Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin is the property of Nobuhiro Watsuki and some company that doesn't belong to me.

This fic is dedicated to my friend Beriath who introduced me to the RK series and also other series that have made my life so much more fun. Thanks so much for the naming ideas, and the much-needed proofreading, as well!

Kenshin's (Much Regretted) Brush with Art

Ch. 1: Summons from Kyoto

Kenshin was engaged in his favorite pastime: laundry. He was also at the part he enjoyed most, which was wringing water out of clothes while pretending they're Saitou's neck. Unfortunately, the showdown was disrupted at that moment by the arrival of a letter bearing Kyoto's stamp.

His heart skipped a beat when he saw the handwriting on the envelope--- it belonged to his master, Hiko Seijuro 13th, who had never replied to any of his letters so far. It might be that he had nothing interesting to report from his mountain abode anyway, but Kenshin sometimes suspected that he was just too lazy to walk to the post office.

If the message inside was any indication, Hiko's uncanny ability to read Kenshin's mind seemed to work just as well long-distance. It went:

DROP YOUR LAUNDRY AND COME FIND ME AT ONCE.

"What's wrong, Kenshin?" Said Kaoru worriedly. She knew that except for running out of soap, nothing could shift Kenshin from his laundry once his fingers had closed over the handle of the washboard.

"It's Shishou." Said Kenshin, puzzled. "He wants sessha to go to him."

"Do you have any idea why?"

"No. It's not as if he needs sessha to * protect * him." Said Kenshin thoughtfully. "Perhaps sessha should go and find out, that he should..."

Kaoru's eyes narrowed slightly. People seldom summoned Kenshin for anything other than fighting, and it was unlikely that Hiko needed a hand in laundry. "Suppose," she said with growing fear. "he's having a duel with some insanely tough loony bird and wants you to help him out?"

"Oro!" Quavered Kenshin, who had just thought of that. Despite being Kenshin's childhood nightmare, Hiko had, for want of a better word, raised Kenshin, and the thought of him being in life-threatening danger was most alarming.

"Kenshin! Wait for me I'm going too!" Shouted Kaoru as the redhead darted out of the door. She took a second to acquire her bokken, and rushed off after him. But it was too late. When she reached the train station, the last train to Kyoto was disappearing into the distance.

"Kenshin no baka!" Yelled Kaoru, fingering her bokken furiously. Though denied of the opportunity to bring it down on a certain redhead with a satisfying smack, Kaoru was in essence a practical person. "As soon as I've found him," she consoled herself as she bought a ticket for the next day's train. "He can have that plus the interest!"

***

Visions of bloodied steel running through his mind, Kenshin raced up the mountain trail expecting to find his master dead, dismembered, or both. What he found was that his master had established himself on the log before the kiln, as usual.

"Shishou?" Said Kenshin with uncertainty.

"What's wrong with you, seen a ghost?" Snapped Hiko, instantly dispelling any suspicion of him being a wraith or phantasm. He turned around to face Kenshin. "At least that is quick of you--- I should have saved the yen I spent on sending the letter by express. Anyway come into the hut. I suppose you'd want to know why I sent for you."

"We're going to grapple with an enemy together, aren't we?" Hazarded Kenshin.

"I see your powers of deduction have gone up a tiny bit." Appraised Hiko.

"And who is this unfortunate fellow?"

"His name," said Hiko, sitting down with his arms crossed. "is Harada Reizo, a blot on the landscape who is only too fortunate to have escaped divine retribution thus far."

The name rang a faint bell to Kenshin, but for the life of him he could not recall where he had heard it. Someone in the Shinsengumi clan? Paradoxically, he had heard it just recently, but where?…

"Wait a moment!" He exclaimed. Something clicked as soon as he had sketched the characters inside his head. "I knows who he is! His name is on all the bowls and plates in our dojo!"

Hiko inched a little farther from Kenshin, as if he had just gotten wind that Kenshin was in league with the devil. "Indeed?" He shot his successor a withering glance. "I've always known that that Kamiya girl has bad taste, but I thought she would at least spare the chinaware."

"So that man is just a potter?" Said Kenshin, somewhat disappointed.

"Not just a potter," growled Hiko. He now leapt off the chair and started talking with great animation. "he's a fiend in human shape, an excrescence on the face of humanity and a worm of the lowest order, so steeped in sin that he is capable of such treacherous deeds and underhand skullduggery that would shock any honest and law-abiding citizen."

Kenshin stared. He knew that Hiko had taken up pottery to avoid meeting people, but now it occurred to him that people like his master naturally made enemies in any field (Kenshin assumed that his master had had enemies as a swordsman, but with Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, it was no surprise that he didn't have them for long). "But surely Shishou, he can't be worse than Shishio Makoto?" He ventured.

"Of course he is." Said his master vehemently. "Shishio was at least decent enough to play with a straight bat. Now, this black-hearted villain had turned up at the last ceramic artisan's gathering with the intention of buying the recently unearthed final masterpiece of Kageaki Yoshi, an object he knew I had plans to procure as well. Instead of outbidding me fair and square in the auction, he bribed some young street urchin to distract me while the auctioneer counted to three, rendering me unable to place my bid at the crucial moment. Do you follow what I'm saying?"

Kenshin's face was contorted with the effort of understanding. All this sounded terribly un-political to him. "So---" He said after a while. "This final masterpiece of Kageaki Yoshi--- is it a piece of pottery?"

"It is. And one of the worst I've ever seen, as well."

"Then why should you care if Harada gets it?" Said Kenshin, nonplussed.

Hiko gave an annoyed scowl that resembled that of a collector's who has been asked why he bothers to go after a Picasso. "It is, after all, the final masterpiece of Kageaki. Can you imagine what Harada will do with it? He'll brag about it all day long, making life living hell for everyone else. And you, baka deshi, will duly deliver the Heavenly Justice of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu upon him by removing said object from him to bring his gray hairs in sorrow to the grave."

"Wait a minute, Shishou, you want me to pinch that piece of pottery from him?" Said Kenshin, his eyes enlarging to the size of dinner plates. " And what does it have to do with Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu? Isn't the principle about swinging the sword for the weak?" He rallied, resorting to Hiko's favorite saying.

"What you are about to do will be essentially for the public good. Have you any idea what Harada is like when he is showing off his collection? Sheer agony. It certainly adds a new terror to the potting circle." Said Hiko. He frowned. "Now that you mention the principle of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, I am reminded that you haven't exactly spent much time following them, anyway."

Kenshin gulped. Why was it that Hiko always had his way in manipulating him? "But still, it's against the law!" He tried.

"So is carrying a sword." Smirked his predecessor. "And it's not as if Harada got it through clean means, anyway. Even though you're hopelessly out of shape, taking stuff is, I am sure, a cakewalk compared to assassination."

"Then why don't YOU do it yourself?" Said Kenshin sulkily. There's no getting out of this now, but still, it's worth a try.

"Me? Leave this mountain just for the sake of that insect?" Said the swordmaster incredulously. "To have to wade into Kyoto City, pop. 40,000, where the streets are packed with people who smell like a wagonload of pigs and make enough noise for ten wagonloads, and the only places that sell halfway decent sake are those garish geisha houses? Frankly, not my cup of tea." He snorted. "But since you are here anyway, and undoubtedly will frequent the aforementioned places for the sake of tourism, you might as well make a slight detour to Harada's place for me on the way."

"Shishou! I don't visit geisha houses!" Protested Kenshin, reddening considerably.

A reminiscent look entered Hiko's ebony eyes. "--- Besides, it's a little something you can do to make up for the time you made me walk eight miles in the middle of the night in order to buy new BED SHEETS from the nearest town just because you've---"

"Ah! No more!" Yelled Kenshin in terror. "I'll do it tonight!"

*** To be continued
Next Chapter: A Close Shave with the Law