Everything changes as it grows and, if we are lucky, that change is for the good. Inspired by Murasahki-chan's excellent 'Adoption' fic series. I encourage you to read them, if only to discover which specific phrase, in which fic, sparked this one. One-shot.
The heat from the late-summer's noonday sun flowed over the big man's bare, sweating shoulders as he stoked the kiln. He'd been working since sun-up: chopping wood, hauling it, carefully feeding the fire to achieve just the right temperature. It was brutally hard work, and the man cursed himself under his breath.
Why didn't I pick basket-weaving?—something where I could sit in the shade and drink sake as I worked.
Behind him, on the rack he'd hauled outside from the potting shed, rested a sake set. The graceful, womanly curves of the beaker contrasted with the low, severe discs of the five saucers—his favorite shape for a sake cup, as much for the skill required to sip from it without spilling—requires a steady hand and heart, like that of a master swordsman—as for the broad expanse it made of the sake's surface, glistening like a lake under moonlight. Already fired once for tempering and now slipped with glaze and decorated—the cups each with a single dragon's talon circling the bowl and the beaker wrapped with the dragon's claw wreathed in its misty breath—the set awaited its final proofing: the hours in the inferno that would test it and try it and transform the dull clay and flat colors into gleaming art.
He had just learned to tell, reliably, the kiln's temperature by the color of the flame—and they said it would take at least five years! he snorted with pride—and, when the fire was ready, he picked up each piece with the tongs, one by one, and, threading it through the tiny opening, placed it on the shelf in the yellow-hot interior.
Wiping the sweat from his face and chest, he sat heavily on the log in front of the kiln. A welcome breeze wafted through the clearing and he inhaled its scent gratefully, feeling his skin prickle with the chill of evaporating moisture. A slight movement from beyond the hut caught his eye, and he focused on the figure huddled over the handful of rows of soybeans.
The man watched, feeling it in his heart, as the boy shuffled along on his haunches, reaching in here and there to capture a marauder from his precious plants—never kills them, always releases them—to pinch a sucker from a stem, to pull a weed from the soft ground. The sun flamed the boy's hair and drove a fragile mist from the ground around him to frame him in a soft silvery light.
'What have I got myself into?'
It had been three days, but the tiny boy had only slumped deeper into silence and shock. At first, the child had demonstrated remarkable strength and fortitude, but as the realization of his danger and subsequent rescue, and the reality of his current safety had sunk in, he'd withdrawn into stillness and blank eyes.
The man had no experience with children, and hadn't reckoned—when he'd detected the spark of fire in that small, great heart, when he'd chosen this one as his deshi, the one to whom he would pass the treasured secret of his life's philosophy and training—that he would have to become more than master, more than teacher; that it would become necessary for him to figure out how to rescue the boy's soul as well as his body.
Each morning, he fed them, the boy seeming to eat almost unconsciously. For the rest of the day, as he moved through his day's activities, he would turn to find the little one sitting near him, eyes focused on the ground, still as death. He'd finish that task, move to the next, and again there the boy would be, having followed him with no sound, with no change in ki—it was disconcerting to the 13th master. At night, sleep would overtake the child almost indiscernibly, so near to sleep was his waking manner.
As the days passed, the man focused his considerable powers of perception on the child, and, gradually, understanding dawned.
'Eyes focused on the ground? Ah, no! He's looking at the plants—he's actually watching them grow!'
The idea of the garden sprang fully-formed to his mind.
The small boy stood and turned toward his shishou, squinting in the sun, hands filled with squirming caterpillars destined for the forest floor's gloom rather than the garden's light, his smile flashing out freely, brighter even, than his recovering ki.
Flinging the caterpillars back into their preferred haven—the garden's rescue will have to wait till another day, it seems, the man smiled to himself—Kenshin fairly skipped out of the garden, covering the distance between them in a flash.