Disclaimer: I don't own Rurouni Kenshin. If you were for some reason under the impression that I did… Well, then I really wish I could live in your world.
Only the eyes of the immortal can watch the sands of time fall grain by grain. In some ways, the passage of time was infinitesimally slower to them. In others, it was so swift that the flame of a human life could spark and die in the blink of an immortal eye.
Everything happened swiftly after that. A human would have been hard-pressed to keep track of all the movement in the room.
The newcomer made a quick sweep of the room and even though his limp brown bangs drooped over his eyes, the maniacal smirk that glinted with fangs signaled her that he had spotted his prey.
A distant part of Kaoru's mind had to comment that maybe, despite his confidence, he was really the prey. 'No, wait. Scratch the maybe. It's a definite.' The one with the multi-colored eyes had a stronger fighter's aura than any demon could ever even dream of having. Now that he sensed a threat, the air fairly hummed with his presence. He hid his emotions exceptionally, but whatever it was he was feeling was complex and dangerous.
In one smooth movement, one man began to stride forward but the other was already halfway there. The flash of light off a hilt cleared Kaoru's head from the slow-motion setting it had fallen into and it smoothly shifted to instinct mode instead.
Not wanting to get between either of the demons at this point, 'Pft. I could handle the greasy one. It's the golden-eyed one I'd rather not get in the way of…' Kaoru struck the wall with her left palm, not breaking eye contact with the scene in front of her, and whispered a magic-tainted word. Her eyes flashed an even more brilliant blue and iridescent barrier shot from the floor to bubble around the warriors. Even if she couldn't stop those two from coming to blows, at least it wouldn't spill over and inadvertently injure the others in the room.
As she made a beeline for the fight, she scanned the room and was grateful that most of the other occupants were slipping either out the door or up the stairs to the inn half of the building.
'Knowing them though, they're upstairs peeking down through railing, or at least using their little charms to listen in.' She sighed, internally, 'Demons are such gossipmongers.'
A group of burly wolverine's from the outskirts of town who helped as bouncers when, like today, Sano forgot to show up for work, were hanging back looking helplessly between her and the combatants. Even they looked hesitant. It was obvious that everyone would be out of their league against this redheaded dragon. She was right at the edge of the defensive barrier now, and could tell their species. The other was a gaki. An undead fiend created from the dieing souls of wicked men. Only high-class demons can perform the necessary ceremony to keep them alive, 'if "alive" what you want to call it.' Even then, they are cursed with an insatiable hunger for a particular substance or object. As far as Kaoru knew, it was unknown why a gaki desired its particular infatuation, but it did make them highly manipulable and useful for perverse individuals. She was drawing the conclusion that that type of twisted demon had sent this ill-fated soul after the dragon, and from the look in his eye, he probably craved the most common of gaki lusts: blood. And lots of it. Usually paired with torturously slow deaths at the hand of dull, rusty knives or animalistic claws.
All of this had taken mere seconds, and both demons were set in defensive positions. The gaki had a spiked flail, a steel bar with a chain attached to a ball with 2'' spikes, in hand and was swinging it in a slow, steady taunt, but the dragon had only grasped his sheath near the hilt with his left hand while his right hovered in preparation. Then, with the slow flick of his thumb, the blade slid into view. Acting on impulse, Kaoru slide through her barrier and took a chance.
Before either man could react, she was between them with her back to the redhead. At least he seemed sane. She was just going to have to follow her gut feeling that he wouldn't cut her down without a second thought. Even while her rational side was screaming: 'Are you INSANE! Do you want to die!'She just told that part of her brain to shut up. It's not as if she listened to it a lot anyways. You'd think it would be used to that fact by now and stop its futile efforts.
"No blood can be spilt on this land. You will respect the declaration of neutrality or be forcibly removed." She gritted through her teeth with marked emphasis at the end, while her cobalt eyes sparked with anger.
"Do you think a little elf like you can stop my lord's will?" The gaki taunted. His sepia eyes widened even more and his pupils dilated to little pricks, while he grinned so insanely every pointed tooth gleamed un-naturally.
A whisper of movement and she found herself behind the dragon without feeling like he'd touched her, but she could see he hadn't just stepped in front of her either. His voice was soft but demanding as he commanded, "Leave."
She almost hesitated, but then her temper flared at the nerve of his ordering her to run off from a fight in her own inn and just expect him to save her poor, little, defenseless self. As the intruder stepped forward to rush them, and her wannabe-rescuer started his lightning fast movement, she took mere milliseconds to use all her magical-might to shove the dragon out of her way and shout the word taught to every keeper of neutral land. The very word it's self, and the breath used to expel it, seemed to catch hold of the gaki and fly him backwards, through her wall without damaging it in the least. Anyone outside would have seen one average looking demon with a flail in hand go whizzing through the air, growling in frustration, for miles and miles. If anyone had been in a particular part of the forest near the top of a mountain 40 miles away, they might have seen him hit a large oak tree at nearly 200 miles per hour. As it was, he shattered upon impact into a million little pieces. Even the strongest demon in the world couldn't have resurrected him then.
100 miles back though, Kaoru had a faint twinge of regret for her actions when she was suddenly pinned with the fierce glare of a certain demon. His eyes looked like molten amber burning into a churning liquid.
An unusual nervousness flickered to life inside of her. Maybe she should have just let him handle his problem. He clearly would have been capable of managing the situation himself.
It wasn't just his problem. As long as her body was still able to fight, she would protect this land, and that included keeping this soil pure of blood. It was her duty as warden of this sanctuary.
Her faith renewed, Kaoru hitched her chin up and fired back with her worst glare. The one that put fear into the hearts of all her employees. The one that put Sanosuke on his best behavior.
Their glaring match had gone on for almost 5 minutes when the dragon suddenly slid his blade fully the 2 inches back into it's sheath again. "What is your name?" his smooth voice slid through the air and wrapped it's self around her.
Startled by his sudden change in attitude, she replied quietly, "Kamiya Kaoru."
"Himura Kenshin. I apologize for burdening you and endangering your tavern with my enemies." His eyes consumed me. The gold had softened, lost its fierce burn, but the warm fire in them tightened my chest. Out of apprehension or some other emotion, she wasn't sure, but he made her nervous either way.
She had to divert her attention. Break the eye contact. It wasn't magic, but those eyes distracted her more than they should.
With a surge of will power, she broke away and walked over to where someone had tipped over a table in their dash to leave. "Don't apologize. He became my enemy the instant he walked onto my property with the intent to attack," she attempted to say nonchalantly. However, she was pretty sure her voice was too unbalanced to pass for normal, even to a stranger.
'Snap out of it Kaoru! He's just a man. Sure, he's absolutely gorgeous… With those liquid gold eyes, you could drown yourself in without a second thought… That deep red hair… I can already imagine it feeling like silk between my fingers… GAH! Stop that train of thought RIGHT NOW. You saw how quickly he would have killed that man… thing… whatever. You don't even know who he is. Whoever sent that gaki after him is the worst of the worst, but that doesn't mean this man isn't just a rival. Think. Don't let his attractiveness deceive your defenses.'
Irritated at herself for letting one man numb her senses, within minutes, after years of mental and physical training, Kaoru didn't hear him move and almost jumped out of her skin when he lifted the table out of her light grip and righted it. "Thank you," she fairly squeaked.
He turned than and smile. It wasn't the charming, predatory smile she had been expecting. She could suddenly read one emotion clearly in his eyes. Amusement. Pure and simple amusement. His eyes had changed too; the violet was back. Although it wasn't as cold as before. As irate as she wanted to be at the idea that he was laughing at her, she couldn't help but think he didn't laugh a lot. The surprise she registered in his eyes said as much. So, she just stifled her urge to yell at him, and scowled half-heartedly at the wall instead.
Then a thought struck her, and she turned back. "Hey, do you have a place nearby to stay tonight?" She asked curiously, with a slender tilt to her head.
He'd been staring at the door when I spoke. "I'm afraid I'll only bring you more trouble, Ms. Kaoru. I appreciate your offer, but I should be going," he said and faced her again. Genuine remorse flashed through his eyes.
"Nonsense. Before he walked in that door, you were here for a reason. Whether for just a drink or a bed to sleep in, you were still here for some rest." A little stretch of the truth suddenly rolled off her tongue. "The Barrier will be on high alert all night after dispelling that gaki. You really have no choice, actually. No one can enter or leave until sunrise," she blurted. She really wasn't sure why she told him this. It wasn't as if it was any skin off her back if he left. He would have been fine until the next city, if not longer. He could have gone through the Barrier, an almost sentient force that surrounded the perimeter, as long as his aura was devoid of ill intent.
For a moment, it seemed like he realized that what she said wasn't wholly true. Yet, he still nodded, with a slight smile hiding at the corners of his lips. "I suppose a little rest wouldn't hurt. Nevertheless, I don't need more than your smallest room." His tone was pleasant and the unspoken "please" hung in the air, but his body language brooked no argument. He'd agree to stay as long as it was under his terms, and he wouldn't impose on her any more than necessary.
The host in her wanted to negotiate, but she knew this was the only way she could get him to stay. And a part of her willed he would stay. Hoped it more than she was inclined to admit to even herself.
It wasn't because she was lonely. Or even because she found him irresistibly attractive. 'Because I don't.' It was just an intuitive fraction of her brain was insisting she do everything she could to keep him here for the night. The rest of her was afraid of what would happen if she didn't concede, so she just kept her mouth shut and twisted around to lead him up the stairs. He followed silently. The stairs didn't even creak softly under his feet. If she weren't for the aura she sensed behind her, she'd have sworn she was alone.
The scuttle of feet above was unmistakable. She rolled her eyes to herself, but she could help but smile at the fact that they weren't just eavesdropping but were also looking out for her. At least that's what they usually said when she caught them in the act. She liked to believe that wasn't a complete lie, especially at times like this. 'Mou! They had better worry about my well-being. Most of them wouldn't have a safe place to go if it weren't for me!' She told herself, half-seriously, but there was under-lying affection that seeped through nonetheless.
Reaching an empty room, the smallest style available, just as he'd asked, and fished the key out of her pocket. There were no actual keys in her breeches until she summoned a specific one from the pouch of void connected to her pocket and weaved into her specific aura. It was the simplest way to make sure no one got a key without her consent.
She handed him the key then, and watched him unlock the door. Now, he, and only he, could use it until he returned it and she wiped his presence from its limited memory.
Satisfied, she murmured a good night and backed away to leave him alone. A melodic whisper snaked its way into her ear. "Sweet dreams... Ms. Kaoru." Pretending she didn't hear that, she didn't miss a step as returned back down the stairs to her own room.
For safety's sake, only a select few 'Ha. Since when has Sano been referred to as "a select few"?' knew the exact location, and no one else would ever be able to find it. Their mind would force them to disregard the inconspicuous door.
All the Fae-magic saturating the building, the air, and the very ground really did come in handy. Well, as long as you were Fae that is. And Kaoru was the last remaining elf, or Fae of any sort, in this region. Not even a few will'o'wisps remained in the surrounding meadows… But that wasn't a topic Kaoru wished to delve her mind into. She didn't have the energy. Instead, she shuttered her mind, set up the normal wards inside and outside the inn, paused, then set up a few more just in case, before finally burrowing into her comforter and letting sleep wash her away.
Unlike most other Immortals, she did dream, but none of them held any significance that night.
I really cannot express how happy it makes me that so many of you like my story so much! I've never gotten that many reviews on for a first chapter! So, you can all thank yourselves and each other for this update! Your praise made me so energized to write chapter 2. I know not much happened, but they did meet! Not exactly love at first sight…. but there is definite attraction and spark between them! Ah, this is why I love them as a couple so much. Lot's of physical attraction, but their personalities fit so well together. Her temper, his even-temperance. Their mutual inner-anguish. And… GAH! I almost gave spoilers away! Nope. No more. I gotta shuddup before I give the whole story away after only 2 chapters!
Thank you to all who left me a review and everyone else who even took a chance and read even if you didn't review! Brownies for all!
Hey! I'm the author who just wrote all this! I should get some brownie too.
:savoring without chewing:
Yummeh. My favorite…
Tell me if stupid QuickEdit randomly deleted any spaces again. I tried to catch all of them, but... I'm not perfect. Sorry.