AUTHOR'S NOTE: "Busu" means "ugly," or "ugly hag." The "engawa" is the sort of porch surrounding a room. Let me know if you have any better definitions or other words you think should be defined. This is the first time I've ever published anything on fanfiction, so suggestions and reviews are welcome! I plan to write one or two more chapters.


"Busu! Stop telling me what to do!" Yahiko screamed, directly before throwing down his bokken and storming from the dojo.

Kaoru let out a sigh as she left the dojo and sat down on the engawa. The day before had been Tsubame's birthday, and Yahiko had begged Kaoru to give him the day off so he could do something special for her. Kaoru had agreed on the condition that Yahiko practice his latest kata when he wasn't with Tsubame. Yahiko had failed to keep his promise. He tried to convince her he had, but to Kaoru it was obvious he'd skimped on his exercises, and so she'd ordered him to clean the dojo floor. He hadn't reacted well.

Kaoru kicked her feet in the dirt under the engawa and leaned past her knees, admiring the way her toes disturbed the particles of dust in the air. Her plans for the afternoon stormed off along with Yahiko, which left Kaoru with time to think.

The day before, on Tsubame's birthday, Kaoru had also been left with a little spare time due to Yahiko's absence. She'd taken the opportunity to go to the market and look for some new kimono. Kenshin had begun receiving a small stiped from the government after the Shishio affair, so Kaoru now had a little extra money to replace her more worn out clothes. Kaoru had suspected that Kenshin would have refused even this small stipend were it not for Kaoru's sake, and she was grateful.

Kaoru had perused the wares of each vendor at a leisurely pace. She'd found a nice navy blue cotton kimono made from sturdy material with cute white diamond shapes scattered across it and picked it out. She'd found another equally serviceable striped red kimono and decided to purchase both of them. She had planned to get three practical kimono to wear on a daily basis, but she was tempted to reserve the last kimono for special occasions. Her heart had stopped as she saw a beautiful kimono hung up behind the salesperson in a place obviously reserved for her more expensive wares. It had been silk, not practical at all, and made with a light blue fabric graced by large reddish pink chrysanthemums, and Kaoru doubted if she'd ever seen anything so elegant in her life before.

Kaoru had checked the price and the chrysanthemum beauty definitely cost more than she intended to spend. However, just as she had been about to decide against the extravagant purchase, Kaoru had been caught up in a vision of herself pouring tea for Kenshin in her new kimono, and of Kenshin leaning over to her and telling her in a low voice, "you look beautiful."

She'd bought all three kimono with no regrets.

On her way home from the market, Kaoru had been in such an exuberant mood that she had decided to take the longer, more scenic route home along the river. This path was rarely trafficked and Kaoru had been enjoying the picturesque solitude when some voices had captured her attention.

"Akiko, I got these for you. I hope you like them."

"Oh Satoshi, they are so beautiful!"

Kaoru had happened upon an ardent young couple, and she'd even walked so far along the path without noticing them as to see them embracing before she'd quickly darted behind a bush in embarrassment. Kaoru couldn't deny that she liked gossip as much as the next person, but she'd be mortified to walk in on such a personal conversation.

Based on her observations from behind the bush, the man, Satoshi, had given his lover, Akiko, a string of pearls and had currently been tying them around Akiko's neck. Her ears had burned as she was subjected to their sweet talk.

"Well, you are beautiful. I wanted them to match you. Akiko, you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen."

Akiko had looked down and had hidden her smile daintily with her hand. Kaoru had felt a sudden and intense surge of resentment towards the lovely Akiko. Kaoru had looked away sharply, taken aback by the strength of her reaction. She had thought back to her earlier fantasy of Kenshin telling her how beautiful she was.

"What a joke," she had thought to herself. "You are kidding yourself if you think he is ever going to say something like that to you."

Although Kaoru was not, by nature, a pessimistic person, Kaoru had been hoping for such declarations for so long that the only way to stave off disappointment was to lower her expectations.

Now annoyed at herself, Kenshin, and the adoring couple, Kaoru had decided she was sick of waiting behind a stupid bush. She had marched forward along the path, determinedly not looking at the startled and sheepish couple.

Kaoru had been in quite a mood for the whole rest of that day, and if she was being honest, her harsh reaction to Yahiko this morning was probably a leftover of her bad mood from the market trip.

She wasn't sure how long her foot battle with the dust had been going when Megumi and Sano happened upon her.

"Oy! Jo-chan! We're here for lunch," Sano said, startling Kaoru from her reverie.

"Lunch?" Kaoru responded.

"Yes, Ms. Tanuki," said Megumi. "I was planning to drop off a salve for Ken-san today, so he invited me over for lunch. Along with rooster-head, of course."

"Oh, I'm sorry I didn't know about that. Come in, and I'll get things ready," said Kaoru.

"No need, Kaoru-dono!" Kenshin said as he popped his head out of the kitchen. "This one is sorry he forgot to tell you about Megumi-dono and Sano coming over, but this one has already prepared lunch. No need for Kaoru-dono to trouble herself."

Kenshin graced Kaoru with his signature smile.

Kaoru, Megumi, and Sano went into the dining room, where Kenshin had already set the table for five, and he noticed Yahiko's empty seat as he entered the dining room with the rice.

"Will Yahiko not be eating with us today?" he asked.

"He stormed off earlier, although I honestly doubt he'd pass up on food," replied Kaoru.

"Busu's right," said Yahiko as he burst into the room. "I'm hungry! No grudge is worth an empty stomach!"

Kaoru's eyebrow twitched upward in anger.

"Please stop calling me that. And you still have to clean the dojo floor."

"Whatever, busu. You're not the boss of me. I'm your only student, remember?"

Kaoru didn't respond, which surprised her guests. Usually this was about the time her bokken was out and soon to make painful contact with her only student's body.

Eager to change the subject, Kenshin asked, "So, Sano accompanied Megumi-dono over here for lunch?"

"Yeah," said Sano. "I've heard there have been some toughs hanging out on the streets close by, and I thought it would be better if someone walked with her."

"Really?" asked Kaoru, "I have been walking around the neighborhood and I haven't felt nervous at all."

"Of course you haven't," said Megumi. "No one would attack a tough raccoon girl like you. But I am so beautiful, any thug would have a hard time resisting such a gorgeous target, even if he knew better."

Megumi swished her hair and laughed delicately behind her hand. Kaoru frowned.

"Megumi-dono is quite beautiful, that she is," said Kenshin agreeably.

At that moment, something in Kaoru that had been slowly building up the past few days, or maybe even the past few years, snapped.

"ENOUGH!" shouted Kaoru, slamming her hands down on the table. "Busu, busu, busu! I get it, OK? I'm ugly. You all don't have to keep reminding me all the time!" And with that declaration, she shot up from the table and left, leaving her friends' mouths hanging open with shock behind her.