For Halloween, I decided to challenge myself and actually get a story out for the Holiday. Except I had zero muse involvement. So I posted a challenge on my LJ and asked people to volunteer their ideas and I'd see what I came up with. Notes on who did what are at the bottom of the page. But a Big thanks to everyone who took the time to write out suggestions. There were some really good ones out there! I hope everyone enjoys what I've been come up with!
This story would never have been finished without the help of vashka_kat, some_scribbles, dame_wren, J.D. and Triste1. Thanks so much you lot. You're absolutely priceless. (Especially those who fought the good grammar battle. You know who I'm talking about.)
Disclaimer: I do not own RK.
Warning: There is some violence, some lime...
All Hallows' Even
The problem with All Hallows' Even was that what came crawling out of the wood work were zombies. She hadn't really seen anything to prove the theories about vampires or ghouls, but demons and zombies … It wasn't quite dusk yet and already she could feel the small hairs on her arms rising. Biting her bottom lip she curled her fingers a little tighter around the stake in her pocket.
She had picked up whatever information she could find over the years. Most suggested a change in magic levels in the earth—especially during the switch between the lighter and darker half the year. When the magic swelled, the "barrier"—for lack of a better term—cracked at the highest peak. Leaving openings for things to slip in.
It really was unfortunate that most of what came in had to be zombies.
She sighed. She needed something to eat and someplace decently protected – from elements and the upcoming horrors; her half-glass of orange juice was a long time ago. Last year had been proof enough that handing out candy wasn't safe enough – even behind a salt barrier. The wind whipped down the street and she ducked a little closer to the collar of her jacket, continuing swiftly down the street. Cold weather had set in quicker than normal and there was a bite in the air that pulled the heat right out of you. She breathed a sigh of relief as she finally slipped inside Misao's shop.
Misao looked up at the sound of the chimes above the door tinkling and she waved before quickly moving to cover up the mirror she had been cheerfully conversing into. Kaoru stayed where she was until there wasn't a chance that she would glimpse even an edge of a reflection. The twisting sensation in her chest was a painful reminder that all she'd been able to do over the past year was bury her feelings and hide behind a thick wall of denial.
Misao grinned. "Oh, don't look at me like that. He wasn't the only one with that ability."
"I don't want to talk about it and you promised."
"You haven't wanted to talk about it for two years."
"I know. You know. Rehashing it won't change a damn thing."
Misao shrugged and almost danced her way to the small mini-fridge tucked back behind the counter. "Kaoru… you need to talk about this!
Kaoru swallowed. "I stabbed him with a stake and shoved him through a black gate Misao. He's gone. There isn't anything to talk about."
Misao's smile dimmed a little but then she brightened. "About that, I've been meaning to tell you…"
Kaoru held up a finger, ignoring the plate of sandwiches in her friends hand and glaring. "Not another word about it."
Misao bit into a sandwich in response and offered her the plate. Once Kaoru had selected one from the surprisingly varied selection, she set the rest down on the table and bustled about. Kaoru didn't bother following her movements – tonight there were actually more dangerous things to worry about than a bored imp, even if it was likely that she would regret her decision tomorrow.
Still, if she lived to deal with tomorrow, she'd take her lumps.
When Kaoru was fifteen she killed her first zombie. It was also, coincidentally, where she met Misao… and him. The day was spent watching campy Halloween flicks with her much younger brother – nothing beat The Adams Family, except maybe Hocus Pocus for its laugh-ability. Her father would have protested had he known what exactly she was corrupting Yahiko with, but the way he clung to her, slightly terrified that witches would steal him away if he didn't stick close enough…
It sure made babysitting much easier.
Halloween was always a little strange; there were always one or two missing person cases afterwards. With the location being a college town, drunken frat boys had become a distinctive issue. So it was hardly a surprise that when she and Yahiko were wandering down a street that wasn't as well lit as the others, they came across a lumbering creature. Yahiko was impressed by the detail of the face paint and smell – Kaoru just wanted to avoid touching it. Neither of them expected the high, shrieking warble or the drool as dirty nails reached for Yahiko.
Yahiko screamed and dropped his candy basket. Kaoru picked it up and slapped the obviously drunk person with the bright, plastic pumpkin. Instead of yelping and clutching at the sudden bruise though, there was a snicking noise and flesh had exploded away from the point of impact.
Kaoru remembered screaming – her throat had hurt afterwards – before laying into the thing, refusing to let her stomach lurching in fear or the splatters of flesh deter her. It wasn't touching either of them. Period. Once she was certain that the creature's head was reduced to less than it had been – bone didn't break like that, good bone didn't break at all – she dropped the bucket and scrambled away from it. She almost slipped on the spilled candy.
That was the first time she saw him. He was walking out of the shadows, but instead of looking at the mess at her feet, eyes that glowed like moonlight were pinned on her. Before he could get close enough to talk, she scooped Yahiko into her arms and fled.
Yahiko was a slightly hysterical mess and she was only slightly covered in splatter. They both smelled but a little airing out would handle that. Getting lost in a crowd would make meeting whoever that had been and or being tracked down by the police less likely. So she slipped into a large party and tracked down apple cider, hoping the heat of the drink would help calm her shattered nerves. Yahiko had stopped crying but it was clear that he was shaken up. Nightmares were in the future for both of them.
"Candy! Candy for…."
Kaoru lifted her eyes and blinked at the girl in front of her. Kaoru thought she might be dressed as a witch but wasn't certain witches wore glitter. Or bright blue fake eyelashes. Or those boots…
"You smell like zombies." Cat-bright, blue-green eyes glittered for a moment, scanning over them suspiciously and then she smiled. "But zombies don't like my apple cider so I guess you're okay… Did you lose your candy?"
Kaoru was too dumbstruck to do or say anything – she seemed more alarmed by the lack of candy than zombie – but Yahiko simply nodded, rubbing his eyes.
Misao clucked her tongue and held up her hand, striking a pose. "I will fix this."
Yahiko sniffled again and finally took a sip of his drink, eyes looking around to the kids screaming and running around the bales of hay. "Kaoru…"
His voice was a whisper. "Was that really a zombie?"
"Of course it was," the bright, cheerful voice was back and she was holding a replacement, bright blue, pumpkin container stuffed with candy. "Was probably a new one if your sister was able to handle it; probably some dumb jock that got greedy with the twizzlers."
Yahiko's eyes widened into saucers, "He ate too much candy?"
The girl opened her mouth and then closed it, her expression thoughtful. "It's possible."
Kaoru realized that this year she wouldn't have to worry about putting his pumpkin somewhere he couldn't reach until she and her father had gone through the candy and approved it for consumption. Yahiko looked green. The girl smiled at him and pointed to the large bonfire.
"They're roasting marshmallows. Zombies hate marshmallows."
It took some coaxing but Yahiko finally scampered off, being sure to keep Kaoru in sight.
"Who are you?" Kaoru asked, setting her Styrofoam cup down and frowning.
"I'm Misao." Those cat-green eyes danced for a moment and she leaned forward, her nose wrinkling. "Well, it appears that you didn't get anything other than the smell on you. That's good. Otherwise you'd wake up with this unrelenting need for brains, although the cider should help. It's my special punch!"
"I'm not sure that answered my question," Kaoru muttered, eyeing her cup.
"I get that a lot." Misao agreed, tapping a bright green nail against her lips. "I am a little curious about how you managed to find a zombie though. They usually don't come out this early."
"I didn't find anything. I certainly wasn't looking for it!"
"No… I suppose not. Well then, make sure you're home and behind doors by midnight. I suggest salt to keep other things out. Maybe a wooden stake or two…"
Kaoru felt her stomach plunge. "What?"
She smiled again – it caught behind her eyes like candlelight. "I have this feeling that I'll be seeing you again. Take care! Remember, salt! You see one zombie and you'll probably find another one!"
Kaoru let Yahiko play until he wore himself out. Scooping up his bucket and curling her fingers through his, she looked around to find the best way out of the little gathering and went still when she caught sight of the man leaning against the drink station. Long fingers were curled around a mug of cider and she wondered how she had missed that hair the first time. Swallowing hard, she deliberately tugged Yahiko in the opposite direction.
The long way home had better lighting.
It would be years later before she would pinpoint that night as the one when her reflection stopped being empty.
The following year, Kaoru and Yahiko locked themselves in her bedroom with a truly impressive stash of candy and played board games until the wee hours of the morning. Her father had been perplexed at their lack of interest in costumes and traipsing through the neighborhoods. A year older, Yahiko had been adamant that he was too old to trick-or-treat. Kaoru hadn't argued. Neither where particularly interested to comment about last year or why Yahiko had declared that there were ants and salted the windows and doorways.
"Do you think there are more zombies?"
Kaoru looked up from where she was glaring at Park Avenue (Boardwalk was alluding her, but her baby brother was enjoying his current dominance) and frowned. She hadn't seen hide or hair of Misao since that night on the hay bales and wasn't particularly interested in seeing the redhead. But the year up to this point had been… peaceful, if you could count past the normal teenage drama.
"I don't know. I don't know how we found… that one."
Yahiko nodded and rolled the dice, finger sticky with chocolate. "Yeah but… you killed it."
She had woken for a week screaming, too.
"We think I did, but I wasn't sticking around to find out."
Plus there was the redhead. Yahiko had never seen him and she hadn't told him. There wasn't any way to describe the way the hair on the back of her neck had lifted in warning or the gut-deep knowledge that he was… more. She wished she could explain it to herself beyond terror filled ramblings. She was half-convinced she had made him up.
"Sure, why not?"
Kaoru was never going to understand boys.
They played a little while longer, the sounds of the Adams Family playing in the background to hide any possible… screams. Yahiko was going to make himself sick on the chocolate and she was amused to note that he was avoiding the twizzlers.
"Do you… I mean…. Sometimes the mirror looks different."
Her heart hammered funnily in her ears. She hadn't mentioned it to Yahiko – he already had enough phobias – but she had been seeing flickers out of the corner of her eyes too. For the past year. Soft glimmers of color that didn't make sense.
"Do you think I'm crazy?"
Reaching out, she roughed up his bangs before standing and tossing her jacket over the mirror on her vanity. There was no sense in taking chances with this being the day that it was.
The next year, Kaoru was determined to do things right with her little brother. A seven-year-old shouldn't be stuck inside the house while his friends trick-or-treated and at seventeen, she wouldn't have the excuse of being unsure of driving with so many little kids running around screaming. But that meant she needed to finish her homework and Yahiko was too noisy to do it properly with him around. Besides, it would keep her out of the house and away from the mirrors. The tingling sensation that she was being watched had gotten worse the last month and she had covered all the mirrors in her bathroom and bedroom, taking to brushing her hair in the hallway and as quickly as she could manage.
Kaoru glanced down at the cupcake. The orange dye had possibly been radioactive before it had been added to the sugar but she wasn't sure. It was never a good sign when sprinkles toned something down. She was pretty sure only very small children could eat that frosting without immediately losing all their teeth. Even Yahiko couldn't have managed it.
"You have something against cupcakes?"
Kaoru glanced up through her lashes and decided a discussion on the merits of using some of the frosting as a way to power the shop might not be appreciated. "It isn't that I don't like cupcakes Sano, it's just that this one is scaring me."
"What? It's a cupcake! Harmless and tasty, the perfect treat – you shouldn't knock food, Kamiya. I've tasted your cooking."
She glared at him before getting back to the matter at hand. "It's, um… colorful…"
"Oh…" he looked down at it and shrugged. "We've got new help. Apparently she is a bit… eccentric."
Sano shrugged. "Don't ask me. I try to keep the counter between us."
A funny sensation was crawling around in the pit of her stomach and she wondered if she was going to throw up. Pushing it aside, she turned back to her books. She had a test next Friday and her weekend was going to be spent comatose from sugar. She needed to be caught up.
Besides, there was an idea she wanted to follow up on. Her brother, the genius that he was, had brought it up and she had decided to follow through on it for the next week or so. There were only so many people in this city – surely there had to be a way to guess at the locations that seemed the most likely for zombies? That strange Misao-girl had said that if you find one, you'll find another… and she never, ever wanted to see another. Of course, the possibility of being stuck searching for brains for the rest of her life wasn't really high on her list either. Even if she had no idea how or why people were being turned into zombies, she would be able to get a decent idea of how many people did disappear. By knowing the possible number of them, it might be possible to avoid ever having another meeting with them again.
That was a starting point at least.
The cupcake was an unexpected distraction. Huffing, she contemplated eating it. There might have been chocolate under all that… frosting and surely nothing with chocolate could kill her, could it? It wasn't like she was staring at an apple or goblin fruit or something…
The jingling of the new bell above the door pulled her attention away from possible death by chocolate and she lifted her eyes. That sensation in the pit of her stomach worsened and she swallowed hard. She hadn't seen him in two years but she hadn't forgotten – if the way his eyes honed in on her in the booth, neither had he. Something flickered behind his eyes (it could have been a reflection from the cupcake) and then he was moving to the front counter.
He was shorter than she thought he would have been. His hair was the same. She debated throwing all of her stuff into her backpack and fleeing again, but Sano was here and even with that niggling feeling of more clinging to him like skin, she felt safer here than she would on the street. With him behind her.
Besides, he was probably just going to go away. Everyone needed coffee.
"I'd like to join you."
Kaoru slowly lifted her eyes. "Huh?"
Violet eyes. Not blue, not gray, but violet… She never would have guessed. But there was something about the shape of them that made her uneasy. She didn't like how she noticed the shape of his mouth as it curled upwards into something like a smile as he sat across from her either. His eyes dropped to the cupcake in front of her and he arched a brow.
"Sano's idea of a Halloween Joke," she wasn't sure talking to him was a good idea but it kept her from fidgeting. "What do you want?"
"The holiday that is today? Halloween?" The butterflies were turning into knots and she was glad she hadn't eaten that cupcake. The coffee was doing enough damage.
"Ah," he murmured, "Eallra Hālgena ǣfe."
"I beg your pardon?" She tried to ignore the way his eyes gleamed at something she didn't understand.
"I haven't had the opportunity to say hello before. You kept running away."
Her mouth ran dry at the implication of his words. He wasn't sitting that close, not any closer than anyone else particularly, but it suddenly felt like he was taking up all of the air. There was an expression behind his eyes that was sharp and dangerous. She sucked in a deep breath and glared at him.
"If that's all you wanted to do, then go away."
He watched her like a wolf watched a rabbit. "Going out tonight?"
She glared at him. "That isn't any of your business."
He leaned forward and tapped his fingers against the table, right next to her wrist. She almost flinched but refused to give away how much his presence bothered her.
"I'm just concerned."
Her eyes narrowed and she tried to ignore the temptation of using the cupcake as a weapon.
He smiled and it showed off too many teeth. "My name is Kenshin."
She just glared at him and to her irritation, his smile widened.
"Be careful of the wind tonight, Kaoru. I'd hate for you to lose your favorite hair ribbon."
She reached up to her ponytail as she watched him walk out of the shop and tried to swallow the dryness away. How had he known about her hair ribbon? More importantly, how had he known her name?
She was trying to decide between camping out in the living room or simply setting up a puzzle near the front door when the doorbell rang. Her stack of newspapers was tucked under the coffee table and safe from her dad's tendency to start fires using them as fuel base. Speaking of which, she didn't expect her dad, for all that he complained, to mind having his eighteen-year-old sit at home giving out candy instead of going out with friends. Sano was hosting a small gathering this evening. Katsu was supposed to be showing up with some of their old friends and she really didn't feel up to dealing with the mess that crew always managed to make this year.
Besides, she'd overheard him reminding someone to bring their own drinks.
She glanced at the clock and shrugged. She would have already been out, marching down the street if Yahiko wasn't off with friends at some haunted house. She hated haunted houses. If it wasn't those creepy clowns that always seemed to be leering behind their stupid face-paint, it was the random mirrors. It was a little depressing not having her baby brother around after all these years. Still, he carried a container of salt (and a thin piece of wood that was almost a stake…) in his backpack and had sworn to find someplace to hide at the first sign of a zombie-like creature.
Picking up the large bowl of assorted, individually wrapped chocolate goodness, she opened the door and then blinked. The last year had been filled with random and annoying run-ins with Kenshin, where he had been an interesting if slightly unusual presence in her life. She had started off slightly suspicious of him and the time he took to familiarize himself in her personal bubble – invading her space at the coffee shop; just happening to be around as she walked home from school; that 'surprise' run-in at the winter carnival that still made her blush – but had gotten used to him. Somewhat. Still, she hadn't expected him here.
It certainly didn't help that he looked amazing while she looked… rumpled. She was dressed in old sweats, her hair was shoved up in a ponytail and the only effort she had made for the holiday was a tacky tiara with bright pink glitter. The slow, easy smile she'd come to associate with his most annoying (and attractive) moments curled along his lips. His dark jeans and gray sweater left him almost good enough to eat – impressive since she was holding a bucket full of chocolate.
This had the potential to be worse than the carnival.
"Trick or treat?"
The teasing tone in his voice only made the butterflies that never went away worse.
"Why are you here?" Her voice came out high and slightly panicked and she fisted the hand he couldn't see to steady herself. She would not let this…strange fascination get her into trouble. She was eighteen-years-old. Hormones were expected and Kenshin was practically built with the idea of sex in mind – in her opinion – so it really was just for the best if she kept avoiding him. The past year had been a strange mix of normalcy and the occasional glimpse of more but right then, she was more worried about the way he was smiling at her than she was about the possible connection he had to zombies.
It wasn't fair that he could look at her like that!
His eyes flickered behind her and she knew, just knew that the arch of his eyebrow was due to the way she had covered up the mirror in the hall with an old blanket. Well, she didn't have to explain herself, especially to him.
"I thought you'd like some company. I heard you'd be alone tonight, handing out candy. Aren't most eighteen year olds at some party or another?"
Oh yes, that's what she wanted to do. Mix alcohol with the possibility of zombies. She was going to kill Sano. She was pretty sure it was Sano. There wasn't anyone else who would know Kenshin and her well enough to comment about her activities – not after the year of showing up at the coffee shop. If it was Sano who had told him, she was going to shove one of his precious cupcakes down his throat until he choked on it. To hide her nervousness, she lifted her chin.
"I didn't take you as the type to be nice to children."
"Now, Kaoru… I like children." The edge on his smile had her gripping the bowl a little tighter. It was not fair how he could look that good – how the shift of expression just that little bit could change the entire level of his appeal.
"Well, that's lovely. You're blocking my doorstep. Go away." If he left now then she would be fine. If he argued she was going to cave like butter in the microwave.
"Not going to invite me in?"
Now he was laughing at her. She did not—would not—want to know how that mouth would feel against her own. "That isn't nice. I promise I won't bite."
Kaoru scowled. "I'm pretty sure vampires say the same thing."
He grinned and held up a thermos she hadn't noticed before. "I have hot apple cider. And I promise not to touch your chocolate stash."
That was unfair bribery. Especially since he knew that she knew about the zombies! She wasn't sure what they had against hot cider, but…She wasn't certain how she would handle being that close to him for several hours. Chewing on her bottom lip, she considered her options. Stay at home alone and hand out candy to zombies—real or unreal—unprotected, or let him stay with his cider that might scare possible real zombies away.
"You can stay until curfew and then you go away."
Besides, she'd need time to salt the windows and back door. She didn't want him to see her running around with the salt canister and she didn't want him anywhere near Yahiko. For all that she had this unexplainable urge to lick his lower lip, it did not mean that he got to go anywhere near her eight-year-old brother.
She eyed him suspiciously (and tried to find a way to brace herself against his looks) for another moment and then scooted aside so he could walk in. His grin widened when he took in her makeshift station near the entryway – table, pizza and puzzle – and set the thermos down. Kaoru ignored his attempt to take the extra chair she dragged over and set the large candy bowl on the small table that had once housed a lamp. The lamp was on the floor.
"Do this every year?"
"This is my first to actually hand the candy out," she said grudgingly. Conversation was going to be required for this to work but she was going to have to be careful not give too much away. He had the unnerving ability to hone in on the most random of statements that gave away more than she intended.
"Yahiko is eight and believes that Halloween needs more adventure."
She didn't mention that Yahiko was really hoping that the haunted house they had chosen would have a zombie exhibit this year so he could work on his nightmares. Every Halloween they had them and they had decided this year that once Yahiko returned they'd play Resident Evil. Killing zombies on her TV screen was a lot more fun than doing it in real life – for one, there was less stench.
Kenshin went to stand and she reached out and grabbed his sleeve. She didn't want to touch skin. She already had enough issues without that.
"Where are you going?"
"To get cups."
Kaoru shook her head vehemently. "Oh no, you stay right there. I'll get the cups. If a kid knocks on the door give them three pieces of candy each."
She realized just how jumpy she was when his hand rotated and his fingers slid along her wrist to curve warmly against her skin and she jerked against his grip. To her frustration, his response to her obvious nervousness was to run his thumb along bone.
"That's it? They just knock on the door and you give them candy?" He sounded bemused but there was something there…
Kaoru frowned at him and looked down at her wrist, rotating it in an attempt to free it from his grip. His skin was warm and there were interesting calluses. Bad Kaoru.
"What? Haven't you done this before?"
When he didn't answer, her gaze swung back up. Kenshin was watching her from eyes narrowed at the edges and her mouth ran dry.
"It's been a while," he said finally and some of that edged intensity faded and she wondered if her heart was pounding loud enough for him to hear. She didn't want to find out and slipped down the hall as soon as he let go of her hand.
Her jumpiness didn't fade as the evening went on. To her unease, her awareness of him only seemed to increase. Not that he was helping. He didn't comment about her choice of pizza, he helped her with her puzzle and continued to seem slightly bemused by the costumes and ease at which she gave out candy. She caught him looking at her tiara several times and couldn't place her finger on why that bothered her.
Then he had tangled his fingers with hers over a puzzle piece and she was forced to throw a candy bar at him. She ignored the brush of his foot against her own – the space was cramped, easy to say it had been an accident. She could ignore the gleam behind his eyes if she ate enough chocolate, even if she was dipping into the kids stuff. But there were only so many times she could stand up and hand out candy before she had to admit that his eyes were watching her butt a lot closer than usual, even with the sweats.
Licking her finger absently, she glanced up at the clock and felt a lot of relief as she stood. She couldn't decide if tonight had been a failure or not. "Okay, its fifteen minutes to curfew which means Yahiko will be back any minute now. Go away."
"Kicking me out?'
She frowned at him as she picked up the remaining candy; there was so little left that she felt safe enough keeping it around. Besides, the bowl was an excellent way to keep her hands busy and to keep from giving into temptation. It was obvious he was interested but she couldn't shake that lingering hesitation – no matter how much her hormones were clamoring to give him a chance.
To her relief he didn't say anything else at her pointed glance at the door. Trying not to make her relief obvious, she watched him put the lid back on the empty thermos. But instead of picking it up and moving to the door, he lifted his gaze back to her and stalked forward.
Hands full, unwilling to make a mess just yet, she frowned at him as her back hit the wall. "What are you doing?"
The bowl dropped from her fingers to the floor as her hands came up to push against his chest. His mouth was persuasive and she found herself letting him press her further against the wall. The taste of hot apple cider against his tongue was welcome after the sweetness of the candy and she leaned into the heat of him.
The expression he wore as he pulled back, tongue flicking against her bottom lip, left her blushing and wondering what she had just done and how long it would take her to find herself in such a position again.
"I'll see you later."
Well, she was glad that was over. Reaching up to rub behind one ear, dislodging the headband that had a pair of black kitten ears attached, she glanced around the room a second time attempting to locate her date for the evening. It was his fault that her father had actually won the argument about getting her out of the house – not even the argument that she was nineteen and living on her own worked this year. Even in Sano's less than remarkable condo it shouldn't have been this hard to find his red hair. She had seen it often enough as the evening went on – especially when that the brunette Sano had been buttering up all evening had sank her claws into him.
Kaoru wasn't new to jealousy; she just hadn't expected to find herself facing it tonight. She was still trying to figure out exactly what they were – he fell somewhere around the boyfriend category – and she was comfortable with the fact that they were in a relationship. Whatever that relationship was exactly; Kenshin didn't label everything the same way she thought he ought to and it left her off balance. The party was supposed to have been a fun, relaxing way to pass the time instead of handing out candy to ungrateful children while she waited on her brother to show up with an extra canister of salt and any newspapers he had located during his run around the city.
Instead she found herself wishing she had worn a shorter skirt and brought a bokken. Either way, she calculated that Kenshin had been missing for at least half-an-hour and she considered calling her dad to come get her. That would teach him to leave her waiting on his car. Warm, chapped lips slid along the back of her exposed neck and Kaoru twisted her head. The glitter behind Kenshin's eyes made her heart thump in her throat and she tried not to lean into the hand tracing down her spine as he gauged her expression.
"I still think you should have worn the tiara."
Kaoru rolled her eyes.
"I like the cat ears."
Eyes glinting with laughter, he dropped his gaze to the skin tight leggings that tucked into a pair of black ankle boots. The short black dress and wide belt didn't particular scream 'cat' to him, but then he didn't particularly care either. She hadn't bothered with fake whisker marks but she had taken the time to paint her eyes and they practically glowed in the dim lighting.
A light, coy laugh filtered through the background noise of the now softer music and Kaoru grimaced. She was certain whoever this Megumi was she was a nice enough person, but Kaoru could already tell she was going to be an annoying pain where her boyfriend-type was considered. Even now, she knew if she just tilted her head she would find those wide-brown eyes locked in on them.
"Come on, I'll take you home." Kenshin offered, settling his palm warmly on the small of her back instead of letting it trace patterns along her spine.
Kaoru nodded, leaning forward to poke him in the shoulder. "You disappeared."
Catching her hand, he brought it to the warmth of his mouth and smiled at her. "I apologize for leaving you alone, but something came up that required my attention."
Kaoru felt her stomach flutter and even the warmth of his skin wasn't a complete distraction to what exactly 'something' could have been. Lowering her lashes to hide her hesitation, she tangled her fingers with his and tried to push away the sudden mental image of just how easily a dead skull could cave in. She hadn't found the courage to ask him about that night – it could have just been a coincidence, for all that he had practically been stalking her for two years. Nibbling on her lip, she watched him out of the corner of her eye.
"Hmmm?" His attention was partly on something in the shadows below the staircase as they left the warmth of Sano's. She opened her mouth to ask and then shut it. If she was going to talk about it, then she would do it some other time – not tonight. Not ever on a night like tonight. So instead she bumped his hip with hers and arched a brow at him.
"Telling a girl that something was more important than her isn't such a great start to the conversation after you missed most of the party." She kept her tone light and for a moment it seemed that he didn't hear her.
Alert violet eyes sparked with moonlight when they swung back in her direction. She blinked at the sudden intensity of that expression. They had reached the bottom of the stairwell when Sano's door opened and Megumi's voice filtered down the darkness.
The skin around his eyes tightened for a moment and her heart hammered. But instead of responding, he wrapped an arm around her waist. Kaoru gasped a little as he suddenly pulled her back into the shadows under the stairwell they had just left so that she was mostly plastered against his front. His mouth was hot and searching as he kissed her, hand cradling the back of her head as he dominated the kiss. Heat flushed through her from the toes up and she leaned into the hard line of his body. At some point he must have eaten one of the many cupcakes Sano had provided because he tasted like chocolate. When he finally pulled back enough to let her breathe, she clung to his shoulders in an attempt to catch her bearings.
He kissed the tip of her nose. "I apologize."
There wasn't much a girl could say to an apology like that. He didn't appear to be finished. The hand that had settled at her hip ran up her side and settled along her jaw. For a long moment she found herself blushing under eyes that caught the light strangely as he traced the lines of her face with his gaze.
Then suddenly, he relaxed and tugged her into a hug. Lips brushing the ridge of her ear, he sighed.
"I don't like to share. If you want this to end, Kaoru – now is the time to tell me."
Kaoru pulled back, brows tucking together. "What?"
He arched a brow at her but his expression wasn't nearly as devouring. "I plan on keeping you."
Heat rushed through her like warm honey but she shook her head. "I'm not a thing."
His smile was slow and edged. "No, you're better."
When Kaoru was twenty, she killed a demon.
When Kaoru opened her eyes the world was blurred and she hurt. Small, hot hands were pressed hard against her cheeks and slowly the image above her cleared from being a blur to Misao. For a moment, her heart hammered in her chest because she hadn't expected Misao. She had expected…
"Oh, thank the gods." Misao breathed. "If I lost you to this he'd never forgive me. I should have known you'd need me – I just didn't think. I should have known they'd been waiting for you to be without him to protect you but I just…"
Kaoru tried to listen to Misao's voice in the hopes that it would clear out the ringing in her ears and the way her chest hurt. For a moment she had thought…
"Why are you here?" Her voice came out ragged and her throat felt clogged, as if she was supposed to be crying.
Misao blew out an exasperated breath but continued to hold her face between her palms, eyes blazing. "I told you zombies were dangerous. I told you not to let them get anything else on you. Aren't humans supposed to be smarter than this at twenty-one?"
Zombies… slowly her memory stopped being so fuzzy and she realized the reason that Misao was so warm was because she was so cold. Once she realized it, her teeth started to chatter – hard enough to rattle her brains.
"Don't you dare go into shock on me!"
There was something said and it blazed along the back of her eyelids and she could almost feel the heat of it against her skin. The heat filled her in a rush and for a moment it felt like a memory and she gasped for air. When it was over, the cold wasn't as bone deep as before.
"You're either the luckiest human I've ever met or the craziest."
She managed to open her eyes just enough to see the blur of color that was Misao and tried to ignore the twisting sensation in her chest. "Why are you here?"
Something faded behind her eyes for a moment and then she sat back, offering Kaoru her hand so that she could pull her up. Kaoru accepted it gratefully – she'd have bruises from the gravel.
"I wasn't sure if you'd remember me."
Kaoru winced, rolling her shoulder. After everything that had happened in the past five years… remembering Misao was not the least or the worst of her memories. For a moment she was wrenched back into that circle and the low voices chanting and she jerked herself back to the present. Still too close.
"I'm not sure how I was supposed to forget."
"Then you should have remembered what I told you about zombies! I bet you didn't bring any salt, did you! Humans! If you kill one then you end up having to kill them all because they will never stop hunting you!"
Kaoru shut her eyes. Misao was too bright and there was a blackness in her chest threatening to swallow her. "I know. You also said your apple cider would help."
"Not from this kind of weird zombie poisoning!"
She swallowed past the glass in her throat. "Then what are you doing?"
"Pondering on whether to throw you into a gate to see if someone can play catch!"
The blackness in her chest hurt, threatening to swallow her whole until she squeezed her eyes shut, battling it down. For a moment her hands were warm with blood and she could smell it – the fire, the blood, his cologne and the gut wrenching sense of loss and guilt that had eaten at her for the past year. For a moment she thought she was going to throw up. She pressed her hand to her chest and tried to breathe.
She missed him. Oh gods, even knowing what he was didn't make this hurt less…it made it worse, because she had ignored her gut-feeling and let herself…
Misao swore. "Okay, I'm sorry. Do you hear me Kaoru Kamiya? I'm sorry. I should have known better and I didn't."
Her name centered her and she gulped down air. "How did you know my name?"
Her eyes seemed more blue than green. "Everyone knows the name of the woman who loved a chaos demon and sent him back to save her brother. Come on, we need to get you some help. I'm never going to be forgiven if I let you die of shock or blood loss or whatever is wrong with you."
Walking hurt but it distracted her from the dazed, sick feeling that she couldn't shake. She didn't want to talk about him; she didn't want to talk about her brother or…
"Dammit, don't faint on me either!"
Fingers snapped in front of her face, jerking her back into the present. Kaoru pulled herself out of her memories and tried to focus on the small hand waving in front of her face.
"Hey you. Are you awake?"
Kaoru almost slipped off the stool and blinked rapidly. "What?"
Misao looked more concerned than amused. "You dazed out on me."
"I'm sorry. I was just…" She bit her lip, "remembering."
Misao's face shifted into an expression that Kaoru couldn't read. "Oh."
"Yeah," Kaoru glanced down at her watch and swore. "It's already seven?"
"I told you that you dazed out!"
Kaoru slid off the stool. "I need to get going."
There was no way in hell she was leaving Yahiko to be the only one of them who was on the street this evening. They had been careful this year, after the attack. There wasn't any real way to track where the zombies moved, but they were careful. This year, they had agreed to meet up at dawn near Sano's shop. However, there did seem to be specific areas that zombies preferred when they hunted. At least, from what they could glean from the missing people reports every year.
The map had done them zero good the year before but they had hope this year.
Misao looked alarmed. "Are you sure you don't want to just stay here?"
Kaoru shook her head. "No. I mean, I considered it, but Yahiko… you said that the zombies would go after whichever of us was the easier target, right?"
Misao hesitated. "I said they might. No one is really sure how they find their victims or which one of you… last year they went just after you."
"Then I'm going."
Misao sighed as Kaoru slipped out the door. "Good luck."
Nightfall brought a much colder wind and she pulled the collar of her coat up around her ears. She couldn't believe she had spaced out to that degree at Misao's… Sighing she studied the streets around her. The sun was just starting to set and streetlights offered an eerie glow in the not-quite-dark. The laughter and screams of children moving through the area was both comforting and painful. Soon these streets would be deserted as the parents moved the children into the more residential areas. That was when she was going to have to be wary.
She walked until the sun had all but disappeared, keeping away from the areas that seemed to have the highest population of possible zombie-napping. Leaning against a lamppost, she kept out of the way of most of the rushing kids. Yahiko had promised to stay close to people and to keep salt and a wooden stake handy but… If she had had any idea of what attacking a new and dazed zombie – Misao had said there were no other explanations for why bone had given under the force of an orange, plastic pumpkin – was going to cost her, she would never have hit him. She would have just picked Yahiko up and ran. Misao still wasn't sure why she had even seen the creature – most humans had lost their ability to see the things that made their ways through the cracks of the realms.
She thought that might have been why… why Kenshin had taken an interest in her, originally.
She blew out a breath. Kenshin. Gods, that one hurt. The only actual blessing that she could find from two years ago was that Yahiko didn't remember. She wished she could say the same. The terror of that night still kept her awake, lying in bed in a cold sweat with exhausted tears.
She still didn't know how they had found her. Whatever it had been – him or her – they had stopped her a couple of hours before she was supposed to meet Kenshin, informing her that not only was her boyfriend a demon but they had her brother. When she had laughed in their faces, not believing them, they had shown her the way he had stalked her for years using her own mirrors against her. Even worse, they knew about the zombies.
She could still taste the bile.
She could still see the blood on her hands afterwards, sitting on the runes of the circle that no longer burned and crackled with power now that he was gone. Her brother for her lover; the only bargain she could make. The betrayal he had dealt her … the betrayal she had done him when she shoved his lifeless body through the black gate to be disposed of.
Two years and she still loved him. She was a mess. Megumi already thought she was crazy, shoving pamphlets and books about demon possession and how dangerous it was to play with them under her nose. Kaoru was still refusing to go 'talk' to her friend.
Kaoru shook herself, brushing a leaf out of her hair. Kenshin was a memory that she would have plenty of time to deal with if she survived. Her bigger problem was the attraction she seemed to be for the local zombie clan. She honestly hadn't been shocked when Misao had admitted that they turned humans – that seemed fairly obvious. It was the fact that it was these humans that allowed them to slip to and from the barrier during the year that made her a little sick.
She still had a hard time wrapping her brain around all things magical (demon notwithstanding.) The problem was that by killing the newly made creature that they had, apparently she and Yahiko had destroyed their ability to establish this connection. (Misao had listed a fair number of rules and reasons why, but they had just made her head hurt.) She could have handled any number of the low grade zombies – while she didn't remember much of the attack the previous year, they had found remains. It was the upper level creatures that could and would kill her. She grimaced as she fingered the stake in her pocket. It wouldn't do much if she was really ambushed like last year but the salt in her pocket would help.
Misao wouldn't tell her why they hadn't bothered her until the previous year and Kaoru had an uncomfortable feeling that she already knew. She tried not to think about it.
It was true dark when she became aware of eyes boring into the back of her neck. She had wandered a little further south than she had originally intended and the lights were weak. Slowly, she moved in a careful circle, trying to pinpoint the location of what was bothering her. She bit the side of her tongue until it bled when she finally caught sight of what was stalking her. A broad hat and long coat hid most of the form but the dull, cold eyes that were watching her were terrifying. The breeze brought with it a heart-stopping familiar smell of post-decay.
The hair rising scream of challenge was terrifying.
This… this was bad. She shouldn't have been able to see its eyes, not from this far out. Misao's instructions – don't let it touch you, don't get close enough that you can smell them and don't let them bleed on you – rushed through her memory as she started to take several careful steps backwards. Sudden, bare jarring cold washed over her and threatened to steal her ability to breath. Wide eyes watched as the creature moved forward, the edges of its coat caught in the wind. Unlike the zombie that she had killed five years ago, this one's face was mostly fully developed and it looked… older. Sucking in another deep breath, she tried to breathe past the growing cold as it clawed its way down her throat and into her lungs.
A sudden pulsing of heat hurt nearly as bad as the cold as she staggered backwards. The zombie-thing snarled and moved forward. Kaoru barely had time to grasp the salt canister with her shaking fingers before she had to duck under the whistle of steel in the cold air.
"I can smell your fear."
Its voice was like grated stone and she wishes she had extra hands to block her ears. Sliding around the pole, she wrenched her hand free of her pocket and flung the salt in an arc – scoring a direct hit in the creature's eyes. It screamed and she slipped on the leaves, hand sliding roughly along the lamppost. She caught herself and ignored the burn of the cut as she transferred the salt canister to her left hand. She needed her strong hand for the stake.
"Yes… I want to smell your fear."
Kaoru sucked in air, her blood-slick fingers clenched tightly around the salt canister. It didn't appear that she was going to make it back home before midnight after all.
"That is a clever bit of magic you have," the creature said as it blinked the salt out of its eyes, seemingly unconcerned with the pain. "Protecting you from my Shin no Ippō, but it will not protect you from my sword or my bite!"
Kaoru had a really bad feeling about the last one. She had no idea what magic he was speaking off but she had no intention of becoming a zombie. Careful to keep her eyes on the zombie in front of her, she began backing up. She probably couldn't outrun it, it was too fully developed. But maybe she could damage a knee joint long enough to find someplace where she would have the advantage.
The low voice cut through their discussion and Jin-e gave another one of those terrifying, hair-rising screams at the interruption that made every hair on her body stand on end. Even more disturbing was the way he spun around, as if she was no longer the threat. Peering in the gloom as she continued to back away, she froze as she caught sight of the figure moving on cat-silent feet.
It was only the pain from the salt in the cut that kept her from believing she was hallucinating. She staggered until her back hit the wall of a building. He looked beautiful. For a moment, she was absolutely terrified that he had come back as a zombie and planned on joining in the fray – right up until she realized he was carrying a sword and that the expression behind his eyes was flat, cold.
"No," the Jin-e snarled, sword lifting. "You can no longer protect her! She rejected you. We all felt your death, chaos demon!"
Kaoru couldn't look away from Kenshin – his cheeks bones were sharper than she remembered and the violet of his eyes was buried under polished amber. That hard, merciless gaze flickered to her and dragged along her body like he owned it and all she could do was stand there dumbly.
"I found her attempt cute," Kenshin said mildly.
She didn't recognize his voice – edged like a blade and deeper than she remembered. There was no mischief, no slow considering.
"She is our blood tonight!"
"She belongs to me."
Kaoru could hardly follow what happened between them. There was the definite clashing of steel against steel and Kenshin might have been using cold iron but she couldn't tell. It was like she was standing in a bubble and it was making it hard to think, must less examine the scene that was going on in front of her.
Then it was over and the zombie that had tried to kill her was dead several yards from her feet and Kenshin was wiping his blade clean. It took a moment to realize she should have run. Ex-lover or not, she had killed him and he was a demon. Chaos-demon if Jin-e had been telling the truth… whatever that meant. But her knees felt like jello and she couldn't look away from him. His chest was rising and falling with exertion and he moved through the remains of the salt she had used as a weapon as if he didn't notice it.
Then his eyes lifted to hers.
She didn't know what he read in her face, but the slow smile that showed his fangs in the street light wasn't exactly it; or the way his eyes ran over her face and then down the line of her body a second time. He looked… predatory.
She swallowed. "Kenshin."
Even the click of the sword pushing back into the sheath didn't seem to be reason enough to move as he started in her direction. His footsteps were as quiet as before and he stopped when he was close enough to touch, if she just leaned forward a little.
She fisted her hand. "I'll live."
Those razor sharp eyes centered on her face again before lowering to her hand. "I take it you managed to avoid being poisoned this year?"
That finally dented the cloud of disbelief and exhausted, heady relief. How had he known that? Who would he have checked in with and why…
He looked amused but it was somehow dangerous. "You think I would go for two years without news of you, Kaoru?"
She frowned at him, finally starting to get over her shock. "I thought you were dead! It hadn't occurred to me that you could check in on me, much less that you would want to after I tried to kill you."
"Ah," he reached forward and tugged on a lock of hair that had fallen out of her ponytail. "Then you weren't paying attention to what your friends were telling you."
She scowled at him, pushing herself a little firmer against the wall. "What friends?"
He clucked his tongue and moved forward, hands braced on either side of her head, still not-quite touching her.
"Your little group that told you how to kill me, although you should have researched killing demons a little more thoroughly."
She lifted her chin. "I didn't research at all. They had Yahiko."
"I'm aware of the circumstances." He shushed her immediate noise of disbelief and brushed his knuckles under her jaw. "You still aren't paying attention. I will admit that it wasn't until after I had picked myself up and healed that lovely little stab wound you gave me that I became aware of all the details."
She ground her teeth but managed to hold her tongue.
The edges of his mouth curled. "I was very impressed by that. You had to use quite a bit of force and even with your training… Not many can keep that level of fear from their lovers."
She curled her fingers against the urge to hit him. "What is your point?"
His head dipped and she squeezed her eyes shut at the brush of his lips against the ridge of her ear. It was taking an effort to keep from pressing against him and just feeling the beat of his heart. Relief was starting to be edged out by unease. She hadn't seen this side of him before.
"To kill a demon you must first lure them into their home layer. We cannot be killed here. Your little group of friends had a few of their facts wrong; unfortunately for them." He pulled back just a little and brushed his nose against hers, "Although your attempt was very cute."
Her fist was caught in his hand before she actually registered swinging at him. Even worse, he had the audacity to cluck at her, eyes crinkling at the corners in an expression she did know.
"As for the other… surely you wouldn't expect me to leave my lover without some safety precautions?"
She kicked his shin and he slid forward, pinning her body with his to the cold wall behind her.
"You were stalking me with mirrors!"
The noise from his chest was more of a rumbling than anything coherent. "I had to wait until you were old enough to approach. I was very impressed at how quickly you picked up on it."
She wiggled for leverage but stopped as he laughed at her. Huffing, she blew her bangs out of her eyes. "The zombies?"
"Entirely of your own doing, although I understand their insistence that you're… edible. It isn't often that I am lucky enough to find something as vibrant as you."
"I am not a snack!"
He kissed the skin behind her ear and she shivered. "No, you're mine."
Kaoru took a deep breath. "You've been gone for two years and I'm pretty sure stabbing you with a stake is a very clear message that I am finished with…whatever we had."
"Silly human rules," he murmured. His tongue was too hot against her neck. "I told you that I was keeping you, Kaoru. Your cute little antics will not change that. The time limit was your fault my dear. One year for both of our betrayals – lucky for both of us I had Misao keeping an eye on you. Although I believe I will have to have a talk with Megumi on what she was filling your head with while I was detained."
Growling, she opened her mouth to say something – how did he know? – when his lips covered hers.
His mouth was hot, perfect; she struggled for a moment, angry that he would kiss her after mocking her, after she had broken her heart over him! But then his hand slid down her spine and dug into the back of her thigh, lifting her off her heels effortlessly and he pressed her against the brick at her back – the line of his body pressing hard against her own. Her hands buried in his hair, dug into his shoulders as she kissed him back. The sharp sting of fangs was new and she gasped as they scraped along her bottom lip.
The hot rasp of his tongue against her lip was good but she needed answers.
"Wait." Kaoru said faintly as his mouth across her cheekbone. "Wait!"
"You're a demon."
Amused yellow eyes watched her. "Yes."
She glared at him, pulling at his hair in irritation. "I killed you."
"Must we continue to go round in circles?"
She dug her foot into his back for emphasis. "Then why are you here?"
He chuckled, hands moving along her body as he re-arranged her as if she weighed only a little more than nothing. "Kaoru, I grow tired of repeating myself. I have intentions for tonight."
His hips ground into hers and she gasped. His hair fell across her collarbones as he leaned forward to suck on the skin just below her ear. Her nails dug into his back and shoulders.
"I am here to claim what is mine – again. This time, I will have to insist that you keep all courting gestures in the bedroom. Fight me if you wish, if it satisfies your human tendencies. But you have proven yourself to me… and I accept."
Even fuzzy-headed from his proximity her brain honed in on his words.
He placed soft, open mouth kissed along her jaw. "You really must research better darling. I'm a chaos demon. I've known since the moment you killed your first zombie with that ridiculous plastic bucket that I was going to make you mine – your preciousness two years ago when you killed me was an unlooked for offer I just can't resist. That you followed up by shoving me into a black gate…"
He bit down lightly on the side of her jaw.
"What are you saying?" A picture was forming in the back of her mind.
He lifted his head and smiled at her with dancing, wicked yellow eyes. "How better can a proper demoness prove that she is capable of defending her children than by defeating her lover in combat? Murdering me just proved how fantastic you are even as a human. You fought and won and now I'm yours."
Mouth opening and closing, no sound managed to make it out of her throat.
Leaning forward, he kissed her nose. "This will be fun."
According to Wikipedia: The term Halloween, originally spelled Hallowe'en, is shortened from All Hallows' Even – e'en is a shortening of even, which is a shortening of evening. This is ultimately derived from the Old English Eallra Hālgena ǣen. It is now known as "Eve of" All Saints' Day, which is November 1st.
Salt is supposedly one way to keep ants out of your kitchen. It creates a barrier they are not supposed to like. I would suggest other things first. But that is the excuse that Yahiko uses to use salt to keep things out, per Misao's suggestion.
Credit for the prompting goes to:
Jane Drew for the cunning use of mirrors.
Tronishere who suggested serial killer Jin-e who was unaware of Kaoru's current protection, although that morphed and changed into Kaoru being unaware instead.
Reiignashii who suggested playing with the magic build up before Halloween.
McLaughing who first asked for zombies.