AUTHOR'S NOTE: This oneshot is inspired by the scene in the movie when Kenshin attacks Cho with Shakku Arai's sakabatou, not knowing that the sword is a reverse-blade sword. Kaoru sees him, and in that moment neither of them know that he has not killed Cho. The oneshot also draws inspiration from Kenshin and Kaoru's first meeting in Kyoto after her left to find Shishio. Enjoy!
Kneeling in his room in the Aoiya, Kenshin reverently unsheathed Master Shakku's final work, examining the blade carefully. As he studied the blunted edge of the reverse-blade sword, he drank a bitter cocktail of gratitude, guilt, and shame. It was an intense feeling, but it did not overwhelm him. He had long since become accustomed to guilt.
Kenshin heard a creak in the floorboards behind him, but he did not turn to face the door.
"...Kenshin?" Kaoru's soft voice called.
Kenshin did not respond, only closed his eyes and bowed his head. Her voice, so full of innocence and beauty, caused his shame to swell within him, overpowering all other emotions that had shared a space in his chest. It wasn't anything he'd never done before, but it was different this time. This time she had seen it.
The footsteps drew closer behind him.
"Saito took that man, Cho, into custody. He's fine, Kenshin."
Kenshin resheathed the sword.
"Master Shakku is the only reason he's alive. This one didn't know the sword was reverse-blade before this one drew," Kenshin said, stating the obvious.
Kaoru only moved closer still, pausing briefly at his side before seating herself beside him. She looked straight ahead at the wall, and not at him, for which Kenshin was grateful.
I know," Kaoru said, letting out a heavy sigh. "He was about to kill that poor child, and I screamed at you not to do it."
Kenshin knew that. Her words still echoed in his ears, condemning him. She'd opened up her home and heart to him, trusted him, and never blamed him for his past. She'd believed he was a different person now, trusted him to be better, and he had disappointed her. Of all of the burdens Kenshin had collected over his tragic and bloody life, Kaoru's disappointment seemed one of the heaviest. She must despise him.
"I'm so selfish," Kaoru said quietly.
Kenshin started. Whatever he'd expected to hear from Kaoru, he had not expected that. He turned to her, incomprehension written across his features.
Kaoru sighed again, and leaned against one of her arms.
"Yes. That baby would have died if you hadn't done anything. It was clearly the right thing to do-Cho gave you no choice. But I… I wanted so badly for you to stay my harmless rurouni, that I told you to stop."
She shifted, and held her head in her hands.
"In that moment I would rather that innocent child die than you stop that murderer."
Kenshin didn't really know what to say. He was glad that Kaoru seemed to absolve him of attacking Cho, but that did not relieve him of all of his guilt, or all of his confusion. Reverting to an old coping mechanism, Kenshin turned to Kaoru and gave her one of his trademark clueless smiles. He had not smiled like that in some time, and his heart wasn't truly in it, but he wanted to give her at least a piece of her "harmless rurouni" back.
"Well, this one is glad at least Kaoru-dono wants this one to stay a harmless rurouni. Everyone else seems determined to turn this one back into the battousai."
Kaoru responded with a sad smile, then looked back at the wall. They sat in companionable quiet, each lost in their own thoughts. As much as he wanted to be the hapless wandering swordsman Kaoru had first met, they both knew that Kenshin could not maintain that simple identity and stop Shishio at the same time.
"I think I understand more. The decisions you made back in the bakumatsu, I mean," Kaoru said, eventually breaking the silent.
Kenshin just stared blankly at the wall. The thought of Kaoru understanding any part of the bakumatsu was inconceivable. She was part of the New Era, and her very nature was diametrically opposed to the zeitgeist of the bakumatsu. He didn't want her to understand.
"You… you had to sacrifice yourself-your innocence, your soul-to bring about the New Era. Killing a man, even when it's the right thing to do, damages your spirit. But you were willing to do that for the New Era."
Kenshin nodded slowly.
"Yes," he said confirmed simply.
"...I'm not saying I agree," Kaoru said with conviction, "If everyone believed in the sword that protects, none of this would be necessary. Killing, even for the good, only breeds more violence. ...But I think I understand, if only a little."
Kaoru seemed to expect some sort of response from Kenshin, but he held his peace. He knew he was probably hurting her feelings-he'd been silent and withdrawn ever since he'd been asked to go to Kyoto, and he knew it bothered her. But he found he had no more words he wished to burden her with.
Part of Kenshin felt immense relief. Kaoru's words had shown that she understood his past, at least to a certain extent, and accepted it. Her words were familiar, part of the mantras he had recited to himself over and over again to justify his actions in his youth, and it was a blessing to know that she could see that reasoning as well. Another part of him was horrified. He didn't want Kaoru to understand him-understanding a past like his only came at the cost of much pain and suffering.
Kaoru was right-Kenshin had sacrificed himself for the New Era, and now that it was here, he did not belong to it. He did not want to sully the New Era with his bloodstained hands.
Eventually, Kaoru stood. Kenshin thought she might be crying, but he didn't have the heart to look. Kenshin stood as well, taking the sakabatou with him and placing it carefully with the rest of his things. He turned towards the door and saw that Kaoru was still there, standing at the screen with a resigned, sad look.
"Kenshin… Are you angry I came?"
Kenshin paused a moment to think before walking out the door. Once he reached Kaoru, he spoke softly to her.
"Half of me is. I never wanted you to be a part of all of this-that was the whole point of my sacrifice."
Kaoru lowered her eyes, hands folded demurely across her front.
"But for the other half, I'm somehow… relieved."
Kaoru looked up, meeting his eyes, and her expression betrayed a spark of hope. Kenshin leaned towards her, just a little closer than was proper, and soaked in the feeling of peace he only seemed to be able to reach in her company. He felt her tense at his proximity, and couldn't help feeling pleased.
"I supposed I am selfish, too."