It was September again. Thirteen months had passed since the great battle with Enishi. Four months had passed since Kamiya Kaoru became Himura Kaoru. She was very happy in her new life. The month of September however, was a bittersweet month for Kaoru. It was on a September day two years ago that her father, Koshijiro had gone to the Seinan War and lost his life.
Kaoru had never fully explained to anyone the reason her father had created Kamiya Kasshin, a non-lethal sword style. The truth was that he had created it to save his sanity. Koshijiro had suffered from all the killing he had done and witnessed in the Bakumatsu. The suffering had almost made him go mad, but when he looked into his wife and daughter's eyes and saw the fear and worry for him, he knew he had to beat the madness that comes from killing. He promised both of them that he would never use his sword to take life again. Kamiya Kasshin was born of this promise.
For ten years, Koshijiro had instructed his daughter and the local boys in the sword school. Kaoru had been the only girl in the classes, but had never felt afraid. Her father raised her to be strong and stand up for herself. On the rare occasion when a quip was made about a girl studying kenjutsu by some fresh-mouthed young buck, he could count on a bokken to the brain from Kaoru. The boys learned quickly enough not to cross Sensei's daughter.
As Kaoru grew older, she had started instructing the very boys who had at one time challenged her right to be a kenjutsu practitioner. Some of them had hated it and left the dojo. Those who were truly interested in kenjutsu had stayed on and taken Kaoru's instruction.
Then came the Seinan War. Kaoru hadn't said anything when he left. She knew it was his duty as a supporter of the Meiji government to go. In this war, Koshijiro wielded Kamiya Kasshin and kept his promise to his family never to kill. He was very successful in non-lethally taking down a lot of guys. Then he was shot point blank in the head, ending his life. That was what made his death so bitter for Kaoru. If he'd died in an honorable sword fight, it wouldn't be so bad, but the fact that he was just shot down...
Kaoru felt the tears stinging her eyes as she looked through her father's scrolls. She was reading his thoughts on defensive swordsmanship. Swords of Life, swords that protect without destroying. This was what he had believed in and raised her to believe in. He had been gone for two years now, yet Kaoru could still feel him. His spirit was in every corner of the dojo, breathing life into what would otherwise be just a building.
'I miss you Daddy,' she thought. 'I've mastered our style and I'm very happy now. But sometimes I just wish you were here. I wish you could've met Kenshin.'
Kaoru pulled out the bokken that had been her father's pride and joy. It was now his legacy to her. She never used it to fight because she meant for it to be a family heirloom. It was a very beautiful sword, carved of the finest oak that could be found in Japan. The kanji for Kamiya Koshijiro were inscribed on the hilt. Kaoru went to the center of the dojo, held the bokken out and focused herself. Then she began moving through the first level of Kamiya Kasshin Ryu kata.
Kenshin, who had just returned from shopping in town, noticed that he didn't sense his wife's ki anywhere in the house. In the year since the battle with Enishi, he'd become calmer about her being out of his sight and no longer flew into panic mode. Still, her absence did make him uneasy, so he decided to look for her.
Kenshin set down the food he'd brought back, stepped outside and immediately he felt Kaoru's familiar ki in the dojo. Kenshin relaxed and headed to the dojo to tell her that he would be starting midday dinner for them. As he neared the training hall, he heard the familiar sounds of kata being worked on. Kenshin stopped just at the entrance and watched Kaoru going through the second wave of Kamiya Kasshin kata.
Kenshin loved watching his wife train. Sometimes he liked to do so clandestinely, as he was now. When she didn't know she had an audience, her face would betray all of her emotion, everything in her heart. As Kenshin watched, Kaoru became one with her sword, whirling, undulating, spinning.
Kaoru moved into the third and final level. She was moving like a whirlwind now, so fast that she was a blur of black, blue and white. Her heart was thundering in her chest as she parried, dodged and thrust with her father's bokken. As she moved, she could see her father's smiling face and warm brown eyes before her, encouraging her.
When the kata ended, Kaoru stood still in the middle of the dojo where she'd began. The world seemed to be spinning around her. She had overdone it just a bit. Kaoru closed her eyes to try and get the room to stop spinning. When she opened them, she saw her father approaching her, with shining eyes and a smiling face.
"Dad?" asked Kaoru.
She closed her eyes again and when she reopened them, standing before her was not her father, but her husband, looking at her with a confused expression on his face.
"Oro?" asked Kenshin, wondering why Kaoru had called him "Dad".
"Oh, Kenshin. I... Just for a second there, I thought I saw my father. I think I was dizzy," said Kaoru.
"Are you alright?" asked Kenshin, clutching his wife's shoulders.
"Yes. I'm fine. The room's not spinning anymore. I think I just overdid things a bit," said Kaoru.
"You did it beautifully," said Kenshin.
"You saw?" asked Kaoru softly.
"Yes. I didn't mean to intrude, but I couldn't help myself when I saw you," murmured Kenshin.
"That's alright," said Kaoru. "It felt like he was with me."
"Your father?" asked Kenshin.
"Yes. Today's the day he died. I've been thinking about him all day. I guess my imagination got the better of me," said Kaoru. "I miss him..."
Her voice trailed off.
Kenshin wrapped his arms around Kaoru and held her close to him. There wasn't much he could say. He had never met her father. He knew the pain of losing a parent, but his had been so long ago.
"Tell me about him?" Kenshin whispered.
Kaoru laid her father's bokken respectfully in its place, then the couple sat down on the bench. Kenshin leaned back against the wall and Kaoru snuggled up against him, resting her head on his strong chest. For a minute, she listened to Kenshin's heart beating steadily.
"He was an honorable man who never undertook something he didn't believe in. He returned from the Bakumatsu when I was seven. He was so very quiet and distant. He had nightmares about the lives he took in battle. He said the last thing he always saw was the life draining from their eyes. I was frightened of him just at first because he was like that. He didn't want me to be afraid. He told me and Mother that he would never kill again now that the war was over," said Kaoru.
"My father was a man of his word, so he vowed on his honor never to use his sword to take life again. That's why he rejected deadly swordsmanship and created Kamiya Kasshin. He wanted to use his sword to help and protect people, not to kill. Creating the school changed him. He became the father I remember and love instead of a cold and distant war veteran. He said there were many who were driven insane by the war, but through the creation of Kamiya Kasshin, he beat that insanity," she said proudly. "When he went away to the Seinan War, he used it in battle. He was able to keep his promise to us. He defeated all his enemies without taking a single life. Then he was shot. Some coward just shot him in the head. That's no way for a swordsman to die. That's what makes his death so painful."
Kenshin had never considered the similarities between himself and Kaoru's father before. He knew they were veterans of the same war and had rejected killing. Now he learned that her father had suffered the same trauma from taking lives that he had. Kenshin wondered now if Kaoru saw something of her father in him.
"I'm sorry your father was killed in such a cowardly way. No swordsman would want to go like that, but take comfort in knowing that he kept his vow to the last," he said at length, giving Kaoru a hug.
Kaoru looked up at Kenshin and ran her fingers through his hair. It had never occurred to her just how much he reminded her of her father, especially now that he no longer hid behind the Rurouni/Battousai masks.
"He would've liked you," she said in a dropped voice.
"I think I would've liked him too," said Kenshin softly.
Kenshin and Kaoru sat together in silence for a long time. Kaoru reflected on how lucky she was to have such a wonderful husband. Even though she missed her father, she knew she wasn't alone and never would be again. Though Kamiya Koshijiro was gone from this world, his ideals lived on in Kaoru and Kenshin. Together they were pushing forward and making his dream of swordsmanship that protects a reality.
When Kenshin had first met Kaoru, he had called her beliefs a naive fairytale. He believed that those who hadn't bloodied their hands in battle couldn't understand the true nature of swordsmanship. Now though, he was rethinking that and gradually realizing that it was possible for swordsmanship to change and become something that protected instead of something that destroyed. In the new world they were creating, deadly swordsmanship like Hiten Mitsurugi would become passe, while defensive swordsmanship like Kamiya Kasshin would continue and evolve.
Before she had left for Aizu, Takani Megumi warned Kenshin that his slight physique wouldn't allow him to use Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu much longer. He knew the day was approaching when he would have to give it up. He wondered what his life would be like on that day. Would he be able to wield a sword at all, or would he become a deadweight, good only for doing laundry and housework? He let a small sigh, thinking of it. This made Kaoru look up at him and notice that melancholy face he got when he worried.
"What are you worrying about now?" she teased, cupping his face in her right hand.
If worrying were a sport, Kenshin would've been the champion.
"I was thinking of what I will do when the time comes for me to give up Hiten Mitsurugi. How will I protect people then?" said Kenshin softly.
"Well, Megumi-san said you'd have to give up your sword school, not necessarily all swordsmanship. Maybe you could learn a different sword school and use that. That way you could still protect the people around you without sacrificing your body," said Kaoru.
Kenshin smiled at his wife. He saw where she was going with this.
"Are you offering to teach me Kamiya Kasshin?" he asked.
At one time, the idea of him learning defensive swordsmanship would've made him smile and quickly change the subject. No longer. For the first time, it seemed like a feasible idea. Kaoru's words did ring true. He still wanted to fight, but would be no good to anyone if he overexerted himself.
"I'd be happy to teach it to you when the time comes. I know it doesn't have the power of Hiten Mitsurugi, but I think it'd be just the thing for you," said Kaoru.
"I'll think about it. I still have a few years of Hiten in me and I'd like to use it while I still can. After... perhaps it would be a nice change," said Kenshin.
"OK, we'll leave it at that for now," said Kaoru.
After Yahiko had left with the Sakabatou and Kaoru had extracted Kenji's fingers from his father's tempting hair, Kenshin said he had come to a decision about her offer from three years earlier.
"Offer?" asked Kaoru, drawing a blank.
"The Kamiya Kasshin offer," said Kenshin, urging his wife to remember.
"Oh, yeah..." said Kaoru.
"I accept your offer," said Kenshin. "The world has been rather peaceful for the last three years. Hiten Mitsurugi has served its purpose, but I have not yet served mine."
Kaoru grinned ear to ear. What a concept! She, teaching the former Hitokiri Battousai a defensive school! This was going to be fun. Kaoru went and put Kenji down for his nap. Husband and wife entered the dojo together and took up their shinai...
One week! It had taken him one week to learn Kaoru's entire sword school. It had taken her ten years to reach the shihondai level and this redhead had completed the entire thing including the secret in a week. Kaoru was aghast.
"How? How is this possible?" she asked as she stared wide-eyed at Kenshin after he completed the succession technique.
"It's possible because this student had such a great a teacher," said Kenshin with an innocent smile.
"Flatterer," said Kaoru, lightly punching Kenshin's left shoulder.
With a sigh, Kaoru went over to the small shrine to her father and lifted his old bokken from it. She returned to Kenshin and held it out to him. He reached for it and slowly took it from her grasp.
"For you. He'd want you to have it," said Kaoru, blinking back tears.
"I promise to do honor to your father's name and beliefs in wielding it," said Kenshin solemnly as he looked the bokken over before slipping it into his belt.
"Now, let's get out of this musty training hall and spend some time outside," said Kaoru.
Kaoru and Kenshin walked out of the room together, hand in hand. Kaoru paused for another look around the dark room before she locked the doors. She thought just for a second that she could feel her father in the dojo. She was sure he was smiling.