This is meant to come perhaps a day or two after the final scene of “The Legend Ends.” That last smirk is a priceless way to end the films, and only Kenshin could manage to say so much, so indirectly. Beautiful leaves, indeed! However, the more I thought about it, they really kind of gloss over how much and what Kaoru actually knows for certain about his past. In the first movie, Megumi is the one who gets the story of the scars out of him. At the execution, we get to see Kaoru almost overcome by the full revelation of the horror of the career of the Hitokiri Battousai and just how much it crushes Kenshin, without losing her faith in him; but the movies make it very unclear just how Tomoe managed to give him the second scar, and even if Kenshin actually killed her (although how he got Akira’s scar is quite sufficiently wrenching). It’s like in the movies he was never in love with or married to Tomoe, although obviously he is deeply pained by the memory of the young couple he whose happiness he destroyed. (It is also possible that there is more in the dialog that the subtitles omit or botch – my Japanese is decent enough to tell that the subs REALLY stink in places. The sword that ‘revitalizes’ people? Ouch.)
Consequently, after reading around and comparing the multiple versions of what supposedly happened with Tomoe, and comparing it to what is in the movie, I did my best to come up with a sort of “bridge” scenario that takes points from both accounts. I like it; hopefully you do, too.
They had taken to walking outside the dojo together in the early evenings, sometimes talking, sometimes content to be silent in the warmth of each other’s company. By unspoken agreement they sought semi-privacy, leaving nosy neighbors and anyone who would take issue with the past behind.
Kenshin fell back momentarily and Kaoru turned to see him bent double over a clump of violet asters standing tall beside the path, pulling. He stopped short with an awkward grunt and she panicked. Kenshin, eyes closed, began to shake.
He glanced sideways at her sheepishly, still attached to the plant. He was laughing. Kaoru’s heart slowed to normal speed again.
“It used more muscles than I thought,” he admitted, embarrassed, his dimples showing. Kaoru edged in beside him and pried his hands off the mangled stalk. She bent it one way, then the other, tugging and twisting and finally using her fingernails until the tough stalk relinquished its hold. Masaka… Kenshin was standing back, his hands tucked into his sleeves, his smile still gracing his lips.
Suddenly shy, she held out the lightly squashed cluster of flower heads to him.
Kenshin stepped forward to receive them, his fingers brushing falteringly but deliberately against hers. Soft spiky petals tickled her palms, his calluses grazing her knuckles around them; warm clumsy hands and purple flowers tangling together until they stood close together looking down at their quasi-joined hands.
“Did you hurt – here?” Kaoru waved her hand in the air across the general area of his chest, where the stitches still held him together under two layers of cloth. Even so, it seemed too much to – touch – him, too forward…
She jerked her hand back automatically when the distance between them narrowed by half, only then feeling the gentle pressure at the small of her back, the warmth of the arm that curved around her side as red fabric rose up in front of her. Tentatively she lowered her elbow outside of his, feeling daring and nervous and very aware of how close he was. He’d never held her like this before, not the enveloping embrace of the past with his head bowed over her shoulder, but open, merely within the loose circle of his arm. Very carefully she settled her hand around the corner of his shoulder. His arm was beneath hers, supporting it, blue fabric over red. Fiery bangs brushed her forehead, blowing out between them with the gray evening breeze, as red as the maple leaves that blazed on the edges of the clearing. Kenshin’s head drooped contentedly and without thinking Kaoru reached up to touch his left cheek, to the slight indented lines of the old scars. Kenshin tilted his head, eyes closed, pressing willingly into her touch. Funny, how she had never really wondered about them. They were part of what he had put behind, the legend that had left her heart aching as the list had gone on and on and on until only the fence had kept her from running out and pulling him away from the awfulness of it. They were so smooth and clean, so precise and almost beautiful if they hadn’t been drawn in living flesh.
“Where they – did these happen at the same time?” she asked softly. Not how, just when. He shook his head slightly, careful not to dislodge her hand.
“Do you remember the one he said, the one who was about to be married?” His hand carefully covered hers, guiding it down the longer axis, the one that pointed toward the corner of his mouth. “He gave me this one.”
For some reason she remembered the name. “Kiyosato Akira.” The pain in his eyes was faint, only a memory now, faded to regret.
“Yes. The other one – ” he lifted her hand to the top of the crosswise furrow, the shorter one that ran nearly vertical. “The woman who loved him was named Yukishiro Tomoe. She planned to kill me, taking a job as a maid at the inn where the Choshu had their headquarters. I saw her, talked to her briefly from day to day – I had no idea. Then everything went to chaos and there was a fight on our home ground. We had been betrayed and everyone was going down; it was so dark you couldn’t see. I was in a bad spot and sensed a blow coming – I…” He pressed her flattened palm against his cheek, covering the scars entirely. “I struck out to kill my opponent, and she had come between us. There – there’s a fine line between hate and love, sometimes.”
Kaoru raised her other hand to touch him, to comfort him, still holding the wilting asters. He leaned his forehead against hers, blinking quickly, but determined to go on.
“She only had a tanto. I – I nearly cut her in half. I caught her and she looked up at me. ‘It’s all right – this is all the revenge I want now,’ she said, and I felt the blade on my face, like – like she was being careful. Then she fell back and just as she died she whispered, ‘Don’t forget…us.’ And then I knew who she was.”
Kaoru let her hands slide down to curl over the top of his shoulders to either side of his collar, her forearms flat against his chest. Both his arms were around her waist, the sakabatou shunted away to the side.
“I never really knew what I had taken from them,” he murmured, quicker now, agitated. “I could understand how horrible it was, but I never felt it. Not until Soujiro took you on that ship, and I saw you up there so far out of my reach, and when he said they would burn you I – ” There was no distance between them, now, no room for the battered asters, as Kenshin clung to her and told her things she had never known. “I couldn’t find you in the water. I couldn’t leave you to drown – I went mad because you had to be so close and I couldn’t feel you, couldn’t see you, because you would die and I – when I woke up alone I wanted to die…”
“Kenshin – ”
Kaoru was crying, holding him tight, her hair falling down over her shoulders because he hadn’t noticed he’d caught the end of her hair tie under his hand. He took a deep shivering breath, caressing the long pigtail that hung beside her face. It was a girlish style, but her father had liked it and she’d never thought to change to a more grown-up one after his death. Kenshin’s fingers twined in her hair and stroked her cheek all at the same time, warm and longing and his voice heartbreakingly tender.
“I trained to fight Shishio knowing he would kill me, and then I would find you again,” he whispered. “Nothing else mattered. Nothing at all.”
He fell silent for a moment, just savoring her warmth and her tears and the softness of her skin. The dusk was falling around them unheeded, the cheerful fireflies rising up from the long grass at the edge of the woods. Kenshin smiled painfully, moving on.
“When Misao came and told us you were alive, I – I – I had to see you again. I saw you for just a second on the beach, from far away, after the fighting started. Then we went to the ship and for a while things were going well. I defeated Soujiro; the police disabled the guns. It seemed hopeful.” He shuddered, pulling her head down into the warm hollow of his shoulder, as if he would keep her from seeing what he saw in his mind. She got one arm around his waist, rubbing his back gently to drive the demons away.
“When his sword went through, I knew I wouldn’t live to come back to you,” he said quietly, his voice muffled against her hair. “It was the only thing I regretted, at the end. That I would never see you again.” She was stroking the front of his gi, where the terrible wound began, unable to even imagine that awful piercing, tearing impact and the bitter, life-sucking withdrawal. He clutched her hand and drew it up beside his collar, bringing it to cover the short line of stitches to the right of his breastbone and a hands breadth higher than his heart. She had seen it, helped clean it; now only the knotty line of stitches could be felt through his gi beneath her hand. He kept his strong hand over hers, comforting her now, giving her strength to hear the rest.
“I could only bring him down with me, keep him on the ship, so you and the others would be safe. And then – then he burned.” A tear dropped onto her head, and Kenshin heaved a shaky sigh. Kaoru gently tugged her hand free and wrapped her arm around his neck. He relaxed a little, his voice lightening.
“Sanno pretty much carried me out. I was afraid I would be sick on the boat, because if it all came up I was sure I would die. Even more than I was sure I would die anyway. But things just kept going, and going, and then he put me down, and you were there.”
Kaoru closed her eyes, remembering how his head had swung up, how he had moved toward her on his own power dragging Sannosuke along, his staring eyes riveted on her face. How they had jockeyed him over into her arms, blood and dirt and all, but alive and reaching for her with all the strength he had. His body slack against her, thin and broken, muscle and bone and gore and ash, trembling.
Kenshin lifted her up from her resting place against his chest and faced her in the field of golden fireflies. She had gathered him in to her, taking his weight and making it seem like an embrace even as she held him upright, her eyes bright with such love that it had fired his aching body to stand, to go with her, to whatever and wherever so long as she would take him. Then when the shrill whistles had torn down the dream and brought back all the fear and shame and guilt, at that awful moment he had felt the arms around his waist tighten protectively. It had given him the courage to face them, united as one, to demand justice for her, for himself, for Sanno and Yahiko, for Megumi, for Aoshi, for them all.
He looked down into her beautiful face as the full moon rose behind his shoulders, glancing off her shining hair and sparkling on the tears she was trying to wipe away. His right hand, the bloody sword hand that she had washed clean, cradled her delicate jaw and cheek, his thumb brushing over her perfect skin. Her heart was in her eyes, wide and dreamy and enough to drown a man’s tongue in his mouth. Kenshin swallowed.
“Kamiya Kaoru-dono, there is something this one has wanted to do for a long time, that he has,” he said shyly, slipping unconsciously into the quaint country speech of his boyhood as his intent rose shining in his eyes. The world that had once opened so wide, promising escape – he didn’t need it anymore. He didn’t need anything, anymore. Only – only – this. Kaoru’s soft lips parted in answer as he bowed his head to meet her.
“Aishiteiru,” he whispered, one breath away.
And then slowly but without hesitation he closed his eyes and kissed her with all the love he had locked away since that aching day in May when he had torn himself from her arms. Dimly, he was aware of her arms rising around his neck, of her hands in his hair, of jasmine and salt tears as she kissed him back, trusting him utterly. Kaoru –
Around them the fireflies danced golden in the darkness while the wise old moon smiled knowingly from amongst the stars.
Yahiko trudged along the path, swinging his lantern, debating whether to call for his friends. Kaoru was with Kenshin, after all, and he was nearly invincible, but he was still recovering and probably couldn’t hold his own in a fight…
He stopped short at the edge of the clearing, mesmerized by the sight of a couple embracing, moonlight glinting off a very distinctive head of long, thick red hair. Yahiko grinned and crossed his arms, wise enough to wait until the man raised his head, oblivious to his surroundings, still murmuring half-audible love words to the woman clasped in his arms.
“So, I guess we’re going to have to start planning for the wedding.”
Kaoru jumped, blushing furiously, and spun around to berate her grinning pupil. Kenshin didn’t release her, holding her back easily, laughing out loud suddenly and genuine. Yahiko grinned provocatively.
“After all, Kaoru, the man is supposed to be in charge…”
“You little – !”
Kenshin wrapped his arms tighter, stooping to whisper in her ear. Kaoru stilled to listen, then turned to stare at him, her earlier tirade forgotten. Kenshin grinned, his eyebrows rising to disappear beneath his bangs. Kaoru relented.
“Sa, we’re coming home now.”
Even so, she didn’t let go of Kenshin’s hand all the way back to the dojo.
Much later, Yahiko reached across from his futon and poked Kenshin’s shoulder. They had been sharing a room since the battle, which was enormously fun for the teenager.
“So, what did you tell Busu that made her give up so fast?”
“You’re going to have to stop calling her ‘ugly,’ you know.”
“Yeah, whatever. So, what was it?”
Kenshin carefully stretched, folding his hands behind his head. Even in the dark, Yahiko could tell he was smirking.
“I told her to wait until you have a girlfriend.”