Dog Collar

Author: Ice Cool

Rating: M

Warnings: Contains some violence and harsh language

Disclaimer:All characters belong to the rightful owner Nobuhiro Watsuki. Story inspired by the movie Unleashed starring Jet Li. Lyrics from the song 'I like the way' by the Bodyrockers.


August 1997

Police have set the death toll at the recent tragedy of the Kogoro mansion as 47 dead and another 32 injured. The well known politician Katsura Kogoro has been proclaimed dead. No reason has been given for the attack but it is rumoured that the attackers were after something hidden deep within the mansion's security vault.

9 Years Later

With a heavy groan, the three inch steel door opened, revealing a tall, dark haired man with small, deep-set grey eyes and a wide, sneering mouth. He rubbed the faint white scar on his chin as he swept a quick look around the room.Apart from a single dirty mattress, a toilet and a steel hand basin,it was almost bare.

The only clue that someone lived there was a few books stacked near the mattress, some unlit candles and of course, the ragged form sitting on the mattress. The dark haired man looked at the form with equal measures of contempt and possessive pride. The slight, unassuming form with bright red hair and a youthful countenance was very disarming. But in truth he was one of the deadliest demons in the Human Realm.

"Battousai, you have work tonight."

Dull gold eyes lifted and focused on the speaker. Kuro smirked, capturing a collared demon as the Syndicate's assassin was one of his cleverer ideas.

The demon known as Battousai listened indifferently to the details of his latest target. After ten years of working as an assassin in the Human Realm, he had ceased to care about the lives he was forced to take. Even worse was that nowadays there was little challenge in getting the work done. The only thing he had to look forward to was actually getting out of his cage for a while.

"Get up!" intoned Kuro. The demon approached him warily, but his Master only reached forward and unclipped one of his collars.

The metal collars, two in total, were one centimetre in width and had runes etched into the dull surface. The runes contained powerful magic that controlled Battousai's demonic power. One was made to physically confine him from touching or harming any one, while the other could inflict excruciating pain both physically and mentally. Only his Master could control or release his collars.

"You have five hours. Your swords are at the exit door." With a last glance his Master left. It was only in the last few years that they had let him go off alone. It wasn't that they trusted him. It was simply that modern technology now included tracking devices, not to mention a time limiting spell on his collar.

"Five hours," muttered Battousai. With a slight smile he glided out the door, not making a sound. He could complete the assignment in one, so that left him with four hours free to do as he pleased.

This was his life – a cage, death and a few stolen hours.


Days and nights seemed to blend together. Sometimes Battousai never saw the outside of his cage for weeks, or even months. Other times, he killed every night without end. Many times, he had brooded about the way he had been ripped from the Demon Realm. He had been barely a fledgling and was still considered extremely young by demon standards. However, the Human Realm aged a creature, especially working in the underground.

After completing his missions, Battousai would often roam the streets, hiding in the shadows and watching the humans as they lived their oblivious lives. For all their mad behaviour or perhaps because of it, he found them interesting, even amusing at times.

So, when he was prowling the moonlit back streets with a few hours to spare, the unmistakeable sounds of a fight made him pause. Sending his senses out he looked for the energy, the ki, that was involved. With a start, his eyes snapped open.

'It's that strange ki again,' he thought. The intense light blue ki seemed to pulse and resonate strangely. He'd never seen a human with ki like that before. Battousai moved purposely towards the source of the energy. Last time he'd sensed it, he had needed to return to his Master due to the time limit spell on his collar. This time, he had two hours to locate the strange ki and the person it belonged to.

Approaching the fight cautiously, he positioned himself into the deep shadows. He scanned the area eagerly and a sharp gasp escaped him when he realised what he was seeing. A small teenaged girl with a long black ponytail was surrounded by a bunch of thugs. What really surprised Battousai was that she was beating the absolute crap out of them. Battousai watched transfixed as the girl, the owner of the strange ki, pivoted gracefully knocking three men out in quick succession. She crouched down and grabbed what appeared to be a wooden sword. Battousai's eyes widened as, with the sword in hand, the girl's ki seemed to erupt and swirl about her, almost physically visible.

"Is she really human?" he whispered to himself, utterly intrigued. He watched as she dealt with the thugs one by one, then blinked in surprise as she simply walked away as if nothing had happened.

'She … left them alive?' he thought, 'but they would have killed her. Why didn't she finish them off…?' Confused at these baffling actions, he swiftly followed her, making sure to keep out of sight. Moving from street to street, the girl finally stopped at a sad-looking apartment building and what appeared to be a party that had spilt outside. People were standing in groups chatting and drinking, some barely looked old enough to drink. The girl walked among them, most not even glancing at the wooden sword strapped to her back. A tall, skinny, spiky haired man led her towards an empty space and lazily drawled some questions. The girl merely shook her head no. Battousai took this all in and slowly crept closer. He was so focused on getting closer that he never realised he'd slipped from the shadows and into the mingling groups under the bright streetlights.

Then, with a flick of her hair the girl turned and faced him, looking straight at him. Battousai froze. The girl looked at him curiously and then smiled. Inexplicably, Battousai felt a strange heat creep up his neck and his cheeks. Her smile broadened and she tilted her head to one side. Battousai's eyes widened. He was at a total loss of what to do and felt extremely exposed.

"KAORU!" a tiny girl shouted from the back of the crowd, and they broke eye contact as she turned her head to the right to face the girl. Battousai used the distraction to slip back into the shadows, unmistakably shaken, but also intrigued.

'So, her name is Kaoru,' he mused as he watched her look around searchingly, frowning slightly when she couldn't see him. His eyes gleamed golden and then, without a whisper of sound, he turned and left. His collar was starting to burn.


The next month, Battousai was sent out regularly on missions. Eager to get the job done quickly, so as to have more free time, he became reckless. Before, he had always been careful to let no one see him and remain as clean as possible. Now, he was often blood spattered and twice he'd been forced to kill witnesses. But killing had long since ceased to bother him. At times, his blood thirstiness even made his Master happy. With a snort, he wiped all such thoughts from his mind and focused on sensing Kaoru's distinctive blue ki. He found her at once, and realised she was at work. Over the month, his careful stalking of Kaoru had taught him many things about her.

Firstly, she was almost certainly human. Nothing, absolutely nothing indicated that she was a demon, except for her unusual ki. Secondly, Kaoru wasn't a street kid. Even though she seemed to roam the streets a lot, she had a tiny apartment and a job. Thirdly, she seemed to know a lot of dangerous people, not that she couldn't handle herself. Battousai had witnessed Kaoru 'handling herself' many times. But still, it seemed strange because she didn't seem to be part of any underground organisation. Kaoru was undoubtedly one of the most interesting humans Battousai had ever come across. She was even more complex and contradictory than his first Master, Katsura.

With a soundless glide Battousai stepped into the Akebeko seating himself in a shadowed corner. He watched as Kaoru spoke to the customers, joking and laughing with the other waitresses. After that first encounter, Battousai always made sure that Kaoru couldn't see him.

He didn't understand why he both wanted and didn't want her to see him. He was so used to being invisible around people that for the first time in years he found himself feeling uncertain and confused. At 33 years old he was considered an adult by human standards but by demon terms however, he was just a teenager.

With a soft sigh, he continued to follow Kaoru with his eyes until the burn of his collar made him leave.

As he walked out the door, Kaoru turned and glimpsed the flash of burning red hair. With a sharp gasp, Kaoru rushed to the door but could see no sign of that firey hair again. Letting out a frustrated breath, she went back inside.

"I swear I'm going crazy," she muttered, "I keep thinking I'm seeing red hair everywhere!"


Battousai paced his cage restlessly; it had been almost two weeks since he'd last been allowed outside. Before, he'd barely been aware of the time he spent trapped in his cage. Now however, every day and night seemed to drag on endlessly. He glared impatiently at the door, savagely wishing that his Master would hurry up and walk in.

When the door remained closed, he gave a defeated sigh and collapsed onto the mattress, sending a soft cloud of dust puffing into the air. He had been fed yesterday, which meant that no one would bother him until tomorrow.

He was still gracelessly sprawled when the door suddenly swung open with a screech. Battousai sat up as his Master and two strangers walked in. His eyes narrowed. This was unusual, his Master almost never let anyone see him.

"This is your demon?" the taller, blond stranger asked sceptically.

"He may not look like much, but believe me, he lives up to his name," Kuro boasted smugly.

"Get up!" he ordered, "Hold out your arm."

Apparently, he moved too slow for his Master, for with a whispered word his collar burned viciously and sent electrifying bolts of pain throughout his body. Battousai crouched low to the floor and hissed as he rode through the agony, panting slightly when it ended. He then stood and held up his arm, knowing that if he didn't, his Master would use the collar again to teach him a lesson. Kuro loved having an audience during his lessons.

With a swift movement, Kuro dragged a knife down his raised arm. Battousai didn't make a sound but his eyes flashed golden, glaring at the three men standing in front of him as they watched the cut slowly knit itself together, healing without a scar. In fact, the only scar on Battousai's body was a single stripe on his cheek, from the corner of his eye down to his chin.

"Impressive," drawled the shorter, brown haired stranger. Battousai turned and glared at him, growling slightly. The two strangers took a step back.

"Are you reassured now gentlemen?" Kuro asked, grinning nastily.

"Ahem… well he certainly doesn't appear to be human but there is still no proof that he can do what you claim," the blond man stated his eyes glued to the demon. Kuro simply smirked.

"Very well, Battousai your next assignment is Kanryu Takeda. He has the Oniwabanshu protecting him. You may kill them if necessary but try to avoid them; they may be useful in the future. Your sword is at the exit, you have until sunrise."

Once his collar was removed the three men watched as Battousai stalked past them, radiating anger.

"And remember gentlemen, I am the only one who can control him," Kuro uttered softly.

Battousai's energy roiled and burned as he flew through the streets, his eyes glowing with hate for his Master. It was moments like this when he thought he just might lose himself.

'This life is destroying my sanity,' he thought, unsheathing his sword as he approached his destination.

Some time later Battousai stumbled out of the tall business complex and headed for the back alleys and out of the business district. Half an hour later, satisfied with the distance, he leaned against a wall to catch his breath. The assignment had been more challenging than he thought. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back until it touched the wall. He stayed like that for a few minutes, trying to slow his heartbeat, but the next instant he stiffened as his eyes snapped open.

Kaoru was close by.

Filled with energy once more, he quickly made his way through the streets. As he got closer to Kaoru's ki,he heard the blare of loud music. At the end of one street, he paused, looking around. A long queue of people stood outside an entrance that had the sign HEAT in glowing red lights. Battousai blinked. Kaoru was in a nightclub.

He looked down at himself; he was wearing fairly new black jeans and a black sleeveless top. Surreptitiously, he wiped his blood smeared hands on his jeans. Black never showed blood stains. Even so, he'd never get in through the front entrance looking like this.

'Especially with my swords,' he thought ruefully. With a shrug, he made his way to the back of the club. He'd just have to hide his swords and climb in through a window.

'Maybe tonight will be a good night after all,' he thought with a grin.

Battousai scanned the crowds restlessly; it was extremely crowded and hard to see more than a few metres ahead. He weaved past the bar and started to make his way to the dance floor. Suddenly, a hand reached out and grabbed his arm. Startled, he turned around to stare into bright cobalt eyes.

"I was wondering if I'd ever see you again," Kaoru said, smiling. Battousai's gold eyes stared, he smiled back tentatively. Her hand slid into his.

"Wanna dance?" she asked. He flashed her a wider grin.

"Sure," his voice rasped. He allowed her to lead him onto the dance floor, the beat of the music thrumming in his veins. He swallowed hard as she draped herself around him, moving languidly to the beat. Her arms twined around his shoulders, while he slowly wrapped his around her waist. She leaned up to whisper in his ear.

"What's your name?"

He licked his lips nervously.

"Kenshin," he answered, without thinking. His eyes widened imperceptibly.

'Why did I give my real name?' he thought wildly, not even his Master knew his real name!

'Who is this girl?' he thought. She grinned up at him, being only slightly shorter than he.

"I'm Kaoru," she said her blue eyes flashing at him. He stared at her, entranced. The song changed and her eyes lit up.

"I love this song," she said as she twirled in his arms.

There's so many things I like about you
I just don't know where to begin
I like the way you look at me with those beautiful eyes
I like the way you get all surprised
I like the way you clap your hands
I like the way you love to dance

Kenshin let her do as she pleased, uncertain of what to do but certain that he liked her right where she was – close to him.

He'd rarely been this close to anyone before. He leaned in slightly and inhaled deeply. She smelt like rain and a musky flowery scent.

I like the way you put your hands up in the air
I like the way you shake your hair
I like the way you like to touch
I like the way you stare so much
But most of all, yeah, most of all
I like the way you move

They danced endlessly from song to song. His hands running curiously along her body while hers trailed fire along his. Kenshin's breathe quickened as he felt her ki reach out fleetingly towards his. Finally, she dragged him into a corner where it was quieter.

"So am I going to see you around again, or are you going to disappear on me Kenshin?" Kaoru asked. Kenshin shivered slightly at hearing his name uttered in the Human Realm for the first time.

"You'll see me again," he answered staring intently.


Kenshin blinked and looked away briefly.

"That I don't know," he answered gently. Kaoru frowned slightly and bit her lip. Hesitantly, he reached up and ran his fingers along her brow, smoothing it down with a light touch. Startled, she looked at him searchingly.

"You're part of the underground," she said. It wasn't a question. "In one of the organisations."

Kenshin lowered his eyes. "Is – is that a problem?"

Kaoru chewed on her lip as she watched him shift uncomfortably.

'He's so unusual,' she thought, 'slightly self-conscious as if he's unaccustomed to people, yet so graceful at the same time.'

'But also dangerous,' her mind reminded her. Then again, she wasn't exactly helpless either. With a sigh, she reached up and brushed his red bangs from out of his eyes.

"No, it's not a problem."

Kenshin eyes shone briefly as he smiled at her.

"But I do need to ask you something first," she warned. Kenshin blinked, then nodded, looking curious.

"Do you know anyone called Yahiko? He's about six inches shorter than me, he's got messy brown hair, brown eyes and he's fourteen years old." Kaoru looked at him almost painfully hopeful.

"No," he whispered, "I don't really see anyone, to tell the truth."

Kaoru felt disappointed, but it was not totally unexpected.

'Truthfully, it probably would have been too good to be true for my search to end with Kenshin. Still,' she thought curiously, 'what did he mean when he said that he didn't see anyone?'

"You want to get outta here Kenshin?"

Kenshin stared at her wistfully.

"Yes … but I need to go," he answered sadly, unconsciously touching his collar. Kaoru eyed the metal band discretely, but blinked as Kenshin's fingers gently touched her lips.

"Don't worry. I'll find you again," he whispered into her ear before turning and melting into the shadows.

Kaoru stood there, her heart beating rapidly, before she shook her head and walked away, smiling slightly.

Kenshin lingered to watch her leave the club and head home, before he too started towards his cage.

'Tonight did turn out okay,' he thought, pleased. His body and mind both utterly captivated by Kaoru.


Kaoru sighed silently as she casually lounged against a wall. Her contact was late. She hated having to wait, especially outside a strip club. The guy she was meeting was a complete sleaze, but if it meant finding her brother, she could put up with a lot worse. She ignored the guys leering at her from across the street and silently berated herself for wearing such a revealing outfit.

'Damn it!' she moaned internally, 'What was I thinking?' But she knew very well what or rather who she had been thinking about when she chose this outfit.

'Don't even go there Kaoru,' she thought to herself, fighting off a blush. 'Sexy strangers with beautiful eyes that mysteriously appear and then disappear are just bad news! Oh and let's not forget he's probably a dangerous criminal! Best just to forget all about him … him and his gorgeous hair…Urgh!' she moaned, hanging her head, 'I'm hopeless…'

"Well, well, well, did you get all dressed up just for me?" a sly voice interrupted Kaoru's mental beating. Her head snapped up and she glared.

"You're late," she stated in an even voice. She wouldn't jeopardise this meeting by getting angry, even if it meant chewing off one of her arms to keep her temper.

"You missed me that much, huh?" her contact asked with a sleazy sneer. Kaoru forced a smile onto her face as he reached up and cupped her cheek. Mentally, she made a note to disinfect herself after the meeting.

"Do you have the information I asked for?" she asked, not having to fake the eagerness in her voice.

'Three days. It's been three days since that night at HEAT with Kaoru,' Kenshin thought impatiently as he paced his cage. He hadn't been able to stop thinking of that night – thinking of her. Her scent was engraved into his memory and the touch of her skin seemed to burn his hands even now. But the thing that really drove him wild was the way her ki had reacted to his when they had danced. It was almost like it had been teasing him.

Kenshin licked his lips. He wasn't sure what Kaoru was doing to him, in fact he wasn't sure about a lot of things nowadays. Living ten years in the Human Realm aged a demon, but he was still very naïve in many ways.

The groans of the locks unbolting had him tensing in expectation. His eyes flickered in distaste as he wondered what his Master had in store for him today. Whether he would be put to work, or once again punished for an imaginary transgression. Kuro's bloodlust seemed to be reaching towering heights lately.

A few hours later, Kenshin was wandering the streets. His shirt was blood soaked, but his wounds had healed rapidly. None of that mattered now as Kenshin keenly scanned the streets for Kaoru. He only had an hour left before he had to return but he still wanted to see her.

He froze in his tracks when he finally saw her. She was wearing a low-cut top that clung to her like a second skin, a black mini skirt and knee high combat boots.

There was also a man with her.

A man that was holding both her arms and seemed to be trying to hold her close.

Heat started to spiral from his chest outwards. It was gripping his limbs and stifling his breath, making him pant shallowly. It was a most unpleasant and unsettling feeling. His eyes narrowed as they tracked the way the man was caressing her arm before sliding his arm around her waist and leaning forward to whisper in her ear.

Kenshin stood there, immobile, confused at the way his blood seemed to be boiling. He was a little uncertain as to why he felt like tearing something apart. The only thing that he understood was that everything he was feeling was centred on Kaoru and only the fact that she was leaning slightly back from the other man was restraining him from committing bloody murder out in the open.

Only when Kaoru deftly extracted herself from the man's embrace did Kenshin release the breath he'd been unconsciously holding. With barely a conscious thought, he strode forward, eyes intent.

Kaoru suppressed a shudder as she surreptitiously made some more space between her and the sleazy contact and his clammy hands.

'Oooooh,' she thought furiously, 'I'm this close to smashing this guy in the nuts if he doesn't back off soon!' She smiled painfully, trying desperately to think of a way to escape without bloodshed.

Abruptly, an arm forcefully made its way between the two of them to slam against the wall. Blinking, Kaoru's eyes travelled slowly along the hand, up the arm and into blazing gold eyes. Her breath hitched. The eyes flickered over his shoulder, briefly gazing at her contact before returning to bore into her.

"I've been looking for you," came the husky drawl. Kaoru stood there, motionless at his sudden appearance. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out of her suddenly dry throat. Movement at the corner of her eye had her attention shifting to her contact, who was standing there indecisively. Kenshin turned his head slightly, the golden gaze focusing on him.

"Yes..?" he drawled coldly. The man swallowed convulsively and shook his head before swiftly turning and rapidly walking away. Kaoru discretely wiped her sweaty hands on her thighs, giving Kenshin a half grin.

"Thanks for the rescue," she said tilting her head to one side, "I was about to kick him in the nuts."

He grinned at her almost bashfully and Kaoru felt her knees weaken.

'Oh God,' she thought desperately, 'That smile should be against the law!'

"What are you doing around here?" he asked as his eyes flickered to the groups of men drunkenly shouting at each other, to the neon signs that garishly proclaimed strippers of both sexes.

"Looking for information," she stated blandly before boldly grabbing his arm, "But I'm finished so let's get out of here."

Kenshin allowed himself to be lead away, watching Kaoru from beneath blood-red bangs. As they made their way through to slightly less dangerous streets, he gently pulled back. Kaoru raised her eyes questioningly.

"I can't stay for long," he answered her regretfully. Kaoru pouted in displeasure drawing his eyes to her lips instinctively.

"Are you always going to be disappearing on me?" she asked sounding aggrieved. Kenshin's eyes flickered with something unreadable.

"…Probably." He gently raised his hand and let his fingertips ghost over her lips ever so softly. Kaoru's eyes widened. Kenshin's mind was spinning with thoughts he could barely keep up with.

Suddenly, his eyes snapped to the right as a familiar and unwanted ki slowly approached. Without giving her time to protest, Kenshin grabbed Kaoru and melted into a shadowed alleyway. His eyes were tense as he watched Kuro's second-in-command saunter past on the opposite side of the street.

Kaoru stayed silent and tense as she watched everything without saying a word. Only when Kenshin relaxed did she immediately become aware of their positions. Her back was pressed up against a wall with Kenshin pinning her front, his arms wrapped around her firmly. Her heart sped up as she gazed at him. As if sensing her sudden shift of attention, Kenshin slowly turned his head to stare straight into her intense blue eyes.

Kenshin's eyes opened wider as he realised exactly how close Kaoru was. Her scent was softly engulfing him. Without thinking about what he was doing, he tilted his head and buried it against Kaoru's neck. Kaoru only gripped him tighter, drawing him impossibly closer. He inhaled deeply, closing his eyes as her scent settled into him. His tongue flickered out, tasting her curiously. Kaoru shivered at the teasing touch.

Gradually, Kenshin pulled back, knowing he couldn't stay any longer. As he lifted his head, Kaoru slyly turned her head so that their lips brushed each other's for just a second. They froze, barely a centimetre apart. Kenshin swallowed as the sensation of silky lips burned into him. Then abruptly, he was gone.

Kaoru was left gasping as she leaned weakly against the wall. Her legs gradually collapsed under her and she slid down, staring into the darkness. She licked her tingling lips as her dazed mind looked at the drying blood on her hands.

'He was wearing a sword,' she thought confusedly.

"Just who are you Kenshin?"


Kaoru rubbed her eyes tiredly. She'd just gotten off work and she was exhausted. With a long sweeping glance, she scanned the crowds around her looking for bright red hair. With a sigh, she entered her apartment building almost dragging her feet.

It had been a month since she'd seen Kenshin. She was starting to worry. Both the blood she'd found on him and the swords he'd been carrying were constantly on her mind ... and she really wasn't liking the conclusions she had drawn.

'Of course there could be a completely reasonable and innocent explanation,' she thought. '… yeah right Kamiya keep dreaming! You knew he was part of the underground from the start. Possibly even part of the Syndicate. But that just doesn't make sense, why would he hide from his own people? It just doesn't add up!'

She unlocked her door and dropped her bag carelessly onto the floor. Her apartment was drab and messy, but she had always been a lousy housekeeper. So it was just as well that it was only a one room apartment with a closet-sized bathroom. Walking forward, she choked back a scream. Wide astonished eyes took in the gory sight. Adrenalin shot through her as dull gold eyes met hers.

Blood covered Kenshin from top to bottom, dripping from his hair and drenching his clothes. Bloodstains were smeared along the window sill and across the wall. The carpet was splattered and a dark puddle was gathering where he sat.

"I … just needed somewhere to rest," he rasped. Kenshin was sitting against the wall hunched over his left side. His right hand was gripping a naked, blood-stained blade. Kaoru swallowed.

"I'll get some towels," she said faintly. She came back with a bucket of water, towels and a first aid kit. She knelt next to him warily and watched him silently for a few moments. Kenshin looked at her nervously before placing his sword down and, with difficulty, lifted his shirt. Kaoru hissed in sympathy as the ugly wound gaped open.

"Kenshin you need to go to a hospital."

"No. Just stop it bleeding."

"But –"


"Fine," Kaoru said between clenched teeth. As gently as she could, Kaoru began to clean the wound. Kenshin groaned and closed his eyes as she shifted him to wrap the bandages.

Kenshin could feel his energy being drained as his body tried to heal itself. Instinctively, he allowed himself to drift off as Kaoru's gentle ministrations relaxed him. The warm sensation of a velvety towel cleaning the blood off his body was new and hypnotising in its gentleness.

"Kenshin?" Kaoru's quiet voice invaded his thoughts.

"Hmmm?" he hummed in response, eyes still closed, mind dazed.

"What happened?"

"They knew I was coming," he replied quietly.


"The target," he replied again, unthinkingly.

There was a pause interrupted only by Kaoru wringing out the now pink towel.

"Are you an assassin Kenshin?"

Kenshin's eyes snapped opened to stare at her in shock. Kaoru gazed back calmly, though in truth her heart was hammering violently.

Kenshin was confused, but lately that was becoming a normal state of mind, especially when Kaoru was involved. What was he meant to do now? No one was allowed to know what he did. If they ever found out he was meant to kill them … but this was Kaoru.

"I… shouldn't have come here," he finally stated and struggled to stand up.

"No don't! You'll start bleeding again," Kaoru grabbed his arm to stop him, then quickly released him as he hissed in pain.

"Sorry. Just don't go."

Kenshin gazed at her a moment, undecided, before once again sitting down his eyes lowered. He couldn't resist the pull of Kaoru's presence. Neither spoke as Kaoru continued to clean the blood from his body.

"You mustn't tell anyone," Kenshin quietly pronounced, "You will die if you do."

Kaoru nodded, she was very aware of the seriousness of the situation.

"I promise. No one shall ever hear it from me."

Kenshin looked up as he sensed a disturbance in her ki. His eyes narrowed. If he didn't know any better, he'd have sworn Kaoru had just uttered a Binding Oath. But that was impossible, only demons were capable of such things.

"Um, Kenshin?" she uttered distracting him, "Why – why do you do it?"

Kenshin looked at her unsure how to answer. Finally, he settled for the truth.

"I have no choice in the matter," he uttered emotionlessly.

"Oh… I see," came the hesitant reply.

Kaoru lowered her eyes as she absorbed what that meant. Kaoru was not a sheltered girl, she knew reality was often harsh and cold, and sometimes circumstances made it impossible to avoid terrible situations. Her past was littered with several such situations.

She believed Kenshin when he said he had no choice, her instincts told her he was not a malicious or cruel killer. There was no insane bloodlust lurking in his eyes; she'd learnt to recognise that distinct gleam. She'd also learnt to trust her instincts. Her instincts were telling her that Kenshin was in need of rescue as much as her brother was. It was that sad, almost lost look he got whenever he had to leave.

Kenshin watched Kaoru as she contemplated what he'd told her.

'Kaoru is such an enigma,' he thought wonderingly. She never behaved the way he expected her to. When most people were confronted by the details of his job, they inevitably panicked. They never asked why he killed for a living.

His body was tingling now; all but the worst wounds were healed. He had been extensively wounded. It seemed that the target had been entirely prepared for exactly who and what he was. That had never happened before; he had barely managed to complete the job and had left a huge death toll. It would appear that there was a leak within the Syndicate. With a mental sigh, he shook the bloody images from his mind. He'd lost track of time and he wasn't sure how much longer he had left.

As if in reply to his thoughts, he felt his collar begin to burn. Eyes widened as in a flash, hundreds of nerve-endings erupted in pain. He snarled as he rode the excruciating agony.

"Kenshin!" Kaoru gasped in shock hand involuntarily reaching out to help.

"Don't!" he growled, "Don't touch me!"

"But your wounds..." she cried, desperately scanning his body. Kaoru stiffened in complete shock as she stared disbelievingly at what she saw. Somehow, before she'd even realised it, his cuts and scrapes had mended. The only visible testament to his injuries was the copious amount of blood splashed throughout her apartment. Wide blue eyes gazed at the crouching figure, his blood stained clothes, his glowing gold eyes, his red hair gently floating about his body and the weak crackle and sparkle of the metal band around his neck.

'It's a collar!' she realised in shock.

"What…? Are you even … human?" She asked faintly, desperately. Kenshin grimaced before looking at her, watching her ki waver and fluctuate wildly.

"Are you?" he asked in a quiet, serious voice. Kaoru's jaw dropped.

'What?' she thought.

"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked, totally flummoxed.

"Nothing. Never mind," Kenshin muttered, turning away. He stood up, his hand involuntarily reaching up to his collar gingerly touching his throat.

"I need to leave," he said as he looked at Kaoru, "Thank you."

Sadly, he realised he should stay away from her from now on. It was too dangerous, she knew too much and it would get her killed. The thought of Kaoru lifeless and covered in blood clenched something deep in his gut rather painfully. He never wanted to see her like that.

Kaoru watched him walk to the door, a thousand thoughts whirling in her mind.

"Wait!" she cried. She knew that unless she said something now, this would be the last time she'd ever see him. Then again it might be the last time she saw him regardless. Kenshin paused at the doorway, his back turned to her.

"I …" she swallowed, "I might be leaving the city soon. I have a lead for my brother."

Kenshin's body seemed to slump slightly.

"Come with me," Kaoru whispered. She watched as Kenshin slowly turned to face her, his eyes wide in astonishment.

"What?" he whispered in shock.

"Come with me," Kaoru said in a stronger voice. He looked at her, shock, joy and desperate longing in his eyes. His hand once again went up to his collar, then his eyes clouded in despair.

"I – I can't," he choked out, before turning and fleeing.

"Kenshin…" Kaoru whispered, a tear trickled down her cheek.


Kenshin lay lifelessly in his cage. He'd barely moved in three days. When he had returned from the last disastrous mission, his Master had been furious and frantic at the possible betrayal within the Syndicate. Kenshin had had to endure the backlash of his Master's fury and he had silently raged over it for days afterward. He raged both at his Master's brutal cruelty and at his desperate and bewildering emotions that fluttered around Kaoru.

Now, he only felt exhausted and numb, his mind floating from thought to thought, but always, inevitably, going back to Kaoru. The thought that she might have already left the city – that she might be beyond his reach – was slowly eating away at his soul.

With a growl, he slammed his fist into the floor. There was nothing he could do, he was utterly powerless.

The creak of the heavy door had him lifting his eyes to see his Master hurriedly entering his cage. He looked frantic, his eyes darting from side to side, nostrils flaring in anger and fear. Without preamble, he reached for his collar, names spewing from his mouth and an urgent order to not stop for anything.

It seemed that the blond man he'd brought in many weeks ago had betrayed the Syndicate and was now attempting to destroy their deadliest weapon – him.

Kenshin walked tensely and soundlessly through the hallways towards the exit. Something was raising the hairs on the back of his neck. He could smell danger in the air but he couldn't pinpoint where it was coming from.

With a giant roar, the ground trembled, shook and exploded.

Fire and concrete exploded around him, before darkness swallowed him whole.

Dazedly Kenshin rose to consciousness, whether it was minutes or hours later he couldn't tell. Pain stabbed him in a thousand places and a heavy weight was crushing him, stealing his breath. With a grunt of pain, he took a deep breath before gathering his strength and pushing upwards to free himself. Crumbling concrete moved and broke, the dust rising in a dense cloud. Kenshin's slender, battered form rose and stumbled clear, coughing harshly.

His eyes took in the devastation surrounding him, everything had collapsed. Kenshin shuddered as he realised how very close to death he had come once again. Where his cage had once stood was nothing but flames and ashes. If he had still been in there he would never have escaped alive. His hand rose to his collar. He gasped when he touched it. It was cold and dead; utterly lifeless. His breaths came in shallow pants as he realised what that meant.

His Master was dead.

Kenshin's knees collapsed as he tried to grasp the fact that freedom was within his reach. He gave a rasping cough as he spat out the blood and dirt that coated his mouth. Then, with a determined gleam in his eye, he grasped the collar with both hands. With a scream of rage, he tore it apart. As it shattered, one jagged edge deeply scored his cheek. He sat there gasping for breath, his body aching, with blood dripping down his cheek like bloody tears.

He wearily shook his head as he became aware of the sound of sirens drawing closer. He blinked in surprise as the first rain drop fell, then it started to pour down and he became drenched. At this, he threw his head back and laughed and laughed, as the rain washed him clean. 'Freedom' and 'Kaoru' were the words echoing in his head.

Hours later, he was still drenched, but the worst of his wounds had healed. He flitted from shadow to shadow, keeping out of sight. The underground was in an uproar and everyone was talking about the massive explosion.

Kenshin's eyes brightened as he sensed what he was looking for – that intense blue ki that shone so strongly. He closed his eyes briefly in relief – she was still within his reach. He trailed her silently until he finally found her alone, at last. Entering her apartment, he watched her from the shadows, just taking in the way her hair swished over her shoulders, her restless pacing back and forth, the flexing of delicate muscles and the tiny frown furrowing her brow.

'She's beautiful,' he thought in wonder.

Finally, no longer content just to watch her, he walked forward.


She whirled around.

"Kenshin!" she cried and then he found himself with his arms full of her. Before he could gather his wits, warm, soft lips pressed urgently – sensuously, against his own and he was lost. Heat swallowed him as he drowned in Kaoru's essence, wrapping around him until he could think of nothing but hot breath and the sweet taste of her lips.

An eternity later, they pulled apart, breath coming in pants.

"I was so worried," Kaoru stuttered.

Kenshin gave a half grin."I don't die that easy."

Kaoru squeezed him until he grunted, his ribs still sore.

"Sorry," she muttered, not looking at all repentant.

Kenshin chuckled a little anxiously.

"Kaoru is – is that invitation to leave still open?" he asked quietly. Kaoru blinked as she brought up her hand, her fingers gently caressing his bare throat. They moved up until they softly stroked his now cross-scarred cheek.

"Yes. It's most definitely open," she said brokenly as tears escaped her eyes, belied by the giant grin on her face. She watched in wonder as Kenshin's face seemed to light up with joy; the joy of hope once forgotten, but now found and realised. His eyes burned brightly like the sun as they stared into her very soul, Kaoru knew she was forever lost.