Disclaimer: I own Rurouni Kenshin! -Is hit with a bat and promptly wakes up.- Owwww, dang.

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Misao would never have thought it would end this way. After all, how often is it that a life-long obsession comes crashing painfully to its end?

It never should have ended this way.

Misao hobbled down one of Kyoto's many side streets, sniffling to herself. A cool breeze kicked up the trash, various wrappers and empty soda bottles that littered the street. She hugged herself, rubbing her bare arms in attempt to ward off the evening chill. It was a futile gesture. As vain as the hope she had carried deep inside, that had thrived in her heart her entire life, only to be crushed with inhumane finality less than an hour ago.

One slender hand let go of her arm long enough to brush away the stream of tears trailing down her face. Another gust of wind swept down the alley, howling through the narrow space formed by crumbling concrete and brick. Loose black bangs whiped across her face, obscuring vision already blurred by tears. She stumbled, and choked back a yelp of pain. Her ankle throbbed. She had forgotten that it was sprained.

She hoped it was only a sprain.

The alley ended, the narrow passage butting into an only marginally wider street. Dilapidated taverns and run down small-time business shops lined the almost two-lane street. The graffiti-covered buildings sat dark and silent, closed for a holiday. Misao had forgotten which. She reached the juncture and stopped, standing in the shadow of the alley, shivering silently, staring out at the street but not really seeing it.

Somewhere nearby, a car door slammed. Misao flinched.

Footsteps echoed up the narrow street.

"Misao!"

With a choked sob, Misao spun around, blindly running back into the alley. Through her tears, Misao saw only shadows, dark shapes in a long tunnel, beckoning her forward. The wind whipped past again, wailing mournfully, scattering more garbage aside.

A hand landed on her shoulder, arresting escape.

"Misao," the voice, deep and male, spoke just above her ear.

Misao hunched over, shivering and sobbing, shaking her head wildly. "No!"

Silence. The hand on her shoulder shifted, the intent of its owner clearly to turn her around. Misao struggled violently, wrenching herself free. Blindly, she kicked at the vague form behind her, injured ankle protesting the motion. Faster than she could follow, the hand clamped on to her upper arm. A second hand followed, grasping her other arm like a vice. Before she could retaliate, she was slammed against a dank, crumbling brick wall, her legs pinned by those of her captor so she could not kick free, her arms held in a bruising grip.

"Misao, listen to me." There was not a hint of emotion in the voice.

"No! How could you? How could you do that to me?"

Silence.

"How could you?" she whispered once more, voice broken and hoarse from crying.

A sigh from above her, long and heavy. "Because," the voice was flat, emotionless, yet Misao detected the slightest lilt, the smallest waver that made her give pause. "Because," he continued, "I care for you, Misao. I care for you deeply."

Misao froze, breath catching in her throat. She stared through stringy bangs and tear soaked eyes at the torso, pressed so close to her own. Even as she stared, the man shifted, stepping away from her, releasing the hold on one arm to instead brush her bangs aside. His large, work calloused hand cupped her face, lifting her chin, the soft pressure so different, so much gentler, than it had been only moments before.

She responded to his prodding, lifting her gaze to a strong chin, mouth set in a thin, serious line, nose, and finally eyes. Icy blue eyes that stared back at her with frightening intensity.

The sight of those eyes made Misao go weak in the knees, her heart racing in the response that she always expected when she saw this man. She hated herself for it.

"Aoshi-" her voice cracked. She paused, swallowed, tried again. "Aoshi, what are you talking about?"

Those heart wrenching eyes narrowed. "You heard me."

"But, but..." Misao stuttered, mind clogged by confusion. "But you were kissing her!"

"Yes."

"Then how can you say that? How can you say that to me when I just saw you frenching some woman who was dressed like hooker?!" Her voice lifted with her rising hysteria.

His expression was mild, eyes still cold as always, but Misao could see the growing irritation in the man in the way his shoulders lifted, the way he shifted his weight forward, invading her personal space again. She looked back down, unable to look at his face as she asked, "How can you just lie to me like that?"

"I am not lying, Misao."

She frowned down at her feet, at the ankle that was showing signs of swelling above her low rise tennis shoe, then glared back up at him, her expression hot. "Then just what were you doing?" she all but screamed in his face.

"Don't be foolish."

The statement was cold, unfeeling. As he always was.

She turned away, hurt deeply, hating herself for the hope that his words instilled in her. She wanted to believe him, wanted to trust the truth of those words with all her being. But she had seen him, had followed him behind the noisy tavern, had watched him standing with his arms around another woman in the deserted street. She had seen, and it cut her to her very soul.

She began to walk away, intending to leave him standing alone in the alley. Leave him as he had left her so many times. One step nearly sent her sprawling, however. She gasped and nearly collapsed as pain radiated up her leg. Aoshi was at her side in an instant, supporting her, helping her sit down on the grimy street.

"What happened?"

"I... it was dark, I couldn't... I tripped."

He unlaced her shoe, pulling it off silently. Misao winced as he prodded it.

"It is sprained."

Misao nodded, looking down.

A moment of awkward silence.

Misao found herself surprised when Aoshi was the one to break it. But that did not even compare to what he said as he did so.

"She is dead."

Misao blinked. "Huh?"

He shifted back, squatting on his heels in front of her. "The woman you saw me with. She is dead."

"What do you mean?"

He brushed his bangs aside, the mildest showing of irritation. "She was an assignment."

"An... assignment?"

He didn't reply, only waited while she worried her lower lip, hardly daring to hope. She had to be sure.

"Then, that woman- was an enemy of the Oniwabanshu?"

"Hai."

The modern day ninja girl sat silently for a moment more. Then she gave whoop of joy, lunging forward and throwing her arms around Aoshi's neck. "I knew it! I knew my Aoshi wouldn't do something like that to me!" she laughed into his face. The man had gone rigid with shock.

Misao couldn't have been happier. Aoshi loves me! He actually said it! Well, not quite, but caring a lot is love, isn't it?

Aoshi cleared his throat. The girl clinging to his neck didn't budge. He shifted his weight backwards. Still no response."Misao," he said, trying to remove one of the slender arms that had seemingly become glued to his neck. She murmured something, snuggling closer. He tried again, this time with more force. "Misao."

She sighed, tilting her head back to gaze up at him dreamily. "Do you really love me, Aoshi?"

Aoshi stared back at her silently, expression as unreadable as always.

"Do you, Aoshi?" Misao persisted. She just had to be sure... "Is that what you meant, when you said that... that you cared? Do you love me?"

He watched her in continued silence. For a moment, Misao was afraid she would have to ask again, but then he said one word, the one word that fulfilled Misao's life-long dream.

"Hai."

"Oh, thank you Aoshi!" Misao cried, burying her face back in his shoulder, nearly choking him with her hold on his neck.

He sighed, picked her away from himself once again. "We should go back."

"Hai, Aoshi!" Misao beamed. "And since my ankle is hurt and you love me soooo much, you can carry me to your car!"

It was hard to tell in the darkness, but for a moment Aoshi's expression could nearly have been described as pained.

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I'm not sure how I feel about this one. It was written completely on a whim. I just sat down and started writing, without even a vague semblance of a plot in mind. And where I usually go through my stories numerous times editing, the only way I've changed this one was to correct a few spelling errors. Because of the lack of forethought, I do realize that the plot is a bit cliche, the characters are a bit OOC, etc. (This is also why it's an AU. It just kind of... came out that way.)

So what do you think? How did it turn out? Should I write on a whim more often, is posting without hardly changing the first draft a bad idea, should I give up writing altogether? (That last one won't happen no matter what you say, but heck, if that's your opinion you're entitled to it.) So come on, give me the painful truth, hit the little button!