Long Wooden Objects
Surprisingly enough, he had survived the first session.
Hiko Seijuro leaned back against a potter's bench, crossed his ankles, tilted his head to one side, and contemplated the day's work. Certainly Himura Kenshin on his workshop floor was something he'd never expected to see again--and even less the equally familiar sight of the boy tugging a bandage into place on his thin arm and washing a few spatters of blood off his now-scarred face and out of his sweat-stiffened red mop, with that deep, slightly sharp breathing of somebody in more pain than he'd like to let on.
No, not boy anymore: man. He'd grown that much, at least, even if he'd been too lazy to gain another inch physically.
"Master." Kenshin carefully settled his purple kimono back into place, adjusted his sheathed sword to lie perfectly parallel with his thigh, and bowed his head, supplicating, his beautiful hands flat on the bare wooden floor. "This one has an apology to make concerning the secrets of your training, that he does."
Hiko narrowed his eyes a little, wondered silently, and waited a while, knowing perfectly well Kenshin wouldn't proceed without his permission.
"Well, get on with it," he said, a little menacing, when he felt he'd tormented him long enough.
"A few months ago, there was..." He was choosing his words carefully, he could tell. "An incident at which this one was present, there was. It took place before an innocent assembly, and this one and his comrades could not risk revealing the true nature and urgency of the combat, lest the crowd become unruly. At the unknowing suggestion of this one's companion..." His voice hushed, slowed, as if nervous to reveal the very magnitude of his sins. "Decorum and safety forced this one to use the umbrella attacks, that it did."
Hiko stilled for a moment, absolutely stunned. And then couldn't quite help the grin forming on one side of his face, even as he screwed his voice into an appropriate rage.
"Idiot! To reveal the umbrella attacks, especially to an ignorant crowd? The very power of such a movement lies in its unexpectedness, its secrecy, and you blatantly demonstrated them to an entire assembly? You're as blockheaded as ever, boy! I did not teach those to you lightly, 'that I didn't'..."
It had been a very, very good night.
Hiko Seijuro stepped out into the dawning light of the sun, cold dew sparkling on every leaf and blade of grass, and yawned, stretched, and willed the hangover away as best as he possibly could. Oh, it had been too long since a circus had come his way. He used to go visit them to troll for apprentices, but the performers were always so self-absorbed...
There were other uses for them, though. Not that he needed such things often, but really, all alone in the mountains with nothing but his own feet and a distractingly pretty apprentice to stare at all day, a man would get lonely. And the sort of girls who ran away to join circuses generally liked to lie with strange men, except when they preferred each other, and held no delusions about bonds formed by such things, so they were really quite ideal for one who preferred to avoid humanity in general. Although sometimes they ran away at inconvenient times as well--this one, bundled over the threshold in his arms still with all her toys from performing, had disappeared in the middle of the night. The sake had worn off, he supposed.
Kenshin was, of course, already up, trousers soaked to the knee with dew, his elfin face all locked up and solemn, as usual, and a tone of blunt, angry confusion in his voice. And interrupting a perfectly good stretch. Hiko ignored him for a few minutes to soak up the sun in peace, before turning with a swirl of his cape bright white in the dawn--he'd had the boy give it a good scrub the night before to distract him.
"What?" he asked at last.
"Was there somebody here last night?"
Hiko turned and contemplated the line between his apprentice's eyebrows. Right--it was about that time. Even if his body hadn't bothered to lower its voice or grow more than a hand's breadth--and damn useless, that. Good thing he'd thought to start the boy on battojutsu early--he was increasingly useless with charging attacks. Speed, speed was key...
Too tense. Too solemn. Somewhere in that uncompromising, painfully disillusioned mind a whole host of new and unfamiliar things were spawning. He remembered being about that age--of course he'd just run off, gotten drunk, and disported himself for several days until his master had tracked him down. No chance of Kenshin doing that.
"Nothing you need to worry about. Water, boy."
Kenshin blinked, then bowed his head, turned briskly, and marched off for the stream. Hiko looked after him for a minute.
"It helps if you bring the bucket," he added, off-handed.
Kenshin froze, clenched and unclenched his empty hands, and he heard the humiliated grit of teeth before he muttered, "Master," and turned for the house.
Because, as far as he could tell, you sent them for water when you had no idea what else to do. Besides, builds arm strength, lugging buckets back and forth. He could always use some of that.
By the time Kenshin marched back up to the house, full and sloshing bucket balanced carefully, Hiko was pacing outside, absentmindedly spinning the circus girl's abandoned umbrella in one hand. The little sputter of surprise from him was priceless.
"So..." Hiko began, ominously. "Did you know there was somebody here last night?"
"Master..." Kenshin frowned. "There were voices--but I thought you disliked people..."
"Ahh, but for all you know it could've been a legendary assassin come to kill me." Hiko twirled the umbrella and gave him a toothy grin, enjoying his sudden shock. "Your master would've died alone, without you even attempting to save him..."
The poor boy nearly dropped the bucket. "But--Master--"
"Fortunately the assassination attempt was welcome, and it was a long and fascinating duel before my assailant fled into the night." He looked off to the treeline for a moment and sighed heartily. "She was a pretty one, too."
The time-honored method of teaching the brat--confuse him and let him come to his own damn conclusions. A glance confirmed him narrow-eyed with bemusement and a little flushed. The bucket, at least, was safe for the moment.
"Master," Kenshin sputtered, "you had--you had said not to disturb you at night--"
Just like him--ignore everything else and go for something irrelevant, practical, and easily dealt with.
"And I mean every word, idiot. But I suppose I'll have to beat a sense of humor into that thick head of yours, along with everything else." He swung the umbrella off his shoulder and closed it. "Draw."
"But--Master--you're not armed--"
"Draw!" Hiko roared, raising the umbrella menacingly. The boy had the sense to put down the bucket as he backed up a step, eyes going wide with the increasingly familiar look that meant he thought his dear master was going made.
"Very well, then... Hiten-Mitsurugi-ryu Umbrella Drop!"
Half an hour later, Kenshin was flat on his back in the evaporating dew, soaked and panting, with a number of nasty lumps rising on his skull and his sword embedded in a tree forty feet away. Hiko stood over him, grunted, poked his foot with the tip of the umbrella, and got simply a low, despairing groan for his efforts. Well, low as the useless brat could manage, anyway.
"Here," Hiko grunted, and dropped the umbrella on his chest--that earned him a yelp. "Let's see how well you learned them."
Bright purple eyes flew open, blinked in surprise, and then the boy sat up in a blur of motion, grabbing the umbrella awkwardly.
"What? Those are actual attacks, Master?"
"You thought they weren't, blockhead? Learned em from my Master, every one. Of course the drunken loon probably made them up himself, and damn I was glad to take the title out of his idiotic hands..."
He adjusted the cape imperiously. The former master of Hiten Mitsurugi had been as dry and dead-faced as the current apprentice, of course--no umbrellas--and he'd mourned his passing deeply. But the boy didn't have to know that...
"...this one offers his deepest apologies, that he does."
Hiko harrumphed, tried not to laugh, and let Kenshin stew a little longer.
"Well, I suppose I could forgive you, eventually. It's not like hidden attacks such as the umbrella maneuvers are quite so necessary in this Meiji era. And you'll pay in your blood if you dare reveal something like that to your current enemies...!" He purely contrived a yawn of boredom. "Got anything else to say for yourself, then?"
"This one also would wish to humbly thank you: since the time this one has spent in the company of Mistress Kaoru and young Mister Yahiko, your training in the most secret umbrella attacks did leave this one well prepared to recover from kara take blows executed with long wooden objects by women and children, that it did."
"...women?" Hiko growled, as the grin commandeered more of his face. "And children?" He surged to his feet and reached for the nearest such wooden object. Ah, how wonderful it would have been to have an umbrella handy for such things--but the broom would have to do, though a bit unwieldy. "Draw."
The tawny red head finally rose, and Hiko caught sight of the same suppressed grin on Kenshin's face.
"This one will not fight you with a bare blade while you wield such a weapon," Kenshin intoned as he gathered his sword and stood, as solemnly as he could probably manage. "A fight with long wooden objects should be conducted solely with long wooden objects, that it should."
And the incorrigible brat took his sword by the hilt in his left hand, swung it far behind him, and sank into a deep crouch with his right poised open above the end of his sheath, with that very same perfect cock of the wrist for battojutsu that Hiko had taught him when he was ten. Hiko's jaw went just a little slack for a moment, and then the grin broke out in full force.
Kenshin burst out in faintly triumphant laughter, and that was all Hiko needed to join him.
So he'd gotten himself a sense of humor at last. Well, one more piece was in place, at least. One step closer to being a whole man and swordsman both, and it was only then that he'd be able to learn...
"And you think to challenge me in sheath-fighting, boy? Me? We're taking this outside..."
No, the last attack was not a thing to think of now.