Well, here is the wolf fic that I promised. I had thought I might have gotten Amber Linings finished before this fic but it still has some tweaking to do. The good news is that the body of Amber Linings is finished so there it should be out late this week or early next week.

This story is a spinoff of another project that I am working on. I wanted to play with some themes before I decided how my chapter story was going to play out. This was quite a lot of fun and I enjoyed writing it.

For all of you wanting something a little edgy, I am afraid this isn't quite as dark as some of my past stories but I think you will like it.

A big thanks to nishatalitha for beta-reading this story so many times. I think she went over this thing about three times!

Ravyn

Disclaimer: I do not own RK. Or were legends.

Warning: Violence. Death. Some slight lime.



The truck bounced back and forth as the passengers inside drove at a crawling pace; soft leather slapped against cold metal. The dash rattled along with the floorboards, so that the occupants back teeth ached constantly. With the sun setting, they needed to get to the blinds they had set up days before.

"Do you think this will really work?" A gruff voice broke the bone rattling silence.

"It can't not work," the driver reminded them. "We know the wolves move through this area and with the moon the way it is…"

An excited silence was growing in the small confines of the cabin. The heater didn't work properly, so their breath danced in front of them from time to time before they risked the acrid smell of burning rubber again.

"No one is going to believe us…"

"They won't have a choice. Once we bring home one of their pelts, then it's over. The secret will be out, we will have the first skinned animal, and all those who ridiculed us for our belief will be silenced." Long fingers ran lovingly over a scratched and dinged barrel. "Tonight, it ends."

X

Kaoru fondly nudged one of the stumbling puppies forward. It was the little one's first change and she was still trying to understand exactly how to walk with four legs instead of two. At five human years, she was a little more than a baby; while she had lost her first human tooth a few days ago, she would keep both her baby fangs and fur for another two years. The babies were all wobbling balls of fluff that wobbled and growled.

She had always been thankful that she couldn't laugh in her wolf form, but she was certain the coughing growls were almost as bad. As it was, the pups were watched carefully by the adults. She was still young by her people's standards and given baby-sitting duty because of it. If they were in friendly territory this would have been her third run, but because they were in the process of attempting to locate a new, friendlier place to live, the pack was edging around each other, nervous.

She didn't really mind too much. While the large full moon did call to her instincts to run and play, she wasn't really interested in finding a reason to curl up alone again. It wasn't uncommon to find someone to roll with, but most of the partners were set long before the actual run.

They had taken refuge in an expansive reservation for the night. They didn't dare travel as wolves during the day and everyone – even after a full night of sleep – were still too exhausted. They hadn't had time to make provisions or do more than transfer money before they were chased out of the hills they had previously stayed in. Sheep farmers who knew too many legends… she hadn't been invited to the meeting that explained why.

Sighing, she sat down and considered the three males that were her age. Her littermates. They had been causing all sorts of problems before and now they were silent… Kaoru was almost certain they were sulking. She didn't want to flat out accuse them, but she was almost positive that they were responsible for the pack being forced to move.

The idea that they might have chased humans for fun

The alpha pair had been uneasy since they had started this venture. Her adoptive parents hadn't given her any additional information either. The fact that she had a partner to guard the pups now said that they were very concerned. Usually there would be short breaks to rest small legs but now each pup was picked up by an adult and carried. She sympathized with those who were oldest to be indignant by such a means of travel – but the smallest were too relived to do more than whine tiredly.

Kaoru smelled them almost before she heard them. The faint whisper of metal against metal the same time the bitter scent of gunpowder hit her nose. Dropping down to her belly, she gave a single bark of warning, every muscle in her body tensing as she searched for any sign of the humans. The birds had gone silent at her warning bark but any sound was difficult to track in the echoing caverns of the trees.

It wasn't until the first crack of the gun that she realized that they were hunters – and it wasn't until a wolf in front of her fell that she realized they were hunting the pack. They had chosen the reserve because wolves were protected here – even as she grabbed a pup by the scruff and bolted into the underbrush, she was trying to understand what had happened. There was a howl of warning as the pack attempted to locate the hunters, a sharp metal clang as a trap was sprung, and something large bolting out of the underbrush. She was forced to drop the puppy and take the worst of the blood against her left shoulder. Twisting around, she avoided the teeth that headed straight for the scruff on her neck and ripped out the throat of the mastiff with one snap of her powerful jaws.

Blood was hot in her mouth as she shook the carcass once to insure its death. The puppy was whimpering and the faint scent of urine caught her attention. She nudged the puppy deeper into the underbrush. She didn't know where the others were but she knew that most of the pack would survive. She couldn't say the same for the humans.

The problem was the dogs. She needed to draw them off, away from the dark shadows and thick roots the pups would be hiding in. She didn't know the layout of the reserve well enough. They had passed a stream a few hours ago… and the dogs couldn't track her through water. Most of the animals felt and sounded like sight hunters but she didn't dare press her luck. They were still large animals, easily matching her weight in bone and muscle. She was faster, but they would have some endurance – she had been traveling hard for days.

Hopefully she could take them down one by one and find her way back to the pack. Once the situation was under control they would have to burn the bodies and then move some distance away to see if any of the missing wolves showed up. If they didn't they would have to search in the early hours of the morning for bodies and then they would be forced to leave. They couldn't risk that this was another branch of the hunters and there were pups to consider…A few of the larger animals would be given a location to meet at and then a few of the older males would come back to burn anything they might have missed.

Pushing through the woods, the howls and barks behind her proof that she was being followed – she had expected more traps and almost lost her leg. Skidding to the side, she winced as the large cut that ran along her forepaw. She was going to leave a blood trail. So that was why they were using only sight-hunters. They didn't need to use blood hounds; they simply had to herd the pack into the trap heavy trees. It was a miracle they hadn't set off the traps while moving into the area earlier.

She had to pick her way across the ground after that and the dogs caught up with her. Two big mixed animals came at her; one attempted to go for her throat while the other snapped at her legs. She got lucky and twisted in time, slamming the one aiming for her throat into a hidden trap. The dog howled in pain, leaving her to deal with the other. She was hit in the side hard enough to rattle her teeth and they rolled along the ground. Hard sticks and stones dug into her back and sides as she struggled to keep teeth away from her throat. The animal – sensing her exhaustion – dug its teeth into her shoulder and held on. Kaoru fought hard and hardly had time to howl in frustration before the weight of the dog on top of her took them over the edge of a cliff she hadn't even known existed.

She wasn't certain how long she had been unconscious, just that the brute had taken the brunt of the fall. It was the only reason she was still alive. Picking herself up she started to limp in a direction, attempting to find a way up the cliff. It hadn't taken long to realize she was still being hunted. The cliff tossed back voices – human and the barking snarl of dogs – to her sensitive ears and she moved as carefully as she could, limping a blood trail that she couldn't seem to stop. It was still several hours before dawn and it had started to snow.

With the hunters trailing her she had been forced keep moving, even when she realized that she was pushing herself of the park. She wasn't sure where she was – the scents and markings giving her nothing to reference her location from. She thought she might have stumbled across someone's private property and hoped that it wasn't some sheep farmer that would shoot her on sight.

The quickly falling snow would cover her tracks and bury the scent of her blood if she could just ahead long enough. Pushing her injured leg she limped along until she could hardly see through the freshly falling snow; she got lucky and managed to find a small, well hidden thicket and flopped onto her belly in utter exhaustion. She was too tired to run anymore. If she was found, she wouldn't have any fight. The best chance she had was to catch some sleep and attempt to recover before she was found. She only had four hours till dawn. Surely they wouldn't cross human territory just to chase one wolf down…

X

Kenshin rolled the kinks out of his neck as he sipped on a cup of coffee, feeling relaxed for the first time in weeks. It was another hour till dawn and the rest of the pack was still sleeping off their early evening run, giving him the chance for some peace and quiet before the day started. It was still snowing a little, but the worst of it had tapered off. The storm had forced them back to the cabin earlier than they preferred last night and he had been forced to listen to the sounds of rough housing for most of the night. While he felt the surge of excitement himself for the chance to Run, breaking furniture wasn't acceptable.

Usually they had to curb their more basic instincts, even when they were this far into the wilderness, but with the reservation so close they would blend in seamlessly. The idea of a month spent playing and letting go of the strict nature of them human lives…

The sudden, grinding noise of a straining engine caught his attention. Setting down his mug, he moved to look out the window. The road to the house was several miles into the large acreage he had bought several human generations ago and trespassers were not welcome or particularly common; the large, locked gate he had installed had been set there for a reason. The blizzard the night before should have shut the roads down completely for miles. Yet… there it was. A vehicle that was some type of jeep was slowly moving along. Filled with humans. Narrowing his eyes he went to pull a shirt on.

It took them some time to reach the house so he settled on the front porch to wait. They came stomping out of the jeep, looking a little uneasy, but there was something grim about the smiles on their faces. The stench of blood and gunpowder had his teeth on edge.

"You're trespassing."

They jumped at the sound of his voice. Standing from his position on the small bench Misao had bought for one purpose or another, he moved forward so he could block their movements on the steps. He heard the sounds of movement inside and refrained from looking.

"We lost a dog," the tallest of the three men said finally. "She is accustomed to humans and we were hoping that she made it up here."

"In order for you to have gotten this far into my lands you would have had to have cut the locks on my gates." Kenshin responded in a tight voice. "That's trespassing. Get off my land."

The smaller man behind them fidgeted and the smell of blood became stronger. "We didn't mean any harm. We spent a good amount of money on that dog and we would like her back. We were chasing wolves away from a sheep farm…"

"If she was cornered by a wolf-pack then your dog is as good as gone." Kenshin replied icily. "It's early, gentlemen, which is the only reason I am not pressing charges. The sheriff has a long way to drive to take you boys in and I don't feel like dealing with you until he shows up. Clear off my land. You can stop by the sheriff's and leave a number and if we find your dog we will have him give you a call." He leveled them with his glance and was satisfied to see them flinch.

"Sir… we're hunting wolves. Have you seen any in these parts?"

"My land borders a natural habitat." Kenshin said carefully. "I don't run livestock here so the wolves are no bother. Now, gentlemen…" he enunciated the words carefully. "May I suggest you leave?"

The door opened and the sounds of someone walking over seemed to do the trick. It was one thing to deal with a short redhead, but both Aoshi and Sano were tall and held enough muscle to be threatening.

Kenshin kept his eyes on the jeep until it disappeared back into the forest of the reservation.

"You don't trust them."

"No. They said they were hunting wolves… which might be true, but the nearest farm is a good twenty miles away. This close to the reservation…" he shook his head. "Something obviously got away."

"You don't think it was kindred…" Sano's voice was rough. "If they chased a were onto your lands we need to find it. It could be hurt and that makes it dangerous."

Kenshin frowned, thinking for several moments. Homes and humans were few and far between but there were enough that if it was a were

"Yes," Kenshin finally agreed. "Wake the girls. We're going to need all the leg we can get."

X

She had woken early to the sound of dogs and scrambled to her feet and headed further away from the reserve. It was risky, but the reservation and she just didn't know where her pack would be hiding. Odds were against her finding them before the hunters found her. Her best hope was to make it to civilization, change and hope she managed to find someone to take her in.

With the leg injury she had been limping heavily in a walk until her leg had decided to give out. Now that she wasn't half delirious from exhaustion and her injury she was afraid that the bone was fractured. The bleeding in her shoulder had stopped but her right side felt like it was on fire. She had managed to drag herself into the flimsy protection of some low hanging branches and lay down their panting. The chances of her making it to civilization were getting slim. Closing her eyes, she forced herself into a light doze so that her magic had the best chance of healing her.

She woke to silence.

Tensing in her little wiggled out hollow, she flicked her ears, attempting to locate the source of what had startled the wildlife. There was the cracking of bushes and two figures came out of the snow. One was the color of splattered shadow; his fur a series of gray, white, and black patterns, the other a solid black. They moved swiftly and both of them were bigger than any of the pack she had run with the night before. She didn't move or even dare to really breathe as they circled the area she had fallen when she had been attempting to move. The winds had swirled the powder enough to cover most of her tracks from that morning.

It was the way they moved around each other that told her they were pack.

Closing her eyes she took in their scents. They smelled wild and outdoorsy, but there was no hint of bloodlust or lingering death on their bodies. She didn't have the magic to test for anything else just then. Opening her eyes, she watched as they continued to investigate the area before giving each other silent looks.

They were going to give up.

Making up her mind, she really had no other choice; she let out a low whimper.

They spun around in a way that was almost comical. Standing still, ears flickering as they carefully worked to locate her position, she groaned mentally at the idea of moving.

'Great bunch of trackers they turned out to be…' Kaoru mentally complained as she pushed herself to her feet and staggered. She managed two steps into the clearing when her leg buckled. She was startled when a body was suddenly helping balance, a warm shoulder giving her something to lean on as she staggered. Even with the help she was forced to sink to the earth, breathing heavily. She hadn't eaten in forty-eight hours and her body was pulling on her magic to heal itself; she needed to eat.

She was practically at their mercy…

X

It was an injured female.

The girls had taken the northern section of his lands since it was doubtful that anything had really gone on out there. At over a hundred pounds with tooth and claw they would be fine. He and Aoshi had been running the border between his land and the reservation all morning. They had left Sano at the cabin in case the humans decided to try their luck a second time.

He had almost missed the faint blood trail.

They had come to a dead end and were discussing the possibilities of doubling back when the faint whimpering had caught their attention; a clear plea for help. Right now her muzzle was low to the ground and her ears and tail were down. Whatever had happened to the female, she was hurt and exhausted. It was probably the only reason she had given away her location – she was out of any other options.

He and Aoshi exchanged looks. Aoshi bobbed his head and spun around, taking off in a ground eating run. He settled down to help keep the little female warm. It was slowly turning into night again and by the looks of her wounds, they were at least two days old. They were close enough to a road that Aoshi could go and get the jeep and they could have her back at the cabin by nightfall. Changing back was going to be painful but it would easier on her if she healed in her human form. Maintaining her wolf form was splitting her magic between maintaining her form and fighting the injuries.

In the time that it took Aoshi to go and come back, he managed to hunt down a rabbit. It alarmed him at how slowly she had eaten the food, pushing up on her bad leg to rip away a mouthful and then falling back down to swallow. Finally he had just torn chunks of the rabbit apart himself and set those close enough that she didn't have to stand up.

She didn't even attempt to eat the bones…

She lurched to her feet unsteadily at the sound of a vehicle, her ears flat against her skull, nervous. Carefully, he used his head to buckle her good leg, forcing her to lie back down. Her ears were flat against her skull so he licked her muzzle comfortingly.

Misao and Megumi piled out of the jeep and into the knee deep snow, trudging over with blankets and a first aid kid. The sight of the women seemed to calm her down a little and she licked her again before moving a little distance away to where Aoshi was standing with a bundle of clothing for him to change into.

"…you poor thing," Misao murmured as he walked back over.

"She is going to have to change back." Megumi said finally, sitting on her heels. "There is no way she is going to be able to heal with her leg in that condition unless her healing can work unhampered."

The female didn't move from where she had fallen the third time. Her sides rose and fell harshly and there was a tired, glazed expression over her pale blue eyes. Kenshin squatted down and took in her expression.

"Megumi is my pack's healer," he explained softly. "You need to change back."

Kaoru swallowed at the idea of how much changing hurt when you were injured. You had to reform the injury in your human body and it was like having it happen all over again. They were right though. If she wanted to come out of this without a limp she was going to need to change.

If she was lucky she would faint right afterwards anyway…

Pushing herself to her knees she forced herself to take her human shape. It was only through a great deal of effort that she managed to keep from screaming as the fractured bone snapped into place and she collapsed into the snow once she was done. There was a moment of cold and wet before someone was tucking a blanket around her naked body and strong hands lifted her off the ground. She felt dazed and starved and what little concentration she had was slipping out of her fingers.

Fuzzy, concerned filled voices were hard to make sense.

"She's bleeding again… dammit, hand me those bandages."

Long fingers brushed against her leg and any attempt to cling to consciousness became a losing battle as she faded into comforting darkness.

X

Kenshin stared at the pale, drawn face of the changeling as he held while Megumi splinted what remained of the fracture in her leg. The added support would help insure that she came out of this without a limp. Long strands of dark hair spilled over his body and he frowned at how light she was. It didn't appear that her body had been large to begin with, but whatever fat reserves she had had before this started were gone. She was almost as small as Misao.

Hopefully they would have her tucked into a warm place in the cabin before she woke.

"Where are we going to put her?" Misao asked quietly once Aoshi was driving them back. "The rest of the pack will be arriving tonight and tomorrow…"

"She will stay with me." Kenshin said firmly. "My bed is big enough for the both of us and someone needs to keep an eye on her. How long until she heals, Megumi?"

"It depends on her natural healing ability and how fast she rushes it. It can be anything from three days to two weeks if she lets it heal properly." She gave a helpless shrug. "We don't know her packs policy on healing or how she would have been taught to deal with injuries." Megumi said softly. Her eyes darkened in a mix of anger and uncertainty.

"Kenshin… that gash on her leg… it looks like a trap did that. Did those men…"

Kenshin eyes hardened. "I will be making some calls, Megumi. Don't worry."

Females didn't run alone. She had to have been with a pack. That meant that someone might be looking for her…

…or they were all dead.

He set his teeth at the notion and resisted the urge to hold her closer in silent comfort.

X

She woke up slowly. It was a warm, comfortable bed that she had been settled into and there was the smell and sound of a hot fire crackling somewhere. Slowly opening her eyes, she became aware of a warm presence to her right. Tilting her head she blinked at the sleeping man. She vaguely recognized him as the person who had been in the clearing and held back her instincts to growl, managing to dampen the warning in her chest so that it came out an odd sort of sigh.

The noise seemed to wake him from the quiet doze he had been sleeping in. She blinked in surprise when he lifted himself off the bed and looked down at her, sleep tousled red hair framing his features and warm violet eyes taking her in.

"Megumi thought you would be waking up soon. How are you feeling?" His voice lacked any sort of sleep-gravel and she wondered if he had really been sleeping.

She licked her lips.

"Sore," her voice was husky and raw. He shifted out from under the covers and walked over to her side of the bed. She was surprised when he reached down and carefully helped her sit up, propping her up with pillows.

"Your leg is going to be in a splint for another week or so. It depends on how fast you heal." He hesitated. "I have some stew if you think you can eat it."

He didn't mention that he had brought the pot up to sit by the fire to keep warm until she woke to insure that there was something warm to give her. He was relieved when she gave a slight nod and went to fill a bowl. The magic Megumi had pulled from Kaoru to jump-start the healing had drained them both and the stew would give her some desperately needed energy to burn. Instead of handing her the bowl he settled next to her and blew on the steaming broth.

"What…" her voice was low and he looked up to find irritated blue eyes watching him. The fact that she had blue eyes in both forms sent a curl of something through his chest.

"You're still a little weak to be feeding yourself. Just conserve your strength for arguing with me at the next meal." He was amused when what Misao dubbed as his 'alpha' tone did nothing but darken the scowl on her face. He held out a spoonful expectantly and she stared at him for a long moment.

"Please," he said finally. He generally wasn't forced to beg. Every wolf had the instinctive need to follow an alpha's orders.

She reached over and took the spoon between her lips, her expression silently conveying that she was displeased. However, she cleaned out the bowl and drank the large glass of water he held to her lip and leaned back with a tired sigh.

He thought she had fallen asleep but her eyes opened suddenly. They were sparking with an emotion he didn't recognize.

"Have you found any of my pack?" The neutral tone of voice contrasted with her eyes.

Protocol demanded that when a were was injured and located by another pack they attempt to locate the missing member's family. He had sent out Sano – who had the best nose – to see if he could find any sign of her pack along the edges of the reservation but all he found were one or two half-eaten moose carcasses and a few bullet shells.

"Not yet," Kenshin said softly. "We are waiting for a few more members to arrive before we send out the search party… we are assuming that the ones who escaped probably headed back to their home territory…" he hesitated. "Is there someone we can get a hold of for you?"

She closed her eyes.

"We are in the process of locating new territory," she said softly. She swallowed carefully and lifted her lashes to meet his eyes. "There is no set contact for me to have you call."

Something pained flickered through her eyes and then she pulled the covers up and turned on her side, saying nothing else.

X

Kaoru opened her eyes for the second time that morning. The sounds coming from downstairs were nothing more than the low murmur of conversation and pans being knocked around as someone cooked. He had woken her when he climbed from the bed earlier that morning and she had played like she was still asleep. Kaoru was uncertain if it had fooled this alpha male but she didn't care. What she wanted was time to be alone and to wallow in her emotions while she could still give herself a reason for it.

She wanted to cry, to scream and to wail at the walls and howl her grief at the sky hoping that somehow it would care. Instead she curled into a tight ball under the covers, pulling as far into herself as her leg would allow and let two long moans from her throat. That was what they had been taught. They needed to vocalize their grief but they were only allowed to give voice to a little of the pain. Only enough so she could breathe through the clogged organs she called her lungs.

She couldn't quite stop the way her eyes burned. Her heart hammered in time to the pain in her leg so that she could count each beat. The churning of her stomach left her feeling ill and she used everything as a distraction to keep from screaming. The smell of the sheets: ginger. The way the bedclothes felt against her skin. The scents of breakfast rising through the floorboards. The low murmur of voices. Closing her eyes she willed darkness to come and take her back to the safe haven where there wasn't a dark echo of loss inside her chest.

X

Everyone was silent when he walked into the kitchen. There was an extra vehicle out front and he nodded at Kamatari and Cho, both looking worn and a little drained. Kamatari was a preschool teacher and Cho did construction jobs around the larger City near their home. They had gotten on a plane early that morning and rented a vehicle to drive the rest of the way.

"I hear we have a foundling," Kamatari murmured as Cho simply nursed a cup of java. "How is she?"

Kenshin sighed and took a seat. "She woke up and allowed me to feed her some soup last night. Her pack is in the process of relocating."

Cho looked up from his mug. "Kamatari and I can go and check out the park once we get a cat-nap in. Megumi will be needed here and if there are hunters…"

"Be careful," Kenshin said finally. "Some of her wounds came from a close encounter with a trap. The men also showed up on my property this morning," he paused and let Cho growl before continuing.

"Aoshi is looking into who they were and is registering a complaint at the sheriff's as we speak. Misao is going to meet him later and pick up supplies." He walked over to the pot. "Yahiko's flight was cancelled. They are going to stick around and pick him up if his new time comes in today."

"It is a surprise that he is actually choosing business to major in." Kamatari said with a sigh. "I suppose he wants to go into business with Aoshi… it's a good thing. We can run his young legs for errands when we try to locate her pack. If they have pups…"

"If they have pups they are probably already gone." Misao's voice was soft.

She had been left behind when she was twelve by accident when her pack had been scattered by hunters. She had been alone and would have starved to death if she hadn't accidentally wandered into a little village. She had scrounged around in trash until Aoshi had found her in his trashcan, brought her in, forced her change and cleaned her up.

"Cho… I hate to say this, but you better get to the park as soon as possible. Only a few members are going to know the meeting points and they won't wait long. They can't afford to…"

Kamatari reached over and plucked the mug out of Cho's hand and drained it.

"We shall go right now if Kenshin promises to make steak for dinner." He sighed. "Cho blew up our grill."

Kenshin rubbed his temples.

"Get going!" He ordered. They nodded and left. "Misao, make sure you…"

"Pick up grilling supplies. Right. Enjoy that freezing outside and grilling steaks and such. At least they only need to be seared… ooo…. grilled onions…" She went to start writing things on a list. "You might want to see if our guest wants a steak or something else. Take her something to eat as soon, will you? She needs her energy. Or that's what Megumi sent me down to say."

Someone had fried bacon so he loaded a few pieces onto a plate and buttered some toast. He wanted to fry her some eggs but he didn't know how she preferred them. It was a moot point since Sano had cleaned them out yesterday. Sighing, he promised himself that he would give her a better lunch and headed back up the stairs.

The only thing visible was the length of her braided hair. Her fingers twisted in the blankets, the only sign that she was awake. He knew she was hurting, that leg had to be throbbing. It took large amounts of meds to even dull the pain for a were and with the shock she had had recently to her system, Megumi had reluctantly vetoed it giving her anything.

"Good morning." Kenshin said as he walked over to the bed. Large blue eyes peaked out at him, and then there was a sound like a sigh and she dropped the covers away from her face. He ignored the blood-shot whites of her eyes. Either she had refused to sleep or she had cried at some point and neither idea made him happy.

"Morning." Her voice as husky enough that he had to stare at the bacon for a moment before settling the tray on her lap. "Sano emptied the fridge yesterday so Misao is going to get supplies." He hesitated. "A few of my pack members are going to see if they can locate any of your pack. They left a few moments ago."

Her eyes flickered brightly and then clouded. "It's been three dawns," she whispered. "They are gone…"

"Don't give up hope yet," Kenshin spoke gently. While she spoke the truth, watching the way she slumped into herself and the horrible grief behind the color of her eyes…

She picked up a piece of bacon in her left hand and nibbled.

"Will you tell me your name?" Kenshin asked as he picked up half a piece of toast and bit, watching her. His pack never ate unless someone else did. He was relieved when she took a large bite of bacon.

She hesitated. "Kaoru." She said finally.

"I am Kenshin," he told her. "This is my pack. We will give you all of the aid that is in our power." Something flickered in her eyes. He couldn't read past the tinges of grief and weariness but there had been something there that had almost burned through the shadows for a moment.

Kaoru didn't say anything else, eyes dropping to the plate of food he had brought up. Kenshin didn't press her, simply finished his toast and left her in peace.

It was, for now, all he could do.

X

Kaoru limped over to the window that she hadn't noticed until it started snowing again. The flicker of motion just outside her view had her head turning. There was a great tree whose branches took most of the view, but if you were sitting on the little padded ledge in front of the window you could see the landscape for miles.

She bit her lip as she situated her bad leg. It had been splintered and set, and she needed to be careful, but there was something… intimate about resting in a man's bed that wasn't her pack. She stilled at the thought and her eyes welled as her throat closed over. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she forced those emotions down. She would deal with that later. When she could afford it. She knew that the alpha named Kenshin had hope, but any hope she had died while she had lay hidden in the depths of the forest. The fact that she had been rescued had been a surprise, but there was little chance that she would manage to find a way back to her loved ones. It had just been too long. They were on the run from their own past, much less a new threat and there were pups.

She was alone, really alone, for the first time in her life. The same swelling grief welled until her inner-wolf became agitated and complained. Blinking back her tears and forcing her grief down, she leaned against the window.

Her breath created little fog patterns along the glass and she blinked as she watched a cherry red vehicle begin its path up the driveway. She wasn't the only one to notice and there was a shout from the kitchen and doors banged open as the jeep slowly pulled into the drive. Bodies spilled out of the house and she watched as they greeted those who spilled out. She bit her bottom lip as two little girls were pulled out of car seats and tossed around, laughter audible through the window. Bringing her good leg up, she rested her knee on her chin and watched.

How lucky those pups were. With only two pups in the pack – or so she assumed – they would be spoiled within an inch of their lives. The pack she had grown up in wasn't nearly as stable as this one seemed to be. She had been born right after a change of the alpha pair and things had always been a little rocky ever since. There were enough pups in her generation that attention had been a little thin; when her parents had been killed in a car crash, it had taken a few days before she had been placed in a pack home. She had been loved and cared for, raised by a couple who had not been able to have children. She loved them dearly and she knew her disappearance would hurt them.

Sighing, she concentrated on the throbbing in her leg. The pain was a welcome counterpoint to the growing loneliness in her chest. At least it was something physical that she knew would heal. She couldn't depend on the kindness of this alpha forever and he would have to let her go eventually. She was too independent and careless of the rules to be tolerated in such a close-knit group.

Reaching over for the afghan that was spread out, she snuggled her body into the crook the design of the windows created and pulled it across her lap. She breathed deeply and sighed at the continuous infusion of ginger and pine in the air. She supposed it was the alpha's personal scent. It was easy to identify and almost subtle in the way it permeated the air. Like the man, she realized in surprise. He hadn't held a domineering attitude at all, had simply assumed a patient sort of mannerism the night before and again this morning. All the alphas she had ever known had been determined to bully everyone into their wishes.

Letting her eyes drift to the sky she attempted to ignore the racket downstairs. So determined to avoid listening to the sounds of home she was caught off guard by Kenshin's presence and almost fell off the ledge when he cleared his throat.

"Don't do that." Kaoru growled before she had realized what she had done and clamped her teeth shut. She flicked her glance in his direction to see his reaction and was almost as surprised by his expression as he apparently was by her comment. The fact that the corners of his mouth were twitching in what wanted to be a smile eased the knot that had formed in her gut. She swallowed.

"Did you need something?" She tried adopting the tone she had always used with her alpha but this one just tucked his brows together in a look she couldn't interpret before they smoothed over.

"I thought you might like to join us downstairs instead of being forced up here by yourself," Kenshin said carefully. "It might be a bit loud, but Megumi suggested that you could take over one of the couches."

He didn't add that he had been swatted in the head for leaving her up here as long as he had. There was something in her eyes that told him more than he needed to know about her how her pack had operated. He had seen it before and he was tempted to send out a call to Kamatari and Cho not to look for her pack. There was a bruised emotion behind her eyes that suggested for all of the treatment of her pack, being abandoned had hurt her a great deal.

Offering her a smile he opened his hands. There was a cure for every aliment.

"The pups just showed up and are curious to meet you," he cajoled. "Ayame is five and Suzume is only three." He didn't add that they were sisters and the abandoned granddaughters of an older pack member. He would share that later if he thought she needed more information.

"What do you say?"

He watched her hesitate, her eyes churning as she considered her options before she gave a slow nod. He was stunned when she tossed off the blanket and went to stand, and it took a moment before he managed to move forward to pick her up.

"I can carry you."

Her eyes swung to his, and this close, he could pick out the little bursts of surprise as they bubbled to the surface. Her eyes held little flecks of lighter blue around the pupil but the rest of the blue was darkest blue he had ever seen.

"I can walk," she protested. "It's only a fracture!"

Something in his eyes quieted her and she wondered why the curious crinkle had formed between his eyes. It was only a fracture! When the pack was in a hurry you had to fight through such injuries, it was basic pack rule. Never be the pack's weakness.

Kenshin chose his word carefully. "There is no need for you to stress your injury when you are so light, Kaoru." He shifted his hold a little so she didn't have to crane her neck to look at him. "It's only a few stairs."

He could have told her that Megumi would have his head on a platter if he allowed her to walk but decided he would let Megumi express her opinion later.

"Now," he continued as he moved into the hall. "Is there anything in particular you would like for dinner? Misao went into town and picked up some steaks but if you would prefer something else…."

She hid it very well. The surprise in her eyes hardly affected her scent and if he hadn't been paying close attention he might not have noticed either.

"Anything you… anything that is made for dinner will be fine." Kaoru managed. "Please don't go out of your way on my account."

He was saved from finding a way to address the hesitant tone in her voice by entering the living room and Kaoru being spotted by Ayame and Suzume. The already large eyes widened to comical proportions as they watched him settle her onto the couch.

"Ayame, Suzume," he crooked his finger in silent command and they darted forward. If Kaoru expected the children to come and stare at her, she was surprised. Instead of paying attention to the stranger, they gang-tackled Kenshin and wrapped small arms around him in an attempt to team hug him. She blinked in surprise and simply held her tongue until he was finished ruffling hair and murmuring in a low voice.

"This," he said finally, tickling the baby of the two. "Is Kaoru. She is staying with us for a while. She hurt her leg so we have to be very careful around it."

The baby stuck her fingers into her mouth and nodded in all seriousness but the older one gave her a long look before turning and whispering loudly to Kenshin. "Are you going to keep her?"

Kaoru worked to keep from laughing at the expression on the redhead's face. "Keep her?"

Ayame nodded sagely. "You know, like Misao keeps Aoshi," she leaned in closer, but raised her voice. "She is very pretty. You should keep her!"

Kaoru knew she was wide-eyed, but was unable to help it. The little girl's innocent remarks had struck a chord. She was not looking for a new pack! What she wanted was time to get on her feet and then to be able to look for someplace to start over.

Wide violet-indigo eyes flickered her way, as if to gauge her mood and she swallowed. He couldn't seriously be taking the child's words to heart and to consider her for part of this pack, could he?

What would she say if he did?

She set her jaw. She was not looking, dammit!

She lifted her eyes up as the door opened. Two pack members walked in. By the scents they brought with them she assumed they were both males but one of them was almost prettier than the man in front of her with an almost girlish air to him.

They stopped when they saw her, their expression hesitant. Kaoru let her eyes drop to the pups as a distraction. She didn't have to listen to what they would report to their alpha, she already knew. Her pack had cleared out. They might have found some burned areas where they had cremated the dead; they may have even found the men who killed her pack members.

There wouldn't have even been a trail at this point for them to smell. She ignored the weight of the eyes that were watching her and took a deep breath.

"So how old are you two?" Kaoru asked softly as Kenshin untangled himself and went to talk to the men.

The baby, Suzume, pulled her fingers out of her mouth and shyly held up three sticky fingers while Ayame decided that she wanted to be on the couch for the conversation. Kaoru delicately moved her leg out of the way, but didn't deny the child couch space. Suzume, her little brows tucking together over her dark eyes, climbed up as well so that Kaoru was squished into the cushions and being watched by interested eyes.

"I'm five," Ayame declared proudly. "How old are you?"

Kaoru blinked at the blunt question. "I'm twenty-one," Kaoru told her softly.

"You made the run then!" Ayame said excitedly. "What is it like?"

Kaoru continued to blink at the little pup. "It's… fast," she said finally.

Ayame and Suzume exchanged looks and they leaned in. "Kenny is the fastest ever." Ayame said with wide-eyed hero adoration. "He is faster than everyone! I bet he always wins the runs."

Kaoru cleared her throat and decided not to tell the little one that most of the runs had nothing to do with racing but chasing each other and bonding as a pack, with finding a mate.

"I bet he does too," Kaoru agreed lowly. She wondered who his mate was. It was obvious that the pack was coming in for a run, uniting again; she supposed that she would have to find a new bed to sleep in soon. Ayame's next sentence surprised her.

"Are you here to be with Kenny?" She peered up at her. "I think he likes you!"

Kaoru was suddenly aware of a silence in the room and lifted her eyes to find several people paying attention to the conversation. Her eyes widened and she looked back down at the little girl all but in her lap. 'What to say…' Kaoru offered her a faint smile.

"Kenny," she had to bite back a laugh at the ridiculous name. "Has been nice enough to let me heal since I fell and hurt my leg." She tried to find a way to express herself and gave up on being diplomatic. "Once I am better I need to go to go back to my own pack."

She winked, hiding the hurt her words brought.

Ayame tucked her brows together but didn't say anything and the chatter started again. What she really wanted to do was growl at everyone and force them to leave her alone. It was too much like the colorful complaints and fun embarrassment her group of friends had always participated in. But her lap held two little bodies and she had always been too easy on pups.

X

Kenshin ran a hand through his bangs, half keeping an eye on Sano as he grilled the stakes.

"So nothing… she didn't seem to think there would be." His voice was low and his eyes swung in Kaoru's direction. There was a serious expression on her face as she listened to the little girls chatter without a hint of amusement.

"She never acted like she expected you to find anything. So it was a slaughter." When his eyes turned back to the men in front of him his expression was grave and his eyes sparked amber.

Kamatari nodded. "We found burn pits and then…" he growled. "There were two pits that had been carefully covered that held skins, Kenshin." He shook his head. "They didn't even go towards the men. I don't know what happened but they abandoned the dead and those who were injured. We're not even sure who burned the bodies…"

Kamatari watched Kenshin's eyes flash into golden fire. "They left everything?" His voice was cold.

Cho nodded. "The burn pits were careless. We…" he hesitated but then he plunged in. "There were a few young skeletons, Kenshin. Pups. They killed pups and they were skinned. We think we found all the furs and destroyed the bones, but if those men took anything with them…"

"They wanted a live specimen. It's why they were chasing the girl." Kamatari said in a soft voice. "These aren't common hunters." His eyes glittered. "They need to be hunted and taken out."

Kamatari watched his alpha narrow his eyes, his expression serious as he considered the options. Finally he spoke.

"I have had Aoshi tracking their motions. He sent Misao home early, so when he comes back we shall get a report from him. Until then, don't alarm the girls. They're enjoying the prospect of a run and we don't want to ruin it for them." He sighed. "I am going to have to question Kaoru about her packs' regulations. If this has happened more than once…"

The men's expressions were grim.

"Do you think that's why they are running now?" Kamatari asked bluntly.

"I don't know," Kenshin said softly. "But I will."

X

Kaoru scrapped the remains of the steak from her plate, attempting to keep from startling the sleeping pups that were sprawled against her. She was surprised that they hadn't gone to more familiar laps once they became sleepy, but she hadn't said anything to make them unwelcome. She was rather pleased that Suzume had cut the circulation of her legs off. At least she couldn't feel the achy throb from her healing bone.

It was going to hurt like none other when she was regaining feeling.

The woman with the long braid came over and scooped up one little warm body and the man with the spiky hair picked up the other. She remembered getting their names at some point, but she couldn't recall what they were.

The fact that the pack, once the pups were gone, had settled themselves in a semi-circle of bodies around the couch had her hackles rising and she had to work to keep from snarling at the idea of being cornered. There was no hostility in the air, but she was uncomfortable with the determined expressions on their faces. Shifting a little, she propped herself up. Arranging the blanket in her lap she lifted her head and eyed them back. She was not going to be intimidated by pack members she didn't know, who she had no responsibility to.

When the two returned they took their places. Her eyes swung automatically to the man who she continued to assume was the alpha male of the group. His eyes were serious and Kaoru was surprised to find, behind his violet eyes, there were sparks of amber fire.

"Kamatari and Cho went back to the reservation this morning and spent most of the day attempting to locate any sign of the pack you were with." Kenshin started out. The soothing tone of his voice from earlier had given way to an edged seriousness that raised the hairs on the back of her neck.

She didn't know what he expected her to say so she stayed silent.

His eyes locked in on hers and she was unable to glance away.

"They found half-finished burn pits, skeletons, and buried hides." Kenshin told her softly. Her gut clenched at his words the seriousness of his words sinking in. "Your pack left the dead to be discovered and did not hunt the men down who slaughtered your family."

He watched what little color she had drain from her face, but she made no noise and her eyes were guarded. He could tell his words had shocked her, and he wished he could be a little less blunt, but if his own pack was going to be hunted he didn't have time to coddle or consol her.

"Why?"

Why? He was asking her why? She forced the mixed emotions his words brought away and concentrated on the facts. She couldn't afford to be emotional. Sucking her bottom lip into her teeth she contemplated how she should respond.

"Five weeks ago," Kaoru started slowly, "We were forced to leave the forest we lived near because of several… incidents." She took a deep breath and refused to look away from his eyes.

"I am not partial to the exact details but it appeared that some of the young males needed… sport." By the way his pupils contracted and several soft intakes of breath said anything, she didn't need to go into detail. "The alpha pair pulled us within days and… well, the pups haven't been handling the traveling well. We're a large group…"

"How large?" a voice to her right interrupted, and she tore her eyes away to flicker it across the group.

"Thirty adults," Kaoru said quietly. "Over a dozen pups."

There was a growling noise and Kaoru turned back to Kenshin was surprised to find him growling.

"Why didn't you split the pack up?" His voice was low. "Protection for pack that large is tricky."

She raised her chin and narrowed her eyes. She was not part of the alpha pair, wasn't even close to beta rank. She refused to be chastised for mistakes she had no control over.

"Twenty years ago there was a raid, leaving half the pack orphaned and the elders mostly killed off. There was no one else to lead and those who would form their own segments couldn't collect the funds to offer early stability." Her voice was tight and barely civil.

He gave a tense nod. "That does not explain why the pack left the remains behind." He had no intention of telling her that there were pups involved in the skinning.

"I am not aware." Her words were in the same cold tones. "I was with the pups and they brought dogs with them. I led them away from the little ones in hopes that some of the other pack members would come back for them. I got into a tussle with a couple of mixed breeds and ending up tumbling down a ravine." She gave a careless shrug, her face devoid of expression.

"They didn't bring blood hounds, only sight-hunters. They were waiting for us." Her words lowered until they were barely discernable, but she never took her eyes from Kenshin.

Kenshin finally gave a slow nod.

"We are tracking down those who attack your pack." He said softly, the gentle tone back in his voice. She didn't want his sympathy.

She said nothing, just reached down to being working some of the blood flow back into her legs. She ignored the soft question from someone in the room and listened to the cadence of Kenshin's voice as he answered.

He was a good alpha.

The suddenness of the thought surprised her. She could tell he had taken no joy from questioning her but had done it because it was necessary. Pulling the blanket from her legs, she paused to listen to them speak. She realized what had been bothering her since the babies fell asleep. She was nothing more than an outsider watching a family interact. Taking a deep breath, she tested the blood flow in her legs and stood. Every eye in the room swung in her direction. Her leg throbbed and burned but it was bearable.

"What are you doing?" Kenshin's voice was suddenly by her ear and his hand on her arm.

"I am going to bed." She told him flatly. "Unless you have more pressing questions?"

She tilted her head up and raised a brow, her expression challenging. She was just too emotionally worn and tired to censor her natural reactions to authority.

"I'll carry you…" he started, but she cut him off.

"I can walk just fine, as I told you earlier." She snapped. "I am not a pup who needs to be coddled."

She pulled her arm free and turned carefully. She might be able to walk on it, but that didn't mean she was going to push herself. She could feel every eye on her as she picked her way across the room. She could feel him a few steps behind her and she ignored his presence. With her hand firmly wrapped around the rail she made her way up the stairs, letting the pain distract her from the slow burn behind her eyes that no amount of blinking managed to banish.

Kenshin stood at the bottom of the stairs and watched her struggle as she moved. Yet her shoulders were square and her body loose, just the occasional falter along the line of her steps. He didn't move until he heard his door shut.

"She is very stubborn." Misao's voice came out of nowhere. "You let her challenge you."

He stilled as he realized the truth to Misao's words. He had let her challenge him, in way he would not have tolerated from any of his pack. There had been something in the spark of her eyes that had promised she wouldn't bend and he had taken a step back.

"The pups like her." Megumi's voice was soft.

Kenshin turned and walked back to his seat. He would think about this later.

"Sano, I want you to get in touch with Aoshi and let him know what is going on. Go tonight if you have to. I don't trust the phones at this time. Kamatari, Cho, go back to the site at first dawn and see if you can pick up any scents. We need to know what happened to her pack and decide what actions to take after that. Megumi, Misao, make preparations in case we have to separate quickly. The pups will go with you and you two will go to our main hideaway."

"What about Kaoru?" Misao said carefully. "She might be stubborn enough to stress that leg in walking, but running is going to be difficult for her."

"We will come to that when it happens. Make her a new set of papers and identification. As of right now she is going to be operating under our protection." Not as part of the pack, but close enough that he could concentrate on the instincts to protect…

Unless… unless she gave him a reason to give into the niggling instincts he couldn't shake off.

"Any questions?"

Sano leaned forward, his expression serious. "I say a week before you jump her bones. Do I have any takers?"

X

Kaoru felt the man next to her breathing slowly, but she wasn't certain he was asleep. She was flat on her back, starring up at the ceiling, working through the events of that day. She had been silent when he came in and he hadn't apparently wished to disturb her. He simply took some clothing into his bathroom and changed into a pair of boxers and soft white under shirt.

She tilted her head and stared at his back. Even lying with a hand span between them he was surprisingly warm. Her fingertips itched to touch the broad expanse of his back but she forced herself to lie still. She was exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and she had never felt so alone in her life. She supposed he acted as sort of an anchor for her, warm and solid and proving that she wasn't completely isolated.

Letting out a sigh she lifted her face again and starred at the boards that ran along the ceiling. What was she going to do now? She wondered if Kenshin knew of any packs that needed someone to watch pups or would welcome someone. It had been painfully obvious downstairs that they considered her an outsider.

She missed the security of curling up with a series of puppy puddles snuggled around her with one of the bigger males letting her curl into his body for protection. Part of her desperately wanted the physical contact and another part of her curled away from being emotionally attached. It was hard for her to have one without the other. The wolf inside her relished contact and grooming and warm bodies. She couldn't ask this alpha to give her anything.

The first tear slipped down her face and she wiped it away. The second was followed by a third and she rolled so that her back was to Kenshin and desperately tried to keep her breathing even. The only time she had ever felt so alone was when her parents had been killed and she had spent three days huddled in someone's basement waiting for someone to want a pup. The bed shifted and warmth grazed her shoulder.

"Are you alright?" His voice was quite behind her.

"Fine," Kaoru lied. When she had woken time and time again with nightmares about her parents she had seen the distress her cries had caused the older pair and she had taught herself to cry silently, to train her voice to sound normal when she wept.

"Kaoru…" His low, mellow voice tempted her to turn and to let him comfort her but… that would be giving him responsibility that he didn't want. She was shocked when, instead of rolling back over, an arm slipped under her hips and lifted her so that she was cradled against his chest.

"It's alright to cry," he murmured against her ear.

"What…" she managed, her voice high. The tears had stopped in sheer surprise and she squeaked when, instead of letting her pull away from him, he tightened his grip and pulled the covers over both of them, curling around her.

"You're under my protection," he told her softly. "I take care of those under my protection." She twisted in an attempt to look at him but he tightened his grip. "If it makes you more comfortable, I would hold any of the women who needed it, Kaoru."

It was the truth. His bed was always open if one of their mates was gone and they needed reassurance that everything was safe. It hadn't happened in a few years, but when Misao had been a teenager she had spent many nights curled around his pillow. Megumi had only spent one night in his bed and he had sat up all night keeping watch.

She didn't relax in his arms until she drifted to sleep. He considered her pale profile, still damp from her tears and wondered what sort of life she had led in her pack. He had never met a female that was such a mix or forced respect and hostility towards an alpha leader before. She had even been unwilling to give into her instincts and to turn to something stronger for protection.

He was about to drift to sleep, holding the little female close, when there were the sounds of sniffles and small feet. Lifting away from Kaoru he turned in time to see little Suzume head for the trunk at the edge of the bed. Her sister darted in, simply grabbing onto the covers and pulling herself up.

"Kenny, had bad dream," she whispered in a hush.

Kenshin settled onto his back, pulling her against his side. Kaoru was still pressed against his other side and it was a sign of how tired she was that she didn't even notice Suzume snuggling into her.

"I'm here," he whispered to both girls. Suzume was asleep almost instantly and he stroked Ayame's hair until she slept. He wondered how long the pups would have nightmares of their parent's murders and closed his eyes and slid into a light sleep.

X

Kaoru took a deep breath and did a deep knee bend before lying one hand flat on the floor and shifting her weight, kicking her bad leg out in something resembling a clumsy side-kick. It felt like little bolts of lightning were running up her leg and she gasped in pain for a moment before doing it again. Each time it hurt a little less until she could almost manage to work through it completely.

She was itching to run. To do something physical. She had never babied something the way she was being forced to baby this little leg wound. The cuts had already healed over and the bone was mending. Changing would be painful, but she would have been forced to do it ten times over at this point if…

She took a deep breath and moved her mind away from that tender area. Even with this pack acting as a current buffer before she… well, left; that didn't mean that she could baby herself. The fact that she was letting Kenshin get away… she shook her head. Thinking about Kenshin was just confusing. She didn't need to work that right now. Holding out her hand she concentrated for a moment, shifting her nails enough to reach down and rip through her makeshift caste.

The skin under was wrinkled and blue and various shades of green. The bruising looked old and she propped the bone with gentle fingers. It twinged and her eyes watered a little, but it was bearable. Standing she practiced walking, slowly working through her limp. She didn't have any shoes yet, so she opened the door and walked downstairs to find a late breakfast. She had deliberately wallowed in bed, letting Kenshin leave for whatever he did and then taken a shower. She had been surprised that the warm bodies Kenshin had taken downstairs with him hadn't attempted to wake her up. It had been a bittersweet experience to wake with a little body snuggled into her stomach.

She considered her leg for a moment and shrugged. She supposed she could have used some of her illusion magic to convince the pack that she still wore the caste but it would tire her out. Besides, hiding what she had done would suggest she felt guilty. There was absolutely nothing for her to feel guilty about. Ever.

Now, clean and determined not to be coddled anymore, she went to look for a bowl of something starched and sugar filled. Kamatari was sitting on the couch, shirtless, as she eased down the stairs. He looked up at her approach and his eyes widened at her missing caste.

"Why did you take off…" he started and then stopped, watching her slight limp with trepidation.

"I don't need it anymore," Kaoru shot back, moving into the kitchen. She really didn't understand this pack's method of dealing with injuries. Any pack she had every met, any member for that matter, had always operated on the only coddle when necessary. She had seen a friend shatter his elbow, and three days later, was limping with the pack as the continued to move. It was life.

Her leg hardly twinged as she rose up on tiptoe to search the cabinets for foodstuff. Well, it hurt, but she had gotten accustomed to the feeling. She had finally located something that might work if she dumped sugar into the milk when a cold, wet little nose pressed against her ankle. Looking down she found a pale fluff ball starring back at her. By the size of the puppy she guessed it was Suzume. Large ice-blue eyes starred up at her from white fur.

"Aren't you supposed to be outside?"

She had to fight a laugh when the puppy wobbled after her as she moved to the table. Her little legs were a tad unsteady and her tail worked as a sort of balance, flat on the ground in an attempt to get everything to move in the right direction.

Kaoru took one bite of the cereal and made a face. Chewing and swallowing she shuddered. "Oh, this is horrible," she told the puppy. Looking down, she found Suzume looking up at her in a pleading fashion. Laughing, she reached down and picked her up, rubbing at her ears.

"Are you supposed to be in here?"

"No," Kenshin's voice came from nowhere and she wiped her head up. He was lightly dusted in snowflakes and that brow of his was raised. "You're supposed to stay outside if you want to win the game, Suzume."

The puppy managed her version of a bark, high and faltering, and Kaoru stroked her back.

"I think perhaps you should follow the rules," Kaoru suggested, standing to put the puppy back on the floor.

"Kaoru." There was a mild tone in Kenshin's voice that had her looking up at him in question. "Why is your cast missing?"

"I took it off," she told him lightly, rubbing the puppy's ears before she collected the bowl and put it in the sink. There was no way she was ever eating that. There had to be cold hotdogs in the fridge. "Why?'

His eyes were narrowed. She decided, a little breathless, that that particular expression had to be his alpha-male-not-amused look. She looked down to watch Suzume trot in a wobbling fashion out the door. When she looked back up he was… closer.

"Your leg isn't healed." He told her in a low voice.

"It's fine," she shot back. There was something about the gold sparks in his eyes that had her straightening her spine and glaring back. "I don't need it. Stop nagging, you're not my alpha."

She was startled when what sounded like a low growl was torn from his throat and he took another step closer, so that she could feel the heat from his chest against her arms.

"So you think that it is acceptable for you to run around on a half-healed leg?" He returned in a tight voice. "That, because I am not your alpha, I have no control over making sure you use common sense?"

What was this man's problem? Tucking her brows together she gave him a confused look.

"Look, Kenshin, I don't know what sort of protocol you and yours follow, but I am using common sense. Everyone knows that you have to get back on an injury so you can move when the times comes." She shoved a finger into his chest. "Your pack is so… so… backwards!"

She was surprised when warm fingers curled around the finger she had shoved into his chest, and when she realized what she had done, she took a step back, stopped only by his grip.

"Kaoru," he said her name carefully, "Putting stress on a half-healed bone…"

"Forces the healing powers to move more directly towards the wound. It's a protection method. It's built in. Everyone knows that. You can't stay in wolf form because the magic works to keep you in fur, but if you change back and don't baby the wound it heals faster." She finished irritably.

His expression was torn between some sort of anger and exasperation. "Kaoru, doing that stresses your system. You do it too often and your healing system will collapse. It's better to sit down and wait it out as naturally as possible."

She shook her head. "If I could afford a few weeks, sure; but you aren't going to let me stay here forever and I will not become a burden. I know your pack came here for a run, Kenshin and I have every intention of leaving before then. I won't be a bother much longer."

She was surprised when the grip on her fingers tightened.

"Where would you go?' He asked quietly.

"Does it matter?" Kaoru asked lightly.

His eyes narrowed. "You will not recklessly endanger yourself." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. His lips parted but she jumped in.

"Look, Kenshin, I realize you have alpha priorities here. I understand that. But I am a big girl and I can take care of myself. Don't worry about me. I will be fine. There is no need to exert yourself to some wolf you know nothing about." She tugged her fingers and growled a little when he wouldn't let go. "There is nothing here for me to stay or leave, so it's just best that I go and try to find a life for myself somewhere else."

She squeaked when she was suddenly picked up. "What…"

"If you are going to be forcing yourself to heal you are going to be taking naps," he informed her in a low voice. "I will not put up with your body collapsing because you are pushing it too far."

She glared at him and ignored Kamatari's slack-jawed expression as she was carried up the stairs. She wondered how much of their conversation he had heard… she snarled when she was dropped onto the messy blankets and blinked when his head was suddenly to close to hers.

"There are hunters out there that want you dead. There are rouge wolves that would do more than rape you if they caught you alone. You are young and beautiful and if you think for one second I am letting you go off on your own…"

Her eyes were wide. He had just…

"What are you suggesting?" Kaoru snarled. "Making me part of your pack?" She rolled her eyes at him and was stunned when he leaned in and kissed her temple.

"It is tempting," he informed her. "You have the oddest notion of what is wrong and right and I think I would disprove them, given time." The grin he shot her was wicked. "Sleep, Kaoru. The run is in three nights and you might be more interested in making it with us than you think."

He rose and walked out the door as she watched him move slack jawed.

X

When Kaoru had woken up the following morning Kenshin and Aoshi were gone. She had been surprised to wake up alone and a little chilled, but hadn't said anything as she munched her way through a piece of toast. Misao had been watching her with a glint in her eyes and a frustrated expression and finally just blurted out what was on her mind.

"Aoshi and Kenshin went to see if they could track down the hunters. They have the best noses!" Misao said in a determined voice. "They will be back tomorrow!"

Kaoru frowned a little. "When would they have smelled the hunters?"

Misao suddenly looked uncomfortable. There was a loud sigh from behind the large newspaper spread across nearly one-half of the table and Kamatari stuck his head around. "Because they came here after they attacked your pack. We weren't sure if they had been chasing wolves or were. It's why we found you in the first place."

Kaoru blinked in surprise. She hadn't even thought to ask what they had been doing out in the woods. She couldn't believe she had forgotten something that important. Where exactly had her brain been? 'Thinking about redheads with way too much compassion for lost little females and this is why you don't become attached! You miss important details!' Sighing she nodded her head.

"You're not angry?" Misao asked tentatively.

"No," Kaoru said in surprise. "Why should I be?"

"Kenshin didn't say goodbye." Misao pointed out logically. The newspaper shook threateningly but no one said anything.

Kaoru stared at her for a long moment before slowly shaking her head. "He owes me nothing." She didn't want to analyze Misao's words or the effect that they had on her chest.

Kamatari snorted and put the paper down. Kaoru ignored him and instead listened to the sounds of Megumi and the pups outside laughing in the snow. Sano took that moment to walk out of the bedroom, hair sticking out in every direction. He stopped just inside the kitchen and made a face.

"No food?"

"I was just about to see if Megumi would be willing to make omelets." Kamatari said as he sat his paper down and stood, moving to the open door.

"Good plan." Cho called from the other half of the paper. Kaoru was amused to see that they had both taken up sections of the table with the never-ending newspaper. "You know she likes to make that lovely…"

Before he could finish his sentence, Kamatari cried out; falling backwards and holding his leg. Blood sprayed across the door frame. She heard Megumi's alarmed cry and spun to the window to watch her dive on top of the pups, who had been practicing their wolf forms. Sano gave a bellow and started to move forward, but Cho tackled into a chair, shattering it.

"They're the bait!" Cho snapped furiously, his eyes wild as he looked at Kamatari's bleeding leg.

Sano snarled, a sound from deep inside his chest that was more threatening than anything Kaoru had ever heard. Her eyes darted to the door where Megumi was still. She didn't smell or see any blood other than what was gushing from Kamatari's leg. The man was breathing hard and white as a sheet and they were the bait.

She heard Misao pick up the phone and slowly started taking careful steps backwards. She had made it to the backdoor when Sano's eyes snapped in her direction. "No," he said in a fierce voice. "Kenshin will…"

"Get Megumi out of there. There are only three." Kaoru flung the back door open and dove out into the snow. It didn't take much work to strip the sweat pants and shirt off her frame and to dive behind the wood stack to shift. When she had completed the change, she snuck around and caught sight of a shadow moving along a wall and crouched down.

Her wolf was hungry for blood.

The first kill was nearly silent. The human had little time to do more than gurgle when she caught him in the throat, but it was enough to catch the attention of the other humans. She deliberately paused as they spun around in the thick snow before she twisted and ran. Because now she was the bait.

The delay cost a little more than she thought it would as they opened fire. She couldn't stop the yelp as pain shot along her shoulder and ribs, the hard tumble slowing her down. However, she couldn't wait any longer to cry about it and she shoved herself to her feet and took off to the tree line.

Mission accomplished. Now she just had to find a way to stop leaving a blood trail and to stay alive. If the sounds coming from behind her said anything they were following her, which would give Sano and Cho time to get Megumi and the pups inside and possibly call back their alpha.

Why did she always have to deal with the difficult jobs?

X

Sano had wanted to chase Kaoru down, tackle her into the snow and use every bit of cover magic that he knew to keep them hidden. The situation didn't allow for it, so he was forced to dig his claws into the floorboards and keep an eye on the situation outside. Only when he heard shouts and gunfire did Sano signal Cho to check on Kamatari. He was worried about that bullet wound to the leg. If they were lucky it was only a flesh wound. If they weren't lucky…

Opening the door a little wider, he peered around the yard and sent his magic out in one wild rush. Nothing. Jumping to his feet, he sprinted across the snow, wrapped an arm around Megumi's waist, and slung her over his shoulder. He grabbed both puppies by the scruffs of their necks, spun on his heel and raced inside. The puppies were limp and silent as he reached the safety of the house, taking one long step over the blood pool where Kamatari had been laying and spun to kick the door shut.

"Do you think you can put me down now?" Megumi's voice sounded a little strained. Carefully Sano put the puppies down, who bolted to hide among the pillows in the couch. They made little whimpering noises and as much as he wanted to comfort them, he needed to make sure Megumi wasn't injured.

"I'm fine," Megumi told Sano firmly. "They didn't even attempt to shoot me." Her eyes swung to Kamatari. Cho was holding a field bandage (what had probably been his shirt) over the wound and his expression was tense. "I need my bag."

Misao came running into the room, clutching the warn bag firmly in her hands. "I wasn't able to reach Kenshin or Aoshi." She hurriedly shoved the bag into Megumi's hands. "We have to go after Kaoru!"

Sano reached out and caught the smaller woman by the braid. "Not so fast," he warned firmly. "If we run after her we're likely to ourselves killed. We need to stay here and protect the wounded and the pups."

Ayame and Suzume took that moment to start letting out those tiny whimpers again. Misao's face fell.

"I can get in touch with Kenshin. I'm the beta," he reminded her. "I need you to make sure that the pups are okay."

Misao nodded and went over to rub ears and bellies, so Sano went to the back porch. Cho and Megumi were the most qualified to deal with Kamatari's leg. He would do this and then secure the premises and make sure that everyone would be all right.

It was up to Kaoru to see if she could survive long enough for help to arrive.

When Kenshin had first approached him about being his beta, Sano had laughed in his face. Why would he want Sano to be beta when Aoshi had been fulfilling that role for a few years now? Kenshin had patiently answered his questions. In order to utilize Aoshi to his fullest potential he couldn't afford to tie him down to the pack in the way the beta had to be tied down. He wanted someone dependable to care for the pack when he couldn't be there and if he was off dealing with problems it was likely that Aoshi would also be in the thick of it, gathering information.

Sano had understood and had been grudgingly respectful of the logic behind it. The biggest surprise for him had been when Kenshin had made it perfectly clear that he still needed Sano to watch his back and that Kenshin thought that Sano was fully capable of fulfilling his duties to the pack as beta. It had taken a while for Sano to figure out exactly what Kenshin had meant, but he had never felt once that Aoshi was really second-in-command and that Sano was just a decoy.

Pack magic was a curious thing. There was a certain amount of it available to all of the members for protection and basic needs. As beta there was more of the magic available for his use. The most important function that he had from this magic was the constant thread of awareness of his alpha. He could find Kenshin anywhere and vice versa. Carefully threading the spell that had taken him months to perfect, he let enough of his wolf rise to the surface to change his vocal cords. Tossing his head back, the muscles in his neck bulging, he howled.

Even before the notes had died they were racing allowing the magic thread that connected him to Kenshin through their oaths, and he felt Kenshin's awareness snap in his direction. Sano sighed and let the magic fade. That was all that was needed to call Kenshin back. He didn't require details, he never asked for explanations. If Sano was calling him home he knew there was an emergency. Once he got closer, Sano would feed him what he knew and the general direction that Kaoru had taken in case they could track her faster from their angle. Unfortunately, Kaoru didn't have pack magic to guide Kenshin to her, but both Aoshi and Kenshin were expert trackers.

Besides, Sano was pretty certain that Kenshin's wolf had memorized Kaoru's personal scent some time ago. It was going to be interesting to see if Kaoru joined them on the run in a few nights. Turning on his heel, he headed back into the house to see what he could do to help and to set up the spells to lock down the house.

X

Kenshin lifted his nose to the wind and continued his trek across the open field. The faint smells of human adrenaline and Kaoru's personal scent tugged him forward. She had been smart enough to move into the winds so that someone could follow her scent trail as needed. The humans had been attempting to move carefully, realizing Kaoru would only be able to smell them if they were close and his hackles rose in aggravation.

The moment he had gotten Sano's message he had been riding his instinct to kill. The humans would not make it out of this frozen land alive; it was just a matter of how quickly they got there and if Kaoru would be alive when they arrived. He had a great deal of faith in her ability to hide. Kaoru used her personal magic to hide in a way that he had not expected the day they had found her, and he was quite certain that she would manage.

Something caught his nose as they started to enter the denser forest area. Kenshin crouched down and glared at the blood trail that was growing dark now that the sun was starting to fade. She was bleeding. One of the humans has shot her. Aoshi gave a low growl of warning and Kenshin fairly vibrated with his fury.

They must have been using silencers. He hadn't heard gunshots and the blood was fairly fresh but the scent of gunpowder was barely discernable. He had to admit the hunters were good, but not good enough to live through this encounter with his pack. He could only hope Kaoru only had a flesh wound. Whatever her injuries, she was moving fast. Human footsteps were hurried and slipped around in the snow. Dusk would give her an advantage and she had to be making for the cliffs. He exchanged a look with Aoshi.

There was no point in doubling back to the house. Sano would have locked it down by now and while the pack bond showed that Kamatari was injured he wasn't dying. There was no use for him there. Even with the cover of trees giving them the advantage over the humans they would still need to be careful.

Silently they began tracking the human hunters.

X

Kaoru was running for the third time in her life. It just seemed that she couldn't be handed an easy deck of cards. This time she was running to draw attention away from a pack that wasn't even hers. It was harder to think that way in the wolf form. The wolf had been fed, groomed, admired. She wanted to find out how fast this alpha could run and she wanted to spend a night snuggled into the warm curve of his body. He had provided for her, shown her the respect she was due and her loyalty had been won. A sign of that was the fact that she was willing to protect them in this way.

For once human and wolf were not completely seeing eye-to-eye. Crouching low, she hid in the thick underbrush that had begun to creep its way down the sides of the mountains. She could hear the faint scratching noises as the branches scratched against the material of human clothing and she carefully moved along in a belly crawl. She knew they couldn't smell her and they were tracking her by print only. The blood trail she was leaving behind wasn't helping either, but she hoped that the underbrush would at least slow them down. With the type of shadows this part of the forest threw, now that it was becoming dark, it would be difficult to find the blood.

She was just thankful that there hadn't been any dogs. She was forced to stop and lick the wound along her back haunch again in an attempt to slow the blood flow, and flicked her ears around as she attempted to pinpoint the location of the hunters. She had gotten lucky and only been grazed by the bullet, but they hadn't used them all yet. She hunkered down when the wind brought the smells of human flesh and stench to her nose, but it was the undertones of wolf on the wind that had her taking a deeper breath, daring to lift her nose clear of the brush. It wasn't just wolf, but the darker scent of were as well. It smelled like Kenshin.

That changed her chances of survival greatly.

Kaoru lay still and considered her options. Her wolf was tired. They had been running for some time now and she hadn't fully recovered from the first escape. Her personal magic was low thanks to healing her injuries. Without pack magic, there was no way to borrow from anyone around her. She had only enough energy to make one, maybe two full illusions to distract the hunters while she waited for help to arrives; she had become very, very good at illusions.

Leaning over to lick at her shoulder as best she could, she built the images and sent them into the underbrush to play. They worked better than she thought they would. Two gunshots fired off, the sharp ping of bullets crashing into foliage had her curling a little tighter into herself. The two images had stolen what little strength she had left and she wasn't going to be able to maintain them for long.

There was sudden, jarring scream and she lifted her ears. She fought to hold the illusions for as long as she could giving Kenshin the chance he needed to stalk the second human. There was no noise for what felt like too long and she was forced to let the illusions fade, sides heaving. A low, coughing growl caught her attention. She waited for it to repeat, to make sure it was really coming from a wolf and not a human attempting to get her attention. However, this one held a faint note of concern that was definitely Kenshin-like, so she gave a low whine in response.

It didn't take them long to zero in on her and she lifted her head as Kenshin wiggled into the little area she had located to hide in. He dipped his head and licked her shoulder clean, then nuzzled her carefully. Kaoru was too tired to snap at him for the caress and simply settled back down and watched him from tired eyes.

Aoshi arrived a few moments later with something fuzzy hanging from his jaws and he dropped it at her feet. He and Kenshin locked eyes for a long moment before Aoshi nodded and disappeared, leaving Kaoru baffled at what had been exchanged between them and dealing with a sudden sense of déjà vu.

Kenshin didn't seem interested in the rabbit and simple watched her eat. The wolf was happy for the meat and it was gone faster than she would have liked. However, it put food in her belly and would supply the energy for her healing magic to take place. Her wolf started to drowse when Kenshin carefully started grooming her fur and going back to her shoulder to lick at the wound. She was started when he settled himself next to her, his larger form acting as a buffer from the cold wind. Her wolf shifted closer happily and Kenshin's body vibrated with his approval.

Kaoru closed her eyes and settled down to sleep; ignoring the fact that she had turned to him this time. If he decided to bring it up she was just going to point out that she was hurt and it was cold. Her wolf snorted and snuggled closer, content.

Kaoru woke up to someone nuzzling along her jaw. Blinking open her eyes she gave a low growl of complaint when she realized it wasn't quite dawn and yawned when a tongue was swiped against the side of her face. Rolling to her side she gave stared at the wolf next to her and snapped her teeth together in warning.

Kenshin's tongue rolled out in a wolf smile and she sighed and rolled back onto her stomach and pushed to her feet. Immediately Kenshin followed suit and she snarled at him as he circled her, nudging her leg and licking the closed wound. He gave a sharp nod of his head to offer his approval and she flicked her tail across the snow to show that she didn't really care.

They took their time going back to the house. Or rather, Kenshin made her take her time, occasionally knocking her legs out from under her to check on her leg. The first time he had done that she had attempted to bite his ear off but he was fast. By the time they were halfway home she had gotten used to his expressions and he was allowing her to rest without him tackling her.

The wolf was quite satisfied with the arrangement, however. If Kaoru hadn't been so determined not to show anything she wouldn't have noticed the way her wolf was attempting to lounge across the snow and her satisfaction in Kenshin's attentions to her leg. She didn't need them, but she was quite content that he was taking his time to find out what was wrong with her. Kaoru was exasperated with the entire affair and just wanted to be home so she could curl up in Kenshin's sheets and sleep off her wound and not have to worry about muffling the contented noises that kept escaping her throat.

When they did reach the house Kaoru was amused at how the pack came boiling out the front door. She was quite certain that they were coming out for Kenshin and her ears flattened against her head in surprise when Megumi looked at her leg while Kenshin changed back and the babies had raw meat in their hands for her, and someone had brought something out for Kenshin to eat as well. A rough hand rubbed the fur behind her ears and someone else began demanding to know what had happened.

Kaoru ate the meat and decided to leave explanations to Kenshin. He was the alpha and he could deal with it. Once she was finished, she rolled to her feet and shook the snow from her fur, snapped at the fingers that tried to hold her back and skipped up the stairs. She heard Kenshin call her name and with a flash of rebellion, ignored him. Once she made it up the stairs and nudged open the door she changed. She lay on the floor for several moments, breathing against the hardwood floors for long moments. Her leg burned but it wasn't nearly as bad as it had been for the broken leg.

"What is it with this pack that keeps leaving me broken and bleeding all over the place?" Kaoru groaned as she picked herself up. She found a pair of pants and a t-shirt and pulled those on just as the door opened and a completely naked Kenshin walked in. He shut the door behind him, and Kaoru blinked at him in surprise.

"Now what has you all snarly?" Kaoru asked in exasperation. Telling him to put some clothing on would have suggested that she had noticed his body. She had been around naked men and women for the entirety of her life and she would not give away what her body's reaction to him was. Best to just act normal and ignore what her wolf wanted her to do.

He stalked several steps forward and Kaoru had to swallow to keep from making any sort of noise. His eyes were still the gold of his wolf and the wolf was bleeding into the rest of personality as well; his gait was more stalking than anything else. She had to grit her teeth to keep from moving backwards and lifted a brow coolly, refusing to show how nervous he was making her.

"Why didn't you wait for me?" he asked in low voice.

Kaoru frowned up at him. "Wait?"

He circled her, as if examining her for some other injury she might have managed to hide.

"Wait," he agreed. "You knew that Aoshi and I could be contacted by Sano and that we would return as quickly as possible. Instead of hunkering down with the others, you decided to go out and led them off." His breath ghosted along the back of her neck as he slid around her side, so close that his body brushed hers.

"What sort of question…"

He lend in close enough that his bangs brushed hers. "I realize that the situation was calling for something, but there was no need for you to single handedly put yourself into that sort of a situation. Packs stick together, Kaoru. They protect each other's backs. You left that protection and almost got yourself killed."

Kaoru furrowed her brows together in confusion. She chose her words carefully; not at all certain she trusted the expression in his eyes.

"I did what I was raised to do, Kenshin." She kept her voice firm. "There were little ones in the house and I wasn't about to let anything happen to them."

"It amazes me," Kenshin said finally, his voice rough. "That your pack could have so many things right, but where it counts have so many things completely wrong." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "No life in the pack is worth more than another, Kaoru. Not even mine. Do you understand?"

She pressed her lips together and shook her head in disagreement.

"I am not going to let the children be put into a situation that could cause them a moments shred of pain." She took a step back at the way his eyes flickered. "I don't understand why you are so upset. Everyone is alright."

The noise that came from the back of his throat had her eyes widening. He muttered something under his breath, and she squeaked when one of his hands ended up behind her neck and her hands were flat against his bare chest. She lifted her head to ask him what he thought he was doing. Her words were cut off by his mouth settling over hers. She should have been offended by the teeth that were pressing against her bottom lip, the almost painful grip on her hair or the aggressive way he had pulled her against him.

Instead she was pressing against him, and scraping his scalp with the edge of her claws. He growled low in his chest and she gasped at the way he sucked on her bottom lip before sliding his tongue along hers, his lips pressing hard. Twisting against him, she hooked one of her legs around him and yanked, dropping him to the floor. He pulled back to give a startled oath and she bit his bottom lip in retaliation before tugging on his hair to gain his attention, pressing her mouth back to his. His chest rumbled under her and she gasped when he rolled them, sliding a hand under her shirt and up her spine; finally resting between her shoulder blades, cushioning her from the floor. His breath was harsh against her cheek as he pulled back to place a series of nips across her jaw and chin.

"Kaoru," his voice was raspy and she lifted her lashes to stare at him. Both of their chests were heaving and the mingled scents of their arousal had her mouth turning dry. "I need to know…"

"What?" She managed, quite certain that it was the combined irritation of her temper and her wolf's that allowed her to answer at all. Her brain was occupied on the way his skin felt under her hands, the weight of him settled against her.

"Why are you saying yes?"

She blinked at him fuzzily for several moments before she managed to work through what he was asking. When she finally managed she twisted underneath him, swearing colorfully. Only the almost dead weight of his body kept her in place.

"You bastard," she growled. "Do you really think that I would sleep with you because you're the damn alpha?" She managed to snap those words before his mouth covered hers again. This time her bite drew blood and when he lifted his head he gave a low chuckle, dragging his tongue against his bleeding lip.

"I probably deserved that," he admitted in a low voice. "I had to be sure," He dropped his head and breathed deeply against her neck and she considered jabbing him in the ribs. Before she could make up her mind as to how exactly she could give him the most damage, she found herself being pulled up as he stood, secured firmly against his chest. He lifted her lightly and then dropped her onto the bed.

"I want you to run with us tonight," he breathed as he crawled up her surprised form. He braced his hands on either side of her body while his knees pressed against her thighs. His eyes glittered down at her; lower lip bloody. "I want you to live with the pack as pack, to learn how we do things. If this is something you can live with…" he took a deep breath and let it out slowly so that her bangs stirred.

"Then you can meet me with full knowledge with what you are getting into." He leaned down and nibbled on her mouth for a long moment; he tasted warm and metallic. "Because once you do that… there is no chance that I am going to let you go."

There was something hot in his eyes. Something wild that held all the promise of the run and howls under moonlight. There could be a lot said for a man who had eyes like that. He apparently didn't expect an answer because he nipped her chin in a loving sort of caress and pushed off the bed.

"The girls have decided that ice cream is the best cure for what we went through and Megumi wants to look at what's left of that shoulder wound." He let out of a gusty breath. "I think its best that we leave this room as well - until I can control myself around you again." With that he picked up a pair of pants, pulled them on, and walked out the door.

Kaoru ran her tongue over her lips to catch the last of his kiss and then followed him.

X

Kaoru shook the snow from her fur and stretched languorously. Shoving her paws out in front of her body, she arched her back and sighed in satisfaction as every inch of her body felt alive now that it was encased in fur. What was it about having hair on every part of your body that made you more aware of the snow, the sky and the glorious moon overhead?

She heard rustling in the leaves and a shadow separated itself from the tree line. It had faint traces of Misao's human body and Kaoru considered the small silver shadow that cheerfully pranced over. She was almost completely white with only small tufts of gray hair on the ends of her ears. She was smaller than Kaoru, but that matched up to how small the girl was in her human form. However, a hundred pounds of wolf flesh was a nasty surprise for anyone who thought she was going to be an easy meal.

Misao took off in a trot and they quickly joined the others. Kenshin was his great big shadow, Aoshi was all steel gray fur, Megumi was some beautiful shade of copper toned fur, and Sano was as earth colored as anyone she had ever seen in wolf. The others were arranged from shades of gray and brow. She was the only gray on black with a white underbelly. She ignored Kenshin as he came to stand at her side, warning the others off and informing her of his intent. The younger male wolf (a dark brown with a wild coat of fur) she thought they called Yahiko gave her a challenging glare and she flashed fang at him in hopes for a fight, but he sighed when Sano shouldered him and backed down.

She ignored him because she had already decided to play hard to get. It wouldn't be terribly difficult to learn to love this pack the way she had loved her other. Some part of her even thought she might learn to care for this one more. For one, she would have the responsibilities of the alpha female to take into consideration and she had always taken her duties seriously.

Again, that was if she decided to take Kenshin up on his offer. He was as warm against her side as he been that night they had laid under the stars, enjoying each other's body heat when he lovingly nuzzled her muzzle and took the brunt of the wind with his form.

She was looking forward to seeing just how fast he could run.


As always, let me know what you think!

There is also a deleted scene that can be found on my live journal. Kaoru interacting with the pack. It didn't fit because of the fact that I had already brought Yahiko in during that bit and that just wouldn't have worked. I liked it though because of her interaction with Cho and Kamatari.

Some links that I used to find information on various pieces of information for this fic can also be found on my LJ. The link to my LJ is on my author's page.