The sky was a dull, steely gray. The clouds had opened up and rain was pouring forth in torrents. It had been raining since the sun had risen invisibly in the eastern horizon and continued to do so, soaking the earth with its life-giving force and making warm spring air thick with moisture.
At the Kamiya Dojo, a small boy with his father's hair and mother's eyes sat in mute misery on the engawa. Himura Kenji scowled up at the clouds which blocked out his beloved sun and consigned him to sit under the roof instead of playing in the yard as he had hoped to.
The rain continued to fall monotonously, never showing a sign of letting up. As an hour passed, Kenji's annoyance melted into languid indifference. Dull blue eyes stared bleakly at the rain. Two or three times, the little boy's eyelids began to feel heavy and sink down to touch his cheeks.
A sudden gust of wind hit Kenji with an icy impact, bringing him once again to wakefulness. Kenji felt the energy that had been pent up in him all morning come bubbling to the surface. If the wind and rain wanted to strike him, he would strike back! Without a second's hesitation, he stepped into his little sandals and ran out into the torrent.
Kenji threw his ruddy head back and looked defiantly up at the clouds. The wind kicked up again and Kenji began running into it, determined to push it back. The wind was a giant trying to shove him around. Kenji unshouldered his shinai and slashed at the invisible giant. They began their fight in earnest, neither willing to back down, caught in a deadlock. Suddenly the wind changed directions, knocking Kenji down on his face. Scowling, the boy jumped to his feet and slashed his shinai at the giant again, but the wind quickly died down a bit and no longer presented a challenge. Kenji knew he had won and the giant was just a sore loser. In triumph, he shouldered his shinai.
Kenji's little legs were twitching with a strong desire to run, run, run. Kenji gave in and let his godspeed turn him into a little copper blur as he flew about the back yard. Puddles were split in two like miniature red seas as he hurdled through them. His speed was so fast that he left his own wind in his wake.
The wind kicked up again, blowing the rain in a slant. Faster and faster Kenji went, feeling the water on his face and the wind in his hair.
Kenji came to a dead halt as he saw a bolt of lightning descend from the gray heavens and split the ancient maple tree that grew behind the compound in two. Both halves bent away from each other, leaving an ugly burnt slit between them. Kenji had never seen lightning strike like that before and was very curious.
Kenji knew he wasn't allowed to leave the compound without an adult with him, but of course he wasn't supposed to be out in the rain in the first place, so he could hardly ask Mom or Dad to take him to the tree. Looking around to be certain he was still alone, Kenji walked up to the rear gate. Standing on tip-toes, he undid the latch. Pushing with all the strength in his tiny body, Kenji slid the gate open and slipped through.
Cautiously, Kenji approached what was left of the old maple, the muddy ground recording his tiny sandal prints. The bark that the lightning had touched was singed black. Kenji moved in closer to look at it when suddenly, another lightning bolt struck the ground right next to the tree. Only Kenji's godlike reflexes allowed him to jump back and keep from being struck.
"Kuwabara. Kuwabara." Kenji chanted the childish entreaty, hoping the lightning would be merciful.
The lightning was obviously not in the mood to listen, as two more bolts struck down, landing simultaneously, yards from where the Himura son stood. Kenji jumped up as he felt the electricity pulsing through the ground. The wind giant was back, buffeting his tiny body mercilessly. The rain stung his skin like a thousand icy needles.
Kenji decided the most prudent course of action would be to head home before he was struck by lightning or worse, caught outside by Mom. Turning on his heel, the thoroughly soaked boy ran back to the compound. Peering around the corner into the back yard, Kenji was relieved to see it empty. No one had noticed his absence.
Stepping in, Kenji struggled over the slippery ground as he pulled the gate shut. He then turned and headed for the shoji that led directly into his room, pausing only to leave his sandals outside.
Kenji slid the shoji shut behind him, grateful to be in a warm, dry room. He quickly discarded his soaked tabi, hakama and navy blue kimono. He then selected another navy blue kimono, white hakama and a pair of dry tabi. He hid his wet clothes in his dresser for the time being.
Having changed his clothes, Kenji grabbed his little yukata and used it to scrub his hair dry as best he could. Kenji felt warm and sleepy all over, having exerted his energy on his little outdoor adventure. He went to the corner and pulled out his futon.
After laying it on the floor, Kenji unfolded it and retrieved his blanket, pillow and stuffed rooster. Kenji lay down on the futon with Sano cuddled in his arms and pulled the blanket over himself. He quickly fell asleep and dreamed of a wind giant that slung rain and lightning bolts at him. In his dream, he dodged all the projectiles easily and cut the wind giant down with one swing of his shinai.
The scent of cooking food brought Kenji from dreams to wakefulness. He opened his eyes and realized he was smelling dinner. He wondered how long he had been asleep.
Kenji got up and put away his futon. He then retrieved his still wet clothes and slid his fusuma open. Cautiously, Kenji peered out into the hallway, finding the coast clear. He then stole out and quickly deposited his wet clothes in the laundry basket, burying them under the other clothes.
Kaoru ran into Kenji in the hallway just as she was heading to his room to call him to dinner.
"I was just coming to call you," she said with a smile.
"Hi, Mom. Dinner smells great," said the little boy, returning her smile.
Kaoru sighed. Although her cooking was edible now, Kenji never said dinner smelled great when she was the one cooking.
Kenji and Kaoru came into the dining area where Kenshin was bringing in the food: katsudon with a side of maki zushi along with some takenoko. The shoji was open a crack to let in the spring air. While it was still raining outside, it had died down from a storm to just a sprinkle.
Kenji's eyes kept traveling to the open shoji as he ate his food automatically. Sure, now the rain was starting to let up. He wouldn't have very long to play outside before Mom made him take his bath and go to bed, plus he wasn't even tired after his nap. Stupid rain!
"I nearly jumped out of my skin when that lightning bolt struck just behind the compound," said Kaoru.
"It sounded like it hit a tree," responded Kenshin. "Kenji, after we're finished eating, I think you and I should go and see if there was any damage to the back fence."
"OK, Dad," said Kenji.
After dinner, Kenshin and Kenji stepped down from the engawa into their sandals and set out through the backyard. When they came to the back gate, Kenshin stopped and wondered, for something was amiss.
"Oro? I could have sworn I locked this gate last night," he said.
Kenji's insides clenched. How could he have forgotten to lock it when he came in?!
"Maybe you forgot," he offered, trying to keep his voice and ki calm.
"Perhaps," said Kenshin, sliding the gate open and stepping through.
In the small clearing between the back of the dojo and the large forest behind it, the grass and ground were wet and muddy. Kenshin's eyes widened a bit at the trail of tiny sandal prints that went from the rear gate up to the split maple tree.
"What parents would be irresponsible enough to let their child go walking in that storm? I wonder," said Kenshin.
"They must be pretty stupid," agreed Kenji, plastering a smile to his countenance.
"Indeed," said Kenshin with a smile. "Well, there doesn't seem to be any damage to the fence. The tree's a loss though."
"Too bad," said Kenji. "Can I play outside for a while now that the rain's stopped?"
"Don't you think you've done that enough for one day?" asked Kenshin, giving his son a mild glare.
Kenji gulped and nodded.
"Let's get back. There's laundry to be done and I could use some help," said Kenshin.
Kenji nodded and followed his father back to the dojo silently. Under Dad's watchful eye, he found himself washing the kimono, hakama and tabi he had buried in the laundry earlier. In return, he would be spared Mom's wrath.