Title: Wooden Swords and Cherry Blossoms

Genre: Drama [a little bit of angst]

Author: blue

Rated: PG [rated for disturbing contents dealing with Death]

Main-Character: Kaoru

Length: 1/1

Summary: Several months after Kenshin's arrival, Kaoru takes a moment in her morning to ponder out some recent nightmares. It soon leads her to taking a look back on her life, her newfound goals and friends, and most importantly, her place beside Kenshin. [A one-shot vignette]


*Wooden Swords and Cherry Blossoms*


Do you have nightmares?

I do. Not very often, but they're there. They laze at the back of my mind, like the silent specters of the past and the phantoms that whisper over the wooden floors under a cool, night breeze. In the daytime I can smile and think nothing of them, letting the sunlight take away those uneasy feelings that sometimes linger upon waking. But sometimes, I pause when my distractions fade to the background and the memories become more than nightly apperations. They would suddenly become so strong and sharp and real that when they recede once more from whence they came, I am left bewildered at what is real and true.

I have many dreams, many nightmares, each different in their own way, and no one to tell them to. The images they bring me are like a parasol that is closed after use and the pieces it presents become folded, distorted shapes, meshed together with memories and reality. I wonder, when you wake, does the feeling in those dreams haunt you, Kenshin? Do you stare, wide-eyed at the world and see the night behind closed lids, one that brings you a past you do not wish to recall? Sometimes, I feel reality slip through my fingers like a carp through water. Sometimes I wonder if I ever truly awoke from my dreams, or if I had simply kept dreaming and everything is just an extension of another dream that goes on forever.

Would it be less painful if that were true? Maybe even you are just an illusion, Kenshin. But it would not surprise me if you were. The dream of a man I had wished with all my heart to be real seems so like you, and even in dreams -- painful as they sometimes may become -- I knew I could not keep one such as you. Not for long, anyway. Because sooner or later you will see the real me, hiding behind the mask of a strong, independent woman who fought against traditions and conventions. No, that is not really me, I do not think. A lot of times, I am just this scared little girl who never grew to be the woman she could have been because no one taught her how nor stayed around to make sure she had learned. So this little girl, who is hiding in my skin too afraid to show who she truly is, became something not quiet a woman, but too weak to be a man.

I wonder if that is how you see me sometimes, or maybe you will once you realized the truth. And you, with those eyes so old and sad and experienced, I do not want to betray your trust in a strength I do not possess...

But let us pretend for a little bit longer, hm?

Would you like to hear what I see in the night with my eyes closed? Maybe it would be safe to say these words while I sleep, because you would never know them in the reality I live within. Sometimes I wish it were all really a dream so I could say more confidently those feelings that overwhelm me to speechlessness.

I see many things, things that scare me, things that bring me to tears, and things that I wish I never remembered but could never forget, in my dreams. Some memories I am ashamed to even attempt to put aside, some like Mother's face covered with a white sheet. I once remember closing my eyes in dream and in my dream I desperately want to remember what she looked like. I knew it was wrong, but I was overwhelmed with the desire to know, to discover. So I reach out to lift the white sheet from her face, hoping no one will ever find out what I was about to do, hoping they won't ever realize that I could not remember what my own mother looked like. The swing of the bokken rings in the air and I know Father is outside, and excitement builds at the forbidden act. But suddenly Mother would wake and her deathly-cold hand would terrify me as it closes around my wrist, catching me in the act.

I would call out in fear on those nights, but no one ever came to my rescue nor would anyone wake me. Father's bokken would still and I would become doubly afraid of discovery, though, at the same time, I pray to be rescued. And as I cry, afraid, ashamed, and alone, Mother would rise from her bed and turn to me, the sheet on her face would begin to fall, but this time I am terrified at what lies beneath it and wish never to see it. The dread in knowing that I would witness Death upon her face floods me with horror and helplessness, making my limbs too heavy to move and freezing me in place. "Kaoru, what are you doing? Have you forgotten me?" Speaking my fears so loudly, forcing me to look at the ugliness of it all, the white sheet falls and my stare is forced upon every bit of flesh revealed with morbid fascination. But before her face is revealed, as the cloth flutters just to the bottom of her bone-white forehead and the dark arc of her brow--

And then I wake. Oh, how my heart seems to explode as cool streaks of wetness fall to meet my hairline, and I am always, inexplicably alone. In those short moments just upon waking, I find myself still reaching to get away from the images in my head and the guilt already forming within me. I don't remember, I don't remember, the words keep murmuring in my befuddled mind. I am sorry I don't remember how you looked when you smiled, Mother! I'm sorry, I'm so sorry that it's only the tears I remember seeing! Every time I try to remember the slant of your eyes, the way your dark-hair fell around your shoulders, and the shape of your lips, those images eludes me.

That feeling of relief of waking never reach me, and if it does, it leaves me before it ever settles. Do you dream of your mother? I bet, you remember her to be as gentle as you are now. I imagine that you must have learned that kind smile from her, and your gentle touch -- even with your calloused hands -- you must have gotten that from her too. All I could recall of my mother is that she cried all the time for as long as I could remember, I knew it was because she hated being married to Father, arranged as it was. I wondered often what she would have been like before the marriage, before me. Would she have been happier? What did her smile look like?

Isn't it sad that I don't remember how Mother's face looked alighted with a smile? All I recall were her tears. Maybe that was why I had always wished I was a boy when I was young, because men never seemed to cry. Stern as Father was, I only saw him cry once. I guess, he missed Mother too, even for her tears. Maybe, a long time ago, they were happy. Maybe, before I was born, Mother had smiled. Maybe, if I were a boy, Mother and Father would have both been happy.

Am I a terrible daughter?

I can fight with a sword but I cannot accomplish the simple task of cooking, not even decently. I can mend but not embroider; I can clean and polish the floor as good as any man, but ask me to present a simple flower arrangement and I am completely baffled. Should I have learned it? I guess, if I had been raised like any other girl. I guess that would mean that by now I would have a husband and children. Somehow, even if I wasn't physically alone, I wonder if the nightmares would still come. Sometimes I wonder if I would have continually cried like Mother did. And most importantly I wonder, beneath it all, if anyone ever saw me as a woman or at the very least, womanly.

Sometimes, I wonder what it would have been like if you had never stepped into my life, Kenshin. And yet, when you arrived, I think I realized that I could learn to bear everything a little better if only you were there. As long as you came back to me, I could put on my smiling face and believe tomorrow is a brand new days. As long as I can be close enough to you to try to bring that smile from the bottom of your heart, I could do anything; even pretend to be strong when I feel all my strength has left me. And hope that someday you might be able to reflect those longings in my heart back to me with that simple smile I wish to see on your lips, always.

You are so handsome, so exotic to me and all who have laid eyes on you, I am sure. I have never seen any man look as you do, and none could take my breath away like you do. And you give me so much, too. It was you who made it possible for me to rescue Yahiko, my loyal student and somewhat little brother. Bratty as he is, he has this spirit, this pride that makes me so proud of him, but I would never tell him that, just in case. You brought me laughter and happiness, and your presence seemed to fill that emptiness within me, like water in a cup. Finding all the spaces in between, without even knowing, you overwhelm me and makes me feel that if I ever tried to hold all of you inside, I would spill. But still, I desire it, like lifting the white cloth from Mother's face in hopes that she would open her eyes, her face devoid of powder and her lips pale pink and not the tempting red of a geisha nor the pale blue of cold death. I want to see her plain expression and her eyes fill with warmth while crinkling in the corners. I want to remember her with a smile on her face that would light up all that is her with life, instead of the death and the sadness and the tears she had submerged herself in before my young eyes.

That is how I want to remember you.

Bare faced, with your heart in your eyes. I want to see you Kenshin, smiling at me from the depth of yourself as if every corner of you is filled with joy. Even if it is just for one, short moment, I will spend my life time trying to give you a reason to show me what once you must have had in your innocence. That is how I feel when I see you, sometimes. Speechless, I would watch you, half hoping you would notice and smile at me like I wish, and half hoping you wouldn't to save both of us the embarrassment and the awkward silence that would follow. I wonder, would you smile at me earnestly if you knew how I felt?

You have told me once that Father must have been a kind and generous man to have come up with the Kamiya Kasshin Ryuu, and I had told you the truth. Father was a stern and scary man in the eyes of a child like me. Father dominated my life where Mother would cry in the shadows of it, and when I was young I had thought that I would cry too if I married such a strict and unyielding man like Father. But then, that time when I saw him cry, clutching Mother's kimono so, even a child like me -- not understanding -- felt as if something profoundly sad was happening. Not knowing then but soon seeing the results of that event, everything changed. Father smiled more and began to teach. He was happy, and I guess, thinking back, I wish I could remember Mother that way.

When he left, the touch of his warm hand on my chin and his quiet, commanding words, telling me to be strong, always. I never guessed then that it would the last time I was to see him. Watching him walk away, even then I couldn't comprehend it. It wasn't until Kenshin asked about him that I thought of Father so and slowly, slowly I began to see. Father smiled at me a little, as if he was trying to stop himself from grinning when I accomplished my first kata flawlessly. Father, proudly laying a hand on his top student, pushing him to try harder. Father, honorable and strong, defending his sword art against those like Hiruma Gohei who thirsted only for blood, fighting with the strength of all that he believed in and winning. Father, walking proudly away to battle to protect the future of Japan, and me.

"Be strong, always, Kaoru-chan. You are a Kamiya, and we shall never bow in weakness to the storm of fate, and that, which others call suffering."

I never thought of Father that way before. And I smile as I lay the cherry-blossom I had caught falling from the tree, whole and fragile it rests in my hands. "I do not know if I am ready yet, Father," I said softly, but with the sure voice my father taught me to use since I was a small girl. "To bare the weight of his sorrow, and the weight of the sword, I may not be as strong as you would like. But, I will try everyday for as long as I live. And I will teach all that you believe in with a full heart." I lay the sakura in full bloom upon the sword before bowing and standing to leave.

There is the sword that the girl who was too callous to be a woman and too weak to be a man, wished to hold. There is the sakura, filled with memories and dreams and wishes, delicate where I was not. But I guess, Father did not teach me to be just a coward and hide beneath appearances. Father taught me to face my fears, weak or not, and fight back with all of my strength, with all of my heart.

At the shoji, as I was about to slide it open, I look back to see the sword and the sakura, past and present. Smiling I think to myself that maybe one day I will be able to remember what Mother looked like when she smiled, no matter how short a moment or how weak it had seemed at the time. Maybe today I will try to stop thinking less of myself for putting on a pair of hakama instead of an elegant kimono, letting myself live my life not by others standards but my own. So far, I think, I am happier this way then if I had ever learned how to properly arrange flowers or seduce men with my modesty.

"Hey Ugly! Stop lagging behind! Start with the lessons already! It's not like I have all day, you know?"

"Yes! I'm coming, Yahiko-chan! You better be prepared, you impatient brat!" I mutter that last part to myself with a smile curving my on my lips already. I can hear Yahiko's protests even as I prepare for the lessons this day, calling me names as usual to mask his emotions. That is his way, I guess, and I am getting used to his antics, annoying as they are.

Father, Mother, thank you for all that you have done, for raising me to be the woman I am today. Teaching me to fight, to work-hard, to become something that others may see as not fit for normal girls my age, but really, it fitted the life-style I had chosen for myself. In so doing, Father, Mother, you have given me the courage to face Kenshin on that street those months ago, you have given me the courage to attempt to save Yahiko, and confront Sanosuke. It was that courage that gave me the strength to plead with Kenshin to not kill Jineh in the voice Father taught me to speak in, a voice outside of Kenshin's desires. Mother, you have taught me always to have the courage to smile, no matter what, and to always fight for what I believed in, that tears were precious but changes nothing in the face of fate. Because of seeing how strongly you both have suffered and how Father lived his life still the way he chose to, I became who I am. It is because of this will to endure that I am still allowed the chance and the strength to keep Kenshin by my side. Maybe then, one day, he will see that the reason to smile from the bottom of his heart stems not from the cleansing of his hands but the strength still remaining in his soul. I believe that day will come.

Thank you for watching over me this way, Mother, Father. Thank you for your sacrifices, your tears, your struggling lips moving in that sometimes-graceless curve that is more beautiful than any painter's brush could capture. Thank you for giving me the way of the sword that is not the path of blood but that of protection. And thank you, most importantly, for teaching me that the hardest thing in life is not just fighting for what you believe in, but to opening your heart to others despite the pain.

And one day, if I continue to try, Kenshin might give me a smile from the bottom of his heart. When that happens, I will remember him forever that way with my smile in reply. Such things you have taught me Honorable Father and Honorable Mother, as surely as Father had handed me the bokken and the techniques he perfected with his brown eyes clear and sure. And then, even when the nightmares come, even when the sakura no longer blooms and the way of the sword is lost, even if no one rescues me or wakes me from the darkness of my dreams and the past unchangeable, I will endure.

I will save myself.

And then, I will reach out my hand and reach out to you, Kenshin. With that strength always, I will never let you go.


*The End*


Bokken - Wooden sword

Sakura - Cherry-blossom(s)

Hakama - Traditional pants worn by men

Kata - a series of warm-up moves before sword practice

-chan - term of endearment used for children, or between girls who are close friends

Kamiya Kasshin Ryuu - the sword technique that Kaoru's father invented and teach in his school; it uses the opponent's strength against him/her. It is a non-killing technique and utilizes wooden swords (bokken) or practice swords (shinai), not intended for wielders of the katana (steel-bladed sword; a samurai's sword) though some, like Hiruma Gohei thought otherwise.

[Last Name/Family Name] [First Name] - this is traditional Japanese naming, as like many of the Eastern parts of the world. One's family name is first and one's personal name is second. No, it is not a mistake that it's Kamiya Kaoru and Himura Kenshin, and not Kaoru Kamiya and Kenshin Himura (the Western version of it).

I do not own Rurouni Kenshin or its wonderful cast of characters.

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