Okay, I had a detailed, explict (and only moderately sarcastic) warning up here until yesterday, so that people wouldn't run screaming away halfway through the story. It had been up there for about ten and a half months, so I figured no one cared. It was relevant to the story, if not the story itself, and I'm sure it saved me a shitload of flames . . . but it got deleted anyways. So you know what? Fuck it. You guys can read the story if you want, ignore it if you want, flame me if you want, but whatever. I'm considering that official administration permission to not put a warning on my story. Enjoy.

Yesterday, Misao-chan had asked him if he loved her. Yesterday, he had done the most difficult, most painful thing he had ever done in his life. Yesterday, he had broken the one heart that meant the most to him.

So why did he feel relieved?

Oh, he felt bad, yes. It had hurt, seeing that look on his Misao-chan's face, when he knew very well that if anyone else had put that look on her face, then he would have killed him without hesitation, oath aside. And he would have slept well that night, too. It made him feel almost unbearably guilty when she had run to her room and locked herself in, screaming at anyone who dared ask admittance. It was certainly enough to drive him back to the temple where he had lately only been spending an hour or so a day.

And yet, when by all rights he should have been feeling like the lowest, most worthless piece of scum in Japan, why did he feel almost ... grateful?

The wind rattled against the walls of the temple, and the tatami underneath him was cold and uncomfortable. He didn't notice.

... Because Misao-chan would get over it, he finally decided. A sixteen-year- old girl, especially one as cheerful as Misao, could only angst alone in a locked room for so long before other things started to seem much more important. Eating regular meals, and taking daily baths, for example, or practicing kempo. Msiao's room was far too small to get any serious practicing done in (all of their rooms were), and he had never known Misao to go more than a day without some type of physical exertion

Besides, she would get over him too, eventually. The first crush was always the hardest to get over, but, once that has been achieved, always seems the most silly in retrospect. All his desire not to hurt her did not change the fact that he did not love her as she would like, and he would not pretend otherwise. That would be disastrous, and he would not mislead his Misao-chan like that. He could not, he would not do that to her. Misao deserved someone she could love as an equal, someone who was superior to her in some ways, and inferior in others. She deserved someone who would smile for her as often as she needed. She did not deserve an introverted, hag-ridden man who would never be able to manage more than an almost-smile, and would never see her as anything but "Misao-chan."

And, all other reasons aside, the thought of taking a lover who just about worshipped the ground he walked on was enough to make him physically ill.

Aoshi's eyes snapped open, noting, in an offhand sort of way, that the candle providing the room's sole life had long ago burned out. He stood, slightly stiff from a day spent in unmoving contemplation, but only slightly. Misao-chan would stay in her room for a day or so, and then she would come out, and she would still be hurting. Days would pass – maybe weeks – and she would still hurt – maybe she would avoid him, openly snub him, or maybe she would try to pretend that everything was back to normal. Then one day, she would wake up, and his rejection would still hurt, yes, but not as much as that wrinkle in the futon she'd been sleeping on all night, or the gnawing in her belly from when she missed dinner last night. And then, one day, she would wake up, and it wouldn't hurt at all.

Maybe by then, he would be able to smile for her. After all, Misao deserved a lover who was also her equal, her partner, a role he, who would always be "Aoshi-sama", would never be able to fill. And ... if it was not too much to hope for ... maybe he did too.

Aoshi walked down the pathway that led from the temple to the Aoiya. He noticed the nightfall, with moon and stars, in the same, offhanded way he had noticed the lack of candle-flame.

In the background, a bird sang, and the wind, calmed now from its almost- violent raging of before, brought him the scent of flowers. Aoshi did not smile, but – for a moment – he almost felt as if he could have.