Author's Note #1: This is AU: in this story Kenshin doesn't have the absolute refusal to kill that he does in canon. The question came to mind: what if Kenshin was still Battōsai? Not the bloodthirsty assassin, but the cunning hitokiri/skirmisher who doesn't like to kill, yet will do so when he considers it necessary?
Author's Note #2: For the most part, I am using the manga versions of the pre-Shishio canon, as opposed to the anime. Important for this part is that I'm using the manga versions of the Jin-e and the Raijūta arc (for details, see my site: www. t1goold. net/ RK/ NotesRK. html - remove spaces). I have, however, used the anime episodes 15 & 16 ("Assassination group of Fire" and "A Promise from the Heart").
Author's Note #3 (the last, I promise!): The only Japanese I use in this story are terms for proper names (of people and groups) clothing, measurements, certain building features, and the occasional swear word. I have used the accented version of romanji (like in the RuroKen manga) because I'm used to reading it in the manga; however, if people have problems reading it, it will be easy for me to change - just let me know in a review.
Edge of the Blade
Rurouni Kenshin is copyright © Nobuhiro Watsuki. Most of the dialogue in this prologue was taken from Acts 14 and 41-43 of the Rurouni Kenshin manga, written by the noble Watsuki-san. This story is fanfiction, and is not intended as infringement on that copyright.
Edge of the Blade is copyright © 2005, tag.
Thanks to Vathara for her help beta-ing.
Minor edit: Thurs. May 18/06.
Prologue: Jin-e & Raijūta - Most Dangerous Weapon
As Kenshin looked down at the dying body of Udō Jin-e, he felt a familiar surge of satisfaction flow through him. While crippling Jin-e would have meant that he would never regain his expertise with a sword, Jin-e had said it himself: hitokiri wa hitokiri. A hitokiri is a hitokiri until death. And despite what most people - including Kaoru, Yahiko, and Sanosuke, he suspected - might think, a hitokiri's most dangerous weapon was not his sword, but his mind. Alive, Jin-e could have still posed a threat, if only by letting it be known - more than it already was, that is - that Hitokiri Battōsai was in Tokyo.
Dead, that threat was gone, although Kenshin was still somewhat concerned about the fact Jin-e had implied he'd been hired for all the assassinations he'd done over the past ten years. However, that was no longer his problem; all he had been asked to do was deal with Jin-e himself.
Kaoru, he noticed with a touch of concern, looked shocked by the fact that Jin-e had killed himself, and Kenshin decided it would probably be a good idea to head back to Tokyo now, as long as she was feeling all right. He didn't want her staying here and brooding about what had happened any longer than was absolutely necessary. And considering the way Yahiko and Sanosuke tended to act, it would also be wise to return to the dojo before either of them got it into their heads to come looking. Besides, Chief Uramura would need to be notified of Jin-e's death.
"Kenshin..." Kaoru reached out as if to touch his arm, breaking him out of his thoughts, and then pulled back.
"Let's go home, Kaoru-dono," Kenshin said firmly, not sure he wanted to hear what she was about to say. "It's the government's problem from here. Let the police handle it." He turned his back on Jin-e's body, feeling no real regrets for the other's ending - any regrets were saved for Jin-e's inability to stop killing - and started toward Tokyo.
Kaoru was very quiet during their walk back, and Kenshin had the uncomfortable feeling that it was because this was the first time she'd actually seen proof that he was Hitokiri Battōsai. Oh, she'd known with her head that he was, and she'd seen him fight before; but this was the first time she'd seen him in a battle he'd intended to have end in death. That provided a very different sort of knowledge than simple facts; a knowledge that came from instinct, that was felt more than understood.
So how can I defuse that knowledge? Kenshin wondered, as they continued walking. I need something to convince her that I'm still the rurouni...
"Hmm...?" Kenshin blinked and looked back at Kaoru. Judging from her tone, she'd called him at least one other time before he'd answered. Shishō would be scolding me for inattention about now... "What is it?"
"Thanks for saving me," Kaoru said quietly. "Let me say that, at least."
"There's no need for thanks," Kenshin replied, turning to face her completely. As he did so, he felt something shift inside his gi, just under his wounded shoulder, and remembered the ribbon Kaoru had handed him just before Jin-e had abducted her from the riverbank. Considering its current location, it had probably become quite bloodied; and he spent a second or two thinking about how best to remove the blood from it before it became stained until he realized that this was exactly what he'd been searching for to reassure Kaoru that he hadn't changed. She was used to thinking of him as a bit of an idiot anyway...
"Oh, right, your ribbon," he said abruptly, as though he'd only just remembered it then and there. "It must be returned." Reaching into his gi, Kenshin pulled it out and extended it to her, and waited until she'd caught a glimpse of it - her eyes widened in a shocked look - before glancing down himself. Letting his own eyes widen as though he were just as surprised as she was, he exclaimed, "Oro!"
Kaoru's eyes narrowed angrily as she continued to take in the bloodstained cloth, and Kenshin felt satisfied that his distraction had worked, even as he winced in anticipation of the hits he was going to have to let her get in. Ducking her first blow, he started running, staying just ahead of her, in order to appear to be avoiding her blows only by chance.
Best to get fully back into practice as soon as possible. If the past few weeks are any indication, I'm likely to find myself in more situations like this one with Jin-e... and I'm no longer so accustomed to dealing with being wounded. My shoulder will heal soon enough... and in the meantime, I had best start working on my katas while Kaoru and Yahiko are training at the Maekawa dojo.
Ducking another blow - having let two hit him so far - as they passed the Akabeko, Kenshin smiled faintly. Jin-e, are you watching from hell? Hitokiri and killer I may be, but we are not the same. You could not let go of the killing. I do my very best not to kill at all; but if I must kill, I do so only to protect those more vulnerable than myself. And I will never, ever again kill for any other reason.
Kenshin stared down at Yutarō's unconscious body for a long moment, the voices of the others like the buzzing of unimportant insects in his ears, as the cold fury that had made Battōsai the terror of the Shogunate supporters in Kyoto rose through him. The fury was aimed at both himself and Raijūta - much like, and for much the same reasons as, his anger over Kaoru's abduction by Jin-e.
At himself, because despite his vow after having dealt with Jin-e, he was still damnably out of practice - he should have known Yutarō was behind him, should have known the danger that Raijūta posed was not limited solely to his friends and himself; and at Raijūta, for having dealt such a potentially irreparable wound to one who had only looked up to him.
"S-sensei..." Yutarō murmured, and Kenshin crouched down to pick him up, ignoring Raijūta's foolish words. Perhaps, if they were lucky and were able to get Yutarō to a doctor soon enough - preferably Gensai-sensei or Megumi - the damage he feared had occurred might be lessened. He gathered Kaoru and Yahiko up with a jerk of his head, and stood.
"What...!" Raijūta shouted from behind them. "Are you running from my challenge?"
Kenshin turned his head to face the arrogant braggart and - hoping that none of the others would notice the details of exactly what he was doing - let the mask of the gentle rurouni fall for just a moment. Let Raijūta get a glimpse of just who he had angered. "Wait there for one hour," he said, and let the ice of his fury infuse his tone for his next words. "Then, I will treat you to a living hell."
As they walked off, he heard Sanosuke say, "You've finally managed to anger the most terrifying man in the world," and winced slightly. Kaoru and Yahiko were too focused on Yutarō to have taken in his tone, but Sano had obviously been paying attention.
The only good thing was that based on what Kenshin sensed from Sanosuke's ki, the fighter thought mainly that he was simply very angry, and possibly close to letting go - not that he'd realized any of the real details of what had just happened.
And right now, he needed to concentrate on Yutarō - and work on figuring out precisely how Raijūta was doing what he had.
The anesthetic was still numbing his arm, which would be a problem he was going to have to take into account. Unfortunately, Kenshin didn't have any time to waste waiting for it to wear off; not with Yahiko having undoubtedly gone to confront Raijūta. He'd let Yutarō receive a wound that would never heal properly, thanks to his carelessness. He would not let the same thing - or worse - happen to Yahiko. He'd simply have to take a bit more care in avoiding any attacks Raijūta launched against his right side.
By the time he reached the clearing where they'd left Raijūta and Sanosuke, Sano was restraining Yahiko, and both of them were shouting at each other.
"Even if I can't win," Yahiko was yelling, as Kenshin walked into the clearing, "I can't let him get away with this!"
"Then leave him to this one," Kenshin said firmly, stopping as he reached his friends. Sano was obviously unharmed - not that it surprised him, but it was still a relief - and had a definite look of satisfaction on his face as he let go of Yahiko.
"Ken-" Yahiko started, only to stop in mid-word. Kenshin felt a hint of shock go through the boy's ki at the sight of him, but it was quickly subsumed back into the fury Yahiko still felt at Yutarō's injury.
"Since we're avenging the same person, it's better to win," the boy said decisively. "Right?"
Kenshin shot a quick glance at him. Yahiko met his eyes calmly, obviously not put off by the fact that they were currently a cold blue, just the slightest shift of emotion away from the amber colour Battōsai was known for on the streets of Kyoto.
"All right?" Yahiko continued. "I'll be counting on you."
"Yes," Kenshin replied simply, before returning the majority of his attention to Raijūta. He kept some focused on the other two; he would not let the other man do to Yahiko or Sanosuke what he'd done to Yutarō.
Walking forward until only a short distance separated the two of them, Kenshin met Raijūta's eyes.
"At last!" Raijūta said. "I will defeat you!"
Kenshin felt a surge of contempt run through him at the other man's boast. There have been only three men who have ever come close to truly defeating me: Sasaki Heihachirō of the Kyoto Mimawarigumi, and Okita Sōshi and Saitō Hajime of the Shinsengumi. And you are definitely none of those three.
"And then," Raijūta continued, "I'll establish the new era of Shinko-Ryū!" He swung, aiming another 'Flying Izuna' at Kenshin.
Kenshin evaded it with apparent ease.
Raijūta looked shocked.
"Don't be surprised," Sanosuke said, from where he and Yahiko were standing at the edge of the clearing. "What kind of fighter falls for the same move twice?"
Let him know just how outmatched he is. It will not stop him - not that alone - but it will start his doubts... "No one can block the 'Flying Izuna', since its edge is so sharp," Kenshin said calmly, looking directly into Raijūta's eyes and projecting his utter confidence, "but for a man who can track the path of a bullet from a gun, dodging it is easy."
Yes, he's getting nervous now. So how much will it take to break him?
"Then how about this?" Raijūta began a series of attacks, obviously trying to catch Kenshin off-guard.
He heard Yahiko's voice, but was concentrating too hard on sensing Raijūta's moves and dodging them to do more than ensure he stayed away from the direction it came from. Raijūta was focused entirely on him, and Yahiko and Sanosuke would remain unharmed as long as he kept the other man that way.
It was, as Kenshin had feared, the effects of the anesthetic that allowed Raijūta to get in the first hit. He'd seen the blow coming, but he hadn't been able to move his arm completely out of the way in time, and a slice appeared just above his wrist.
The one thing he had made certain to regain completely after the battle with Jin-e was his ability to evaluate and handle any wounds he took (Kaoru had almost suffocated because it had taken him so long to recover from the shock of the unexpected wound to his shoulder). His battle with the Oniwabanshū and Shinomori Aoshi had proven that he was back to normal in that respect. Now it took Kenshin a second or less to determine that the cut wasn't serious - it was in fact rather shallow, a surface cut only. It would not affect his ability; the anesthetic had already ensured he couldn't use his sword with his right arm.
Raijūta laughed. "Now you know the Izuna! Ten years of my life I gave to mastering this technique from ancient scrolls! And you cannot block it! This is the symbol of Shinko-Ryū! This is the essence of satsujin-ken!"
The contempt Kenshin had felt at the beginning of this fight only increased at Raijūta's boasts. It's obvious you know nothing of true satsujin-ken... "Happy now?" he asked coolly.
Raijūta clearly hadn't understood the message he had given before taking Yutarō to Gensai-sensei's clinic. It was time to show him who - and what - he was really dealing with.
Kenshin spared a quick thought for Sanosuke and Yahiko's reactions - but if Kaoru could handle seeing Battōsai in battle, he was fairly sure that they would be able to as well. All three shared a tremendous strength of spirit. Besides, it was clear from Sanosuke's comments earlier, and the current feel of his ki - slightly tinged with worry over the cut - that he, at least, was expecting Kenshin to 'unleash Battōsai'.
Kenshin raised his wounded arm in front of him and looked down at the cut, letting his bangs shade his eyes as he permitted the anger he'd been feeling to flood through him completely. Yes, it's time... "If a little scratch like this thrills you so much..." He raised the arm higher, up to his mouth, and licked the cut, tasting the coppery flavour of his own blood as he looked back up at Raijūta out of now-amber eyes. "...You're going to love the real blood."
Raijūta was definitely unnerved by this; and Kenshin knew precisely how to make him even more so.
"Now it's certain, Raijūta," he continued calmly.
Even a grim smile would be rather out of character, but Kenshin was definitely tempted. It would have added quite nicely to the effect he was going for. "For all your talk, you've never killed anyone."
The expression on Raijūta's face matched the feel of his ki: shocked disbelief that Kenshin knew the truth.
"No true hitokiri would be so happy about failing to finish his opponent." Kenshin spoke from his own experience in this, and he knew that it lent his words and tone a heavy weight - even if Raijūta didn't know why.
"You've no idea of the true hell borne by an assassin's sword. In your ignorance, you took swords away from Yutarō forever. For that, you will pay an equal price!"
He could hear Sanosuke and Yahiko talking quietly in the background, but ignored what they were saying to concentrate on his goal of breaking Raijūta's confidence. He'd often been told by those few of his fellow Ishin Shishi who were willing to speak with the feared hitokiri that his amber eyes were unnerving enough when he was just there; that they would make the brave quake with fear when he was simply looking at them, and when he was staring... Well. It was a weapon he'd used to as much effect as his sword during the Bakumatsu - as he used it now.
Then he heard Sanosuke say his name, and without breaking his stare, focused enough attention on his two friends to listen to what Sano was saying.
"...Is your right arm-?"
"Yeah," Kenshin admitted. Under ordinary circumstances, he would never have said such a thing with an enemy present, but the fact that he couldn't use it properly was obvious to everyone there; and admitting it might help his plan for Raijūta even further. "The anesthetic's still in effect, so it can't be controlled well."
The sound of Yahiko and Raijūta's voices melded together as they spoke at the same time, but Kenshin ignored their exclamations of shock, focused on the battle. "Still, Raijūta," he said, taking a single step forward that his eyes and his demeanour turned into a threat, "to defeat the likes of you, the left arm is quite enough."
"What?" Raijūta yelled, fury obvious on his face. He was going to lose control soon... "Fool! You've insulted me once too often! You give me no choice now but to kill you!"
You're the fool, Raijūta, Kenshin thought as he dodged the other's renewed attacks. A fool if you think you can kill me, and a fool if you think one such as you can truly survive killing.
He had to admit that even angry, Raijūta's ability and his combination of his main attacks were reasonably impressive - it was certainly managing to keep him at a distance. But it was not impressive enough. Kenshin knew how this battle would end; once he had the opportunity to make his move, Raijūta would never hold a sword again.
Abruptly another attack got through, this time slicing into his left leg. Again, it was a fairly shallow cut; the exact position of his legs was disguised by his hakama.
"Kenshin!" came a yell from Yahiko.
Kenshin ignored the shout. It was almost time... he could feel it.
"It's hopeless," Raijūta said, with apparent calm. Calm that was only surface - even if the other swordsman was confident that the hit had put him at a disadvantage, Kenshin could sense that the doubts he had planted in the other man's mind were worrying at him, like a wolf with his teeth in a haunch of meat. "Fast as you are, you can't move well with an injured leg."
Yes, truly a fool. "Again, don't get so happy about a scratch," Kenshin advised him calmly.
"Keep it up! What can you even do, at this distance?" Raijūta taunted. "Not unless you can use the Flying Izuna!" He spat in an attempt to show contempt.
It didn't work, of course. Despite all that Kenshin had said and done, Raijūta didn't understand who he was dealing with - was still trying to treat him as though he were an ordinary swordsman. "The 'Tobi Izuna' is, for this one, not possible," he said, still calm.
"I will win this match because I control the zone!" Raijūta shouted. "Die!" He started to swing.
Now! "But still it's possible to attack from outside the zone!" Kenshin retorted, and started his spin. "Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryū! Battō-jutsu!"
He heard all three of the others shout, "What?" in disbelief; Sanosuke and Yahiko had no doubt thought it impossible for him to use battō-jutsu with his right arm injured.
There's a reason I was given the name 'Battōsai'...
Carefully judging Raijūta's position and the amount of force he'd built up, Kenshin unlocked his sakabatō - and released it with a shout of, "Hi Ryū Sen!"
The pommel hit Raijūta on the bridge of his nose, right between the eyes, as Kenshin's hair-tie snapped with the cessation of the centrifugal force; and he watched calmly as Raijūta crashed to the ground.
Done, he thought, satisfied, and headed over to pick up his sakabatō.
"Kenshin!" Yahiko shouted triumphantly, and started running toward him.
Kenshin had just knelt down and started to reach for the hilt when Raijūta abruptly grabbed Yahiko's foot as the boy ran past and came to his knees, lifting Yahiko into the air.
"D-don't move!" Raijūta shouted, pointing his sword toward Yahiko. He was panting and nervous sweat was running down his face, mixing with the blood from his nose. "Move, and I'll kill the boy!"
Kenshin studied him for a moment, reaching out to feel his ki again - and then clasped his hand around the hilt of his sakabatō. Raijūta wouldn't do what he threatened.
"I mean it! I'll kill him! D-drop your sword!"
"So kill me," Yahiko interrupted, his tone impatient.
Oh, yes, his nerve is definitely gone. Yahiko is good with a sword, but he's young, and he's never been taught to sense ki - and even he can feel it.
"Kill me if you can!" Yahiko shouted at the other man. "Like I'm afraid to die by you?"
Raijūta was - unsurprisingly - speechless.
"He says do it," Sanosuke put in easily. "Why don't you?"
Kenshin rose to his feet, absently thinking that they had probably better not mention this conversation to Kaoru. "You're always talking about satsujin-ken," he said coolly. He took a step toward Raijūta, then another one, keeping his gaze fixed steadily on the other man. He'd already broken Raijūta's nerve - it wouldn't take that much more pressure to break him completely. And that was precisely what Kenshin now intended to do. He was coldly pleased by the effects of his still-amber stare, made clear by the increase of sweat pouring down Raijūta's face.
"Satsujin-ken - the 'killing art'." He put a touch of the contempt he felt for the other man in his voice as he continued, "It's not about scrolls or ancient styles. It's about the weight of the lives you've taken, dragging you down to hell. That... is satsujin-ken." I kill if I must... but it is not something I enjoy; nor do I take it lightly. Taking someone's life - their future - away from them is a truly terrible thing. If you do not recognize that, you do not deserve the sword you try to bear. "If you can't understand that much, even defeating Yahiko is beyond you."
Raijūta's eyes grew wide with panic as he finally - finally - recognized that he was facing someone who had killed - often enough to understand what it meant. He might not have made the connection with Hitokiri Battōsai - though Kenshin wasn't certain how that was possible, considering how widely his description had been circulated combined with the fact that he had dropped the act of the mild-mannered rurouni - but he knew he was facing a manslayer.
And now it is truly finished, Kenshin thought, as Raijūta dropped Yahiko and screamed his denial and his understanding. He will never pick up a sword again. Never.
"Now what?" Sanosuke asked, walking past Yahiko to stand next to Kenshin. "Should we break his arm or something?"
"No need for that," Kenshin replied, as he watched Raijūta grip his head, still sweating with panic. "His confidence is gone. He'll never recover as a swordsman." He blinked, sensing his eyes slipping back to blue as the force of his emotions ebbed. Sympathetic pain for the wound in Yutarō's soul replaced the battle-rage as Kenshin pushed his emotions further back, forcing the blue to fade to the violet of the 'rurouni'. "Also... it won't help to bring back Yutarō's right arm."
The reminder of why the fight had taken place sobered both of the others.
"Come; we should return to Gensai-sensei's clinic, that we should," Kenshin added, as he finished slipping back into his accustomed role. "And this one thinks it would be very wise if we did not tell Kaoru-dono some of the details of what happened. She would not be happy about what was said when Raijūta was holding Yahiko, that she would not."
Sanosuke and Yahiko exchanged glances, their expressions clearly telling Kenshin that they agreed with him about that, at least.
He had no doubt that they would tell Kaoru about his 'reversion' to Battōsai, and he wasn't looking forward to that conversation... but that would be far easier to deal with than her reaction to what had just happened - all he would have to do was arrange to do something mildly idiotic or irritating, and she would be reassured. If they told her Yahiko and Sano had been taunting Raijūta while he was holding Yahiko, not to mention holding a sword on him - well, that was something that she wouldn't let them forget any time soon.
However, Kenshin had the feeling that he was going to have to be more careful around Sanosuke. The younger man was quite observant, and he had fought Kenshin before, which gave him an insight neither Kaoru nor Yahiko possessed. He had not actually guessed the truth today - there would have been no mistaking it if Sano had seen that this was not a temporary reversion, but the lifting of a mask - yet that was no guarantee that he would not notice eventually, especially if any other situations such as those with Jin-e or Raijūta occurred.
Yes, he was definitely going to have to be more cautious.
hitokiri wa hitokiri: a hitokiri (assassin) is a hitokiri (tends to imply "forever")
Kyoto Mimawarigumi: lit. "Kyoto Patrol Group"; another group of samurai and ronin who supported the Shogunate and patrolled the streets of Kyoto - referenced in the anime, episodes 15 & 16.