Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin and company ain't mine. There's no grounds for sueing, and besides, who would??

Second disclaimer: The fanfics quoted within these chapters are by no means mine, and I claim no credit for writing them or the ideas they contain. The chapters themselves are written by me, of course, but nothing else.


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Footprints in the Waters

Akai Kitsune


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Second Print - Clay Figure


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"Baka deshi...." His soft tone belied the meaning of those words. "...A father ought never bury his son, Megumi-sensei. It should be the other way around."

~ Hiko Seijuro, Recovery by Haku Baikou


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The day was warm and early when Hiko sensed someone coming towards his home from the mountain trail. Soon after, he caught the drifting tone of a song; the stranger was humming, and by the sound of it, it was a female.

It had better not be those blasted ninja women again. Doting in Kyoto is fine and well, but following a man home is irritating, and they know it.

Resigning himself to fate, he rose from his wooden bench and turned to face the visitor.

It was a woman, but not one that he expected. Kamiya Kaoru stood before him, her gi and hakama neatly cleaned and mended from all the fighting that had occurred a few weeks prior. She carried a small package with her, wrapped and tied with a checkered cloth.

He watched her for a moment, as she gazed back, then called out, "Well why are you just standing there, girl?"

"Good morning to you, too, Hiko-san," she greeted nonchalantly, moving closer to stand beside him. "I thought I'd come for a visit, since we so rarely see you at the Aoiya these days."

Hiko brushed his hands together, in a futile attempt to wipe away the clay that stained his hands. "How thoughtful of you," he replied dryly.

She merely smiled in response, sitting down on the carved log that served as his chair and placed the package on a free space on the lowered table in front of it. Carefully unwrapping so she wouldn't disturb the work-in-progress, she revealed a lunch big enough for two, and looked up at him expectantly.

He raised an eyebrow, doubtful, and she gave him an annoyed look.

"Sae-san made it," she finally relented, when he remained unruffled.

"Well at least you know better than my baka deshi," he rumbled, finally allowing himself a smirk. "One should always bring gifts when making unannounced visits."

Kaoru began to separate the lunches, waving pointedly to his hands. "You're going to wash those, aren't you?"

He glared at her, but after a moment he disappeared around the corner of the small house, where the well awaited him. Kaoru smiled in response and sat back as far as she could without falling over - no sense in embarrassing herself in front of another man who would never let her live it down - and waited for him.

When he returned, he was carrying a jug with him. It was her turn to raise a brow, but his smirk returned in full force. "You brought no refreshments," he answered her silent question. "A meal isn't a meal without a drink."

"And Hiko Seijuro is not himself without sake, apparently," she replied, and his lips quirked.

He sat down and poured the sake, capping the bottle and placing it on the ground beside him. They began to eat, falling into silence.

"What are you making?" Kaoru finally asked, looking curiously at his forgotten project.

"A pot."

She scowled at him, and he might commented further had he not known of her... rather unladylike tendencies. It was clear his baka deshi had already experienced more than his share of it.

Not that the great Hiko Seijuro was afraid of a woman's punch. He'd felt it before, and it was nothing spectacular.

Er, not that the great Hiko Seijuro had done a lot of things that merited a woman's punch -

- Tangent -

Focus, Seijuro. You sound like that student of yours.

"I meant," Kaoru continued through clenched teeth, "What sort of pot?"

Hiko's smirk reappeared, and he finished the bento lunch off before answering. "I was commissioned by a nobleman's wife in the city to make a pot for her prized gardens. I ought to have finished it last week, but my baka deshi had to get himself half-killed, so I haven't had a chance until now."

Kaoru's gaze fell to the ground, pushing the food around in her dish with the chopsticks. "I... see."

Inwardly, Hiko groaned. Typical of a woman - fiery and bold one moment, but the instant her 'significant other' is mentioned, she turns into a mouse...

That idiot. Doesn't know what he has, and if he does, he fails to show it.

How could I of all people have raised such a fool?


"Will you stop looking like a drowned dog," he growled after a moment.

Kaoru gaped at him, her eyes wide. "Wha-what did you call me?!"

"And now you look like a drowned fish."

"I can't believe you!"

Hiko covered his eyes with one hand, not knowing weather to laugh or groan again. "Woman," he muttered, "After this long, my baka deshi is not going to die. Not unless he does something outrageously stupid, which is of course nearly impossible with the way you and his other friends hover around him." He chuckled quietly, then. "Of course, I wouldn't put anything past him, especially when foolishness is involved."

Kaoru crossed her arms with a huff. "If you're trying to make me feel better, you're not helping!"

"And who said I was doing anything?"

"Certainly not you," the girl frowned tightly, but Hiko suspected she was hiding a smile. He was soon proven correct, when she was unable to hold it back any longer. "And I wouldn't dare assume that the legendary Master Hiko would stoop to comforting his lowly student's friend."

"Of course not," Hiko grinned, finishing the sake in his cup and dipping his fingers into the water bowl beside the table, bringing his project closer to continue his work.

My lowly student's -wife-, perhaps. That would certainly be interesting... Kami-sama knows she'd have to deal with enough grief from him. Someday she'll learn, I suppose.

Ha. And maybe my baka deshi will grow a brain so I can go back to calling him a name with only two syllables.


"It does look beautiful, though," Kaoru commented, watching his fingers slide along the surface of the developing pot. "I mean, it will once you've finished it."

"Naturally."

He had a gift for infuriating people. Really, Kaoru, you should be used to it by now... "You paint them too, don't you?"

Hiko nodded. "An artist ought to be gifted in all aspects, after all. And the clay itself isn't worth looking at until it's refined."

Kaoru leaned back thoughtfully. "It sounds a little bit like forging a sword, doesn't it?"

"That's an ignorant statement," Hiko said bluntly.

"Why?" she demanded, eyes narrowed in annoyance.

He merely shrugged aside her anger. "Forgery is simply another art form. Swords are the result of an artist's hard work - just as swords become the tools of another artist's lifestyle."

"Kenjutsu is the art of killing," Kaoru murmured, turning her eyes to the sky.

Hiko stopped briefly, shooting her a strange look. "Where did you hear that?"

Kaoru fidgeted uncomfortably. "Kenshin... Kenshin told me once. When we first met. He said I was a fool for trying to teach a style that protected life... that it was nothing but a dream."

Suddenly, Hiko began to laugh. It was not a laugh she had ever heard before - not from him; a rich, real laugh of a man who was amused for a reason other than his own cleverness.

"What's so funny?" she asked, unable to bring herself to be angry. Not after... that laugh.

Hiko shook his head, continuing his work. "I'm almost certain that's not all he said. My baka deshi never repeats my teachings without adding his own opinion to it."

Kaoru blinked in surprise. "You taught him that?"

He raised an eyebrow at her. "What, you think he would make all that up by himself?"

"Well, no..." Once she thought about it, she realized how true the statement was. Kenshin really wasn't the sort to spread that kind of philosophy on his own. "I didn't know him very well at the time, though."

"So tell me, what did he add?" Hiko asked, giving the wooden table a spin to work on the other side, startling Kaoru in the process. "And don't tell me he left it at that - I know him far better than you think."

"I'm starting to realize," she admitted. "He did add something-"

"I knew it!"

"He said... that he hoped someday the dream would become a reality," Kaoru smiled, resting her chin in her hands. "He hoped that everyone would follow it."

"The words of a fool," Hiko said quietly.

You really are perfect for each other, aren't you.

"Maybe," the girl shrugged. "But there are plenty of people in Kyoto who believe in it now. And it will keep growing - I'll work hard to make sure it never dies."

"I have no doubt," Hiko gave her a slight nod. She watched him a little longer, a smile on her face that he pointedly chose to ignore.

"Well, I really should be getting back," she announced when the pot seemed nearly complete, rising to collect the dishes. "Sae-san will need my help for the lunch crowd, and I'm pretty sure Kenshin's going to try walking again, so I'll be needed at the Shirobeko." She gave Hiko a low bow, her eyes gleaming with amusement. "Thank you for humouring my childishness this morning, Hiko-san."

"I dealt with childishness for five years, woman," Hiko replied gruffly. "I know it when I see it, and when I don't."

She smiled again, her eyes a little sad.

"I'm glad someone does," she murmured, then turned away to walk down the road.

Hiko watched her for a moment, then cursed his own heart and entered the hut, discretely wiping his hands on his mantle as he shuffled through old projects he'd laid aside while training with Kenshin. He soon spotted what he was looking for and hurried back out - without looking like he was hurrying; he was Hiko Seijuro after all, and he hurried for no one but himself - and caught up to Kaoru, walking silently beside her.

She sent him a sidelong glance, looking all the world like a curious little bird.

I have -got- to stop with these accursed animal references, or I'll be caught with a fist-sized bruise in my cheek.

... not that I wouldn't be able to dodge... or something...


"Hiko-san...?"

He coughed, his chin lifted to hide his expression. "I'll walk you to the outskirts of town," he answered her silent question, slowing his long stride to match her smaller steps.

Kaoru didn't seem surprised, which only infuriated him more. "An escort? How thoughtful of you."

"Don't be foolish, girl," he growled in return. "I need more sake, since we drank it all thanks to your visit. The shop is on the way."

Kaoru merely smiled, and Hiko wondered if she noticed he wasn't carrying his wallet on his belt. From the smile she wore, the answer was probably yes.

Damn.

"You forgot this," he told her as they passed through the forest, pulling out what he had found in the hut.

She blinked. "You never gave me anything-"

"You're as forgetful as my student," Hiko smirked, unwrapped the cloth around it. "I gave it to you last month."

From beneath the wrappings, he revealed a small cup, intricate details of plum blossoms decorated across the front.

Kaoru gasped, eyes shining with delight. "Oh!" she breathed. "You finished it!"

"Of course I did," Hiko said irritably, but his eyes were smiling, too. "I always finish what I start. It's a pity that baka deshi didn't learn that one from me."

She ignored that comment as well, shuffling the bento dishes in her arms to make room for the cup. She drew it close to her chest, her smile dazzling in the midday sun.

"Thank you, Hiko-san," she said softly, and he nodded in response.

They walked in silence for a long time; even the forest around them let out a peep louder than the wind filtering through the trees. True to his word, once they reached the outskirts of the city Hiko turned to walk along a different road.

"I'm glad we could have lunch," she called after him, still smiling.

He gave her his best smirk, his eyes knowing. Sending back a two-fingered salute, he turned away, his long legs carrying him far down the road as she watched him.

Until next time, then.



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Kudos, bows, and hugs to Haku Baikou for allowing me to play with her storyline, "Recovery", ^_^ I can tell this fic will get more and more difficult as I write more characters I'm not used to writing. Well, it's good experience anyway.

Though this looks suspiciously like a Kaoru/Hiko pairing. I don't know if I like this idea.

As always, suggestions for future chapters are welcomed. Even if I don't end up using them, seeing new fics is always nice.

Thank you for reading.