Disclaimer: Per usual I can hardly hope to own any of the characters. What I do with them, however, is my own choice.

It was all simple admiration right?

Katsushiro shook his head madly to dispel his lingering doubts, sniffing disapprovingly at the dusty late autumn air. He merely admired the dark samurai, longing for the artistic grace that those svelte wrists displayed. The sheer prowess! It was like raw power that coursed through the spindly limbs.

With a disappointed sigh, he searched his own calloused fingers for even the slightest hint of what they could possibly become. His hands, slender and almost feminine, could never become those blood spattered hands. They still knew the silks and smooth porcelain he had tried in vain to escape. Just as his lips knew sweet tea and his stomach understood delicate foods.

"I'm just not cut out for this," he grumbled, hardly realizing just where his feet were taking him.

He was still shaky, his muscles weak and his head a bit dizzy even after all this time. A day after the battle and he still couldn't calm down! It pained him honestly to watch the others mingle and drift about in apparent ease while he stood looking over the deep ravine, trembling as if mildly feverish.

Was battle truly that frightening to him? He had hoped his teammates' presence might take the blunt shock of the blood and death, but obviously that hope had come and gone like so many others.

They had stepped aside and let it wash over him in a rush of heat and sightless rage that drove his body utterly mad; and they had watched with cold eyes. Katsushiro supposed it was good for him in a way. It was a lesson to teach the merchant's boy what real life outside the sheltered walls of gold and trade was really like.

If they even knew that is.

He groaned and weakly fell back against the trunk of the ancient trees that grew up the hill from the village. Of course they did! They had to. . . what else would a eighteen year old boy be doing, roaming the streets blindly with a pressed uniform and a shiny new sword? The only thing that could complete the set was his idiotically noble and naive intentions.

Maybe he should just run away before he was slain. Dying had never quite fit into his plans when he snuck away from his ruined family or even when he offered his services to the pretty water priestess on the city streets. It was a coward's way out and against the very rulebook he had nailed his soul to, but right now pure survival was hammering a rhythm at the back of his head, demanding to be heard. That instinct, damn it to the fires of battle, had been increasing in volume since that fit of rage on the Nobesari vessel.

He hardly realized he had started walking aimlessly again, weaving in a drunken haze of confusion through the massive trees that cast fairy lights in the air around him as the sun began its sleepy descent over the mountains. It lit his deep green mane, glittering off the silver in his hair, the narrow crown that sat on the peak of his skull.

If only he could be like Kyuzo. What a warrior! He was so fearless and brave, yet cautious. The man was so graceful! He was more an artist than a fighter, light-footed and quick. The boy sighed reverently then glanced down to his own frame, hidden beneath the baggy pants and loose jacket. His small moment of elation came crashing down dismally.

He was hiding in his own clothes. It wasn't that he had undesirable weight or any extra baggage at all for that matter, not like most merchants. No, Katsushiro was ashamed more of his skin than his lean muscle and flat stomach. Just like the skin hidden beneath the gloves, his chest and stomach were pale and smooth from childhood years of oil baths and left completely unscarred from soft shirts and safety.

He wanted to be beaten and battered, to look rough around the edges and have that icy gleam in his eyes. . . like Kyuzo.

His feet shuffled noisily through the undergrowth, kicking aside the stray twigs that lay in his path. His glazed eyes remained focuses elsewhere, far beyond the figure that was leaning elegantly at the base of the tree he was headed for.

Well, until he stepped firmly on the twig.

The sharp noise not only came as a jolt to his numbed senses, but so did the glinting point of the sword that rested firmly between his eyes. Even then, it took Katsushiro only seconds to realize who it belonged to.

His mouth opened and he babbled something to the samurai seated below him. His words did not mesh or flow in his jumbled thoughts, merely sound to his conscious. Honestly, he hoped he hadn't said anything too strange or embarrassing.

Truthfully what the young swordsman was staring at were Kyuzo's twin pupils, both sharp and frigid as the depths of winter. They betrayed nothing, whether he felt annoyance or anger for this unorthodox and sudden disturbance.

Three thoughts hit him at once, locking his jaw and his limbs for the briefest of moments while his already taxed mental state tried to unravel the conflicting messages. Part of him desperately wanted to angrily snap at the man for drawing a weapon on someone who was so obviously an ally. Another part wanted to slink away, pleading forgiveness. And still a third voice demanded that he sit down next to the samurai and talk to him. Just talk so he could be heard.

He opted to run. With a hurried apology, Katsushiro began to back away, eventually turning on his heel to sprint back down to the village and hide in the wooden hut. Or at least that's what he intended to do.

A blur of crimson halted his progress within ten paces and he once again found himself at sword point. "Draw," the rich voice hummed.

"W-what?" the boy stammered, hands out before him in a subconscious gesture of peace, one very submissive and meek. "I'm sorry I didn't mean to-"

"Draw," Kyuzo growled again, reaching back to take his second blade. "Your sword. Draw."

"I can't fight you!" he gasped. "I just-" Again he was cut off, this time by the sweet whistle as the sword knifed through the air towards his ribs. The young samurai yelped and closed his eyes, waiting for the cold steel to carve into his flesh. All he felt was his jacket fall loose, the secure weight around his hips vanishing. Cracking an eye, he realized his belt and the strap over his shoulder had been cleanly severed in one cut, dropping his sword to the ground with a clatter.

"Draw."

Katsushiro stared in dismay at the motionless man, reluctantly kneeling to take up his blade and draw it achingly slowly from its cherry wood sheath. The older warrior hardly waited for the tip to slide loose when he lunged forwards. The boy gasped and thrust his blade outward to intercept the charge, twisting it in his hand to spin Kyuzo's sideways. But the target vanished, leaving him to stagger forward against the unexpected empty air he had been bracing for. The fabric tore so cleanly, the boy didn't even notice his jacket was cut again until his left sleeve fluttered down his arm to drift to the ground.

"Open your eyes."

Katsushiro tried to swallow past the lump in his throat. When you take a life, you never look your opponent in the eyes, do you? Apparently Heihachi was not the only one to notice.

"Look at me."

He whirled around, letting out a frustrated yell as he swung down, aiming for the man's shoulder. This time Kyuzo did not move, just blocked the sloppy chop, locking the swords at their hilts. His eyes glittered coldly, his lips caught in that eternal frown of disapproval.

The younger samurai tugged at his blade desperately, lashing out at his opponent's knee with a sweeping kick. It was blocked with an interesting sidestep that caught the slender ankle between the man's knees in one of the slits in his coat. The blonde's eyes narrowed further and he jerked their weapons sideways, snapping Katsushiro's right arm out wide, leaving him open and unbalanced. In an instant he flipped his sword around to slam the hilt into the boy's ribs.

"You can do better."

The already wide green eyes widened further at the words, even as the young man tumbled back onto the ground wheezing for breath. Better? How could he possibly fare better against such a skilled warrior? I'm not cut out for this.

He struggled back to his feet, leaning back against one of the hefty oak trunks to catch his breath. Calmly, Kyuzo offered forth the sword that he had stolen, waiting until the trembling fingers closed on the hilt before he attacked again, streaks of silver flashing before the young man's face and ruffling his hair with the breeze.

Katsushiro promptly dropped his blade to cling to the rough bark, grinding his teeth as he heard small metallic chimes. Easing his eyes open again, he watched as all his little silver buttons roll away into the undergrowth, his jacket falling open to reveal the thin, white undershirt.

"Katsushiro," the blond said sharply, his commanding voice firmly holding the boy's attention. The second sword swept around, cleaving through the remnants of his jacket so they fell to the ground. Kyuzo stood straight, raising his swords out beside his body in an offering pose, taking a few steps back. 'Come and get me' it said.

The rage was back, starting at the back of his neck and his cheeks and racing down his spine. He could literally feel his blood boiling beneath the surface. His eyes changed, narrowing and earning that blood lusting shine. His fingers found his small blade again, gripping it until his knuckles turned white and his fingers began to tingle. With an animalistic snarl, the young man lunged forwards, stabbing and slashing in a mad frenzy at the man in the red jacket who merely smiled, taunting him to new heights of fury.

"Better. Not good enough." Kyuzo was easily able to deflect most of the hits, but a few made it close enough to force him back a step here or there. It was nothing really to worry about. In his anger, the boy merely became a little more unpredictable, his movements harder to read and follow. It was not a safe combat style, but it was an improvement over what he had before.

Satisfied enough for the moment, the blond went on the attack, stabbing between the wide and unprofessional swings, leaving small tears along the outer thighs of the young samurai's pants. With an elegant twist, he slid his sword cleanly along the boy's arm, cutting one of the gloves off.

In response, Katsushiro merely growled and raised his sword above his head. Mistake. In a split second he was forced back against the tree, the hilt of Kyuzo's first blade pressed firmly against his wrists and pinning them there, leaving his stomach and ribs wide open and defenseless.

Still lost to his inner berserker, he struggled madly, kicking at the samurai every time he tried to move closer. Finally tiring of the game, the blond boredly shredded the front of the starched white undershirt, leaving the poor boy topless in the cold of the coming night. Still that did not wake him. When he kicked out yet again, Kyuzo finally slapped him across the face with the flat of his blade.

Katsushiro gasped, the mad haze leaving his eyes and his chest heaving as he fought to calm himself. "K-Kyuzo, w-what-"

The samurai waved him silent, stalking forwards to pull his blade from the tree, freeing the boy's wrists. As he gracefully flipped it over to slide it into its sheath, he rumbled, "Lesson one: humility."

The second blade was also slid tightly into its scabbard with another breathy murmur. "Lesson two: self doubt."

With that Kyuzo stalked away back towards the village, leaving Katsushiro sprawled out on the ground with the remnants of his clothes. The boy stared up at the glittering night sky, his eyes narrowed a he mouthed the words 'humility' and 'self doubt' over and over again.

"I understand Kyuzo," he whispered, pausing before adding, "Master."