Dreams of Gold: What I wouldn't do

By Jade LightningWolf

Attention! Attention! This is the edited version. If you're looking for lemon, the unedited version is linked on my author page and if you're interested in a little citrus, that's where to go. Here is the clean version for those of you out there who are non-hentai. Umm…if a non-hentai exists. Anyway, rated for innuendo, blah, blah, Kenshin's not mine, blah, blah…I'm done now; read on.

Kenshin helped her from the back of his motorcycle. The ride had been cold and left her cheeks flushed. Now, he was guiding her somewhere. All she knew was that there was grass under her feet and the air smelled fresh and cold. Gently, Kenshin squeezed her arm to tell her to stop walking. She complied and waited. He let go of her and she strained to hear his movements through the grass.

"Can I take off the blindfold?"

"Not yet." His voice was about ten feet away. She could hear the slight smile in it. After what seemed a long time, she felt his hand on her shoulder. The blindfold was tugged from her eyes and she blinked, trying to adjust to the darkness.

When she could see properly, she could not hold back the gasp that escaped her throat. Kenshin had led her into the woods. They were positioned in a clearing and all around were magnificent, ancient trees. A tiny brook flowed in a meandering path down one side of the clearing. An old and twisted willow hung out over the water, and a few of its longest branches trailed in the current. Overhead, the stars were clear and bright, free from the influence of city lights. The moon was a sliver in the sky, casting a pale silvery light over the world.

On the ground, Kenshin had laid out a blanket. He'd already set out food and two plates for them. A bottle of wine glinted in the moonlight and the soft flicker of a single candle.

"Oh Kenshin, this is…" She couldn't even begin to describe how perfect this was. Kenshin was trying to keep from grinning too widely. Clearly, he had done well. Kaoru confirmed his suspicions when she turned into his arms and kissed him. His eyebrows raised in surprise, but he was more than willing to accept this form of thanks.

When he would've pulled away, she tightened her arms around his neck and tapped his lips with her tongue. Kenshin could not resist the invitation. His tongue slipped past her lips and swept her mouth, carefully memorizing the smooth enamel of her teeth. When they broke apart for air, both were panting.

He studied her as she looked up at him seemingly with wonder. Her cheeks were flushed with cold and her chest heaved against his, reminding him of how closely they were pressing. Her slightly swollen lips made him feel an obscene amount of pride. She looked even more beautiful than the night he'd first met her.

Regaining composure, he motioned towards the meal. "Shall we?"

She nodded, still trying to understand just how exactly a single kiss could leave a person as weak as a newborn kitten. He led her to the blanket and relinquished his hold on her waist. She watched mesmerized as he gracefully dropped to the blanket and pulled the cork from the wine. Quietly, she knelt next to him.

He pulled two wineglasses from a cooler she'd failed to even notice and poured the rich liquid for both of them. He noticed the look on her face as he passed a glass to her. A smirk lit his lips. "You do an excellent impression of a fish." That closed her mouth right away.

The tension drained out of her and she began an easy banter with him. She hadn't even realized he'd served the meal until she put a bite of rice in her mouth. Their conversation continued as they ate. She eyed the miso quizzically before taking a bite. Kenshin was watching with veiled amusement.

"I do hope my cooking isn't too poisonous."

She looked up with surprise. "You cooked this?"

"Where did you think it came from?"

"A restaurant."

He laughed at her blunt answer. She blushed and muttered, "I would be dating a man who cooks better than I do. Of course, everyone cooks better than I do."

Kenshin eyed her with interest. "But you work in a restaurant."

"As a waitress. Tae won't let me within ten feet of the grill."

He chuckled slightly. Gathering courage, Kaoru proceeded to tell him about several of her most memorable cooking disasters, including the time she'd managed to make rising bread dough explode in her mother's refrigerator. And the time she'd mistaken cat food for tuna. And the time she'd thought there wasn't any difference between baking soda and baking powder. By the time she'd finished, Kenshin was clutching his stomach as he laughed. Of course, so was she.

When his laughter had abated, he smiled more gently at her. "At least your downfall is culinary arts. It could have been waitressing and then I never would have met you."

Dinner became forgotten for a moment as he leaned over and kissed her. Soon after, they started eating dessert. Kenshin had taken the liberty of asking Misao what Kaoru's favorite dessert was, so they split a decadent cheesecake covered with dark chocolate. Kenshin noted she had some chocolate sauce on the corner of her mouth and proceeded to remove it with lips and tongue. By the time they came up for air, they were sprawled out on the blanket with Kenshin laying half on top of Kaoru.

He looked down at her and the heat in his gaze made her boneless with need. Already, her stomach was coiling slightly in anticipation. It was very clear to her where Kenshin intended this night to go. "Chocolate," he purred in her ear, "tastes a great deal better when it's coupled with you, Kaoru."

She blushed slightly and tried to come up with anything to divert the discussion. Suddenly, something occurred to her. "I've told you so much about myself, but I know hardly anything about you."

Kenshin watched her, the smile still playing on his lips. His fingers began absently working through her hair, which he'd pulled loose sometime during their kiss. "Alright," he said softly, "I was born on June 20, 1849." Kaoru nodded understandingly. Then she blinked. Again she blinked.

A slow smile crept up her lips and she said, "I'm sorry, but I could have sworn you said…"

"1849," Kenshin interrupted. She frowned at him.

"That's not funny Kenshin."

"It wasn't supposed to be."

Kaoru sat up and he moved with her. "Kenshin, I don't understand."

"You will," he promised. He pulled away from her and stood, offering a hand. Kaoru took it hesitantly, wondering suddenly if perhaps she'd placed too much trust in this man.

"Promise me something, Kaoru."

"What?" she whispered, fear starting to pound in her veins.

"Promise me that no matter what happens, no matter what you see, you won't run away. You're brave. I know you can do this."

Kaoru chewed her lip before nodding. "I promise, Kenshin."

He stepped away from her, moving so that he stood near the tree. She remained unmoving as he removed his jacket. Then he removed his shirt, followed quickly by his shoes. "Kenshin…" she ventured, part of her afraid and the other part beginning to hope again.

"Just be patient, Kaoru," he said softly, looking over his shoulder at her as he gave her his back. "And don't run." She nodded absently and he turned away again.

He removed his pants and boxers and Kaoru gulped as every inch of his toned body was revealed to her…except for the part that her body was currently most interested in. She wondered why he'd turned away. A moment passed in the clearing and suddenly, Kaoru could not breathe. A coil of power snapped through the air, setting her on edge like she'd been shocked. Her eyes trained on Kenshin.

At first, it seemed as though nothing had changed. Then everything changed. Hair sprouted along his limbs, moving in an elegant wave down his back even as the hair on his head shortened. Kaoru saw movement on his head as his ears shifted upwards and became pointed. They too now had a coat of fine red hair. Kenshin's spine was lengthening, even as his limbs shortened accordingly. She bit back a gasp when he fell to all fours, only to realize she was already biting the insides of her cheeks hard enough to draw blood. A tail sprang from his spinal column, lengthening and moving too and fro as instincts set in. As suddenly as the power had spiraled through the clearing, it stopped.

Kaoru stood frozen to the spot as the creature that had been Kenshin turned to face her. He seemed like a big cat, only even bigger. His shoulders were level with her chest. If he weren't red, she might've said he was a black leopard. Razor claws shone brightly on each paw. Around his triangular head, a small mane grew; not like a lion's mane, but long enough to give an impression of royalty and elegance. The creature's golden eyes gleamed out at her in the darkness.

Slowly, he began to move forward. Everything that had been holding Kaoru in place suddenly screamed for her to run as the predator stalked towards her, his head slung low between his shoulders. She clamped down on the instincts, digging nails into her paws and trying desperately not to scream.

"K…Ken…Kenshin?" she stuttered.

The creature stopped and moved his head in what could only be called a nod. Kaoru might've dropped her jaw in awe if the scream hadn't still been hovering in her throat. He was very close now, so close she could see his individual whiskers in the darkness. She shut her eyes and waited for her death to be over quickly. No one would ever say she hadn't kept her word.

Quite suddenly, a warm body collided with her. She might've fallen, if he hadn't already been behind her, steadying her. Slowly, he circled around her and pressed himself against her, much like a house cat around its owner's legs. When he had circled what he deemed to be a sufficient amount of times, he faced her, sitting and elegantly curling his tail around his forepaws.

Kaoru's jaw had dropped now. Tentatively, she reached out a hand, expecting it to get bitten off the moment it was too close. The creature that had been Kenshin pressed his massive head into her hand, running his cheek past her palm and closing his eyes in pleasure. "You're…you're really not going to hurt me, are you?"

Slowly, he shook his head before pressing against her hand again. She stepped closer, offering her other hand as fear was slowly replaced by awe. "How…how is this possible? Am I dreaming?"

Kenshin made a guttural sound that could only be a laugh. He shook his head again and stood, stretching to his full length, which was most definitely longer than she was tall. He pressed against her legs before lying down and looking back expectantly. "Are we going somewhere?" she asked almost teasingly. A smile lingered in his eyes. "Just a second," she said as she ran to grab his clothes.

Kenshin watched her, tail flicking impatiently. She ran back and swung her leg over his back. He waited for her to get her balance before rising. Kaoru leaned towards his ear and said, "Is it ok if I hold your mane?" He nodded.

Kaoru got a good grip and Kenshin crouched. He had every intention of giving Kaoru the ride of her life.

oOoOoOoOo

Kaoru and Kenshin were sitting in a tree, her resting against his chest, as the sun rose. He'd switched back to human some time ago, having thoroughly enjoyed embarrassing her by changing back in the tree where she had nowhere to avert her eyes. For a few moments, Kaoru had stared unblinkingly before turning her head, closing her eyes, and handing his clothes to him. He'd chuckled as he dressed.

When he was clothed, he'd wrapped his arms around her and kissed her as passionately as he could. She was the one to break away, gently pressing against his shoulders. "What was that for?" she asked with a shy smile.

"For not running away," he murmured as he nuzzled her neck.

"I promised I wouldn't."

"Saying and doing are entirely different things. The last time I revealed myself to a human…do you remember Enishi?"

She nodded against his chest. "His sister was human, and so was he when I first started seeing her. When she found out what I was, the first thing she did was run to him. Enishi is power hungry and when he learned creatures such as myself exist, he would stop at nothing to become one of us. Most unfortunately, some stupid wolf complied to his wishes. He's after me now because he feels I should be bonded to his sister. You can understand why I'd be cautious."

She'd nodded again, choosing to remain silent with her thoughts. Kenshin had been more than content to rest in the silence. He'd pulled her against himself and sunken gracefully onto the branch.

As the sun crested the horizon, Kaoru finally spoke. She asked questions. She asked about the moon cycle and his control or lack of it in certain departments. She wanted to know how his perceptions were different from a human's. She wanted to know everything he could tell her about what he was. Some two hours later, she asked her final question. "Kenshin?"

"Yes Kaoru?"

"Can we get out of this tree?"

He laughed and lifted her into his arms. Kaoru bit back a gasp as he swung off the branch and landed on the ground, crouching slightly before righting himself. Seeing him make the jump as his Pantera self had been somewhat normal; seeing him do it as a human was just unnerving.

Carefully, he set her on her feet and let her go. She brushed absently at her jeans before looking at Kenshin. He was watching her intently, trying to see what she was thinking. She turned away quickly and began walking the direction from which she'd come. Kenshin walked alongside her, but remained silent. He would give her the time she needed.

They reached the clearing more quickly than she expected. Kenshin had been careful not to go too far. They gathered up their food and blanket and packed it away in deafening silence. Kaoru felt like Kenshin could probably hear her brain rattling in the still air. They hopped on his motorcycle and went in the direction of her home. By the time they'd reached her doorstep, she still hadn't said a word and Kenshin was getting nervous.

Kaoru stared at the lock as she fumbled for her keys. She didn't want to have the next part of this conversation. But time, unfortunately, marches on. Slowly, she turned on her heel to face him. He watched her with an apprehensive gaze.

"Kenshin, I don't want to say this changes nothing. It changes everything. I…I really want to keep seeing you, but…I need time to think. If you can wait until tonight I think I will have an answer. I'll meet you at the Halloween party at the bar Sano works at. I promise I won't make you wait any longer."

She could not meet his eyes. He didn't say anything. Instead, he lifted each of her hands and kissed them gently before turning and walking away. Kaoru lifted her eyes to watch his lean, graceful frame. As he prepared to start the motorcycle, he looked back and met her gaze for a moment. Her heart clenched painfully. She truly hoped she hadn't just made a terrible mistake.

oOoOoOoOo

Kaoru wandered dazedly through her apartment. Misao was not home and there was no note left. Kaoru couldn't care less. With numb movements, she went into the bathroom and removed her clothes. She turned the bath taps on almost to scalding and watched the steam swirl up from the running water.

The night she'd spent with Kenshin now seemed like a dream. At the time, she'd felt in awe of what she was experiencing. The way Kenshin moved through his element, the corded muscles that carried her, the smooth fur under her fingers had all seemed wondrous and perfect.

Daylight had changed everything. Now she did not know what to think. Dating outside her age pool was one thing; dating outside the species was unnerving. One of the many things he'd told her about his nature was how strong emotions could affect his judgment and cause him to start changing. What if he ripped her apart while they were in bed? What if he got too angry and broke her like a twig? Her mind went over possibility after possibility.

Kaoru took a deep breath when she realized she was shaking. She tried to look at the situation objectively. Kenshin was certainly not mindless in his Pantera state. He had never given her reason to distrust him. He had always been kind and considerate. His smile made her knees week and his kisses left her wanting so much more. She loved talking with him; he made her feel less like a whining teenager and more like a woman with genuine problems. Everything about him was utterly perfect.

A light clicked in Kaoru's brain and she sat bolt upright in her tub. Then she lightly slapped her face with a cynical chuckle. Kaoru, girl, not only are you a dense; you are also so easy that he won you over in two weeks.

Kaoru drew her hand away from her face and stared at the pruned, red skin. Ok, so I'm in love with Kenshin…after only two weeks. Is that possible? I mean, love at first sight, sure, but love at two weeks? Grr…Kaoru, stay on subject. I'm in love with him, but what does that mean? What would I do for him?

Already, she could no longer think of her life without Kenshin. The idea of him leaving made her heart jolt in her chest before turning into a solid ache. She pushed the thought away. Would I move somewhere else to be with him? Yes. Would I sleep with him? A resounding yes. Would I marry him? Yes. Would I…change what I am for him? …I…I would.

Kaoru dropped her hand into the tub and quickly finished her bath. Her mind was made up. Kenshin had risked everything for her; it was only fair that she do the same. She dried off hurriedly and pulled on sweats for the day. She still hadn't gotten a costume for Sano's party. She had a very good idea what she'd be going as.

oOoOoOoOo

Kaoru returned from the costume shop just as Misao was pulling up in her rusty, wreck of a car. Kaoru watched with interest as her roommate made a leggy exit from her car and walked to the apartment door with a distracted air. A silly little smile played on the short woman's face. Suddenly, Kaoru noticed a very interesting fact.

"Misao!" she shouted as she jogged to catch up.

The girl turned and waited almost without thinking about waiting. Her mind was very clearly elsewhere.

The two women walked down the hallway and up the several flights of stairs to their floor in complete silence. The moment they were through their door, Kaoru turned and shouted, "You whore! You came back in last night's clothes!" To counter her accusation, she was smiling hugely.

Misao blushed furiously before saying, "And what about you? I called last night to tell you I wouldn't be home and you weren't here."

"I did not sleep with Kenshin. I just got back really late because I'd had too much to drink and he wouldn't let me go home until I'd sobered up a little. It was really late." Or really early depending on your point of view.

Misao looked at her incredulously. "You don't look hung-over."

"Kenshin gave me this home recipe to try. Works like a charm. Stop trying to avoid your part of the conversation. How was it?"

Misao's face turned even redder, if possible. "It…he…um…can we talk about this after I've had time to bathe and change clothes."

"Sure, just as long as we have time to talk and get ready for Sano's party."

Misao nodded and practically ran down the hall. She could not run fast enough, however, to escape Kaoru's laughter.

oOoOoOoOo

Kaoru shoved her way through the murky nightclub in an effort to find Sano. The man is over six feet tall, she mused to herself, and we're in Japan! He should be easy to find, damnit.

In the end, it was Sano who found her. A booming "Jou-chan" came from somewhere to her left as she waded through yet another crowd of drunken frat boys. She turned to her left and spotted his spiky brown hair. With one final shove, she'd fought her way out of the crowd and found herself in the presence of the infamous Sagara Sanosuke and the intimidating Takani Megumi.

Sano had dressed as a boxer for the evening, probably more to show off his chest muscles to Megumi than to have a good costume. Someone had artfully blacked his eye with makeup; although, knowing Sanosuke, the shiner could very well be real. Megumi was dressed in a slinky costume that Kaoru imagined was supposed to be a vampiress, but came off more as Victorian slut. However, on Megumi, the costume became something utterly elegant and classy.

Sano studied Kaoru closely. She was dressed in tightly fitted black, leather pants. A black corset with etched roses hugged her upper body, emphasizing her bust and cleavage, and lacy straps acted as an anchor for the elegant lacy cloak that hung down her back to her knees. When she raised her arms to hug Megumi, he saw that the cloak was attached to her hands somehow so that it moved with her like wings. A black, velvet choker clung to her throat and a pearl gray drop hung from it. Her hair was loose and sleek, giving a Morticia-Adams-like appearance. When she smiled at him, he saw that there were false fangs affixed to her eyeteeth; they looked real.

After his appraisal, he nodded. "Jou-chan, I didn't think you had it in you to wear a costume like that."

She blushed slightly before saying, "I'm wearing it for someone else, not me," she told him.

"Oh," Megumi said, suddenly interested, "You actually met someone?"

"My love life is not that hopeless!"

"Yes it is."

Kaoru glared before snagging a glass of wine from under Sano's nose. She twirled it in her fingers, making the liquid slosh up near the edge. "Sano, you are wearing a white robe. Don't make me make it a pink robe."

Sano backed away slightly. "Now, Jou-chan, that is absolutely uncalled for. I had this robe custom made."

"How is that custom?" she asked, pointed incredulously at the plain black border.

He turned, showing her the symbol emblazoned on his back.

"Bad?" she said, quirking an eyebrow. "That was the best you could come up with? I think something like 'whipped' would be much better."

Sano spluttered as Megumi covered her mouth to hide a smile. Kaoru set the wine back down and melted back into the crowd before Sano could come up with a comment. She'd been wandering for some time when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned, expecting to find yet another hopeful asking her to dance. Instead, she met solemn violet eyes.

"Hello, Kaoru," Kenshin said softly. She was surprised by how guarded and open his face was all at the same time. Anyone else looking at him would have never been able to guess what he was thinking. But he was letting his fear show through to her. She could see in his gaze how much he was dreading what she had to say.

She smiled slightly before slipping her arms around his waist and pulling him close. "Hello, Kenshin."

He remained stiff in her arms for a moment before returning her embrace. His muscles under her fingers were tense. After a moment, he pushed gently on her shoulders to make her face him again. She could see in his face how very afraid he still was.

"Kaoru…"

"Shhh, Kenshin," she said, pressing a finger against his lips. "You have nothing to worry about. Now, do you want to dance or not?"

He stared down at her, disbelief in his gaze. She sighed, seeing that her reassurance had not been enough. She slid her arms back around him, holding to his neck so she could pull him down to her eye level. "Kenshin," she whispered as she pressed her forehead to his, "not only will I not reveal you're secret, I'll embrace it." To prove her point she closed the scant inch between them and kissed him.

He was still for a moment, absorbing her words and their implications. Then he moved. She found herself lifted in an almost crushing embrace as his lips moved against hers insistently. After a moment, she opened herself to him so he could explore her mouth. As his tongue passed over her fangs, she felt a growl reverberate deep in his chest. They ended their kiss sometime later, panting from both lack of air and arousal.

"Kenshin," Kaoru said when she got her voice back, "take me to your place."

He stared down at her, eyes glinting with amber sparks. Then her words sank in. His arousal increased twofold. He nodded, taking her hand in his own and leading her through the crowd. This would be a night to remember.

oOoOoOoOo

When they emerged into the parking lot, Kenshin immediately pulled her close and kissed her again. She melted against him as his tongue gently coaxed a gasp from her. He left her lips entirely too early for her liking and moved to kiss a burning line down the side of her neck, growling slightly at the choker that impeded him. Her fingers dug into his back when he nipped at her collarbone and she could not stop the slight moan that escaped her.

Kenshin restrained himself from moving further down and pulled back slightly to study her flushed face. She grinned lightly and admired him in turn. He had dressed in black jeans and a black T-shirt that hugged his frame closely enough for her to trace his muscles. His long red hair was pulled into a tight ponytail at the top of his head and it draped down his back like a waterfall of blood. She grinned as she noted two false, black cat ears nestled in sharp contrast to his hair.

"You have a strange sense of humor," she told him as she flicked one of the ears.

"I am nothing compared to my shishou," he told her, smiling in a manner that was more predatory than humorous. "Weren't we doing something else?"

"Single-minded, aren't we?" she teased, making a point to turn her back on him and start again towards his motorcycle. In less than a moment's breath, he had her in his arms again, hands slipping low enough down her spine to make her gasp at his boldness.

"You have no idea," he whispered, breath tickling her ear before he nipped at the soft lobe.

oOoOoOoOo

Several more kisses and a few red lights later, they arrived at Kenshin's apartment. He led her up the stairs, only stopping to once again pull her into an embrace that sent sparks shooting through her entire body. At his door, fumbling with the keys made the waiting almost unbearable. If the lock had unclicked even a moment later, he would have already been ravishing Kaoru right in the hallway.

As it was, he practically dragged her inside before shoving the door shut. However, Kaoru had other ideas. She backed away from him, a playful smile on her lips. He followed her step for step, curious to see what she had up her sleeve.

Kaoru held up a hand to stop him. Carefully, she removed her shoes and tossed them aside before rising to her full height. She now stood silhouetted against his balcony window, the sliver of moon hanging over her shoulder. "Kenshin," she said softly.

He nodded once to show his complete attention. She could see his eyes glowing gold in the wan light that filtered in from the lights of the city.

"I need you to understand that the first man I sleep with will be the only one. I promised myself a long time ago that I would only be with the man I planned on marrying."

His eyebrows rose in surprise, but he nodded again.

"I also want you to understand that you are that man, and because you are that man, I want to do something for you."

His eyes burned in the darkness, mind already coming forth with all sorts of suggestions for what that something could be.

"I want you to change me."

Kenshin's jaw dropped. It was the first time she'd ever seen him lose composure. Even during his confrontation with Enishi, he'd been carefully contained. At this moment though, his face was completely open. His control returned almost immediately and he drew it about him like a cloak.

"Kaoru," he said slowly, apprehension inching into his mind, "do you…I mean…"

"Kenshin, I understand what I am asking. I understand the implications. But if I can't do this…if I don't have the courage to do this, than I don't think I can be with you. And if that's the case, than it's better to end this now rather than wait until it destroys both of us."

He took a step closer, watching her. Every sense he possessed was tuned to her. He could smell her fear and nervousness. Her thundering heartbeat was almost in cadence with his own. Most of all, her face was completely open, showing every ounce of determination in her body. Kenshin closed the remaining distance between them and kissed her. This kiss, however, was not a kiss of desire. This was a searching kiss as he tried to understand what would drive her to do this. She responded as best she could, pouring in all her love, worry, and uneasiness.

When Kenshin broke away, he had visibly relaxed. She had shown what he was looking for. But he had to know. "You're absolutely sure? You understand that by doing this, not only are you binding yourself to me, but I am risking myself for you?"

"I understand. I…I love you, Kenshin. I don't know how, but in two weeks I've fallen for you like a ton of bricks. So I'm sure."

He nodded and backed away. "Wait here. We'll need some things."

Kaoru waited, listening to the sounds of Kenshin as he rustled somewhere in the kitchen. She took a deep breath, inhaling the scent he'd left lingering in the air. It calmed her already frazzled nerves and served as something for her to focus on other than her fear.

Kenshin returned and set down several objects. Kaoru could make out some sort of cord, a knife, five candles, salt, a stone, a feather, a cup filled with some liquid that she couldn't identify in the darkness, and a spool of thread.

"Now, you need to understand what will happen before we begin, because if my concentration breaks, we'll have to start over again. The long cord will go around us in a circle, which I'll seal with salt. One of the candles is placed in the southern point of the circle, the stone in the west, the feather in the east, and the chalice in the north.

"The process of the change is relatively simple. I'll cut each of our palms open and we'll place our hands together so the blood mixes. I'll say some things you won't be able to understand. The candle will be between us and we have to let our blood drip down onto the wax. If the spell works, the candle will light."

"If?"

"Some people cannot accept Were blood. They're allergic. The spell has built in precautions to prevent them from receiving any of the blood in their system before it's verified if they're allergic or not?"

"Allergic?"

"There's not a better word for it."

She nodded. "So…there's no…um…biting?"

She smiled slightly at her. "No. That's an old wives' tale. Chances are, if a Were has bitten you, you're already dead."

"Ok. So what are the other candles and the thread for?"

"Those, if you agree, are for the mating ceremony."

"M…mating?" Kaoru said as she gulped.

"Pantera are reclusive by nature. Our ceremonies are simple and quick and never involve other people. It's simply easier to get it done with now while we have the circle up. Unless you don't wish to."

Kaoru bit her lip before saying, "No, I already told you what I intended when I started out this night. Let's get it over with and make our lives a little easier."

"It's wonderful to see you're so eager to marry me," he said, teasing lightly. "Besides, we can always have a ceremony for our friends to attend later on."

She nodded and he continued. "The mating ceremony, as I said is simple. Each of us will have a lit candle. We set the candles before each other and then take the thread. We'll wind the thread over our wrist once for each vow we take. I'll speak a sentence and then you'll speak a sentence. Don't repeat me until our auras show—you'll understand what that is when we get there. Pull the words from your heart."

"I have to make it up?"

"Speak the truth; speak what you feel, and you'll be fine."

She nodded, but uneasiness was ripe in her gut.

"Once we're done with both ceremonies, you'll have to wait while I dismantle the circle. Then we can continue with our evening."

His wolfish grin made her blush. Kenshin positioned Kaoru and took up the cord. Quickly he laid it out in a circle around them that was about seven feet in diameter. He placed the objects at each corner, muttering as he did so. Kaoru could not make out the words, and in fact didn't care much about them. This was part of the spell that didn't concern her. Kenshin snatched the salt and began pouring a circle clockwise just outside of the cord. He chanted as he went, part of his mind focusing on the spell while the other part wondered how long it would take to vacuum the salt out of the carpet.

The circle flared as he closed it and a vague bubble of light flickered for a moment before disappearing from sight. Kenshin turned to Kaoru. He motioned for her to kneel across from him and he placed the candle between them. He lifted the knife and she offered her palms freely. He made a quick, almost painless cut between the center of her thumb joint to the center of her pinkie joint, so that the line of blood bisected the creases in her palms. Kaoru saw scars that matched her own cuts on his hands as he cut each of his palms open.

He lifted his hands to her and she complied, clasping fingers and their palms pressed together. Kenshin held their hands still over the candle as began to chant in an arcane language that sounded like nothing she'd ever heard before. She watched with morbid fascination as thick drops of blood fell down to the ground. No matter where they dropped from, all the drops seemed to land on the candle, as though drawn in by a magnet.

Kenshin began to glow with a fierce golden aura that crackled at the edges of his skin like lightning. Kaoru's eyebrows lifted in amazement as she saw blue crackling over her own skin. She resisted the urge to break contact and touch the energy. She trained her eyes back on him as his voice began to shake a little. With a sudden finality, he shouted three words and opened the eyes that he had been keeping shut in concentration.

In unison, their eyes fell to the candle. Kaoru was not breathing, and she was quite certain that Kenshin had also stopped performing the necessary function. The candle stood lonely, blood slowly dribbling down its sides. Kaoru began to droop as time passed and nothing happened, but quite suddenly, a loud snap echoed through the air and the candle lit. Its blue, purple, and gold flame reflected in Kenshin's eyes, adding to their golden fire as he looked across to her. The grin on his face was quite possibly the best thing she'd ever seen.

Kenshin resisted the urge to close the distance between them and kiss her, both because the candle was between them and because the circle was still active. Instead, he released her hands and lifted the candle to one side. Kaoru studied her palms in the poor light of the city. The cuts had sealed perfectly, leaving neat scars that were identical to Kenshin's own. She looked up as she felt him settle across from her again.

He'd lit two candles, though how he had was beyond her, since she didn't think that the flame of the other candle actually constituted a true flame. Kenshin handed one candle to her and set the other in front of himself. He lifted the spool of thread and looked at her, waiting for her to signal herself ready. She inhaled deeply before nodding.

Kenshin wrapped the thread around his wrist as he said, "You are the single most beautiful thing I've ever laid eyes on."

He passed the thread to her, grinning at her slight blush. She passed the thread around her wrist and opened her mouth to speak, but could think of nothing. How did one follow up a declaration like that? After a moment, she took another breath and said, "I've never known someone quite like you before."

She passed the thread back, aware of his amusement at her expense.

"I could stay up all night only talking to you."

"Riding on your motorcycle behind you gives me chills, and not from the cold."

"Your intelligence attracted me to you more than your looks."

Kaoru was starting to understand how the vows worked. It was essentially baring her soul. She knew instinctively that before long, the comments would become deeper. She took the spool again and said, "Your voice is one of your best qualities."

"I admire your courage above all your other attributes."

"The way you're always so self-assured sometimes makes me feel childish and sometimes makes me feel protected."

"From the moment I first saw you, I knew what I felt."

"I want to wake up to your embrace every morning and go to sleep to your face every night."

"I want to have children with you."

"I want to grow old with you."

"You make me want to be a better man."

"You complete the part of me I never knew was missing."

"I think I could fly if you asked it of me."

"I feel you know me better than I know myself."

"I want nothing more than to protect and love you, even if it is unreturned."

"If I had to go the rest of my life without you, I would never find another."

"I want to show you the joys of running wild and free under the stars until we are so tired that all we can do is curl against each other."

"I want nothing more than to make you happy and show you how to live."

Kaoru could feel a warmth flowing through her body. The thread stretched between them was beginning to glow faintly, revealing that it was red.

"I will never abandon you."

"I will never let you go."

"I would sacrifice my life to make sure that you are safe and well."

"I would willingly give much more than my humanity to be with you."

A golden glow had gathered around Kenshin, the same glow she'd seen when he'd changed her. Blue light glinted around her own wrist. Looking into his eyes, she saw it was time.

"I will stay at your side."

"I will stay at your side."

Kenshin's aura crept down the red string, even as her own started to flow from her fingertips down the line.

"I will care for you always."

"I will care for you always."

The auras met at the middle of the thread and entangled. The gold and blue clashed before passing each other to move in opposite directions.

"Unto the very ending of the earth."

"Unto the very ending of the earth."

Kenshin's aura touched the skin of her hand and heat raced through her veins like quicksilver. The wash of power left her breathless.

"I love you."

"I love you."

The auras were flowing as quickly as water now, freely mixing in the air between them. Kenshin lifted his candle in his free hand and Kaoru mimicked him. As one, they lit the candle between them.

"So mote it be," he whispered as the flame caught on the wick.

"So mote it be."

The center candle flared brightly and a wash of power crackled through the air, nearly audible in its very presence. Kaoru blinked hurriedly to rid her eyes of the spots the flare left. When she could see again, the thread had disappeared. In its place was a faint red line embedded in her skin like a tattoo. Around the red was a faint wash of gold. Across from her, Kenshin's wrist had a similar mark, lined with blue. The separate candles had extinguished and only the candle between them remained lit, it's flame flickering a strange silvery light.

Kenshin stood, motioning that she should remain silent while he worked. He walked widdershins around the circle murmuring. When he'd completed his trek, he lifted the cord and rubbed a foot through the salt. The circle broke and a rush of cold air brushed across Kaoru's cheeks. She hadn't realized they'd been so cut off.

Kenshin lifted the silver-lit candle with the utmost care and set it on his kitchen table right in the center. Slowly, Kaoru stood and approached the candle. Its flame mesmerized her and held her attention so thoroughly that she didn't feel Kenshin behind her until he placed his hands on her shoulders.

It took his lips on the crook of her neck to fully bring her attention back to him. She turned into his embrace and looked up at his faintly glowing eyes.

"What did you think?"

"That was…it…I mean…" Kaoru struggled to find words that seemed to have flowed so easily just a moment ago.

"That is what real magic is. It is honest and symbolic. It takes your breath away."

He paused for a moment, studying the changes he could sense in her. Already her scent had changed, telling him just how effective the change had been. He doubted that she noticed her improved night vision or hearing yet, but she would. His eyes traveled to her wrist, where the proof of their bond rested.

"I hope you don't mind this," he said, touching the line gently.

She glanced down at it. "No, not at all. It's kind of like a wedding band, except I like this better than a ring. I have yet to find a ring that I can't lose."

He smiled. "I'll keep that in mind. We'll just have to have an engagement necklace."

She smiled in response before leaning closer. Kenshin took the hint and closed the distance between them. As he'd said, they had other plans for tonight.

oOoOoOoOo

Kenshin was certainly acting in a manner Kaoru had not expected. She had thought that a man who had been waiting the better part of a night to sleep with her would have been rushed and rough. Kenshin was anything but.

The kiss they had begun but a moment ago remained slow and languorous, almost chaste. The slow dance Kenshin's tongue was teasing from hers was gradually making her go limp in his arms. His hands slid down her back, as though to encourage her to give herself to him entirely.

Slowly, his deft fingers pressed against her shoulder blades and spine, giving a massage she might have paid thirty dollars for in a shop. As his hands slid lower and lower down her spine, she began her own explorations of his back. Her hands traced every lean, powerful muscle, memorizing each smooth plane with care. The muscles of his shoulders were strong and defined beneath her fingers and she longed to remove the shirt that impeded her investigation.

As though sensing her desire, Kenshin pulled away briefly to lift his shirt over his head. Kaoru bit back the gasp that rose in her throat as she observed the way the muscles in his abdomen rippled slightly, an illusion of a six pack that was ten times better than the real thing. He returned to her mouth for a moment before moving lower to trace the line of her jaw with lips and tongue.

Kaoru glided her hands over skin unimpeded. Everything beneath her hands spoke of steel and barely contained power. She could feel the carefully hidden side of Himura Kenshin, the side that was wild and feral and fought for dominance beneath his quiet countenance. More than anything, it thrilled her.

She could not withhold another gasp as she felt his hands slip down to cup her rear before sliding back up her sides. They seemed to pause on her ribcage in indecision before returning to her back. Kenshin seemed determined to hold back tonight, making the experience as wonderful for her as he was capable of doing.

His lips moved further down her neck, pausing on the point where her pulse thundered loudly against her skin. The velvet choker was just below his lips and he removed it with impatient fingers. Kaoru felt heat pool in her stomach and sought to relieve it. Her lips moved to the first bit of skin she could reach, pressing against the hollow beneath his jaw insistently. He smiled against her skin and the feel of it sent shivers down spine.

A few moments passed where Kaoru grew steadily more impatient. She squirmed slightly in his firm hold, seeking to get closer to him. When his grip tightened she growled slightly, unknowingly sending vibrations down his right side. He growled in response, nipping lightly to make her hold still. This had an effect opposite what he'd intended as she bit back. The feel of her teeth on his flesh drew an immediate response from him.

Kaoru found herself lifted into the air as Kenshin moved hurriedly down his hallway. As he walked, his lips continued to tease the various muscles of her neck while his hands caressed her bottom through her leather pants. Kaoru instinctively wrapped her legs around his waist and immediately noticed the effect she was having on him. She smiled in satisfaction, pressing herself even closer.

He carried her to the bedroom, thoroughly enjoying her proximity all the way. Certainly, what lay ahead of him would be one of the most enjoyable nights of his life.

oOoOoOoOo

Kaoru slowly rose out of the slight doze she'd been in since they'd finished their activities. She could feel Kenshin nuzzling her neck gently as his hands rubbed her back. It took her a moment to process the fact that she was sprawled on top of him, but only wiggled closer in delight.

She murmured slightly and turned her head so that she could look up at him. "That was…"

"Perfect," he purred, leaning slightly to kiss the top of her head.

"Mmmm," she sighed, wriggled into his body a little more. Another few minutes passed before she spoke again. "I love you, Kenshin."

The smile on his face was worth the pain and nervousness the admission caused her. He bowed his head to kiss her on the lips before saying, "I love you, Kaoru."

He began to run his fingers through her hair as sleep started to creep into his awareness. She yawned, stretching slightly as she did so.

"Kenshin?"

"Yes?"

"Tomorrow is the new moon, right? The night we have to change?"

"Yes, tomorrow is the new moon. And yes, we do have to change."

"What's it like?"

He looked down at her, curious as to where this line of questions was leading, but he answered nonetheless. "It's hard to describe. It is slightly painful, but in a good way. It reminds me of stretching before exercise, a little. Every muscle in your body is stretched, every bone cracked, but the feel of the actual change is…wonderful."

"What will we do, once we've changed?"

He looked down at her, smiling slightly. "Everything, koishii. Everything."

oOoOoOoOo

A/N: I feel so flattered when people review nicely. Thanks to Koneko-dono, lolo popoki, gabyhyatt, DeeKaui, XinnLajgin, serlgee, and all the others who've stopped by and read, even if you haven't reviewed...sigh...