He startles, and looks up from the rice he's cooking.

Come here.

The... rice... will-

So put out the fire.

He makes a sound of frustration. Then I'll have to cook the rice all over again, Master!

Just put the fire out, baka deshi.

After a moment's hesitation, he does so, and comes to kneel across from me. I smile a little, pleased, as he bows his head and waits for my word. He has become... I will not say subservient, because this boy has a spirit that will never be crushed. But he is obedient.

I stand, and take two tea bowls from the shelf, and seat myself again. One bowl, I place in front of him, the other, I leave by my side. Already I can tell that he is perplexed. I want you to tell me what this is.

He looks up at me, blinking. It's... a... tea bowl, Master...

I nod shortly. Very perceptive. What does one do with a tea bowl?

... Is this a joke...?

Swiftly, I reach out and hit him upside the head. He's thirteen, after all, and bound to be a little incredulous. Sometimes the young need a little wake-up call. This is a lesson, baka deshi, I say. I asked you a question.

You drink tea from it, Master, he says sullenly, resenting the blow.

All right. Now, take a good look at this bowl. He looks at it. No. Pick it up, examine it. Carefully.

He does so, turning it round and round in his hands, studying the glaze, the shape of the bowl... He has a good eye for detail. Kenshin notices when something is amiss, and he notices it quickly. I have taught him well.

Describe it to me, I tell him, and he looks up at me.

... Master...?

The bowl, idiot. Describe it to me.

He pauses, considering, trying, perhaps, to find the words that will most please me. It's rather asymmetrically - This side sticks out farther than the side opposite... And the colour is uneven. Here, the glaze is cracked, and, here, it's dripped.

All right. Is that all you have to say?

I... Suppose so, Master.

I nod, and take the first bowl away, placing it to my left. I place the other bowl, which has been sitting patiently at my right, in front of him now. Now describe this one.

He sighs, frustrated, no doubt, and probably a little hungry. He takes a few moments to study this second bowl, and finally speaks. The colours are different, but- Honestly, it's about the same as the first. The rim isn't circular, and it's chipped, here, at the corner. The glaze is too many different colours at once, they're very dull, and they aren't even equally distributed. And the glaze is very rough, not smooth like the first bowl's glaze.

Very well. I slide the second bowl aside slightly, and put the first next to it, so that their sides are nearly touching. Now, which one is worth more?

He stares at me.

Let's say, I drawl, that you are at a street market, and you have only four sen to your name. Now, you want to buy the best gift for your master that you can afford. Which will be better worth your four sen?

He studies me for a long moment, then studies the two tea bowls. Finally, he looks back up at me. I'd... have to say that I'd buy the first one, Master.

Again, I shoot my hand out and hit him on the head, harder this time. Baka deshi, I grunt.

What did I say wrong, Master?! he cries, offended. His eyes glare at me accusingly, almost daring me to tell him where his faults lie.

I say, tapping the white rim of the first tea bowl, is a worthless piece of junk. I might as well use it to piss in. He looks a little startled. I put my hand over the second tea bowl. This, however, is worth a considerable fortune. His jaw drops open a little, and I have to smile.

I say, smirking.

He's a little at a loss for words. But-! It's ugly!

I chuckle. Idiot. You never did have any good taste. Finally, when he is staring sullenly at me, I explain. This tea bowl was made by a direct disciple of Chojiro. Do you remember who that is?

Yes, Master, he mutters. You've spoken of him before.

Of course I have, I reply. Now do you understand why it is worth a sizable sum of money?

Yes, Master, he says, still annoyed at having been proved wrong. But I don't understand how this is a lesson.

Not yet, you don't. I pause, studying him, gauging him. Do you think you have any idea why you answered incorrectly, baka deshi?

After a pause, he admits, Not really, Master.

Well, it's very simple. You didn't know what you were talking about. He looks offended. Well, good. You study swordsmanship, not ceramics, in case you hadn't noticed, I say. So it's no wonder that you wouldn't know the shit from the gemstones. Do you see?

... Well... Yes, but, Master... I don't see what it has to do with my training.

I try not to roll my eyes, to little avail. Sometimes this redheaded boy can be so dense. Tell me something, baka deshi. How do you gain the advantage over an opponent?

By being the superior swordsman, Master, he replies simply.

I snort. If you relied solely on your skill as a swordsman, you would quickly find yourself bleeding to death in the dirt. He blinks at me, surprised. I resist the urge to smack him again. To truly gain the advantage, a swordsman must not only know how to fight, he must also understand his opponent's style of fighting. If you are engaged in a conflict, and cannot discern a way to beat your challenger, than everything you know is worthless. You must be aware of everything at all times - not only of yourself, but of your surroundings and your opponent, and you must know how these things factor into the situation.

He looks at me, his eyes finally filling with some sort of understanding.

Don't interrupt me when I'm talking, I say. Really, the world does not revolve around you.

In any case. You must always understand how your opponent thinks, how he responds to your attacks. Like the observer must know a little about ceramics to tell flaw from saving grace, the swordsman must know advantage from disadvantage, stupidity from brilliance.

He sighs, still frustrated. Yes, I know, I bother Kenshin. But he is easily bothered. Master, I don't see-

Shut up and listen for a minute, boy.

Let's say, for example, that you're fighting a man who is wielding his sword very recklessly. He's swinging it around like he wants it to break. Why would he do that?

He is silent for a moment, looking down at the two tea bowls between us. After a while, he looks up. Well, because he has no respect for his weapon, Master.

Perhaps. Or maybe they are expendable to this man.

... What?

What happens if this man has various other weapons hidden away, which he can fall back on? When facing a man who utterly disregards the worth of his sword, one must consider these things. It might look like stupidity or disrespect, but you don't know for sure - that man may have another trick or two up his sleeve.

I watch him for a moment. He seems to understand, at least to a degree. Although, with children, one can never fully estimate how far their comprehension extends. The circumstances require that I press a little harder, especially when my disciple is so stubbornly ignorant.

Or, here, tell me this: This time, it is your sword that is broken, and-

he cries, offended. I would never allow my sword to be broken, Master!

I snort, and smack his head again for good measure. Baka deshi, don't think you're so high and mighty. Anyone's sword can break. The way in which our Nihon-to are forged makes them brittle, if they are misused. So don't assume that you're skilled enough to keep your sword from breaking.

He is quiet, his red head bowed slightly. I apologize, Master, he mumbles. He has never liked to apologize. To do so does him good.

Well, glad to hear it, I say, putting my hands back at my sides. Now. Let's say your sword has been broken. To the casual observer, you are at a disadvantage. Is that so?

Well... It might look that way... he says slowly, thinking as he speaks. But... no...?

I roll my eyes. So he has learned, at least a little, to consider my words fully before responding. Well, perhaps he has, but he still has a great deal more to learn.

I... suppose one might use the severed blade...?

Nodding curtly, I say, Yes, among other things. Half a katana - or half a wakizashi, for that matter - can still inflict damage. One must simply know how to handle this new' weapon. Just as a man can be impaled on a sharp pike, a dull one will also pierce his skin. It only inflicts more pain. Likewise, a blade with a flat edge instead of a point may pierce its target. Seeing the blow through takes more strength, though, as the impact is lessened slightly.

He nods slowly. I see, Master.

I'm not done yet, baka deshi! Now, let us pretend that your opponent has knocked the remains of your sword from your hands - And don't tell me that would never happen, either. I've knocked your sword out of your hand more times than I can count. I am pleased to see that he flushes slightly, and one must hope that he does so in shame. Shame about his abilities as a swordsman will only encourage him to improve. If I let him get too complacent, his skills will deteriorate.

I continue. Your opponent has divested you of your sword. What do you do?

I would... try to get it back, Master...

You could try. And then he would stab you in the back when you turned away. You'd be hard pressed to find a swordsman stupid enough to leave your weapon at your disposal. So, what else would you do?

He is silent, his eyes fixed again on those two bowls. Perhaps he thinks that, if he wishes it hard enough, they will disappear and we will never have had this conversation. He is sorely mistaken. I... I don't know.

Well, let us examine the situation. I tick off the important facts on the fingers of one hand. You have severed your only sword. You have lost the remaining portion of the sword. And, most importantly, you are fighting a man who is skilled enough to not only cut your blade in half, but knock the hilt from your hands. I shake my hand at him, three fingers pointed at his chest. What assets do you have remaining? He opens his mouth to respond, and I shake my fingers at him again. Think about it, boy. Think long and hard.

So he does. He ducks his head again, this time fixing his eyes on his hands. Minutes pass in silence. Finally, he looks up at me. I don't know, he says, sounding a little defeated.

Then you die.

He bows his head once more, a frustrated expression crossing his face.

Do you tire of this talk yet, Kenshin?

Yes, I do, Master! he says, exasperated. I don't see the point of this conversation! I don't understand why you feel the need to shame me by implying that I will never be skilled enough to face a worthy opponent!

I reply calmly, if you do not hear it now, you will not become skilled enough to face a worthy opponent. Vanity is one of the worst flaws a swordsman can have, and I will not have any disciple of mine falling pray to pridefulness.

Again he falls silent.

Now where were we? I wait for him to answer. He does not. Where were we? I repeat.

He looks up, his eyes resentful. He is angry at me now, but, in time, he will come to understand. If he does not, he will leave me, like a willful fool, and find his own destruction. You asked me what other assets I had left to me. I said I knew of none.

Ah, yes, I drawl, pretending that I do not notice his anger. So. You, are, of course, wrong. I don't wait for him to reply, this time. You have two measures of defense left to you. One is an uncertain possibility. The other is a failsafe that is always with you.

If it is nearby, the severed portion of your blade is an option. If it is nearby. If it requires taking a single step, it is most likely not worth it. But, if it is available to you, you might grip the blade and, with a well enough aimed attack, you could even hope to kill your opponent. Otherwise, the last remaining weapon you have is your sheath.

He makes a sound of surprise. My sheath?!

If you can continually hit the side of his blade, you can counter your enemy's attacks for a good while. Additionally, you can, under some circumstances, actually trap your opponent's sword in your sheath, giving you a momentary advantage.

I can watch it on his face. He is imagining this - How he could sheath his someone else's sword, and what he would do from there. I know he can't do it now, but... In the future, perhaps this thought will serve him well, if, that is, he comes up with any decent ideas. Because, in the end, isn't that really the point of this exercise, this conversation? It may humble him now, but knowing what a true master of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu can do will serve him, in the end. It will be ingrained in his memory - frustration is an impressive teacher - during future battles, if it comes to it that he does fight... Ah, but I know he will. He is a fighter, I have known that from the moment I lay eyes on him, with that katana in his child's hands. There is no hope for him.

Well, enough of this, I say finally. I'm hungry. He stares at me incredulously. I said, I'm hungry. Weren't you supposed to be making dinner, baka deshi? What the hell do you think you're doing, sitting around, staring a couple of worthless tea bowls? He gawps. I hit his head again. Quit lollygagging and get back to work!

Offended and incensed, he gets up from the floor, and removes the pot of rice from the fire, and takes it outside to the compost heap. Once outside, I know he mutters something to the effect of, What a waste,' but I will pretend that I don't know him so well.

He appears, once more, in the doorway, a dark, small shadow against the dark world beyond the door frame. He comes inside, closing the door against the darkness outside.

he asks quietly, watching me from the corner of his eye as he sets about starting dinner again. I cross behind him, putting the two tea bowls back in their rightful places.

I reply, going to sit by the window, thinking that perhaps we should keep the fire going tonight. There is a chill settling in.

His eyes are dark in the dim light, dark and honest, the eyes of a good soul with good intentions. He will make a great swordsman, if he takes my teachings to heart. He will make a great man.

... Why don't you just sell that tea bowl?

Or, then again, maybe not.

Des Notes:
Well, okay. This is my first non-romantic Kenshin fic... Well, second, but the first hasn't been posted anywhere yet. I'm still working on cleaning it up.
So, how was it?! Was Hiko in-character? I tried for a little bit of levity... Did it work? I think Hiko's a pretty amusing character, really, even though he, in all honesty, makes me think about Kenshin in a totally different way. I think any story from Hiko's point-of-view would have to be a little bit amusing... Although... I guess there's a capacity for angst, too. Oooooooh well, I talk too much.
::Gets deafened by shouts of, Yes, you do! And why the FUCK are you writing about tea cups?!::
Eep... Well... Can you tell my dad is a potter? Can you tell I work for him? Can you tell I've watched him do numerous raku firings?
Yeah, all those things are true. Raku can be really pretty stuff... But I'll explain a little bit more about that in a minute.
Yeah, my dad is a potter. He teaches pottery at one of the colleges in my area - not as a professor, but he's the pottery instructor, and he runs the pottery department - and he runs his own pottery studio from our house. I work for him in the summers, mostly cause he pays me well. ::Snerk.:: (Not-so-)Interesting fact: I grew up drinking almost entirely out of mugs and cups my father has made. My friends all think that's either totally insane or really awesome. I'm like, Uh... they're... cups...?'
Anyhow! Raku. In case you don't know, raku is a particular approach to pottery, which originated in Momoyama-jidai Japan. (That's between 1573 and 1615, for anyone who, like me, isn't entirely up to date on their Japanese eras.) American/Western raku is different from Japanese raku, but that's really the only thing I can exlain with any competency, so I'll just do that. Basically, you take the pots out of the kiln at a certain point while they're still firing, and put them in a pile combustable material. The way my dad does it is he takes the pots from the kiln, and puts them into a tin garbage can filled with pine needles, and then puts the lid on. (Note: Do NOT try that youself. I will hunt you down and smack you upside the head if you even think about it.) American raku is really pretty and shiny, with lots of different shades and colours in the glaze. It also can't be used for drinking, because it's too porous, whereas Japanese raku can be. Japanese raku is more dull, sometimes brownish blackish, green, yellow, but less shiny... It seems kinda hit-or-miss to me, but I'm no serious potter. In any case, Chojiro was the guy who, more or less, invented raku. Some say his dad started it, but there's no real proof, cause there are no surviving pieces attributed to his father. Japanese raku is the tradition that Chojiro stated, whereas American raku is something any potter can do. Iiin any case, that's about it for raku. If you didn't know anything about it, the dark colour it can sometimes take on, and the different colours - not to mention the grainy texture - might put you off.
Most Japanese people, I think, or, at least, most people in the Tokugawa-jidai, would have known what raku is. Kenshin was born the son of a serf, more or less, and he was quickly taken to a secluded mountaintop. Wouldn't ve had much opportunity to learn about raku, nor would his family have had any money at all to buy a piece. So. Hiko's spoken of Chojiro to him, but he probably hasn't seen a raku piece before and been told, Hey, kiddo, that's raku.'
And, yes, Nihon-to (swords like katana, wakizashi, kodachi, et cetera) are forged by folding over the steel in such a way that, if they are misused, they can break easily. Saito's concealable sword (the one he wounds Sano with) breaks in such a way, not because he misuses it, but, most likely because it's cheap (like he says), and because his attack is very strong.
Lastly, they're not tea cups! They're tea bowls.
So, yeah. That's all I have to say!
Reviews are needed like oxygen!
Yoroshiku, baby, desuno!