The cold seeped through the walls of the building, air drifting through the
tightly-shut windows and crawling across the floor to envelop a large, warm
hand. Late December had the Aoiya frozen, and no matter what the occupants
of the restaurant did, the cold still found a way to sift through the
cracks in the floors or through the large windows of the bedrooms.
He mumbled in his sleep, flipping over to pull his chilled hand to his
chest. Even under the blankets covering his futon, he still felt the chill
of the evening.
He himself was a cold man, an icy exterior that not even the brightest
smile could crack. His frozen teal eyes stared impassively at anyone and
everyone around him.
But that didn't mean he liked the cold.
On the inside, he embraced it- let it pull him into its icy depths,
plunging into the river of unemotional living. He did not enjoy it,
rather, he detested being the way he was.
.......Though, he never really was given a choice.
He'd always been serious. Even at the tender age of three, when his parents
left him alone in the world, to deal with his sorrow and pain single-
handedly, he hadn't shown anything.
But inside, he'd cried himself senseless.
Now though, he was different. Hai, he was still the same unemotional man
he'd been before his departure from the Aoiya 11 years before, and, if
anything, he'd only gotten icier.
When he was named Okashira at age 15, he remembered a small 5-year-old girl
who clung to his leg and gave him loving glances.
"Aoshi nii-chan?" she had asked. "You'll be with me always, ne?"
Her wide ocean-sprayed eyes looked up at him anxiously, and he felt his
face soften momentarily. "Why do you ask that Misao-chan?" he'd inquired.
"Well......." her lower lip had trembled. "Now that you're all leader-ish,
you won't get to play with me so much.......ne Aoshi nii-chan?"
"That's right Misao-chan," he'd told her. "But I will be with you always."
"Hontou?" she'd asked doubtfully.
Aoshi Shinomori felt his eyes snap open at the end of his dream. It had
been three years since his return to the Aoiya, and three years since Misao
herself had taken over as the Okashira.
He let his eyes slip closed again, turning his head slightly to the right
to think. It had been almost a year ago that the nightmares had stopped
calling to him during his slumber. And instead, he would always dream about
His past before he'd gone away.
He'd dream of all of the old members of the Oniwabanshuu before the group
had been disbanded, and he'd dream about little Misao-chan and old Okina,
who still had yet to change.
But he would always awaken at his lies.
"You'll be with me always, ne?"
Misao-chan's words echoed back to him from the past. Well, he'd lied. He
hadn't been there for her always. He'd left, taking with him her older,
wiser friends, and he'd returned eight years later without them. Because
they were dead.
They'd died for him, to save his worthless life, so that he could go back
to Misao-chan again.
Hannya had once confided in him that they all missed little Misao dearly.
And that, after they finished their work with Kanryuu, they all wanted to
go back to her.
And Aoshi had agreed.
But he'd been the only one to make it back.
And he'd come back only to disgrace the name of the Oniwabanshuu and
Yet, even after all he'd done, Misao still welcomed him back with open
The others had had a harder time of it, especially old Okina, but Misao had
not thought about it twice, she'd just run to him happily embracing him and
welcoming him 'home'.
His eyes opened again, the icy teal depths reflecting momentary sadness and
remorse before they flickered back to his usual masked indifference.
A home was not a shelter, nor an abode. It was a place where one's family
was. And if one had no family, it was simply where their friends were.
And, to him, the Aoiya was more than home. It was his life. His entire
being would disappear if not for everyone at the restaurant.
She had grown, not Misao-chan any longer, but instead, the Okashira of the
Oniwabanshuu at 19 years of age.
'And still unmarried.......'
His thoughts churned, and he blinked once, twice.
'And I know the reason why.......'
She loved him. She'd always loved him. Even when her father and mother
passed on, and she refused consultation from Okina, she'd come to him,
running into his arms and sobbing for all she was worth.
"They're g-g-gone Aoshi-nii-chan!" she'd wailed, clutching onto the fabric
of his ninja uniform. "They left me a-all a-a-alone!"
He turned on his side and clutched one hand to his heart, remembering her
small hands fisting in the fabric so long ago. The chill seeped into his
bones, chilling more than his body, but invading his heart and soul.
He felt so empty.......
Whatever had happened to those times, so long ago? He sat up and rested
his head on his bent up knees, allowing his muddled thoughts to sort
They were gone, leaving him empty without a purpose.
He felt rather useless anymore.......
He went to the temple every day, trying to decipher the meaning of his
life, and the meaning of existence itself. And every day, Misao brought
him tea, and he always, always drank it.
He did admit that he loved seeing the genki ninja-girl with her cocky
attitude and ever-smiling face. It was, in fact, the only thing he ever
looked forward to all day.
He had yet to fall asleep. Not for three years had he been able to sleep
in a restful slumber. He would always awaken for some reason, and he hated
himself for it. He could feel himself shrinking. His heart, his
soul.......his entire being. He'd started eating in his room, but that was
all. He'd eat dinner, but if he returned after that particular meal, he
would not eat anything for the day.
Misao always tried to cheer him up by bringing sweets or other foods to the
temple for him to eat. She was trying to become a good cook, as Omasu and
Okon pestered her constantly to act more like the young woman she was. So
Misao happily took up cooking meals for the Oniwabanshuu in the evenings.
Aoshi, unfortunately, almost never ate any meals with the 'family' and
preferred to seclude himself in his own room for dinner, so he wouldn't be
observed by the others'.
He rose to his feet in the dark room, wrapping his blanket around his
shoulders. It was cold, and his yukata didn't do anything much to keep him
warm. His thoughts drifted slightly to Okon and Omasu. Why did the young
women try to get Misao married off, when they themselves were not married?
Of course, he knew of their obsession with Hiko Seijuro, but still.......
he scoffed at the very idea of the hermit-type man ever getting married.
Sure, the well-built shishou could easily get a wife if he wished,
Why were they trying to change Misao?
It angered him to think that the women would change Misao just so that the
younger woman would be married. Why would they do that to her?
They knew how much Misao detested kimono's, and she never wore one unless
forced, preferring instead to wear her ninja uniform. Hai, it showed an
indecent amount of her legs, but Aoshi didn't mind. And he didn't dwell on
Misao was old enough to decide for herself what she wished to wear, and
Aoshi liked her just the way she was. No need for her to change herself
around backward to marry some commanding bastard who would take away her
childish innocence, replacing it instead with a quiet housewife.
He felt his fists clench together tightly, and that jolted him from his
semi-conscious thoughts. What did it matter to him, what happened to her?
If she married, he would be happy for her.
As happy as was possible.......
One of his large calloused hands reached out to slide open the shoji to his
room. Maybe, if luck was with him, he would find the ingredients for tea
in the kitchen.
Sure, tea kept you awake and it kept you kind of.......well.......hyper.
Aoshi Shinomori was NOT a hyper man. He never had been. He liked the way
the steam curled over the rim of the teacup, warm and inviting.
He really wanted to be as warm and inviting as the tea he drank was.
He walked silently down the halls, his bare feet not making the slightest
sound in the building. Strange enough, not one of the onmitsu's stirred in
their sleep. Normally, someone would be up asking him questions.
Obviously, today he had luck on his side.
He stepped into the chilly kitchen and started brewing tea for himself. He
thought briefly about taking the tea to his room to enjoy.......and decided
that it might be a good idea.
After the tea was ready, he poured it into two cups. He would be up for a
long while, and he knew as much to bring that much with him. He probably
would not get to sleep again that night.
He handled the two hot cups gently, walking carefully up the stairs and
down the hall to his room. The blanket around his shoulders kept him warm,
and as he padded down the corridor softly, he heard a muffled sound coming
from the room a few doors down from his own.
He paused, halting outside of a familiar doorway. This particular doorway
was the second most familiar one to him, aside of his own. When he
returned home late at night, he often found himself pausing outside of her
And he heard every emotion possible from the outside.
He'd heard her sighing, crying, wishing, hoping, praying, loving,
Usually, she was crying.
Just like now.
A pang went through his chest at the thought of Misao in any kind of pain
was nearly unbearable to him. He listened to her muffled sobbing from
outside her shoji, and he willed himself away.
But his feet refused to obey his mental command.
'Leave her alone! You're the one who makes her cry nearly every night. Why
don't you just leave her in solitude and stop messing with her feelings.'
He shook his head and stepped back, walking down the hall and into his own
room. He sat cross-legged on the floor, and sipped silently at his tea.
He hated hearing Misao cry, but there was nothing he could do.
~You could try to be there for you when she needs you, you know.......
His voice constantly taunted him. Tried to make him take things that
weren't his. Misao wasn't his, and no matter how much either one of them
wanted it to be so, it was not.
She was 10 years younger than him, much too young for a man of 29. Her
sunny smile would only disappear if they were together. She would become
as silent as he, face ever-impassive and cold.
He didn't want that.......
~But Battousai- I mean- Himura and the Kamiya girl are 10 years apart as
They were different, he reasoned within himself. Himura-san and his wife
were DIFFERENT. Himura hadn't let his friends down. FOUR friends. And
And Himura had never made Kaoru cry either. Not the way Misao cried.......
He hung his head slightly. And Misao nearly ALWAYS cried because of him.
Because of his icy exterior, his silent-ness.......
He set his teacup down and wrapped his blanket more securely around
himself. A muffled forlorn sob came from down the hall, and his head
jerked up to stare at the shoji.
~Well? What are you waiting for?
'I.......I can't. I would just make it worse.......'
His head fell downward again lightly, his chin nearly touching his chest.
~Worse?! How can you make it any worse?! Just LISTEN!!
He truly didn't want to listen to Misao's muffled crying any longer. His
heart constricted every time her voice drifted down the corridor and into
his ears. He clenched his eyes shut and tried to ignore the sounds coming
from her room.
~Come on, she needs you now! You should go to her.......
'Fine, fine.......' he mumbled mentally, standing up slowly. He kept his
blanket wrapped around his shoulders, and slid his shoji open silently to
make his way down the hall to Misao's room.
He stopped outside of her room and listened for awhile before noiselessly
sliding open her door and stepping inside the darkened room. His sharp icy
teal eyes immediately sought out the small form huddled underneath the
blankets on her futon.
She twisted around in her sheets, her blanket already halfway across the
floor messily tangled up. She was sobbing hysterically, thrashing every
which way. She'd already fallen off her futon, the sheets twisted around
He sighed inwardly.
She was asleep.......
~Well? Get over there and see what's the matter!
Aoshi numbly moved forward and picked up her discarded blanket, kneeling
beside where she was moving around. Strangely, she didn't speak out loud.
He wondered why, when she was in such a state of restlessness.
He pulled the sheets away from her limbs and set them over her neatly,
leaning over slightly to tuck them under her chin.
Suddenly, she shot forward, hands clutching at the front of his yukata.
Her wide ocean-sprayed eyes shot open frantically, blinking furiously
against the tears that were threatening to overflow again.
Aoshi tensed up when she grabbed onto him, but he soon relaxed and put one
of his hands on her back, doing the only thing he knew.
She buried her face in his chest, her sobs erupting outward in a frenzy
When Aoshi made no move to leave, she crawled into his lap, and he wrapped
her thick blanket around her shaking body. A few minutes later, her sobs
ceased, but she didn't move from her spot.
Aoshi was grateful that she didn't move. He rather enjoyed holding her,
marveling at how small she truly was. Finally, she sniffled and shifted in
his grip, moving a hand to wipe her tears away.
"A-Aoshi-sama......." she stuttered lightly, sniffling slightly. "Gomen
nasai Aoshi-sama, did I wake you?"
She sighed lightly. "Good. I didn't mean to bother you.......gomen
ne......." She moved her head to the side. "I just......."
"Nán desu ka?"
She looked up surprised. "Well, I-I was looking for
everyone.......and.......no matter where I looked, I couldn't find
anyone......." Her voice broke off, and she looked down. "I went to the
temple even, and you weren't there. Nobody was anywhere.......everyone was
just.......gone. There wasn't anyone in the streets......."
Aoshi just nodded. She was afraid of being alone.......as was he.......
"Everyone just left me.......alone......." Abruptly, she drew in a sharp
breath. "You won't leave me, will you Aoshi-sama?" she asked softly.
"I won't......." he mumbled slowly.
She sighed relieved. "Good Aoshi-sama.......I'm glad." She wrapped her
arms around him and put her head over his heart. The steady thumping made
her drowsy and she yawned into his chest.
"Arigatou......." she mumbled, eyes slipping shut. "For being
Aoshi's eyes softened as he shifted her in his lap to a more comfortable
~You can put her down now, you know.
'Maybe....... I don't feel like it.......'
"Oyasumi nasái Aoshi-.......sama......." she yawned again.
~Darn. She used that -sama again.
"Oyasumi nasái Misao," Aoshi told her, wrapping his own blanket around the
both of them.
He watched the steady rise and fall of her body as she slept.
~All right....... You can put her down now. C'mon, what if Okina comes in
and sees this?
'Then he will, won't he?'
~Grrr! Just get to your own room! C'mon, it can't be THAT hard to put her
on her own bed. What are you, her personal living breathing futon?
'Hm.......that'd be nice.......'
~Hey! Get a grip! You're getting all mushy and stuff. Just put Misao down
and retreat back to your OWN bed.
'Well.......maybe I should.......'
~Of course! I'm always right! I'm your conscious, remember?
'Aa, that's what I'm afraid of.......'
~Hey now! Just do it already.......
Aoshi moved to place Misao down on her futon, but she clung to the front of
his yukata, burying her face in the open front of it.
She looked so cute.......
And Aoshi found himself.......
.......not wanting to put her down.
Well, it's over everyone. Lol! Corny ending, but what the heck? I couldn't
help it. *sigh* I have this phobia.......I call it.......
Yeah, it's THAT strange.
I find it hard to end fics, because I can never find the right
way.......It's actually very hard to me. *siiighhh*
Anyway, C&C is VERY VERY VERY-well much appreciated! Please criticize this,
because as you probably know, I want to improve my writing style as much as
Be careful, the corniness might kill you!