Author-chan's note: I know I shouldn't be starting one of these again, but Lener asked, so here I go with another one-shot! Again, written in the same serious tones and first point of view of "Taste", "Fishbone", and "Smoke". This time, it's Kaoru's turn.

Disclaimer- I may have stolen Kenshin's clothes (well, actually I just sewed replicas of them for cosplay), but I do not own RK. Tear

Kenjutsu

Kaoru's POV

Katsujin-ken. The sword that gives life. The sword that protects.

My family's legacy.

It's such a simple idea, katsujin-ken. It's an idea that I've lived for my entire life. I have practiced my family's style, Kamiya Kasshin Ryu since I was a child and have become good enough in it to the point of being shihandai, assistant master. Among the kenjutsu schools here in Tokyo, I'm ranked among the best of the best. I am the "Kenjutsu Princess". And everyone at those schools agrees that it shouldn't be long before I am a true master of my style.

But sometimes…

But always…

Despite my abilities, despite my accomplishments, despite my beliefs, despite my dedication to katsujin-ken, I find myself falling short. I am useless when it matters.

Worse than useless. I am a liability.

I know my limitations in battle. I know that I'm not as strong as Sano, or Saito, or… or…

I'm not as strong as Kenshin.

And I know my limitations come from my beliefs. From being gentle with my opponent. I am much gentler with my opponent than Kenshin is. At least his sakabatou is metal. My bokken is wood, easily broken. And because of this, I can never take care of myself when a true opponent comes knocking at the door.

I get kidnapped. I get into situations I cannot control.

And in the end Kenshin has to save me.

I never wanted to be the delicate flower that always needed to be protected, Kenshin. I never wanted to be a liability, a weakness. I wanted to be your partner. The one who would stand next to you in battle and help you defeat your enemies.

I truly do envy Sanosuke.

Sometimes I wonder, what would happen if I wasn't me? If I wasn't weak. If I could smash boulders like Sanosuke, be as ruthless and cunning as Saito…

Be as swift and strong as you.

And sometimes I wonder, what would happen if I threw away my beliefs, turned my back against the one ideal I followed since I was a child.

What if I followed satsujin-ken rather than katsujin-ken?

Kenshin no baka, always thinking that I know nothing of satsujin-ken, the sword that gives death, the killing blade. To know katsujin-ken, one must know of its crueler cousin. Even katsujin-ken can easily become death on steel, or worse.

Why do you think all practitioners of the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu used bokken? All the moves concentrate on the joints or on head-shots. If I wielded a katana, what would have happened?

Headless bodies and crippled swordsmen.

That is why Kamiya Kasshin practitioners use bokken. If I had a katana in my hands…dead men would have only been the beginning. If I had sliced through my opponents' limbs, rather than had broken them, what would have happened? Broken arms will heal, but cut off ones? Swordsmen crippled for eternity are not swordsmen at all.

And you know better than anyone that swordsmen who are no longer swordsmen are as good as dead.

That is why katsujin-ken is so hard to follow. It would be too easy to pick up a katana and literally disarm an opponent or kill them. All swordsmen have the ability to kill.

Even me.

I could stop being a liability to you, Kenshin. I could stand on my own two feet. All I would have to do is pick up a true blade and I would be at least a little bit stronger.

For you, I would do it. Turn my back on my beliefs, that is, and kill.

But you never wanted me to. You always seemed horrified at the very thought of me and killing.

I know you feel that way. I can tell.

I notice when you frown when I stare at the bladed edge of a knife too long, or when I asked Misao-chan to show me a few tricks with her kunai. I see you shift uncomfortably when I glance at your sakabatou and pay more attention to the sharp edge rather than the dull side, even if it is just for a second.

I am not blind to the darkness in your own eyes, fearing what would happen to me if I became you, became what you were.

And in a way, I am glad. I am more than glad. Katsujin-ken, the sword that gives life, is the only constant in my life. Dull weapons and careful strikes live at the core of my being as well as the belief never to kill.

And I don't want to kill.

But if I had to, if it was for you, I would. In a heartbeat.

Just as you would do for me, for us, your friends.

I can see it in your eyes, Kenshin, those sun-kissed amethyst orbs. I've seen those small amber flashes in your eyes when I am in danger. The look on your face that doesn't promise hurt and pain, but death.

A Shinigami has rested in the core of your being, Kenshin, and it will not leave.

I've tried to ignore it. Tried to believe that you won't kill again, no matter what.

But you and I are too much alike. And I know what you will do, because I would as well.

We would forget our promises, our oaths not to kill, to protect.

And protecting is the very core of our beliefs, ne, Kenshin? Protecting those we love, those we care about, our family, is the most important thing.

Never mind the oaths of non-killing.

But it will never come to that, will it, Kenshin? You won't let me kill, and I won't let you kill.

It works out for both of us, since neither of us wishes to kill.

But we could.

The thought terrifies me.

That's why I hit you and Sano and Yahiko everyday. It's a silly thing I suppose. I get mad at all of you, yes, but that's not the real reason why I hit you with my bokken.

Every time my bokken connects and doesn't leave a corpse, I feel happy. This bokken will not kill. I will not kill.

I will not accidentally kill any one of you or any of my opponents. I know this, because I can't kill you. I suppose I'm stupid, being violent on the three of you, just to reassure myself. I should probably stop that habit.

But I can't.

I can't stop being happy that every time one of you takes a hit from me, you're still able to get up, that I haven't killed you. I cannot help but feel warm deep in my heart when you are able to brush yourselves off and greet me later with a smile, a laugh, a note of reassurance.

I need reassurance that none of you will die. After all, only I have permission to kill any of you.

That thought alone guarantees that I'll never trade my bokken in for a katana.

So, I suspect that all of you will live very long lives, because you won't die from me.

I promise.

We are cruel people, Kenshin. Surely you have noticed that. By our natures as followers of katsujin-ken, we are cruel. Katsujin-ken is so much harsher than its cousin, satsujin-ken. This is a truth that only katsujin-ken followers know. Those who fought Battousai are happily resting in their graves, free from pain and suffering. Free from heartbreak. But the Rurouni's opponents do not have that luxury. They live, still vulnerable to the pain of being alive. You have ruined more than one life, Rurouni Kenshin. Villains seeking to end your life have found their lives in tatters, their truths, their absolutes, their whole meanings of existence destroyed not by the sharp edge of you sword, but by your words, by your revelations. They are forced to recreate their lives, rethink what it is they are supposed to do. By not killing your opponents you destroy them utterly then force them to be reborn. You crush them utterly, until they are no longer even themselves.

The Rurouni makes beginnings. Battousai made endings.

Beginnings are always the hardest. Endings are always easier.

I still hate being weak. I still hate being a weakness to you, Kenshin. I still hate that every psychopath that has some sort of grudge uses me to get to you, even though I know in the end they will be remolded later.

I want to fight next to you in battle. I want to be your strength in a swordfight. To be your right hand, your sword hand. I want to help you show your enemies the second path, the one that leads to rebirth.

But I cannot.

And it hurts me. It hurts me more than anything.

I can understand Kamatari of the Juppongatana. We are very much alike. We are caught in the middle. Neither of us could be the perfect man, the perfect battle companion, to our chosen loves. Nor could we be the perfect woman, the perfect wife.

You had the perfect wife, Kenshin, and I am not her.

I envy Tomoe.

She was soft, and gentle, and feminine. I am anything but. Rough hands, tanuki tomboy attitude…no, I could not be the perfect wife.

I wonder, will I end up like Kamatari? Forever misplaced by the one who matters most?

But the thought fades quickly to be replaced by another.

What am I to you, Kenshin?

Sometimes I think I know, but sometimes I don't. And I'm afraid to ask.

Something inside of me says that I'm being silly. Why should I ask you? I already know the answer. There is no question about it, who I am to you.

I look at my hands a lot now. They are pale, yes, like a true dainty woman's should. But they are scarred and rough, padded thick with calluses like a man's.

Contradiction.

My hands are strange, forever caught between two extremes, and I know they are not enough.

I can't do enough.

But I fear I have done all I can.

What do you want me to be, Kenshin?

Do you want me to be a delicate woman you can admire and adore? Do you want me to be a warrior, strong and proud, that can share your life's battles?

I so desperately wish to be both.

I try to be strong and brave, to stand at your side in a fight…but Sano holds that spot.

I try to be beautiful and feminine…but Tomoe was much better than me.

So I am stuck.

I wonder why I try.

Sometimes, that cool part of me that stands above the rest looks at my life and laughs. I try to be something I am not.

Why? For what?

I practice my kenjutsu. I follow my oaths, my beliefs. I tie a pretty obi. I wear my mother's silk hair ribbons.

Am I just playing dress up?

Am I just playing samurai?

Am I…Am I just a child, Kenshin?

Sometimes, I close my eyes and pretend.

I pretend that I am not weak.

I pretend that I am beautiful.

I pretend that you love me.

Yes, I am a child.

And I know you will not love a child. Not romantically.

I want to grow up, Kenshin. I want to grow up and stand next to you, not behind you or away from you.

But I've forgotten how. Everything seems like a big mess. And that calm cool part of me asks if I am being foolish questioning myself like this, pretending like this. It whispers sometimes about pretend and how it is impossible to pretend to be something you already are and never have been.

How silly…

I don't understand myself.

Or perhaps I understand myself too perfectly to admit.

Did you know, Kenshin, I sat in front of my mirror today and painted my face? Put on make-up that is. Heavy white paint to hide the flaws, light pink powder across the cheeks to give the illusion of an innocent blush, dark red pigment to make too thin lips more noticeable for a kiss…

And something dark to accent the eyes that look alien on that perfect-geisha face.

I couldn't help but realize then how ridiculous I looked. I was painted up as pretty as a porcelain doll, but my eyes were still my own, eyes that were gaijin pale and full of fire too wild for a true Yamato Nadesico. They were a contradiction, just like my pale rough hands.

I had wiped my face quickly after that. Now you know, I suppose, why my face was red from scrubbing.

How childish of me, acting as a little girl trying on her mother's make-up. But I wanted to see. I wanted see what I would have looked like had I been the ideal woman. However, all that little stunt did for me was show me that I could never reach that ideal.

Too much fire in those water-colored eyes of mine.

Ironic, ne, Kenshin? I, whose coloring is that of water and cool things, am known for a fiery temper. You, on the other hand, look like a flame that decided to take human form, yet you are calmer than I. You flow easily with your environment, like water.

Perhaps our minds or souls were switched at birth.

Sanosuke and Yahiko would get a laugh out of that. They already tell you that you are too "feminine" with your perchance to do laundry, clean, and cook. And I myself have gotten no too few barbs about my "masculinity".

What do they know?

So now you still do not know. I whisper my thoughts and beliefs in my head, speak of them aloud in my mind, but my voice does not leave my throat to tell you, Kenshin. You still do not know of my feelings, my feelings of inadequacy.

Or perhaps you do. After all, it is you who always compliments me on a new kimono, no matter how brief the words are. You are always the one who nods approvingly when I finish a kata.

Always you, silently encouraging me. Just as I do for you.

We really are very much alike.

We quietly assure, we fall in this pattern, we weave our lives together. We are each others support. We are each other's whole lives.

If you and I had truly been switched at birth, if you had been the "Kenjutsu Princess" and I the "Hitokiri Battousai", would things have been different?

Maybe a little. Maybe a lot. But in the end, it would have still been the same outcome.

We are both contradictions to our existence. We are both katsujin-ken kenjutsu practitioners who hear the seductive call of satsujin-ken.

We are weak. We are strong.

My hand touches my left cheek and, for a brief moment, I feel scars.

I am you. You are me.

And in the end, we are not.

I am myself, Kamiya Kaoru, a woman too weak to stand by your side, yet too strong to hide behind you.

And you are yourself, Himura Kenshin, a man too strong to be left alone by your enemies, yet too weak to finish them all.

How silly of me to think we are the same. The person who looks in the mirror back at me is not you; it is a stranger I have yet to be introduced to. I see hundreds of things in that polished glass: a warrior, a lady, a child, an adult…So many contradictions. What do you see in the mirror?

Or are you too frightened to look, scared that what might greet you will be flashing amber eyes and blood stained hands.

If I was you, and I am and I am not, I would be scared to look as well.

The looking glass is before me now, and I close my eyes and leave the room.

I am more and less of a hitokiri than you are. I do not delude myself. I would kill more readily than you to save a life, yet I am more reluctant to do so.

Contradiction. Contradiction. Contradiction.

Everyone thinks I am afraid of the side of you who still thinks like Hitokiri Battousai because I do not understand. They think that all I know of Battousai is the incomparably cruel hitokiri of legend.

They are idiots.

I do understand Hitokiri Battousai. I can hear his voice at times, whispering to me quietly in my own head and through your own voice. And I know that he is kinder than the usual you in his own bloodstained way. He at least ends his opponents' suffering with a soft kiss from a cold cruel blade.

But it is because I understand him that I am frightened. He could have been me, and he is you. He is kinder and crueler than you, the second side to a double-headed coin.

We understand each other, you and I. Perfectly. Completely. We move together, false true water and true false fire striving to become real.

I laugh. I must sound so silly with these overturning thoughts that stumble over each other like newborn kittens. More muddled than darkened dirt, yet clearer than crystal glass, these thoughts are.

And you look at me, curious to why I am laughing. You can read my ki, but not my mind, and you are curious, turning those bright eyes at me.

"Who are we, Kenshin?" I whisper, smiling softly. You smile softly back, for once foregoing your usual "oro".

"We are ourselves, Kaoru-dono," you answer, that familiar grin (happiness there, warm like the sun overhead, with hidden shadows from the moonlit past buried beneath) lighting upon your face.

You read my mind, did you not? Or perhaps you read your own.

I smile and nod, then go back inside to the dojo to train some more.

I hear your mind whispering to mine (or perhaps it is simply my mind whispering to myself).

And I already know that I am standing by your side in your darkest battles. Those are the ones that neither a sword nor your Hiten Mitsurugi training can help you in. The ones in your mind.

In my mind, perhaps.

I step into the center of the dojo and slide into the first round of kata of the Kamiya Kasshin Ryu.

I wonder if Sano is jealous that he cannot fight at your side like I can.

-

Glossary:

Battousai: Kenshin's nickname during the Bakumatsu (Meiji Revolution); it refers to his skill in battoujutsu, the act of drawing your sword swiftly from the sheath to perform a quick attack

Bokken: wooden sword

-chan: a name suffix; used as a form of endearment

Dojo: martial arts training hall

-dono: a name suffix; extremely polite and is rarely used in modern times

Gaijin: "foreign" or "foreigner"

Geisha: a female entertainer

Hitokiri: "assassin"

Juppongatana: "The Ten Swords"; Shishio Makoto's elite group of warriors

Kata: martial art forms containing both offensive and defensive movements

Kamiya Kasshin Ryu: Kaoru's family sword style; is based on the concept of katsujin-ken

Katana: the most common type of Japanese sword

Katsujin-ken: "swords that give life"; idea that makes swords and those who use them protectors of other people

Kenjutsu: swordsmanship; not to be confused with kendo, which is a sport, kenjutsu is learning the sword to use in combat

Kunai: a type of dagger; normally used by ninja

Obi: a type of sash worn with kimono

Oro: one of Kenshin's trademark words; can be used as an exclamation of surprise or befuddlement, or just to save one's butt

Ne: "right?"

Rurouni: "wanderer"; a mangling of "ronin"

Sakabatou: a reverse blade sword; the sharp and dull edges are reversed

Satsujin-ken: "swords that give death"; the most common idea among kenjutsu practitioners; the sword is used by its wielder to kill

Shinigami: a god or spirit of death

Tanuki: "raccoon-dog"

Yamato Nadesico: a term to mean an ideal woman by Japanese standards

Author-chan's notes: This fic seems to be much more jumbled up (at least to me) than the others. Well, since it is supposed to portray Kaoru's thoughts as she thinks them, I suppose it is okay. This is a steam of consciousness after all. Thoughts tend to become jumbled as you think them. Also, Kaoru is thinking in the present rather than reflecting on past events like Saito did in "Smoke" or Kenshin did in "Taste". She is also not thinking like Sanosuke in "Fishbone" who though about both past and future. Heh. And this story is also a bit lighter than the others.