Yes, it was that lovely time of the month when Kaoru's back ached, her lower abdomen cramped up and she just felt achy and horrible all over. Kaoru felt her body going from hot to cold and back again at an alarming rate as she wadded cotton for use as makeshift tampons.
All she wanted to do was curl up in her futon with a hot water bottle and sleep the day away. That would be too convenient, however.
She had her duties to perform and they had to be done first. She had to train and spar with Yahiko today, although more and more Kenshin was taking over that area, seeming to be grooming Yahiko. It did indeed make Kaoru curious. Kenshin wasn't teaching Yahiko Hiten Mitsurugi, but more and more frequently, she would find those two together in the dojo or out in the back, whacking each other with shinai.
Today however, Kenshin had to go into town to run errands, so that meant Kaoru had to do the sparring. Because she was cramping, her timing was off, enabling Yahiko to take advantage of her and knock her around a bit.
As a group of primer students looked on, a funny, yet disturbing, tableau unfolded before their innocent eyes.
"Jeez Kaoru, is it that time of the month already?" queried Yahiko in his usual charming way.
"Well, my life's an open book I see!" stormed Kaoru, swinging her shinai down for Yahiko's head.
Yahiko easily dodged her, chestnut eyes flashing with mischief.
"Haha! The crone can't even hit me when Mr. Monthly Visitor comes a knockin'!" he said with a grin.
"Not in front of the little kids, huh?!" reprimanded Kaoru, swinging again.
"Nothin' wrong with getting an early education," retorted Yahiko, eyes following Kaoru's shinai.
He dodged and started running with Kaoru in hot pursuit. These daily torments and chases were what made dojo life worth living.
"HA HA! Can't catch me, ya ugly broad!" he called over his shoulder.
"When I get my hands on you, you're gonna regret every 'ugly broad' that ever came outta your mouth, Yahiko-chan!" yelled Kaoru, completely forgetting about the little kids.
"Don't call me Chan!" Yahiko yelled back.
Those little kids would have stories to tell their parents.
All too soon, they heard the sound of a scuffle, a few swear words and the inevitable WHACK as Kaoru's shinai connected with Yahiko's skull, leaving a lovely new lump in his black hair. Kaoru came back in, dragging an unconscious Yahiko behind her. She tossed him carelessly aside and turned a murderous gaze toward the little ones.
Never had a class of primer students been so quiet or attentive.
Kaoru's fierce gaze swept over the group of young children, making certain all attention was on her and their shinai were at the ready. The sound of crunching from the back caught her attention. In the back of the group, she saw a habitual troublemaker by the name of Ichigama Kantaro, eating food from a white parcel.
On a good day, Kaoru might have told him to put the food aside until later. Today was not a good day, plus the fact that Kaoru had been having trouble with this kid ever since his father had signed him up in January. Snide comments, plus smart little sneers and habitual tardiness made this kid extremely unfavorable in her eyes.
"Kantaro, I've warned you about eating in the dojo," Kaoru called to the boy.
The little culprit looked up, crumbs on his chin and hands. He pulled the lid down over the white package, concealing its contents.
"Bring that parcel here," instructed Kaoru.
"Bring that parcel here!" Kaoru repeated in a harsher tone.
Kantaro walked up to Sensei with the package. Kaoru gestured over to the stove in the corner which was burning logs to keep the dojo warm.
"Throw it in the fire," commanded Kaoru.
"Sensei, are you sure you want me to..." began Kantaro.
"Kantaro, obey me at once!" sparked Kaoru.
With a shrug, Kantaro took the package over to the stove, opened the little door and slipped it in. He immediately ran to the back of the group. Some of the students whispered to each other about why he was running.
Their question was answered by a loud BANG! The oven's door swung open as swirling, colored flames shot out and smoke filled the room. Over and over again, small explosions came out and sparks flew everywhere.
BANG! POP! BANG!
The students screamed and ran out of the dojo into the chilly air in a panic. Kaoru ran out to the well with a bucket, scooped out some water and ran back in to quell the flames. Fortunately, there were only a few firecrackers in the box and not enough to cause any actual damage, other than smoke damage to the walls.
It took Kaoru nearly 30 minutes to get the dojo aired out enough before everyone could come back in; thirty minutes out in the freezing February air with her back and stomach feeling like they were about to explode in pain.
After the group was back inside, Kaoru took down Kantaro's wooden name plate from the wall and broke it in half.
"You're expelled," she said, dropping the halves of the name plate before the dishonored pupil.
Kantaro flashed Kaoru a dirty look, then left the dojo. The incident had done nothing to quell the storm in Kaoru's soul. If anything, it had added fuel to the fire. The little ones shook as Sensei turned a murderous gaze on them, as if daring anyone to say or do anything.
The little kids were whisked through a kata lesson at the speed of light. They were mercilessly drilled in the principles of swordsmanship and heavens help the student who forgot or gave a wrong answer.
Never had a class of kendo students been so happy when training ended at the hour of the monkey.
Kaoru lay in the futon, curled up in a little ball. Her back hurt, her abdomen hurt and her head hurt. Yahiko's words and Kantaro's little stunt had really set her off, but she should have kept control of her temper. She tried to stave off the tears, but was unsuccessful.
'What kind of teacher am I?' she thought sadly. 'I can't get the students to pay attention. My prize pupil calls me an ugly crone and I blow up like a geyser. I take my anger at Kantaro out on the others. If I can't control my temper, how can I expect them to respect me?'
Kaoru was so lost in weeping and pitying herself that she never heard the sound of the fusuma sliding open and shut followed by the softest of footsteps. Only the rustle of fabric brought her out of her stupor. Kaoru turned around and saw Kenshin kneeling at the futon.
Kaoru threw her arms around the rurouni's neck, almost strangling him.
"I'm home," he whispered as he returned the embrace with interest.
Kenshin positioned himself so Kaoru could lean comfortably against him and held the young woman close to him. Kaoru melted gratefully into Kenshin's warm embrace and yielded to a strength greater than her own.
After the storm passed, Kenshin gently extracted Kaoru from his arms and rose to his feet. Kaoru watched as Kenshin exited the room and returned with one arm behind his back. Seeing her appraisal, the rurouni held out a mysterious package.
"What is it?" Kaoru asked.
"Open it and see," said Kenshin with a good-natured smile.
Kaoru removed the lid to behold an assortment of chocolates imported from Germany and only available in Yokohama. Her eyes started out of her head. Chocolate was prohibitively expensive. Kenshin must have saved for a few weeks to get this.
"They're meant to be eaten, not stared at," said Kenshin, amusement in his voice.
Kaoru reached in, took one and cautiously put it in her mouth. It was instant heaven. As she ate the morsel, a deliciously sublime feeling engulfed her. She ate another, then another.
Kenshin smiled as he rose to change for bed.
When he returned, he saw that the box was already empty and Kaoru was again lying down, but not curled up in a ball of misery as before. Kenshin slipped under the covers and took his young fiance in his arms, spooning her so her achy back could feel the intense heat his body always radiated.
His left hand found purchase on Kaoru's slightly distended belly. He began gently rubbing circles on Kaoru's stomach to try to relieve the cramps.
The heat from Kenshin's body loosened the muscles in Kaoru's back, and his loving, gentle embrace calmed the remnants of the storm that had earlier permeated her soul, allowing her to relax into deep sleep. Kenshin stroked Kaoru's hair back from her forehead as he gazed intently at her sleeping form. Shifting to a more comfortable position, he held his beloved close to him as he too fell asleep.