Hitomi watched as her last set of students for the day finished their end of practice swing techniques. Her own shinai was now strapped to her back to allow her free use of both of her hands to make corrections.
"Keep your shoulders squared, Omi." She said as she gently, but firmly, pulled the eight-year old's shoulders back to the right position, "That's better. Just keep at it!"
She continued walking around the students, praising and correcting. "Watch your stance, Kanna." She lightly admonished as she swiftly knelt to adjust the feet of her only female student, "Like this."
"Yes, sensei!" The little girl answered with an adoring smile upward at her sword mistress.
Hitomi returned the smile and patted the girl's head before continuing on. But, she found herself distracted and was annoyed for being so. That Fujita kid had finally gone home a little over half an hour ago, claiming that if he were late for dinner, his mother would kill him.
"Well, at least that would keep you out of my hair!" She had responded impatiently. His presence and his staring for the better part of the afternoon had flustered her.
He had given her a hurt look that had strongly reminded her of a beaten wolf before he had replied, "Oh, I wouldn't get in your hair, Miss Himura! That would tangle it and it's much too pretty for that!"
She had given him a death glare that had cowed several other would be admirers, but he had merely given her a lopsided grin, "Okay, okay! I better run before you prove me right about beating the shit out of me! I'll see you tomorrow, Miss Himura!"
Then he had climbed the tree along the side of the wall like a very lanky monkey and disappeared down the other side with a wink and a wave.
Maybe he'll fall. She had thought sourly before turning back to her students, determined to put the fool out of her mind.
But, she couldn't. He really was an idiot, but at least he was an honest one. And he had a sense of humor. Not to mention that his dreams of the future sounded so much like what she had been raised to believe…
She shook her viciously enough to pull tendrils out of her ponytail. They settled around her face as she scowled and firmly told herself to grow up. She turned her attention back to her students who were watching her with wide-eyed wary expressions. They knew their sensei's temper, but they had no idea why she looked so fed up at the moment.
Hitomi winced and guiltily forced a smile, "Okay, that's all for today. Good job, kids! Just put away your shinais and then you can go home."
A chorus of "Yes, sensei!" replied as the kids scampered to obey. Hitomi sighed and walked more slowly to return her own shinai to its place in the barrels of practice swords. As she turned to collect her real sword, she saw Keitaro coming across the yard towards her. She had wondered where he had gotten to. He had conveniently disappeared when Daisuke had shown up.
She waved to him, "Hey, Kei! Where've you been all afternoon?"
"I went to see Hikaru-san to give you some privacy with your new admirer." He replied with a teasing expression as his eyes ran over the mess of her usually impeccable ponytail, "Looks like you took advantage of it."
"Oh, shut up, Kei!" Hitomi hissed at her brother as she angrily shoved her sword through her belt and swiftly began pushing the offending tendrils back into place. She turned her back to her brother so that he would not see her blush if her cheeks chose to betray her. "It was a bunch of drunks down at Shigaune causing trouble. We had to clean them out. You might have been around to help!"
Kei shook his head, "I was just kidding, Tomi." He then made a big show of looking around him as his sister turned back to him, "Well, I don't see his body anywhere. You must have let him keep his head. Nice of you. I guess he toned his mouth down."
Hitomi shot her brother a look, "What do you mean by that? What did he say to you? He said he offended you. It must have been pretty bad. What was it??"
Kei grimaced as he saw his sister's eyes flash dangerously and he hastily changed the subject, "Uh, Mom and Dad were up at Hikaru-san's as well. Mom said that dinner was at six o'clock at the Aoiya tonight and that we might make some effort to be there." He grinned wryly, "You would think that she doesn't have any faith in our punctuality."
Hitomi shook her head, "That's because she doesn't. Now, Kei, wha-"
"But, Dad said that he would make sure Misao-san put something aside for us if we're late." Kei finished quickly, cutting his sister off and continuing to try to distract her attention. A long shot, but worth a try.
She grinned, "Good old Dad. I'm so glad our parents are laid-back. Maybe we should surprise them and actually be on time tonight."
Kei smiled at his success at changing the topic and nodded. However, his face fell when his sister started talking again.
"I think Fujita must have said twenty times that one parent or another was going to kill him for something or thought that he was an idiot."
"Well, he probably deserves it. Still…" Keitaro narrowed his eyes slightly, "I don't think Dad or Mom has ever called me an idiot, even if I did deserve it. And if they never called me names, then I know you haven't been called any!"
He instinctively dodged sideways to avoid the elbow aimed at his upper arm, "You're awfully sensitive today, sis. Though, you are the one who gets in more trouble." He said, falling back into step beside Hitomi as the two of them walked through the main training hall towards the front gate.
Hitomi glared at Keitaro a moment longer before making a small derisive sound in her throat and replying, "Well, I suppose it's because of who his parents are."
Kei blinked, his violet eyes wide with curiosity, "And… who are they?"
Hitomi paused at the doorway leading out to the front courtyard, "Well, according to him, his mother is a real hellcat and his father is…"
"Is?" Kei echoed.
"Inspector Fujita." Hitomi said once she felt that the suspense had been built up enough. She was awarded with her brother's momentary shock, and it was very hard to shock Keitaro Himura.
He recovered quickly though, "That's who he reminded me of!" he said, hitting one fist into his other hand. Then his expression darkened a bit, "But, Tomi…"
She waved her hand to silence her younger brother as the two of them entered the yard and Master Watari came towards them.
"Thank you for all your help today, Hitomi-san." He said, bowing slightly.
Hitomi returned his bow with a much deeper one, Keitaro mirroring her. "I enjoyed it, Master. Thank you for having me. I will come again tomorrow."
Watari nodded, "Yes, I would like that. We need all the help we can get with these new apprentices. This new, modern era has them in its grip. They just don't see the importance of swords with all the fancy new ways of defense. A shame." He shook his head sadly before flicking his eyes to Keitaro, "And you could come tomorrow and work on the succession technique with the advanced students, Keitaro-san. I hear that you have almost mastered it."
Hitomi felt her brother stiffen beside her, but his calm expression never wavered. "Thank you, sensei. But, I think that Kaoru-san would be furious if I were to master the technique under anyone's teaching but her own."
Hitomi silently applauded her brother's acting. It was true that Kaoru would be disappointed, but she wouldn't be angry. She had many students these days. In truth, Kei just wasn't passionate about swordsmanship like she was. He didn't mind it and was quite good when he had to be, he just preferred the cool discipline of martial arts that his small, lithe body was so suited for. He always drug his feet about his sword practices and had been really enjoying the last two weeks in Kyoto where he hadn't been obligated to practice and could do what he liked. That mainly consisted of learning all he could from the Oniwaban Ninjas and talking Aoshi-san into going to the shrine or up to the mountain to practice meditation skills. Hitomi wrinkled her nose inwardly. She had no patience for meditation.
"Alright, Keitaro-san. It is not wise to invite the wrath of Kaoru!" Watari was saying with a chuckle. "I'll see you at least then tomorrow, Hitomi-san." He finished as the last of the younger students raced by them on their way home. The master waved as Hitomi and Keitaro followed the kids out of the large main gate and onto the street, then shut the tall wooden door behind them.
Hitomi waited until they were a little ways away from the dojo before rounding on Keitaro, "Okay, brother, no more avoiding the question! What did he say to offend you?"
Kei's eyes widened and he blinked in mock confusion, "Who?"
Hitomi rolled her eyes and latched onto her younger brother's shoulders, shaking him as she talked, "Dammit, Kei, don't give me that "who" stuff! You got that from dad! I'm surprised you just didn't say 'oro?' I mean Fujita, of course!" She ignored the strange looks from passerby and focused on her brother's swirly-eyed face, "Tell me!"
He twisted loose and shook his head, "Sometimes I think you've been around Uncle Sano too much, Tomi." He rubbed his shoulders and added, "Besides, you don't want to know what he said."
"Yes, I do." She answered as they began walking through the twisting roads of Kyoto again, the setting sun making her hair turn to fire.
Kei sighed in resignation and Hitomi noticed a strange little smile flicker across his face, "Okay, but, remember, you asked! Be sure to take your anger out on him. He was talking about wanting to get you in a dark room for two hours."
Hitomi's head snapped around to look at her brother, a blood vessel popping out on her forehead, "That little pervert!"
Kei continued calmly, "I did tell him that you would probably take his head off."
"I'll take off more than that!" She fumed as the two of them started down the steps leading to lower Kyoto.
Keitaro grinned, "I told him that too."
Hitomi balled her hands into fists, "He really is a moron to say that to my own brother! He's lucky you have Dad's patience."
A mischievous look crossed Kei's usually peaceful features, "Well, I didn't tell him that I was your brother right away. I wanted to see how far into his mouth he could manage to stick his foot! He did a good job of it too. I'm surprised he didn't choke!"
The two siblings laughed as they turned out of the narrow residence roads and onto the wider commercial street that the Aoiya was located on. All around them people bustled along on end of the day chores. The two earned no more than a few curious glances for their swords as they made their way, their woven zori scuffing in the dirt.
When they stopped laughing, Kei wrinkled up his nose and said, "But, then he started saying things I didn't want to hear about my own sister."
Hitomi crossed her arms and snorted, "That bastard. I should knock him in the vital areas tomorrow for even thinking about it! 'Wants to learn my trick.' Yeah, right! I can't believe I actually bought that line for a little while."
Keitaro chuckled, "He's coming back tomorrow? Wow, he must really have it for you, sis."
She swatted at her brother in annoyance, "Kei! A little brotherly support would be nice here!"
Hitomi shook her head, "Nah, though it is a nice thought. Mom says that's a dirty trick to play on an unsuspecting man. However, you should use it to get the upper hand in fights!"
Kei winced, "Yeah, that sounds like Mom. Speaking of, as I was going to say earlier, I remember that Mom and Dad aren't too fond of Inspector Fujita."
Hitomi paused and frowned, "That's true… and I think 'aren't too fond' is putting it nicely, especially in Mom's case. Dad doesn't dislike anyone, but I notice that he's edgy around Fujita… and Dad is never edgy."
"Yeah…" Kei replied, "Maybe we shouldn't mention that his son was flirting with you, Tomi."
Hitomi felt herself flush slightly, "It wasn't flirting! It was clowning around… and no, I don't think we should mention him either. Everyone has been in a really good mood lately. Why mess it up because of that idiot?"
Keitaro suddenly smiled as the two came to a stop in front of the Aoiya, "He may be an idiot, but he's also all you've talked about since I came to get you."
His sister's eyes narrowed dangerously, "And what does that mean, Keitaro? Cause it sounds to me like I need to kick your butt!"
She started towards him but he just shook his head, "Nothing at all, sis! Better hurry, it's nearly six!" He turned to run into the Aoiya just as his mother appeared in the doorway.
"Your father thought he heard your voices! I told him it wasn't possible. Our kids being on time? But, here you are!" Yukiyo Himura said, smiling at her two children.
Kei was still smiling as he stopped in front of his mother, "We thought we would surprise you."
His mother laughed and patted his shoulder, "It worked! Now, run on in, everyone is already gathering in the common room."
As Kei disappeared with one last grin over his shoulder at his sister, Yuki turned to look at her daughter, "You look flushed, Hitomi. Did everything go alright at the dojo today?" She asked with some concern in her voice. Very little flustered her fiery daughter.
Hitomi shook her head and gave her mother a quick hug, "Oh, it was nothing, Mom. Just some drunks causing trouble at Shigaune. Nothing we couldn't quickly handle. The kids were great!" She walked past Yuki into the Aoiya, "I'm starving! I'm glad we did get here on time."
Yuki narrowed her eyes slightly as she watched her daughter walk down the hall towards the common room. It would take more than some silly drunks to phase Hitomi and the girl was certainly avoiding telling her something. Still, she never brow beat her children into talking, but rather let them tell her what was wrong when they felt comfortable doing so. She would do the same with whatever this might be. Judging by Keitaro's rare mischievous look, she had some idea. A small smile flickered across her face as she slid the rice screen door closed and followed her kids down to the Aoiya common room.