Chapter 1Mature

The abandoned temple was flooded by swirling white mist, the full moon washing the area with its cold light. The vast complex had buildings made of teak with ceramic tile roofs, some of them open to the air. Nature had reclaimed the ruins, trees splitting one of the structures in half, their roots knotted on the floor. Deep within the darkness, however, one building remained almost unclaimed.

The kitsune shrine.

Its crumbled entry archway was flanked by stone fox statues; the room's altar was broken in half. The walls had wreaths of vines and wildflowers clinging to them; the floor tiles split by tree roots and grass.

“Kei.”

There was no response.

Spirit voices continued to prod at the shrine, although not at the building itself...there was a being that they were trying to awaken. “Kei. She is here. Ayame is here.”

Something large and black-furred yipped groggily and opened its dark eyes. “She is here?” asked the three-tailed fox, hope rekindling in its broken heart.

“Yes, she is reborn. Now the rest is up to you,” sang the spirit voices as they departed. The fox staggered to its feet and darted out into the darkness, possessed by one thought. Ayame.

Narita International Airport

Tokyo, Japan

Three young American women exited the terminal, entering the crowded airport and headed to the baggage carousel. Laughing and talking excitedly, the trio collected their bags and sat down in white plastic chairs nearby for a quick breather. “We're finally here,” squealed a petite blond as she removed her headphones and stuffed her mp3 player into a jacket pocket.

“I know that,” laughed a slightly taller girl as she retied her shoulder-length dark ponytail. Her green eyes sparkled. “You need to calm down, silly Darlene. Hey Anna, you alright?”

“Huh?” Anna answered distractedly. “Yeah, I'm fine. Just tired.” Anna was the tallest of the trio, with rich brown hair that fell to her waist in soft spiral curls and waves. She had intelligent yet piercing blue eyes and an oval-shaped pretty face. Her fair skin was flushed rosy from the heat of the airport. She sagged back into her chair after adjusting her shoulder bag. “Kris, do you have the hotel information and street map? Our concert tickets too?”

“Sure do,” Kris, the dark haired woman replied as she patted her leather purse. Everything's in here.”

“The only thing I care about is seeing The GazettE,” Darlene chimed in dreamily. The other two burst into a fit of laughter. “What? What's so funny?”

“You,” Kris and Anna sputtered through peals of giggles. They looked at each other grinned, and chimed in union, “Oh Ruki, sing! Sing for me, baby!” they mimicked their friend's fan-girly chant. All three smiled widely and dissolved into another fit of laughter.

“Okay, okay, let's get to our hotel and grab something to eat. I'm starving,” Kris announced, picking up her bags. Anna and Darlene hefted their suitcases from the floor and followed Kris into the outside chill.

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Kei watched the three women as they got into a taxi and out of the winter cold. He was in fox form, hidden by a dumpster's shadow in an alley facing the airport. He had been drawn to the city byherpresence and now he saw them drive away. He followed the taxi to their hotel, snow dusting his fur, but he didn't notice, so enraptured he was with her. After the women disappeared into the hotel, Kei turned and ran, promising himself another visit.

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The next days were spent shopping, sightseeing and taking trips to the countryside when weather permitted. At night the three went to concerts, movies and many different plays and theater shows. Today they were window-shopping downtown, gazing into clothing and shoe stores until Anna pulled the two girls to a stop in front of a jewelry shop window. In the display case was a white jade fox pendant on a silver chain. She was drawn to the necklace like a moth to a flame, almost unconsciously. The necklace also reminded her of the strange dreams she'd been having in the weeks before coming to Japan and the re-occurrence of those same dreams after setting foot in the country. “Are you going to buy it, Anna?” asked Kris. “It's pretty.”

She snapped out of her reverie. “I don't know. Should I?” Was the necklace calling out to her in her mind? Or was she crazy?

“If you want to,” Kris shrugged noncommittally. Darlene nodded yes, that she should. As if in a trance, Anna went into the store and bought the necklace, putting it on right then. Her head seemed to clear of its fog, and she felt normal again. She smiled and the trio continued on their way, stopping at aramenshop for lunch, sitting at an outdoor table. A pile of shopping bags lay at their feet. “Are you okay? You seemed a little off at back there.”

“I'm okay, just a little light-headed for some reason.”

“You need something to eat, probably. And you, Miss Darlene, stop drooling over the men that work here,” Kris teased in a motherly tone of voice.

“Sorry,” Darlene shrugged, not sorry at all. “These guys are cute, but they got nothing on Ruki.” Kris and Anna face-palmed then started laughing. “So can we go clubbing tonight? Please?”

“No, we're staying in tonight. It's supposed to be raining.” Darlene groaned and banged her forehead on the table in frustration. A few minutes later a short but attractive waiter brought them their food. The blond stared at the waiter's backside as he went back into the shop. “You're slobbering.”

Darlene flushed with embarrassment and wiped her mouth with a napkin. “Thanks for pointing that out,” she growled and continued to eat. Kris just stuck out her tongue childishly. They lingered over the meal, chatting and laughing until the first drops of rain hit them. Thunder roiled in the suddenly dark sky and the drops became a steady downpour. The girls shrieked and ran from their table into the shop for shelter. Water pelted the windows and roof, drenching pedestrians outside.

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Tetsuya stalked the three women in human form hidden in the shadows of an alley. He didn't care about the first two; it was Anna who piqued his interest. Cool copper-colored eyes drank her in; raindrops clung to his chest-length silver hair like sparkling diamonds. He was tall and lean with lithe muscles and an angular handsome face. He also appeared to be about thirty years of age, but was actually much older. “You'll be mine, this time,” he whispered to the rain. “Soon you will be mine.”

His sensitive ears pricked up at the sound of light, stealthy footsteps behind him in the alley. “You stay away from her,” snarled a bewitching male voice. Tetsuya spun around and faced his rival, an elegant eyebrow raised cockily.

“Well, well, Kei. Long time, no talk.” The otherkitsunegrowled, deep and angry. Kei was about five-foot eleven with a slender but nicely muscled frame, high cheekbones, dark eyes and midnight black hair to his collarbone that was straight and fine like an animal pelt. His enchanting features were accented by a sensual mouth and thin eyebrows. “So what have you done these past years? Hide in a cave sniveling somewhere?” Tetsuya sneered. Kei ignored the jeer and circled the demon like a stalking tiger.

“I haven't forgotten what you did. I never will,” he grated out. Then Tetsuya rushed him in a blur of motion, a clawed hand-paw shooting out and attempting to grab him by the throat. Kei dodged, his own clawed hand striking out and tightening around Tetsuya's neck. Tetsuya gasped and choked as the claws dug into his throat, drawing rivulets of dripping blood. Kei's eyes had gone a savage golden brown in fury.

Tetsuya began to laugh manically. “Look at you, the weakling finally shows some teeth,” the demon taunted as his human shape dissolved into the form of a fox and breaking free, scurried back into the night.

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Hours later it finally stopped raining. The threesome had retired to their hotel for the night but Anna couldn't sleep. She sat on the double bed hunched over her laptop researching fox myths when a soft, an almost indistinct sound caught her ear. She got up and went to the window, pushing aside the curtains to see outside.

Something vaguely dog-shaped crossed the parking lot, and she got a better look when the creature stopped very close to where the light spilled into the darkness.

But it wasn't a dog.

It was a black fox.

The animal was slightly larger than a normal fox and its eyes shone with a human intelligence. It stared at her, and she flinched as if burned. The fox stared hard into her eyes for a few long seconds then abruptly ran away.

Anna let the curtains fall back into place and backpedaled towards the bed. She perched on the edge, suddenly light-headed as a sick feeling twisted her guts. She swore she'd seen longing in the fox's eyes but that couldn't be possible.

Or could it?

Kei kept a vigil as Anna shut off the room light and went to bed for the night. Hope and yearning made his heart ache; the memories of Ayame swirling vividly in his mind. He vowed to himself that he would keep Anna safe no matter the price, even if it meant his destruction. Even more so, he longed to hold her in his arms again, and to love her again.

But first she had to remember him....if she was able to remember their past and him at all. He hoped with all his heart and being that she would. Yet he would bide his time, for time was not the enemy. A gentle rain began to fall, pattering on the city rooftops and against window glass. Kei didn't notice the rain and fresh cool air as he was wholly transfixed onher.The night wore on, and deeming it safe for now, he left at sunrise as the city began to awaken.

“Can we go clubbing tonight? Pretty please,” begged Darlene. The three of them were lounging in the suite's living room, half watching music videos on TV.

Anna thought about it for a moment and shrugged. “Hey, why not. I'm in the mood to go out and dance.” Darlene whooped and bounced around the suite excitedly. The girl skipped back to her room to get ready. Kris shut off the TV and disappeared in her room, leaving Anna alone. She got up from the sofa and went to get changed.

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Kei saw the women climb into a taxi and head downtown to the club district. He followed them in fox shape, keeping to the shadows as much as possible. The nightclub area was a confusion of noise and bright neon colors, people streaming in and out of the streets. Shrouded by the shadow of a parked car, Kei returned to human form and joined the milling groups and knots of passerby, ignoring the stares of the young women and kept his eyes on her.

Anna paid the driver and thanked him, shutting the car door and joining her friends. They waited in line to get into into a pop music dance club. The skin between her shoulder blades began to itch and twitch, and she spun around, taking in the line and roaming people with a quick eye. She had the strangest feeling someone was watching her.Maybe it's just my imagination, she thought to herself. Yet something still didn't feel quite right. She was so lost in her thoughts, she didn't hear Kris calling her name. “Hey, Earth to Anna.”

“Huh- what?”

Kris grinned and pointed to the bouncer at the club entrance. “Pay the man and get your head out of the clouds.”

“Oh, sorry,” She paid the shaggy-haired bouncer the cover charge and stepped inside the club, Kris and Darlene behind her.

The club was packed, people mobbing the dance floor as Akanishi Jin's Bass Go Boom blared from the speakers. A few young men leaving the club whistled at them on their way out. Darlene wore a body-hugging royal blue mini dress and matching heels; Kris a short black halter dress and heels. Anna donned a black, lace-trimmed satin basque corset top, black pants that were rose lace from the knee down and matched short boots. Fingerless lace gloves covered her arms up to the elbow.

Darlene giggled and nudged Anna with her elbow. “Check out the hottie checking you out.” Anna gazed over at where her friend was pointing to see a tall young man making his way to them through the crowd.

Anna's eyes were fixed to the man coming from across the club, her heart beating rapidly and her breath coming in short gasps.

Their eyes met.

She was shocked by and drawn into the intensity of emotion in his dark eyes. There was a tugging at her unconscious mind; a hint of vague knowing. He was too beautiful for words, a graceful figure dressed in snug-fitting black leather pants, knee-high boots and white silk open shirt. Glimpses of perfect pectorals could be seen whenever he moved.

“Would you like to dance?” his voice was deep and very sexy.

“I-s-sure,” Anna stammered, flustered by this heavenly bishounen and took his offered hand. His grip was gentle but firm and she found herself blushing red as their bodies bumped and ground against each other.

The End

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