Kenshin had scented her apprehension as he chewed. The scent curled around him in warning and he sucked on the steak to draw out the bloody juice. It would soothe his Beast, which was struggling with him for control. He had a sneaking suspicion that Kaoru had seen his golden gaze, if only for a moment. He'd have to be more careful, especially with the scent of an alluring female in the air.

Kenshin swallowed his first bite of steak and met Kaoru's eyes unwaveringly. A comforting scent of relief wafted through the air and he relaxed shoulders he hadn't even realized he'd tensed. Kaoru smiled, looking a little embarrassed at being caught staring. Kenshin simply dug into another piece of steak.

He paused between his next bites to ask, "So how is college coming for you this year?"

Kaoru started telling him about everything she was involved in, the exploits of her roommates and friends, and her frustrations throughout the year. Before she realized it, she'd talked through his entire meal. He pushed the plate away and smiled at her when he saw the blush start to rise in her cheeks.

"I'm sorry," she said, quietly. "Sometimes I'm as bad as Misao when I start to ramble."

"Not at all," he answered. "I enjoyed it."

"But it must be so mundane to you."

"The mundane is unusual to me, Kaoru. I've hardly led a mundane life, let alone anything ordinary. Sometimes, I think perhaps the kind of life you lead is more interesting than mine."

She blushed again, rather prettily. Kenshin decided he would do his best to make her blush as often as possible.

They both started as Tae cleared her throat at them, emerging from the kitchen in a coat. Kaoru looked at the clock and jumped from the booth. She turned to Kenshin and bowed politely.

"I'm sorry. The time got away from me, but we really must close up now. You'll have to come back. After all," she said smiling slightly, "you still haven't had any dessert."

Kenshin also smiled and stood, lifting his plate as he went to hand it to her. She took it shyly, averting her eyes from his face. Tae sighed as she watched the two young people dance around each other. The young man was obviously interested and Kaoru was carefully ignoring his interest in favor of her own shyness.

After a moment, the proprietor of the Akabeko said, "Kaoru, please finish cleaning and lock up when you're done. And be careful going home. I do wish you'd get a car."

Kaoru nodded her understanding as Tae stepped out into the blustery October night. Kenshin watched the older woman before turning back to Kaoru. "You don't have a car?"

The girl shook her head as she went behind the counter and began to wash his dishes. He frowned and persisted. "How do you get home?"

"I walk if it's nice. If not, I wait for the bus."

Kenshin's frown deepened and he stepped closer. "Isn't that rather dangerous?"

"Not at all. I come prepared." She grinned at him as she turned to the closet behind her where her coat was. From beneath the folds of her cloak, she produced a bokken. Kenshin's eyes rose in surprise as she set the wooden sword on the counter between them and returned to the dishes.

He lifted the sword experimentally. It was heavier than a normal bokken should be. Running his fingers along the wood, he found almost imperceptible lines in the smooth wood surface. "Is this weighted?" he asked her.

She looked at him in surprise before nodding. Then her memory triggered. "That's right; you said you taught kendo," she said. He nodded absently as he set the bokken back down.

"Are you any good?" he asked, being sure to add incredulity to his voice. It had the exact effect he'd intended. The scent of anger rose from her and she turned on him with a flash of pride in her eyes.

"I'm good enough to scare off a mugger."

"Prove it," he said, almost scoffing at her to ensure she really would prove it.

Kaoru wiped her hand on a drying cloth and set the now clean dishes aside. With angry movements, she whipped her apron off her body and came around in front of the counter to a spot where she'd have room to move. Kenshin backed away and watched with a critical eye.

Kaoru took stance and breathed deeply. Already, this was a good sign. She knew better than to begin with her temper high. After a few more breaths, she opened her eyes and stepped into the first move of a kata. Kenshin kept his eyes focused, taking in every move she made. The kata she chose was not a beginner's kata, but it was not difficult enough to rank her a master. She never missed an angle, never misstepped, never even wavered with a possible mistake. He had to admit, he was impressed.

She finished the kata with an elegant double slash and spun on foot like a dancer so that she faced him, the bokken level with his throat. She wasn't even winded. "Is that enough proof for you?"

He nodded, smiling slightly.

oOoOoOoOo

Kaoru finished cleaning up the diner quickly. Kenshin paid his bill and leaned against the counter to watch her finish. Her movements were hurried and she kept glancing at the clock nervously.

"Late for something?" he asked when his curiosity got the better of him.

She started slightly, as though she'd thought he'd left. Then she smiled and continued counting the till. "I'm not technically late, but my roommate is the definition of paranoid when it comes to muggers and stuff like that. If I don't get home by midnight, I guarantee I'll come home to at least three squad cars."

Kenshin nodded and glanced at the clock again. It was twenty 'til midnight. "Will you have enough time to get home?"

"If I finish in the next five minutes," she said shortly, loading the cash and running back into the kitchen, presumably to the safe. He waited for her to reemerge. She glanced at the clock again as she flicked off the kitchen lights.

"Shit, shit, shit," she muttered under her breath as she began shutting down the ancient computer they ran their registers with. It seemed even slower tonight.

Kenshin attempted to look and sound entirely innocent as he said, "I could give you a ride." Considering he was wearing a leather jacket, he thought he pulled off the innocent pretty well.

Kaoru stopped dead in her tracks and looked up at him. He kept his face straight and his posture nonchalant, trying to look as trustworthy as humanly possible. The expression fell away when she burst out laughing. After a moment, she got under control and began typing into the computer again. As she typed, she said, "Don't get me wrong. You seem like a really nice guy, but I just met you tonight. And you were the one who was just warning me about muggers."

Kenshin scowled as his own logic was used against him. He was not about to allow this beautiful girl to escape him now that she'd put him under her spell. Determinedly, he faced her. "What would I have to do to prove I was trustworthy?"

She laughed again, but more softly this time. "There's nothing you can do. I don't even know your name. And, no, knowing it won't change my mind."

Kenshin's mind raced. He had a distinct possibility in mind, but there was about a ninety-nine per cent chance it would backfire. Kenshin thought for a moment before deciding he would trust his instincts. They had never failed him before.

In a fluid movement, he leapt the counter, spun Kaoru away from the computer, and caught her wrists in his hands. She never saw him move until she was pressed up against his chest. Instead of screaming as he expected her to, she looked up at him as though awed. Then her expression grew stormy. He expected her next move as she tired to knee him in the groin, and he neatly blocked her kick by raising his own knee as she moved.

Kaoru froze then, suddenly realizing she was in real trouble. This man could fight, and he fought very well. His hold on her wrists was not bruising, but it was definitely tight enough to warn her of the strength he was holding back. He leaned forward until they were nearly nose to nose and she could feel his warm breath fluttering across her cheeks.

"My name is Himura Kenshin," he whispered quietly, "and if I wanted to hurt you, I would have done so already. We've been alone for quite some time, after all." With that, he released her wrists and stepped away, putting his hands in his pockets.

Kaoru stood where he had left her, stunned beyond words. There was undeniable truth to what he said. Attacking here in the diner would have been all too easy for someone as obviously strong and fast as he was. Slowly, almost against her own will, she nodded.

Kenshin loosened the tension in his back and shoulders as she turned back to finish shutting down the system. He wasn't quite sure what he would have done if he'd scared her off. He'd only felt this attracted to a human once since his change; though that relationship had turned out horribly.

The computer beeped loudly three times and then clicked off. Kaoru turned and smiled shyly before walking past him and pulling her coat on. Kenshin trailed after her as she pulled a set of keys from her pocket and flicked off the rest of the lights. She held the door open for him and then locked it. It shut with a definitive click.

Kenshin handed her his helmet wordlessly and then swung a leg over his bike. Kaoru looked down at the black helmet in her hands before looking back at him. "Don't you need this?"

"You need it more than I do. Now, where do you live?"

Kaoru gave him the street address and Kenshin nodded, indicating he knew where it was. Hesitantly, she pulled on the helmet and climbed awkwardly onto the bike behind him. "Hold on tight," he said as he started the engine. She didn't have to be told twice.

Kenshin quietly enjoyed the feel of her arms wrapped tightly around his torso, even as she secretly enjoyed the play of hard muscles beneath her fingers. For both of them, the ride seemed entirely too short. Kenshin pulled up in front of the set of apartments Kaoru and Misao lived in.

She slid off the motorcycle and removed the helmet, handing it to him while she glanced up towards her window. Sure enough, the light was on and a head quickly ducked out of view when it noticed her gaze. Kaoru withheld a sigh and turned back to Kenshin. He was watching her with interest and his violet eyes almost seemed to glow in the dark night.

"Thanks for the ride, Kenshin. It was…nice meeting you."

He flashed her that smile he'd fist given her in the diner, the one that made her want to melt into a puddle. "Likewise, Kaoru. It's certainly the best late-night dinner I've had in a long time." Kenshin's excellent night vision told him he'd succeeded in making her blush again.

He pulled out a business card from his pocket. Turning it over, he produced a pen from another pocket. Quickly, he jotted down a set of numbers. "That," he said pointing at the number on the back, "is my cell number. And this is where I work," he told her as he turned the card over. She took it in hands that seemed numb.

"Feel free to call me. If you don't, I guarantee you'll be getting another late-night customer in the near future." Kaoru nodded, unsure what to do. The atmosphere of the evening had not been even remotely date-like. But she had the overwhelming urge to lean over and kiss him.

He solved her conundrum for her, taking her hands and kissing each of them in an old-world manner that left her face burning. "Until next time, Kaoru," he whispered before pulling his helmet on. He started up the bike and drove away, leaving her staring after him.

oOoOoOoOo

Kaoru walked up to her apartment in a daze. She didn't remember unlocking the door or trudging up the stairs or tripping near the top. All she could remember was that smile that, she was positive, would make any woman swoon on the spot if she wasn't braced and ready for it.

Kaoru fumbled with the lock on her apartment door, but the door was flung open before she could even insert the key.

"Kaoru!" Misao shouted joyously as she threw her arms around the slightly older woman. "I was so worried. I was about to the call the police." Kaoru resisted the urge to roll her eyes and instead focused on peeling Misao off of her. She managed to slide into their modest apartment where she immediately went to the fridge in hopes of finding something she wouldn't have to actually cook. Her searches turned up three-day-old pizza that looked slightly questionable, but definitely edible.

Misao trailed her around the house as she removed various articles of clothing, including her shoes, coat, socks, and button-up shirt. She was carefully avoiding having to face Misao, because she knew there was that glint in her eye that said Misao was up to something, generally something hazardous to one's health.

However, she could not avoid her roommate forever. At long last, she settled on the couch with her pizza, a romantic comedy, and a nosy roommate.

"So…Kaoru," Misao said as she tried to look disinterested, "who was that who dropped you off?"

Shoot me now, thought Kaoru as she stoically annoyed Misao. "Come on," begged the smaller woman, "just tell me and I promise I won't pry…much."

"That would defeat the purpose of telling you."

"Kaoruuuu," Misao whined as she did her best impersonation of an eight-year-old. "Is that anyway to repay the friendship we've had for years? Will I not figure out who he is until the wedding?"

Kaoru bit her tongue to keep from screaming. She just had to bring up the friendship factor, didn't she? With a sigh of dejection, Kaoru quietly said, "His name is Kenshin."

Misao looked at her expectantly. Clearly, that was not good enough. Kaoru considered pretending to fall asleep, but doubted that would work any better than it had the last seven times she'd tried it.

"I met him at work. He was a customer and he was kind enough to offer me a ride home."

"Kaoru! You're smarter than that. You shouldn't trust a complete stranger."

"If no one ever trusted complete strangers, you'd never make friends."

Misao halted her next argument; that was true, after all. "Still, he could have done anything to you."

"He proved to me he wouldn't," Kaoru said quietly, thinking of how his eyes had blazed as he held her wrists.

"Hmmm," Misao mumbled as she chewed on the pizza she had snitched off Kaoru's plate. "Sfo, ish he coot?"

"What?"

Misao swallowed down the pizza and said, "Is he cute?"

"Oh…" she trailed away as she thought again of his silken red hair and sparkling amethyst eyes. Misao started giggling at the far-away look on Kaoru's face. The older girl looked at her reproachfully. "What?"

"I'll take that as a yes." Misao laughed again when Kaoru blushed. "Are you gonna see him again?"

Kaoru was quiet for a long moment. "I hope so," she whispered, rising as she spoke. Misao didn't get to say anything else, because her roommate retreated to her room.

As Kaoru lay in her bed, she glanced out at the golden moon again. "I hope so."

oOoOoOoOo

Kenshin glanced up at the fat, full moon and grinned, showing off teeth that were already pointed. Unlike his wolf kin, the full moon did not rule him. He was required to change on a different night. But tonight he wanted to change. He wanted to run free and wild through the woods and roar his elation. Kaoru had called and asked him out for coffee Friday.

Quickly, he shed his clothes as the change screamed through his blood. Falling to all fours, he shuddered as the last vestiges of his humanity were shed. Golden eyes glowed briefly in the darkness before Kenshin leapt into a tree. He let the forest guide him as he thought of the woman whom had not left his thoughts since he first set eyes on her.

He could not wait to see her again. Everything about her, from her rich, delicious scent to her abundant courage, called him to her like a…Kenshin paused to think of a proper analogy. He was certainly not like a moth to flame; that meant she would hurt him and that was something he would not allow. A shark to blood was equally menacing. Perhaps he was a predator and she prey, but he was not going to hurt her.

He was rattled from his thoughts as a howl echoed through the woods. There was at least one wolf in the forest tonight. Kenshin considered roaring in return, but held back. Not all the local wolves were friends to him, and tonight was too good a night to call in a fight. Moving silently and swiftly through the trees, Kenshin began tracking the howl.

He came across the wolf in a clearing bathed with the golden light of the moon. The wolf had been hunting, and his success was what had caused him to howl and draw attention to himself. He was digging into the carcass of a heron, his jaws already stained with blood. Kenshin smiled inwardly as he recognized the scent.

Without a single noise, Kenshin leapt down from the tree and circled his friend. The wolf caught his scent just as Kenshin drew even with his flank. The brown-haired Were growled and raised his head, resting eyes on the menacing predator. His growl was cut off as his blood lust gave way to logic. Giving the best smile a wolf could manage, Sano barked softly in greeting. Kenshin inclined his head slightly before curling into the grass, watching Sano through half-lidded, golden eyes.

Sano finished eating and nudged the carcass towards Kenshin. The other Beast did not have to be told twice. He rose and dug viciously into the still-warm flesh. It was an excellent finish to an excellent evening. Sated, he and Sano curled up next to each other to sleep the meal off. When the first gray of false dawn lit the sky, they parted ways to get back home.

Kenshin followed his own trail back to his clothing, electing to travel by ground this time. He changed back slowly, controlling the shifting muscles and cracking bones in a way that was pleasantly painful, a bit like pulling a baby tooth. Sanosuke found him just as he was pulling on his jeans. He grinned at the other taller man.

"What brought you out tonight?" Sano asked curiously as he sauntered past Kenshin to the motorcycle parked just off the road.

"I needed a run."

"Well, I'm glad I ran into you. There's been some trouble around."

Kenshin's still golden eyes snapped to Sano as his frame stiffened. When Sano said there was trouble, it generally meant nuclear proportions.

"There's a new set of wolves trying to move into town. Three members of my pack have been mauled already. They almost killed Katsu. The real trouble is that they've been attacking us during the day, which defies wolf law. In fact, it defies supernatural law. All shadow creatures know better than to risk revealing themselves to the humans."

Kenshin frowned, considering the possible implications this would have for him. He looked at Sano. "What would you have in mind?"

"Nothing direct. I know you don't work that way. But if you should come across any wolves you don't know, especially ones acting against the Were Accords, kill them."

Kenshin nodded in understanding before pulling his shirt over his head. Sano waited for him in silence as he slipped on his shoes and jacket. Clearly the wolf still had something to say. Kenshin lifted his helmet from the back of his bike and waited.

"Megumi and I are going to mate," he muttered. Kenshin's sharp ears caught it, but he wondered if he shouldn't just make Sano repeat it for the pleasure of seeing the wolf blush. He chose to be kind, snorted, and said, "About time."

"We wanted you to be there. You don't have to participate in the ceremony or anything. We just wanted you to be there, you know, because you helped us so much when we first changed."

Kenshin nodded in understanding. "Of course. When is it?"

"Two months from now. Full moon."

The red head put on his helmet and started up the bike. "Is that everything?"

Sano nodded and disappeared into the forest. Kenshin watched him go before pulling onto the road. Today was Thursday. That meant tomorrow was Friday. He'd be seeing Kaoru in less than forty-eight hours. His blood heated at the thought.

oOoOoOoOo

Kaoru sat staring at the phone. She'd been staring at it since she'd woken up and realized she had no classes until noon. Misao passed her, nibbling a piece of toast. After a moment, the smaller woman turned and said, "You know, if you stare at it long like that long enough, I'm pretty sure it will burst into flame."

Kaoru glared angrily at her roommate before turning back to the phone. "Why the hell did I call him?"

Misao, not understanding the meaning of rhetorical, immediately answered, "Because you're attracted to him and he's obviously attracted to you and you are severely lacking a love life and mother nature is finally making your instincts catch up and if you keep going in this direction…"

Kaoru slapped her hand over Misao's mouth, wondering once again if her friend ever actually needed to breathe. "I get the point, Misao," she growled through her teeth. Misao nodded behind her hand before drawing away and munching thoughtfully on the toast. A small smile grew on her lips.

"You're nervous aren't you?" she teased.

"Gee, you think? He's only the most handsome man I've ever seen. He only agreed to go out with me on the first date I've been on since…high school! Can you blame me?"

Misao, apparently still not understanding she should keep her mouth shut, said, "No, but still, you're the one who asked him out."

Kaoru growled in frustration and resisted the urge to begin pulling out her hair. She clearly was not going to get the peace she needed by remaining in the apartment. With impatient movements, she snatched her coat and a book. Perhaps the park would be a little better.

oOoOoOoOo

Kaoru could not believe her luck. The weather had been perfect, the walk pleasant, the maniac drivers few and far between. Yet her outing to the park had been ruined by one single thing. The object that had been causing her so much turmoil was already there. She had just been preparing to settle against a tree when the reflection of sunlight on brilliant red caught her eye. She'd looked and there he'd been, standing not fifty feet away holding the hand of a small girl.

As Kaoru watched, silently praying he wouldn't notice her, another small girl ran to him and attached herself to his leg. He smiled down at her, leaning down to lift her into his arms. Kaoru grit her teeth to keep from saying "awwwwe" out loud. Kenshin set the girl down again after giving her a swift hug. He pressed a hand to both girls' backs, saying something Kaoru could not catch. The girls ran off to the playground, leaving the man behind to watch them.

She thought she might've escaped his notice as he began walking towards the jungle gym, but he paused, tilting his head like a curious dog. Something had caught his attention. Slowly, he turned and Kaoru was caught as she tried to rise and flee the bench. He smiled at her, but it was a very different smile from the one he'd flashed the little girls.

He began walking towards her as his sparkling eyes met hers. Now she couldn't even pretend she hadn't seen him as she attempted to escape. He seemed to stroll so casually and slowly, but he was next to her before she could even take a step away.

"What a coincidence, meeting you here."

Kaoru nodded, smiling tightly. This man had been a dream to her the last time she'd seen him, an untouchable shadow silhouetted by moonlight. In the daylight, with him looking so much more tangible, she was regretting her call more than ever. All she felt around him now was apprehensive.

Kenshin resisted the urge to frown as her scent passed through his nose. It told him she was hesitant and fearful, on the very verge of running. His mind scrambled for something to put her at ease before she bolted. He wanted to drink in her sight and scent more, to get him through the hours until their date.

His problem was solved for him as the girls Kaoru had noticed earlier came running back.

"Ken-nii!" Suzume shouted as the two girls converged on them. He smiled down at her as Ayame hid behind him, eyeing the stranger with hesitance. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kaoru give an encouraging smile. If she liked kids, this could become a very good opportunity.

"Ayame, Suzume, this is Kaoru. She and I met a few nights ago in the diner she works at."

The seemingly braver one stepped forward, bowed clumsily, and said, "Hello Kaoru. My name is Suzume." The girl bowed again before turning and raising her arms up to Kenshin in an obvious plea to be lifted. Kenshin complied and held Suzume in his arms as Ayame inched out from around his legs. The shyer girl bowed once, but didn't say anything.

Kaoru smiled encouragingly at the girls again. "It's a pleasure to meet you both. What are you doing out here?"

"Ken-nii takes care of us sometimes to give jii-chan a break," Ayame said before blushing and hiding against Kenshin's leg again. Kaoru silently gave the man points for kindness. Kids were always good judges of character.

"Why don't you girls go play on the playground a bit more. After that, maybe Kaoru will join us for ice cream."

Kaoru quickly deducted the points she'd given Kenshin as the girls turned pleading gazes on her. "Will you come with us Kaoru-san?" asked Suzume with a hint of a whimper.

Kaoru bit back a sigh and forced a smile. "Of course I will Suzume-chan."

Kenshin didn't even try to hide the triumph in his eyes. The more time he spent with this alluring woman, the sooner she would be ready to know. He set Suzume down and the girls ran back off again. No doubt, they'd return if they didn't find companions their own age to play with. For once, Kenshin was hoping there would be some other children to preoccupy them.

"They're sweet kids. Are they yours?"

Kenshin felt a blush rise in his cheeks, something he hadn't done in ages. Quickly he shook his head. "No, they're my neighbor's grandchildren. I take care of them sometimes when they get to be too much for him. Their parents passed away and he's the only family they have left."

A pang went through Kaoru's heart. She knew very well what it was to be alone in the world. She hadn't even had grandparents to take her in when her father passed away.

The spike of sadness that went through Kaoru's scent did not escape Kenshin. He turned thoughtful eyes on her, wondering what exactly made her sad. She noticed his glance and smiled; though she tried to hide it, he could still taste the heavy undercurrent of sadness. "Let's sit," he suggested, motioning to the bench she'd started out on.

She nodded and trailed him back to the bench. They sat side by side and Kenshin waited five minutes before asking, "Do you want to talk about it?"

Kaoru glanced up at him, surprised that he'd noticed her depressing thoughts when she thought she'd hidden them so well. After a moment she looked at her lap again. "No," she said softly, "I've already talked enough about it. It doesn't make the pain any better."

He accepted this answer without question and leaned toward her, offering silent comfort. She took it without thinking, leaning into his body until his arm had come up around her shoulder. Slowly, the dreary thoughts ebbed away and were replaced with thoughts of how good he smelled and how warm he was. There was something about this man that seemed utterly familiar to her, and she drew comfort from that familiarity.

Kenshin waited for her to make the next move. He was quite content to sit with his arm possessively around her and her scent flowing around him, making him light-headed. The compulsion to learn more about this alluring woman was overpowering. He had lived for such a long time, nearly 150 years now, and had never felt so strongly about anyone. Perhaps the old cliché of love at first sight was alive and well after all.

He turned his head in towards her, almost leaning against her own head, which had somehow found the hollow between his jawbone and shoulder. This was, perhaps, one of the finest days of his life. He let his eyes slide half-closed, slowly scanning the jungle gym to make sure the girls were all right. The sight that met him instead made him sit bolt upright, jolting Kaoru beside him as he moved.

"What is it?" she asked. Her question went unanswered.

Damn Murphy's Law, thought Kenshin to himself as he rose and stalked towards the playground. His only intent was to scare off what was now threatening those under his protection. He didn't even notice as Kaoru began trailing behind him.

She watched his rigid back with apprehension. This man was unnerving. One moment he was comforting her without even pushing for an answer to her sadness, the next he was stalking through the dry leaves without making a sound. She could see that he was trained on someone on the playground. The way he was moving made her think of a predator stalking prey and the thought sent shivers down her spine.

When Kenshin was five feet from the girls he was caring for, he called to them. Both girls heard the tone in his voice and immediately went to him, hiding behind his legs. They knew their Ken-nii never, ever sounded like that unless there was something wrong. It was the way he sounded the night their parents died in the car accident.

The man who had garnered Kenshin's attention turned at the sound of the redhead's voice. A wicked smile slowly spread on his face. Slowly, he ducked under the swings and came to stand before the shorter man.

"Hello, Enishi," sneered Kenshin, allowing the gold to filter into his eyes as his Beast rose near the surface.

"Himura."

Kaoru peeked over Kenshin's shoulder to study the man called Enishi. He was very tall and lanky. A pair of rimless sunglasses sat low on his nose, showing off red eyes. His hair was shock white and tussled as though he'd just risen from bed. The small smile he wore was more unnerving than kindly, as though the expression didn't really belong on his face. Kaoru shrank slightly behind Kenshin before remembering her pride. She took a step to the side and slightly forward so that she, too, was shielding the girls.

Kenshin glanced to his right as Kaoru stepped forward. Part of him cheered her, but the other part pointed out that she was putting herself in more danger than she realized. He trained his gaze back on Enishi, who was now studying the small woman with more interest than Kenshin would have liked.

"What are you doing here?"

"I fail to see any reason to explain myself to you, Himura. It is, after all, a free country."

Kenshin bit back a snarl. He could smell on Enishi the distinct scents of female werewolves and human blood. The scents did not mingle well. He narrowed his eyes on the tall, young man.

"Your pack is the one who's been after Sano's Sekihotai, aren't you?"

Enishi's unnerving smile widened further. "I told you Himura, until you take my sister as your own, I will continue to make your life hell."

Kenshin's stance stiffened as he felt the indirect threat to the girls behind him and the woman to his side. "If I even see your shadow within five miles of my home, Enishi, I assure you your life as you now know it will be over."

Enishi shrugged nonchalantly. His message had been conveyed, and more importantly, so had his threat. Without another word, he turned and stalked away. Kaoru shivered as she realized he made no more noise than Kenshin had.

She glanced to her side, studying Kenshin's profile. His bangs hid his eyes from her, but she could see the clenched muscles of his jaw and his white-knuckled fists. Slowly, he inhaled and exhaled. Almost visibly, the tension left his frame. He turned to her with a sudden smile and said, "How does that ice cream sound?"

Kaoru eyed him both nervously and skeptically. If he really thought this was over, he had another think coming. He met her eyes and nodded slightly. He would answer her questions, but not in the presence of the girls he cared for.

Ayame and Suzume, oblivious to the threat to their lives, tugged on Kenshin's jean leg and looked up with hopeful eyes at the adults.

Kaoru could not resist smiling down at them. "Ice cream would be lovely."

oOoOoOoOo

It had been two weeks since Kaoru first met Kenshin. In that relatively short time, she felt like she'd found a piece of her soul she hadn't even known she was missing. Kenshin was even more of an enigma to her now than when she'd first met him. His capability to switch between moods at the drop of a pin mystified her. The way he treated her was also a mystery. On the several dates they'd been on, Kenshin had never done more than kiss her hands until last night. Last night he'd given her a single chaste kiss on the lips before leaving her on the steps of her apartment. Yet whenever she was with him, he treated her as though she belonged with him, almost as if she belonged to him. The idea should have been repugnant, but for some reason it sent shivers down her spine.

Currently, she was pacing around her apartment and worrying at her nails. He'd called only fifteen minutes ago, informing her that they were going out, though where they were going would remain a secret. Misao giggled at her when she jumped at the buzzer. Hurriedly, she went to answer it.

"Kamiya and Makimachi."

"Is Misao there?"

Kaoru frowned, but was already being shoved aside by her roommate. "Aoshi, is that you?"

"Yes, and Kenshin also."

"We'll be right down," the short woman gushed. She released the intercom and grabbed Kaoru's wrist in a death grip. As she passed the kitchen table, she snatched both their purses while still dragging the sputtering Kaoru.

Somewhere around the second floor, Kaoru managed to regain her speech capabilities. "You have some explaining to do, Misao."

"Later. Right now, our men are waiting."

"Who the heck is Aoshi?"

"Kenshin introduced us. He's…he's…"

Kaoru stared down at her best friend. Giving a rye smile, she said, "He's rendered you speechless. He must really be something."

Misao's smile grew dreamy. "You could say that."

Suddenly Kaoru remembered a minor detail. "When did you meet Kenshin? I've been going out of my way to keep him away from you."

Luckily for Misao, they arrived at the front door just then. Both men were waiting just outside. Misao rushed through the doors rather than answer a question she felt was best left alone. Kaoru could only follow, fuming slightly.

Kenshin met her outside with a second chaste kiss, but all her attention was focused on the couple just to their left. Aoshi was a tall man…a very tall man. His icy blue eyes gleamed in the half-light that came from the apartment's hallway. His dark hair was cut to jaw length in front and angled upward to be shorter in back. His long, handsome face was framed by the collar of a trench coat. He exuded power in a manner that seemed similar to Kenshin…but somehow quieter at the same time. Aoshi went unnoticed in a crowded room, but only because he wished to be.

Kenshin drew her attention back as his knuckles brushed across her cheekbone. "This isn't a double date, is it?" she asked incredulously.

He smiled slightly. "No, we'll be parting ways now."

Aoshi nodded at Kenshin before placing his arm around Misao's waist and guiding her away. Kenshin took Kaoru's hand and led her to his motorcycle. He drew a piece of dark cloth from his pocket and turned to her. "This will remain a secret to the last," he said quietly as he reached up around her head. Kaoru realized she was being blindfolded and considered pushing his hands away. But that would ruin all the fun wouldn't it?

oOoOoOoOo

Observe, chapter one. Sorry not to include my usual Japanese index, but I really wanted to get this posted. And for my second order of business, I promised shoutouts for anyone who was smart enough to figure out who the kitsune in my other story was. You people are so smart! Or I just made it too easy...

Thanks so much to: Koneko-dono, Firuze Khanume, Renee-halfwolf, Amatyi, lolo popoki, are-en1, lildevilangel, creature of the night, and peaches and cream. These people, of course are the ones who guessed Shippo, who was who I borrowed. I love you guys so much, just for reviewing. And thanks to all my other reviewers, especially Triste1 who is probably the best reviewer ever.