Apprentice

Chapter One

Two men and a baby

Kenji scowled at his father, who was seated next to him on the train ride to Kyoto. Not that it was anything out of the ordinary. Kenji's habitual expression at his father seemed to be a scowl. Or a pout. Or sometimes, there was rare variety and Kenshin was treated to a tight lipped look of embarrassment.

"If there was a kenjutsu style that depended upon scowling, Kenji would already be a master," sighed Kenshin to himself, gazing surreptitiously from under his half-closed eyes upon his nine year old son.

On the occasions when Kenji wasn't scowling, pouting or otherwise distorting his features, he was a handsome and striking child, with deep crimson hair, obviously an even more intense shade of his father's unusual red color, and strangely opalescent blue violet eyes. His childish features already promised to be a stronger version of his father's more refined ones.

Kenshin had always hoped his son would inherit more of his wife's father's height and breadth, and that also looked as though it would come to be. Kenji already reached above his father's waist, and was growing like the proverbial weed. When he filled out at some future date, he would no doubt top his father's slight(albeit strong and wiry) stature.

Kenshin was hardly worried about his son's physical state, time would take care of that, as it did for everyone, but his mental one was a matter more on Kenshin's mind these days. Kenji had not been an "easy" child to raise, in any sense of the word. True, he was a loving child, especially towards his mother.

"Like father, like son," Kenshin mused, a half-smile quirking his mouth.

He had seemingly inherited not only his mother's passionate and temperamental nature, but his father's tendency to introspection and, dare he say it, self-absorption.

"What a combination," thought Kenshin wryly. His beloved Kaoru's fiery temper and his own sense of grim self-denial had somehow forged together in this child.

No, Kenji from the beginning had never been a smiling, carefree sort of child. Even as a toddler, he had shown an amazing perception of others thoughts and feelings, a sign of unique intelligence, Kenshin thought proudly. But, intelligence of that sort had it's own burdens and responsibilities. Kenshin dearly hoped that his son would prove able to bear them.

Kenshin reflected back upon the words of his Shishou Hiko when he had first laid eyes upon the "lion cub" as he had off-handedly dubbed the child of his former apprentice.

"This child will be the death of you, baka deshi," snorted Hiko, holding at arm's length a struggling and dripping wet chibi-Kenji, who was attempting unsuccessfully to bite him, again.

"Gomen naisai, Shisou!" Kenshin said, his face red with embarrassment and effort as he attempted to grab hold of a slippery, wet and screaming toddler.

It was rare enough that Hiko deigned to come down from his retreat outside of Kyoto to visit anyone, but to have his tiny son literally attack his former Master was inexcusable.

"Did he hurt you, Master?" asked Kenshin, unnecessarily and a bit breathlessly, as he finally managed to grab Kenji by one leg and arm and wrap him up firmly in a towel.

"The lion cub has sharp teeth, Kenshin, maybe they should be pulled, ne?" laughed Hiko, inspecting a bleeding bite on his left thumb.

"I will bravely volunteer for that task, if we can find a way to explain it to his mother," said Kenshin sarcastically, making a pained face as Kenji's scream assaulted his ears once again. They were staying at the Aoiya, home of the Oniwabanshu. Kenshin and Kaoru were making their yearly visit to Kyoto to visit their friends there, and to offer proper respect to the grave of Tomoe, Kenshin's first wife.

Kenshin had sent word in advance to his Shishou Hiko by letter, care of Misao. He knew she would make sure that his former master received his invitation to see them there if he wished. Kenshin was never sure if his reclusive master would accept an invitation to leave his mountain, but he figured that if he didn't offer, he'd never know.

Besides, Kaoru wouldn't let him rest until the letter was sent.

"What's all the screaming about?" inquired a feminine voice at the door. Makimachi Misao stood leaning against the doorframe, rubbing her large blue- green eyes. Her hair and state of dress indicated that Kenji's screams served as a more than adequate method for rising one early from a sound sleep.

"Are you torturing that poor child, or is this your odd way of telling the whole city it's time to get out of bed?" yawned Misao, scratching her head absently.

"Gomen naisai, Misao!" Kenshin said again, ducking his head, cringing that his son's early morning bath was quickly becoming a major incident.

Kaoru had gone out early with Omasu to shop for supplies, so Kenshin had taken their son to the Aoiya's bathhouse. Kenji had fallen asleep right after dinner the night before, and his almost equally exhausted parents had been loathe to disturb him. The dirt of the trip had still been clinging to Kenji along with a few remnants of dinner.

Kenshin, however, had not expected a naked, wet, three year-old Kenji to escape his grasp and go running through the hallways of the Aoiya looking for his mother. Hiko had amazing reflexes, fortunately for Kenshin. He'd caught Kenji one-handed out of the air as he streaked giggling past the door of his room.

"Look what I've caught, a chibi-raion!" boomed Hiko, cowing Kenji into silence for a split second. Then, pure self-defensiveness took over and the toddler had drawn back, snarling, and had sunk his sharp baby teeth firmly into the flesh of Hiko's thumb.

A curse to wake the dead echoed along with Kenji's answering scream as the big man wrenched his thumb out of the child's mouth, a small trickle of blood slipping down his wrist.

Kenshin had arrived just in time to see Kenji's coup de grace performed on the hand of his Master.

"Maa, Kami-Sama!" cried out Kenshin, expecting his fearless little son's instant demise. How surprised he had been when Shishou Hiko had burst out laughing and had looked at a mad, wet and naked Kenji with something approaching admiration.

Kenshin smiled ruefully to himself, remembering that day. Had it been six years ago?

"What is he smiling about now?" wondered Kenji as he glanced over at his father. "No doubt glad that he'll be ridding himself of his pain-in-the- butt son for the next 3 months." Kenji sighed, shifting in the seat restlessly, answering his own unspoken question.

AN: The standard disclaimers apply. I don't own any of the characters in Rurouni Kenshin, nor do I intend to profit from their use in my pitiful little stories, okay, big scary lawyer-type people. I only do this for fun. Okay, at least I'M having fun. Satisfied?