Well, I said I would get it up much sooner than I did, but I hope you will forgive me!
My fingers are rebellious at any chance they get. I believe they are at war with the muses and are convinced that they will win if only the mess up my grammar enough times…
Anyway! Here it is! The long awaited sequel to Ebony Glass. Or… I think it was long awaited…
Disclaimer: No matter how many times I write Kenshin naked, he still doesn't show up under my tree. So this is where I admit that I don't own his character and go cry about it.
Warnings: Nudity. Reference to sex. Violence. But mostly not against rules. I think…
The cold wind cut through the cracks in the old shack like a knife but the inhabitants didn't seem to notice. In such a small place the tension was noticeable. Still, no one even dared to shift their weight, leaving only the faint grinding noise of metal on metal as the overhead lamp rocked in the wind that came in.
"We haven't even found a large paw print. All of the wolves that we have killed have been just that. They're already gone."
Someone slammed their palms on the wooden table. "They knew we were coming. Your brother struck too early!"
"He killed wolves!" The older man stood angrily, his chair grinding noisily against the wooden floor.
"Sit down." Apprehension filled the room as the men glared at each other, before a voice spoke from the shadows near the door. His movements slow and controlled, the man standing finally did as he was ordered.
"We have found no sign of the party that came before us. We must assume they are dead and that the bodies have been disposed of. We have found no trace of the pack that they claim to have destroyed, no sign of pelts or bones to prove their existence."
"There had to be two packs."
"There are no signs," the angry voice interrupted, his dark eyes flashing at the younger boy.
"Let Junior speak."
Weight shifted uneasily, cracked lips suddenly damp with the fast swipe of his tongue. "There had to be a second pack. The message only said that they killed a pack. There is no sign that the pack they killed was the one that we were tracking."
"It is a possibility to look into."
"But," the scruffy looking youth near the table demanded, frowning at the youngest one, "if they didn't kill the pack that our sources say claim this area, which pack did they kill?"
"It appears we have a few things to investigate before we return home."
"We still haven't killed any of those bloodthirsty animals!"
"We will." The voice turned hard. "We will find the pack responsible for the death of your son, and when we do, we will offer proof to the world of the secret we have been keeping for generations."
"As soon as we can. The werewolves days are numbered
"Kaoru!" The voice bellowed up at her from the living area. Her current bedroom was the only one on the second floor, the other having been converted into a makeshift library a moon or so ago. "Dinner will be here in ten minutes! Get your lazy ass down here!"
"I'll be there in a minute!" she bellowed back, rolling her eyes at Kamatari's demanding voice. Kenshin had decided in that long drive back to the States, where his pack normally lived, that it would be better for her to bed down with Kamatari and Chou rather than try to make a go of it with one of the mated pairs. She thought part of that might have had something to do with the fact that the cubs liked to spend their afternoons here, because Kamatari was the most willing to have tea parties and play with dolls. Although, she had caught Sano sitting down in front of the pink table, the little cup awkward in his large knuckled hands, a slightly pained expression on his rugged face.
Even with the comfortable living arrangements, and she considered her own room and her own bathroom to be comfortable, sometimes she itched to do… something. Staring at her ceiling, she ignored the aroma of good food.
Maybe her current problem was that she hadn't seen much of Kenshin lately. Biting her bottom lip, she sighed. She knew that was her wolf's problem. She was making it clear that she resented his lack of attention, while the woman knew that there were reasons why Kenshin hadn't been around. She couldn't doubt his intentions after the run. She had spent more than one night curled up against his side, letting him taking the brunt of the wind, warmed by his thick coat of fur and comfortable knowing that the wolf next to her was her equal. There were business problems, pack issues, and other things to keep Kenshin tied up, and he had made the decision to give her breathing space and allow her to settle in before he demanded she take up the responsibilities as his mate.
She could understand, and even appreciate, the fact that he wanted her to make her own place in the pack, not to allow her status of alpha female to make it for her. Still, at night when she curled up in her bed alone and had to deal with her wolf when it was cranky because she was alone, she wanted to ring his neck.
Which was the current issue: her wolf's continued unhappiness. Wolf instinct wanted to sleep curled up in Kenshin's heat, to wake with his scent on her skin, his hands in her hair. In the wild, wolves groomed each other, and that instinct had been passed onto their were-brothers. Kaoru had spent several nights crashed out in front of the fireplace while Kamatari braided and brushed. Perhaps that was why most were-kind chose to wear their hair a little longer than humans preferred.
Her foster mother had warned her that once she started to develop her wolf instincts, even in human form, she would carry her wolf. The fact it now meant dealing with her wolf's instinct to prove she was worthy to Kenshin's wolf had been unexpected.
"Kaoru! We're not leaving you any potatoes!"
Kaoru rolled off the bed. She had endured a great deal of teasing from the boys when they realized she liked potatoes nearly as much as she liked meat. She hadn't found a way to tell them that in her pack, there was only so much food to go around and sometimes you had to learn to like other foods. Here, there wasn't a meal that didn't have leftovers (well, assuming Sano wasn't eating with them) and there was always a good supply of snack food.
Downstairs, unlike her room, was always a riotous clutter, children's shoes, the smells of dinner, and the good natured disorganization that had driven her crazy her first two weeks, which she had eventually gotten over. Ayame and Suzume weren't there tonight, and neither, thankfully, was Sano, so she found herself squished between Kamatari and Chou on the couch as the two men fought over what TV show they would watch. Eventually they settled on the default news station, and their favorite activity of trying to filch food off her plate.
Several stab wounds and a bowl of ice cream later, Kaoru managed to escape back to her room. Locking the door, a habit she hadn't been able to break, she went to her window and climbed out onto the roof. The roof itself was ideal for moon watching, with enough flat space that she could spread a blanket out on if she wanted to sleep outside, the entire area hidden by the branches of a large tree for anyone looking from the road. It even managed to cover her window so she could leave it open at night and not have to worry about peeping toms watching her sleep.
The blanket she had spread out for her afternoon nap was still there and she sprawled across it before rolling onto her back and staring up at the stars. Or what she could see of them, rather, as streetlights dimmed their bright glow. Only the moon was clearly visible. It would be a full moon soon. In the three months since she had been home, she hadn't been on a run, although Kamatari had invited her the last time he and Chou went to relieve the itchy feeling that moved under your skin if you didn't change. She had changed once or twice in her room, not willing to interfere in Kamatari and Chou's private time. They needed it. It wasn't easy for humans that preferred their own sex, but it was even harder for were-folk.
Her old pack never would have tolerated it.
Kicking her legs up on the uneven roof to elevate them, she considered the thought. It was possible that was the root of her current frustration. Everything here was run in a way that made more sense, but in the process, made her old pack look… bad. It was creating conflict inside her, the knowledge that her old pack had been unreasonable and unfair in many of its judgments, and while that didn't make them a bad pack, it wasn't making them a good one either.
For the pack to be as large as it was and for them not to have the understanding of human nature that Kenshin seemed to possess… 'You're just going to tie yourself up in knots if you keep thinking like this.' Kaoru reminded herself. 'You don't know much about Kenshin's past, why he does the things he does, what experiences he is drawing on, so you have no right to judge the alpha pair.'
"Hey, Kaoru! Chou and I are taking the jeep out!" There was a slight hesitation. "Would you like to come with us?"
She smiled to herself and shook her head. "No." She had to twist around to get close enough to the window that it would sound like she was in her room. "I have some stuff I need to read. I'll see you two in the morning."
She frowned when, instead of moving away, he leaned against the doorframe. "You know, Kaoru, it's not good for you to not run. You're going to need to let your wolf out sometime and get some exercise."
She nodded. "I know, I will, I promise. I just don't really feel up to running tonight, and I really do have some reading I need to do." She was glad that one of the rules of this pack was to get a full education, including a college degree if they were interested. She didn't need to go back to school though. Her old pack, based on her scores for the entrance exams, had allowed her take online classes through a local university. It had been difficult. Each semester had demanded as many online classes as she could take and not force the pack to pay outside of what she had gotten for her scholarship. It had taken three years of torture, but she had received her degree in intrance exams, had allowed her take online classeGeneral Business. Once Aoshi had found out he started to insist that she keep up with what was going on in the business world. Three weeks ago, she had started getting daily deliveries of the Wall Street Journal.
"All right!" Kamatari said finally. "See you 'round."
"I'm not cooking breakfast and we're out of milk," Kaoru reminded him. "So if you want something other than the week old bagels we have, I suggest you come home early enough to cook it!"
Muttering curses had her smirking and she flopped back onto her back. Soon the sounds of the jeep pulling out of the driveway followed by the flash of taillights told her she was alone. Yawning, she curled up on her side and watched the streetlights twinkle between the branches.
She must have dozed off, because the sound of someone pulling into the driveway was sudden and startling. Moving onto her knees, she leaned over the edge of the roof to peer at her visitors, secure in the knowledge that they could not see her. It took a moment for the faint breeze to bring her their scents, but when they did she blinked in surprise. She didn't recognize them offhand, but they smelled like wolf. Kaoru was comfortable enough with her own fighting skills to hold her own, but she had no intention of handling three males by herself if she could avoid it. The sounds of the doorbell ringing had her digging her claws into the shingles, but when they did nothing more than that, she relaxed.
Eventually they got into their vehicle and left. She waited fifteen minutes, wondering if they would come back, and was rewarded by the same vehicle driving past. Another count of fifteen minutes had them driving by again. Frowning, she wondered what exactly they were doing. Kenshin hadn't told her that Chou and Kamatari were the meet and greeters of the pack, so she had been under the impression that was Misao and Aoshi's jobs. They were the quickest thinkers of the group and the fastest; they could easily get away from a trap or rouge that wanted to speak to the alpha without permission.
Pondering her moves, she considered what she would have done in their situation. They were obviously wolves, and if they were willing to circle the home several times, they were desperate to speak to someone, possibly Kenshin. If she were in their shoes she would tap the phone lines. Then she would make her move on the house. This meant she couldn't call Kenshin; she would have to report on foot to his home. She would have to be careful too, because she doubted that he would appreciate her making the ten mile run on her own, much less the idea of her being followed.
Although, admittedly, he would be much crankier about her making the run on her own than if she was careless (that glare would come from Aoshi), but he could get over it.
She went ahead and waited for the group to make another pass before dropping off the roof, using the tree as a cover. A jump over the back gate and she took off down the next street, being sure to find cover and make sure that she wasn't being followed.
Three shadows pealed themselves off the walls and moved in the direction she had originally disappeared before backtracking as she waited to see what sort of lookouts they had placed on her home. It didn't surprise her that she was being followed, but unfortunately for them, she was good at hiding. It took a little more work to blend her magic into this environment instead of the wilderness, but she should be able to lose them, or at least, find a way to get to Kenshin with enough time to explain.
She ignored the trembling that coursed through her stomach at the idea of seeing Kenshin again. Forcibly reminding herself that she couldn't risk being distracted, she waved her spell and then took off, determined to get to Kenshin as soon as possible.
Well, maybe not as soon as possible. She had some false trails to lay first.
Gasping for air, she leaned over her knees and breathed deeply. She had taken the last two miles at a dead sprint and while in wolf form, two miles was hardly worth the effort, in her human form she was still limited by her own physical stamina. Pulling out all the stops after running for eight miles was enough to make her heave air. Still, if she hadn't lost the idiots following her completely, she had at least bought herself half an hour or more for Kenshin to decide what he wanted to do.
Much better than ringing him up and giving them an address to find, so she supposed she could avoid most of her scolding. Straightening up, she took a slower pace to the front door and knocked politely. The lights on in the house said that he wasn't asleep.
To her surprise, Sano opened the door.
"Hey Missy! It's a bit late for you to be out driving… I thought you were going to head out with Kamatari and Chou tonight?"
Kaoru snorted. "No, I had other things to do. Hey, listen, is Kenshin home? I need to talk to him about something."
"Yeah, he is in the kitchen making coffee… you didn't run here, did you?"
"No," she said lightly, "I jogged." Ducking under his arm, she moved into the house, the tension in her shoulders and the nervousness that had started to build as she ran easing at the familiar scent of ginger.
He was in the kitchen and turned before she entered. His stance relaxed when he saw her, something warm flickering behind his eyes before he glanced over her form and breathed deeply, pupils narrowing a little. "You've been using magic."
Never one to dance around a point, she had to give him that. "I don't think I was followed, but they might have managed it."
"Followed?" Sano's voice echoed, his voice hard. "Who would be following you?"
Kaoru opened her mouth to answer, but Kenshin cut in. "Go sit down, Kaoru. If you ran all the way here and used magic, I would prefer you off your feet before you started talking. I'll bring in the coffee, Sanosuke, if you will fetch Megumi."
She hesitated as Sano turned away before nodding and moving back into the living room. The fireplace wasn't lit as the nights were still warm enough not to need it, but it still managed to be the focal point of the room. Kaoru wished she knew who his decorator was. Flopping down onto the couch, she ran her fingers through her bangs and closed her eyes, allowing the familiarity of the pack's scent to soothe her still edgy wolf
She opened them again at the sound of Kenshin setting the tray down. He handed her a mug of the hot liquid, but before she could thank him, Megumi and Sano walked back into the room. Megumi looked a little tired, but the first month of a pregnancy was always hard. Kaoru smiled at her friend, curling her fingers a little more firmly around her mug.
"Now," Kenshin said as he settled himself in the recliner, giving the rest of the couch to the couple. "Who would be following you?"
It took only a few minutes for her to get the story out, explaining the activities of the truck and the three men that had been following her. When she had finished, Kenshin frowned, his fingers curled loosely around his mug.
"Sano, get in touch with Aoshi and see if he can get in touch with Chou and Kamatari. I will check in with Gensai and the girls and make sure their wards are still fully functional, but I will be bringing them back here to sleep tonight."
"What about Yahiko?" Megumi questioned. "He is still on campus for another few weeks; they might try to contact him there."
"I can get in touch with him easily enough after I call Aoshi," Sano offered. "The little brat might actually answer if I call."
"Good. Kaoru, you might as well plan on staying here the night. Sano, you and Meg will be staying as well." Kaoru nodded. She hadn't been exactly excited about going home to an empty house patrolled by unknown wolves.
"The wards are fully active here," Kenshin told them as he stood, setting his mug on the tray. "Even if they did manage to follow you, they should distract them."
Kaoru shivered a little. She wasn't entirely sure what sort of magic was open to the alpha, but she knew it had been designed to make sure that a fair leader stayed in place. It depended on the underlings, in some mysterious way she had never understood, but an alpha that was loved by his people was almost impossible to remove, at least in magical combat. They could still be beaten by fang and claw, but those sorts of battles were becoming increasingly rare as magical skills and the ability to see the big picture was becoming more prized as humans continued to expand and exploit nature.
Her inner wolf bristled as Kenshin left, upset at not being paid enough attention, and Kaoru stood to take the tray back into the kitchen looking for distraction. 'It's not his fault he has duties,' Kaoru griped at her, 'he is our alpha.' It was important.
"I haven't seen much of you lately," Megumi said as she walked in, putting a pot of water on to boil for herbal tea. Weres didn't have to follow the strict diets humans did when they were pregnant. From what Kaoru knew from the few pregnant weres she had spoken to over the years, they mostly had to up their intake of protein. Were magic protected the baby once the body recognized that it was pregnant. Still, the first trimester could be tricky so it was better to be careful. So that meant no caffeine.
"Well," Kaoru reminded her. "Kamatari put me on the substitute teaching roster, and I keep end up finger painting with the kindergarteners. With how busy everyone has been recently, I didn't expect to find you here."
Megumi sighed, dunking in the little tea bag into her cup of hot water to let it seep. "I was hoping things would settle down a little, but I guess not."
"What has everyone been doing?" It was a little risky to ask such a blunt statement when she was technically still a probationary pack member, regardless of Kenshin's interest, but Megumi didn't seem to mind.
"Planning ahead," Megumi said bluntly.
"The worst," the older woman admitted. "What happened to your pack isn't unusual. We haven't asked why your pack left their territory, because we can guess. Unfortunately, it isn't the first case. If something happens near enough to our pack that we will have to pack up and leave, he wants a bolt hole. The Canadian mountains were our bolt hole in the past, but with hunters having found us there, he wants a new place."
Kaoru nodded thoughtfully. That made sense. With Megumi expecting a pup, and with Ayame and Suzume so little, they would need a place they could run to protect the pups at easily enough.
"You know," Megumi said suddenly. "If anyone else had pulled the little stunt you just did, we would have gotten an earful."
Kaoru frowned, loading the last of the dishes into Kenshin's dishwasher. "What does that mean?"
"It means," she returned, "that you shouldn't worry so much."
Turning away from Kaoru, Megumi walked towards the hallway. "Sano and I will be using the guest room downstairs, and Gensai and the girls are staying here as well, you might be more comfortable in Kenshin's bed than the couch."
Her wolf stirred at the idea of sleeping pressed against Kenshin and she pushed it down. "Are all the beds made?"
"No," Megumi said with a sigh. "The rules are we make out own beds, find our own towels, and clean everything back up. Still, if you make the upstairs, I will make the downstairs."
Kenshin couldn't say he was surprised when Aoshi joined him. It would take Gensai a few moments to wake the girls and get them ready, and he had the time to watch the house. "Seen anything?"
"Nothing. Either they gave up or put all their energy into tracking Kaoru."
Kenshin's mouth curled upwards at that thought. She didn't give herself enough credit, but after trying to track her twice in the middle of the cold forest in Canada, he knew her skills with magic. He doubted they would find his home tonight.
"Misao went after Chou and Kamatari then."
"What are your plans?" Aoshi might not have been his beta, but he was respected.
"I am going to keep an eye on our friends; they will be back eventually." Aoshi replied.
Kenshin nodded. He needed to be getting to Gensai and the pups; they needed to be in the safety of his home. Turning, he went to slip into the shadows.
"You might want to explain things to the girl sometime."
Kaoru. Kenshin smiled to himself. It had been unexpected and wonderful to see her tonight. Kamatari had been giving him daily updates, but it wasn't the same as being able to read her day's experiences in her scent and to feel her presence against him.
Stepping in the shadows he moved quickly, keeping himself cloaked in the darkness.
Kaoru flopped onto Kenshin's bed and pressed her nose into his pillow. The upstairs guest room had turned out to have two beds in it, both doubles, tucked into each side of the room so there was barely enough room to walk between. Still, she had gotten them made, located the clean towels and opened a window to air the room out.
Then she had taken advantage of Kenshin's shower and cleaned all signs of her run from her skin. Kenshin hadn't returned yet, but she was tired and Sano was downstairs and would deal with any issues without her. He was the beta after all, and she was just the woman sleeping in Kenshin's bed.
Pulling the sheets back, and sighing at the way her borrowed pants from Megumi fell past her toes, she curled up and settled in for the night. Kenshin would show up when he did. Closing her eyes, she tried to imagine how this room was different from the room he had claimed for himself in the large home in the Canadian wilds.
Well, it wasn't so cold. Spring was still chilly, but not too bad for their kind. So the sheets were lighter, not covered in the thick, warm blankets that smelled of fur and ginger. The home held more of a human feel, not so wild. Probably protection against hunters; if the home was raided, it needed to look like someone normal lived here, where in the other home; they had a little more freeway to let their wolves help pick the furniture.
The noise of the front door opening had her sitting up, blinking blurrily at the clock. It was a little past one. The sounds of the pups making complaining noises had her rolling out of the bed and down the hall to check on things.
"Kaoru!" Suzume's tired voice told the others she was there. "I tired!" She was sprawled out across Kenshin's shoulder, her arms around his neck, her wide eyes tired. "Sleep!"
"I'll take her if you need to help Gensai?" Kaoru offered, opening her arms to Suzume who reached for her. Kenshin nodded, making sure she had the baby balanced before going to help Gensai with his other granddaughter. Sano had the luggage. It didn't take long to get the babies settled into bed. More quickly than she thought possible, she found herself standing in the hall, yawning as Kenshin shut the door behind him.
"I was crashed in your bed, but I can sleep on the couch," Kaoru offered. Instead of answering she found her back pressed against the wall as Kenshin lifted her chin and kissed her, his arm sliding around her waist. It wasn't a hard kiss, but it was firm enough that her toes curled as she clung to him.
"I had thought I had made things clear on the run," he murmured against her mouth.
Kaoru lifted a brow, the edges of her mouth curling a little. "Is that so?"
He growled a little before he reached over and picked her up, ignoring her softly hissed protest. "You're not sleeping on the couch."
She sighed. She didn't really want to argue with him over something she wanted anyway. Sleeping on the couch with the knowledge that his bed was so close would have irritated her wolf, and she would have made sure that Kaoru didn't sleep at all. It only took a moment before they were both curled under the covers, Kenshin's nose pressed behind her ear as he wrapped himself around her. Yet, no matter how long she lay there, she couldn't relax. No matter how happy her inner wolf was at being this close to Kenshin, she was still feeling neglected and was quite irritated that he hadn't noticed.
"Kenshin," Kaoru said hesitantly, wondering if he had already fallen asleep.
"Why are you avoiding me?"
He shifted against her, and suddenly his breath was along her cheek as he looked down at her. "I'm not avoiding you."
Her wolf snorted. Her human form mimicked the move without permission. "Tonight was the first time you have showed any interest in me since we came back, and we haven't had more than an hour's conversation in that time as well." Closing her eyes she took a deep breath. "I have been racking everything up to your being busy, needing time to sort things out, but then you go and do what you did in the hall and act like nothing have changed."
He had pulled away from her completely, and when he spoke again, his tone was serious. "Nothing has changed, Kaoru. To be honest, I have been busy, but I also wanted to give you room to decided what you wanted." The edge of his mouth kicked up in a self-deprecating smile. "I was wondering how long it would take you to get fed up with the situation."
Kaoru stared at him. "You were wondering how long it would be before I got upset?"
Kenshin frowned running his fingers through his bangs. "That sounds bad," he started, but she cut his words off by picking up the pillow and smacking him in the face with it. He blinked, startled, and she glared at him.
"I cannot believe you just said that!" Kaoru snarled at him, moving to get off the bed. "I have been attempting to figure this out on my own for three months and you were just waiting for me to get mad enough?"
Before she could get off the bed she was jerked backwards, landing on the pillows, breathless, with Kenshin leaning over her. She stared at him, still furious, eyes narrowing at the barely contained patience on his face.
"Kaoru… I was waiting for you to decide what you wanted. I wasn't sure how that was going to come out, but when we finished the run you were still confused and uncertain about your place among the pack. I needed to give you that time to discover yourself. I was waiting for some sort of sign from you that you had settled in and would welcome advances. I was not going to take the chance that you were just saying yes to please an alpha."
She made a frustrated noise. "You are so damn confusing! Why can't you act like a normal alpha?"
He chuckled against her throat. "I thought I was."
She hit him in the ribs. "You are not acting like any alpha I have known!"
"I didn't mean to confuse you," he sighed.
"Well you did. Fix it."
He laughed, his body relaxing along hers. "Fix it, huh?"
She sniffed. "You're the alpha."
Shaking his head, he kissed her collarbone. "Well then. I will say this: it is my intention of making you my mate and my partner. I do not wish to rush you, but these last three months have taxed my limited patience. So make up your mind soon."
Kaoru was silent for several moments. "I can work with that."
"You," Kenshin growled, ticking her sides just to feel her move, "do these things on purpose."
The most comfortable feeling in the world was waking up with someone else wrapped comfortably around you. She had spent her entire life surrounded by men, sleeping between the warm press of fur and human skin, but waking up in Kenshin's arms, knowing what he wanted from their relationship, was something new. Smiling, she twisted around and snuggled into the hollow of his throat, ignoring the knot the sheets were twisted into by her motions.
"Morning," Kenshin's voice was deep under her ear as his arms wrapped around her back. "I think I like this better than my alarm."
"What time is it?" Kaoru questioned.
He sighed heavily. "Early enough that if we didn't have to worry about those wolves staking out your home, we would be able to sleep in for a few more hours."
Grumbling a little since they hadn't gotten more than three hours of sleep, having chosen to discuss their relationship and Kenshin's views on what being his partner was. To her chagrin, and partial amusement, he had informed her that whatever her alpha pair had been, properly dominant was not one of them. He had been disgusted at her explanations of what she had grown up with. He suggested that she follow her instincts when dealing with the pack; it was the best way she was going to learn.
"We should probably get up then." She sighed against his throat. "And don't even suggest a shower. I took one last night, and so did you." She jabbed him in the stomach when he sighed again. "But I will allow you to cook breakfast."
"Allow me, huh," he growled, his head dipping so that his cheek was pressed against hers while his chest rumbled with a growl.
"Are you attempting to bully me before I have had my coffee?" Kaoru growled right back. Before Kenshin could reply, her stomach rumbled hungrily. His demeanor changed as his body shook with laughter.
"All right, all right," he said as he started to untangle himself. "I know a losing battle when I see one… what did you do to the sheets, woman?"
"Why is it my fault?" Kaoru shot back, kicking one leg out and snorting with amusement at Kenshin's disgruntled face. "Don't make me hit you with a pillow again."
"If you hit me with that pillow," he told her in a mild tone, "you won't be getting breakfast before we go and deal with the wolves."
They managed to untangle themselves enough to escape the bed and dressed in record time. Kaoru pulled on the clothing she had been wearing the night before, glad it was a pair of jeans and t-shirt that didn't show wear like other clothes would have.
Megumi and Sano were up, but Gensai and the girls were still asleep and Kenshin had nixed the idea of waking them for breakfast. The fridge was well stocked and he had foods on hand that pups liked to eat. For them, he scrambled eggs and fried toast, and the pack wolfed everything down as quickly as they could.
"So, Aoshi called a little bit ago. Around four, they just parked in the driveway, waiting for someone to come home." Sano informed them around mouthfuls of eggs and swats from his wife, accompanied by orders to chew, swallow, and speak.
"Hmm, well, at least we won't have to track them down."
"You're a lot calmer than I thought you would be," Sano said finally.
"They haven't hurt anyone yet, and besides following Kaoru," his jaw clenched for a heartbeat before he spoke again, "they haven't broken any of the rules. Until they do something illegal, I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt."
"But not enough of one to tell them where the safe house in this town is," Megumi said slyly. Kenshin took a bite of toast instead of answering. It was a silent testament of his state of mind that they left the dishes to be finished later.
The truck was parked a little down from the house. Kamatari and Chou weren't back yet, and Kaoru suspected that they were supposed to stay back in case someone needed to check on the pups and Gensai or as a surprise if things got ugly. She didn't see a sign of Aoshi or Misao either, but those two were their own force to be reckoned with. Looking around, she was relieved not to see any sign of forced entry into her home. Avoiding Kenshin's eyes, she checked to make sure there hadn't been any magic used to hide an attempt. Nothing.
"Good," Kenshin breathed in her ear, and she almost jumped out of her skin at his sudden presence. "Besides Aoshi, you're the best with magic in the pack. It's clear then?"
She nodded, trying to think through that statement. Kenshin used the magic given to the alpha, which wasn't exactly the same as what the pack had access to. She was going to have to ask him questions sometime about what exactly his magic entailed. As far as she knew, being his mate would only change the amount of pack magic available to her, not the type of magic she used. Another question she needed to ask.
"I need to change clothes," Kaoru told him as the sounds of truck doors slamming shut met her ears. Turning, she lifted a brow at Megumi. "Care to make tea?"
Megumi's features were slightly strained. "I like that idea." She nodded Sano. "Do something stupid, and you're on the couch tonight."
The urge to be in the house and out of sight of the rogues had her ushering Megumi inside the house. Kaoru couldn't explain why they made her edgy, but they did and she didn't like it. She hadn't been this nervous when she was chased by the hunters in the mountains, so she shouldn't be nervous now she was now part of a pack and near her alpha.
"You're jittery," Megumi muttered as Kaoru walked back in. She had thought about putting on something nicer, but changed her mind at the last moment and put on something comfortable instead.
Kaoru turned to look outside, where she could see Kenshin's profile as he discussed something with the men. "I am. I don't know why." Shrugging, and not willing to explain herself when she would just be going in circles, she headed to the fridge to see if Chou had cleaned out the soda.
"Kaoru," Megumi's voice stopped her mid-reach for the lone water bottle. Whatever she was going to say was interrupted by the sound of the door opening. To Kaoru's surprise, she recognized the two weres that followed Kenshin into the house. It took a moment for her to remember their names, and it wasn't until she caught their personal scents that she realized who they were. The blood drained from her face as she realized who they were.
Alex and Jeremy were several years older than she was, and she had never been close to them when they had all been part of the same pack. But they were still survivors of the attack, and members of the family she had already grieved once.
Kaoru just stared at them, feeling numb. What did they expect her to say? How did she say anything in this situation? Hi, how have things been? How many survived? Why are you here, where are the pups, how many pups lived? So many questioned jumbled up in her throat that she couldn't manage to get her mouth to work.
The next sentence out of Alex's mouth took care of her numb surprise and replaced it with shock.
"This woman was part of our pack, and as such, belongs to us."
"What?" Kaoru managed to get out, her eyes wide.
"She does not belong to you," Sano growled, moving forward to stand by Kaoru. "She has been accepted as a member of our pack and is under our protection."
"We have prior claim," Jeremy responded, his eyes never leaving Kaoru's face. "She cannot be of rank, and she will still be under probation, which allows us to claim her."
"She is mine."
Kaoru froze at the sound of Kenshin's voice, at the edge as he bit out the words. Taking careful breaths, terrified that if she startled him that he would attack, she kept her eyes on the two men. They both turned to face down Kenshin and then went still, their own eyes widening a little.
"She is mine."
"It's best if you leave," Sano said from the doorway. "Kaoru belongs to our pack and she will stay that way. You will have your three days, but you're wearing your welcome thin."
The expressions on the wolves' faces were irritated, but they did as they were told, slowly backing out of the kitchen. There was something in their faces that told Kaoru it wasn't the last time she would see them.
Finally, she turned and faced Kenshin.
Kaoru continued to take shallow breaths, afraid that if she started breathing too hard, that Kenshin would snap. His eyes were narrowed and streaked with gold, and his jaw was clenched so tightly that she could hear his teeth grinding. The room practically vibrated with the low level growling that was vibrating from his chest. Shooting her eyes towards Sano and Megumi, both standing near the door to the living room, she motioned with her eyes that they should leave.
Her wolf wasn't alarmed by his temper, a little wary of his unpredictability, but not at all nervous. So if her wolf could trust him not to hurt her, then she could trust him as well. Taking a deep breath, she moved forward, stopping before her body could touch his.
"Kenshin?" When he didn't move she reached out and laid a hand on his shoulder. His body shivered under her palm and she didn't move it, patiently waiting for him to calm down. What she didn't expect was for him to twist suddenly, hand fisting in her hair, yanking her forward so that his mouth crushed hers. Her one thought, they had to stop jumping each other like this, disappeared as she wrapped her arms around him, pressing herself as tightly as she could against his harder frame.
Running her fingers up his shoulders, she smoothed the tips of her fingers up the line of his neck before burying her hands knuckle deep in his hair. The fist in her hair loosened until his palm was cradling her head, the hand gripping her hip softening so that his fingers stroked her hip instead. The low level growl vibrated through her chest even after he had pulled his mouth away, letting her breathe before placing softer, longer kisses across her lips. Finally he leaned down and pressed his face into the hollow of her shoulder and neck, dropping the hand in her hair to encircle her waist and to hold her against him. It wasn't difficult to stay relaxed in his arms, panting heavily against his shoulder as she regained her breath.
"So," Kaoru teased him as she rested her chin against his shoulder. "This is how a girl goes about getting your attention?"
He remained tense for a heartbeat and then finally relaxed all the way. Kaoru squeaked when he bit down on her shoulder in retaliation for her smart remark before licking it absently. She briefly debated dragging her nails down his back in return, but decided against it. She didn't want to agitate him, and with his wolf so close to the surface, he would take it as a challenge. She wouldn't have minded the assumption if they were alone and near a bed; she didn't feel like being flat on her back on the cold tile of the kitchen.
"We should get in touch with the others," she reminded him once her heartbeat slowed.
He made no move to let her go and Kaoru, needing the reassurance after being thrown so far off balance by Alex and Jeremy, was willing to stay in his embrace. Because once she the circle of his arms, she was going to have to think about what their appearance meant to her. She wasn't prepared to do that just yet.
Kaoru didn't look up from where she was starring at the needlework pillow in her lap, trying to sort out her own emotions. Kenshin hadn't wasted anytime in getting everyone back to his place. Well, once he had made sure that they weren't using magic to trace them back to his home.
She was finally starting to work out what her place was among the pack, and then this had to happen. Those first few days after the attack, she had grieved for her pack because she had known she would never see any of them again. She had been forced to operate on the unknown, hoping that they had all made it out, knowing they hadn't, and praying for the safety of the pups that she had been with. Kenshin and his pack had slowly started to ease that ache in her chest, until she had hardly noticed the dull ache.
Now, there were two males of her old pack and they were demanding that she join them. She had been stunned when they had demanded the right of first claim. Biting her lip, she tried not to think too hard on Kenshin's reaction. Jeremy and Alex had to have known how close they were to setting him off. There was little doubt in Kaoru's mind that Kenshin would have killed them.
The banging of pots and pans in the kitchen were noisy testaments that Kenshin was still pissed off. Her normally mild-mannered alpha had a temper, but instead of irritating her wolf the way other males trying to be dominant had in the past, she was actually approving of it. Eventually she was going to figure out all the nuances of her wolf. Until then, she was just going to have to continue to play by ear.
One of the things that her wolf had made perfectly clear was the fact that she was not going to willingly leave this pack. Granted, she would have the opportunity to be the alpha of the growing pack, but she had no intention of going into an unstable environment or to leave a wolf that seemed to be willing to learn how to properly appreciate her. From what Kaoru remembered of the other two wolves, they had none of the appreciation for women that Kenshin had. Neither Kaoru nor her inner wolf was willing to leave that.
Finally feeling a little more settled, she finally looked up and blinked in surprise. Kamatari and Chou were crashed out across from her, their expressions tense as they studied her. Misao was sitting on the floor in front of Aoshi, who had her braid wrapped around her knuckles. The space next to her was empty, leaving half a couch for someone. Megumi and Sano were sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace on the large cushions. Gensai had already tucked the pups into bed.
Everyone was watching her.
Blinking some more, she decided the best plan was not to say anything. Instead, she took a better grip on her pillow and settled in to wait for Kenshin to arrive. Eventually he did come in, still tense, but carrying a tray of ice tea and cups; a plate of perfectly cut brownies still warm from the oven. Except no one moved to grab a cup and he didn't seem to expect anyone to; instead he sat next to her, so close that his thigh was firmly pressed against hers, ignoring the rest of the couch.
"I'm sure you have all been filled in on what occurred today."
"What are you planning on doing about them?" Misao questioned. Trust Misao to get the question everyone wanted answers to done and over with as soon as possible.
"They have requested sanctuary in our city, asking for a few days to recover from their apparent flight from hunters." Kenshin said finally. "We will grant them the three days that is required by the Charter. Aoshi, I want you and Misao to keep an eye on them. I want to know what they are doing at all times."
"Dr. Gensai, Kamatari and Chou will be staying with you and the girls. I would prefer them not to be staying at their place with this pack apparently knowing where they live, and if you believe they won't be missing much from pre-school or the daycare, I would like the girls to stay home."
Gensai nodded. "That will be fine."
"Kaoru, Megumi, Sano, you three will continue to stay here." The steel underlying his words were clear to everyone in that room, and no one, not even Kaoru, felt like arguing with him about it. Removing her left hand from the pillow, she slid it between their bodies, using the pillow to hide her movements, and laced her fingers with his. He didn't move besides tightening his grip on her hand, the tension in his shoulders easing slightly.
To Karou's surprise, everyone seemed to take that as the end of the meeting and there was a rush for the ice tea and brownies that had been brought out. Kaoru shifted her weight and leaned against Kenshin's shoulder, some of her own unease lessening with the feel of his body.
"Kenshin," Kaoru asked softly when the noise of soft conversation filled the room. "Did either Alex or Jeremy say what happened to the rest of the pack, or the pups?"
He tilted his head to rest it on hers before he sighed. "Your alpha was killed, and when they managed to collect everyone, the pack split apart into smaller, easier to hide groups. A few of the younger males decided to go solo in an attempt to find a pack that needed their strength." His voice tightened and she realized he had to be upset at the fact that healthy males had not stuck around to help protect the pups.
"Alex and Jeremy are several years older than I am; I was never really around them much, but I remember my foster mother commenting once when I was younger that they were very irresponsible."
Kenshin tilted his head down to meet her eyes. "You don't sound very impressed."
Kaoru snorted. "What about them was supposed to be impressive? The fact that they wanted to use me as breeding fodder, or the fact that they were going to be nice enough to give me a shot to be one of their mates?"
He was quiet for a long moment. "They are familiar."
Reaching up with her free hand, Kaoru yanked on his bangs. "At this point, I know you and yours far better than I knew half of the old pack. Get over it." Kaoru was relieved when he relaxed enough to smile. "Now," she continued, "you may get me a glass of ice tea and one of those brownies before Sano eats them all."
A brow lifted. "You're a bossy little thing."
"Yes I am," Kaoru replied smugly. "Don't forget it."
"You know, I don't trust them." Sano said, sipping on his beer, glaring at the fire. "There was something almost foul about them. They were desperate before you agreed to let them stay three days, but then once they saw Kaoru… "
Kenshin stared into the fire, his expression dark. The women had headed up to bed earlier, seeming to understand that the men needed time to talk. He was glad. He hadn't ever told her how many pups they had found the corpses of, and he had no intention of her ever finding out.
"Their reaction to her seems to be that of men seeing an easy female to gain for their pack." Aoshi commented. "From what we have seen of her, it makes me wonder how repressive her pack really was."
"She never mentioned how many of those adults were females," Kenshin said quietly. It was never good to have more females than males. The ratio could be up to one to one, but it was an unwise alpha that allowed the females to outnumber the males.
"If there weren't enough males to keep them from being temperamental, she would have been smart to keep her head down." Kamatari and Chou might prefer men to women, but they gave the pack a higher ratio of males to female, which eased tempers without creating a threat for the other males.
"They were careful to avoid saying how they knew Kamatari and Cho were there," Aoshi reminded them. "They were also unwilling to talk about how they knew there was a pack here at all. It makes me wonder where their source of information is."
"I don't like that they said they were running from hunters and came here to escape them." Sano growled.
"We have a problem," Kenshin agreed. "Its obviously only going to get more complicated before it solves itself. Aoshi, if you need assistance in keeping watch on those wolves, you let me know. There are four of them, and only you and Misao."
Aoshi gave a slight nod.
"There is always the chance they are up to something and chose us because we are a small pack," Kenshin continued. "If that is the case, then we need to be careful because they feel that they can overextend our resources."
Sano frowned. "I just want to know what they are planning on doing that they might need to overuse our resources."
"That is something we will just have to wait to find out."
Kenshin didn't bother masking his movements as he got ready for bed. He felt bad for waking her up, but there were some things she needed to know about as soon as possible. He didn't feel comfortable not telling her after what had happened earlier, which, for all of her affection towards him, had to open old wounds.
She rolled onto her side and gave him a grumpy look, her eyes heavy with sleep. "I hope you were making all that noise for a reason."
The edges of his mouth curled. He just couldn't help it. He wanted to find the hollow of her throat with his tongue when she gave him that look, to feel the vibrations of her voice against his mouth as he nibble along sensitive skin. Ignoring his wolf's demand that he do so, he nodded. "There is."
"I was going to suffocate you with your own pillow if there wasn't."
"What is it with you and violence and my pillow?"
"It's the only thing handy unless I start sleeping with a knife."
"We have a bolt hole."
Her eyes widened a little and she sat up, brushing her hair out of her face. He sat down next to her, giving in to the urge to brush her cheek. The little touches weren't going to work forever, but they were currently enough to soothe his wolf.
"You have a what?"
"In Norway, near the Børgefjell National Park; it's an area that is largly unexplored and uninhabitable by humans. It will give us lots of room to run and to hide if we need to in the park. They have been reintroducing wolves in the area, so that offers another protection to our people should someone see us."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because you need to know." Kenshin said softly. "I would have told you earlier but things have been busy, and with the way things are starting to shape up now, you need to know about the bolt hole so if something happens you can get there. Everyone has an account with enough funds to cover an emergency ticket. Aoshi will give you the card and information tomorrow."
She bit her lip, distracting him. "Oh… "
"Of course," he put a teasing note in his voice to hide the need to drag her against him and taste the senstive skin behind her ear, or the urge to suck on that abused bottom lip, "now you will have to start learning Norweigian like everyon else."
Kaoru sighed. The last two days hadn't been as relaxing as she would have liked. In fact, in many ways, they had been downright tense as the men kept coming and going. While she knew that they didn't want her involved in case one of the idiots decided to make good on the demand that she belonged with them, that didn't mean she was happy about staying on the sidelines. She didn't even have the pups to keep her occupied.
This morning Chou was the one sitting either and Megumi. Megumi was being kept out of the line of fire because of her pregnancy, and her expression was just as grumpy as Kaoru's.
Once again, the man who was watching them was buried nose first in the paper.
"Why," Kaoru snapped as she cradled her coffee, "has everyone been so obsessed with reading the newspaper lately?"
Chou looked up surprised and then set the offending object down. "Why?"
"Yes, why. You don't read the newspaper and then all of a sudden you are reading it all the damn time. Why?" She knew she was taking her bad mood out on an innocent, but for the past two nights she had gone to sleep in a cold bed and woken just as cold. If Kenshin was sleeping, it wasn't for very long, and he was taking a great deal of care not to wake her up.
"I'm reading the obituaries."
Chou gave her an amused look. "Because Aoshi is keeping up with the missing persons report today instead of giving it one of us, he finds those things interesting."
Kaoru set her mug down and leaned close, baring her teeth. "If you don't stop giving me half-assed answers I'm going to break the coffee pot over your head."
Chou blinked and then sighed. "Because, Kaoru, there are wolves running around that have already staked a claim on at least one woman. Aoshi wants to make sure they are keeping their hands off other woman. It's hard to tell for sure; there are ways to draw them in without our noticing. The best way to keep up with them is to keep an eye on the missing people and the obituaries."
"It's only been two days!" Megumi pointed out. "It takes 48 hours before the police will investigate, and long the obituary takes longer than just finding out to be put in the paper."
"This isn't this week's obituary," Chou pointed out calmly. "It doesn't even belong to this town. Aoshi was his normal efficient self and had the last two months papers from all the major cities between here and Canada delivered over night, so we got them yesterday morning. We are checking the obituaries against the missing peoples report and trying to make lists of names depending on age and means of death."
"Because most human women don't make the change," Megumi mused.
"Exactly," Chou agreed. "It's just not worth the risk to a pack. If the human female dies, then you have a body to dispose of and that's dangerous. You have to maul them pretty well, and it leaves too much evidence behind. No pack would risk that."
"Give me a paper."
"Are you sure, I mean it's not very fun and…"
"Give. Me. A. Paper," Kaoru gritted out. Chou handed it over, shaking his head.
"That's it; you get to deal with the pups. Maybe they can take you out of your bad mood."
Kaoru rolled up the paper and smacked him in the head with it.
Kaoru flopped onto the couch, watching Suzume and Ayame color in the little books Kenshin kept on hand for entertainment for the pups when they wanted to do something a little more relaxing than tea parties or practicing their wolf form. She wasn't sure if it was embarrassing that Chou had kept to his promise, or if she had been in a bad enough mood that he had felt the need to take steps.
'I haven't been in that foul a mood since…' frowning, she realized it had been since the first few days after she had been picked up. Rubbing her face, she considered her behavior now and then. Then, it had been a constant battle with her instincts because she didn't want a new pack, while her wolf was making it perfectly clear that Kenshin's admiration was acceptable and that she wanted to stay. 'So you spent that week challenging a strange alpha's authority. This morning, you assumed you were of a higher rank than Chou and expected him to submit. You're doing very well today. Next, why don't you just go up to Kenshin and demand that he take you on a run so that you can assume all the rights of your position?'
Snorting, she smiled at the pups when they looked up at her before going back to the intense work of coloring. Well, she supposed that this state of emotional and instinctual mix-up was better than the one she had been in. In her wolf's eyes, she was the alpha female, but for the human half of her personality… was a little more hesitant to assume her place until after a few things had happened.
'Like that run.' If Kenshin took her on a private hunt it would be a sign to the pack that Kenshin had taken her as his mate and that her position in the pack had changed. Still, from some of the remarks that had been sent her way over the past few months, it seemed that the pack had already accepted her in that position, they were just waiting for Kenshin to make his move. 'And he explained last night why he hasn't.'
Smiling to herself, Kaoru stood up and flopped herself down on the floor with the pups, smiling as Ayame scooted over to give her half of the coloring book. Filling in between the lines, she chatted away with the girls.
"When is Megumi going to be up?" Ayame asked. "She makes good hot coco."
"I imagine relatively soon. She is very tired."
Suzume nodded, "baby."
"That's right, the baby makes her tired." Kaoru agreed, ruffling bangs. "Can you hand me the orange?"
Suzume frowned at the crayons before picking up the right color and handing it over. Kaoru smiled her thanks before the sounds of coloring filled the silence. Kaoru looked up when her wolf suddenly went still the mental impression of ears laid back in warning having her put the crayon down. The doorbell rang.
None of the pack would ring the doorbell.
"Ayame, Suzume, I need you to come with me. Right now."
The pups looked up, frowned, but nodded, standing up.
"Wrong?" Suzume asked softly.
"I don't know. But I want you to stay with Megumi." Kaoru whispered, urging them to move faster, mentally wondering how anyone had found Kenshin's home. Opening the bedroom door, Kaoru locked it from the outside, shutting the pups and Megumi into the room.
She hoped it would take them a minute to wake Megumi up, and that the drowsy wolf would be smart enough to call her mate. Taking a deep breath, she winced as the door shuddered under impact.
Did she have time for a phone call?
The door splintered as it bulged in on the hinges. Biting her lip, she realized that she wouldn't have time. She hadn't been taught on how to call the alpha back, either, but it wouldn't matter. He would have felt the moment they started breaking into the door.
She hoped the pups stayed quiet.
She couldn't say that she was surprised when the door finally broke, Alex and Jeremy entering the room. Her lips curled when she realized they were both packing heat.
"Guns?" She didn't dare try to fight them, knowing they would try to pin her instead of hurt her. It would have bought Kenshin time to come home, but with the introduction of guns, she couldn't do that now.
"So," Alex said with a sharp smile. "They have you tending pups again."
Chou… they must have seen Chou when he went to collect the pups. Clenching her teeth, she glared at him. "You will leave them alone."
"Oh, we have no need for someone else's pups, not when you are going to give us our own. Besides, they won't miss a pup herder nearly as much as they would miss the babies. Now shut up." Jeremy hissed, yanking her arms around. "But that doesn't mean we can't hurt them, so you had best be good."
Kaoru winced as he wrapped her wrists in rows of duck tape. "You know once we leave here, I will not cooperate."
"There are four of us, little girl, and only two females. You won't have a choice. If you're good, you won't be reduced to breeding stock." Hot breath raced down her ear and her wolf snarled. "You might even get a chance to have some sort of rank."
"We picked us up a little stray. Now shut up and move. Don't think we don't know that you are hoping for someone to come save you. They might have taken pity on you once, but no alpha is going to risk his pack for some pup herder."
Kaoru was silent as she was dragged from the home. They weren't careful, more rushed than worried about her person, so she counted herself thankful that the only injury was when they had tried to throw her into the back of the truck, her leg caught the door hard enough that she saw spots. It wasn't broken, but it hurt.
Lying in the back, covered by a wool blanket, she wondered how long it would be before Kenshin realized she was gone.
To Karou's surprise, the 'stray' turned out to be Misao.
"They grabbed me while I was on my way back from the morgue." She sounded disgusted. "They had those bloody guns of theirs out. I'm willing to fight wolf-to-wolf, but Aoshi would have killed me himself if he knew that I had argued with a wolf with a gun."
"Why were you at the morgue?"
"I had a hunch that I wanted to check up on. I had heard some people at one of the bakeries talking about someone being killed by a dog. So I went to check it out. We're close enough to the wilds that occasionally we get coyote packs that will take down a human if they're desperate enough."
"I take it wasn't coyotes."
"No. Those men out there have to be desperate. They have killed at least two women, trying to change them. It hasn't been working. I don't know what drives men to kidnap women and to do that to humans, but something is eating at those men."
"I don't know either. I didn't have time to ask questions." She sighed. "I had the pups with me so I couldn't run, and there was no way I was risking Megumi." Kaoru considered her duck taped hands. She could probably break the tape, but she wasn't sure she wouldn't break a wrist in the process. Her leg was still aching from the blow she had taken when they surprised her, and she would be surprised if she didn't have a bone bruise. Clumsy idiots.
"You know," Misao murmured. "It isn't going to take Kenshin long to find us."
Kaoru tucked her brows together, sliding her eyes towards her smaller friend. "What?'
"I suppose no one had time to tell you, and the last time you were in this position you weren't recognized as pack by the magic," Misao mused, tugging on her own bound hands angrily. "Kenshin insists on connecting everyone when they are moon sworn."
Kaoru frowned, remembering from that first run, how he had called her into the pack, that brief flash of warm, and the way it had started to erase the gaping hole in her chest from the loss of her pack. The sensation of knowing she was never alone again. "What does that mean?"
"It means," Misao grunted, tugging on her hands, "that he can find us, anywhere. I suppose not all packs like that sort of precaution, but we're small for a reason. Kenshin wants to know that we are safe at all times."
"He had a bad experience in his youth before he met any of us. There was a young woman he cared for. She was part of the pack, and they had permission to court. She was killed before they could get to know each other."
Kaoru nodded. She could understand that. It would explain part of the reason he was so possessive of her… well, it at least gave him an excuse to hide behind while he dealt with his instincts. He could give her more details later. She was a wolf. She didn't have any particular jealousy issue. Her wolf yawned, displaying her teeth. Kaoru shook her head. She really couldn't get too mad at Kenshin, because her inner wolf's idea of getting rid of any contestant was just to kill it.
"So… do you think you can grow fangs and shred your tape?" Kaoru asked finally, distracting herself. "Jeremy and Alex, bastards that they are, are going to recognize a surge of magic if it comes from me. You should be able to get out of the duck tape without them noticing."
Misao sighed. "I hate the taste of duck tape."
Kaoru lifted both brows. "How do you know what duck tape tastes like?"
"Sano thought he was being funny one day… it sort of got out of hand… and somehow involved marshmallow cream." Misao mused, and then hastily continued when she caught Karou's expression. "I'll just grow some fangs and chew this stuff, 'kay?"
Misao was halfway through her bonds, "this stuff is so sticky," when there was a loud crashing noise from the living room. Kaoru froze, shooting Misao a questioning look. She shook her head. There was no way the boys could already be there.
The sounds of gunfire had the woman jerking in surprise. Biting her lip hard enough to bleed, Kaoru stared at the door. New smells wafted under the small crack, no longer beer and dust, but the smell of gunpowder and blood. And then a more unwelcome, subtle smell: human.
Her eyes swung to Misao's. "Hunters!" she hissed. "Chew on that with your other teeth."
"This is not as easy as it looks… it's in my hair, for the love of fur and claw!" Misao snarled just before the door was swung open, and they were blinded. It was in an absentminded move that Kaoru managed to jerk backwards like a human, hunching under her jaw to look like she was hiding.
"The dogs have women in here!" It took only minutes for her and Misao to be tucked under blankets, the tape cut from their wrists. They men were scrounging around in the ice chest they brought in, searching for a sandwich or piece of fruit that the women could have while they cleaned up the bodies. Kaoru stared at the four men, uncertain how she felt. This was probably a cleaner death that what the pack would have given them, but there was something wrong with being shot in the back.
"You're lucky we found you," an older man with a gruff voice and a face showing several days growth of beard commented. "We have been chasing these boys for a while. They've been causing all sorts of problems, raping and killing women."
Kaoru licked her lips. "Are you bounty hunters?"
"No, Ma'am, just some honest men tracking down the dogs like they deserve."
Any sympathy for the men, thankfulness for their kind treatment for being kind to women who had been terrorized, died with that sentence. They were only being kind because they thought they were human. If they had any suspicion that they were wolves, they would be the next to have bullets in their brains.
"Oh," Misao breathed her eyes wide. "You're heroes then!"
One of these days, she was going to have to ask Misao how she stomached the lying. Until then, she would have to simply appreciate it.
"You say these… " She swallowed and ducked her eyes. "These… people have been doing this to other women. Have any of them survived?"
"Now, lady, you don't want to worry about something about that." A young boy, probably a year younger than Kaoru was, but with hard lines around his mouth. Kaoru studied him, making sure to make admiring glances at his gun and his knife. Her eyes landed on his jacket and her stomach went cold.
"You're from Canada?"
The tension in the air increased. "How do you know that?"
Kaoru bit her lip, looking around wide-eyed. "His jacket has the flag… I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything."
"Put the gun down, Charlie."
"They're asking too many questions!"
"They're just women."
"You know those dogs can be women, they can breed just like everyone else!"
Kaoru took a deep breath and shifted her legs so she could put pressure on the bruise, tears springing to her eyes. "I'm sorry," she looked up at the older man, ignoring the boy. "I just… "
"We want to go home," Misao whispered. "Do you think we can home soon? We don't really care what you do with… them, we just want to go home."
"We can't trust them."
There was a noise from outside. The men in the room snapped to attention. "They have friends."
"Friends?" Kaoru's voice went high. "I don't want to go back into the closet!"
"I bet it's the rest of those fools from the Canadian wildlife reserve," the man behind her snarled. "We should kill them while we have the choice. Put the girls in the closet. We can't risk them seeing something they can report to the police."
"I don't want to go back to the closet!" Misao wailed her voice loud in the room. Well, there was little chance now that the boys wouldn't know that they were out of the way. As the door shut and locked behind them, Kaoru snarled to herself. She hated being hidden away from the danger.
"They killed my pack."
Misao was quiet in the darkness as she listened to the men scramble to the windows, guns cocking as they readied themselves for any sign of a wolf. "I know. I'm sorry."
Kaoru slumped, sliding down the wall, starring sightlessly in the darkness. "Maybe it's better this way."
"I would probably do something stupid and get myself shot again. Assuming I survived, Kenshin would probably beat me."
Karou's head snapped over. "What?"
"Well, some people consider spankings to be kinky, and its not like Kenshin would actually beat you. Spank you… yes." Misao said with a smile in her voice. "I imagine the boys have figured out what's going on by now, and at the very least, they are going to be very, very angry. Even without knowing these men killed members of your family, they are going want blood."
All that was left to do was hunker down and wait.
Kenshin stared at the home in front of him, having changed back into his human form once they arrived on the scene. They had been expecting to find the four rogues, but it looked like someone had gotten there first. It had been easy to listen in on the conversation going on the little shack. Kaoru and Misao were deliberately keeping their voices high, and the window was open. His lips curled into a silent snarl as he considered what was being said.
These were friends of the bastards who hunted his pack in Canada.
"They have guns."
"I hate guns," Kamatari snarled as he crouched down. "It just seems like cheating."
Kenshin mouth was a thin line. "Yes, but they won't be expecting them."
Aoshi gave a nod and disappeared, heading into the tree line. Most packs refused to learn human weapons, and when you were fighting wolf-to-wolf or settle pack disputes, it was distasteful to use guns. But when you were a pack going against humans, you used whatever you could to fight against them.
At Kenshin's request, Aoshi had trained each member of his pack to be skilled in a variety of weapons, steering them to what they were best at and teaching each wolf to be proficient in different areas so there was a wide range of skills to draw on.
The one skill they had all learned was to be proficient snipers. Quietly, Kenshin outlined the plan of attack, taking a few suggestions on where they would prefer to be, but by the time Aoshi returned with the guns, they were ready.
"The one thing I hate about this," Chou muttered as he adjusted the scoop to his liking, "is that we always end up naked. And then you have to be careful that one of those shells don't catch you somewhere tender, because dammit, they burn."
Snorting, Kamatari rolled his eyes as he stood. "Happy hunting."
Kenshin waited until it was just him and Aoshi, Sano having taking his favorite weapon, the sawed off shotgun, to wait out by the back door in case someone tried to run.
"Chou and Kamatari are going to give us cover with gunfire," Kenshin told Aoshi quietly. "If they get a clear shot, they are going to kill. Sano is going to cover the back door. They're going to want to run at some point."
Aoshi lifted a brow in silent question.
"Is there anyway you can get to them."
"There is a back room. I am going to assume that is where they have put them." Aoshi said finally. "I should be able to cut through to them if there is enough of a distraction."
"Do it," Kenshin ordered. "We can't take chances that they will think the girls are wolves as well. Once they are free we will have to blow the place. The fire should do enough damage to the bodies that the bones won't be identifiable." Arching his back, he started his change. He was the fastest, and someone had to make enough noise to get the men to show their faces for Chou and Kamatari to pick off.
"Happy hunting," Aoshi murmured as he headed towards the shack.
Kaoru jerked around, her eyes starring at the door. "Was that gunfire? From outside the shack?"
"Kamatari or Chou then," Misao's voice was dark. "A few years ago, Kenshin insisted we all learn human weapons. That was when the first rumors of hunters coming back for us started. He wanted to be sure we knew how to fight on their terms, without giving away what we are. Kamatari and Chou have a knack for sniping."
Frowning, Kaoru considered this. "That is a good idea… but what if they think we drew them here?"
Swearing, Misao moved. "Then we need to find a way to block the door. It opens in instead of out, so if we can find something heavy enough, and then move into the back, then we might be able to avoid anything they try to shoot at us."
It took several minutes to move the heavy iron shelves that had been used to store things. Groaning, Kaoru drove her shoulder into and dug her feet in. It wasn't that she and Misao weren't strong; it was that they didn't have a lot of leverage to move the shelf.
"You're limping," Misao groaned once it was in place. It had made a lot of noise, but every time someone shouted to go in and see what the ruckus was, there were rounds of gunfire. Somehow, Kamatari and Chou knew that they were doing something and giving them the help they needed.
"It's fine. Earlier injury."
Both women jerked around at the sound of something cutting through the back wall. Before Kaoru could find something to use as a weapon, Misao gave a shuddering breath.
It didn't take long for the hole to be large enough for them to wiggle through. It was a good thing they were both so small. Kaoru looked away as Misao threw herself into her mate's arms, trying not to smile at the way he was muttering against her ear. She almost jumped out of her skin when a wolf came barreling around the corner, skidding in front of her and sniffing her over, swiping at her check with his tongue before disappearing again.
"We need to move." Aoshi said calmly.
"Are we going to blow the hut?" Misao asked as they moved further into the woods. "They have the bodies of the four rogues in there."
"Kenshin has been setting up the explosives between runs."
"You let him be bait?" Kaoru asked in surprise, skidding to a stop and starring at Aoshi and Misao in disbelief. They let their alpha be bait?
"He is the fastest wolf we have," Misao reminded her. "You know that. He is smart enough not to do something dangerous, and he and Aoshi are the best with explosives. Well, besides me, anyway."
Before she could say something else, both she and her wolf were in agreement that everyone needed to be yelled at for this one, Kenshin entered the clearing in his wolf form, his ears perked in silent question.
"Kaoru isn't happy that you are bait," Misao replied.
Kenshin's wolf grinned as he walked over and butted her in the knees. Sighing, she went ahead and started putting more distance between her and the little shack they had been in. "I am not happy," she snarled at him.
"I didn't say you had to be," Kenshin's voice replied and Kaoru turned in surprise as he walked over. Misao and Aoshi didn't stop their forward movement, leaving them to hash it out themselves. "Of course, I'm not happy that you allowed yourself to be taken captive either."
Glaring at him, she crossed her arms. "They threatened the pups."
"I know. Megumi heard the entire conversation."
"At least she had the brains to stay in the room and out of sight," she snapped. "You shouldn't be the one who is running around getting shot at."
"Glass houses, darling."
Kaoru lunged, wrapping her arms around his waist and taking him to the ground. Grunting, he twisted around and tried to pin her. Snapping her teeth, she twisted as well. In the middle of their wrestling match, the forest shook with the force of the explosion, the bright flare of the fireball lighting up the forest. Eventually he managed to pin her with his heavier weight and shoved his face close to hers.
"Temper, temper," he growled, his eyes bleeding with gold. "I will do what I must."
"So will I, you chauvinistic male!" Kaoru shot back.
"Well, when I was taking bets on how long it would take you to wrestle; I was hoping you would both be naked." Kamatari's voice cut in. "Kaoru, honey, you're wearing too many clothes."
Kenshin tilted his head and bared his teeth.
"And we will be leaving now…" Chou muttered, shoving Kamatari away. "The pups are fine, and so is Megumi, Kaoru. They all made it to the safe house. And boss-man, do you think you used enough explosives?"
Kaoru and Kenshin ignored Chou's remarks, glaring at each other, both breathing deeply, before she sighed and relaxed. Submitted to her alpha. "You really are an idiot, you know."
Both brows rose. "Why is that?"
"You actually expect me to behave," she returned before reaching up and curving her hand along his jaw. "We have had something similar to this conversation once before, remember?" She stroked the skin under her fingers.
Finally, a little of the tension eased, "I remember. I don't like it, but I remember."
"Well," her eyes teased him. "What do you plan on doing about it?"
"Hunt with me."
Kaoru stilled. "What?"
"Hunt with me," he repeated. "I want you to know exactly where you stand in this pack with whatever is coming and I grow tired of sharing you with the others." He kissed the tip of her nose. "I want to run with you by moonlight."
Kaoru smiled her acceptance.
Kaoru arched her back before prancing in place, testing out her weak leg. It was strong enough that she wouldn't have any problems playing with Kenshin tonight. It was amazing what pack magic could do. She was still trying to get used to the fact that Kenshin allowed the magic to be used for healing.
Walking into the clearing, she looked around for the man who had promised her a hunt. She hadn't eaten all day and she doubted a few rabbits were going to do her any good. Lifting her nose, she tried to tell if there were any deer in the region. Not bothering to open her eyes, she ignored Kenshin when he came to sit down next to her.
Picking up nothing, she turned her head and licked his muzzle, rubbing her head under his jaw and accepting the return caress with the wolf's equivalent of a smile. Giving her one more lick, he moved forward into the trees, his pace slow, giving her time to work out the bone bruise. With the pack magic at her disposal, her wolf mostly pulled from that now that she had turned into wolf form, and the faint hesitation in her walk disappeared.
The moment she could move without pain, Kenshin changed his pace into a run. Kaoru followed him, enjoying the way her body responded to each turn of his, the speed in which they moved. The long, loping pace of the wolf was the best way to travel, and she almost missed those weeks she had lived in her wolf skin when her pack was running. Kenshin stopped suddenly; his muzzle lifted to the skies, and turned to her with another of those smiles.
Breathing in deeply, Kaoru felt her ears prick upwards as she caught the scent. Deer, more than one if she was reading the wind correctly. Kenshin had the edge on her when it came to hunting; for all that she had lived in the wild for those weeks with the pack. Hunting had never been her priority; there was so much she knew she still needed to learn. Her mate didn't seem to mind, taking lead in the hunt, moving into the wind easily, showing her how to stalk her prey.
Kaoru was amazed at how easily she understood him. She had known that one of the gifts of the alpha was to be able to make himself understood even in wolf form, but she hadn't thought hunting deer was one of those things the gift had extended into. Sometimes it was so easy to remember how young she was for her people and that Kenshin had at least a decade of learning that she didn't, maybe more. She was going to have to ask him his age sometime.
Somehow he managed to communicate what he wanted, and when they arrived on the small herd of deer, she knew to slide to the east while he took the west. She knew that the attack pattern would come with Kaoru distracting the herd while Kenshin trailed them from his side, and then to let him come in to strike the killing blow on the deer's throat. There was also the bone deep knowledge that he would be extremely irritated with her if she allowed one of the does to get too close with those hooves to any part of her body.
She couldn't say how she knew when he was ready, but that some internal instinct had her lunging forward, teeth snapping as she spooked the deer. She was careful of the hooves, and just as she and the deer started to tire, Kenshin came in from the north-west, and with one smooth jump, took the deer down, his jaws locked firmly around her throat, ignoring the way she thrashed about as his powerful jaws suffocated her. To Karou's amusement, once the deer was dead, he stood up and shook himself, sliding her a sidelong glance while his fur puffed up in what was most assuredly a sign that he was proud of himself. Walking over she swiped his jaw with her tongue, before turning her attention to the fresh kill. Kenshin shouldered her forward, offering her the soft flesh of her belly while he started on the haunch.
After they were both full, leaving only the parts and harder to reach meat to the scavengers, they walked slowly together until they came to a river. Near the stream there was an area thickly coated with moss where they curled up to nap off their meal, Kaoru curled into the warm curve of Kenshin's body.
When she woke up it was to a hand smoothing through her fur, lingering in all the good places that only human fingers, or the delicate edge of teeth, managed to satisfy. There were things to be said about having a partner that knew where to scratch. Moving her head in encouragement for more, Kenshin laughed, rubbing the base of her ears as she sighed in satisfaction. Closing her eyes in bliss, she let go of the image of the wolf and allowed her human form to take control, rolling onto her back to smile up at him. It was still dark, but it had to be getting close to dawn.
"Why are you up?"
Reaching down he smoothed his fingers along her jaw, smiling briefly when his fingers trailed down her neck and she shivered. "I was thinking."
"You know," Kaoru told him with a straight face. "That is a very bad habit."
His mouth curved, his eyes tracing her features. "Perhaps. We're going to have to make some moves I was hoping we could avoid sooner than expected."
"You mean about those hunters?"
"The council needs to be told that our ancient foe is tracking our steps again. It will also be best if Megumi, Gensai, and the pups are out of the way. I will have to send Sano, since I will need both Misao and Aoshi here. Kamatari and Chou are work best as a team, and if I separate one from the other, they will be more worried about where their partner is."
Kaoru was silent as she digested his words. "Putting Sano in the hideaway is plausible. You need someone who can act with authority, and he will have the easiest time getting in touch if something happens, and he won't have to worry about permission to kill."
"Eventually we are all going to have to leave the States. I'm not sure for how long."
"I won't separate the pack for that long. We are smaller; we don't have the force that necessary to help in the long run on the hunts. The location that Aoshi and I have picked in Norway will give us an advantage against any hunters that come against us. It's far enough away from civilization that things can happen without having to worry about endangering a large group."
"That makes sense," she finally agreed.
"I'm glad you approve."
Kaoru shot him a look, expecting his words to be teasing, but his features and his voice were perfectly serious.
His eyes darkened. "Kaoru, when I said that I wanted you to be my mate, I didn't mean that I expected you to agree with every situation. You have already proven you have perfectly capable of detecting possibilities, that you are quick to think yourself through a situation. I respect that. If you see an immediate problem with a situation, I am not likely to just brush that off to save face. You are my mate."
"Well, when you put it that way," she tried to brush his words off and he sighed. Leaning down, his eyes lightened, tawny streaks bleeding through the violet.
"One of these days, I am going to get you to accept the truth without a smart ass comment." He growled at her before his mouth met hers. The kisses were light, nibbling, faint brushes of his lips against hers. Barely rubbing skin against skin. Huffing, she tilted her chin to increase the pressure, ignoring his smile, biting his lip in warning. His chest rumbled with repressed laughter under hands and she pulled back, swatting his side.
"Think this is funny do you!" She snarled at him. His eyes gleamed before he leaned down and bit her chin, before sliding down and kissing her neck, the edge of his tongue sliding down the line. She gasped and jerked when he found a sensitive spot that sent curls of heat rolling through her stomach.
Instead of moving on, he sucked on the skin lightly as her arm wrapped around his waist, her other hand sliding up his spine as he nibbled back up to her jaw before pressing an open mouth kiss to her parted lips, teasing her again.
Instead of verbally complaining again, she lunged upward, pressing against him as tightly as she could and sucking his tongue into her mouth, biting down lightly before rubbing hers along his, enjoying the low growl vibrating everywhere their bodies touched. He willingly rolled where she asked, landing on his back so she could straddle his hips, even as he took control of the kiss. Kaoru lost herself in the feel of his mouth before pulling away, breathing deeply from her damp lips. Bending down, she explored his shoulder with her mouth, enjoying the way his muscles jumped with each brush of her tongue. Her hands wandered along the flat muscles of his stomach, feeling the tapering line of his waist down to his hips and across, tracing the indent of his navel.
Kenshin wasn't willing to let her dominate for long and she gasped against his neck as his hand rose to cup her breasts, tracing the soft flesh with rough fingers. His thumb and forefinger seemed to be mostly interested in her nipples, and she sunk her teeth into his shoulder when he did something that made her head swim.
A snarl rose in her throat and she found herself on the bottom, her mouth captured by his again. Throwing her leg across his hip, she snarled back, rolling with him across the smooth moss, ignoring the occasional bite of stone into her naked body.
It was as she rolled around on the moss, learning the feel of his body against hers, memorizing the smell of sweat, sweet grass, his skin, and the faintest lingering of blood from their hunt that Kaoru realized she was exactly where she wanted to be.
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