Author's note: This story is a direct spin-off (originally intended as a continuation) of Shirou Shinjin's "Trading Places". I loved that story so much that I absolutely had to see more of it, even if it meant writing it myself! If you haven't read "Trading Places", go read it right now! Basically what happens is that Kaoru dresses up as Kenshin, and then Kenshin dresses up as Kaoru, and the two of them manage to seriously confuse Sanosuke. The story ends with some comment about practicing their impressions of each other to see if they can fool Yahiko. As you're reading this, remember that Kenshin is actually Kaoru and Kaoru is actually Kenshin. Hopefully that's not too confusing…
Kaoru no Sakabatou
Yahiko was tired from hauling barrels of rice around at the Akabeko all day. He had only gone over there to flirt with Tsubame, but Tae-san had appealed to his sense of duty and put him to work right away. As he stumbled through the dojo gate, he glimpsed a bright red ponytail out of the corner of his eye.
"Welcome back," Kenshin said, in a slightly higher-pitched voice than usual. It was strange enough to make Yahiko turn his head to give Kenshin an 'oh good grief' look. But instead, the boy's eyes became extremely large and round.
"K- Kenshin," Yahiko stuttered. "Why are you wearing Kaoru's k-kimono?"
The red-haired person in the yellow kimono looked extremely peeved. "Mou," he said, putting a hand on his hip. "That's because I am Kaoru, you little beast. Where have you been all day? Off flirting with Tsubame-chan and neglecting your chores again? You should be ashamed of making extra work for Kenshin!"
"Whaaaa- - ? You should be ashamed, you slave driver! Once in a while it'd be nice to be appreciated for all the work I do around here, and I bet Kenshin feels the same way!"
"Feels the same way about what de gozaru ka?" Kenshin asked, appearing quietly on the porch.
Yahiko stared at the black-haired Kenshin and then at the red-haired Kaoru, and then stared at them both again. His face puffed up angrily. "All right, you two, what the hell is going on? Kaoru, you maniac, what did you do to Kenshin to convince him to dress up in your clothes?"
The black-haired Kenshin smiled serenely. "Don't shout, Yahiko," she said kindly. "Come inside and we'll eat dinner de gozaru."
Yahiko's stomach rumbled at the word 'dinner', so he put away his protests and followed the mismatched adults into house.
As the three of them ate, Yahiko grew more and more uneasy. The two of them chatted as happily as always, Kenshin looking calm and peaceful and Kaoru full of energy as usual. 'She' was babbling about something Tae-san had said, twittering and giggling… but 'she' had red hair and purple eyes and that voice was just a little… different.
At last Yahiko slammed down his bowl. "Enough!" he said authoritatively. "You're both really clever. You're really great actors. I'm impressed, all right? But the game's over now, ok? Please, Kaoru, go wash your face." This he said to the person with a large X on their left cheek. But it was the other person who reacted.
"Mou!" he said, raising a hand to his face. "That was rude! I probably don't even have anything on my face, anyway. Do I, Kenshin?"
"No, Kaoru-dono," Kenshin said softly, and then actually managed to look incredibly solemn. "Yahiko thinks that sessha is Kaoru-dono de gozaru," she said.
This was as much as Yahiko could take. Furious, he sprang to his feet. "Knock it off!" he demanded. "You're both being so… immature!" He pointed to the person wearing Kenshin's clothes. "If you're Kenshin, how come your hair's black?"
"Oroo," Kenshin said automatically.
"I can explain that," Kaoru said imperiously. "He dyed it black- some lame excuse about wanting to look more normal. Naturally, I was furious, so I dyed mine red in retribution."
Yahiko's eyes quavered uncertainly. Was it possible…? No- surely they were playing with him.
The person wearing Kaoru's clothes blushed a little, and then his violet eyes shone with something reminiscent of savage vanity. "Anyway," he went on, "How does it look? It's the same color Kenshin's used to be, ne? I like it."
"But… but your eyes changed color too!" Yahiko protested.
Kaoru blushed a little more, and his eyes gleamed with mischief. "Why Yahiko," he said teasingly. "I'm surprised you noticed what color my eyes are." He batted his eyelashes. Yahiko groaned.
"Don't flatter yourself, busu!" Yahiko said. "I happen to live with you, you know. Is it so weird that I notice certain things?"
Kaoru's purple eyes closed into happy semi-circles. "I'm only teasing, Yahiko," he said.
"We have a visitor de gozaru," Kenshin said darkly, rising to her feet and tucking the sakabatou through her belt in one smooth motion. Kaoru's eyes narrowed.
"Yes, we do," he said, also standing. Kenshin put out her hand.
"Kaoru-dono. Yahiko." She said throatily. "You should wait here de gozaru."
"I don't think that's a good idea," Kaoru said worriedly.
Kenshin threw open the paper door and glared out into the yard, where a ratty-looking thug stood wearing full samurai armor and clutching a huge axe. Kaoru and Yahiko crept up behind Kenshin to watch.
"Himura BattouSAIII!" howled the thug.
"What do you want?" Kenshin asked in a deadly voice.
"I see you're every bit as girly as I'd heard!" the thug said with a snicker. "Come on and fight me! I'll finish you!"
"Are you KIDDING me?" Kenshin exclaimed loudly. "You actually think you have a chance against me? It's obvious that the only reason you're here is because you've got tofu for brains!"
Yahiko made an extremely confused face. Hadn't Kaoru used that same insult on Sano recently? Sure, Kenshin could turn off the politeness around these wacky challengers, but schoolyard insults? Hmm…
"Gaaahrg!" roared the thug, adjusting his stance. "Prepare yourself, Battousai! I am here to avenge the--"
"SHUT UP!" Kenshin commanded. Both Kaoru and Yahiko jumped at the tone of her voice. "When are you going to get it through your lousy heads? Sessha's not the hitokiri Battousai anymore. Battousai's gone, understand? So if you're looking for him, you're shit out of luck! Hit the road, pal!"
"Rraargh!" the thug replied, brandishing his weapon threateningly. "I have sought revenge for thirteen years! You will pay for what you di-"
"PAY?" Kenshin roared, not letting the thug finish his sentence. "That reminds me- just who is going to PAY for the damage to this dojo if you have your little revenge fest right here? This isn't sessha's dojo. Maybe you should wait for sessha to get his own dojo, and then pick your fights with him!"
"Enough!" the thug declared. "You will Die! Rrrraargh!"
Wielding his axe, the man charged.
Kenshin sighed. "Sessha's warning you," she said quietly. "Give up now, or you'll get hurt."
The thug was within ten yards of the porch.
Moving fast, but not quite with god-like speed, Kenshin dashed off the porch, simultaneously drawing the sakabatou from its sheath with a beautiful 'ziiiing!'
"No!" Kaoru cried fearfully, bringing his clenched fists up to his chest.
It was over in a split second. The thug, unconscious, was sprawled on the ground with his tongue hanging out of his mouth. Kenshin sheathed the sakabatou with a satisfying 'shhk-click'.
Kaoru hurried out into the yard, and practically threw himself at Kenshin. "Kenshin!" Kaoru gasped, wrapping his arms around her. "Please don't do anything like that ever again," he said tearfully. "Are you sure you're ok?"
"Sessha is fine," Kenshin said patiently, and then patted Kaoru on the head in a fatherly way, a pained smile on her scarred face. She made it plain that she had no intention of returning Kaoru's hug. Kaoru stared at her with wide violet eyes.
"keep playing," Kenshin whispered fiercely. "remember, the one who gives it away is the loser!"
Kaoru nodded, and thought fast. "Mou!" he said, pushing himself away from the passive Kenshin. "Don't pat me on the head! What am I, a dog?"
"Maa, maa," Kenshin said, holding up both hands in defense. "Sessha was only trying to tell you not to worry de gozaru."
"Grrr!" Kaoru clenched his teeth angrily. "If you don't want me to worry, maybe you shouldn't give in to each and every half-crazed challenger who's trying to kill you, Kenshin no baka!" As he said those last three words, he hoisted Kenshin into the air and hurled her over his shoulder and into the dojo!
In the midst of the noisy crash that followed, Yahiko thought he heard an angry voice in the dojo say something like "why you--" but he must have been mistaken. When the sound of things falling over subsided, a thin wail of "orororooo" could be heard distinctly. Yahiko stared at the frowning redhead wearing Kaoru's kimono.
"You… you really are Kaoru, aren't you?" he asked a little nervously.
"Hmpf!" Kaoru said, folding his arms. "Of course I am. Anyway. It's getting late, and I'd like to get this thug out of my yard. Yahiko, would you mind going out and finding a policeman?"
"Uh- sure thing, Kaoru," Yahiko said, and with a final skeptical glance at Kaoru's red hair, he headed for the gate.
Kaoru hurried into the dojo. "Kaoru-dono!" he said worriedly, dropping the act. "Are you alright?"
The real Kaoru was just picking herself up. "I can't believe you really threw me," she hissed.
"Sessha's sorry!" the real Kenshin gasped. "Sessha thought it was what Kaoru-dono would have done…"
The real Kaoru grinned. "Well, you were right! You- I- totally deserved it. I just can't believe you actually did it!"
"And sessha can't believe that you felt that thug's presence before sessha did, or that you actually defeated that guy…"
"Oh, that? It was no problem! As we were eating dinner, I asked myself, what would Kenshin be doing right now? And of course I knew you'd be listening for danger-" she rolled her eyes briefly- "so, that's what I did, and I heard the gate bang as he threw it open."
The real Kenshin nodded thoughtfully. "And Kaoru-dono is much better with the sakabatou than sessha would have expected," he admitted. The real Kaoru beamed.
"It's pretty heavy, but I haven't poured my heart and soul into kendo for all these years for nothing," she said. Suddenly her expression clouded. "Anyway, what's the big idea behind making me act like such a ditzy airhead?"
"Oro… sessha was just trying to act like you always do…"
"Please. You really think I'm that shallow?"
"Sorry, Kaoru-dono. Um… by now the police are on their way… shouldn't we stop playing now de gozaru ka?"
Kaoru's eyes gleamed brilliantly. "Not yet," she decided. "I want to see if we can keep this up a bit longer, and hopefully teach you a thing or two in the process," she muttered.
"Never mind," she said quickly. "The game stays the same- the one who finally gives it away is the loser. We'll see which of us can do a better job impersonating the other."
The real Kenshin frowned. Maybe he had agreed to this game a little too quickly. He was getting a bit uncomfortable in that yellow kimono, after all. But Kaoru was having so much fun, and he was curious to see how else she would be able to surprise him. His shoulders slumped in defeat. "Very well," he said.
I know you better than you think, Kaoru said silently. She smirked. I'll win this little game, even if you do throw me through a few walls along the way…
It didn't take Yahiko long to find a policeman. Barely a block away from the dojo, a small crowd had gathered around a very blood-splattered place on the street. Yahiko stiffened and frowned automatically as one particularly tall, lanky cop turned around and noticed him.
"Hoh," Saitou smirked, cigarette hanging from his mouth as usual. "If it isn't the Kamiya brat."
"Myoujin!" Yahiko practically shouted. "My name's Myoujin, not Kamiya!"
"Whatever. I'm surprised she lets you out this late at night."
"Grrr! She doesn't own me! I can go out whenever I want!"
Saitou's eyes narrowed. "I don't think you want to be out right now, boy. There's an axe murderer on the loose. He broke into a house near here, stole some antique armor, and killed two police officers already."
"Feh!" Now it was Yahiko's turn to smirk. "Well, you can sleep soundly tonight, Fujita-san, because Kenshin already took care of that guy. Your armor thief is knocked out cold in our front yard right now."
Saitou led the group of cops over to the Kamiya dojo and the thug was quickly hauled away. Yahiko grinned smugly. "You were right," Saitou said to him, not unkindly. "I guess I should thank Battousai for this. Where is he?"
"I dunno, probably in the house," Yahiko shrugged.
"Ah. Tell him I'd like to speak with him." Saitou lit a fresh cigarette.
Yahiko muttered something that almost sounded like "why should I?", but he turned and went inside.
Both Kaoru and Kenshin turned to look at him. It seemed as though they'd been having some kind of whispered argument- they were standing close together and both of them had clenched their hands into fists. Kaoru looked especially distressed.
"Uh… Saitou wants to talk to you," Yahiko said to Kenshin.
"No!" Kaoru said adamantly, shaking his head.
The black-haired Kenshin smiled calmly. "It will be all right, Kaoru-dono," she said, but there was a certain edge to her voice… did she actually sound… mischievous?
"It won't be all right!" Kaoru protested. "It's Saitou! You can't talk to Saitou, not while we're like this. He'll know!"
"Good grief, Kaoru," Yahiko said. "What are you talking about? You need to chill out!" the red-haired Kaoru gaped at the boy, looking slightly betrayed.
Kenshin smiled cheerfully, tucked her hands into her sleeves, and took one soft step towards the door.
"But!" Kaoru piped up. Kenshin looked over her shoulder at him. The real Kenshin searched his brain. What would Kaoru say? "But… what if he wants to fight you again?" he asked tremulously.
The black-haired Kenshin smiled, and her blue eyes twinkled. "If that's the case," she said softly, "then sessha will accept his challenge once more. But there's no need to worry, Kaoru-dono. Sessha won't let anyone be killed, including himself." Kenshin stepped outside confidently, leaving a dumbfounded Kaoru behind.
Saitou frowned in annoyance, his yellow eyes glinting. What sort of joke was this supposed to be? "I said I wanted to talk to Battousai, not his keeper," he growled. Kenshin smiled apologetically.
"Sorry, Saitou, but as Battousai's 'keeper', sessha is never going to let him out again de gozaru."
For a long moment Saitou didn't speak. A drop of sweat materialized at the side of Kenshin's face. Was she going to be able to pull this off?
Suddenly Saitou laughed. "You fool," he said spitefully. "To think I would fall for something this ridiculous-"
Kenshin looked confused. "Ridiculous?" she repeated.
"So where is Battousai? That little pansy, he's probably dressed up in some of your clothes right now, isn't he? No wonder he's hiding from me."
Inside the house, the red-haired Kaoru sneezed.
"Ano…. Who is hiding from you de gozaru ka?"
Saitou glared at her. "You're the Kamiya girl. Stop pretending to be him."
"Oh, that's right- you're confused by the hair color. You see, sessha dyed his hair black to look more 'normal' de gozaru." Kenshin smiled up at Saitou apologetically. Saitou's eye twitched.
"Interesting that you never bothered to do something so practical during the bakumatsu," he replied coolly. "Now stop playing. I know you're not Battousai."
"At last you understand!" Kenshin beamed. "That's what sessha's been trying to explain all along! Sessha is just Himura Kenshin now de gozaru!"
"You're trying my patience, girl." Now there was a vague warning in his voice and a cold golden gleam in his eye.
The real Kaoru steeled herself. This is it! she noted mentally. You can do this!
Kenshin's expression became grave in just one blink. "Sessha is not a girl," she said huskily.
"Get serious," Saitou sneered.
Kenshin's hand moved to the sakabatou as the pupils of her eyes shrank to scary pinpoints. "Like this?" she asked icily, and forcefully threw all her sword-ki at Saitou in one lightning-sharp burst. A veritable ki-gatotsu. She'd been secretly practicing it ever since accidentally discovering how to do it when she broke Jin-e's shin no ippou. She clicked the sakabatou open with her thumb, just as an eerie gust of wind swept the dojo.
Inwardly, she wanted to laugh madly with glee. The gust of wind had been a complete coincidence, a perfect special effect, compliments of good-old mother nature. But did Saitou realize that? She'd never seen his eyes so round. It seemed to her that Saitou was, perhaps, just a little bit unnerved.
But actually, Saitou was extremely unnerved. The burst of ki he had felt had been no joke. He was certain that he was talking to the Kamiya girl… or was he?
"Saitou," Kenshin said quietly, managing to keep her composure. "Maybe you don't know sessha as well as you think. ….so… what did you want to talk about?"
"I- uh- I wanted to thank you for capturing that axe murderer."
Kenshin slowly shook her head. "Don't thank sessha for that," she said softly. "It was sessha's fault that he was here, after all. He was seeking revenge for… something or other de gozaru."
Saitou shrugged and rested his hand over the hilt of his sword. He studied the short black-haired person for another moment. "Well," he said at last. "Give my regards to your attractive little landlady, will you? I better finish my patrol."
"Goodnight," Kenshin called, as Saitou headed for the gate.
Kenshin sighed contentedly. That went better than expected! It amused her to no end that she was so good at impersonating her favorite red-haired rurouni.
Thinking back over the day, she had to admit that the real Kenshin's act had been pretty believable too. But now… for some reason she wanted this little adventure to be more meaningful than just a dumb game. Kenshin and Kaoru had obviously spent enough time together to have memorized each others habits, speech patterns, expressions, etc… but did they really understand each other? She still had her doubts.
"Ka- I mean, Kenshin?" asked a hesitant voice from the doorway. Kenshin turned around, smiling.
"What is it, Kaoru-dono?"
"It's getting late," he said, and then looked around quickly for Yahiko or any other observer. "Actually," he said, dropping the act. "Sessha's going to bed, and wanted to get the sakabatou back from you first de gozaru."
"Sakabatou?" Kenshin asked innocently, blinking those round starry eyes. "This sakabatou?"
"Yes, please," the real Kenshin said a little awkwardly. "Sessha likes to have it nearby at night de gozaru."
"Of course he does," the real Kaoru said, nodding. "Which is why he couldn't possibly turn it over to Kaoru-dono at the moment de gozaru." She smiled sweetly and nodded her head. "Oyasuminasai, Kaoru-dono."
"But!" Kaoru protested as Kenshin moved quietly past him down the hall. He found himself staring wide-eyed at that long ponytail swaying against the back of that faded magenta gi- HIS faded magenta gi! She was just walking away from him- he felt so frustrated and confused- didn't she CARE about his security issues? He wanted to say something to her, tell her he didn't want to play this dress-up game anymore, but for some reason he couldn't put together the words. At last she disappeared through the door to his room. The real Kenshin cringed. Of course she'd be sleeping in his room. And that meant he was supposed to sleep in her room! He shook his head and sighed. This was no time to care about which room he was sleeping in- he'd been wrapped up in that yellow kimono for hours and hours now and it'd be nice to be in a yukata, even if it wasn't in his own room.
But several hours later, stretched out on Kaoru's futon, staring up at the ceiling, Kenshin still couldn't fall asleep. He'd washed the makeup off his face before he went to bed, so he knew he at least looked more like himself, but he felt strangely out of place, and not just because he was in Kaoru's room. He couldn't stop thinking about Kaoru. He knew he was missing something. It had started as a silly game of dress-up, but what in the world had it turned into?
Suddenly he thought he understood. Maybe she just wanted him to see things from her point of view! Kenshin sighed and sat up, pushing back the blanket. He had to talk to her. He was never going to get to sleep anyway. Logically he knew it was crazy to go sneaking over for a conversation in the middle of the night- what would she think? She was probably asleep anyway. And if she really was asleep, he'd just take the sakabatou and go outside to think for a while. Maybe he'd be able to clear his mind enough to get some sleep.
Silently he crept down the hall to this own room, wondering if Kaoru had ever done exactly what he was doing now. He paused outside the door and tapped on the wooden doorframe. "Kaoru-dono?" he called softly. No answer. After another moment, he carefully slid back the door. There was no sign of Kaoru- his futon hadn't even been unfolded, and there was no sign of his clothing or the sakabatou. Instantly concerned, he went looking for her.
He sighed in relief as he found her sitting on the porch. "Kaoru-dono!" he said, but there was no response. Kenshin blinked- she was fast asleep. She was still wearing his clothes, she still had crossed scars painted on her cheek, and she was sitting with her back against the wall, one leg drawn up, the sakabatou propped against her shoulder.
Kenshin felt a sudden twinge in his heart and his eyes narrowed. Just like that- how many nights had he slept sitting up, just like that? He had the eerie notion that his reflection had somehow escaped from a mirror. He was looking at himself.
Kaoru, he thought. Do I look that small and lonely to you? He gazed down at her, and gradually became aware of an old ache in his heart. His eyes kept returning to the marks on her cheek. Suddenly he disappeared back into the house, and when he came back a moment later, he was carrying a damp washcloth.
Quietly he crouched down beside Kaoru, listening carefully for any sign that she might be waking up. He was hesitant to touch her at all, since she was asleep, and such behavior might creep her out. But he just couldn't stand the sight of that 'X' on her face any longer. Lowering his eyebrows in determination, he pressed the washcloth to her cheek and lightly scrubbed at the marks he had painted there earlier.
"Mmn," Kaoru mumbled sleepily.
"Sumanai," Kenshin whispered, a little apprehensively. To his relief, the paint came off easily, leaving no trace, and Kaoru didn't wake up. He leaned back against the wall, sitting beside her, and looked down at the smudges of ink on the formerly white washcloth. Oh well. He would do laundry tomorrow.
On impulse he raised the cloth to his own cheek, and smiled. Did he wish it were that simple?
He put the damp cloth aside and stared up at the stars. He wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to explain himself to Kaoru… but somehow, he felt that she'd be able to understand him anyway. Yes. He looked back at her face, which was somber-looking in sleep. Her arm was wrapped around the sakabatou protectively, as if it really belonged to her. As if everything that sword represented… basically, his entire reason for being alive… was somehow her responsibility.
Suddenly Kenshin realized that he liked the idea of belonging to her. A little guiltily, he realized that he hoped that she would want to keep him forever.
…And he also hoped that in the morning she would give him back his clothes...
Author's note: If you want to see some fan art of Kenshin and Kaoru dressed up as each other, either e-mail me at bunetwo at hotmail dot com, or go to Shirou Shinjin's website- the link is somewhere on his profile page. Thanks for reading!