A/N – After the Bakumatsu, armed with a new, unfamiliar sakabatou, Kenshin dabbles in the art of not-killing.

Disclaimer – Watsuki-sensei and associated ors. own Ruroken. I'm just borrowing the characters and situations…

The Art of Not-Killing

Before beginning the teachings of the Hiten Mitsurugi, before imparting the ideals and the codes of honour and conduct, his Shishou had given him one harsh, simple lesson:

A sword is a weapon. Kenjutsu is the art of killing.

The streets and alleys of Kyoto had taught him just how true it was. Despite all the rhetoric, Kenshin had been nothing more than a sword himself, his only purpose to terrorise or eliminate all who stood in Katsura's way. Crafted into a superb weapon, his first and only response to threats lethal and irrevocable, hitokiri Battousai took the art of killing to a sublime new level. Swift, sure and silent, he had been a matchless killer…

Until she'd destroyed his balance. When he began to feel guilty, when his rational intellect began to take precedence over his ingrained instincts; that was when the trouble started. He began to doubt, to hesitate, to second-guess – fatal, absolutely fatal, in the chaotic, bloody madness of the Bakumatsu. He lost some of his edge, the blind killing emptiness that had made him so terrifying, and gained…what?

Compassion. Empathy. Understanding.

A sense of his place in the world, rather than standing apart from it.

After the end, his swords abandoned, he felt frighteningly naked. Since he had first started his training, he had always had at least a practice sword at his side, and the absence on his hip was unbalancing, disconcerting – instinctively, his hand would reach for the hilt, and come away empty.

Arai Shakku took pity on him – or else he was a sterner and more subtle judge than most – and presented him with the sakabatou. A contradiction, a paradox – a reversed sword, created solely for a hitokiri who refused to kill. Somewhat wiser than he had once been, he could appreciate the incongruity now.

Except, of course, that there were ways to kill with even a reversed sword, and his assassin's instincts worked them out in the first few days. He did not want to kill, but he was trained to it – in the beginning, with the memories and instincts of the Bakumatsu still so strong, he'd found it hard to hold back. For so long, hesitation of any sort had meant death –

Now he had to think before every strike, hesitate before landing any blows. The strange balance and weight had been uncomfortable at first, throwing him off his balance, but he was too experienced a swordsman not to be able to compensate, make the best out of any weapon in his possession. He had to relearn and recreate his sword style – Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, the ultimate killing style, was not suited to half-measures and compromise. The Ryu Tsui Sen, originally designed to deal death from the air, he learned to bring down with crippling weight on the shoulder instead. The Sou Ryu Sen he modified from an inside slash to the stomach or throat into a bludgeoning blow to the ribs. And the Battoujutsu, his signature attack, his most effective killing move –

How can you draw an unbalanced sword with blinding speed? Once his sword had flowed from his sheath like water from the mountain source, like a bird of prey launching itself into the air. With the sakabatou the unsheathing was slowed, hindered, the blunt edge turning the fatal cut into a clumsy impacting strike. Once he had fought with godlike speed, his sword striking with terrible, ruthless certainty, every blow a deathblow, every instinct in perfect tune with his mind and his body. Now he had to think, to concentrate on every stroke, every turn of his blade controlled and driven by his new intentions.

Kenshin rejoiced at the frustration and the endless, endless practice. For the first time he was proud of his sword and what it could do – he had been an unparalleled master at slaying men, but one day, soon, he would be a master of not-killing. One day, soon, with his slowed sword and his deliberate movements, he would use his sword for protection and defence, not for aggression and death.

And then, one day, he learned that sometimes he did not have to use his sword at all. On the day that he first learned to assume foolishness, eccentricity, and harmlessness, he began to understand –

A hitokiri is always a hitokiri, a drawn sword, but Kenshinfought for himself, now. This time, in this world he had fought so hard to create, he answered to nothing and nobody but his Vow, his ideals, and his own conscience.

There was more to not-killing than a reversed sword.