For the rest of the morning, Daisuke either sat or stood, observing everything Hitomi did and occasionally asking surprisingly intelligent questions. His presence continued to unnerve her and make her feel very self-conscious, something she rarely was. Still, at least he had stopped talking about her! Either he was brighter than he acted or he really was telling her the truth. She was still leaning towards the former, considering that he could read English. It was a very hard language; he must be clever. She stubbornly refused to go back to her opinion of him from yesterday without some really concrete proof that he wasn't full of it. She had heard her mother laughing with her friends about the great lengths men will go to when trying to get a girl to pay attention to them. Hitomi Himura would not be caught by any such games! Yet, if he was acting, he was very good at it.
In what seemed like a very short time, the lunch hour rolled around and her students went racing inside to get some of Madam Watari's wonderful ohagi and rice balls. Hitomi started as she heard her own stomach growl - she hadn't even realized that she was hungry until then. She blinked and put one hand over the complaining area as she started to follow the kids inside. It was then that she realized that her faithful wolf pup was no where to be seen.
Wiping the perspiration from her brow, she scanned the practice yards for him. "He was here just a minute ago!" She muttered. She had been preoccupied with helping her students with some harder stances and had momentarily lost track of him.
Just when she was beginning to think that maybe he had regretted getting into this after all and had chosen to slink away so that he wouldn't embarrass himself further, he appeared through the open back door of the dojo.
She stared. He was juggling two small, red lacquered lunch boxes of food and two bottles of tea in what would look to a casual observer like a ridiculous circus act. However, Hitomi knew what he was doing and rolled her eyes. She hated being waited on and fussed over. She liked doing things for herself because then she wouldn't have to bother anyone else and she knew that it would be done right.
"I figured it was about lunchtime and thought that I would beat the rush!" He announced as he tottered up to her, tea bottles tilting at dangerous angles. "Boy, was Madame Watari surprised to see me! I told her that I was helping you so that she wouldn't drag me to my normal practices. She said she thought that was wonderful and that it would be good for you." His face split open in a wide grin just as one of the bottles slipped through his fingers.
Faster than Daisuke's eyes could follow, Hitomi's hand shot out and she caught the bottle in mid fall without a single drop spilling, "And I thought that your antics were over, Clown." She said calmly as she straightened back up. "As for Madame Watari, she believes that I should be thinking about marriage, not about swordsmanship. She would say that to any male who happened to be around me."
Daisuke wasn't listening. He was gaping. "Wow! I didn't even see your hand move! How did you do that?" He asked enthusiastically as she gingerly took one box of food from his arms.
"My Dad taught me." She answered simply. Remembering her father made her also remember the manners he had so patiently worked to teach her, "Well, thank you, Fujita. Just so that you know that I could have gotten it myself."
"There you go again being selfish! Did it hurt so much to have something nice done for you?" He dared to ask since her hands were full and she couldn't hit him.
"Yes." She answered tartly, before turning on heel and walking towards the back wall to eat her lunch in the shade, well aware of the flip-flop of his zori sandals hitting the ground a stride behind her.
"Um, and, you really can call me Daisuke, you know." He reminded her as they stopped at the back wall.
She turned and gracefully lowered herself into a cross-legged position, her back resting against the wall. She looked up at him, "I prefer Fujita."
He shrugged, "Okay, just reminding you." He sat down beside her, his long legs stretched out in front of him and his lunch box balanced on his thighs.
"I hadn't forgotten." She replied dryly as she snapped her chopsticks apart and delicately selected a piece of ohagi.
They sat in uncomfortable silence for a minute, or at least Daisuke did. Hitomi didn't seem to really care if he was there or not. At least she hadn't scooted away from him despite the fact that their legs were only a few inches apart. He had thoroughly expected her to. He pushed his rice around a bit with his chopstick before making yet another attempt. "I think I'm beginning to see some of your tricks! They're really something, even if you do claim to not know what I'm talking about."
She looked at him sideways, pausing in her eating, "Really? Just what do you think they are?"
He swallowed. Please don't let me screw this up! Outwardly, he casually blew on a piece of ohagi to cool it down before replying, "Well, for starters, you don't ridicule the kids and talk to them with a condescending manner. I've seen a lot of masters who go around with big attitudes, treating their students like they're stupid and inferior. But, not you! You treat them with respect while still being firm. I've never seen anyone teach that way - it's brilliant! You're beautiful and smart!"
He saw her eyes flash and quickly continued before she could yell at him, "Where'd you learn to treat kids like that? And, by the way," He added, with a wry smile, "It wouldn't kill you to learn to accept compliments."
Frowning, she pointed her chopsticks at him, "I can accept them when they're sincere. And, I already told you, I didn't learn it anywhere! It's just the way that I would want to be treated. The way I am treated by my parents and their friends."
Daisuke nearly dropped his tea bottle, "You're joking!"
She wrinkled her nose at him in annoyance, "You make it sound like we're weird or something!"
He laughed, "You are! In a good way!"
She looked at him skeptically for a few moments before going back to her food. After awhile she asked, not turning to look at him, "What else?"
Daisuke thoughtfully examined the rice clinched between his chopsticks, "Well, you also let the kids be who they are. You don't try to change them or force your will on to them. And it really works! They love you for it and they listen instead of being hellions like they are for everyone else. My father would call you a moron for even considering teaching this way. He's big on 'discipline' and 'making people conform to the rules'.
"From what I've heard, your father calls everyone a moron." Hitomi replied after swallowing her last bit of rice.
Daisuke chuckled. "That's for sure! I don't think he knows any other insults."
Hitomi blinked and then laughed herself, "You know, my mother said that very same thing once."
He raised his brows in genuine surprise, "Your mom knows my dad well enough to know that?"
Her eyes flicked downwards and she seemed a bit reluctant to answer that question. Finally, she said, "Yeah, I guess so. Or she did once. I think it was before we were born since I've only met him a few times myself."
Daisuke had never heard either of his parents mention anyone named Himura. He was curious, but it was obvious that she wasn't going to say any more on the subject then she already had. He suspected it was because her parents probably didn't care much for his father if they knew him well enough to know his biting nature. She was quick to insult him personally, but she didn't seem to be the type to want to speak badly of someone's parents. He quickly turned his attention back to her as he realized that she had started to speak again.
"Anyhow, what you claim is so brilliant is just common sense! No one likes to be told what to do, but most people will do what you want if you ask instead of order. If you try to force your will on a kid they're going to fight against it and become troublemakers. Wouldn't you?"
He shook his head emphatically, "No, I would not! My father would probably take his belt to me and my mother would box my ears."
She nearly dropped her chopsticks at his words as her head snapped around to stare at him, a horrified expression marring her pretty features, "That's terrible!"
"What's so terrible about it? It's normal. I don't think you realize how unique your family must be… and definitely don't know how amazing their ideals are if you really did learn all this from them."
She shook her head, a disturbed expression still on her face, "I'm glad I don't know! I don't think I could live like that."
He didn't like seeing her look so upset, "Yes, you could if it was the only way you knew. You just accept it and learn to do what your elders expect. Don't look so upset, it's not so bad, you're just sheltered." He said in a teasing tone, much preferring to see her anger than to see such an unhappy expression. He got his wish as her frown turned into a glare.
"And I'm glad I am!" She muttered darkly.
Silence fell once again as both of them stared up into the gently swaying branches above them, lost in their own thoughts. Hitomi was disturbed by what she had been told and she found herself pitying him, probably against her better judgement. She couldn't remember her either of parents hitting her. They never raised a hand to anyone in anger and she'd only heard her mother yell a few times. Her father, never. She hadn't thought much about it, just accepted it as being the happy way things were. Perhaps it had something to do with their dark pasts. Maybe that was what made them so different from what Fujita claimed was normal. She knew they had both had very bad childhoods and had seen enough violence for two lifetimes. Neither of them would ever do anything to create more and wanted their children to have happiness for all of their lives. She could remember being disciplined, but never physically. What she could remember was that disappointed look from her father that was more than enough to make her feel so bad that she never wanted to repeat whatever mistake she had made. She had always assumed all families were this way! All the ones she knew were. To hear that the reality was so ugly upset her more than she would ever show Fujita. He was right, she was indeed very sheltered. She resolved to ask her parents about it that night. She didn't like feeling this naïve about something so important.
"Um… I'm really sorry if I upset you again. I just talk way too much. I think that what you do is just great." Daisuke finally said, breaking the silence and snapping her out of her unpleasant reverie.
She mentally shook herself and began gathering up her bottle and box, "Thanks."
"I can't wait to see what else I learn from you this afternoon! Hey, are you starting to believe me now?" He asked, smiling hopefully.
She flashed him a wry smile as she climbed to her feet and brushed off her pants, "Maybe a little. Now I think you're a pervert who wants to be a teacher." She half-joked, trying to shove away the unpleasant mood.
Daisuke gave her an unappreciating look, "Oh, what a great description! I'm sure putting that down would get me tons of job offers!"
Hitomi grinned as the grimness fell away, "Yeah, better not mention that." She turned and walked back towards the dojo to return her eating items, her hair swinging behind her as she walked.
He stayed where he was for a moment watching her walk. He had known she was something special when he had first seen her, but had never dreamed that she was this unique. He couldn't wait to learn more.
The sun slanted through the branches of the trees surrounding the practice yards turning everything a deep golden color. A breeze was gently blowing, making it quite a nice place for a person to be. Especially someone who believes that he has met the single most special and beautiful person on the face of the Earth.
Daisuke had continued his observations for the rest of the day, keeping his promise not to drool - though he did sneak a few long stares when she wasn't looking or her back was turned. She was amazing. He could scarcely believe that someone could really be the way she was and handle students as she did. No matter what their age or personality, she treated them as individuals who deserved respect. Those who did try to make trouble settled down very quickly. She talked to all of them like they were intelligent people and had patience with those who really were not. Amazing for someone with the temper he knew all too well that she had. Could she really have been raised this way? Whether she was or not, meeting her was going to change the entire way he had planned to approach his future. She was an inspiration. Why couldn't she believe that? Because you put your foot in your mouth, as usual, moron. A voice in his head snapped contemptuously. But, he had meant what he had said then too, Buddha forbid that she ever learn that. She was beautiful and he did want to spend every waking - and otherwise - minute with her, even if it meant losing his head. He believed he already loved her.
At last she raised her hand and told the kids that they were through for the day. There was a mad dash for the shinai barrels and within minutes the practice yard was empty except for the two of them. She walked over and tossed her own practice sword back into its place before striding over to join him.
"One day down, Fujita." She said as she knelt to pick up her sword from where it had rested against the wall all day.
"Sure is. How'm I doing?" He asked, the permanent grin on his face deepening.
She stuck her sword through her belt and crossed her arms under her breasts. "You're either telling the truth or you're a damn good actor." She shook her head, "I hate to admit it, but you may yet convince me."
"Alright!" Daisuke yelled enthusiastically pumping the air once with his hand.
"Whoa! Don't go celebrating just yet, pup! I didn't say that you had, just that you might." She replied quickly in a reproving tone.
"I know, I was just happy because it's a chance!"
"You're easily pleased."
She shook her head and started walking around the side of the training hall towards the front gate without saying another word. Daisuke quickly ran after her, his long legs catching up in two strides.
"You're right, I am. But, I have reason to be. Tomorrow I'm going to help you instead of just watching. I learned a lot today and I want to give it a try tomorrow in case I'm cursed to never see you again. Buddha, karma, whatever it takes, forbid!" He replied as he fell in step beside her, his hands clasped behind his head.
She stopped abruptly and half turned to look at him, "You go to some lengths to impress a girl. It's not as easy to teach kids as you say I make it look. You have to have endless patience."
"If you can have it with them, anyone can!" He said without thinking and managed to duck just in time to avoid a whack to the back of his head. "See what I mean?" Now, don't kill me! I was just teasing. I can't help it. I'm a clown, as you keep reminding me. I also think I can do this. Please, let me try! If I screw it up, cut me down like I know you can and we'll be done with it. How's that?"
Hitomi stood for a long minute staring at him and he shifted uncomfortably. How did she manage to look like she was always looking down on him when he topped her by six inches? Finally, she threw up her hands in resignation and started stalking towards the front gate again. She called over her shoulder, "Fine. You can try, just don't say I didn't warn you!"
He ran to catch up again. "Thank you, Miss Himura. I know I'll be able to make you believe me now."
"That you might…" She replied in a thoughtful tone as they stopped at the main gate. She was well aware of several pairs of eyes in the yard watching them with interest. Damn. This was going to get back to the Aoiya if she wasn't careful. She turned and looked up to meet his yellow eyes, glistening like burnished gold in the afternoon sun. They looked quite beautiful and she knew she was going to let him win this deal tomorrow, as much as she had stubbornly told herself that she wouldn't. "Look, I have to go now." She said quickly, turning to walk out onto the street.
"Yeah, me too. Mom's going to have my skin as it is!" He saw the pity behind her eyes again and wondered if she even realized that it was there. "But, don't worry! It sure won't be the first time!"
"I'm not worrying. It's your own fault."
Nope. She didn't know it was there or was pretending not to. "Yeah, it is. But, it's worth it. See you tomorrow, Miss Himura!" He waved as he turned and loped down the street in the opposite direction from the one she would be taking.
She watched him until he disappeared around a corner and then turned to make her own way through the busy streets of Kyoto.
That night at dinner, Hitomi found that she wasn't very hungry. She pushed her food around on her plate and kept thinking of what Fujita had told her instead of listening to her family's conversation. The four of them were kneeling in an Aoiya booth, having been given a brief break from their multitude of friends in which to relax. Her father, mother, and brother were chatting and laughing in the same loving manner she had always known. Could this really not be the normal way of things? She was staring into her bowl, lost in thought when she felt a light touch on her hand, "Tomi, are you okay? You're very quiet, that you are."
She raised her eyes to see her father's concerned face - the same gentle smile that had always reassured her that everything would be okay throughout her childhood. Her eyes shifted to see her mother and brother now silent and watching her too, waiting to hear what she had to say. She could ask or tell them anything.
"I'm okay, Dad. Something has just been bothering me today." She took a deep breath and shifted her gaze to her mother. "Have you ever hit me?" She asked in a rush. Somehow, she just knew that her dad never would have, could not have, but her mother could be stricter. She had to know.
Their expressions changed wildly to ones of surprise and shock. Whatever they were expecting, that was not it. She saw her parents' eyes lock, a silent conversation flying between the two of them while Keitaro just stared at her with an expression that said, "What the heck is wrong with you?"
Finally, her mother folded her hands in her lap and asked in a too calm manner, "Hitomi, why on Earth would you ask me that?"
Hitomi tried to casually shrug, "I was just curious. I can't remember."
Her mother's eyes flicked to her father's, an unhappy expression on her face. Hitomi felt ashamed for making the woman who had never done anything but love her and protect her so uncomfortable, but she had to know if Fujita's words were true.
Yuki sighed. "Yes, but only when you were very young and tried the things that all babies and toddlers try. Biting, kicking, throwing tantrums - things like that. I thought that if I stopped behavior like that immediately, you would grow up well. And you have. I never beat you, only disciplined. You have to believe that." She replied in her blunt way, a desperate undertone to her words.
Hitomi shook her head, "Oh, no, I'm not accusing you of anything, Mom! I was just curious because I couldn't remember…"
"Because I never had to once you were older." Her mother answered.
"But, the way you raised me isn't normal, is it?" She asked quietly.
Her mother's gaze shifted to her father, a pleading look in her eyes and he quickly took up the conversation, "No, that it isn't, Tomi. But, we believe that using force and violence on kids only leads to fear, anger, and more violence. You know we both fought for a peaceful world where everyone could live happily, that we did. Our fighting is over, but we're still trying to make this world better by raising the two of you with love and respect."
Her mother nodded, "I hated my childhood, why would I subject you to the same treatment?" She asked quietly, a shadow flickering behind blue eyes identical to Hitomi's own. "I'm still curious though, why did you want to know?"
So, Fujita's words were true. It was still terrible, but she was blessed to not have to suffer under it. However, now she wasn't naïve about it either. She smiled broadly and reached out to clasp her mother's hand. She lifted it from her lap and held it tightly, "No reason. Thanks for being such a great parent." She released her mom's hand to shift sideways and kiss her father's cheek, "Both of you!" Then she stood and hopped lightly down from their booth, her mind much more at ease, but with much to think about.
Kenshin, Yuki, and Keitaro watched her go before turning to gape at each other with small sweatdrops on each of their foreheads.
The next morning Hitomi arrived at the dojo just before the students did. She walked into the practice yard and was not surprised to see Daisuke in the same spot, deeply absorbed in his book. Or, so it seemed. She had just barely stepped out onto the close cropped grass when his head shot up. He grinned broadly and shut his book with a snap. He hastily got to his feet and trotted over the grass towards her.
To her own surprise, she smiled, "How's the book today?"
He returned her grin, "Getting better and better. I just got a great quote from it. Do you want to hear it?"
"Sure, go ahead." She replied as she pulled her sword and sheath out of her belt to set them in their customary place.
His grin deepened so that it was so broad, Hitomi thought it might just split his face. He straightened up and cleared his throat. "Just because someone thinks something is right, and everyone believes that it is right, doesn't make it right."
Hitomi's eyes widened in surprise and she whispered without thinking, "How appropriate."
Daisuke blinked, "What's appropriate?"
She quickly shook her head, "Oh, the quote just reminded me of my father. It's too bad he can't read English, it sounds like he might like this story."
"Well, you know, next time you're in Kyoto, I can tell you the whole thing. I'll have finished the book by then." He said as casually as he possibly could.
She shook her head, "You're jumping the gun again, pup. I haven't made any decision yet. Who's to say you'll see me next time I'm in Kyoto?" Without waiting to see his reaction, she turned and walked away from him towards the barrels of shinai. When she was halfway across the yard, she looked over her shoulder to see him still standing in the same place. She blinked and called, "Are you coming or what? This is your last day to prove yourself and you said that you would help me. Not planning to go back on it are you?"
She saw him start and he quickly began walking towards her. When he joined her at her side he answer, "No, ma'am! I've been waiting for a chance like this for a long time."
"Good, because I was planning to take it easy today." She said, only half joking. It was her last day in Kyoto. She had only come here today because of her deal with him. Normally, she would have spent the day up on the mountain with her parents. Surprisingly enough, she found that she didn't really mind the change.
He gave her a look of consternation, but before he could voice a reply, the first group of students came filing in. Hitomi smiled at the sight of them and called to one of the bigger boys, "Shinji, could you please grab two extra practice swords and bring them here?"
The boy waved and nodded, "Yes, sensei!"
When Shinji handed her the swords, she kept one for herself and gave one to, Daisuke, "Ready, Fujita?"
He nodded, "Yes!"
She had never seen someone so excited about teaching kids a few basic stances. He really did mean what he had told her. She smiled, "Okay." Turning to the kids she called, "Okay, gather around everyone, things are going to be a little different today. Instead of just me, Fujita-san is going to be helping you as well. Try not to give him too much trouble, okay?" She said with a wink, and a few children giggled.
"But, he's not a master, Sensei Himura! He's just a student like us. I've seen him here before. Why should he teach us?" A small boy at the front of the group asked, eyeing Daisuke skeptically.
"Yes, that's true. I'll tell you what, you'll both be teachers today, how about that? He'll help you with the stances he already knows and you can give him a lot of practice while he's doing so. How does that sound?" Hitomi asked the boy.
The little boy thought this over for a moment and nodded, "Okay, sensei!"
Hitomi smiled and looked at Daisuke, who was staring at her in admiration, "What?" She asked.
Daisuke shook his head, "I've told you before, but it's worth repeating. You're amazing!"
"And you have a busy day ahead of you, Fujita." She paused, and a different smile came to her face, a shyer one, "But, thanks."
Daisuke felt like the whole world was spinning just for him as he watched her turn back to the kids and split them up into two groups. And he felt very hopeful. He did not think that she was going to say that he hadn't convinced her at the end of this day and that made him the happiest man in Japan.
He snapped back to reality as he saw her and four round faces staring at him expectantly, "Uh, sorry, what?"
"You'll be working with these four. Keisuke, Toya, Ryo, and Ichiro." She said, indicating each eight year old by lightly tapping his head. All four of them bowed when they were introduced and two of them smiled shyly at him.
He bowed slightly back, feeling strangely self-conscious and excited at the same time, "Nice to meet you, kids. My name is Daisuke Fujita."
"Well, now that everyone is introduced, I'm going to leave you to it and take care of my own four." Hitomi announced. Before turning to her group, she shot Daisuke a look that clearly said, "I'll be watching you."
Let her watch. He was going to prove himself to her today, he just knew it.
The day passed very quickly and Daisuke found to his delight that teaching came naturally to him, as did what he had learned from watching Hitomi the day before. He had been secretly concerned that when it finally came time for him to really teach, his father would rise up in him and he would be unable to do it without resorting to ordering. He had worried needlessly. His endless good nature and patience lent itself to being the kind of teacher he wanted to be.
Several times he had looked up from correcting a stance or helping one of the boys with a grip and had seen Hitomi watching him with approval on her face. The first time their eyes had locked and held for a moment, but then she had jumped as if surprised at being caught and quickly went back to whatever she had been doing. He believed he had even seen small smudges of red appear on her cheeks that had nothing to do with the heat of midday. He hoped that he had.
Morning turned into afternoon and soon the day had passed, faster than he thought it was possible for time to go by. He couldn't remember the last time that he had really enjoyed himself. Maybe he never had. But, now he was doing what he had dreamed of and with a girl he knew that he already loved. Now, there was only one step remaining.
At 5:30 he heard the big clock inside the training hall chime and he raised his hand to the current group of kids he was working with, "Alright, guys. There's the chime! You know the drill. Good work today."
"Yes, Fujita-san!" They replied, before turning and racing each other to the barrels of practice swords to put theirs away before leaving for the day. From somewhere to his left, he heard Hitomi doing the same thing. It would be very soon now. He felt a small knot of anticipation in his stomach and wished that the students would clear out faster. He was fairly sure that she would allow him to see her again. But, what if she didn't? He didn't know if he would be able to bear that. He swallowed and walked across the yard to put away his own shinai, just to have something to do in these few questionable minutes.
He turned from this task to find the yard had emptied out and they were the only ones left. She was standing under the trees near the back of the dojo, watching him. She raised a hand and beckoned to him. He couldn't see her expression. Dragging his feet, he made his way across the yard, reluctant to hear her verdict.
"Well, Fujita, it has been two days." She said, as he came up to her.
"Yes. And they've been wonderful! I have learned so much from you, I just know I can learn more! You're an inspiration." He forced himself to stop before he put his foot in his mouth again and said something that might make her reverse her decision. "Have I proved that to you?" He finished.
She regarded him for a long moment, her face unreadable for several seconds before it broke into a small smile. "Yes, you have."
"Yes!!!" Daisuke cheered, jumping straight up in the air with sheer happiness and punching the empty space with his fists. Upon landing, he reached out and clasped her hands, completely caught up in his enthusiasm, "You won't regret it."
She held up the hands he was still grasping, "Really?" She asked pointedly.
He made a strange eeping sound and immediately released her hands, "Sorry!" He said sheepishly, his grin fading.
She laughed, "It's alright…, Daisuke."
His eyes widened in surprise and the grin returned, slowing spreading across his face in delight. "Does that mean…?"
She nodded, "Yes, that means you've also earned the right to call me Hitomi."
He thought he could die happy right then. It took him a moment to realize that she was still talking and he swiftly focused his attention back to her.
"Well, I really should go. This is our last night in Kyoto and I'm sure the people at the Aoiya have a party planned. They always do! Misao-san would never forgive me if I was late for this."
His face fell slightly, he had almost forgotten that she would be leaving the next day. But, at least he would see her again, hopefully within a few months. It was worth waiting to see her.
"You do know where the Aoiya actually is, right?" She was asking.
"Oh! I'm sure I can find it. And, if not, Master Watari knows."
"And I'll have the Aoiya people leave the messages with him. How's that?"
"That's great! I'll ask every single day!"
She chuckled, "You do that, and you'll drive everyone here crazy. Master Watari will tell you when there is a message. It will probably be late autumn."
"So long." He moaned theatrically, "I might shrivel up and die without your presence for that long!"
She laughed, "Clown." The two of them had been walking towards the main gate of the dojo. Now they reached it and came to a stop. "Well then, this is farewell for now, Daisuke."
He put on a mournful face, "Don't remind me!"
Suddenly the corners of his mouth pulled up into a lopsided grin, "Yes, ma'am!" Without warning, he grabbed her hand again and kissed it, "Farewell, Hitomi!" He said with a wink before turning and sauntering off down the street without looking back.
Hitomi blinked at her hand for a minute and felt her cheeks burning as she watched him disappear into the crowd. Then she shook her head. "Baka." She murmured to herself as she turned and walked on, a broad smile across her face.