Blades of Blood

A/N: Rurouni Kenshin, stray bits of Law and Order: CI, and NightLife (the RPG of Urban Horror) belong to their respective creators. No infringement intended.

Somewhere in the shadowed caverns of my mind, a Rabid Plot Bunny Generator is cackling in mad, savage glee. I have no other possible explanation for this. Listens to crickets chirp. Right. Somehow I knew people weren't going to believe that one...

'Telepathy' - and let's hope the site lets this version work...

Throbbing pain in his left arm. A stitch in his side. Breath raw and rapid in his lungs, as he tore down the night-dark sidewalk, dodging bits of litter and the odd stray drunk with the same blind panic.

And in his fist, the inexplicable weight of a sword.

"Run, little Herd! Run as long as he'll let you!"

Eyes inhuman black, then glowing green with insane laughter.

"I want to kill the Hitokiri Battousai!"

Blood. So much blood...

'Right. Turn right. Here. Now!'

Alien, chill; the thought cut through his panic like a January gust through a summer jacket. He jumped, feet dashing into the dark alley before he could think twice. And halted twenty feet in, rational thought crashing back into life. What am I thinking - even in Mr. Tani's part of town, this is a bad idea-

'Easy. We're alone; I'd sense it if we weren't. Turn around. Look out. Carefully.'

He swallowed dryly. That was it. He'd finally cracked, the way some whispered his mother had-

'If she died shooting in this city yelling about werewolves, there is an excellent chance she was not crazy. As I would have thought you just saw. Though given that I'm still humoring you while my partner is bleeding back there - just do it!'

Shuddering, he went back to the edge of the alley. Peered out, just in time to see blue and red lights wail by.

'Police. And neither of us wants those, right now.' There was the sense of a sigh. 'From what you remember seeing, he wasn't that badly hurt. I'll just have to trust Sanosuke to handle the cover-up at Tani's. You're in no condition to handle cops, much less Target Alpha agents, and given that you are all over blood... I'm going to have enough trouble keeping us from drawing attention as it is.' Humor glinted in the chill, like starlight off ice. 'At least you brought my saya.'

Saya? He blinked as the foreign word nestled into his brain, a shape of iron and lacquer and cords of silk he'd gripped in his bloodied left hand, curving along his arm where that fury of fangs and fur had gnawed on him, glutting itself on his pain...

:Breathe. Just breathe.: Ice thawed a fraction. :What's your name:

"Kenshin," he whispered, knowing it was crazy. "Kenshin Himura. I'm an antiques dealer, that I am. I was only delivering a book to Mr. Tani. He ordered it a month ago, he paid extra for the late-night service..." There was no one here. You couldn't hear voices if no one was there. Not and stay sane.

You've been bitten by a werewolf, Kenshin thought, feeling the fever heat in his left arm. Crazy looks pretty good right now, that it does.

'Kenshin. Arigatou.'

Thank you? Kenshin thought, remembering the little Japanese he'd picked up from his father and stepmother. And I thought it was the Irish half of me that was crazy.

'Yes, you are infected. No, you will not become a werewolf. Not if I can help it.' The chill was brisk. 'But that means you're going to have to hang onto me long enough for me to burn out the virus. And that means we can't draw attention - so you'll have to sheathe me. After you clean me, preferably.'

Clean... Kenshin stared at the red-streaked blade. Now... now he could feel more than just that red rush of pain as the werewolf had gnawed at his life. There was just a flicker of memory, panic and fingers fumbling along blood-soaked plush carpet and the odd rasp of braided cords and rough leather of a hilt, and then-

'Not bad for a raw beginner,' the cool voice of the blade noted. 'Then again, being an amateur probably saved your life. A little experience, and you would have flipped the blade before you slit its throat. And given I'm a sakabatou, you would be dead.'

Reverse-bladed sword. The sword he'd taken from a bullet-riddled corpse whose hair had been some odd shade of red-blond, almost seeming to lighten as he watched, before that black-eyed madman had descended on him and he'd had other things to watch. Such as the sword that had teased along his neck, before the laughing swordsman had leapt out the window and disappeared.

And he'd run. He'd just - run.

'His name is Jin-e. And you are not a coward. Kami, you obviously don't know anything about Kin, you just saw half Tani's thugs reveal themselves as vampires and weres, the other half were throwing bullets everywhere regardless of any humans in the vicinity, and that doesn't even count Sanosuke and his combination rounds. It was one of Tani's idiots who decided to eat an inconvenient witness - you. And given that you killed their packmate, even Sano might not have been able to save you from the rest of them. Running from that is not cowardice. It's a tactical retreat.'

It felt like cowardice.

'You'll learn.' A feeling of a shrug. 'They call me Battousai.'

Violet eyes widened in alarm. "You're the one Jin-e is after." Kenshin swallowed dryly, strongly tempted to drop saya, sword, and all. "Why didn't he just take you?"

'Now that... is a long story. Let's get out of sight first, ne?'

"I don't know how to clean-"

'I do.'

And his hands weren't his own any more.

As if from a distance, Kenshin watched them work; clumsy at first, but gaining confidence as they rubbed blood off steel with what was left of his shredded jacket.

'I don't think you would have wanted to hang onto that, anyway,' Battousai observed. 'We'll have to do a more thorough job later, but this will do to get us home.' He drew the blade across the mouth of the saya, sliding it home in one swift move. 'Where is home?'

Just that suddenly, his hands answered his own will. Kenshin fumbled the saya, almost dropping the sheathed blade as he tried to shake the odd tingle out of arms and fingers. "Don't do that!"

'...I'll ask, next time.'

"There's not going to be a next time!"

'Are you going to keep shouting in a dark alley in Chinatown's high-rent district, right next door to the Yakuza and still in scenting range of Tani's penthouse if Jin-e left any of those weres alive, or are you going to get us out of here?'

Wincing, Kenshin tucked the sword under his left arm. "This has to be a Tuesday," the battered antiques dealer muttered under his breath, heading back to the street and some semblance of New York sanity. "I could never get the hang of Tuesdays."

'I thought it was Friday... ah, Arthur Dent!' A soundless laugh. 'Sanosuke loves that one.'

He shoots and reads science fiction? Kenshin thought, heading for home at a tired trot. Not that he wanted Battousai plucking thoughts out of his head, but he wanted someone overhearing him even less.

'As Sano once put it, spend your time dealing with incubi and succubi racking up prostitution charges, toxic sludges lurking in pools to hunt people's poodles, and cranky werewolf bikers out to maim, loot, or eat everyone in sight, you kind of lose your taste for horror movies.'

Horror movies. Things out of horror movies... were real.

And deadly.

And wanted to kill him.

'Kenshin.' The cool wrapped him, like a silken shawl. 'I will sense a Kin before it can get close enough to hurt you. You're as safe as anyone in New York. Let's just go home. You need to get off the streets; and if I'm going to finish burning out that infection, you need sleep. We'll sort it out in the morning.'

...All right.

I'm never going to make it past the doorman, Kenshin thought, despairing as he hovered near the front door of his apartment building. I don't know how I got through the streets this far, but - there's light in there. There's no way he can miss the blood.

'Then we don't go through the front door.'

Kenshin winced. So much for Battousai being a figment of his imagination. The sword had been silent as he'd walked the streets, he'd hoped... damn. There isn't any other way in!

'Are you sure?' The chill was almost encouraging. 'I know it's been a bad night, but I can hear you working your way past the panic. Which is more than most could do. You're an observant young man. Are you sure there's no other way in?'

I- well-

'Good. Let's go.'

Almost against his will, Kenshin circled the building, heading for a little-used fire escape. "I'm not sure I can do this," he whispered. "I've thought about it, and I'm almost certain Yahiko has done it, but I've never... and, well, you've no idea how clumsy I am, that you do not."

'You won't know if you don't try.'

True enough. Kenshin eyed the black metal rungs so far out of reach, gathered his nerve-

'Wait.' The tingle was back, ghosting up from his hand to his eyes. 'Let me get a good look.'

Details seemed to fade in like dawning sunlight; a sense of how far, how difficult to grab, what the jerk at the end of his arms would feel like when his weight pulled steel down.

'Your arm's going to hurt when you do this,' Battousai warned. 'Don't let go. I can block some of the pain, and I promise, it'll hurt a lot more if you miss.' A light tug at his gaze. 'Now look at your footing. See where you are. Your balance isn't as bad as you think; you just never learned proper footwork. I could do this at a dead run. But you don't have to. So pick your starting point. Where do you think is a good spot?'

Mouth dry, Kenshin scanned the alley. Gauged the distance to black steel again, and slowly stepped toward one mostly-bare patch of asphalt. "You could just take me over and do this, couldn't you."

'I could,' the chill voice allowed. 'I won't. I'm not a ghost. I don't feed on fear. All I want is to help you, so you can help me get back to Sanosuke. Fair enough?'

Kenshin nodded. Hesitated. Reluctantly tied the saya's silk cords to his belt. I'm going to need two hands. But I don't know how to run with a sword, much less jump with one.

'That, I will help with. Ready?'

Not really. Tensing, he moved. Run, and jump.

His feet left the ground, and Kenshin's heart lurched. I'm going to miss-

'No, you won't!' His hands reached up one hair's-breadth farther-

Closed on chill steel.

"Ow," Kenshin hissed, lost in the sudden screech as his weight dragged the rungs down. The swing of steel jarred through his small frame, setting the bitten arm ablaze with pain. "Ow, ow, ow..."

'Sano would be turning the air blue.' Something shivered in his arm, and the fiery ache dimmed. 'Come on.'

"Yahiko can do this," Kenshin muttered through gritted teeth, clambering upward. "You're older, more experienced..." He stopped a few floors up, gathering his breath. "...Out of shape..."

Battousai was blessedly silent.

Kenshin made his weary way to the pot-filled balcony, breathing in the green scent of tomato plants and one lone scented daylily, stopping to blink a second at the lock. There was something he should do here... right. Key.

Shutting the doors behind him, Kenshin staggered into the apartment's living room. And almost tripped over his little brother.

'Fell asleep watching werewolf movies, hmm?' Battousai took in the blank glow of the DVD player screen, the open disk case propped against an almost-empty bowl of popcorn, the line of drool from the mouth of the wild-haired thirteen-year-old curled under a bright blue sleeping bag on the couch.

Yahiko can sleep anywhere, Kenshin thought wryly, heading for the bathroom and the first aid kit. The sooner he had this blood out of sight, the better. And given that it's summer break, make that anytime, as well.

'Summer break?' The chill sifted his thoughts. 'Ah.'

Kenshin closed the door behind him. "Just how much can you get out of my mind?" he asked, tense.

'Mostly what's on the surface. To look deeper would be rude.'

"And?" Kenshin demanded.

'And unwise,' Battousai admitted. 'At the moment, you're only carrying me. Sanosuke has done as much, from time to time. Though never when I was without a host.'

"Host?" Kenshin gulped. "Jin-e said he wanted to fight you. That I'd - only run as far as you let me..."

'Jin-e is also a sword-spirit. He expects me to take you over. That's what he does; latches onto any poor fool who picks up his accursed blade, and destroys them to use their bodies.' The chill turned bitter with rage. 'But that, I will not do. I am hitokiri, not a devourer of souls. Those who bear me may not like me, but they bond to me of their own choice, as Ward did. You are only carrying me. I will not allow it to go any farther.'

Kenshin swallowed, thinking of Ward's body, left behind on Tani's carpet. "You could be lying."

'I could. I am not.' The chill eased. 'It will be easier to burn away the werewolf if you clean the wound, Kenshin.'

Water was a cold shock to fevered flesh; Kenshin rinsed blood down the drain, trying not to think about the dull ache in his left arm. He'd felt something like that before, after a playground tussle gone wrong.

'Yes, the bone cracked. Wolf jaws can break far tougher bones with ease. He must have wanted to draw out the pain. Greedy fool.' The ache faded slightly, wrapped in itching tingles. 'I believe it will be whole by dawn. If you rest.'

Pouring disinfectant over the raw flesh, Kenshin winced. Bound it up with gauze and padding, wondering if he should just give in and find an emergency room. Rubbed his eyes, checking in the mirror to see how much shadow ringed them.


Kenshin blinked. That was - surprise? Why?

Wait. If Battousai was reading his surface thoughts... and he'd tugged at Kenshin's gaze when he wanted to see something... You didn't even know what I looked like!

'I have other senses, but yes. I only see what you see.' A tentative touch in his thoughts. 'May I?'

Biting his lip, Kenshin looked in the mirror again. Shoved dark bangs aside, so Battousai could get a good look at the wide violet eyes that had startled so many. Dark brows and lashes stood out against an Irish-pale complexion, high Asian cheekbones sweeping down to a distinctly not Asian pointed chin. Neither fish nor fowl, as Grandma Kathleen put it, he thought ruefully. Guess that's why I never stay long outside New York.

'Why, you're small!' A soundless laugh. 'No wonder everything looked so high!'

Five-foot-two and constantly in danger of being stepped on, yes, he knew that. Bristling, Kenshin opened his mouth to snap at the sword-

And stopped. That hadn't been a derisive laugh. More... recognition?

'Small and slight is far better in my line of work. I may have had oversized hosts in the past, but that wasn't my choice.' A wistful humor touched the chill. 'Would you mind very much letting me look through you until we reach Sanosuke? I miss seeing the world from its proper angle.'

"Ah..." Kenshin shrugged helplessly, uneasy. Winced at the pull of blood on what was left of his clothes. "Can I leave you there long enough for a shower?"

'Make it short. Lycanthropy's one of the easiest Kin infections to pass along. If I don't stay on top of it, you will regret it.'

On the other hand, maybe carrying an inhabited sword into the kitchen wasn't such a bad idea. Just to get the plastic wrap to cover his bandages. I should have showered, then cleaned the wound. Oh well...

Sanosuke must be climbing the walls, Battousai thought. The sheathed sakabatou rested safe and dry on the bathroom counter, absently aware of the ghostly feel of hot water drumming on Kenshin's skin. Worse than that, he's probably going to have a GPS ready to jam into my saya the minute I get back. And then I'll have to arrange with my next host to lose it, and he'll yell at me again...

The beat of hot droplets changed its angle, a cold draft angling against wet skin as hot water continued to pour through wet hair. Pain bit into bare knees, the rough grid of a mat meant to keep feet from slipping. Water dripped past lips, out of the shower's rhythm, bearing a faint, bitter taste of salt.

Oh hells. I should've known it would hit him now. 'Kenshin.'

A ragged breath. More salt. Chill of wet tile pressing against a right hand, as the chin dipped toward the knees. Muscles trembled, a heart shivering with shock, mind lost in a flood of bloody images no longer suppressed by adrenaline and Battousai's subtle influence.

Oh no you don't! Battousai reached out through the thin threads of magic already binding him to the man. Willing host or not, Kenshin had killed with him.

And as my host wields me, so may I wield him.

'Kenshin. Stand up. Get warm.'

Muscle and bone resisted. The human mind quailed away from him, drowning in self-loathing. I killed that man, echoed around him. I killed him...

Man. Not monster. Battousai admired the sentiment, but now was not the time. 'Think of Yahiko!'


Time to be ruthless. 'If you give up now, the werewolf will take over. You might survive that. You just might eat Yahiko in the process. Get up!'

Slowly, the man got to his feet. "You don't understand!"

'Oh, I do understand. More than you know.' Battousai concealed his relief. Kenshin was warmer now, farther from shock, but the balance was still too delicate to risk. 'You took his life. You took his future. Everything he was, everything he might have been, you took out of this world. And I helped.'

A fist clenched on a washcloth. "And you expect me to live with that."

'Yes.' Battousai drove it home, drawing recklessly on what already linked them. 'Or you make his life, and his death, worth nothing.

Hesitation. "I don't understand."

'He chose to attack you, Kenshin. He chose to try to kill you. A werewolf against an unarmed civilian; he might as well have gone after you with one of your modern rocket launchers. He chose to consider a human as no more than prey. A "Herd". He chose to forget that he was human once, as well.

'He chose murder. You chose self-defense.

'Live. And grieve. The day you don't grieve, that you don't - regret what must be done - that is the day all that is human in you truly dies.'

The water turned off.

If a sword could breathe, Battousai would have held his breath, waiting in silence as a towel scrubbed down skin, squeezing water out of thick hair. White terrycloth slipped around Kenshin's body, distracted fingers knotting the robe around him. Bare footsteps approached the counter.

And a hand closed on the saya.

Thank the kami. 'Stay calm,' Battousai said briskly. 'I need to check your arm.'

He swept magic outward through human nerves, feeling the dark burn of the werewolf's curse. Lycanthropic virus, magical infection - Target Alpha could call it whatever they wanted. He knew a curse when he saw one.

This one was hanging on by its clawed fingernails, but he could already see it was losing the fight. Kenshin's will itself might have beat it back. Maybe.

'You'll be fine, if you hang onto me for the night,' Battousai informed his current bearer. 'Now, about Sanosuke-'

"Tell me about the Kin."


"All I know about Sanosuke is that he was shooting at Jin-e." Kenshin's voice was low, but there was steel under the gentleness. "I don't know who you are. I don't know what you are. You people - creatures - were all trying to kill each other in Mr. Tani's house. I want to know why."

'Fair enough.' Battousai sighed. 'It's going to be a long story. Why don't we get your brother settled for the night? You know, he really doesn't look that much like you...'

Kenshin stiffened slightly, then shook his head, tying the saya to his belt before he opened the bathroom door. "His mother was our father's second wife. She was Japanese, too."

And very proud of it, Battousai sensed. He knew his people of old, all their pride and disdain for outsiders; though some of that had softened among those who lived in this country. It still couldn't have been the easiest thing for a young boy of mixed heritage to deal with. 'Was?'

"Traffic accident." Kenshin shrugged, scooping up a silky bundle of sleeping bag and snoring youngster. "We've been on our own most of a year, now. He's learning to live with it-"

Papers fluttered out from under the boy, a cascade of oddly familiar images to the floor. Battousai echoed Kenshin's blink. 'Are those-?'

"Oh gods, he found them." Blushing furiously, Kenshin lugged the boy into a small bedroom; an almost unbroken morass of clothes, models, and video-games, except for one mostly-clear corner by the closet.

Battousai took advantage of Kenshin's glance over the one neat set of shelves in the room; shinai, a few sets of gi and hakama, practice padding, and one or two instruction books. 'He practices kenjutsu, and you don't?'

"Kendo," Kenshin said firmly, tucking Yahiko under the covers and stepping back. "Kamiya Kasshin Ryu. It's focussed on self-defense, not just sword-work. He was so angry... he was getting into fights at school, since - well, since. I don't think he started all of them, but I couldn't reach him, I-" Kenshin shook his head, dismissing a twinge of remorse. "I can't be with him all the time, I don't always know when he's in trouble. And it seemed to help."

'So why do you have hakama tying instructions?' Battousai held back a laugh as they headed back into the main apartment. 'You have hakama?'

"I didn't want him to know..." The blush was an almost-fiery burn. "I thought - Halloween - well-"

'Oho.' Now the spirit did laugh; the feelings seeping through were unmistakable. 'There's a girl!'

"Miss Kaoru is not 'a girl'," Kenshin gritted out, gathering up the pages. "She's an assistant master of Kamiya Kasshin Ryu, the head of the dojo here, and not at all interested in a pacifist who deals with dusty antiques, modern reproductions, or modern reproductions of dusty antiques."

'First, you're not a pacifist.'


'You don't like violence. I know. But a pacifist would have let that werewolf kill him. You are not a pacifist.' Battousai tugged lightly at Kenshin's gaze, hoping for another glance at familiar clothing. 'Second - if she wasn't interested, she wouldn't spend hours going over catalogs with you to find just the right kinds of paper and ink to send traditional greetings to her relatives.'

"The Kin," Kenshin said flatly.

Battousai let him change the subject. 'As long as there have been humans, there have been Things in the night. Creatures that feed on human flesh, or fear, or souls. Call them youkai, oni, tengu; call them vampire, werewolf, daemon. Call them the children of your nightmares. The ones who interact with humanity most often, who can pass for human among careless eyes, call themselves Kin.'

Kenshin padded into his own bedroom. "And they feed on us."

'Some more than others. It's not a choice, Kenshin. They can choose not to kill, they can choose not to do serious harm, but a Kin who doesn't feed on humans once in a while tends to go berserk. Still, most Kin were human once, and they usually live and let live. Those that don't... well, they can do a lot of damage. And that's where Target Alpha comes in.'

"You and Sanosuke."

'We're field agents, yes. Sometimes we break up fights between Kin factions before innocent bystanders get hurt. Sometimes we arrange a cover-up when a Kin who's usually under control slips and Edges someone in public. And then, like tonight, there are times we know a crime is about to be committed, and we try to stop it.' Battousai followed Kenshin's gaze around the neat bedroom, trying to guess where those pages had been hidden. Bookshelves, clothes closet with shoes precisely placed together, an out-of-the way box against the wall with a writing kit set neatly on top of it... and a certain air of disarray around it. Aha! 'Sano's human, by the way. Most Target Alpha agents are.'

"Was Ward?"

'Not after I bound him,' Battousai admitted. 'He knew the costs. Kin don't die of cancer. We didn't like each other, but we respected each other. I'll miss him.' Though not much. Ward had been a bitter man before he'd volunteered to carry the enchanted blade, and the years before his death hadn't made him any less cold. Sanosuke Sagara on his most thoughtless days was a far better friend than Joseph Ward had been. I wonder if Sano would be willing to take me now?

Probably not. Become Kin, and Sano's security clearance would be effectively frozen where it now stood; field agent forever. Not to mention that Triborough was an iffy division to start with. Humans and Kin working together made both sides of the fence frown. Having a human agent in Triborough voluntarily become Kin... the agency wouldn't like it. Not at all.

Which means I probably get another hopeless case. Another agent who knows I'm their only option besides a lingering death. Kami, I hate this. The night's deaths ached at him, compounded with guilt. He hadn't liked Ward, and the feeling had been all too mutual. Which was fine for an uneasy partnership, but disastrous in the middle of a firefight. Especially when Jin-e had struck, and Tani's idiots had opened up with Sano right in the line of fire...

Ward had jumped for Jin-e. Battousai had lunged to protect one of the few agents who'd ever treated him as a friend. For that one heartbeat, two wills had battled for control-

Enchanted bullets ended it.

Think of something else, Battousai told himself fiercely. Kenshin wasn't the only soul here who hated to kill. Think of... that might work. 'You know, when it comes to hakama, there are a few tricks those pictures wouldn't show you.'

"I'm going to bed." But Kenshin hadn't moved toward the blanket-piled twin-size.

'And you really think you're going to be able to sleep?

"Not really," the young man admitted.


Pale cheeks warmed. "Don't laugh," Kenshin warned, opening the box.

'I won't. Though why would you think I'd...' Battousai got a good look at the dark red gi, white under-kimono, and off-white hakama, and bit back a chuckle. 'It's... not that bad. At least you knew enough to layer the gi. It will be chilly here, come autumn.'

"I just know I'm going to look silly," Kenshin muttered.

'Attitude. It's all about attitude. Trust me?'

"I... well, yes."

'As Sano would say, don't bowl me over, here.' Battousai ghosted himself along nerves and muscle, taking a delicate hold. 'Here. I'll show you, and your body should remember when you try it yourself. First, always remember to wrap left over right. You're not a corpse...'

I'm going to melt him down and use him for a paperweight, Sanosuke thought darkly, bandaging one slashed wrist as he watched Target Alpha's clean-up crew zip the late Joseph Joshua Ward into a body bag. The rest of the bodies had been sorted into "friendly fire" - most of which would wake up come next sunset, hungry, cranky, and Not His Problem - and blade-slashed - all of which had died the True Death, and weren't anyone's problem outside a crematorium. I'm going to take a hammer to that silly reverse edge of his. I'm going to-

Damn it, Battousai, where the hell are you?

"This one goes to the lab, right?"

The tall, spiky-haired agent glanced up from his aching wrist, searching his memory for the name to go with that earnest face. Field agents and lab guys didn't mix much. This guy would be... Gregory. I think. "Yeah." A waft of odor reached him from the bag. "Ice might be a good idea."

"I'd heard the rumors from Medical, but I never realized how much the ENO item was holding Ward together." Agent Uramura shook his head, stepping back as Gregory and co. wheeled the remains out into the hall, door closing before the bedraggled crowd of Tani's surviving bodyguards could get more than a glimpse into this room. "I'm going to miss that man." Behind thick lenses, Uramura's eyes narrowed at the white-wearing agent. "Any sign of it?"

"Battousai's not an it," Sano said sharply, tossing the tail of his red headband back over his shoulder. Yeah, I look like an escapee from a bad Japanese kung fu flick. You don't like it, you can go to hell. Target Alpha's assault teams could go office-formal in their off hours all they liked. Field teams had to blend with the Kin they policed. Walk into Club AfterDark wearing a suit and tie, and you were asking to wake up in the morgue. "And no. Which doesn't make any sense."

Uramura gave him a sidelong look. "It is of extra-natural origin, after all. One of Tani's people could have-"

"Kin picks Battousai up, Kin gets fried," Sano said bluntly. "I've seen it happen. I know it's hard to wrap your head around, but that sword was made to protect humans."

The head of the assault team frowned. "By making its bearer something distinctly inhuman."

"We're talking 15th century Japanese magic, here," Sanosuke shrugged. "Like they say, you do the best you can with what you got." He walked the bloodstained carpet, smirking at the thought of Tani's cleaning bill. "Any more info on just why Tani was targeted?"

"He's Commune."

"He says." Sano rolled his eyes. He'd seen some of the diagrams in Tani's library. Commune Sorcerers didn't indulge in human sacrifice.

Of course, just having the diagrams didn't prove Tani had done it. And even if he had - Tani had power among the local Chinatown Kin. If somebody was trying to murder the guy, Target Alpha had to step in.

Damn it.

"I don't care how slimy he is, just being Commune isn't enough reason to get an assassin like Kurogasa after you." Sanosuke absently touched his concealed gun. Not that he really thought he was fast enough to take out Kurogasa if the bastard popped up again. But he might get lucky.

Jin-e Udo, Battousai had called him. Another sword-spirit. Another entity that could take over a human body, using it like Sano would a drawn blade.

And this one hates humans. Oh, man...

Sano shivered and sneezed, wrinkling his nose at the odor of burning blood. Some of the blood where Ward had fallen was turning black, graying into smoke as True Death took its course.

Wait. Only some of it?

The fight had moved from the library to the hall and back. Battousai had fallen, Sano had covered Tani's retreat with the thugs, Jin-e had frozen most of them in place with one sneering glance-

Scary, scary, scary guy. Sano shuddered. First time I ever saw an Edge work better on Kin than humans. Vampires and werewolves had been frozen with fear, unable to run from the slashing blade in their midst. Sano had still been moving, dragging one foot in front of the other as if he were slogging through frozen molasses, struggling to bring his gun to bear on the creature that meant to kill him. Jin-e had smirked at the sight, all but flirting with his line of fire, before raising his sword for one last strike.

And just when Sano had resigned himself to retiring the hard way, Jin-e's head had snapped up. The way Battousai's did, when the sword-spirit sensed a sudden spike in ki.

And he laughed, and ran back here. And then he was gone. Frowning at the bloody carpet, Sano waved at Uramura. "Anybody get photos of this?"

"Of course." The assault team leader took a minute to snag the agent in charge of photographic evidence. Shuffled through the folder for this room, and shrugged. "Just another of Jin-e's victims."

One of Tani's werewolf hirelings, fixed by True Death into human form. Stainless steel chains decked black biker leathers, bits of red were caught in human teeth, and a bearded throat gaped wide from a sword-slash.

Sano stared at the slash, willing down twinges of revulsion from his gut. He'd seen worse things since joining Target Alpha two years ago. Much worse. "Jin-e didn't kill this guy."

"Ward attacked one of the bodyguards?" Uramura glared at him. "I don't believe it."

"Ward was already dead." Sano tapped the photo. "Get a sample down to DNA. Hairboy here bit somebody."

"We have a newly infected lycanthrope in New York?" Uramura's shoulders slumped slightly, resigned.

"Not if he - or she - is still hanging onto Battousai." Sano grinned. Did it again, buddy. I could kiss you!

Well, maybe. If the sword had picked up a girl this time.

True alarm flashed over Uramura's face, followed by a lip-curl of disgust. "The item took a new host?"

"No!" Dammit, he's been working with us for a few decades, people. Doesn't anyone trust him besides me? "Battousai wouldn't do that. Not to some poor civilian caught in the crossfire."

"Then why isn't it here?"

Sano stifled the urge to roll his eyes. "Because he protects people. If a bitten human picked him up, he wouldn't let the guy put him down until the infection was done for." The field agent remembered the first time he'd been bitten; his second field assignment with Battousai, a simple follow and observe that had turned into an altercation between a pack of Goreboys, a Commune cell, and about two dozen screaming L2K fans in full vampire-wannabe black. At the end there'd been eleven bodies, two True Deaths, one newly-infected vampire, and three crash-carts full of furry bastards to haul off somewhere quiet to wait out their temporary deaths.

Sano had come out of the whole mess with three things. A concussion. An entirely new appreciation of the mental confusion of Herd caught between werewolf Fear Projection, vampiric Influence, and Inuit Madness. And enough scratches and bites to look as if he'd been skinny-dipping in the polar bear cage at the Bronx Zoo.

Once the fight had stopped, Battousai had locked his fingers on the sheathed sword, refusing to listen to agency doctors' reassurances about anti-infection shots until the sword-spirit's ki sense declared Sano clear. As the sword had bluntly put it, he wasn't about to lose a promising novice because modern science thought it could succeed where even ancient magic might fail.

And that's when Ward marked me. Sano's thumb absently rubbed a thin, pale scar at the base of his forefinger. Steel had tasted him there, drawing his blood into itself so Battousai would always know if another Kin had touched him. One of the few times Battousai and his host had ever agreed on anything. God. I ought to be grieving the guy. He was a good agent. Life gave him a rotten deal. He just hated Kin a little more than he hated the idea of being Battousai's host.

But try as he might, all Sano felt was - relief.

Focus. There's a human out there with Battousai. Poor guy. "He'll need about a day, depending on how bad the bite was. He'll be back after that."

"It had better be." Uramura headed after his team, scowling darkly. "Obviously Ward shouldn't have been the one carrying the GPS..."

Yeah. Not that I haven't tried, Sano thought, staring past the bloody rug. But Battousai's been an assassin, in the past. Letting people find him kind of goes against his grain. So to speak.

Hang on.

Battousai doesn't like to be found, Sano realized. And if the mark's still holding, he can feel I'm in one piece, so he wouldn't be worried about me. But he knows I worry about him. So... Making his way out of the library to a quiet balcony, Sano dialed his voicemail.

Agency, agency, informant, telemarketer - kami, they call everywhere! Informant-

Click. "Sanosuke Sagara?"

Male, Sano catalogued the unfamiliar voice. Young, though he thought the man was past his teens. Still a little shaky, but not panicking.

"My name is Kenshin Himura. I seem to have... picked up a friend of yours," the voice went on.

Hesitant, but holding together. Interesting.

"He says he'll be busy with the aftermath until tomorrow morning, but after that we should arrange to meet at a neutral spot so I can return him to you." A hint of humor shone through the uncertainty. "He also says I don't have to leave my number; you can probably trace this, and it'll keep you out of trouble for the night."

Listening to Battousai's sense of humor and still holding together. I think I could like this guy.

"Listen." The humor sobered out of Kenshin's voice. "I have a younger brother. He - doesn't know what happened last night. And - I don't want to tell him. I know you'll need my statement about what happened, what I... did..."

What he-? Sano's eyes widened as the facts fell together in his head. K'so! Battousai can't make someone attack without a blood link. Which means-

Kami. Himura killed the werewolf.

"Please." Kenshin's voice wavered, tired and drawn. "Please, whatever we have to do, whatever I have to sign off on for your people... just let me leave Yahiko out of it." A sigh came over the line. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow."

Sano closed his cell phone, stunned. Not good. Definitely not good.

It could be worse. Jin-e had missed. Battousai was in one piece. The human who'd picked the sword up hadn't panicked. With any luck, Sanosuke could wait 'til morning, collect his partner, and let the man go with a firm warning about what happened to humans who let on they knew about Kin.

But worry still gnawed at him.

Who is Kenshin Himura?

Hitokiri - "manslayer", assassin.
Battousai - mater of lethal sword-drawing.
Saya - sheath.
Arigatou - thank you.
Sakabatou - "reverse-blade sword".
Kami - spirit, deity.
Ne? - "Right?"
Shinai - bamboo practice sword.
Gi - top.
Hakama - skirt-like trousers; think Aikido.
Kenjutsu - "sword arts". More traditional, often thought of as having more of an emphasis on realistic techniques than kendo.
Kendo - "the way of the sword".
Youkai - "demon, wraith".
Oni - "ogre, devil".
Tengu - "goblin".
Ki - energy, aura.
K'so - "damn".

On NightLife - most of the monsters should be familiar to any horror aficionado. The key differences are that in the game setting, all Kin are immortal and unaging (yes, you can have several-centuries-old werewolves running around), and a Kin can only be killed if either they've been killed normally dozens of times, running out of endurance, or if their particular Bane is used. Kill a werewolf with silver, he's dead. Hit him with a car, he's dead temporarily; he'll revive the next night. Enchanted weapons usually act as Banes.