AN: Yes, I am back. Yes, I am updating. No, I am not sorry I took so long.

I have a life, people. I appreciate your feedback but I'm a full-time college student who is also an actor and busy with a lot of extracurricular stuff. I also have an online life so I cannot dedicate a lot of my time to writing as I did when I started this fic. Please understand. I'm not mad, per se. sure, it gets annoying at times, but I do appreciate it because it means people are still interested in my works. Just know that I have counts about 14 fictions that need updating/finishing and I have about 4-5 fictions that I wish to write/start. At this rate, I won't be done until I'm 30. Let's say this is a little Christmas Present for those of you who have been so patient (or impatient) and waited for me to update.

Though this fiction is coming to a close, I suppose I'm mentioning this for the sake of my other works that are in need of updating.

I hope that you've seen the improvement of my work since I started. I apologize for how sloppy and abrupt the previous chapters of this fiction were. I do hope this final chapter can be a present to those of you who winced at my poor abilities.

I thank you for your patience and loyalty and I present to you, the final chapter of Awakening Spirits.

Insert typical disclaimer here.

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Mezamete-yuku Tamashii :: Awakening Spirits

Chapter 9 :: Finale

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Misao nodded, and recomposed herself, slipping her nihontou into the belt of her hakama. "Do you accept my challenge? If you do not, I will just leave. And I don't think anyone but you will try and stop me."

Aoshi's jaw clenched as he saw the exchange between Misao and Seta. They were in love. And it angered him that she would choose a cold-blooded murderer to love.

Not that he was any better.

"I accept."

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The floor was cleared as Misao stood in front of Aoshi, left hand gripping the sheath of her nihontou that was tucked away in the sash of her hakama. Aoshi stood in front of her, his kodachi ready for the fight. Out of all the people in the world, Misao was the last person he wanted to exchange swords with.

Misao raised her head confidently. Fear was nothing to her. If she couldn't win her freedom from Aoshi, then she'd rather be dead. No one cages Makimachi Misao.

"Misao. Stand down."

"I'd rather gouge my eyes out."

For some demented reason, Kamatari began giggling. Well, we can't necessarily say the former Juppongatana had any sane members. Soujiro smacked his shoulder, his face completely blank.

He had confidence in his Misao.

Okina's back was rigid. He was in denial that this fight was about to take place. Aoshi had beaten him to a pulp. His little Mi-chan was not going to win. And if Aoshi harmed one hair on her head...

Misao closed her eyes briefly, breathing in to her lungs' capacity before slowly exhaling. 'Mask your emotions, Makimachi. Do not let him see through you.' Opening her eyes, she took her stance. Her knees bent slightly, feet spread apart into her stance, one hand over the hilt of her sword, chest turned slightly toward her blade and body alert.

Battou-jutsu.

Aoshi remained in his position, his face void of any emotion. He stared straight at Misao, piercing blue eyes waiting for her movement.

A bead of sweat rolled down Misao's forehead as she flexed her free hand in anticipation. She was getting anxious. He wasn't going to make the first move. She was going to have to make it. Finally, she blinked.

And it started.

Misao's foot hit the floor as she pushed off, charging at Aoshi in a green blur. Aoshi drew one kodachi up, parrying her attack as a loud clang signified the two blades had met. Misao glared up at Aoshi, pushing her blade against his as he looked down at her. In the blink of an eye the two separated and she jumped back, retracting her weapon.

If the word "impressed" was in Aoshi's vocabulary, then it might have been a good way to describe him. But, it's not, so we'll have to do without. Misao barely missed a beat as she came at him again, faster than before. Aoshi blocked two strikes, turning around to keep up with her circling. She jumped onto the wall, pushing off of it as she struck down on Aoshi's head. He blocked her attack by catching her blade between his, which were crossed. She flipped over him, wrenching her weapon away. Twisting so that she faced him as she landed, she moved to the side as he made is first offensive attack. His blade hit air as she dodged the strike, a few hairs fluttering to the floor. Her eyes narrowed as she dropped down, delivering a spinning kick aimed at his ankles. He jumped over her feet, bringing the twin blades down over Misao's head. The kunoichi rolled out of the way as the kodachi dug into the floor.

Kamatari was leaning forward, silently rooting Misao on while Okina was biting his nails down to the skin. Soujiro remained impassive; arms crossed over his chest and face blank. Not even the smile was there. However, his body was tense. Should Aoshi harm Misao, he would not hesitate to draw his blade and kill the man.

The weasel-girl rolled onto her feet, crouched slightly with her sword extended at her side. Sweat glistened on her face, her cheeks flushed as she watched Aoshi for his next move. Aoshi, himself, was getting slightly agitated. It wasn't the fight itself, he still wasn't giving it his all, but the fact that Misao was holding her own unnerved him. What had the Tenken bastard been teaching her?

Misao knew he would wait to recompose himself. Aoshi was a man who could not be read—unless you knew him better than he knew himself. The slightest shift in facial muscles alerted Misao of his concentration and composure. Right now his concentration had momentarily been broken. He was probably moving on to fix that; to calculate his next move. If he did that, she wouldn't have a chance. She needed to strike before he collected his thoughts.

She lunged forward, flinging a fistful of kunai at Aoshi, who deflected them with his blade, before aiming a strike at his side. One kodachi blocked the attack right before Aoshi's fist connected with Misao's face. The force spun her back, forcing her to land on her back; however, she did not lose grip of her weapon. Her bottom lip was busted, blood forming at the surface of the skin.

Soujiro nearly jumped out of his seat on the floor before Kamatari grabbed his arm and pulled him back. "She's not out of the fight yet. And she wouldn't forgive you if you stepped in right now."

Soujiro set his jaw and sat back down, knowing she was right. He'd stay out of it for a little longer. Just a little.

Misao scowled, before rolling back onto her feet, heaving herself back into stance. Licking at the blood on her lip, she reached up, wiping sweat from her face with the sleeve of her gi. "Again."

Aoshi's face remained impassive, however, he was reeling at the fact that she wouldn't back down. He closed his eyes as his concentration returned. A list of attacks and steps to take formed in his mind. He knew many of Misao's weaknesses. Whether or not she had overcome any of those left to be discovered.

Misao's face contorted into a frown. This was not good. No, this was not good at all. She ran through her list of options in an attempt to find a course of action that would give her the best outcome. Choosing one and nodding to herself, Misao took another deep breath and closed her eyes.

And disappeared.

Aoshi's eyes widened as he whirled around, following the sound of Misao's footsteps on the walls. This was… This was Shukuchi?! No, it wasn't fast enough to be Shukuchi, but it was close. One could see a ghost of an afterimage, a blur of green and black, the sounds of feet hitting the floor and walls and the slight whistle of wind when Misao passed by. Tenken had taught her this. His speed. His gift. It was now hers.

Aoshi winced as the blur shot past him. After a split second, the fabric of his clothes on his shoulder ripped open and a few droplets of blood were flung out from where the blade hit.

She had hit him. The wound was superficial and in a spot that wouldn't do much damage, but she had hit him nonetheless. The sound of her footsteps alerted him that she was preparing for another attack. He needed to do something now.

Waterflow. Or rather, a variation of the technique. Instead of circling around Misao, he merely moved around the room, leaving the images of himself in his wake. Forming a complete pattern of moving 'clones', Aoshi waited for Misao to attack. The chance of her hitting him was one in fifteen. As soon as she hit one, he would attack her.

Well, that was the plan. Misao didn't aim for one. She landed in front of the first, her knees bending as her hair rose then began to fall with gravity. But before that even happened, she sprung forward, slicing through the image. One after another she charged, cutting across, diagonal, down, up, any strike she saw fit. She knew as soon as she approached the real one, he would block her attack.

Everyone, including Aoshi, stared at her tactics. One could say it was brilliant. Not one, but all of them. She could reduce the time it would take to pinpoint the real Aoshi in a matter of seconds.

"Did you teach her this?" Kamatari whispered into Soujiro's ear, eyes never leaving the girl in front of him. Soujiro took in a shuddered breath. Did he teach her this? He taught her the speed. Her fastest was maybe six steps short of Shukuchi. But these tactics? They were not his. He was… not that brilliant. Where had she learned this battle insight?

"I don't know…" was all he could manage in reply.

Aoshi did block Misao's easy-to-read strike as she approached him, the clones disappearing in her wake. She smirked, jumping back.

"Found you." She stated, drawing her blade up into a defensive stance. "You showed me how that technique worked when I was a child, remember? Given the knowledge I have of that technique, I can use it to my advantage. It won't work, Shinomori-san."

Aoshi steeled himself, momentarily clenching his jaw. He was losing composure. This child… this child would not beat him.

Now, Shinomori Aoshi had an ego. Every man does, no matter how small it may be. And as he once proclaimed, he wanted the title of the strongest. He may have given up on that little goal for a while, but no way in the seven depths of hell was he going to lose to a girl half his age. Especially not one who had been infatuated with him since she could walk.

If she was going to be this persistent, then he would take her down now. If he hurt her, he could not be to blame. But, on some level, even Aoshi knew that was not true.

"Kaiten Kenbu Rokuren."

Misao's eyes widened.

The spinning sword dance. With not three, but six strikes. He was going to use that attack on her. And she wasn't fast enough to block or counter it. Fear swelled up in Misao's heart as Aoshi disappeared. The sound of his footsteps confirmed the inevitable. He was coming straight at her.

Everything seemed to slow in Misao's mind. Whether it was from training to be so fast that everything else seemed slow, or just from the pure shock that she was going to die, that her Aoshi-sama was going to kill her, Misao could on stand there, her nihontou shaking in her grasp. Submitting herself to defeat, she stood there, eyes glazed from shock and the smell of death. But in the back of her mind, she knew Soujiro was watching. And like hell if she would just stand there. If she was going to die, she would die fighting.

Snapping out of her daze at the last second, Misao raised her blade and held it in front of her in a defensive position. Her eyes squinted shut as she lowered her head. Be brave, Misao. Be brave. Show Sou-chan the proud girl he taught.

There was the sound of metal hitting metal with one blade apparently shattering. She felt herself falling, a pain in her chest. Her breath was knocked out of her as she let go of her weapon and it clattered to the floor beside her as she landed, twisted slightly so that she landed on her right shoulder.

Was she dying? She couldn't hear anything. Her head throbbed from hitting the floor. But… the pain in her chest was residing. It was just sore now. She blinked slowly and pushed herself up into a sitting position and turned to look up at Aoshi. Her eyes widened in shock.

Soujiro stood in front of her, facing his right slightly, his right hand back from where he had pushed her to the floor. His nihontou was in front of him, sliced into six pieces that were scattered on the floor. Aoshi stood there, breathing heavy; sweat pouring down his face and neck. Not from over-exertion, but for what he almost did to Misao.

And this bastard… this murderer… he had saved her. Soujiro's face was not emotionless. It was hard, protective. All his emotions showed from his anger at Aoshi to his relief that he had made it in time.

"You…" Soujiro started, his voice shaking from anger and fear of what almost happened. "You call me a murderer and a ruthless bastard. You tell me to my face that I have no feelings. Hypocrite. You make me sick. You, who thought me, lower than scum, dared to draw your blade at Misao, whom you helped raise. Who gave you her love that you rejected all these years. You dared to use that killing technique on her?!"

Soujiro was nearly shrieking with rage now as he raised his shattered weapon, barely four inches of metal left as a blade. His arm shook, before he threw the blade down onto the floor. "No. I won't lower myself to your level. Let this be proof of my change. Misao will not go to Hokkaido. She will not marry. She will do what she pleases as a free woman of the Meiji restoration. You have lost, Shinomori-san. Accept your defeat."

Kamatari and Okina stared at the boy who had grown into a man. Both felt a surge of happiness of Aoshi's defeat. And both knew that Misao was in good hands.

And speaking of Misao; she sat on the floor behind Soujiro, staring up at the back of his form. The words he spoke… so true… and so touching. She found herself blinking away tears from her emerald eyes as she shakily stood up, off balance and jerky from everything that had just happened. Stepping forward, Misao's forehead pressed against Soujiro's back as her arms loosely wrapped around his waist.

Aoshi knew he had lost and he said no more. Turning his back to them he spoke four words. Four words that would show Misao how much he really did care for her.

"Do as you wish."

And without another word he left the dojo.

Soujiro lowered his head, his bangs covering his eyes. A small smile was on his lips as his arms hung limply at his sides. Misao had not moved from her spot, still standing behind him.

Okina put a hand to his chest, a sigh of relief. He was getting too old for this kind of excitement. Kamatari had stood, muttering something akin to "Well, my work here is done. Now to go spend that money!" and left quietly.

Soujiro turned around in Misao's arms, gently grasping her elbows as he she looked up at him. He smiled softly.

"I lost…" Misao whispered, her face tired and flushed from the exertion.

"No. We won." Soujiro corrected, sighing in relief. "You don't have to marry."

Misao lowered her head, her body trembling softly with silent laughter. "You are such a baka."

Soujiro blinked, his face contorting into an amusing expression filled with confusion and question of Misao's sanity.

She smiled, looking up at him. "I am going to marry. I'm going to marry you. Did you forget already?"

Soujiro's eyes widened as his mouth formed an 'o'. So she was serious? He tried to make a coherent reply but found nothing that suited the moment. Nodding to himself, he turned to Okina who stood there like a smiling idiot. "That's if Okina-san does not object?"

Okina broke out laughing, clutching his stomach. "After what I just witnessed today, I better see you two on your honeymoon by next week!"

Misao flushed dark red and yelled at Okina who left the room laughing. Soujiro chuckled softly and tilted her face back to him. "I guess that settles it, then."

"No, not yet…" Misao replied, a frown on her features.

"Huh? What?" Soujiro inquired oh-so-intelligently.

Misao smiled, wrapping her arms around Soujiros neck, stepping up to him. "Not until you kiss me."

Soujiro's arms wrapped around her waist in return as he smiled widely.

"So kiss me, you smiling fool."

Lowering his face, Soujiro's lips met Misao's briefly, before pulling away. A teasing look was plastered on his face. "Like that?"

Misao looked downright pissed. "I hate you."

"I love you too, Misao."

Scowling, she grabbed Soujiro by the back of his head and pulled him down, kissing him for all she was worth. And when she pulled away, Soujiro was smiling like an idiot.

"Like that."

"I'll take note of that, Misao-chan."

"You'd better."

Soujiro pressed his forehead against Misao's, smiling happily. "So when should this wedding take place?"

"If you'll let go of me for a few minutes I'll have us walking down the aisle before nightfall."

"Sounds good to me."

And Soujiro ducked down for another kiss knowing that his life was now complete.

Owari.

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AN: Well, there you have it, folks. It's the end. I hope it's not a let down for any of you. I figured I'd end it sweet and fluffy like that because it just seemed to fit the story so much better. As you notice, the formatting has changed and so my dividers have taken the form of…V's. Ah, well. It's not that tacky. snort

So, I thank you all for you patience. I'm sorry it took so long. I wrote the first half like a month ago, and this second half I wrote in about an hour and a half. I hope there are not a lot of errors.

I've got out of the habit, or at least, mostly, of using 'fangirl Japanese'. So you'll see a lot less Japanese terminology in my works. It's not that I don't like it, but it can disrupt the story's flow, especially if the reader does not know the word. My exceptions are, of course, techniques and words that don't have really good translations. Or pet names, etc. You get my drift.

And a few notes:

Kaiten Kenbu Rokuren. I wanted the English translation to this but I couldn't find it. My translation, which is very poor, ended up with something akin to Kaiten as revolution or spin, kenbu is obviously sword dance, and rokuren is… six… something. Yes, you can see how great my translation skills are.

And I'm sure you all know that Shukuchi is Soujiro's technique, "that which surpasses Godspeed". The lower number of "steps" of Shukuchi, (IE: "six steps short of Shukuchi") means the closer to that speed.

Anyway, I do hope you enjoyed. Feedback is always appreciated. From what I've seen, a lot of people read the story, but only a handful review (I have a paid account, I know these things :P) So if you can just take a moment of your time to review, even if you just tell me whether or not you liked the story, it'd be greatly appreciated. Your response helps me to better my works and let me know if I should continue. Whether it be the story itself or just the style of writing I was using, etc.

So go ahead, press that button. You'll be making one authoress very happy. Consider it your Christmas present to me. XD

So a Happy Holidays to everyone. No matter your culture, religion or tradition, I wish you blessings and high spirits.

Phoe-chan.