Disclaimer: As always, I don't own 'em. Never have, never will. Excuse me while I run off into a corner to cry.

Notes: This was just a thought that popped into my head. Some characters may act somewhat out of character in parts. This is somewhat a piece of science fiction/fantasy, so that's okay, right? Uh... yeah. Anyway, I hope you all like.

Fitz

Young Again

1. Questions

            It was a never-ending battle. As a boy just eleven years in this world, these battles were more difficult for him than for a full-fledged adult. But this boy, Myojin Yahiko, would come out on top. He would defeat his enemies. Starting with the one in front of him.

            "Oi, busu! Don't call me chan!" Veins were throbbing in the young man's forehead. "Chan is for little girls and kids!"

            "But you are a kid, Yahiko-chan," Kaoru growled, veins popping forth in her own forehead. "And treat your assistant master with respect. You do not call your teacher ugly."

            "Tanuki! Busu tanuki!"

            "Grrrrrrr... Yahiko-CHAN!!!!" Kaoru leapt into action. Yahiko stuck his tongue out at her and bolted out into the yard. "Get back here!"

            "Ugly tanuki girl!" Yahiko shouted as he dodged around the laundry pail and ducked beneath the drying sheets.

            "Oro," Kenshin squinted against the wind caused by a boy running past him at full speed.

            "Yahiko-chan!" Kaoru screamed, jumping right over the bucket.

            "Oro!" Kenshin ducked as the assistant master nearly ran into his head. Twisting around, he watched with amusement as Kaoru chased Yahiko around the dojo.

            It was a typical day in the Kamiya household.

            "Oi! Yahiko, don't step on me!"

            That would be Sanosuke, making his appearance in time for lunch. Kaoru would then stop chasing Yahiko so that she could yell at Sanosuke for being a lazy freeloader. And Kenshin would then approach with the usual:

            "Maa, maa, don't fight, you two."

            Yahiko was off the hook. Snickering to himself, he continued on his path through the dojo and out the side door. Kaoru and Sanosuke were still yelling at each other, completely oblivious to the world around them. But when Yahiko looked at the strange trio at the back gate, he found that his escape was not going unnoticed. Kenshin stared right at him, his lips quirked up into a knowing smile. He knew better than to think he could fool the former hitokiri. However, Yahiko also knew that Kenshin would just watch him leave--and not give him away. Grinning and waving, Yahiko ducked out the gate.

            "Maa... you two," Yahiko heard the rurouni's voice through the now-closed gate. "I think Yahiko's gone."

            Perfect. Not only was he free for the day, but Kenshin had managed to point out the fact in such a manner that Kaoru's fury could only be directed toward her long-gone pupil.

            "Kenshin no baka!! Why did you wait so long to tell me?!" This was accompanied by the sound of a bokken meeting a skull.

            "Orooooo..."

            Whoops. Maybe not. Yahiko grinned puckishly and ran down the street.

^_^

            Just once, Yahiko thought grumpily. Just once, I wish they would understand what it's like. None of them know what it's like to be a kid around here. Not that I'm a kid. Maybe I'm not an adult yet, but I am not a little child. Ayame and Suzume are kids. I can take care of myself. Why do they all think I'm just some helpless brat who has to be babied and ordered around all the time?!

            Needless to say, Yahiko had been given a rough time by none other than Kamiya Kaoru when he had gotten back from his job at the Akabeko. Her shouting had likely been heard by the whole neighborhood. Although Kenshin had intervened--earning himself an earful as well--in a way, he had been just as bad. Yahiko hated being talked down to. Kenshin was nice to him, even fatherly, but sometimes he just wanted to be treated like one of the adults. And that was the one thing that never seemed to happen.

            "Yahiko?"

            Along with the sound of Kenshin's voice was a light tapping on his door. Yahiko muttered under his breath, then stopped, recalling that Kenshin had exceptional hearing. He did not need the rurouni hearing him cursing out the household.

            "Yahiko, can I come in?"

            "Sure, whatever," Yahiko replied sulkily.

            He flopped down on his futon as the shouji whispered open and shut again. Kenshin walked across the room and sat down next to the irritated boy.

            "What's bothering you today, Yahiko?" he asked, getting right to the point.

            "Nothing."

            "You've been cranky lately."

            "It's nothing."

            "Are you sure?"

            Yahiko glowered at the sheets of his futon, irritated by the man's persistence.

            "I'm sure, Kenshin," he growled.

            "So are you going to spend the rest of tonight in your room, sulking over nothing?" Kenshin asked softly.

            That brought Yahiko to a halt in his protest. He sighed. Of course, Kenshin was the hardest one to fool. Sanosuke was pretty perceptive himself, as was, he grudgingly admitted, Kaoru. But Kenshin always seemed to know what was going on. That annoyed Yahiko to no end.

            "I hate being the youngest around," he said finally. "No one knows what it's like."

            Kenshin was silent, waiting for the boy to continue. Yahiko did not disappoint.

            "You've even said I'm not a little kid, but you treat me just like a baby anyway!" Yahiko burst out, grateful to get this off his chest, although he would never admit that. "I can take care of myself. And I have a job, which is more than you can say."

            "Ouch," Kenshin smiled anxiously. Yahiko grinned--he couldn't help it.

            "I want to be the adult for once," he declared. "And I- I wish you all would be younger. Just to know how I feel. And maybe I can know what it's like to be the oldest."

            Yahiko sighed, glancing uncomfortably to the side. Kenshin smiled, shaking his head patiently.

            "Did it ever occur to you that we do know what it's like, Yahiko?" he asked.

            "Huh?" Yahiko looked up in surprise.

            "Well, as incredible as it may seem, all of us were once your age," Kenshin said with a grin. "Sano's family was the Sekihoutai, and he very likely was the baby of the group. Kaoru-dono was probably the youngest one around this school when she grew up, and a girl as well. I, of course, grew under Hiko's tender, loving care," the rurouni grimaced in recollection. "We have all been the youngest, at one time or another, Yahiko."

            He stood up then, smiling cheerfully at the boy.

            "I have to go make dinner," he explained.

            "O-okay," Yahiko stammered, thinking about what the man had said. "Ano... Kenshin?"

            "Hmm?" Kenshin turned from the doorway.

            "Well, I was wondering, and you see..." Yahiko blushed, then sighed miserably. "How long will it take? Before you guys start treating me like an adult?"

            Kenshin smiled a bit wistfully at the question, and Yahiko wondered why.

            "Not long enough, Yahiko," he said gently. "Not nearly long enough."

            He stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him. Yahiko flopped back onto his futon, folding his hands behind his head, and stared up at the ceiling. Kenshin's words were not ignored, nor were they completely understood. In his mind, he could not grow up fast enough. Yet Kenshin was implying he should not want that. It didn't make sense at all.

            "He just wants to shut me up," he thought resentfully, even though he knew that was just an excuse to make himself feel better. Even so...

            "I still want to be the oldest," he muttered. "Kenshin can be the youngest for all I care, if he likes it that much."

            Still grumbling, Yahiko got up, heeding Kenshin's shout that dinner was ready. He barely spoke at all that evening, still angry at Kaoru and irritated with Kenshin. After dinner, he went straight to bed and fell asleep dreaming of how nice it would be to push Kaoru around for once.