A/N: Here's a new story I'm starting. It won't be that long. I was finally inspired to write something and it won't be a great endeavor. Never fear--updates are coming!

Summary: Aoshi is a kid from the streets. The city is what he's always known and he was content with his lot in life. That was until he was sent to live with his estranged grandfather to finish high school. Now, he's the new kid. All anyone knows is that he's distant, unrelenting, and dangerous. A mix like that who has no place in this no-nonsense town. But he's not all bad. A talented musician, Aoshi wants to be in this town no more then they want him there. Misao is from a picturesque background, but she has secrets that no one sees and scars no one can ever know. A social misfit, Misao is often picked on for having a 'perfect life'. Her only escape is in her schoolwork, and her artwork. In order to retain a scholarship to her dream art school, Misao has to become involved with a tutoring program at school--with Aoshi as her star trainee. Unable to escape one another, or the eyes of the populace, the town's two biggest outcasts might just join forces, if they don't kill each other first.

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Rurouni Kenshin Characters, but I'd like to!

Riffs and Canvas

Chapter 1: The Artist and the Musician

The high school looked like any other suburban high school. It was a brick building, two floors high, with small windows and a large flag waving boldly out on the front lawn. The pathway was landscaped with flowers and trees, as if they could distract the students or staff from the highways on all sides of the building. There was a mini mall and a diner and parking lot as far as the eye could see, the picturesque scene for the average suburban teenager. And there were a lot of average suburban teenagers swarming all over the school yard. Monday morning, the first day of spring quarter.

As Aoshi looked up at the daunting sight, he felt a shiver works it way down his back. Not a shiver of fear, or warning--having come from the city streets, he knew those feelings well--it was a shiver of revulsion. Pure, undiluted condescension. That anyone could actually like such a place as this, with it's cheery administration and smiley faced bummer stickers on the student's car bummers that gave their support of all school activities. It made him want to vomit at the sight.

This was his life now. This was what he had to look forward to everyday for the rest of teenage career. Granted, it was only until the end of the next quarter, but five months was a hell of a long time to Aoshi at that moment.

What had he done to deserve this? Truly, he wanted to know. One moment, he was living life as usual. Working two part-time jobs in order to keep rent, going to school every day--rain or shine--, and even hanging out with his gang the first moment he had time. Now he was thrown into this sickening mixture of Abercrombie and sunshine.

He clenched his hands into fists, forcing himself to take those harsh first steps away from his fully restored black Mazda M-3. It was painful mostly because that car was the last thing that kept him from feeling totally immersed in this foreign world. Sure enough, little by little, he was able to make his way across the parking lot and toward the leering entrance of the building. Tucking his hands into the deep pockets of his gray trench coat, Aoshi kept his head down, hoping to get by without a second glance. Unfortunately, he stuck out like a sore thumb.

"Just as well," he thought to himself glumly. He had to find his way to the main office to pick up a schedule. His grandfather had made the arrangements the day before, so everything would be shiny and new, waiting to try and induct him into a new environment that would surely try to strip him of all original thought and individuality. Everything that he had fought so hard to keep back in his world, when fighting meant getting down to brass tacks and kicking ass in an alleyway after the last bell. All of it would be gone in a few months' time.

This was all his mother's fault, he thought angrily. His black leather boots hit the pavement a little harder when he thought of the woman. He squared his shoulders and the collar of his trench coat seemed to mask the entire bottom portion of his face. It made him look all the more menacing. It was just a reflex for Aoshi, to look dangerous when brooding, to ward of any potential threats--or maybe invoke a few so he could fight out his anger. In this world, everyone seemed to sense his vibe and shiver as he walked passed. A few looked up, but they all quickly looked away. It seemed that manners were as good as the name brands in this school. That only pissed him off.

Yes, it was all his mother's fault. If she hadn't of gone off on a bender with her boyfriend last week, none of this shit would have happened.

All because she was turned down again. When was she going to deal with the fact that the music industry is not looking for a middle aged pop star no matter how good she could sing. And she could sing. It was the only thing Aiko had ever been good at. For all her thirty-four years--even though she said she was still twenty--Aiko had never held a job, never held a man, and had never been a mother to her nearly-grown son.

She got pregnant one night, at sixteen. It was no big surprise to anyone who knew her. Aiko was notoriously loose and even more notoriously careless. She didn't remember who the father was, or she didn't care. Either way, Aoshi never knew. Either way, Aoshi didn't care. In some ways, if a child has a shitty life, he'll use the old 'my father will come get me one day' line to piss off his mother. Fact was, his father probably didn't know he existed. Or he didn't care. Aoshi grew up a long time ago.

He couldn't say that he hated his mother--because he didn't. He couldn't say that he loved her either--because he didn't feel that either. Aiko was his mother, and that was the only reason he had stayed with her all this time. Since the time he was fifteen, and old enough to get a part-time job, he had been working to get rent money. He had bought the groceries; he had cooked the meals and did the dishes; he had been the adult. All the while, his mother had drunken or snorted or smoked or shot herself in oblivion until the next loser came home with her from happy hour and promised to make her a star. Then she'd say the same thing to Aoshi.

"Just wait, baby. This will be the start of a whole new life for us."

Then it would fall through and Aoshi would be the one to clean up the mess. After the first few years, he learned not to get his hopes up. There was still that secret part of him that had always hoped she would get a record deal. Then she could go off and live in a Malibu house, shoot all her record money into her arm, and die a happy death. He would stay in the city, graduate high school, and get the hell out of there. Now, all his 'dreams' were shot to hell.

Aiko and boyfriend #765--not that Aoshi had ever kept count--had been turned down and went out. They got piss drunk and tried to drive themselves home. That was when a little physics hit them in the face in the form of a huge telephone pole. Luckily, they didn't hurt anyone but themselves. Unfortunately, both of them had former offensives in the form of drugs or DUIs. Aiko was now in lock-down at a minimum security prison upstate for the next year and boyfriend #765 was only God knows where.

Aoshi, five months from graduating high school and one month from turning eighteen, was sent to live with his estranged grandfather until after graduation. Two hour's ride from the city, his city, Aoshi was now stuck in some kind of nineties time warp, where everyone was happy and clean-cut. While his gang stayed in the city to fulfill their dream of being the first in their neighborhood to get out into the real world, he was stuck somewhere unfamiliar and sunny! It was official. Aoshi's life was Hell.

Sure, his grandfather was cool. A crazy old man named Okina who owned a restaurant in the nearby town, but that didn't mean Aoshi was going to 'take to the place like a duck to water'. Far from it, old man. Aoshi was going to fight this tooth and nail, and there was nothing anyone could do to convince him otherwise.

He skulked inside the school building, black hair falling into blue eyes as he scanned the passing doorways for the main office. Aoshi was beginning to feel out of place now, with the long trench coat and the black shirt and jeans beneath. The black backpack he carried didn't exactly offset his color pattern. All around him he was surrounded by violet and silver, blues and greens, school colors. Colors worn proudly by staff, administration, and students alike. Something he would never do. The looks he was receiving made him feel as though he should.

"Damn," he thought. "I'm already being told to conform and I haven't even gone to class yet!"

Finally, he made it to the office. As soon as the door closed behind him--with a jingle from the bell on the door--everyone stopped what they were doing to openly stare at him. Oh yes, this would starting out to be a wonderful change in scenery.

"Excuse me," he said politely in a low voice. "I'm Aoshi Shinamori, I just transferred here."

"Ah, yes!" one of the office women squealed. Her auburn hair fell into her eyes as she dug through a few papers on one of the desks and came up with a manila folder. "The new guy." Aoshi winced internally at the title.

"Go easy on the boy Yumi," one of the men at the coffee pot said. "He's not from around here." Aoshi's eye flickered toward the speaker, a tall, lean man with a coffee cup in his hand and a cigarette dangling from his bottom lip. He seemed to be half in shadow, and was quite happy to stay there. Aoshi looked away, losing interest.

"Go to hell Saitou," Yumi huffed. Without her previous enthusiasm, she shoved a schedule and a pass book at Aoshi. "The rooms are marked on the paper, there's a map too in you get lost."

Aoshi retrieved the offered items, shoving the pass book into his backpack. "Thank you," he said, making his leave.

"No problem, hot stuff," Yumi said with a flirty wink at him. Aoshi waited until he was outside before rolling his eyes.

It was nothing new for women--even older women--to hit on him. It there was one thing he could credit to his father, he must have been an attractive fellow, because his son was drop-dead-gorgeous, with none of the features of his mother. She was small and dark, with mud-brown hair and matching eyes. She had a pretty face, but it was a different pretty then most. Aoshi was tall, nearing six three and still going, with black hair and crystal blue eyes. Ice blue. The only thing that mother and son shared was their mutual love of music. It was the only thing that bound them--the only thing about Aoshi his mother actually approved of.

The third morning bell had rung. As Aoshi looked around, he saw that the halls were deserted, devoid of students. It was almost scary. In his old school, bells were an annoyance and nothing more. There were kids would stayed in the hallways all day without ever going to class. That was just the way things were in an inner city school. No one really cared, as long as no one was jumped or killed on school property, and vandalism was at a minimum. Aoshi was used to that. This would take a while.

He looked at the papers, the map and the schedule. There weren't many senior classes still open at this time of year, but he was lucky enough to get into almost everything he wanted. The paper seemed dominated by band or vocal classes. By law, he had to take an English class, and the only one open was an AP course--the hardest in the school. Aoshi was a brilliant guy, but English was not his thing. He was a musician, good with numbers and biology. He was not good with things written by men who had died before the eighteenth century! He had that class last period, so he was thankful of that.

First off, he was in a vocal class. Just his luck, it was on the other side of the school. Following the badly drawn-up map, Aoshi set off to find his new class. The school was a labyrinth of twists and turns, hills and stairs. There was one point where he had to cut across a courtyard and was locked out until a teacher opened the door and set him on a straight path. Just when he thought he was home free, he had to take another staircase and sharp left. Just his luck, while turning that corner, he walked into someone and ended up becoming personally acquainted with the floor.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Misao had been late for school that morning. It wasn't her fault really, it just took her a long time to find her jacket. The faded jean one. The one she wore every time she couldn't leave the house with a tee-shirt. Her father had been yelling at her the entire time she looked. Why didn't she clean her sty of a room? Why couldn't she pretend to have a brain? Why couldn't she just get out of the house? It was her morning ritual. Her father followed her through the house with a bowl of cheerios in hand, yelling as she went. Their house was large, a three floored Greek revival. Stunning really. Testament to their wealth. Misao never noticed.

She took the verbal abuse, words that used to make her feel three inches tall rather then five, three. She stuffed her sketch books, her pencils, her dried brushes, and her grabbed her fresh canvas as she went, stuffing in into her large black leather side bag. The canvas was too big, she just put it in the back seat of her car. Her father, wearing his red bathrobe, in nothing but boxers and socks, followed her outside with his cereal as she loaded her broken-down black pick-up truck. The neighbors all hurried back into their houses when the scene began. It was this way almost every morning.

Misao went back into the house, grabbing her backpack from her bed. She paused just long enough to brush out her hip-long black hair, plait it in one long braid, and stuff it beneath a black and red bandana. Her father was in the doorway of her room. Why can't you wear something appropriate? What's with this penis envy where you have to dress like a man? Why can't you do anything right?

She grabbed up her backpack again and walked passed him. She was down the stairs and out the door before he could catch up with her. Misao took her key ring from where it had been clipped to one of the loops on her jeans, and started her car. She put on her sunglasses with the mirrored shades and backed out of the driveway as fast as the screeching tires could carry her. It didn't occur to her that she left without breakfast, or that she had forgotten to feed her pet boa constrictor. She'd remember to feed Seraphim that afternoon, when her father was at work and the house would be quiet.

While driving, she put a cd into the player of her truck and cranked up the music as loud as it could possibly go. The rock song playing pulsed in her ears, making the entire vehicle vibrate. It didn't matter that she might break the speakers--or even the windows. She just needed to drown out the voice still yelling in her head. No matter where she went, Misao could never escape her father's voice.

Misao took the long way to school that morning, arriving just in time for the last bell. She got to her first art class with a second to spare. As a senior, her schedule was almost completely art courses. the only others she had was a literature class and AP English. She was a child of vision. A girl who escaped into the written word as fast as she could into the flow of a piece of art. That was why she loved painting, drawing, writing...anything that could take her somewhere far from the present.

When she entered the room, she pulled off her glasses, hooking them into the front pocket of her jacket. A few people looked up, but no one was surprised by her entrance. Misao was a notorious rule breaker. She came from the best of backgrounds, good breeding and an upstanding politician was her father. It wasn't his fault that his daughter was a delinquent. They always say greatness skips a generation. That's all Misao was, a bad apple, a social misfit.

The teacher greeted her with a smile. The teachers liked Misao. She was a hard worker, an A pupil in every class. She was a loner, fairly withdrawn, distant to most of the other students, but she was bright and talented. When she was around art, talking about art, or being told about art, Misao's eyes would light up and she would become so animated and happy you could hardly believe that she was the same child who sat alone in the back of the class, doodling in a notebook.

It wasn't that she didn't draw her share of attention, that she wasn't pretty. She was in fact, very pretty. She took after her late mother in that respect. But she would be so much prettier if she smiled once in a while, if she wasn't always wearing baggy clothing and covering her hair. It was often thought she acted and looked like she did to keep people away--especially guys. They didn't know for sure, but that was exactly her reason. That among other things.

The class was called to session, attendance was taken, and assignments were assigned. To most of the students, there began working on sketches or sculptures. It was the beginning of a new term, so the first week was always a free-for-all. The teachers liked to let the kids get some things out of their systems before buckling down for serious work.

The teacher for this class, one Miss Tae, was particularly fond of Misao. She knew the girl had such talent and potential pent up in that small frame of hers, and she was always giving Misao a new way to vent it. She always worried for the girl. As Misao got older, she noticed that she became more and more volatile. If anyone bothered her, Misao could become almost violently angry. It was a mystery to everyone, this enigma named Misao. The only time she ever seemed remotely happy was when she was painting.

"All right Misao," Miss Tae said with a mischievous smile. "For today, I have an important mission for you to accomplish!" Misao looked indifferently as the paint brushes and small palette laid out before her on the table. "It's come to my attention that the hallway to the music wing in the school is rather drab." Misao picked up three brushes of various lengths, a soft lead pencil, and a small jar of black paint. She was reading Tae's mind. "I want you to create a mural for me. Can you do it, Misao?"

"Of course," she said, looking up at the teacher with a light in her green eyes. A faint flicker, but a light none the less.

"Good!" Tae said happily. "You have a double period with me, so just keep working until third."

"Okay," Misao replied, taking her supplies and her side bag with her as she went toward the music hallway. Once there, she set up as usual, brushes and paint on the floor, pencil in hand. First she took the headphones of her cd player from the side bag still slung over her shoulder. Adjusting them to her ears and hitting play, Misao began to draw on the wall along to the rhythm in her ears.

For a while, she sketched in peace. Her arm moving in arches and circles and lines, forming and creating, giving birth to a new scene. The wall was her canvas, open and fresh. Unspoiled and untouched. In the perfect, that empty space of an open canvas. That breath just before an artist began to create, it was like the first breath of life into a newborn. Something special and unique and sacred. And every time Misao got to start a new canvas, she felt the pain and weight lift from her shoulders for a little while and she was taken far from this place of woe and strife. She was simply Misao, without ties or strings, without reputation or rumor.

That was just before she was knocked off her feet by someone coming sharply around the corner.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"What the hell?!" yelped Aoshi, quickly pushing away from the floor, where he had fallen face first. He scrambled to his knees and looked around to see who or what he collided with. He found his answer in the form of a small figure on the floor next to him. Huddled into a ball of denim and black, was a girl. "Are you...all right?" Aoshi asked grimly, ready to chew her out as soon as she quit faking mortal injury.

When she unfolded from her ball, the girl leapt to her feet in a smooth motion, looking at the wall. Aoshi followed her eyes. Amid the faint lines and shapes, there was now a long, dark, jagged and ugly pencil line down the very center of the wall. "My mural," he heard her whisper faintly. The she turned on him.

Aoshi was suddenly faced with the angriest pair of green eyes he had ever seen. This girl who was a good foot his junior, grabbed the lapels of his trench coat and dragged him to his feet. Even towering over her, she still glared daggers at him. "You ruined my mural!" she yelled at him suddenly.

"It's a pencil line," Aoshi said with annoyance. "Erase it."

"It's in the center of my WORK!" she yelled. Suddenly, the first period bell rang behind them. The halls were crowded with students on their hustle and bustle way to class. Smack in the middle of the hallway was Misao and Aoshi, staring each other down.

"It's just a drawing," Aoshi ground out through his teeth. This...this...girl...was starting to make him angry. She was small, too small to be picking a fight with him, especially when she was so far down the pity track as he was just then.

"Just a drawing?" Misao stuttered in her anger. "JUST A DRAWING?!?" They had suddenly acquired an audience. From where, neither knew or cared. All they did was let loose anger and frustration and loathing on each other. Misao suddenly whipped around, ripping the askew bandana from her head. Her braid fell down her back as she picked up the small jar of black paint. "Here, this matches your wardrobe," Misao hissed, suddenly splashing him with a coat of paint.

"You BITCH!" Aoshi yelled, looking down at his stained coat. That was his favorite coat! All over a stupid picture on the wall? The more devious and vengeful part of Aoshi's mind worked lightning quick in thinking up a revenge, a suitable revenge that is. He ran a hand over his chest, making sure to get a good pool of paint, then he smeared it down the front of her jacket. There was suddenly a general gasp from all on-lookers.

This was when the teachers arrived to break them up. Without so much as a chance to throw another insult at each other, both Misao and Aoshi were hauled off together to the principle's office. The spring quarter started with a bang.