Summer 1864

He's ready—there's nothing left for me to teach, except—

Maybe he isn't the brightest, but he's stuck it through. And then, I know that in the end he will bury me, something I couldn't do for you, shishou. I'm sorry.

Something's up with shishou! I just know it.

The pouch rested heavy in Kenshin's small but visibly calloused palm. The feel of cool metal, even through the coarse cloth, was all too unfamiliar. It had kept him worried all morning.

But he had made good on the morning—scaling down the steepest tracks before the sun's glare reached the mountains. It was easy going now, wood-shade and water scent, the path was almost a path and ran easily down the slopes. The walk had soothed away his limbs' protest at the sudden break of ritual—the hours of practice that had been forgone this morning—so that the trip was becoming more and more enjoyable. Leaf sounds, insects, birds, even a squirrel or two, his senses took it all in, stretching and easing. His errand though surprising and nearly unbelievable, was far from unpleasant.

When else would Kenshin actually get to see Gion Matsuri, yen in hand, and permission to actually spend what was "left over"? Then why were his shoulder's still tensing at every creak and whisper? Why was he on indefinite guard?

Hiko had been acting strange lately—he wasn't nearly as bossy, and the practice hours they spent together, the ones Kenshin had only recently begun to truly enjoy, had been cut short. Meditation he said. He just sat there—staring at the sky with his eyes closed.

And now this—this trip—to Kyoto—to get his sake—his favorite make—his costliest—and in the middle of Gion Matsuri no less!

Kenshin's fingers tightened around the pouch—something's definitely going on here!

Hiko set out after the boy a good hour after his pupil had walked off, with many backward glances. Knowing the shortest and most reliable path down the mountain meant he'd catch up with Kenshin, sooner than later. But that would not do, now would it?

Is this—selfishness? Self indulgence perhaps—one last look. The gods only know, the people down there will never see another quite like this. Hiko Seijuro! One last glance?

That's it. Not delaying the inevitable and not a day off either. I'm not holding on to—my name, any longer than I would hold on to my dying breath.

I've taught the boy well, better than even you, old man. But then, I never really did need much teaching after my sword arm found its mate. Kenshin on the other hand—

How long has it been since you were last in my thoughts, shishou?

The bare mountainside, where even Hiko would find it hard to mask his presence, now crossed, Hiko eased to a stroll. While his body and its ingrained lithe motions still suggested caution and control, his mind was already back at the cabin which he had come to know as home.

Kenshin, his hand grasps steel well, but his mind—slow, stubborn—only awkwardly clutches at this ideal. Yours, mine. His inheritance.

And now I even sound like you, shishou!

Is this selfishness? I do not want him to—to suffer.

Hiko's eyes traveled down the path—marked with an approving grin. The boy had left little to no signs of his passage. As long as neither of them stopped, the leisurely pace would get them both to Kyoto before midday.

He wondered vaguely if the boy would also inherit his taste for sake. If he would have the sense to honor his stones.

He will bury me. He is strong. But—

Truly, is that all I need to know? He will do what he must, I know. But is that enough?

Is this—selfishness?

Fields of gold-brown crops stretched ahead. Kenshin found his hands stretched out onto the rough stalks often, the feel and the warmth brought vague memories of a past forced far away.

In the distance lay Kyoto.

The city lay pressed in prim folds, marked with banners. Raised bamboo platforms stood at either end of the staged entrance to the district. The buildings had been tidied and painted and decked in vines with lanterns and festoons.

Kenshin felt his heart speed up as he neared the arches. His pouch had long since been tucked away into his gi. Faint stirrings of music tinged the air and a sickly sweet scent radiated from the very ground.

Bracing himself, Kenshin marched into Kyoto.

A little something done up for Khrysalis. And just to be clear, pre-bakumatsu. Part-II may take a little while to get across, exam season!

As always, thanks to lolo popoki for the help. And thanks to anyone reading, commenting, et all.