Disclaimer: The Kenshin-gumi aren't mine. (Bet you didn't see that one coming.)

AN: Well, everyone, you're in luck. My departure time was pushed back by several hours and since you all were in such anguish over having to wait, I sat down and finished it.

Reckoning

Yahiko: Kenshin and Kaoru haven't been talking since he insulted her strength, but after I mistakenly heard Kaoru say she was engaged to her new sparring partner, it looks like Kenshin's ready to take action. Here it is folks, the final showdown.

Chapter Five: High Noon at the Kamiya Dojo

Kaoru walked back to the dojo slowly, grappling with her tangled emotions. Before she had run into the wall, she'd been incensed with her friends. Her talk with Tae had left her feeling torn, though. Kaoru had meant every word she'd said when she'd told Tae she couldn't be with Kenshin if he never accepted her kenjutsu talent. But she'd felt a pang when Tae cautioned her not to waste their love. Maybe it was time for Kaoru to really sit down and have a heart to heart with Kenshin. They'd never once had a deep conversation on just how the Kamiya Kashin Ryu fit into her life or about how she perceived herself. She knew that yelling at Kenshin would never help him to understand why she felt the way she did. He still needed to atone, of that Kaoru was positive, but she needed to make an effort to help him understand her instead of expecting him to just spontaneously turn into the Kenshin she wanted him to be. Sighing deeply, Kaoru realized that if she expected him to accept her self-sufficiency, she needed to accept that he would always worry regardless. If she couldn't do that, she was no better than he in this matter.

Arriving at the dojo's gate, Kaoru stopped to take a deep breath. Her emotions had been such a wreck lately. One minute she was angry, the next regretful, then conciliatory. Every time she saw or even thought about her friends, she seemed to experience a wild mood swing. Kaoru was almost afraid to enter, unsure of what her reaction might be this time in her fragile emotional state.

She opened the gate, wondering what to expect. Many possible scenarios crossed her mind, but Kenshin standing in her yard, eyes glowing gold as he stared intently at Yahiko and Sano was not one of them. Kaoru stopped short, breath catching in her throat as his gaze came to rest on her. Unwilling to be intimidated, Kaoru resumed her steps forward.

"What's wrong, Kenshin?" she asked, trying to keep her voice from shaking.

He stared at her for a moment. Then, he spoke in a low, commanding tone. "Kaoru, into the dojo now. We must talk."

Her eyes narrowed. He was ordering her around? Battousai or not, no one commanded Kamiya Kaoru. Immediately she felt her temper rising. She didn't know what had brought this state upon him, but she certainly wasn't going to just obey his every beck and call. She stiffened her spine and stared back defiantly.

"No. Whatever you have to say to me can be said out here." Kaoru responded, proud at how confident she sounded.

Kenshin's eyes darkened in displeasure. After a moment of silence, he finally answered, "Fine."

Once again he didn't speak, only stared at her. Kaoru met his look with equal intensity. The air practically crackled between them as they silently challenged each other to a war of wills. A quick glance towards Yahiko and Sano would have shown them trying to blend in with the dojo wall though it was hardly necessary as Kenshin and Kaoru had completely forgotten about them, so concentrated on each other were they. Finally growing impatient, Kaoru spoke. "Do you or don't you have anything to say it to me. These silly mind games aren't going to work on me."

Rebuked, Kenshin went straight to the point. "You are to marry Minami-san, I hear. Well, I won't let you and that's final."

Kaoru was almost too shocked to speak. A part of her wanted to laugh at Kenshin and tell him that he'd gotten it all wrong. She didn't know how he could have even gotten such an idea in his head. The more dominant part of her, though, was incensed. Who was he to tell her who she could and could not marry?

"Excuse me?" she answered sharply. "You have some nerve, Himura Kenshin. I can't believe you have the gall to think you can determine whom I may marry. That decision is entirely up to me. What gives you the right?"

"You're not going to marry Minami-san..." his voice grew stronger, "Because you're going to marry me," Kenshin stated as if there could be no doubt on the matter.

"Oh am I? I certainly don't remember agreeing to that," Kaoru retorted.

"You don't remember agreeing because I just decided it a few minutes ago."

"Well I hate to disappoint you, but I am most certainly not going to marry you. No one tells me I'm getting married to them. Not you, Kenshin, not anyone," she replied fiercely. From his position by the fence, Sano had gone noticeably white. "I may have considered it if you'd asked, but I certainly will never marry you just because you will it. Oh, and for your information, I was even never engaged to Atsumori-san. We are simply friends. Of course, that is beside the point."

Kenshin seemed to relax almost imperceptibly. He thought he knew where she was going with this. "Kaoru, will you marry me?" he asked as gently as he could manage while still being the Battousai.

She looked long and hard at him, unsure how to respond. On one hand, she was still angered by his presumption. Kenshin had a lot to learn if he thought he could just give her orders and expect her to submit meekly. On the other hand, she'd been waiting for this moment for over two years. Well, not this exact moment. She'd never imagined him proposing in such a manner, and she always dreamed it would be a bit more romantic and a bit less battle-like. Suddenly, a thought formed in her mind.

"I will consider your offer on one condition," she responded, stressing the fact that she hadn't made up her mind yet.

"What's your condition?"

"Spar with me. Right now. In the dojo. If you refuse, my answer to your proposal will be the same," Kaoru answered firmly. She knew she was gambling here, but she had no choice. Kaoru couldn't marry Kenshin until she was sure he wouldn't make her feel stifled and incompetent. Forcing him to spar with her was the only way she knew to make him really see her skill. Her only fear was that Kenshin's need to protect her might override his desire to wed.

For a time, Kenshin was silent as he battled with himself over what to do. Kaoru watched as he seemed to deflate and the gold color slowly left his eyes. In an unsteady voice, Kenshin answered "Why, Kaoru-dono? First, just tell my why you want this so much."

Kaoru hadn't been expecting that. She stood gaping at him for a moment, desperately trying to gather her thoughts so she could explain. When she felt sufficiently in command of herself, she began.

"It's because I need you to understand me. I need to you understand what the Kamiya Kashin Ryu means to me, what role it plays in my life. I've been training since I was old enough to hold a bokken. It has shaped my life and my beliefs and made me what I am today. I'm not like other girls. I don't cook well, and I'm not demure and graceful. I've never wanted to be, and I can't be. I understand kenjutsu, not the feminine arts. Kenjutsu is my greatest talent and my only real contribution to society. When you tell me I must stay behind because I'm not good enough to fight, you are saying that Kamiya Kaoru is not good enough to do anything. You have no idea how betrayed I feel when you let Yahiko go along and but force me to stay behind. Do you forget that he is my student? That if I weren't more skilled than him, I couldn't teach him to begin with? I need you to see that, while I'm not at good at kenjutsu as you or Saitou or Aoshi, it's still my talent and I'm still better than the average person. I know I can't measure up to you, but that doesn't mean I don't know what I'm doing. I need you to have more faith in me, and sparring is the only way I know how to achieve that."

Kenshin watched her, his eyes seeking the truth in hers. Softly, resignedly, he answered.

As you wish, Kaoru-dono. I cannot deny that I am uncomfortable with this, but I will do whatever it takes to regain your trust, that I will. I want to understand, Kaoru, I truly do."

Kaoru's breath caught at the sight of naked emotions on his face and the sound of her name said without its honorific, but this was no time to become mushy with sentiment. Kenshin had agreed to spar with her! She had to be focused. It would not do at all to be so distracted by this moment that her skills failed her. Kaoru had only one chance to prove her worth, and she couldn't screw it up.

They moved into the dojo, a stunned Sano and Yahiko following dumbly. Kaoru walked to the shrine to meditate where she was joined shortly by Kenshin. Softly, she spoke. "You promise you won't hold back, right Kenshin?"

With equal softness, he answered, "Kaoru, I must hold back some. Many of my moves are meant to kill men far stronger than you. But I will promise not to go easy on you, that I will."

Kaoru nodded, knowing that was the best offer she would get. Privately, she knew Kenshin was right. There was simply no way she could stand up to his Ama Kekeru Ryu no Hirameki. As long as he didn't make it too easy, she would be satisfied.

When both finished meditating, they walked to the center of the dojo and readied their stances. Kaoru noticed a look of determination cross Kenshin's face and wondered if it were directed at her or himself. She had no more time to think as he suddenly charged her and the fight was joined.

The week of training with Atsumori had paid off. She was stronger, quicker, and more coordinated than ever before. Despite this, she knew she couldn't last that much longer. She was fast, but Kenshin was faster. His sword appeared as a silver streak and only her instincts defended her against his attacks. Kaoru was proud that she was finally sparring with Kenshin, and that he hadn't disarmed her in the first pass. Having traded blows with the best swordsman in Japan and not getting knocked out in the first minute was a great achievement. Kaoru knew that she could consider this moment a sound accomplishment even in the defeat which was quickly bearing down on her, but something in her wasn't satisfied. She didn't want to just last against Kenshin for a few minutes, she wanted to throw him off-guard, to go down having planted the seed of doubt in his mind, to make him wonder if she might have won in different circumstances.

The idea came to her in a flash of brilliance. Kaoru knew she would never beat Kenshin at his own game. No matter what she did and how innovatively she fought, Kenshin would beat her at kenjutsu sooner or later. But while he was a master at armed combat, Kaoru knew his weakness lay when he was disarmed. Never once in all the years they had known each other had Kaoru ever seen Kenshin fight unarmed. Though his size was a disadvantage, there were techniques that neutralized an opponent's overwhelming strength and size. Kaoru suspected Kenshin didn't actually have training in those techniques, but she did. Her idea was a gamble, but it could change the way Kenshin thought about her forever if she was successful.

Kaoru dropped back momentarily, putting as much space between herself and Kenshin as she could. Then without warning, she charged. She knew the way she held her bokken left her wide open to be disarmed by Kenshin, but that didn't matter. She remembered how his grip changed when he went to counter the attack, and that was all that mattered. As expected, as soon as Kaoru came into Kenshin's range, he attempted to trap her sword and force it out of her hands. Instead of holding onto it as expected, though, Kaoru let go and thrust her hands forward at his. In the blink of an eye, her hands found the bottom of the sakabatou's hilt and she pulled with her might. Unprepared for such a tactic, Kenshin allowed his sword to be pried from his grasp. Before he could even react, Kaoru had him flipped onto the wood floor. The red head rolled to the side quickly, preventing her attempt to pin him. At least he thought she was trying to pin him. Instead, she had used his moment of distraction to recover his sword. When he looked up to prepare for her next attack, he found Kaoru standing over him, pointing his own blade at his throat.

"Hold!" he cried, more than a little shocked by the turn of events.

Kaoru's eyes went wide, equally surprised by her victory. She knew that her idea had the potential to work, but a part of her had never guessed that she might actually succeed. The young woman suddenly realized that she was still pointing Kenshin's sword at him and abruptly moved it to her side. Flushed, she let an embarrassed "sorry" escape her lips. Slowly, the realization truly sunk in and a wide grin spread across her face.

"I beat you," Kaoru said in wonder.

"You defeated me, that you did," Kenshin answered from his position on the floor. He stood up and brushed himself off. "I...I'm more impressed than you can imagine. I hope never thought that I considered your skill worthless, for that is not true, though I admit to having gravely underestimated you, that I did. For that I apologize deeply. Never again will I doubt you, Kaoru, never again. But you must understand that I can't help but worry anyway, that I can't. I love you, Kaoru. I can't help but be afraid that I might lose you. I would die if anything were to happen to you; I already did once."

"It's alright Kenshin, I understand. We'll work on our flaws together. You will learn to worry less, and I will learn to accept what worry of yours remains," she answered gently.

She noticed that he was looking at her funny. Well, not actually at her, but at her hand. With a jolt, Kaoru remembered that she still held his sword.

"Oh! Here, you can have this back now," she said hurriedly, handing him the sakabatou.

A look of relief came over Kenshin as took back and sword and sheathed it. Then, he turned his attention back to Kaoru, staring at her intently.

"Kaoru?" Kenshin questioned.

"Yes," Kaoru responded, feeling like she'd been in this situation once before. She had a sudden urge to check to building for robbers.

"Will you marry me, Kaoru?" Kenshin asked, half afraid of what her answer might be.

"Of course I'll marry you, baka," she responded lovingly.

Kenshin let out a nervous sigh. "Good, I was worried..."

"What do you mean you were worried? You do realize I love you, don't you? I can't believe you have such little faith in-"

Kenshin cut her off abruptly. "Kaoru, shut up."

She was about to retort angrily, but before Kaoru had a chance, she found herself being soundly kissed by Kenshin. Her anger melted away as she gave herself over to it. She could have remained like that indefinitely if it weren't for Sano and Yahiko. They had finally conquered the stupor that had overtaken them at the sight of Kenshin losing and were now freely commenting on the couple.

"Whooohooo Kenshin, way to go!" Sano encouraged from the side.

"Busu and Kensin sitting in a tree. K -"

"Shut up, brat!" Kaoru broke in loudly, stalking over to the pair in mock annoyance. Kenshin followed close behind, eyes happily watching his new fiancée.

"So Jou-chan, those were some nice moves back there. I always knew you had it in you," Sano said smiling innocently.

Kaoru leaned up against Kenshin, letting him wrap his arms around her. She allowed herself a moment to marvel at the feeling, then looked at Sano evilly.

"Don't think I didn't hear you telling Kenshin that I was too weak to take on someone who was a 'master of their technique' in a fair fight," she said threateningly. "You're next."

A worried "shit!" echoed in the dojo in counterpoint to Kaoru's devilish laughter.

AN: It's done, yay! As for Kaoru beating Kenshin, I know it's a long shot, but hey, that's what these stories are for. I've just really wanted her to shock him for some time now. Does Kenshin know how to fight unarmed? I don't really know. I can't recall any hand to hand combat involving him on the show, but I'm pretty sure I saw one where Kaoru was teaching it to Yahiko. Also, I don't know if I got Ama Kekeru... right and I'm too lazy to look it up right now. Well, I hope you all enjoyed this. And to everyone who reviewed, thank you very much. If it weren't for you, this story wouldn't have been finished for another week.