The Inside of My Skin

I remember -- or believe myself to do so -- a conversation between my parents, my uncle, and I when I was young. Teru-chan, one of our neighbors, had just indulged herself in a public tantrum. "What remarkable behavior," my father said mildly. "Quite unacceptable," my uncle agreed, looking at me. "I trust you never behave so rudely." My mother sighed a little sadly. "Teru-chan lives almost completely on the outside of her skin. Nothing to protect others from her -- and nothing to protect her from others."

"Wouldn't you need to be strong to do that?" I asked. "Oh, yes," my mother agreed quietly. "Almost as strong as one must be to follow kanjou-kunrin, as we do."
"Her behavior was completely impolite," my uncle contradicted, voice even. "It's just Not Done."
"But one must needs be strong to swim against the current," my father laughed.
"That's different."

My mother smiled slightly, as if to say "They *will* disagree, won't they?" But perhaps it never happened and is only a thing crafted by my mind, familiar with my uncle and parents' teachings and ways of behaving, in order to explain certain things about the way that I am. I only know that my mother was better at smiling than I am. I tried to help explain kanjou-kunrin to Enishi, when he had trouble with the concept. I could not quite see *why* he had trouble understanding a thing that was so simple to me, but I understand it is often thus: one person will comprehend in a moment a thing that many have tried and tried only to define the shape of, or it will be the other way around.

"Neechan, I *understand*. I suppress my feelings when I'm doing something important so they don't get in the way. I can do that. That is, I can if I practice." Oh, Enishi. "Kanjou-kunrin is not suppressing feelings," I explained patiently. "To suppress feelings would be to deny their existence, and that would be foolish -- as foolish as if, having sliced one's hand open, one were to deny that it was bleeding freely. "Rather, it is the difference between screaming wildly about one's sliced-open hand at a volume where the entire village can hear one, until someone comes to see; or, having sliced one' s hand open, quietly and firmly bandaging it without disturbing others or needing to wait for assistance. We are samurai, of the blood of samurai, born to the contest. Screaming like a dying pig does not befit us; indeed, in battle or scouting it might well prove most dangerous."
"Feelings aren't wounds," Enishi told me stubbornly. "And you're a GIRL. A normal girl, not a war-maid; you won't ever be scouting or in battle."

Oh, my foolish Enishi. Truly so much younger than I am, and not in years alone. It is true that if I were blessed with luck, the favor of the gods and buddhas, and the strong right arm of first my uncle (it should have been my father, but I know too well the strength of my father's right arm) and then my husband, the shadow of death by violence should never touch me. But I am trained to the tantou and the naginata, as befits the daughter of samurai. And I know as much of the secrets of poison as any woman who would cook and tend the hurts and illnesses of those at her hearth must in order to keep from deadly mistakes -- not that I can conceive of a situation in which I would ever use that dread knowledge; poison is a coward's weapon. Yet if I were to allow my feelings to rule me, it might well be that I should unthinking strike a person, whether friend or enemy, and possibly kill them; either one could very easily have dire consequences, not only for myself, but for anything that I believe in or support. And not all contests are of arms, not all fights are one with blade and arrow; it has been true throughout time that many of the most desperate struggles have nothing to do with armies and war. Nor is it a thing only of use when things are "important"; it is a way of life, of being strong when the only thing to depend on is one's self. I therefore seek kanjou-kunrin, as my mother and my uncle did before me, as my father still does -- in his own way, mastering his feelings and covering them with a layer of jollity and happiness, giving the impression of a man who is always merry, the eternal optimist.

Even before my mother died, that always seemed vaguely dishonest to me. When I feel things, I will not make noises or displays to let everyone know how I feel; what I feel is my own business. But I will feel it, and I will not pretend that I feel something else, or that I feel only a part of what I truly feel. I am... as I am. If I were to pretend otherwise, in order to cause people to like the person I pretended to be, it would be a betrayal of everything that I am or can be. It was when my mother died that I first needed kanjou-kunrin, as opposed to it being a mere game I was playing or a trick I was learning. As the lady of the house, I welcomed mourners to the memorial service, accepted their gifts politely, offered them refreshments, and listened to the repeated, well-worn condolences with no more loss of face than if we had been discussing the weather. And afterwards -- I was still very young, then. After the guests had all gone, I shut myself in my room and screamed and kicked and cried myself to sleep. That was the last time I lapsed from kanjou-kunrin thus. If it were to happen today, I would not lose mastery in such a way, not even in private. I would grieve, but even the most terrible pangs of sorrow, rage against fate, regret, and love would be mastered, tamed to my use, waiting and ready to serve my needs, not me to serve theirs. And yet even a kanjou-kunrinsha can err due to feelings. Mastered or no, we can be deceived by what we feel. Once such an error is discovered, though, there is no sense in regret; only in correcting the error, which always will have risen out of the strongest feelings, those most likely to color anyone's thinking.

I don't think even Enishi knew how much I loved Akira-sama... and we were close. Closer than most would think usual, for any variety of reasons. Many would express wonder that a young boy should have so great an interest in the affairs of a sister nearly eight years older. And to them we would mention the early death of my mother, the fact that I am, I fear, the closest thing to a real mother Enishi has ever had. Oh yes, I fear. I fear many things, not least among them the day when I must see my beloved younger brother again. But I rule my fear; my fear does not rule me, and I shall not permit it to disrupt my life or cripple my soul. If they knew *what* Enishi was, many would ask how I could endure being near him for any time at all, this old-young boy with the cat-cruel eyes. And to them I would have these few words: he is Enishi, my younger brother, the only brother I have ever known; and the truth of his being my younger brother is one great enough that its defense is worth my death, so strike at us not, lest you find the price too high to pay. A few, those wiser than the rest, would note that on nearly every major point our opinions differ, and logically wonder that we could stand each other for more than a meal's span. And to these we have only these words: I am his sister and he is my brother and I love him (and he loves me) and love, comprising logic, does not need to be bound by it.

It was Enishi, I believe, whom Akira-sama originally noticed; I remember how excited my brother was when he proclaimed that an older neighbor had offered to teach him something about the skills of the warrior. Akira-sama did not fence himself completely within his skin, and thus did not demand it of Enishi. Akira-sama was *good* with a sword. Akira-sama was unfailingly courteous to Enishi -- and to me. Akira-sama, for some reason neither Enishi nor I could ever figure out, tumbled head-over-heels into love with me. Enishi thought it was funny. I thought it was one of Kichijouten's miracles. The day that his parents asked my father to give him my hand in marriage, I could almost have danced. We were so young. Enishi made noises for a while and then suddenly joined the party petitioning for an immediate wedding. (I think that the fact that he expected to live with us after the marriage had something to do with it.) But the entire country seemed to be slowly plunging into a madness, and one day Akira-sama told me that he was going to be part of it. I asked him if it were something he had to do. He said it was. We embraced, clumsily, the way we had twice or thrice since the betrothal when we could snatch a small space of time for ourselves -- pressed one against the other with only our clothes separating us. I asked him to promise not to forget me. He promised. And of his own initiative, he promised to live and come home and wed me. I did not require that promise of him, and so I will forgive it him that he did not keep it.

When I heard that Akira-sama had died, I believed it, but I didn't. I believe I thanked the messenger for his news and went about my daily business, waiting for the shock to set in and relieve me. It never did. Enishi was full of rage, vowing vengeance on the Ishin Shishi, the Hitokiri Battousai, anyone and everyone. I? I went on with my life because it was there. I ate food because I needed nourishment to stay healthy, and once I started I could usually go on. I went to bed at reasonable times, and once I fell asleep I could usually stay that way. I hurt as I had not since my mother died; I found ways to deal with the pain, and the sorrow, and the anger that such a thing should have happened to us. And after a few days of that, I came to a decision. I set out for Kyoto. I needed to see the place where he'd died, and his killer, to make it real for me. It seemed as if I were living in a dream. And as I walked on in that dream, I decided to avenge Akira-sama's death. It was not, truly, out of any great and noble impulse. Only from two thoughts, which had echoed in my head the whole way. By what right did the murderer go on living, when Akira-sama was dead before his wedding day? And why hadn't someone stopped this legendary hitokiri before he ruined my life? Someone should have. Anyone could have. *I* would have if I had known that he would ruin all the hopes of a young couple. It would only take one. Even one like me. Why *not* me?

It was probably a very good thing that I did entangle myself with the Yaminobu; I might well have tried some stupid action otherwise that, even if successful, would have slain me as well. And what good would it do me or Akira-sama, to die for one already dead? Yet even so, that was the greatest error I have yet made. It is easy, after all, to hate a monster out of legend. Harder to hate an ordinary human like everyone else -- and hitokiri are human, too. Harder yet to hate someone with whom one has lived and shared experiences. Harder still to hate someone whom one understands. And more than anyone save his old master, I understand Himura Kenshin; even though he does not truly understand me. There is a riddle which once my mother posed to me, long and long ago. It is impossible to understand someone -- truly understand them -- and not love them, unless it be that one is badly broken inside. But it is unnecessary to understand someone in order to love them. I knew my mother and my uncle well, and when I spoke to them I saw them and heard them. I do not know how old I was when I realized that other people did not see them as I did; but then, none of those other people lived entirely on the inside of their skins. When someone spills outside of their skin, they run the risk of seeing others through pieces of themselves. If everyone is on the outside, that is not much problem: even with the little bits of self floating around, the basic person is too much there to be mistaken. But a person who lives on the inside of their skin is like a pool of still water to those people: if they are not very careful, all they will see are distorted reflections of aspects of themselves. Only if we all live entirely on the inside of our skins will we be able to all meet face to face.

I wonder what Kenshin sees when he looks at me -- something of me, or some distorted reflection of what he needs in a woman? I wonder what Kenshin loves when he believes he loves me -- me, or just a part of me, or some distorted reflection of what he needs in a woman? Because although I do not understand him *fully* -- I may never -- I know that I love him, all of him, even the part of him I met in a rain of blood, on the street one dark night. Not the way I loved Akira-sama, but it is just as strong. Maybe stronger. I was so young... I've aged so much this year. If I ever doubted that I was older than Enishi in the way it counted, I can do so no longer. I love Kenshin, Shinta, Battousai, in the way that a woman loves -- eyes wide open to faults, and accepting despite them. And it hurts, knowing that he may not love me back in that same way. That he may never. But I have mastered this ache as I have mastered my other feelings. I would not willingly cause him grief, after all.

I didn't want to love him, of course. I most certainly did not plan to. It's not his fault that from the time we first met, I had trouble seeing the hitokiri for the boy and the man. When I was staying with the group, I would make myself listen to them as they discussed the intricacies of their trade, hoping thus to focus and keep my hate tight -- and I doubt that much can be more disgusting than hitokiri talking shop. One learns things about the human body and certain of its reactions that one *really* did not want to know. The only thing that I can conceive of as possibly being even more disgusting would be whores talking shop. But, disgusting as it was, it did not really help in trying to keep hating him. He deals in death. So did Akira-sama. So did my uncle. So does my father. So would Enishi. And it's not as if there's anything inherently wrong with death, either. It's just... death. Tends to happen after life. Also before. Have I recollected to mention how efficacious kanjou-kunrin is against fear? Not just in controlling it, either. Many fears, when faced and grappled with (as one must to master them) turn out to be nothing at all, or at any rate not much. And therefore I do not fear death. I had rather not die just yet, but if I were to I would not be afraid. I will sooner or later in any event, and it would merely be the gateway on to my next life. Perhaps in my next one, I will be more comfortable with smiling. Perhaps in my last one, I was loud and extravagant and lived on the outside of my skin. Perhaps it's the other way around. Yet though I do not fear death itself, I fear dying. Not that that matters any in how I deal with things -- I mastered that fear long ago. I rule my feelings; my feelings do not rule me. My fears cannot cause me to do stupid or nearly impossible things: I can call them up and dismiss them as I choose. Do you know, I believe *that* is the true reason why Enishi is so bad at kanjou-kunrin? If he were to pursue it, he would have to master his feelings; and in order to do that, he would have to dethrone his terror of death -- the fear that has ruled him for so long that he is deluded into believing it, rather than his greatest weakness, his greatest strength. He would have to cease his endless teasing of death, refusing by means possible and impossible to let it take him.

O my brother, my brother...! Death is a thing neither to be courted nor to be scorned. It merely... is. And the impression people would have of us at first sight is indeed true; I am far older and wiser than he is. As I make no claim to wisdom, his share is small indeed. I am sure that I would recognize Enishi no matter what he was. Just as I am sure that despite his teachings of his secret, I could not use it -- it is not what I am. When I see him again, perhaps I should tell him. Or perhaps not; it is a hard thing and a bitter parting, and I see him too little to wish a sundering between us any sooner than must be. And now whom am I deluding? When he comes, it will doubtless be to tell me that all is in readiness forcing me to a choice that, for different reasons, we know is no choice at all. When I first met my husband, my plan was simple. Spy him out, find out his secrets, and deliver them into the hands of his enemies that he might be thus delivered. I had foolishly not realized that in the process of finding out about him, I would *find out* about him; discover the amazing bundle of contradictions and impossibilities that is Himura Kenshin. Nor that finding out about him, I would understand him. It was about then that the soldiers all began to look like children to me; even Katsura-san, which is something of a feat in itself. So much to start from a fight in an alleyway, a bowl of chilled sake, and a boy's chivalrous gesture. And now Kenshin and I are... what are we, I wonder? More than lovers. Less than friends. Married, I suppose; a lie that came to become real in its own time.

Is Himura Tomoe also a lie that came to become real in her own time...? I don't know any more. I know that I love him. I know that I am samurai, born to samurai, of the line and the blood of samurai, despite the fact that I have never been or been trained to war. That doesn't matter; samurai, despite the popular misconception, does not mean 'warrior.' It means 'servant.' All our apparent privileges are only because we serve, unto death if need be, that which we must serve. I am samurai, born to samurai. I am a servant, born to service. Service of...? My family has ties which date back many generations, to our lord and through him to his lord and to his lord, all the way to the shogun, even if certain relations have forgotten it. I have married out of Yukishiro. I have married into Himura, if that is in truth a family. The bonds between parent and child last for one lifetime; those between husband and wife for two. I don't know if this is our first or our second, but truly he is my husband. I love him. I love him. All of us serve the same things, in the end. Truth. Justice. Love. It's just that somewhere along the line, it became tangled and the methods of serving seemed more important than the service itself. It's hard to serve an ideal; something which has many meanings to many people. But a person; that one can serve, and I serve him. His death is unacceptable. By his life he recompenses me daily for the loss of Akira-sama's, if such things as life and death were to be reduced to stones in a merchant's abacus. And even did it not... his death will not make *anyone's* as if it had never been. I understand death. I do not fear it. But oh, I am so tired of it. I would have liked to have children. I still might, I suppose; but with my chosen path, there are grave doubts. It is his survival that is of paramount importance; he will not die if I can prevent it.

And nothing is as important to me as my chosen path. Kanjou-kunrin is useful in making decisions as well; one can see clearly, unencumbered by emotional baggage. Even if he hates me for it, let him live. Even if it hurts him, let him live; hurt he will eventually grow beyond if he has life in which to do so. Hate would be a small price to pay. As would my health. As would my life. But I will not -- cannot -- embarrass him by displaying all this in public, where anyone could see, and where it could be used against him. I have always lived on the inside of my skin.