And here is Part II! This story is now complete. And no, before you ask, right now I don't have any plans of writing a sequel. =)
Thanks for helping with plot/grammar/anything else goes to: Jane Drew, Dragonsdaughter, Some Scribbles, damewren(LJ), Ookami-chan and LordrandallsLady. (Yes, it really does take this many people to help contain the muse...) For those of you who are over the age of 17, I'll be posting the smuttier version on LJ or .Moon either today or later in the week.
Hope you enjoy!
Kaoru hadn't been really happy about inviting Kenshin and his pack over to help heal Yahiko. But Megumi was starting to look pinched around the corners of her mouth and she wasn't drawing nearly as much energy as she should have off Kaoru. Her privacy was important, but Megumi's health was more so.
If she had to invite this new alpha into her home, she might as well do it when she had some leverage to force him to behave. If they were really interested in healing Yahiko they wouldn't have the energy to try to force her compliance through pack magic – and Tae was there. She could trust Tae to watch her back.
So now she had a redheaded alpha whose eyes were bleeding wolf-amber and studying her through a fringe of dark lashes in her living room. It only took a moment under that searing glance for him to confirm what Kaoru already knew – her wolf liked him. That he was so obviously furious at the situation didn't do anything to change that like; if one of her pack was mauled and in the home of a stranger, she'd react that same way.
That didn't mean she had to like it.
Determinedly, she shifted her attention to Tae and answered the statement that had been a question what felt longer than only a few moments ago. "I thought you'd have filled them in on the ride over."
Then the small, dark haired woman from Himura's pack stepped forward, brows tucked together. "You should have announced yourself."
Kaoru glanced over and her and frowned. She didn't know the small woman's name but the man she was standing next to was the beta, Sano. So the odds were Himura had brought his upper level pack with him. And the strange wolf was trying to censure her on pack behavior in Kaoru's living room. Her temper snapped at its leash.
"I have a prior claim. I don't have to announce anything."
Thankfully, Megumi walked back into the room from where Kaoru had banished her to lay down while they were waiting on Tae to bring the pack. Kaoru blinked when she realized that Megumi was still wearing Kaoru's oversized, cut off sweats and a shirt that was almost too small. She hesitated at the door and took in the room and Kaoru refused to acknowledge the way she seemed to pause on Himura.
"I see they made it then."
It was with a great deal of control that Kaoru didn't shift to block Megumi from the sudden sharp interest she could feel from Sagara. Megumi's amusement disappeared and a frown tugged at her mouth. She shifted her weight backwards, clearly uncomfortable with the attention when she was dressed in clothes that weren't hers and the wrong sizes.
"Do you have something I can serve as refreshments for your guests?" Tae asked as she slipped into the kitchen.
"They aren't guests." Kaoru said flatly, letting her voice carry down the hall. She was starting to feel testy with all this attention and she decided she wanted them gone. "They are here for Yahiko and then they can leave. Megumi or I will take you back into town if you 're going to need some time to examine everything, Tae."
Kaoru frowned at Himura when he prowled several feet closer, sharp gold eyes narrowing. He wasn't doing much to leash his dominance and it pressed against her, testing her spine. It was clear that he was pissed and she felt herself responding in kind. That she could feel how uneasy Megumi was did nothing to help.
"You have something to examine that deals with one of my pack being attacked and believe that I'll just leave?"
Kaoru met that gaze head on and growled back. "I believe that I have something I'd like Tae to look at that deals with having one of your pack dropped unwanted into my territory. If that information later leads to discovering who was involved in attacking your juvenile, I'm sure Tae will be happy to pass that along."
"I'm not leaving." Kenshin told her in a quiet voice that had steel backing it. "If you want to fight, three to two are not good odds. And your healer is drained."
Kaoru dropped any pretenses of playing nice and bared her teeth.
Tae stuck her head around the corner, a disapproving look on her face. "Three to three, Kenshin – it's Kaoru's house. I'm siding with her; which is why you'll settle this outside a dominance fight. Kaoru, Kenshin is not the enemy here. Play nice."
Kaoru's wolf settled in amusement at the nearly imperceptible widening of Himura's eyes. Tae was hers first. But the human side of Kaoru wasn't so easily set at ease. There was something calculating about the redhead she wasn't certain she could let her guard down around. Not to mention the sharp eyes watching her from the pack members.
"This is my territory." She sunk her dominance into those words and made them stick.
Himura took a deep breath and let it out slowly and a little of the amber darkened into something nearly blue. "I apologize. Our move here was predicated on… unacceptable circumstances. Yahiko's injury has brought those to the front."
The sudden change from amber eyed and angry to this… was startling. It also spoke of a great deal of control. There was still that unnerving intensity, but that was probably just the alpha in him. She wasn't willing to relax, but he hadn't tried anything underhanded. Yet. And reacting badly to past memories was something she understood. But that didn't mean she could let his actions go unchallenged.
"It seems to be something that is going around. Don't try to bully me again in my house and I'll make an effort to play nice." She finally stepped away from the cot and moved into the kitchen, motioning Megumi to head in first. "Take your time in looking after your pack member. We'll see what Tae is up too in my kitchen."
Kenshin waited until the count of ten before moving to see what he could of Yahiko's injuries. The worst were heavily bandaged but all of them were missing the smell of infection. It took only a few seconds for him to gather the pack's magic and weave it through the efficient healing spells already in place. Even with Kaoru dominating the room the way she had, he hadn't missed how tired the healer was. Hopefully this would ease most of that strain.
Reaching out he carefully settled his hand along Yahiko's jaw, holding it there so that Yahiko would feel him. It would help as much as the magic. Keeping his voice low, he spoke.
"What do you think?"
"Prickly little female alpha," Sano muttered, eyes on the doorway. "Not sure I want to know what would send one that strong out here into this frozen country by herself."
"She and the healer are pack," Misao said immediately once Sano finished. "The bond is odd, but strong. I seriously thought there might be blood when Sano was devouring the healer with his eyes."
Kenshin glanced at Sano and frowned. He hadn't even noticed. The healer was attractive under her exhaustion. He should have know that Sano couldn't keep his eyes to himself but he had been far more interested in a pair of snapping blue eyes that bled into wolf.
"Don't glare at me. I thought Kaoru was going to knock you on your ass and rearrange your insides while you were deciding just how long it was going to take to get her into bed." Sano protested.
Kenshin ignored Sano. Even if for once his statement wasn't entirely off the mark. It was surprising that his wolf had taken so forcefully to the small alpha with barely more than a verbal dominance fight but it had. Now he was going to have to deal with it.
"Kaoru has prior claim, even if the Regional Pack obviously doesn't know about her. That's going to limit our ability to insert ourselves into her affairs." And if he read her right, she was extremely suspicious and unhappy with their presence. He was going to have to be very careful in how he approached this.
Misao nodded. "We move Yahiko; she's going do everything she can to lock us out. We're reading this right, aren't we? You are interested in her?"
Kenshin let a smile curl his lips. He should have known that if Sano was that close to getting it right that Misao would have been all over it. "She's feisty isn't she? I'm not sure she's comfortable with her dominance and that could play to our advantage."
Give him something to work with in gentling her a little and getting her to let him in.
"She seemed pretty ready to defend herself if necessary," Misao warned. "She felt like alpha to me and she seems to know she's dominant by the way she threw her weight around; maybe it's the alpha she doesn't quite grasp. If she hasn't had a lot of exposure to a pack she may…"
Tae walked into a room carrying a tray. "Kaoru is bringing the sandwiches. I came to warn you… " She eyed them. "You hurt her in any way; you'll be spending the year as were-rabbits."
Misao blinked at her. "You can do that?"
Tae leveled her with a look. "If you're volunteering…"
Sano glared at Misao. "We'll be good."
"See that you are."
Kaoru only had a few minutes to speak with Megumi and she kept her voice lowered as she stood over the tray of sandwiches that Tae had put together. "We might have a problem."
Megumi blinked. "What?"
"My wolf likes Himura."
"What?" She looked stunned. "But your wolf doesn't like anyone…"
"That's not the part that has me worried. If Himura somehow manages to prove that he won't force us into his pack, I'm likely to jump his bones."
Megumi spluttered out a laugh and caught herself, eyes darting to the hallway. "Kaoru!"
She flushed. "I can't help it, okay? She's been interested since she first caught sight of him and his… over-protectiveness in there amused her. He's pushy, but he cares." She shrugged uncomfortably.
Megumi arched one perfect eyebrow. "And what does Kaoru think?"
Kaoru hefted the tray and sighed before leaning closer and nearly mouthing the next sentence. "Kaoru really wishes he wasn't so pretty."
Tae and the pack members were huddled around Yahiko. She felt Megumi's sigh of relief and realized they must have been taking the brunt of the work from her. Good. That meant they could get out of her house that much sooner. She was torn between hoping Himura would prove himself and being overly cautious about him, because if he did try to force a pack membership, it would hurt her wolf.
Megumi was right. Her wolf rarely liked anyone. For good reason. They weren't hers.
Kaoru grimaced when she realized how close her thoughts were starting to sound to the way an alpha thought. She was going to strangle Tae for putting that idea in her head. But first she had to clear these strangers out of her house.
"Megumi can do one more check up before you head out." Kaoru said as she sat the food down. Eating the sandwiches wouldn't take long and then they'd be out of her hair for a few hours at least. She was expecting Tae to confirm that witch-magic had been used at the site where she found Yahiko – which meant she'd be forced to call Kenshin and tell him. It was also likely she'd have to spill the details on the Kanryu problem if it was at all possible he was behind the attack in an attempt to draw Megumi out.
But at least he wouldn't be in her house when that happened.
Himura looked up. "That would be appreciated."
Sanosuke wandered over and picked up a sandwich, taking a large bite and grunting his agreement. At least someone had drilled it into his head not to talk with a full mouth. She ignored Tae's amused face as Megumi worked.
Megumi sighed as she finished checking Yahiko over and then grimaced. Kaoru frowned at her, noting the suddenly tense set to her friend's shoulders. Ignoring the way she could feel Himura watching her, she arched a brow in question. The pure frustration in Megumi's face told her what was going on without Megumi having to say a word.
Kaoru tapped her fingers on her jeans and stared at her. "You're sure?"
Megumi sat down on the low chair next to the cot and looked like she'd swallowed a live frog. "Unfortunately."
"Is there a problem?" Himura's voice was low and very, very close. Glancing over, she tried not to notice the automatic way she breathed in the scent of him and stubbornly ignored the flutter that came with just how good he smelled.
"Megumi's wolf has taken responsibility for Yahiko."
Himura blinked. "I haven't worked with a pack healer in a very long time. What does that mean?"
"It means," Megumi said in a clear, tight voice. "That I'll be making sure he is healed."
Sano looked over, both brows arched into his hairline. "You don't sound happy about that."
Kaoru leaned back onto her heels and scowled. "That's because it means he's staying here."
Himura tilted his head, brows lifted. "What?"
Kaoru ignored him. "Megumi, does this have to with corresponding events or is this just your wolf needing to heal?"
Megumi pressed her lips together for a long moment. "Both."
Kaoru refrained from cursing, because she could already feel the heat of Himura's eyes on her and she was certain if she let go of even an inch of control he'd take it as a chance to gain the advantage. Teeth locked together she tried to think. If Yahiko stayed here she would be duty-bound to explain her and Megumi's suspicions. Pretty much immediately. If she had managed to get the pack out of the house then they could delayed that conversation until they had proof. Now…
"Is there a problem?" Himura asked again, his voice layered with something rich. Kaoru wondered what he was thinking and refused to look at him.
"There is a possibility," Kaoru said finally before turning to Tae. "You up for a hike?"
"Of course. I hope it isn't long." She arched a brow in question.
"Only about a mile or so. Shouldn't take us too long to get there and back." Kaoru shifted her weight and pinned Himura with her eyes before he did more than open his mouth. "No. You're not invited. You will stay here and not bother my healer until I get back."
His eyes flooded with wolf but she held her ground. For a moment she thought he was going to push his luck and the muscles in her neck went tight. Then he took a step back and visibly controlled himself.
"When will you return?"
Kaoru lowered her lashes and watched him. There was no way he was giving in this easily, except it seemed he was. Deciding to worry about that later she considered and shrugged. "No more than an hour."
"Then I'll see you when you return."
Kaoru glanced at Megumi who waved her away. "You'll know if I need you. Go."
Kenshin watched Kaoru and Tae disappear into the tree line and slowly unlocked his jaw. It had taken more control than he had thought to watch her disappear into an area that had already proved unsafe. Worse was the fact that she was clearly hiding something and wherever she found the body was the key to knowing what it was. He liked puzzles, usually, but found that this time he was very willing to just cut to the heart of the matter. His patience was running thin.
He glanced over at Misao whose brows were bunched together in a frown as she listened to whatever it was that Aoshi was saying. She had called to let him in on what they learned so far, little as it might have been. Still, if he knew Aoshi, he was already digging into the background of Kaoru and Megumi – or at least tying too.
His eyes cut over to study the healer, who was sitting beside Yahiko with a tired expression on her face. He wondered about Misao's comment earlier. How much experience did these two have with a pack? If neither had been part of a true structure then it was likely that Kaoru was unaware of the true extent of her dominance. It happened occasionally, in smaller packs that had disbanded with the death of the alpha pair or in single family units. Not often, but enough that packs occasionally ran into the situation. Having grown up in a large pack with two alpha born males, he was very aware of what could push an alpha to roam for new territory.
Interesting that Kaoru thought her level of protectiveness was just a trait of dominant members. He would have to be careful with just how hard he pushed, because she was going to push back. And unless he was completely mistaken her hot button was going to be the healer her wolf had claimed as pack.
"Save half that plate for Kaoru when she and Tae get back. She'll need the fuel." The healer's voice cut coolly through the silence and Kenshin turned and smiled to see Sano guilty hovering over his third.
"If we are going to be here for an extended meal, I'll be happy to put something together." Kenshin offered, trying to defuse the situation. The healer's dark eyes swung to him and she snorted.
"If you think Kaoru is letting you in her kitchen, you are mistaken."
Misao perked up as she handed Kenshin his cell phone. "She likes to cook?"
The healer blinked several times, a smile curving the edges of her lips for a moment. Instead of answering the question, she shrugged. "Tae will want to put the meal together, anyhow. Now, do you have names?"
Kenshin started when he realized she was right. They hadn't introduced themselves. Another reason for Kaoru to be on edge around them, he sighed mentally. It was a wonder he had done anything right since he stepped in the door.
"My apologies. I am Kenshin Himura. Sanosuke Sagara is our beta, and this is Misao Shinomori."
"I'm Megumi… did you say Shinomori?"
Misao tilted her head. "Do you know him?"
Megumi's mouth went tight. "No. The name just sounds familiar."
There was several minutes of silence after that and Kenshin looked at Yahiko.
"Can you tell us what is wrong with him?"
"I can't speak for more than the injuries from the mauling," Megumi informed him curtly. "The worst of the damage is to his legs – other than the punctures and muscle tearing, there was significant damage done to his right femur. Most of the superficial damage hasn't been healed yet because of the bone work I had to do. He has three broken fingers and a broke ulna on the left arm. The right arm was dislocated, had several punctures from bites, and, again, significant muscle damage. His back was serrated from being dragged across the ground and he has a concussion from a head wound. There are defense wounds on the palms of his hands, and it appears from the broken fingers that he tried to fight back."
Kenshin saw Sano's knuckles fist so tightly that they went white and he struggled not to have a similar reaction. Or break something. Closing his eyes tightly, he worked to keep the wolf under his skin.
"But Yahiko knows how to fight!" Misao protested her voice tight. "To get this kind of jump on him…"
"It was a witch."
Kenshin spun and blinked at a flushed Kaoru and wind-blown Tae standing in the doorway.
"Kaoru?" Megumi's voice was alarmed.
Kaoru met her gaze. "Someone else had been back to the scene. I thought it was prudent to speed things up."
Tae walked over and sat down. "When you said you could run, dear, you were not kidding. I feel windblown and all I did was cling to your back."
Kenshin felt the wolf go hunter-quiet when Kaoru's wolf blue eyes met his. There was something about her that made the hair on the back of his neck raise – she was furious. Instead of joining her on that edge of rage, his wolf studied her and liked what it saw.
"Do you have anyone who would be hunting your pack, Himura?"
"No," he said quietly. "Any threats that might have followed us were dealt with permanently before we finalized the move."
"Then it appears we have a problem." Kaoru glanced at Megumi. "I find it difficult to believe that you would be found so quickly. Or that he would be stupid enough to use another pack as bait."
Tae held up her hand. "If this is going to be as involved as I think it is, we better make ourselves comfortable. Everyone, sit."
Kenshin considered balking, because his wolf needed to do something but then Tae pinned him with that look he hadn't ever really tried to disobey and he sighed and settled. Some battles just weren't worth the energy. He stifled his instinctual reaction of snarling when Kaoru settled on the opposite couch; her eyes still that wild pale blue.
Tae settled her hands in her lap. "Now, start from the top."
Kaoru studied Tae's set expression before glancing at Megumi. She looked pale, but she gave a nod. Kaoru glanced at Kenshin and tried not to wince at the diamond hard expression in his eyes. It looked like they were going to have that conversation now.
Kaoru laced her fingers together to keep them still and considered where to start. Some of the facts the pack would need to know but the rest of it was Megumi's business. She'd protect what she could. "What do you know of a man named Kanryu Takeda?"
Sano sat up straight and his eyes flashed. "That drug-making bastard? What the hell are you doing mixed up with someone like him?"
Kaoru narrowed her eyes. "Megumi and I go way back. About ten years ago we split up for reasons that aren't any of your business and she went and found her father's family. I told you she was a doctor and that was the truth. However, after she completed her training, she was indentured by her pack and forced to work for Kanryu."
Sano's head jerked back like he'd been slapped. Kaoru kept her eyes on him and let Tae watch Kenshin. Those brown eyes had gone wolf yellow and he looked furious. If he so much as twitched in Megumi's direction she'd take him down.
"What was her family's name?" Misao asked.
Megumi spoke quietly, "Takani."
Sano growled and stood; Kaoru was between him and Megumi before he finished snarling. Her wolf was bristling but Sano hadn't done more than stand, so she was able to keep from lunging. She knew Himura had stood as well, but she ignored him for the closer threat.
"Let me make something clear, Sagara," Kaoru murmured her voice rough with wolf. "Megumi is mine. You think about hurting her and I'll tear you apart."
Himura moved closer but he seemed to be… calm. Calmer than her, at least. "Sano, we don't know the whole story yet. Sit down."
Sano turned and looked at his alpha, the wolf clear in his eyes. "She worked for Kanryu."
Kaoru bristled at the hatred in his voice and her temper snapped. "Not because she wanted too. Do you know what a pack can force a woman to do, Sanosuke Sagara? I spent ten years roaming Europe, and I assure you, I've seen the extent of the abuse that can permeate a pack. Do you know what healers do? They heal, Sagara. Do you know what kind of torture it is to force someone with that kind of mentality to make something as harmful as drugs?" She took a step closer and held his gaze and the wolf rode her temper. "They have to force you. They use your pack bonds against you and force you to corrupt yourself so they can make a profit."
Those wolf eyes met hers and some of the anger drained out of them. And she realized she was growling low in her throat and deliberately took a step back. Her shoulder brushed against Himura and she clenched her teeth. He was too close. She cut her eyes over, intending to tell him to back off but his eyes were so, so pale and there was a quality to the way he was standing that told her he was standing on edge. She held that gaze and dared him.
She'd take him down with her if he attacked.
Then he was so close his hair brushed her chin and she refused to back down. The edges of her vision had shifted to wolf sharp and she knew if he pushed, she would lose her human skin and go for his throat. Instead he tilted his chin down so his mouth was a hair's breadth from hers.
"Little alpha, we're not here to hurt you or yours." His voice was more rumble than words and she narrowed her eyes. When he spoke again, he had moved close enough that if she shifted forward at all, her chest would brush against his. "Two years ago, Sano's pack-brothers died because of tainted opium that was tracked back to Kanryu's distributors. Six months ago, our pack lost four members to another attack that was unrelated."
Her wolf was bristling but it was listening.
"Whatever is going on with Kanryu, he has brought my pack into this with the attack on Yahiko. If we are going to share this territory, we're going to need to learn how to tolerate each other's dominance. Sano may not like it, but he won't hurt Megumi."
Kaoru's wolf went still and silent at the world 'share.'
"My pack has never forced a membership and it never will." Himura said in tones that were backed in steel. But then his lashes lowered and something hot flared behind the gold of the wolf. The edge of his mouth curled just enough that she caught a glimmer of teeth.
"But that doesn't mean," he murmured, his voice low and thick with wolf. "That I won't work to encourage you to join by other means."
And just like that, her wolf sat back and settled. She blinked when she felt the worst of her aggression disappear and she had the sudden urge to push that last inch between them aside and breathe against his skin. And she wasn't as nearly as dismayed by that as she should have been.
He said he was willing to share the territory. No forcing his control over her and Megumi. And he had called her alpha and this time, her wolf hadn't protested because Megumi was hers to defend and his beta had challenged Megumi. Himura's response to her anger had been appropriate without being over-bearing.
… she really was going to end up shoving him up against something hard and flat if she didn't watch herself. Taking a deep breath, and working hard not to notice only his scent, she took a step back to show that she wasn't going to attack. But she stayed carefully between Sagara and Megumi anyway.
Issue resolved or not, her wolf was still unhappy with Sagara's aggression.
"Well, now that that's settled, maybe you could finish your story Kaoru? And look, they saved us some of the sandwiches!" Tae broke into the silence with an overly cheerful voice that made Kaoru look at her. And what she saw in that round, devious face almost made her blanch.
Tae was enjoying this way too much.
"There isn't much more to tell," Kaoru said finally. Himura's comment about sharing had made her more willing to talk but she did not make the mistake of assuming Megumi felt the same way. "Megumi escaped and came here. She believes she was followed but she has only been in the town for two days. I find it difficult to believe that Kanryu would have been able to find her exact location this easily. Especially since Megumi was able to break the pack bonds once she had some distance."
Himura shifted his weight, drawing the attention back to him. "That is a small window of time. It would depend entirely if Megumi was being tracked by his people or the pack's."
Megumi looked pensive. "They are not mutually exclusive. From what little I was allowed to see outside the labs, what remains of my father's family appears to be heavily integrated into Kanryu's organization. Separation seems to be mostly in their paper trails and they use to recruits are kept separate.
Kaoru frowned. "I don't know enough about how the packs are run in the United States. Is that sort of separation common?"
Kenshin tilted his head and considered her. "It is if you are trying to hide something. The Regional Packs are mostly against packs aiding the drug trade – that this particular pack has chosen to do so and hide its affiliation would not be taken well."
"They could be angling to make a play for the regional seat." Sano said finally, his fists clenching and unclenching. "If they were using the drug money to fund their campaign, word getting out about their side business would be detrimental."
Misao bounced on her toes for a moment. "I have some contacts that might know. I can put out some feelers and Aoshi can see what he can dig up."
Kenshin glanced at Kaoru to see if she objected but she simply watched him so he nodded, giving Misao the go ahead. Giving Shinomori direction instead of names would narrow the field he needed to search. Kenshin didn't doubt that Aoshi had already dug through the property taxes for Kaoru's personal information and was using that to search out her history, but having Kanryu to focus on would give him a second search parameter.
He turned back to Kaoru and watched her frown into space, fingers tapping against her thigh as she obviously tried to work through a problem. It made him want to stroke her so he put his hands in his pockets and watched instead.
"Something bothering you?" The wolf had retreated behind the dark blue of her eyes but he found he was just as partial to the human shade. The way she blatantly judged him, measured if she wanted to involve him in her thoughts, delighted his wolf.
Finally, she sighed and raked a hand through her bangs. "I'm not happy with the timeline."
Tae butted into the conversation. "Why not? It's possible that he had a witch or someone other than the pack tracking Megumi and that's how he located her so quickly."
Kaoru huffed out a breath. "Then why attack Yahiko? Why not just attack Megumi here? I originally thought that perhaps he was using the attack to draw out Megumi as a healer but now I'm not so sure. Something just seems off."
And her wolf was riding her hard about this. It didn't like it either and Kaoru trusted her wolf instincts. There was something else going on here. Finally she shoved her hands into her pockets and scowled.
"Are you sure your pack doesn't have some sort of connection to Kanryu that we've missed? Could have for some inexplicable reason hunted you here?" At the poleaxed expression on the faces around her she turned to Megumi, who had been sitting very quiet after the confrontation between alphas.
"Didn't you say the name Shinomori was familiar? When did you hear it? I don't know the name and you would have at least mentioned the name to me if you had learned it before we separated."
Megumi pressed her lips together as she obviously thought through her memories. "I don't know. It's possible that I heard it through one of Kanryu's men but it's also possible that I heard it somewhere else. I don't know."
Misao had rejoined the conversation in time to hear Kaoru's question to Megumi and she was no staring at Sano. "How long was it after your pack-brothers deaths that you met up with Kenshin?"
Sano cocked his head. "About a year, I think. It was another three years before Kenshin and I met you; I was pretty messed up when I was by myself. Hard to remember exactly how much time elapsed before Kenshin kicked me in the ass, why?"
"I was just thinking… when you helped me out with that little problem I had in Toronto, it took us what? Six months or so to track down Aoshi? He'd been split from the main family for about six years at that point, maybe longer. Dates do run together, don't they? I know I had been looking for three years at that point… but we lived in Wyoming as a pack for five years before we…" she swallowed hard and curled her hands into fists. "Before."
Kenshin stepped forward and settled his hand between her shoulder blades. "Misao?"
"I'm okay. I just… you know why I left after dad died." Her eyes met Kaoru's and the understanding there rattled Kaoru. "I was just… one of the old family connections was to Kanryu, I think. What if Kaoru is right? What if he is hunting down his old business connections and eliminating them for some reason?"
Tae leaned forward. "I've been doing some thinking. I think we're all right. I think Kanryu is probably hunting Megumi and he hasn't found her yet. I think you're also right, Misao. Kaoru's theory that the timeline doesn't match is a good one, but I think we're cutting off our noses to spite our faces here."
Sano grinned at her. "Yeah, how's that?'
"Why is everyone assuming that because Kaoru has managed to stay under the radar from two packs that aren't looking for her that no one else knows she's here?"
Kaoru blinked. "Huh."
Tae nodded grimly. "If I was going to go into a territory and cause as much chaos as possible and I knew there was a rogue wolf sitting in plain sight next to an unaware pack? I'd do something similar to this and hope it would cause enough of a stir they wouldn't communicate – then who'd blame who when the problems started?"
"I surprised her."
Every head in the room snapped around to the cot. Yahiko was still flat on his back but his eyes were open and his face was twisted into a tight grimace of pain. Kaoru felt the sudden surge of pack magic and Yahiko's eyes fluttered as he groaned in relief. Megumi had already pushed to her feet and was gently probing the worst of the wounds, her face tight as she worked. Then she relaxed.
"Anything else hurt?"
Yahiko opened his eyes again. "I'm fine."
Megumi narrowed her eyes. "If I catch you doing one stupid thing, just one – and I include telling me your fine when you hurt, you will not enjoy the consequences. Do I make myself clear?"
He licked his lips and nodded.
"Then you may answer some questions before you go back to sleep." Megumi met Kenshin eyes. "He starts to flag, the questions stop."
Yahiko made a protesting noise and Megumi leveled him with a glare. Yahiko swallowed and nodded. Kenshin crouched down and met Yahiko's eyes.
"Who did you surprise?"
Yahiko licked his lips. "I didn't recognize her at first, but she knew me."
He swallowed, but before he could speak again magic crackled along Kaoru's deck and exploded in a wave of wood and power. Kaoru cursed and moved to her feet, eyes darkening. The sudden explosion of magic across her senses stung and it tasted like witch.
"Megumi, stay here."
Megumi glanced at her, her mouth went grim, and she crouched in front of the cot. If for some reason whatever was attacking made it into the house, they'd have to go through her to get to Yahiko. Kaoru turned to face Tae and the witch had a frown on her face.
"I'll stay here with Megumi. I need a few moments to set up any spells and it's better done here."
Another furious blasting of power and something hollow thudded into the earth.
"That had better not have been my hot tub." Kaoru growled. Himura and Sagara were already crouching by a window to get a good look at what was going on outside. They'd have to be outside to deal with this, but it was best to have an idea of what they were charging into before they went full out.
Standing in her yard was a witch of intermediate age and two men who were obviously wolves. With this much magic in the air, she felt overly sensitive in her human skin and she could feel the fur and teeth of the men. The woman was wearing a hood and she couldn't get a good look at her face, but she didn't feel like someone Kaoru had met before.
"What do you think?" She asked Himura.
"A bit over-confident to start slinging spells." He said as they ducked behind the window seal as another wave of power pushed against the side of the house. When he looked at her, his face was tight with rage. "She keeps this up and she'll bring the roof down."
"Come out, come out wherever you are, little wolf! Or I'll huff and puff and blow your house down!"
Kaoru felt a surge of annoyance flare under the rage burning in her chest. Some bitch was using her house as target practice and thought she was just going to let her? Growling low in her throat, her fists clenched, claws digging in her hands a heartbeat before Sano stood suddenly and snarled; moving to her back door and shoving it open with enough force that the hinges tore lose. Glaring at his back, she followed him out into the open.
This was her territory and he didn't have the right to defend it.
Sano's voice was hard and lethal when he spoke, ignoring everyone else on the deck. He had been angry with Megumi but this was something more. Something violent and barely controlled.
"Saya, I can't say I expected to find you here."
The witch lowered her hood and raised her chin. She heard Misao's indrawn breath of air as she joined them on the porch, but Kaoru's eyes were centered on the witch who had attacked her home. She had a sharp, pretty face that looked hollow around the edges.
And it was clear that the pack knew her.
"It's Magdalia now, Sanosuke. I can't say I wasn't just as surprised as you when I ended up in this wretched town and found that the pack that killed my brother had settled here." Her smile was wild and slightly crazed. Kaoru narrowed her eyes and started to calculate an angle to attack from. "This was just supposed to be an easy recovery job but how fortunate that it lead me to you."
And Kaoru realized this was no longer about Megumi, whatever it was. That the past six hours had been a set up for all of them – not just an attempt to drag Megumi back to Kanryu – and her wolf was furious. And Kenshin was a furious, vibrating rage behind her. Whatever had happened between the pack and this woman, it had been bad. Bad enough that she swallowed her rage and worked to keep from lunging – this pack needed answers as well.
"Your brother deserved everything he got," Misao snapped. "He killed them."
Kaoru's eyes went wide. Her wolf was furious and it wanted blood but this… Misao was pale under two vibrant streaks of red where her jaw was clenched so hard she had to be straining the bone. And Himura. His eyes were winter-white with rage.
Pack killers deserved everything the pack did to them.
Magdalia waved a hand to dismiss those words but her eyes were diamond hard. "And you took my brother away from me. I'd say were at an impasse, but I find that I don't care. Kanryu sent me to collect his pet healer and if I have to kill you to do it, so much better." She laughed, the sound high and thin.
"Wolves are so stupid. The healer didn't check herself for witch marks; wolves just think they can hide if they manage to break those stupid, weak pack bonds that get you killed. And because you killed my brother there isn't anything anyone can do to stop me! I have the right!"
Then her hands flew to her throat and she made several choking noises, fingers clawing at the skin of her neck until her lips turned blue and she slumped to her knees. A moment later, she lay still in the snow. Seconds later, the wolves behind her followed suit.
Everyone was too surprised to do anything.
Kaoru turned to find Tae standing at corner of the house, her fingers closed into a fist.
"What is the education of the younger generation coming to? That spells isn't easy or quick to cast and she didn't even check to make sure it was just wolves in the area." Tae's eyes met Kenshin's. "What she said was true – witches with registered blood feuds cannot be interfered with by another witch but this child chose not to register. This of course, leads to the conclusion that it was not a true feud, but revenge."
Sano made a noise and Tae frowned.
"I know she ignored registering because I called my contact at the Council to verify when I heard her make the claim about her dead brother. However, while the two wolves are dead she is not. I thought you'd like to interrogate her before one of the local Witches' Council show up to bind her powers and take her back to the States. They are apparently most interested in Kanryu's activities and have been looking for an in for some time."
Her house had descended into chaos.
First, Shinomori had shown up. She had thought he was icy before but he had put that to shame. Other than the moment when he had stood next to Misao and quietly touched her cheek, as if reassuring himself of her presence, he had been stone cold in his interrogation of Magdalia. The Council representative for the Witches had shown up ten minutes later smelling heavily of magic and wearing an expression of near glee; she'd helped Tae find and remove the mark on Megumi that had allowed Magdalia to track her. She'd even offered up the magic that forced their prisoner to talk.
Magdalia had confessed under Aoshi's questioning – for a wolf; he had a near perfect ability to hear truth – to attacking Yahiko and then dumping the body where the pack would find it near Kaoru's house. She had apparently hoped to kill two birds with one stone. Everything else – Himura's tenuous connection to Kanryu through his pack – had been a mere coincidence. Magdalia had apparently had no idea that Sagara and Shinomori had history with Kanryu but it hadn't seemed to bother her.
"I was told to kill anyone who interfered." Magdalia said simply. "It would have been a pleasure to kill all of them. It's what my brother would have wanted."
Kaoru's wolf had gone still when Himura had told their history through gritted teeth, white stress lines turning the line of his jaw white as he clenched his teeth in-between sentences. Even Megumi had looked disturbed at what had happened.
Kaoru hadn't been surprised to learn that Himura had been born an alpha, but she had been surprised to learn his pack had two who had been born within ten years of each other. That he had left seemed to fit the man she had started to know, but that this Shogo had later blamed his inability to hold the pack together on Himura was ridiculous. An alpha was personally responsible for the entirety of the pack… or its falling apart.
That Shogo had deliberately set out to destroy Himura's new life in revenge and killed four of Himura's pack in the process, was unspeakable. It went against the very nature of their wolf and broke so many laws that Kaoru would have killed him herself, if Shogo hadn't already been executed. But if the way Magdalia had ranted about pack bonds was any indication, she supposed if there had been any insanity in Shogo, then the sudden breaking of his pack would have sent him over the edge. Which would have explained how the wolf would have tolerated such violence – she wondered if that trait of insanity was why the family had adopted a witch daughter… no family carried both the genetic traits for wolf and for witch. But that opened a whole other series of issues on why the family didn't report his possible tendency to insanity to the pack.
This kind of speculation made her head hurt.
And it explained why they had moved so far from the United States to lessen their grief. And why they had precedence in deciding what to do with Magdalia once the Witches Council was finished with her. It didn't stop her wolf from feeling cheated.
And so she found herself in the kitchen putting together peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, because she wasn't in the mood to deal with anything else. Tae was keeping an eye on the wolves to make sure one of them didn't try to kill Magdalia before she was transported.
Kaoru thought that was smart, because she wanted to rip out Magdalia's throat.
Setting the butter knife down and she squeezed her eyes shut and counted to fifty. Her wolf was tense and a muted knot of rage and need. That bitch had hunted Megumi across the ocean and had wanted to take her back to Kanryu for nothing more than coin. She didn't begrudge witches their mercenary ways, but she did take offense when they went after what was hers and she was unable to respond how she wished.
Right then, Kaoru wanted Magdalia in bloody, mangled pieces. She wanted to ship those pieces home to Kanryu and let him know exactly what she would do to him if he continued his hunt. Then she wanted to clear out her house and force peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and hot chocolate at Megumi until her wolf settled.
Or drag Himura by his hair to the nearest flat surface and find out what was under those clothes. Picking up one completed sandwich she chopped it forcefully down the center. She had already told Megumi that she wasn't sure she could avoid jumping his bones and now both woman and wolf were worked up without an outlet.
"Those poor sandwiches."
Kaoru spun around and narrowed her eyes at Himura as he stood leaning against the doorjamb, his expression intent. Pointing the knife at him, she smiled just enough to show teeth.
"What do you want?"
He glanced down at the knife and arched a brow before glancing back up. "Tae has agreed to accompany Magdalia to the Council Seat to make sure there isn't an unfortunate accident. This incident is apparently been the leverage the Witches Council has needed to get involved in the problem that is Kanryu. I don't believe he will be a problem much longer. A single pack has little hope to stand up to the council."
Kaoru set her teeth. Another problem resolved without bloodshed. Her wolf appreciated the efficiency of such a move but it wanted blood. And she couldn't have it.
"Aoshi took Misao home; Sano rode with them to get some supplies. We'd like to keep at least one pack member here until Yahiko heals so that Megumi has someone else to draw off of besides you."
Kaoru narrowed her eyes and decided not to take that as a direct challenge to her ability to provide energy to her healer. Her wolf wanted to take it that way but this was one of those times it was best to follow the human side of her brain. Her fingers tightened around the knife anyway.
"So why are you still here?"
And the blue-violet faded under a wash of wolf gold. He pushed away from the doorframe and prowled forward. He paused when he was close enough for her to feel the heat of his skin through her clothes and she watched him suspiciously even as she breathed him in. His eyes left her and scanned the contents of her island. Instead of answering her question, he reached out and curled his fingers around the wrist not holding the knife and studied her knuckles. They had splatters of peanut butter from her attempts to finish off the jar. Eyes narrowed, she waited to see what he would do.
"I thought I'd see if you would like some assistance in here."
Then he brought her knuckles to his mouth and licked. He lifted his eyes back to hers in a blatant challenge and her wolf lunged to the surface. She dropped the knife and pushed up on her toes, shoving up against him while her mouth found his, hard. She ignored the way her teeth smashed into his and instead, simply shifted her mouth to bite at his bottom lip instead. He grunted and staggered in obvious surprise and she took advantage – shoving one hand up under the back of his shirt and flattening her chest against his. Then his grunt changed into a low level snarl and he met her kiss with his own and dropped her wrist to press both hands to her butt and hold her against him.
He tasted like peanut butter and something richer and she licked along the inside of his mouth hungrily. Kenshin seemed to like that as he spun her around and pushed her up against a wall; using his body to pin her in place so that his hands could wander. Kaoru locked her legs around his waist and dug her nails into his side while her other hand moved to fist in his hair.
"What… about… Yahiko," Kaoru gasped as he moved to her jaw. She jerked a little when he bit down lightly. "And Megumi…"
Kenshin pulled back and dragged his tongue across his lips. "Both are in your guest room. Tae though it would be wise to set up some sound barriers so they could rest after the… excitement today."
Kaoru slowly smiled and tightened her legs around his waist, deliberately pressing down. Kenshin closed his eyes with a moan and his hands flexed against her skin.
"In that case, you can go ahead and strip." She pulled his head back by tugging on his hair and licked his throat. "I've wanted to crawl all over you all day and you're going to let me."
He shuddered and bucked against her and she hissed. This his mouth was against hers again as he all but shoved her back into the wall, tongue dominating hers. When he pulled back she was gulping air and his eyes were winter pale.
"You first, little alpha," he ran a series of kisses along her jaw and cheek before biting down lightly below her ear. "Then you can do whatever you want."
She scraped her nails along the back of his neck just to feel his shiver. "No."
He pushed his hands up under her shirt and slid them up to her breasts, squeezing lightly. "No?"
Kaoru wiggled against him when he repeated the caress and her head feel back with a groan. "My territory, my kitchen, my rules. And I'm saying you. Naked. Now."
His tongue stroked against her pulse. "You don't sound very convincing."
Her wolf bared its teeth and she let out just enough claws to rip a line down the back of his shirt before lowering one leg and taking him to the floor. Kenshin growled as they landed but she ignored it, pulling the rest of his shirt from his shoulder and leaving him bare from the waist up. Her hands smoothed across skin and muscle as she pressed her face against his.
When Kenshin opened his eyes, they were almost colorless. And then he smiled.
"I don't share well."
Kaoru opened heavy lidded eyes and stared at the tousled redhead in her bed. His lips were still swollen from when he had woken her from her nap the second time and she resisted the urge to touch them.
"Aren't men supposed to sleep after sex?"
His smile was slow as he blatantly lowered his eyes to her naked chest before he glanced back up. "My wolf wants to make this very clear before I borrow a robe and make us dinner."
Kaoru looked around for a clock but couldn't find one, so instead she pulled the sheets up and sighed at him. It was amazing what several orgasms could do for one's mood. Her wolf was content and so was she and now he wanted to ruin it by talking.
"Was I somehow unclear when I told you this was my territory?"
"Was I somehow unclear when I was licking every inch of you that I considered this an opening volley?" His tone was husky but his gaze didn't leave hers. "If you think this was a onetime offer, you should tell me now, little alpha."
Her wolf was terribly unconcerned. Kaoru closed her eyes and pursed her lips, considering. The bed shifted as he leaned over her and she opened her eyes to find his wolf watching her with that toe curling intensity.
"My wolf wants you. I want you. This may be your territory, Kaoru, but I plan on invading. I'll lay siege if I have too."
Her wolf stirred at that. "I won't be forced, Himura."
He leaned forward and brushed her mouth lightly. "This has nothing to do with force, Kaoru. My wolf respects yours too much for that. Besides, I like your temper. This is something else, darling. I'm simply giving you warning. I want you and neither I nor my wolf will accept anything less than everything. This is just the start."
He'd already won more ground that he knew. "Is that so?"
"Hmmm," he kissed her harder, tongue flicking out against her bottom lip. "I'm hungry, but we both need to eat. I'll be back with something more substantial than those peanut butter sandwiches of yours."
"Insulting my cooking won't win you points."
He paused where he was wrapping her plain, cotton robe around his shoulders and blinked. "Cooking? When…" he paused and considered something before smiling. "I'll be back momentarily."
Kaoru watched him disappear suspiciously before allowing herself a smile. Poor man. He thought he was chasing her. She'd let him work for it a little before she let him in on the fact that she'd already caught him. Her wolf was delighted with the idea.
Then she'd let him decide her house was the better place to live.