Fourteen; Chapter 1

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Kyoto, Higashiyama range, 1881

Even from one of the lower slopes of Higashiyama the city below looked akin to an overgrown unkempt garden in the half-light.

The timeless guardian had watched over the district beneath its foothill, proving greater than the "great purge" and "great fire."

Advancing from the older structures—simple hues, reflecting superior craft of both wood and stone—the heavy-set buildings stood stooping drunkenly on the narrow streets. These houses were decked in gaudy colors, banners of red and gold, which added gradually to the litter in the streets already strewn with bottle-shards and flyaway paper.

Mid-May was fast approaching and with it the air grew thicker nightly—heavy with the intoxicating haze of sake, spilled on mouths and stones alike.

The revelers had only now begun to mute their drunken yells, seemingly stifled by the semi-solid suffocating air.

And then the sun rose, as it had the day before, and the day before that. Glaring fitfully above the highest peaks of Higashiyama she dissipated the stagnation and the reveling alike.

The air weaved sluggishly through the lanes, driving back the army of merrymakers back to shady retreats.

It was well after noon that drums and trumpets began anew. And with it, life crawled back into the bodies sprawled across delicate laps, tatami floors, or cold flagged stones.

A distinctive figure passed slowly along these streets. His deep blue gi hanging heavily across his slight frame, eyes shaded, head ablaze in the light.

Had it not been for the state of most of the people in sight—slumped in unmoving heaps, only showing life-signs swatting at imagined flies, or reaching over, shakily, for that last intact jar of sake, already tipped a hundred times over—he would have drawn more attention.

Even so, he did not completely escape whistles and cat-calls directed at his very feminine appearance.

It had been a while since he had been in Kyoto around this time of year, Gion Matsuri—the flicker of a frown passed his lips as he shifted the longish package on his back. His finger's tightened around the hand-painted cloth-sack in the crook of his arm.

The flurry of red and gold streamers, like leaves seconds ago-were lent a lucid, flowing quality. The nearly dead heaps, the stench of bodies, the odd grunts and the overpowering acrid quality of the very air—the stench, brought a wild look on to his face.

He tugged at the cords on the package at his back, they were already digging into his shoulders. His eyes darted from side to side, desperate for a way out, for escape.

Kenshin picked up his pace, winding his way towards the mountains, eyes set only on the stones at his feet. The dull monotony—gray—soothed his nerves, and once away from the loud jangle, instruments warming up for the day ahead, he eased his strides once more.

It didn't take long for a smile to crease his lips. He reminded himself of the task ahead, amused to no end at just how nervous it made him.

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Kenshin felt a self-conscious strain as his master completed the quick inspection, taking in everything from the primly tamed red locks, to the gravitating new gi and the unstained, nearly dust free hakama. The bottle cradled in his hands was the crowning touch.

"So baka, you're back?"

Hiko Seijuro strode into the hut with a flourish.

Some things never do change—mused Kenshin.

"Uhm, shishou I.."

The large man simply brushed passed him, quite a feat considering the space the two occupied.

"Shishou, I came to.."

"Hungry?" Hiko pointed towards his steadily cooling lunch.

"Huh? Uh no, shishou.."

"You're as dense as ever—baka."

"I came to tell you tha—what?"

"How many times will you call me shishou before it registers in your thick skull? That will no longer be answered."

"But shish-ou oh, I," Kenshin was at his feet again, fighting this new predicament.

"Come on! Let us sit, out. We should not leave this precious one lying."

"Hai, Shis—" Kenshin promptly closed his mouth.

The two trooped out onto the bare plane and headed down an unfrequented path, deeper into the mountains.

Their steps were strangely magnified in the stony corridor they were passing—every birdcall, every whisper in the breeze was a surge back to normalcy. The little incline followed a natural passage in the rock face, sloping down gently. And while the place was cool and damp, there was no shortage of light.

"Out with it! Come on Kenshin."

"Aah, well, you see, I came here with some—I came to tell you that—to tell you that, uh—" the redhead trailed off, finding the stitching in his zori more and more absorbing.

"Yes, I see. Moron."

Without a response to work on Hiko remained silent for the moment.

How did even I manage to raise this, this—? And what have I been able to teach him? Well, at the least, his taste in sake is strong—Hiko reined back his wandering mind as the two returned beneath the sun's watchful eye.

The big man turned suddenly, biting back a grin that had stolen across at the familiar expression—shock, on his pupil's face at the swoosh.

"The way I see it. Either you have been kicked out of your home by that little woman. And kami knows you should be glad it hasn't happened sooner—" Kenshin raised both his hands, palms extended, face shifting through expressions with godlike speed. Hiko schooled his own into a tight frown.

"So, you want to move back, eh? Want to return to the mountain, to shishou?"

"Maa maa, I didn't get kicked out.' Kenshin muttered, shaking his head.

"Or. Or, or! You? You've done—you've done it?"

Kenshin's expression hardened at Hiko's incredulity.

"H-hai, shishou."

"Don't you hai shishou me! How, no when? How is she—he or her?"

"Calm down shishou," Kenshin appealed, mischief creeping steadily into his voice.

A moment later, the two sat facing each other, talking.

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Kyoto, Higashiyama range, 1895

I rise—just a little slower than I would have—liked? wanted? no, then I would have.

The door's already closed, I usually keep it that way these days.

Still, it isn't often that strangers walk these mountains. But this—stranger? No, he may be a stranger to the mountain, but not to me.

I can hear you—I can hear you breathe.

Hmm, and not just content with tramping around, you want to talk to me too eh?

"Is anyone there?" Came a strained yell, almost in answer.

There sure is, boy.

"Anyone? I am Kenji."

My eyes widen—what? did he say?—slightly.

"Yes shishou. Kenji—my son."

"Kenji Himura! Son of Kamiya Kaoru.."

..And?

"The master of Kamiya Kasshin Ryu."

"I've brought him here, to Kyoto, so that you could.."

"I have come here, alone, from far."

"He is almost two shishou, he is a strong boy."

"I've come here to be, to be, strong—stronger."

"..He will not pick up the sword."

"I want to learn.."

"He will rise to his feet unsupported by a sword, sheathed or otherwise."

"I want to learn swords."

"In a world of peace, for everyone—anyone."

"Anyone? Is anyone there?"

"He will not learn to kill."

"I will learn—learn Hiten Mitsurugi."

"I won't teach him."

"I am Kenji, I will not be denied!"

"I will not."

"Teach me!"

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The first chapter of Creation folks.. just a few things to bore you with before you press that button.

The area mentioned is the Higashiyama-ko, or "Eastern mountain district".. a place that mostly escaped the "burning of Kyoto." The festival "Gion Matsuri" is, as many know, held on(and all around :P) 15th June, however, this date was only fixed in the early 1900's..

A big thank you to lolo popoki for all her help here.

Fourteen Is one of the three stories in this little collection.. I hope at least a bit of the confusion from the previous chapters has been cleared.