Harsh voices bombarded Kaoru's ears as she entered the veiled backrooms. The deep timbre of angry male voices echoed in the compartments. Behind the curtain was a dimly lit room, it was bare and served as an anteroom. Kaoru frowned. She knew it was not long past noon outside, yet the sun did not penetrate the paper walls. As Battousai led her toward a second door she realized every wall was covered with similar black curtains. As they entered the next room a thick layer of smoke dominated the air. This room was where the sound came from. Sitting on the floor and leaning against the walls were near 20 scruffy mercenaries. Leering eyes and lecherous grins bombarded Kaoru's frazzled senses.

Battousai scanned the room. He recognized more then a few of the men. Most were the normal type of hired thugs but a few had longer and more dangerous pasts. He noticed Kaoru fidgeting and inch closer to his back. A familiar cinnamon-brown gaze connected with Battousai's eyes. The fighter-for-hire looked shocked. He stared not at the killer but at Kaoru a million questions in his eyes. Kaoru's heart skipped a beat as she saw Sano. Battousai watched the recognition as Kaoru's hand shot to her mouth to cover her gasp. Sano's mouth was a thin line of anger. Battousai would find out how they knew each other, later.

The hitokiri swept through the room, nodding fractionally to the few who dare greet him. Kaoru needed no encouragement to follow him now. She nearly plastered herself to his back, attempting to hide from the sake-glazed eyes of the men in the room.

As Sanoske watched the strange pair move into the second room, his mind spun. What was Jou-chan doing with Kenshin? No, Sano amended his thoughts, in this place Kenshin was pure Battousai, deadly as a katana tip. Sano would need to be careful in approaching this change of fate.

The soft slide of a shoji brought the attention of the next room to the figures entering. Suddenly Kaoru found a katana pressed to her throat. Two guards bristled at the intruders. Faster then Kaoru could see Battousai deprived the guards of their weapons and had both kneeling before his sword. A grating laugh pierced the tense air. From the table in the center of the room a large man stood. His fine clothing glinted even in the low light of the room. His plump but attentive face grinned leeringly at the intruders. Kaoru's stomach lurched as her father's cold black eyes came to her. His moist, ever grasping, hand motioned her to embrace him. His words clamped ironbands around her spirit.

"My daughter! Come embrace me child, for you are home. And soon I shall see you wed." Mr. Kamiya crushed Kaoru to his side.

He turned to Battousai, who had released the guards and sheathed his sword. "Hitokiri Battousai, I thank you for taking care of my daughter while I routed out the traitor in our midst."

Battousai took the bag of gold offered, looking straight into Kamiya's eyes. The hitokiri saw a grasping, greedy, double-dealing, corrupt official that gave Japan a bad reputation. Battousai greatly wished to have the pleasure of assassinating this man. Mr. Kamiya watched the assassin with calculating eyes; he would be a great asset if he could be bought. Kamiya thought of offering him an office in the government, but from Battousai's aura knew he would not be tempted. The Kamiya noticed the brief flash of hesitation in the hitokiri's eyes as they lighted on Kaoru one last time.

"I am in need of a great swordsman, like yourself." Kamiya started calmly, stilling the hitokiri's departure. "I have a proposition for you."

Battousai's hard amber eyes caught the older man's inky black ones. Mr. Kamiya had a hard time resisting shuddering under the cold gaze. Kamiya coughed lightly and continued.

"The money you require does not bother me, I sense it is not yours either. The assignment is simple, but it takes a great deal of skill."

The few other men at the table behind Kamiya bristled. Offering a mere assassin enterance in any part of their plan was inadvisable.

"I do not take sides in the war." Battousai's deep voice cut through Kamiya's light tone.

"Nor would I have you be a grunt on the battlefield. No, I wish for you to take a much more important job. I hope you would become by daughter's bodyguard."

A collective gasp echoed through the room. All the men in the room jumped to their feet, anger radiating from ever muscle, their fine clothing pulled tightly on their bodies.

"Kamiya! How can you offer that to a man like him!" came the startled protest from Kojima, a balding man with a dull disposition. He was the purse strings of the operation.

"Indeed, we know nothing of him save his death price." This was spoke by a man with the narrow eyes of a predator called Migamoto.

As each man present spoke against the Battousai a small sigh whispered from Kaoru. Battousai focused on her. Kaoru's breathing came in barely controlled gasps. Her hands were fisted at her sides, yet her shoulders were slumped. Thought bangs shrouded her deep eyes he could see the tears dripping from her chin. The hitokiri's heart clenched as he watched the fiery woman being reduced to a weak child by the presence of these men. Battousai watched through ice-fringed eyes at the bickering thieves. These were not the patriots he knew from past, these were grasping little rodents who only thought of profit from the war ripping Japan apart.

With a quick slice of his chubby hand, Kamiya silenced the men. "What say you Goro?"

Saito had remained silent, watching all from the back of the room. He had neither protested nor condoned the action. Kamiya was eager to hear what his most trusted man would say. Saito eyes the Battousai, as if sizing him up for the first time. His sharp mind assessed all the options and future implications. He rolled his shoulders and looked back to Kamiya.

"I have no objections. He could be an asset."

Kamiya smiled and barked his amusement. "Well, we'll give him the chance. What say you Hitokiri Battousai? Will you protect my daughter for me?"

Battousai's sharp eyes watched kaoru sink deeper into herself. It would just be another job, right? He would kill anyone who tried to get near her…He might even have another chance at that wolf Saito, or whatever he was calling himself in this crowd. From Mr. Kamiya's clothing he was very wealthy and could pay handsomely. Battousai could use a solid salary. All of the logical reasons to take the offer pushed into his mind. One fact blocked out all of the cons, Kaoru was crying. he could be near her. The hitokiri caught Kamiya's eyes and nodded.

"Good!" Kamiya claped his hand with battousai's sealing the contract.. "I'm sure my little Kaoru is famished from the trip. Please accompany her to the front of this fine establishment. We can work out your salary after the meeting."

Kaoru followed battousai out as the inner room went back to business. She watched the red haired man before her wondering, why?