He was having another one of his nightmares again.
Kaoru woke up when she heard her husband cry out in his sleep. Worried, she'd turned to him, putting a hand on his shoulder and shaking him lightly.
Usually, the least touch brought Kenshin awake. He was a light sleeper, the result of years having had to sleep with one eye figuratively open.
This time, Kenshin didn't wake up. Kaoru watched helplessly as he tossed and turned his head on the pillow, murmuring unintelligibly all the while. She hated seeing him like this, in the grip of the nightmares of his past. She remembered how, in those first few months of marriage, he would wake up from one of those nightmares. She would hold him them, as fierce and as protective as Kenshin had ever been when Kaoru was in danger, soothing his fears, chasing away his shadows.
Soon enough, Kenshin soon began sleeping peacefully through the night, the nightmares gone, banished by Kaoru's presence and the warmth of her love. She'd thought, foolishly perhaps, that it was over, that Kenshin could begin to leave the past behind and go on.
Now, it was starting all over again.
Suddenly, Kenshin cried out in a language Kaoru didn't even recognize. His eyes flew open and she was startled to see that they were the golden eyes of the Hitokiri Battousai.
"Kenshin…?" she whispered.
The golden eyes focused on her and she shivered at the expression she saw reflected there. Kaoru had faced the Battousai before, had seen the dark shadow of Kenshin's soul many times. For all his ferocity, Kaoru knew that he came back now only to protect her and the rest of their odd little family. That golden gaze promised death to anyone who tried to hurt her. But to Kaoru, those eyes had only looked on her with love.
Now, those eyes were staring at her with a dark, unholy hunger, touched by a wild, feral light.
This is not Battousai, Kaoru thought. This is not my Kenshin…is it?
No. A fierce, defiant sort of courage filled her. This was Kenshin, her husband, her mate. She would protect him as much as he protected her.
Slowly, gently Kaoru placed a hand on his scarred cheek, her thumb tenderly caressing the scars.
Kenshin…come back to me, please, come back…
He shivered in response to her touch and closed his eyes. When they opened, Kaoru saw with relief that they were back to their normal, violet color.
"Kaoru…?" Kenshin whispered. He reached up to pull her close, bury his face in her hair. Kaoru snuggled back, letting him reassure himself by touch and caress. She murmured reassurances into his ear, telling him that everything was fine, that it was only a dream.
"Not just a dream," he murmured back. "Not just a nightmare. Different."
She pulled away a little to look at his face. The violet eyes were troubled…and afraid?
"Tell me," she said quietly. Yes, he was right. This time, it was different. It wasn't just another dark memory of his days as a hitokiri. The one she saw just then…he was someone else, neither Kenshin nor the Battousai.
"It never happened. Never," he said, shaking his head and pulling her close again. Kaoru let it go this time, just wrapped her arms around her husband, cherishing him.
"Aishiteru, Kenshin," she murmured. I love you. Let it be enough. Enough to keep all your demons away.
Kenshin whispered the words back to her and closed his eyes, trying to forget the images of himself killing for the sheer pleasure of it, reveling in the death of his prey, relishing the terror in the young man's eyes and the hunger for his blood…
This was an unexpected pleasure.
She had not expected to find her predecessor here, in this particular time and in this particular place. Then again, perhaps she should not be so surprised. The man had such a blind, mindless devotion to this so-called Land of the Gods that he just couldn't conceive of going anywhere else.
And he had such a talent for repeating his old habits and patterns. The fiercest of killers at first, and then suddenly, a weak, guilt-ridden fool for the rest of his life. An endless cycle of bloodshed, guilt and grief, so deliciously self-destructive.
Ah, but so wonderfully appealing. There was a certain…magnetism to his personality. A certain charm that drew people to him, as cunningly as any vampire's mesmeric spell. It was a natural gift, that had only been enhanced when-
She smiled as a clear image of what he had been came to mind. Oh yes-he was magnificent in all his ferocity and bloody tragedy. She regretted losing him then, but it couldn't be helped, of course.
But now, in this time, in this place, she had an amazing opportunity. To bind him to her the way he had bound her before. But this time, she would do better than he did. She would be a better Master than he had ever been, create him in her own image…and keep him by her for all eternity.
She had already begun to cast her coils about him, to sound the ancient memories buried in his soul. He imagined himself in love right now but that wasn't a problem. In fact, love made the blood all the sweeter.
Rhiannon gently carressed the cheek of the young man she had chosen for the night. She had chosen him for his youth and his beautiful, strapping, healthy young body. She smiled, knowing that he was seeing and feeling it with her. That he was one with her. Oh yes, blood ties were not easily broken…even beyond death.
The vampire bared her fangs, her eyes gleaming golden in the moonlight, and tore into her prey's throat.
Saitoh Hajime, alias Inspector Fujita Gorou of the Tokyo police, took a long, much-needed drag on his cigarette as he surveyed the crime scene. This had "disaster" written all over it. Three men, all foreigners, had been found in the foreign quarter with their throats slashed and all their blood drained away. And now, a Japanese had been found killed in exactly the same way, his mangled body left on the riverbank.
On top of that, the police were trying to track down the morons who had attacked the English ambassador. Saitoh did not need THIS on top of everything else.
Toshiro, one of the new rookiees, turned an ashen white when he saw the body. He turned away and started to retch.
"Get a grip, ahou," Saitoh growled. A crowd was already gathering around the dead man. Saitoh looked at the other two rookiees with him. "Get everyone away from here."
"It was a gaki that did it," volunteered an old man. Saitoh recognized him as Juro, a homeless old fool who wasn't quite all there in the brains department. "I saw him suck the blood right out of that poor bastard."
His words had an electrifying effect on the crowd. Everyone else started whispering fearfully among themselves. Gaki were demons who could feed on the flesh, blood and even souls of humans. Many a Japanese child had been scared silly by mothers and grandmothers using stories of gaki to keep them in line.
Give me strength. "You've been listening to too many ghost stories, Juro," said Saitoh coolly. He glared at the crowd. "Now, everyone out of here before I arrest you for interfering in police business."
The threat was empty but no one in their right mind wanted to challenge the cold stare of Mibu's Wolf. Intimidated and cowed, the onlookers obediently began to disperse. All except for Juro, of course. Then again, he was nuts after all.
"I saw him, Fujita-san," said the old man stubbornly. "He's a gaki, I tell you. Red hair, golden eyes. Scary as hell."
That brought Saitoh up short. Red hair, golden eyes. Himura Kenshin? The Battousai?
"What did you say?" demanded Saitoh, amber eyes boring into the old man's.
"Yes!" said Juro insitently. "Feh! No one listens to me! I saw him, I tell you. He ripped the man's throat out."
"With a sword?"
"What sword are you talking about?" said the old man. "With his fangs! He tore the poor fucking bastard's throat out with his fangs!" He shuddered. "It was sharper than a katana, let me tell you. I can't forget that."
"This man," said Saitoh carefully. "Did he have a cross-shaped scar on his left cheek?"
Juro shrugged. "I don't know. I couldn't see his face, Fujita-san. He was a small man. His hair was as red as blood. I could see his golden eyes-they glowed in the dark. Hey--!" He began to struggle as the two rookiees grabbed him by the arms.
"Toshiro," Saitoh called the young policeman, who'd finally stopped vomiting. His face was still pale but he was steady on his feet. "Get this body out of here and bring Juro to the station. He's going to be our guest for a while."
"I haven't done anything wrong!" protested the old man.
"I didn't say we were arresting you, Juro," said Saitoh. He nodded curtly at Toshiro. "Treat him well and don't let him out of your sight."
"Yes, sir." Toshiro saluted crisply.
Saitoh walked away, lost in thought. Juro was a loon but Saitoh had a feeling the old man was telling the truth for once. At least, the truth as he saw it. It wasn't much of a lead but it was a beginning, at least. And Saitoh had seen the crowd react to the crazy fool's gaki story. Again, another disaster in the making. With Battousai's amazing knack for getting himself into trouble-never mind that he was trying to lead a peaceful life-Saitoh knew that this thing could easily spin out of control. He wasn't being paranoid. It was just that worst-case scenarios usually seemed to come true for Battousai.
Saitoh remembered the day when he'd challenged the vagabond calling himself Himura Kenshin at the Kamiya dojo. He had wanted to see whether there was any trace of his old enemy, the infamous Hitokiri Battousai, left in the rurouni sworn not to kill.
The Battousai was still there. Oh, Himura claimed to have buried him and all that crap. But Saitoh was aware that he still lurked beneath Himura's friendly, good-natured façade. He'd seen the little rurouni's gentle violet eyes turn gold whenever pushed to his limits. He'd seen them change during that aborted battle in the Kamiya dojo, when Saitoh had casually threatened the lives of Kamiya Kaoru and Himura's other friends. Had Saitoh been a lesser swordsman, he would probably be dead by now, Himura's vows of non-killing be damnned.
But was the Battousai capable of doing this? How many men in Tokyo could answer to the same description? A foreigner, perhaps, with a taste for blood?
Too soon, too early to tell. All I have is the word of a crazy old fool. Saitoh flicked the stub of his cigarette away.
Think, ahou. Do you seriously believe that the Battousai could be running around Tokyo ripping people's throats out for the sheer pleasure of it?
The former Shinsengumi captain surprised himself with the answer.
Nightfall. People had come to take away the dead man and prepare him for burial. They had cleared away what little blood had splashed on the ground and the bits of torn flesh. The river washed away the rest.
A slender figure crept out of the shadows to stand in the precise spot where the murdered Japanese had been found. A black, wide-brimmed hat and the turned-up collar of a long dark coat served to obscure the figure's face.
There was the barest whisper of sound that might have passed for a soft little melody. The wind suddenly picked up, blowing at the figure's coat. A slender hand clutched at the hat to keep it from blowing away.
The figure looked up and the face was briefly illuminated by moonlight. It was J. Isabel Draven. Her face was pale and her eyes were the color of frost.
She spoke one word. "Vampire."
COMING SOON: Saitoh's about to get a MAJOR headache. Jay and Iggy's "interesting" past. Kenshin gets a NASTY shock. And…more about certain blood-sucking creatures of the night…