Make sure you take your umbrella with you.

Kanji had sighed. He had lived in Inaba long enough to know the weather patterns by now, and he fully intended to be back before it broke loose.

Still, it was easier than arguing with his mother, so he took the umbrella with him. It wasn't as if carrying it around was a huge hassle anyway.

It was just going to be a brief walk to clear his head before he had to go and slam it against the maths homework again. But he forgot all about that when he heard the tiny, high-pitched mewling noise from behind some bushes on the flood plain.

He quickly looked around, but there was no one in the vicinity.

It wouldn't hurt to take a peek.

The bushes were the prickly, thorny variety, but they were not very thick, and it didn't take long to pinpoint the source of the noise.

It was an old, beat-up cardboard box turned on its side, providing some cover from wind and rain - and inside it, four tiny calico kittens.

As he gawked, one of them opened its mouth and mewled, as if to confirm that it was indeed responsible for the sound he had heard.

They were tiny. He would easily be able to carry all four of them in his hands, just like that. 'Course, you weren't supposed to touch wild animals, but he could at least take a closer look.

Two of the kittens seemed to be asleep, but the other two stared at him with wide blue eyes as he knelt between the bushes.

"Guess your ma's out shopping, huh?"

The noisy kitten yawned and rolled over on its side, seemingly fast asleep. The last one licked its nose and gave its snoozing siblings a look that Kanji thought was curiously reminiscent of the way his mother used to look at him when he took too long to get out of bed.

He stared at them until the first drops of rain startled him out of his reverie and made him raise his head to look at the clouds. It seemed like the sky was about to open any moment now.

He looked back down at the kittens in their battered cardboard box.

It was a very old cardboard box.

Kanji winced as a large drop of water splashed against his nose and began to open his umbrella.

A few minutes later, he almost literally ran into Chie as he made a mad dash toward the textile shop with a soggy newspaper over his head, futilely trying to block out some of the rain.

"Hey, what happened to your umbrella?" she asked, standing safe and dry under her own. "I'm sure I saw you carrying one."

Kanji was suddenly glad for the sodden paper hanging down and hiding his embarrassed expression. "I musta forgotten it somewhere," he said, and Chie didn't push the issue.

On the Samegawa flood plain, a cat curled its tail protectively around four calico kittens and purred as it looked up at the rain through the clear plastic dome wedged between the thorny branches.