A/N – This one is a bit AU.

Disclaimer – I don't own Ruroken, the canon characters, settings or situations. No profit was made from the writing of it.



The flattened, dead-calm voice stopped the murderer in mid-slaughter. Slowly, the knife lowered, still dripping fresh blood, and Kurogasa turned to glare at the interruption –

Kaoru's mind screamed at her to run, to escape, her heart pounding desperately, but her body could not move, frozen by the murderer's horrifying hypnosis.

A shadow, silhouetted against the entrance of the dark alley: as it drew closer, Kaoru saw that it was a man, dressed in dark blue gi and black hakama, two swords at his side, despite the sword ban.

Something in him caused her heart to lift, and for the first time since she had been dragged back into the alley, she felt a small shred of hope.

"Well, well, well," the murderer exclaimed gleefully. "So, you've come at last, Battousai. I thought I would have to slaughter half the city before you deigned to meet me."

"Your sick game ends here, Udo Jin-ei," the newcomer – the terrifying government assassin – said. "I will put a stop to it myself, in the Emperor's name." Slowly, deliberately, he crouched, slid one foot forward, and placed his hand over the hilt of his katana, waiting.

"Katsura's lap-dog," Kurogasa crowed, "Meiji's executioner. Where have all your fine ideals gone, Battousai? Your promised era is rotten to the core, and you are the arbiter of the corruption. How dare you judge –"

Before he could finish, the assassin drew, an arc of shining steel flashing out, cutting the words off mid-syllable in a spray of gushing crimson blood. The terrible paralysis broken, Kaoru screamed, and huddled against the wall of the alley, wiping frantically at the warm liquid now coating her face.

"Stop," a quiet, flat voice said, and calloused hands took hold of her wrists, stilling their frantic activity. "You'll hurt yourself." Kaoru found herself looking up at hitokiri Battousai, the notorious, terrifying shadow assassin. He knelt beside her, his sword – still unsheathed, Kurogasa's blood staining the blade – by his side.

"You killed him," she whispered, her eyes wide and dark.

"He was threatening the peace of the Meiji era," Battousai replied. It sounded like something he had repeated to himself, over and over again, until the words had lost all meaning.

"…thank you," she said quietly.

His eyes, dull and leaden, flew to hers – and as she watched, as he absorbed her gratitude, they flared, brightened to rich amber-gold. She did not know how long they stared at each other, huddled in the filth and stench of the alley – she only knew that when he finally looked away, she felt strangely bereft.

Slowly, he released her hands and straightened, reclaiming his sword and quickly flicking the blood clear before he sheathed it. When he turned back to her, he offered her his left hand, assistance in getting back to her feet – she stared blankly for a moment before grasping it and allowing him to pull her up.

His hand was warm, firm, sword-callous rough on his palm and fingers.

"Do you have somewhere to go?" he asked her, his voice low and distant.

She nodded, cleared her throat, and whispered, "Yes." He still had not released her hand.

"Very well, then. I will take you home."

Together, they left the alley and ventured out into the night. The streets were dark, and the neighbourhood was rough and unruly –

But Kaoru was not afraid.