Shizumaru woke up not knowing where he was. When his vision finally came into focus, he saw Haohmaru looking at him curiously. "Daijobu?" he asked.

His head felt fuzzy. "What happened?" What is this place?"

Haohmaru sat down and leaned his big katana against his shoulder. "We were walking towards the city and you passed out behind me. This is Kaniko-sama's home. My sensei," he explained. "What made you faint?"

Shizumaro didn't have the slightest idea. "I don't know. Maybe I was tired."

Haohmaru laughed, nodding. "You did say you needed a break from walking. Sorry if I pushed you too hard."

"Baga," his elderly master chided, entering the room with some food. "As fast as you walk, you expected this poor child to keep up?" Setting down the tray, he motioned for the boy to eat. "You must be hungry, eh? Eat, eat, eat."

"Well, Shizumaru-kun, no one seems to know what happened to your family," Haohmaru said apologetically.

Shizumaru dropped the rice ball he had taken a bite of. "What will I do now?" he despaired.

"Shinpai shinai-deh, ichiban," the old man said comfortingly. "Until you figure this out, you can stay here with us." The boy took some comfort at his offer and resumed eating.

"Sensei," Haohmaru pulled him aside. "I plan to leave tomorrow morning."

"Searching for that worthy opponent?" his teacher responded with a knowing smile.

"Mochiron," he grinned back. "No one in Edo seems to offer much of a challenge."

"Where will you go?"

"Who knows?" he said shrugging, unconcerned. "I'll see how I feel tomorrow and wherever I end up is wherever I end up." He became serious suddenly. "Will you be okay looking after the boy on your own, sensei?"

Kaniko laughed heartily at his questions. "If I could handle you for so long, this child will seem like a reprieve in comparison," he said, still laughing.

"Hai, hai, hai," Haohmaru said with mock annoyance. Changing subjects, he rubbed his stomach and remarked, "Boy, am I hungry! I think I'll go join Shizumaru."

After they had finished their meal, Haohmaru unrolled their bedding and looked forward to a good night's sleep before setting off in the morning. Scratching his chest contentedly, he was about to nod off when he heard Shizumaru call his name. "Nani?" he said, without opening his eyes.

"Are you going away tomorrow?" he asked in a small voice.

"Yep." He scratched himself once more and yawned loudly.

The boy was quiet for a moment and then added, "Do you know when you'll be back?"

Haohmaru opened his eyes at the sad tone of his words. Looking over at him, he saw that the boy had a few tears in his eyes. Feeling pity for the child, he tried to sound optimistic and said, "Oh probably a few days or so."

"Okay."

Trying to think of something to distract the boy, Haohmaru ruffled his hair and promised, "Tell you what, when I get back, I'm going to make you my kohei and teach you how to be a genius with a sword. What do you think of that?"

Shizumaru's expression lightened. "You'll be my sempai?"

"Sure. But it's not going to be all fun and games, I take my swordfighting very seriously, and any disciple of mine had better do the same," he said with exaggerated seriousness. "So, you still game?"

"Mm!" he agreed, his eyes shining.

"Alright then, my first order to you as your sempai is that you go to bed and get some rest, okay?"

"Hai, sempai," Shizumaru said obligingly. "Goodnight, sempai."

"Good night, kohei."

In no time at all, the boy was asleep and Haohmaru found that he rather liked the kid. Turning over, within minutes, his loud snoring filled the room.

The next morning, Haohmaru slung his sword over his shoulder and bowed his leave to his master and his new charge. "Now, kohei," he said imperiously, "I want you to be on your best behavior while I am gone. I will not tolerate any embarrassing antics in my absence? Is this understood?" His master tried to suppress a smile as he stood behind the boy.

"Hai, sempai!" Shizumaru dutifully replied.

"Yosh!" he said approvingly. The boy's eyes reflected his pride at the compliment "We will commence training when I return." Winking at him, he turned on his heel and began walking jauntily. Shizumaro ran outside and watched until he disappeared from sight.


daijobu: are you okay?

shinpai shinai-deh: don't worry

ichiban: little one

mochiron: of course

nani: what

kohei: junior, protege

sempai: senior, mentor

yosh: good