Dawn spread fingers of fire across the heavens, ribbons of rosy light painting abstract patterns on the shoji and rousing Hiroshi from a restless sleep.
“Time for morning kata.” Kenshin's too cheery greeting rattled the bones of his apprentice's skull.
“It's barely dawn. Why do we have to start so early?” Hiroshi groaned, pulling the covers over his face and snuggling deeper into the futon.
“The day is most productive when it starts with exercise.” Kenshin yanked the covers off his slumbering apprentice, prodding him off the futon with his foot. “We rise at this time every day, I'm sure in time you will get used to it.”
“I seriously doubt that.” Hiroshi scrubbed a hand across his eyes, squinting up at the mirthful face of his master. “You are getting far too much enjoyment out of this.”
“What do you usually do in the morning?”
“I sleep through the morning, like any civilized person.” The curt reply was a sharp contrast to the whirlwind hair and pillow creases marring otherwise perfect cheekbones. “Couldn't we skip morning practice and start after lunch?”
“And then you'll want to wait until evening. You've spent enough years dawdling in bed, time to actually do something.” A strong hand latched onto Hiroshi's rumpled yukata and heaved him to his feet. “Your father expects me to turn you into a warrior. Get dressed and meet me in the dojo. The sooner we start, the sooner you get breakfast.”
The strappy ties on his hakama were a puzzle he couldn't decode in his half asleep state. Forty minutes passed before Hiroshi entered the dojo, hair roughly scraped back into a bushy tail, hakama tied in an impatient knot barely restraining his crumpled yukata. The sight of his new master peacefully meditating, hair and garments perfectly arranged, was enough to drive him to despair.
“I see you finally made it.” Dark eyes opened to study his reluctant student. “Tomorrow I will expect you to join me for meditation. Clarity of mind is crucial for productive training.”
“Clarity of mind assumes I am actually awake,” Hiroshi quipped. “I'm not sure that is possible so early in the morning.”
Kenshin's laugh was open and unexpected. “Let's get started.” He selected a bokken from the weapons rack. “Show me what you know.” He handed the wooden sword to his student, ignoring the electric tingle that rushed through him when their fingers brushed.
Hiroshi wobbled through the first of the simple kata he remembered, conscious of the poor showing he was making. As much as he disliked the warrior arts he wanted to make a good impression on the man who was giving up so much to train him. His attention was focused on Kenshin's reaction, further distracting him from what he should have been doing.
“Just stop,” Kenshin snapped. “Obviously we need to start at the beginning.” He snatched the bokken from lax fingers. “Lesson number one, how to properly hold a sword. Like this, see, all the work is done by these fingers, the others are just a guide.”
He handed the weapon back and watched critically as his apprentice tried to duplicate what he had been shown. “Better, but more space between your hands. It's a lever, you get more power that way.” Calloused fingers wrapped around Hiroshi's pampered digits, sparking another frisson at the contact.
The next few hours passed in a blur. When Kenshin finally called a halt the bokken needed to be pried out of his student's hands. “I think I'll be doing that cut in my sleep,” Hiroshi grumbled.
“Just make sure you soak your hands after we eat. I wouldn't want you to be unable to practice tomorrow.”
“Are we done for today?” The hopeful look directed in Kenshin's direction had him feeling momentarily guilty.
“We're done for this morning. Let's get something to eat and then we'll work on hand to hand skills for awhile.”
“How many of hours do you practice each day?”
“That depends on my duties. Eight to ten hours when I'm home, less if we're in the field.”
“Just kill me now,” Hiroshi declared. “There's no way I'll survive the week.”