What She Really Meant

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By Dragonsdaughter

*Disclaimer* I don't own Ruroni Kenshin *sniff* mores the pity. I'm saving up my pennies to buy it off of Watsuki-sensei though.

I'm not writing this for a profit (duh, like you would -pay- to read this) and if any nasty little lawyers comes slithering around my house I'll sic Hiko-sama on them!

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AU- Just a warning, there will be some slight spoilers in this fic, not enough to really mess up the rest of the story for you, but just enough to make you confused. If you aren't familiar with the revenge arc then run away now, you probably won't get 40% of this story.

This takes place while Kenshin is sitting by the canal trying to convince himself that he's bad-ass enough to take on Jin'eh ( yes, I know, but you know how Kenshin gets)

I really had good luck with The Exchange and I thought I'd give the subject another shot. This one is a little more... violent than the first but I was trying to get a feel for Kenshin's transition between the Ruroni and the Hitokiri.

Let me know how I did.

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...Is this what needs to be done?...

...Yes...

...Must I be the one to do it?...

...Yes...

...Can I do it?...

..Yes...

...Will I do it?...

...Therein lies the problem...

Kenshin buried his face in his hands. It was very well that he had already left the dojo, he wasn't entirely sure he wanted Kaoru-dono to see him like this. It would break the illusion she had of him; the kind, powerful Ruroni who always knew what to do. Right now he wished that illusion was anything but. Things would be so much easier.

Everyone back home... at the dojo thought him to be so. Yahiko thought it, Sanosuke thought it, Ayame and Suzume thought it. Had they been the only ones around him he might have told them the truth, showed them that he was a mere mortal just like them and prone to mistakes... but Kaoru-dono...

If he shut his eyes the hers would be there, painted on the insides of his eyelids. Perfect trust shone from those bottomless cobalt pools... trust like he had never known.

"Have I ever truly been trusted before now?" he thought out loud.

Katsura had trusted him, back during the revolution... but there had been little other choice for him. Kenshin, or rather Battousai was his last hope, his secret weapon of last resort.

Tomoe had... no, Tomoe had never trusted him. If she had, then she would never have left for the forest of Barriers to bargain for his life. Tomoe had trusted herself and tried to protect him. It made him love her all the more in hindsight, but protection wasn't the same as trust. Even to the end she hadn't trusted his strength... and had died because of it.

- a sweep of raven hair obscuring his vision, light glinting off the tanto aimed at his opponent's heart-

Was it his fault because he hadn't endeavored to show her that she could trust him? Or was it his fault because somehow, some way he'd had proven himself unworthy of her trust?

-scarlet blood arching into the sky and air-

He would never know.

Kenshin let his chin fall down to rest on his collar bone. How could he allow himself to be trusted the way Kaoru-dono trusted him? Already her delicate, fragile live was jeopardized by his ugly past.

... it is all Jin'eh's fault...

Kenshin scowled and mercilessly squashed the tiny thought.

"It's my fault for being here as much as it is Jin'eh's fault for challenging me." He told himself.

Which brought him back to square one.

Could he... -would- he return to that dark, bloody place within and accept Jin'eh's challenge as the man Jin'eh intended the challenge for?

Somehow he was almost afraid of the fact that he could, and if Jin'eh endangered the lives of any one of his new family, especially Kaoru-dono, would do so without any regrets and would not rest until Jin'eh's blood soaked the soil at his feet.

Strange, he was more afraid of the monster inside himself than he was of the one stalking him even now...

The sound of sandals scuffing against the dry grass of the canal ignited Kenshin's instincts and the first few inches of his sakabatou had clear it's sheathed before Kaoru-dono's voice reached his ears in a frightening sing-song tone that boded ill things to come.

"Oh, Ken-shin!"

His attention was so focused on Kaoru-dono (who really shouldn't have been able to sneak up so close to him at her level of skill) that when he let his sword slip back into his sheath he didn't really remember to pull his thumb away from the sharp edge of the sword.

A disturbing smile stretched across Kaoru-dono's face. "I found you."

...Ororo, she's scarier than Jin'eh!... was the thought that floated disjointedly through Kenshin's mind. Maybe it was a good thing for him that Kaoru-dono's sword skills were as limited as they were, otherwise he had a feeling that he'd be on the business end of a shinai, or worse a katana, right now!

Kaoru daintily sat herself down onto the log next to him... oh good, he was going to be allowed to live long enough to be killed by Jin'eh! Thank Buddha for small miracles.

"Sanosuke told me what happened."

Kenshin jerked to attention. "So you know about Kurogasa?"

She nodded firmly. "I'm not going back to the dojo either." She informed him. "I'm staying right here with you."

Kenshin was sure he felt his heart skip a beat... it was happening again!

He pulled his eyes away form her elegant profile. He couldn't allow her beauty to seduce him into giving into her, he'd seen enough women die because of him. It was going to stop now, here, with Kaoru-dono.

Logic was the key here, Kaoru-dono was far too intelligent to endanger his life once she knew what a liability she was... even though he was going to hate himself even more for exploiting her obvious sensitivity about her weak sword style.

"Kaoru-dono." It's for her own good, it's for her own good. "I can't defeat Jin'eh if I have to protect someone."

...What a lie... If Kaoru-dono was there Kenshin seriously doubted Jin'eh would stand a chance to even draw his sword. Battousai lurked dangerously close to the surface where she was concerned... Kenshin shuddered to think what would have happened if it had been Kaoru he'd met in Kyoto instead of Tomoe.

... Kaoru-dono would never have been so foolish as to leap in front of a half-deaf, half-blind, half-mad Hitokiri hell bent on protecting the one thing precious to him. That's the real difference between her and Tomoe...

Kenshin's eyes widened slightly as that completely random thought echoed through his head. Where had that come from?

"I see," Kaoru murmured.

Kenshin felt his blood run old... she sounded so... defeated.

...Kami-sama, what have I done?...

She stood up, presumably to leave for the Dojo, and Kenshin started to stand up and stop her... apologize, tell her she wasn't weak, anything to put that fire back in her eyes... then she turned around.

Kenshin froze at the look burning in the sapphire depths of her eyes. With one small, dainty hand she reached up and tugged the blue ribbon -as blue as her eyes- out of her hair causing it to fall in a glittering wash of blue-black splendor.

...If she knew what she did to me, she could make me do anything at all...

She spread her ribbon across the palms of her hands. "This is my favorite indigo ribbon, I'm going to lend it to you."

...what do I need a ribbon for?...

"Thank you, Kaoru-dono but I..." Kenshin started.

Lightning flashed in Kaoru's eyes and her voice dropped to a dangerously low, threatening pitch. "Just take it!"

... Shut up and take the thing before she kills you!... Kenshin advised himself. ... Although, it may be nice to have something of Kaoru's to remind me of her when I leave. I'm not sure I could survive forgetting about her, every rock and tree on the road would probably remind me of her...

Kaoru looked the other way in uncharacteristic shyness as Kenshin tucked the strip of blue silk into his Gi, right next to his heart.

"Look Kenshin... I'm only lending it to you." She told him brusquely. "It's my favorite, so you have to -give it back-."

Kenshin blinked in confusion. He wanted to keep the ribbon, as a reminder, but now she was telling him...

... but to return her property to her I'd have to beat Jin'eh and come back to the...

And the light dawned.

A slow, but true smile eased across Kenshin's lips like a forgotten friend. Somehow he found it in him to meet Kaoru's burning eyes and let that smile shine all the way through his soul.

"Of course, Kaoru-dono. I understand." And he really did, finally, for the first time he'd figured it out -before- the crisis fell on his head. "Go back to the Dojo and wait for me. I'll come back to..."

Jin'eh couldn't possibly have moved as fast as he did, Kenshin could barely do anything but move his head in morbid fascination as Jin'eh snatched Kaoru from the idyllic pose he had all but finished.

Everything seemed to be in slow motion with Kenshin as the slowest as Jin'eh tugged Kaoru onto the rickety raft that bore him down the canal, laughing like a mad man, no wait he -was- a mad man, the whole while.

Reality snapped back into it's proper speed when Jin'eh called out to him.

"I see this girl is your woman, Battousai!"

Kenshin burst off of the log, recklessly sprinting down the grassy slopes lining the canal, but it was futile. The river was tireless and no matter who had once been, Kenshin Himura was made of flesh and blood that tired eventually.

No, NO! This wasn't fair, he'd finally figured it out! It wasn't supposed to happen this way!

"No!" his voice was torn from his throat in a desperate plea that he barely recognized as his own. "Kaoru-dono! NO!"

"Get angry Battousai!" Jin'eh's fading voice commanded. "Get angry and become the man you once were!"

Kaoru, delicate and yet strong at the same time forced her fist between her mouth and Jin'eh's hand just long enough to call out his name once.

"Kenshin!"

Rage boiled up from the deep wellspring inside Kenshin soul known as Battousai. For one split second there was neither Kenshin Himura the Ruroni nor Battousai the Hitokiri but a man in the grips of a primal rage such as he had -never- known before.

"JIN'EH!!!!!!"

The laughing madman would die.

One way or another.

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Fin