Thanks for all the wonderful reviews and well-wishes! I'm trying to retain my sanity, but I'm not sure if I'll survive long enough to tell. Having no days off is killing me.

Disclaimer: I didn't get a bonus… well, not like this anyway, lol.

Chapter XXVI: The Bonus

The heavy metal case pulled against Kenshin's fingers as if his vampiric strength meant nothing. There was sweat collecting in the palm of his hand against the handle. It was the cold sweat of premonition that made his skin feel even clammier than normal. Megumi had explained to him once that the reason their normal temperature was lower than a human's was because their heart-rate was not as quick. Their blood pumped slow and solid, and their temperature stayed cool to try and help preserve the longevity of the blood cells that would eventually deteriorate and need replaced. It was strange since the regeneration of their other cells was so quick, but Megumi had said it made perfect sense to her. It had something to do with how blood helped the healing process, and then something else about using up all its strength just to rejuvenate the rest of their body. Hence the reason why they aged slow and recovered fast.

It still didn't make any sense to him. Everything about him was abnormal, and he hated it.

A sigh slowly left his lungs before he lifted a hand to knock on the door he had stopped in front of. By combining scent and sound he could tell that Saitou was inside with Miss Kamiya, but that was fine. What he was about to do was not a private matter. In fact, he welcomed the hunter's presence. Despite everything that had happened recently he was still trying to make sure that he didn't get too close to her. Over the last couple of weeks Miss Kamiya had been happier than he had ever seen her, and that made it hard on him. By having her best friend around she was constantly acting like she was carefree and downright cheerful. Kenshin was glad, of course, but it appeared that his attempt to appease her by hiring a competent employee and by bringing her best friend in to permanently reside nearby had backfired a little. He wouldn't say he was foaming at the mouth or anything, but perhaps his mouth was watering; just like anyone's would when chancing upon the scent of the most delicious meal ever prepared.

And she likes you touching her.

A hard swallow fought back the want with the reminding taste of alcohol. A few generous glasses of Puerto Rican rum had helped him survive, but it was still with a sense of trepidation that he listened as footsteps came toward the door. Without a moment of hesitation it swung open, and he smiled weakly when she blinked at him and then offered him a bright, welcoming grin. "Hey! Whatcha doin'?" Her hip cocked to one side as she said it, but before he could come up with a reply she had stepped back to wave him inside. "Come in." Sweat glistened on her temples and stuck her tank top to her around the neckline. They had been training, but Kenshin knew what they did. He also knew that she had been told not to say anything about it to anyone. That was fine, because it kept him from having to lie.

The intense yellow eyes of the hunter she called uncle stared across the room at him as he entered, but he ignored him to focus his attention instead on Miss Kamiya. After shutting the door she had complacently walked away to the kitchen to retrieve a bottle of water, which she proceeded to empty. She acted neither embarrassed by her appearance nor worried about what he might think or see. The hem of her top had inched slightly upward, and now showed a line of damp skin just above her tight shorts. For a second he envied the sweat that clung to her, and then wondered if that salty flavor would be a good substitute on his tongue.

Another swallow backed up an overabundance of saliva down his throat, and he wished he had drank a fourth glass of rum.

A pleased smack of her lips said the water had hit the spot, and then she leaned against the counter that was now between them. "So what did ya need?" Miss Makimachi's presence had undoubtedly opened her up a lot more than before. The slangy way she was speaking suggested the smaller woman's personality had a way of easily rubbing off on her.

"I am here to make good on my promise, Miss Kamiya." The heavy case was hefted onto the countertop, and he slipped a pair of leather gloves from his pocket as he continued. "In April you presented your desk at the auction, and I promised you in the beginning that if it did well I would present you with a bonus."

A frown furrowed her brow and she appeared confused. "What, the five million dollars in the budget wasn't a bonus?"

Kenshin chuckled at her quip, but shook his head. "That was my bonus. This," his voice softened as the latches clicked faintly and he swung back the lid, "is part of yours."

For a moment her confusion deepened further, but curiosity was also present in her expressive eyes as she leaned forward and watched impatiently for him to remove the silk cloth that still covered what was inside. Gently he slipped the cloth off, and then hefted the gleaming katana into his gloved hands. It had been studiously cleaned, polished, and tested for weaknesses in the studs. Kenshin was more than a little proud to say it looked nearly as perfect as when it had first been given to him. Across the counter Miss Kamiya's pink lips had parted incredulously, and even Saitou had pushed himself away from the wall.

In a controlled move that spoke of reverence, he slid the blade from the sheath, and then presented her with the markings near the hilt as further proof that this was the katana that was a match for her wakizashi. Her mouth closed as she read the kanji etched into the metal, and she bit her lip before her eyes swung back to him. "Where?" The breathless question was all she could muster, and he inclined his head forward to slowly reply.

"Would you believe that it was found in the back of someone's closet?" Carefully he offered it to her hilt out, and he placed its sheath back inside the case as she hefted the blade.

"It's so comfortable in my hands."

"Give it a couple swings, wildcat." The suggestion came from Saitou, and Kenshin's heart dropped into his stomach. He offered her a tight smile, however, when she glanced at him questioningly. "Come on, girl, it won't hurt it. That blade was made to be used."

"O-okay." A couple of hesitant swings were all she attempted at first, but when her nervousness passed, and it appeared the weapon wasn't going to fall apart, she transitioned easily into a more structured set of attacks. Soon enough she was flipping it and herself through the air as if it were only an extension of her body.

"What are you playing at, Himura? I know exactly what that blade is, and how many vampires you've killed with it. Why are you giving it up now?" The scowl on Saitou's face disliked the trepidation that was evident on Himura's. "Her father never actually meant for her to become a hunter, and I am going to respect his wishes even if I don't agree with him. I am only training her so that she can protect herself."

"I didn't give it to her with the intent that she will ever have to use it." The low growl spoke of a mixture of irritation and anxiety. "That katana was lent to me a long time ago. I am merely returning it. If she needs protection then I will gladly provide it. It is simply time for that blade to be retired." After all, the last woman who had used it had died violently. The thought of that happening again rattled his nerves. Kenshin's hope was that Miss Kamiya's love of antiques, and love for her father, would keep her from ever thinking about using it. The hunter's eyes studied him intently as if deciding how to interpret his statement. A moment later Miss Kamiya came to a stop and demanded both of their attention.

"Wow! It's so well balanced! I've never held such a perfectly crafted katana before!" Her entire face was flushed with excitement and adrenaline. "It makes the others I've trained with feel clumsy and awkward."

Saitou leaned against the counter where he was now standing next to Himura. Briefly he glanced at the man beside him. "That's quite a compliment, since you're best with a katana. Better than Kou ever was." Her face flushed a deeper shade of crimson at the praise, and she grinned. Another quick peek at Himura showed a glimpse of fear in the twitch of his eyebrows. His reactions contradicted the gift.

"Did you know that Himura is also a master with a katana?" Violet eyes jerked to Saitou and he frowned as Miss Kamiya showed instant interest in his peripheral vision.


"Perhaps you wouldn't mind showing off its real potential by giving us a demonstration."

"I don't think…"

"It will be good for the girl to see it." The gruff remark stalled Kenshin's denial, and they stared at each other for a long time. Was Saitou aware of what he was saying? Was he only trying to antagonize him, or was he purposely calling Kenshin out on his skills in order to show them to Miss Kamiya? Perhaps he was only hoping that Kenshin would scare her, but Kenshin somehow felt that there was something else to it. He was testing him.

By this time Kaoru had come to a conclusion that dulled her excitement. He may have reasons for not wanting to demonstrate his skills that were personal in nature. "If he doesn't want to Oji you shouldn't pressure him."

"Very well." The reply walked over her quiet reprimand, and Mr. Himura held out his hand for the katana. "Though I will have to attempt it with my left hand only. My right is still healing." In dumbfounded amazement Kaoru handed the beautiful sword over, and watched as he shifted it experimentally in his grasp. "A katana should never be held like this, and I apologize."

"Wildcat, go grab that scrap piece of wood we've been using as target practice."

"Okay." When Kaoru came back she handed Saitou a torn up block of wood about the size of his hand.

"Step back, and pay attention." She nodded silently, and Saitou lifted a brow at Himura to see if he was ready. A slight jerk of his head answered, and then the block of wood was lobbed in a lazy arch through the air. As if she were watching it in slow motion, it came down right in front of Mr. Himura and hit the floor with a thud.

"I figured you would be faster than that." The words were mocking and droll, but Kenshin only shrugged.

"My left hand is awkward."

Kaoru giggled in nervous embarrassment. "You could have tried at least." His eyes darted a look at her briefly, before he turned and picked up the sheath to put the sword away. Beside her Saitou grumbled, "We're going to have to work on those eyes of yours."

"But…" The statement puzzled her, and she looked down at the block of wood, only to gasp when she found it splintered cleanly into multiple pieces.

"I am out of practice I suppose." The bewildering claim widened her eyes, and he turned to her with the sheathed katana held lengthways across his upraised palms. "Shall we put this where it belongs?" A shaky breath pulled into her lungs, and she nodded quickly. I was right. He is dangerous. Not one moment of fear or suspicion crossed her mind, though. Instead a deep sense of calm spread over her chest, and the reaction she experienced was closer to comfortable pride and trust. Mr. Himura was a dependable man, after all.

The inside of her safe was large enough to display her small collection of varied items on shelves and inside glass cases. Originally it had been a small, side room that had been reinforced and converted into a state-of-the-art safe just for her. At the center of the display was the stand holding her father's wakizashi, and just above it was the empty space that waited in perpetual expectance for the katana to be returned. Each gesture that finally brought it home to its resting place was small, but the impact of seeing the set complete was quick, harsh, and immense. The katana had been missing for generations, and this was the first time since its loss that the two swords had been seen together. She wished her father was there to see it. Suddenly it was too overwhelming, and she couldn't keep herself from seeking out a strong pair of arms this time when she longed for their embrace.

Kenshin held himself very still as Miss Kamiya clung to his neck. He didn't know if she was aware of what she was doing or not, but she appeared to need comfort or reassurance or simply a way to express the gratitude that she couldn't put into words. Perhaps she had turned to him because he was the nearest person, and had reacted on instinct only. Deliberately his eyes swung to Saitou, and he concentrated on the disapproving glower on his face that Kenshin knew well. It was a look that always pulled at the hunter's features whenever Miss Kamiya was nice to him, or even when she just spoke to him. That look would hopefully distract him from the temptation that she was offering him so trustingly. Once again he wished for that fourth glass of rum, and then blessed the three he had drank.

"Thank you. Daddy would be so happy. I don't know how I'll ever be able to repay you for this, but I'll do anything. Anything you want." Slowly his left hand lifted toward the back of her head, and his fingers trembled visibly inside the glove as they hovered over her hair. Suspiciously Saitou took a step forward and glared murderously. All those strong fingers needed to do was grab a fistful of her hair, and yank her head to one side to expose her neck. Violet eyes blinked and appeared dazed, but his hand remained unthreatening and open. A caress, somewhere between a pat and a stroke, lightly placated her and he refused her offer.

"That is unnecessary, Miss Kamiya. I told you that this was part of your bonus. I absolutely forbid you from repaying me, and I mean it this time. I will accept nothing."

"I'll work extra hard. I'll make everything better than anyone else can."

A crooked, amused grin tugged at his lip, and he briefly broke eye contact with Saitou to glance at her. All he could see of her, though, was the side of her head, her ear, and her shoulder. He refused to look at her neck. "You already do that." Gently he pried himself out of her arms, and gave her a kind smile. "I'm happy that you are pleased with your bonus. I am also happy that I could return such a beautiful katana to its rightful owner." Her smile was watery, but she nodded her head in a joyful gesture. Her scent fought itself conflictingly, and it was as tough to deal with as her bliss alone. One emotion was bad enough. Several at one time was fatal.

"If you're leaving, Himura, I'll walk out with you." The stern command in the words left no room for argument, and Kenshin gladly said goodbye to Miss Kamiya and followed the hunter out. Once they were outside on the landing, her footsteps receded towards the bathroom and he heard the shower turn on. The flavor of her scent was twisted with fierce joy and ravaging sorrow.

"I've got a bottle of tequila I need to get rid of."

That was an offer for a drink if he had ever heard one, and Kenshin cautiously agreed. It was apparent, however, that a few words needed to be traded between them. Especially after that spectacle with the demonstration. Saitou led the way down the flight of stairs to the apartment just below Miss Kamiya's, and he let him in without any fanfare. The place was just as bare of belongings as the day he had moved into it, and Kenshin curiously studied the packed bags he had lined up next to the kitchen counter.

"You handled yourself well, Himura, for what you are. I would have hated to have to kill you, especially in front of the girl, but I suppose her reaction wasn't completely surprising. You've probably noticed by now that she's a sensitive brat, considering her strength." Violet eyes studied the hunter as he poured two shots of tequila. "The first time I had to deal with that was when the girl was about five and I had stopped by for a visit. I'd met her a couple of times before, but she seemed normal enough. Just a rowdy kid terrorizing her parents." Slowly Kenshin lifted the glass, and he studied Saitou as he shot back the alcohol and poured himself another. "Kou and I must have talked for about thirty minutes before he realized he had lost sight of her. We found her in the barn stacking hay bales." A sound somewhere between a snort and a chuckle erupted through his nose. "I thought Kou was going to have a heart attack. He jerked her down so fast her teeth snapped together, but she didn't start crying until after he scolded her. Said she just wanted to help." He downed another shot and filled Kenshin's empty glass. "I guess she'll always be a daddy's girl."

A cigarette flared into life, and Saitou pushed the bottle of tequila over as if to say he could finish it off if he wanted. Kenshin helped himself to the alcohol. It knocked off the edge to her scent above them. "What did you think when you saw her?"

"I was thinking that man was crazy for worrying. Those were alfalfa bales. Kou himself told me how heavy they were, and they were bigger than she was. The girl was picking them up over her head. Hell, she had to just to stack them." Ashes flicked off into the sink. "I spent the better part of ten years trying to convince him that she should be a hunter. Strength like hers would be the perfect weapon."

"Her father never wanted her to be a hunter." Each of Kenshin's questions and statements of input were carefully spoken, but this time his words sharpened. He was still curious as to what the other man wanted.

"Her father was her father. I didn't understand that until after he had died and I had a couple kids of my own."

The shot glass rolled back and forth between the linen wrapped fingers of his right hand, and Kenshin watched the light play off the rim. "You never questioned him about why she was so strong?"

Yellow eyes stared at him intently, and the look in them said he knew exactly what Kenshin was trying to get out of him. After a moment he smirked. "Yeah, I did, and that was the second time he ever threatened to kill me." Kenshin's eyebrows shot up, but he didn't have the chance to ask about the first time. The bottle of tequila was snatched off the counter, and Saitou apparently decided that one more shot was in order. "That sword you gave her was made by Sasaki Kojiro, right?"

"Yes." The answer was slow, and Kenshin wasn't sure if he liked the change in subject.

"I heard it was his son who lost it; according to Kou."

"His son gave it to me, before I was turned. I had every intention of giving it back once I was through with it, as per our agreement."

"Are you certain you are through with it?"

Linen wrapped fingers tightened on the glass, but he stopped himself short of breaking it. "It hasn't been used in over a century."

"That's not what I asked." There was sternness in his looks and voice again that seemed different than his normal harsh appearance. "When a hunter gives up his favored weapon it usually means he has resigned himself to die. I do not want Kaoru associating with a walking dead man."

This was what the man wished to know. He had promised her father that he would make sure she was safe, and now Miss Kamiya's safety was all that mattered to him. It appeared this was also why he had asked him to demonstrate. Now she knew that he was capable of protecting her. It appeared, however, that the man was withholding trust that he would. "You mistake me for someone I am not. Neither the hunters nor the vampires recognize me as one of them."

"Which only means both want you dead."

The mixture of alcohol was mellowing his senses, and Kenshin sighed. "Perhaps, Saitou-san, but I did not give up that sword so that I could die." He contemplated another shot of tequila, but decided against it. The bottle was over half empty now, and he felt tolerant enough to make it through the night. Purposefully he sat the shot glass upside down on the counter. "I thought I might try living for a change."

"Hmph." The cigarette was jammed into the porcelain sink. The memory of that look on Himura's face as Kaoru had clutched him around the neck flashed in his mind. There had been hunger, but it had resembled none of the characteristics that had made up the look on Hiko's face those couple of weeks before. Instead, it had looked like a more natural yearning for the woman and not just her blood. Girls really are too much trouble.

"Kou's wife was a sickly woman, but stubborn as a mule." The observation was spoken abruptly, and the new subject was just as sporadic as the others had been. "On top of that she was curiously susceptible to sunlight, but she just couldn't seem to stay out of it. Kou, on the other hand, was as strong as a mule, and a pushover when it came to his two women. It was his great-great-grandmother that was a Sasaki. Just in case you think they acquired that wakizashi through other means."

"I researched her background the day I first saw it."

"A person doesn't get much privacy around you." Himura didn't react to the remark, and Saitou's eyes narrowed. "Then I suppose you are aware that she married a Kamiya at a late age, but the documents you found wouldn't have said anything about their trade. Nor would they have said how they ended up in the U.S. after they tracked a nest of vampires from Japan to Oklahoma. The people gave them the land of one of the victims in thanks for cleaning out the nest. I guess they liked having a family of hunters living in the community."

"I could understand why." Kenshin didn't know what the other man was doing, but he listened quietly. This man wasn't the type to say something without it meaning anything.

"Hmph. I heard you've also been trying to do tests on the girl to figure out what she is. Any luck with that?" The full, unwavering attention of Himura's violet eyes was as heavy as the golden gaze he intimidated others with. The fact that he was so interested and protective of Kaoru served to both reassure and irritate. For now he would focus on the reassurance, because he needed the aberrant vampire to shield Kaoru from the world that was sure to find out about her sooner or later.

"Kamiya-san is fully aware and has asked Takani-sensei to help her figure out why she is different."

Saitou snorted again, and lit another cigarette. "Interestingly enough, you could probably track Kou's family tree all the way back to the beginning of time. You could probably track his wife's too, but I bet you didn't have such luck."

"No, I didn't." The reply was careful, because now he knew they were getting somewhere. Kenshin hadn't been able to find anything conclusive on Miss Kamiya's mother. After deciding that it wasn't his place to pry, however, he had let it go. If Miss Kamiya had asked him to help her then he gladly would have picked it back up. He wasn't sure how much help he could have been to her, however. Her mother's name was the biggest dead end he had ever come across. It was almost as if she had never existed, and Kenshin may have even thought her made up if her daughter wasn't there to vouch for her. The fact that Saitou was bringing it up now after the conversation they were having meant it was her mother's side that had something to do with the way she was.

"That's because you didn't have the right name. Try Joshuyo. That was Kaoru's grandmother's name: Joshuyo Takara. They were from Japan, not America." The cap to the bottle of tequila was screwed back on, and the friendly drink was now over. Above them Miss Kamiya's footsteps marched back and forth restlessly. The hunter's next words were rather purposeful. "She'll probably cry all night, but I suppose that's normal for a daddy's girl." For a moment it was quiet, and then he gave Kenshin a scornful look. "You want an escort? Get out. I'm not going to stay up all night like the other people around here."

The door closed with a resounding click, and Kenshin was left on the landing alone. Thoughts raced through his brain as it worked to put pieces together and find patterns that fit all of the information that he already had plus what he had just been given together. As he slowly made his way up the stairs, however, he found himself unable to get past the last bit Saitou had thrown at him.

Just on the other side of the door that he was once more standing in front of was Miss Kamiya, and she was in a state that was the direct result of his actions. Of course he could tell that she was overjoyed by the gift, and he also knew that he shouldn't feel ashamed by what he had done, but with a sigh he wished that he hadn't made her cry. The tint to her scent suggested a variety of emotions were inflicting her at once, but sorrow and what he was sure was regret were the dominant. He didn't like that she was struggling with those emotions by herself. Being alone with remorse was like trying to breathe underwater.

Suddenly the presence of the door between them seemed almost impossibly restrictive, and he could feel the separation of space that dictated where he stood and how it was alienated from where she was. Miss Kamiya was alone, and she had to be feeling that loneliness with a vengeance. Will she really cry all night? Surely she would call Miss Makimachi if she needed comforting. Except Miss Makimachi had gone to a museum in the next town over with Aoshi. No doubt they wouldn't get back until late, and knowing Miss Kamiya she would never bother her when she knew her best friend was having a good time. A resigned sigh pushed from his lungs, and Kenshin lifted a hand to knock on her door once more. At least he had a better excuse for showing up just because of her scent than he had the last time.

With sharp ears he listened to her gasp, sniffle, and then attempt to even her breathing. It took a few moments longer than usual for her to open the door, and the smile on her features was unnatural and forced. "Forgive me, Miss Kamiya, but I forgot to ask if you…" The façade she had plastered on her mouth melted quickly off once she saw that it was him, and to his surprise she didn't even attempt to hide her tears. The excuse he had about coming back for the case drifted off into nothing, but it didn't seem relevant anymore.

Every muscle in her face scrunched, and she dropped her chin slightly to shadow her features with her bangs. "Did Oji go back to his apartment?"

Of course she would prefer the hunter. He was practically family. A tight smile tugged at his lips, but he ignored the spasm her rejection had stabbed into his chest. "Do you want me to get him for you?"

His gentle voice rumbled low in his throat and chest, and Kaoru loved how soothing it was. She shook her head quickly. "No." The word croaked and she clutched at the hem of her oversized t-shirt. "Oji would just scold me for crying over something so silly." Saitou's voice would only be full of impatience and irritation for her show of emotion. Mr. Himura would never do such a thing.

She didn't put on the façade for me. Which meant she was more comfortable in his presence than the hunter's. His gentleness became genuine. "It is hardly silly, Miss Kamiya."

Sapphire eyes that were shiny with moisture and vulnerable from sorrow glanced up at him, and it felt like the whole world had stopped for just one second. It started spinning in its peaceful rotation once again when she nervously chewed her bottom lip. "M-Mr. Himura… would it be okay… if I asked you for a favor?"

"Of course."

Tentatively one of her hands released her shirt and her fingers twitched, but her other hand clenched even harder into the material as if she were trying to argue herself out of asking. Her eyes had ducked away from his again, and it seemed as if she would never spit out what she wanted, but Kenshin already knew. All of the indicators were there, and even though he wasn't as comfortable in the presence of a woman as Sano was, it wasn't that hard to see what she needed. An inward press of gratefulness was directed at Saitou for the alcohol that was dulling his senses, and he slowly stepped forward.

The atmosphere was completely comfortable as she clung to his shirt and stifled her cries into his shoulder, and it was even easy to forget that they were still on the landing. He didn't try to hush her or force her to talk, but this was different than the last two times she had cried in front of him. Only the arms wrapped snuggly around her offered her solace, and it was all she really needed. She had been alone for so long without anyone but Misao to lean on, and she had forgotten how nice it was to just be held by someone she trusted, respected, and felt completely safe with. Even despite how independent and strong she was, there was just something different about being held by a man. Was it their smell, their size, the strength in their arms, or simply a nurtured preference that had imprinted itself on her mind?

The muffled sound of a car door shutting echoed in Kenshin's sharp ears, and he waited for a moment before judging the situation. The keypad that allowed only residents entry beeped, and then the material key was inserted into the lock and turned. The chipper voice of Miss Makimachi informed her companion that she was just going to grab her jacket from her room and that she would be right back. The sound wasn't loud enough for Miss Kamiya to hear, but he didn't want to risk the chance that her crying might attract any attention that she may not have wanted. Not to mention he wasn't sure how her best friend would react if she came upon Miss Kamiya in such a state with him trying to comfort her. That was how misunderstandings happened, and he didn't want anyone really believing that he harassed his employees.

A shift in his embrace encouraged her to turn just enough to follow him into her apartment. Complacently she let him lead her, and he softly closed the door before heading towards her trusty couch. Carefully he lowered himself down into the cushions, and patiently waited for her to adjust her limbs accordingly. It was much harder to hold someone the same while seated, however, and Miss Kamiya had apparently decided that climbing into his lap was where the line would be drawn. Instead she curled her legs up under her and put her back against his ribs so that she was facing away from him.

A couple of gasps and sniffles later and she was quite comfortably using his shoulder as a pillow while holding his left arm prisoner against her chest. He tried not to let the fact that she was wearing shorts or that his hand was resting on her bare thigh distract him from her emotional state. How could he be blamed, though? He was still a guy, after all. Quite unconsciously his thumb started running soothingly back and forth across her smooth, freshly shaven skin. Distractedly he thought of how novel the sensation was. No woman he had ever touched before had had shaven legs.

The state of her breathing didn't quiet down for a long time, but Kenshin was content to stay just where he was. He had even started to doze a little with his head leaned back against the couch and his eyes half closed. Miss Kamiya was like a ball of warmth against his side. Kenshin didn't even remember what it felt like to be that temperature anymore. Hell, he didn't even remember what it felt like to sweat because he was hot. If he did sweat now it was because he was afflicted with sun-sickness, and that only served to make him feel clammy and disgusting.

That warmth was the only thing he remembered enjoying about drinking fresh blood. He hadn't lied to Saitou when he had told him that he had never once killed a human, but after Megumi had explained to him how harmful it was on his body to drink only vampire blood, he had been forced to try it. At nearly three hundred years old, it had been the first taste of human blood he had ever drank. The thick liquid had been so hot going down his throat, and he had hated himself for enjoying it. The muscles in his face scrunched, and he hung his head much like Miss Kamiya had. He still hated himself for it. That feeling was the very reason why he had attempted to find another way for their kind to survive.

A quiet, watery chuckle near the hollow of his shoulder pulled him from his thoughts of self-loathing. Miss Kamiya had been silent for a long time, and it appeared some passing thought had amused her. "You know… I don't ever cry around others, and it's just kinda weird that I don't seem to have a problem crying around you." A sniffle fought her runny nose, and she wiped distractedly at her face. "I guess that makes you like… the fourth person I'm okay with."

"If that includes your parents then I will hazard a guess and say that Miss Makimachi is the third?" The sounds from downstairs had disappeared only a few minutes after they had arrived. He thought he had heard something about Aoshi taking Miss Makimachi out to dinner since they had finished at the museum early, but it had started to rain and she had wanted her jacket. Now all was silent except for Miss Kamiya's breathing. Saitou had gone to bed long before.

"Yeah, but only a few times." The quality and tone of her voice was soft and a bit husky from her tears. The still damp weight of her hair had soaked through his shirt without him noticing. "I cried around my mom a lot." A sad giggle lightened the air, but it was nostalgic and it tugged at his heart. "Mainly because she was the only one strict enough to make me mind, but also because I ran straight for her whenever Dad actually did scold me. Mom could whip me all she wanted, but one cross word from Dad and it felt like the end of the world."

"Hmph." An amused grin tilted his lips. "Daddy's girl."

"Yeah." She giggled with him, and the silence was peaceful afterwards. They were always so polite to each other while working, or even socializing at their get-togethers with the rest of the gang on the weekends. It was only there, seated on her couch that she felt safe enough to forget. It was a place where it didn't matter who they were, and they could display genuine camaraderie towards each other. That was why there was no hesitation in Kaoru's voice when she brought up what she really wanted to talk about. "My father's sword."

"…What about it?" The amusement in his voice was traded for acceptance.

The way her arms were snaked around his bicep tightened. "You had it all along, didn't you?" Reflexively his fingers dug into her thigh, and Kaoru took that as assent. "I remember the way you reacted when I showed you the wakizashi. You recognized it. At the time I didn't know what to think, but it makes sense to me now. You would never be so careless with an antique. It just upset you when you saw it."

A hard swallow struggled against his throat, and his voice rasped. "Yes. It was… given to me a long time ago."

"Before… or after you met your wife?"

It was getting hard to breathe, but it was strangely easy to share with her. Perhaps it was because she had so easily shared with him many painful things in her past. "Before."

The reply was low, and with her ear pressed into his shoulder she could hear the way his heartbeat had quickened. "Oh." For a moment it seemed wrong, because she couldn't imagine his wife feeling like she was unable to trust him when he was so obviously skilled. Perhaps, though, he hadn't been that skilled at the time. "Oji told me that you… hunted a lot after she was… after she died." Now his heartbeat was like a painful throb, and his fingers were uncomfortably tight on her leg. "Did you use my father's sword?"

"I did." After a sigh and a second later he added. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. I'm glad it helped keep you alive." She swallowed nervously, but attempted to push him further. "Was it your wife that wanted the chateau?"

For a moment Kenshin was confused, and he actually glanced at the back of her head as if she would be able to see his lifted brow. Then he remembered that she wouldn't know any different. "No." For some reason this relieved Kaoru. Perhaps because she had already started to feel guilty about getting to enjoy it when his wife couldn't. "I wanted it, long after she was gone."

"Then did she enjoy restoring or collecting pieces as well? Is that how you met?"

"No, Miss Kamiya. We met under very different circumstances."

"Oh." The topic was getting a bit harder to continue with, because his voice had become distant and sad. It was only natural, though. He was lonely without his wife. "What kind of flowers did she like?"

"Huh?" That was a confusing and unexpected question.

"Flowers. What did she like best? You did give her flowers at some point, right? I thought it would be nice to bring some flowers to where she's buried."

The fingers of his left hand had loosened finally to curl once more around the curve of her thigh, and he shifted as if to unconsciously adjust her weight against him. It was a strangely attentive gesture, considering she had been slipping slowly off the edge of the couch. "I don't know." The almost timid admission caused Kaoru to raise up from her resting place on his shoulder and blink incredulously.

"You don't know what your wife's favorite flowers were?" The 'are you serious?' tone was clear in her voice, and he averted his gaze to sigh despondently. "Okaay, I'm sure that's… normal sometimes. What about dolls or stuffed animals? Did she like to collect stuff? Hairpins? Perfume? Anything?"

Kenshin was starting feel just a bit desperate as he found himself unable to accommodate the questioning in Miss Kamiya's words. The more he thought about it the more he realized that he didn't know anything about his late wife expect for her motive for marrying him. Quite frankly, he was having a hard time picturing what she looked like anymore. His brows furrowed and he tried to put together the features he knew his wife had had, but in a shocking twist the only face he could picture belonged to the woman sitting beside him. Perfume? How could he even begin to remember any scent but the one that now overwhelmed his entire life?

"I'm sorry, Miss Kamiya, but I don't know. I'm aware that it sounds really horrible of me, but we only knew each other a total of seven months, from the time we met to the day she died." An expression of pain contorted his face, and Kaoru looked away quickly. "If I had been a more attentive husband the time wouldn't have mattered, but we were both preoccupied with our objective."

"Objective?" She felt tentative again, because their easy conversation was now full of land mines that she was afraid of stepping on. They were no longer comfortably snuggled together in a way that communicated and transferred reassurance, either. Instead she now sat next to him, backwards on the couch with her knees folded up under her. The return of distance between them caused her to twist her fingers together in her lap nervously. "That sounds like you were on a mission or something. You were married, not working."

"Our marriage was not conventional." He took a moment to decide how much would be okay to tell her. Then he gently declared, "We were only together because we were after the same prey, and marriage was a good cover."

"What?" The shock of what he had just said brought her startled blue eyes back to his face.

"She had a fiancé, and a little brother and a father before we met, but they were killed by the same… man that was responsible for the murder of my family." He lost his family, too! "She was older than I was, but that didn't matter. It was convenient for both of us to use each other."

It was quiet for a long time after that, but a sharp intake of breath from Miss Kamiya finally broke the awkward stillness. "You did care for her, though, didn't you?"

Kenshin frowned. "Of course I did."

"Of course you did." The echo of his own words was gentle and almost affectionate when she spoke them, and she smiled down at her lap. His hand was still half-curled around the side of her thigh. "You're such a kind man, Mr. Himura. I'm sure it was more than just a cover for you, and seven months is long enough. You probably know all kinds of things about her that you don't even realize." As she remembered her conversation with Sano one more time, she recalled her own words. By lying to them, but more specifically to Mr. Himura, Kaoru had thought to keep them safe. His wife had lied, too, and it couldn't have been just because of revenge. His wife probably knew better than Kaoru about how kind he was, and as his wife, and an older woman, she no doubt had felt responsible for his safety. "I'm sure she cared for you, too."

No comment replied to her claims, but she felt so sure about her own convictions that she didn't experience any anxiety over his reaction. A few minutes later a sigh lifted his chest, and he shifted to sit a bit higher against the cushioned backrest. "Fifty-thousand dollars."

"Uh, okay?" It was obvious he was trying to change the subject, but she had no idea what kind of subject he was suggesting. She started laughing, though, when an abrupt thought caught her as funny. "Is that how much you charge for your services or something? Or is that how much your shirt is worth since I'm pretty sure I ruined it?"

The friendly teasing caused him to laugh as well. "Fifty-thousand is quite the fee. I assure you, Madame, that I am not so vain as to charge you anything more than a blush and a smile."

A giggle-snort escaped her, and she lifted a hand to press under her nose. "Whaaaat? I never would have taken you for a sweet-talker."

"Well, I assure you that I am nowhere near as smooth as Sanosuke."

"So true." Mr. Himura almost looked offended, which sent her off into another fit of giggles, and she waved a hand in the air as if to clear it. "Anyway, why are we talking about money?"

"It's the rest of your bonus, Miss Kamiya. I was going to let you find out on your own, but since you know where the sword came from I figured it would be best to clear this up now. You'll find an added fifty-thousand dollars in your account tomorrow." All at once she was straight up on her knees, and the sudden shift of weight dipped him toward her as she stared down at him with wide sapphire eyes. Her amusing actions erupted a light chuckle from his chest, and he steadied himself with his left hand on the back of the couch. "You didn't really think I would just give you a sword that I paid nothing for and call it a bonus, did you?"

"Yes! Yes I did! Idiot! What the hell?!" She was so indignant that he couldn't help but laugh. A pouty look puffed out her cheeks, and he grinned as he studied the features towering over his own. This was amazing! She probably didn't even realize how natural she was acting. Air huffed from her nose at his amusement, and she plopped back down on her heels, crossed her arms haughtily, and glared.

"I can't believe you."

"It's much less than what you deserve for the money you made me, Miss Kamiya, but I figured it would be all I could get away with for now. You should use it to buy yourself something nice, instead of wasting your hard-earned money on replacing items that really belong to the chateau."

"Whatever." The grumpy retort pleased him, because it was so unguarded. She obviously knew exactly what he was talking about now.

The grin on his face stayed, and he tactfully decided to sidetrack her. "Have I ever told that your stubbornness reminds me of my sisters?"

The change in subject was unexpected, and she smiled and brightened up. "You had siblings?"

"I did." There was a fondness in his voice that warmed her heart, and she didn't even notice how his hand had found its way back to her thigh. He was almost obsessively fascinated by her shaven skin. "Eight of them, actually."

"Eight! That means there were like… nearly a dozen people in your house! Holy cow! That's crazy!"

Kenshin laughed with her, and his violet eyes glanced down at the coffee table in front of him. "Well, I thought it was pretty normal, but then I was the baby so I didn't know any better."

"Aww, I bet you were such a cute baby brother."

"Well, my sisters thought so anyway. All six of them spoiled me rotten."

"Six sisters! I bet your dad was just about crazy with all those females under one roof."

"Yes, but if I remember correctly they had him twisted around their fingers. I suppose they were as attached to their father as you are."

"Most girls are." Kaoru nodded knowingly.

"Hmm." The noise was noncommittal and he could feel the combination of alcohol and the return of her intoxicating aroma working on him. "During the day I would help them in the kitchen, and they would use me to sample whatever they were making. They're the reason I like sweets, actually, and my mother's answer to any tears was tea."

A giggle escaped her, and she poked a finger in his ribs. "I think she passed that on."

"I suppose we do what we've always known to work. My father, on the other hand, thought hard labor was the answer to anything. If my parents ever argued he would go out to the fields and be gone all day, and when he came back it was like everything was fine again. I think it was an unspoken agreement that whoever had been in the wrong knew it, and that was the end of it."

"Did you just say fields? Was your family farmers?"

A pleased smile tugged at his lips, because he had finally been able to share the truth with her. "That's right. We lived in a farming village. Everyone pitched in with the fields, and everyone shared the yield at the end of harvest. I remember anticipating the day when I could work in the fields with my father and brothers..."

"Wow, you had an amazing family." The return knowledge of what he had told her earlier suddenly came back, though. A vampire had killed his family, and that same vampire had killed his wife's family. If he had never worked the fields then that meant he would have been really young when they were killed, too. The smile on her face disappeared completely, and all of the pieces came together. That vampire had killed his wife, as well. So much loss because of one vampire. So much pain just to satisfy some sicko's hunger. "I'm sorry they're gone."

The drop in her voice and scent made his chest feel heavy, and violet eyes shot back to her face. Heavy bangs were now curtaining her eyes. "Me too." She looked so somber and morose sitting there next to him, and he cupped the side of her jaw in linen wrapped fingers. "Miss Kamiya, I did not tell you about my family to make you sad. They were all happy memories." The reprimand was light, but resigned.

The nod of her head answered him to accept his words, and it took little encouragement for her to lean forward into his embrace a second time. No tears soaked his shirt or rattled against her ribs. Instead she clutched at him as if trying to offer him comfort. This time her scent didn't struggle between happiness and sorrow. Sorrow won without a fight. "Thank you for sharing them with me." The tightness in her voice was only outweighed by the raspy, breathless sound of it. This time her sadness was for him. It was not because she was upset over something that had happened to her. Strangely the distinguishing factor made her scent far less repelling, and he could hardly help himself when he tightened his hold and tugged her closer.

With his cheek pressed against the side of her skull, he let deep violet eyes wander over the hair pooling down her back. Absently he realized for the first time that he had never seen her with it loose before. As she sighed and tried to breathe, he carefully brought up his left arm from her waist to slip his fingers under the shimmering, dark strands. They were nearly dry now, except for the thickest part just at the base of her neck. As he fingered the shiny locks another odd thought broke into the forefront of his mind. Tomoe's hair wasn't this soft. It was an automatic comparison that should never have happened, because it was not in favor of his late wife. The thought plainly favored Miss Kamiya, and it made him feel guilty. With a sigh he released the thick tresses, and reluctantly indulged the accompanying facts. Tomoe was never this open, either.

Tomoe had never cried in front of him. She had never asked him for comfort. She had never laughed, never smiled, never showed joy simply to see him. She had never been angry with him, either. Tomoe had only ever been calm, cold, and distant. Perhaps he had never given her the opportunity to be different. God knows he had hardly been much better at that time. Though perhaps, like him, any other side of her had died the moment her family had been taken from her. What impressed itself on him the most, however, was the fact that his own wife had never trusted him, and this woman whose only connection to him was that of employer and employee did. She trusted him so willingly, like no one had ever trusted him before. He could think of no one else who would so easily stay encased in his arms after admitting knowledge about his search for revenge in the past.

Lightly he stroked the pad of his longest finger down the back of her neck through the thickness of her hair. The way he had categorized their relationship hadn't been right, though. Their connection was no longer that simple. He wasn't so sure if it ever had been. Slowly his touch traced each smooth bump of her spine. Right that second it was something far from professional, and looked at in that light it was completely unfair and inappropriate.

Unfair to him. Inappropriate of them both.

She wanted him to touch her, and no matter how hard she tried to hide what she felt, he already knew that she was enjoying it even now. It made everything so difficult, because what he wanted was complicated, dangerous, and bordering obsessive. Kenshin wasn't even sure if what he wanted had anything to do with real attraction. The smell of her blood was what had lured him to her, and what had ultimately demanded her presence in his everyday life. Although he could only guess at the extent of what she wanted from him, he knew that it had nothing to do with what he wanted from her. Knowing that she wanted anything from him at all only made him want to give in.

To the desire he felt for her; to the irritation he experienced every time she placed a barrier between them; and to the overwhelming affection and gratitude warming his body because of her easy empathy and trust. Each new detail that he discovered only made him want her more. This struggle for control was harder than anything he had ever dealt with, and he knew he would have to make a compromise, otherwise he might not let her go when she finally decided that their evening was over. Impatience and a heightened demand that argued for everything he had denied himself said that he was tired of ignoring his attraction to her, and that he was also tired of her pretending that she wasn't attracted to him. He wanted her to acknowledge that he was no longer just her boss and she was no longer just his employee. A small, still rational part of him hoped that the concession would be enough to appease his frustration.

"Miss Kamiya, I have a very selfish request to make of you." The deep timber of his voice hummed against the press of her suddenly tense body. It was not as soothing a sound as it had been earlier. This time it stirred inside of her like ripples of agitated water at the bottom of a waterfall. Barely a blink later and the aroma tickling his nose shifted wrenchingly away from thick and heavy. It was so abrupt that it hurt his jaw.

Where everything went from there was a mystery he was frankly too terrified to consider.


The lab lights were low to accommodate for Megumi's overly sensitive eyesight, and she stared intently into a microscope. After a couple of seconds of observation, she sat back and made a couple of notes on her pad. At the top of the paper, under name, was Kaoru Kamiya.

After listening to that bastard, Shishio, prattle on and on about Kaoru at the Council's European branch, she had become curious about how he had become sick after tasting Kaoru both times. The idiot had thought it something she had done to him, but Megumi was more inclined to believe that it wasn't something the girl had done consciously. That meant the only remaining factor was her blood. Was there something in her blood that had made him sick, or had it been some other contributing element that Shishio had done to himself?

Extensive testing had already revealed to her that Kaoru's blood was amazingly resistant to viruses and bacteria. In fact, her blood seemed unfazed by the introduction of any foreign element. It didn't react like a human's blood would, which attacked the foreign substance as soon as it noticed it and did its best to fight it off. It didn't react like vampire blood, either, which aggressively assimilated all cells that were different from its own. Kaoru's blood calmly assessed whether the new cell was dangerous, then it surrounded it, and then it got rid of it. The unaggressive way it conducted its business was surprising, but Megumi suspected that was the reason why Kaoru was so perfectly healthy. Her blood was sturdy, stable, intelligent, but most of all, thorough.

There was one last test Megumi was going to perform before she called it a night. She had been building herself up to it since the beginning of her experiment, and there was an anxious bud of excitement tangling just behind her sternum. If this worked out the way she suspected it would, it had the possibility to change everything.

A new sample of Kaoru's blood was recovered from the cooler, and from a different shelf she selected a second vile that had Hiko's name labeled on it. With painstaking caution she added two drops of Kaoru's blood to a clean glass slide and placed it under the microscope. A new syringe was acquired, and she pulled up half a cc of Hiko's blood. Positioned just right to watch, she stared into the eyepieces and delicately added a drop of the vampire blood to Kaoru's.

Aggressively Hiko's blood attacked the new cells and began to assimilate them. It was the same process that would happen if a vampire drank human blood, or if a human drank vampire blood. It was how a human was turned, and how a vampire survived. Human blood was too submissive to withstand the attack, but Kaoru's blood was not like a human's. With bated breath Megumi watched, impatient and hopeful for the moment when Kaoru's blood fought back. As each long moment passed, however, her excitement became less and less. Kaoru's blood wasn't even trying to protect itself, and the thrill and hope Megumi had fostered died in disappointment. It seemed neither of her theories had been correct. Shishio hadn't been poisoned by Kaoru's blood, nor was her blood resistant to the vampire takeover.

The lab phone rang across the room, and Megumi pulled back to frown at the interruption. Already frustrated and disheartened, she was in no mood for office politics from the nurses, nor to answer any minor questions that they should already know the answers to.

"What?" The word snapped, and the receptionist's voice quieted in apprehension. "Shouldn't you be gone by now?"

"Yes, Madame, but I just received an urgent call from Monsieur Myojin. He said Madame Tsubame has gone into labor. He tried to get her in the car, but she's bleeding and he's worried about moving her."

A few choice curse words that would have made her husband proud came to mind, but she censored herself before she growled. "Tell him I'm on my way!"

The badge hanging from her neck swiped through the key lock and opened the door to the lab. A hurried slam later and Megumi took off down the hallway. Back under the microscope the aggressive reaction on the glass slide began to sizzle and smoke. The passive blood had assessed the situation, and it had decided that aggression was the only way to answer aggression.


A/N: First off, only a couple of people caught on to Rikuto's alias, but then I did only have Hoji address him by his surname. So, Jin-e Udo will be our villain for this story. As I thought about who I wanted to pick (and originally I hadn't picked anyone, Rikuto was going to be a character that had nothing to do with RK) I realized that the perfect person for Rikuto to be was Hiko. Simply because his positioning was perfect for everything in my story, not really because his character fit. However, I had already done one thing in the story that ruined that, and I was afraid this would be met with lots of criticism and hate. I really like Hiko, and it would have been a bit hard to twist him into a villain like the kind that Rikuto is. So, I debated many choices, and then I realized that I had forgotten all about good ol' Jin-e. What a perfect psychopath. Perhaps you might think that Shishio would have been the ideal choice, or even Enishi, but the more I think about Rikuto the more I like Jin-e filling that role. He's so perfectly evil and insane, and he does like to piss Kenshin off. Besides both Shishio and Enishi are dead, and I didn't want Enishi being a vampire. I'm a bit tired of overusing him as the bad guy. He will stay Tomoe's innocent little brother that died at the hands of a vampire.

Ahh, the sword. This was a planned event, although originally Saitou wasn't going to be there, but then I thought it would be a good idea because he helped the scene. Sasaki Kojiro is actually part of Japanese History. Might be worth a google. He wasn't actually a sword smith, though. I just made that up. Lots and lots of Kaoru and Kenshin in this chapter. I wanted to make sure they were becoming friendlier with each other and building up that trust they are fostering. Hopefully things will heat up from here, but I will not rush into anything. I think this is what I did wrong in my other story, and I'm sad about it now. So no, I will not mess my storyline up, even if I really really want to, lol. I hope that I gave more insight into Kaoru's background in this chapter, and that it will appease you a bit. I do promise that there is a reason Kaoru is different than her ancestor, and it also happens to be the reason why she smells so good.

On a side note, please don't ever attempt to drink this much alcohol. You'll die. Seriously. Oh, and, Kenshin was really taking some liberties with Kaoru's leg, lol. In the next chapter we get to see just what Kenshin wanted from Kaoru, as well as a baby, and perhaps a threat. Please leave a review. I need the encouragement to make it through these next two months.