June, 1860

When young Kenshin was able to get away from his Master's watchful eye, he liked nothing better than to take a bento to eat under the large oak tree that grew near, but not too near, the hut. As he ate, little bush warblers would approach him, hopping about and twittering. If the little redhead held still enough, they would land on his head and shoulders and eat crumbs from his hands.


July, 1860

Kenshin leapt into the air and, using his wakizashi, effortlessly deflected the pebbles his Master chucked at him. With each movement, Kenshin's reflexes became more finely tuned, enabling him to respond faster until not a single pebble was able to touch him.

'What he lacks in strength, he makes up for in grace and quick reflexes,' Hiko thought with pride as he continued to lob pebbles.


October, 1860

CRUNCH! CRUNCH! CRUNCH!

Sere autumn leaves crunched 'neath sandaled feet as Kenshin and Hiko danced their deadly ballet.

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

The crisp autumn air rang as Master and pupil's blades crossed again and again.

THUD!

Was the sound heard as Kenshin's lithe body connected with the ground every time Hiko was able to knock him over or trip him up with his nihontou or a well placed foot. Each time, the boy would spring back to his feet, teeth clenched, large eyes bright with indignation. Gripping his sword, the boy would charge forward in what he knew was a useless effort. Nevertheless, if he wanted to get stronger, he would endure the humiliation.

Someday, the power would be his.


December, 1860

Hiko loved his sake! Of that much, young Kenshin could be certain. When Kenshin worked his kata, his Master would sit on the log and drink sake while he watched, barking out a correction whenever warranted.

One cold winter day, Kenshin walked up to the cabinet where Hiko stored all his sake. There was no lock on the door to prevent the boy from taking any if he wanted. He just never did because he was sure Hiko would pound him into the ground if he did. However, he had seen neither hide nor hair of Hiko today. Maybe he could get away with just taking a tiny sip from the already open jug. Surely, the Master wouldn't notice!

"Hey, dummy! Get away from my sake!"

"Oro! Master, I was just looking," yelped Kenshin, cursing himself mentally for allowing Hiko to sneak up on him.

"And THINKING about sneaking some sake, weren't you?" Hiko leveled his student a glare, daring him to lie.

Kenshin flinched under his Master's glare, averted his eyes and nodded guiltily.

"Well little thief, I wouldn't normally do this," Hiko began, uncorking the sake jug, pouring a saucerful and proffering it to Kenshin.

"Oro?"

"Quit oroing and take it," said Hiko. "As I was saying, I wouldn't ordinarily want to reward stealing, or the thoughts thereof, but since I have a surplus of sake, I'll let you try some."

"Orororo?"

"Just drink it, dummy," said Hiko with a roll of his eyes.

With a glance at his Master, Kenshin raised the saucer to his lips and took a sip. He coughed and sputtered, almost spitting the sake out. That stuff burned!

"Spit out a drop and you're sleeping outside tonight," growled Hiko.

"Oro!"

It was -5┬░ outside.

Grimacing and fighting back the urge to cough the foul tasting stuff up, Kenshin laboriously finished off the saucer under his Master's watchful eye.

"Ororoooo..."

By the time Kenshin had finished the saucer to the last drop, his cheeks were as red as his hair and he was swaying as he sat.

"Want another?" Hiko asked, ready to pour.

"Orooo...."

THUD!

It would be years before Kenshin could even stomach the sight of sake again.

~Owari~

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